Category Archives: Books

Here there be dragons

This post is sort of about How To Train Your Dragon 3 (The Hidden World). I’m not going to discuss in detail any major spoilers, but if you’re planning on seeing it, maybe dodge this post until you do.

I have wanted a dragon my entire life.

The dragons in the novels I read wound their way into my inner self and never left.

Melanie Rawn’s dragons, who communicated through colour and spoke with Sunrunners.

The crystal dragon in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar.

And, of course, the dragons of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern.

How I longed for a dragon (or, failing that, even a fire lizard) of my own.

I grew up, as all children do.

I stopped looking for the door into the faerie realm, the wizard on my doorstep, the quest to come calling.

I grew a grown-up life, with a husband and a house and children and a cat and grown-up problems and grown-up worries that squeezed out the stars and made it harder to see the gaps between the worlds.

Deep down, though, I’m still the little girl I used to be, the one who escaped to other worlds when she didn’t want to inhabit her own.

The one who would have given anything to ride on a dragon. To be one of the Riders of Rohan. To wield the Elfstones.

To know real magic.

And so, when I watched How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World in theatres with E., I suppose I should not have been surprised when I full-on ugly cried towards the end. We’re talking openly sobbing, to an intensity that makes it still difficult to talk about the ending of the film, several weeks later (I’m crying as I write this).

E. didn’t feel the same way. He found it sad, but felt that the actual ending of the film made things better. We’ve had some interesting conversations about it.

He felt the strongest association with the main character. If all was right in his world, then all was right in E’s.

I couldn’t stop thinking about everyone else.

This wasn’t about watching the end of a beloved trilogy. I haven’t seen either of the two previous movies. The books are very different, but even so, I’ve only read the first two with E. (he’s read them all and says the twelfth and final book is his favourite). I didn’t grow up with them, in the same way that I grew up with The Dark is Rising or Narnia.

This was about watching someone who had been given the very thing that you had wanted all your life have to give it up.

It broke my heart.

In the theatre, E. and I were sitting directly in front of a birthday party. One little girl sobbed her way through the ending.

I knew that she was a kindred spirit.

She will want a dragon for her entire life too.

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Filed under Books, E.- the eighth year

Read With Your Ears (For Kids)

I wrote recently about how I discovered audiobooks in 2018.

I discovered them for E. as well.

It started with our long car drives to go see my father. P. has pretty much stopped napping in the car, which means she and E. spend much of their time winding each other up and getting sillier (and noisier) by the minute. It got so bad we ended up putting a blanket ban on driving home from my mother’s house after dinner- the hilarity mania that ensued when bedtime was missed and dessert had been eaten was, quite frankly, distracting to the point of becoming dangerous.

If E. is otherwise occupied, P. can’t rile him up. And, if he’s not responding to her silliness, she pretty soon gives up and starts playing with toys or looking out the window. E. can read in the car without getting sick, so our problems were always when we had to drive somewhere at night.

Enter the audiobook.

I’m not exaggerating when I say audiobooks changed our lives. On our most recent trip we listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the way there, and The BFG on the way home, and the only complaints we had were from P., who announced after one too many descriptions of the nasty giants that she ‘didn’t yike the ABCDBFG’ (which was a good reminder that her level of verbal comprehension is sufficiently high that we should be choosing audiobooks that are appropriate for her if we’re going to play them over the car’s stereo and not just have E. listen to them on his own). She was a huge fan of Matilda, however, especially the part where Matilda glued her father’s hat to his head.

Audiobooks have also been hugely useful as an alternative to quiet reading after dinner, when I’m putting P. to bed, and we need E. to start calming his mind and his body. Without the focus of a good book, he’s likely to end up bouncing off the walls (literally). On the nights he feels too tired to read, he’s happy to put on his headphones and borrow my iPad (although I do have to set Guided Access to make sure I don’t find any surprises on my camera later).

At the moment E. is really enjoying the Upside Down Magic series, but he also loves any Roald Dahl book when the hold (finally- our library doesn’t have enough copies of Dahl’s books) comes in. He’s listened to a heap of Beverly Cleary, quite a few Geronimo Stiltons (which Q. and I find deeply painful to listen to, but E. loves them), most of the Timmy Failure series, all the available Stick Dog books and a couple of Captain Underpants. I asked him if he wanted to put holds on the How to Train Your Dragon series, which is his current passion in ‘real’ books, but he said he prefers to listen to books he hasn’t already read (even though he’s also read all the Timmy Failure and Stick Dog books).

His list of holds is growing thin, so please do recommend anything great we haven’t yet discovered! I’ll take suggestions for podcasts (especially science-related) too, as I’m sure that’s going to be the next step.

 

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Filed under Books, E.- the eighth year, P.- the third year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Read With Your Ears

I have a confession to make.

Prior to last year, I had never listened to an audiobook.

“That’s not for me,” I’d told myself. “I like the physical feel of a book too much. I won’t pay attention. It won’t work for me.”

Then I started following Modern Mrs. Darcy, who is a huge fan of audiobooks. She kept posting about great audiobooks. She enthused about the listening experience. Listening to audiobooks, she wrote, not only allowed her to finish more books, but it allowed her to read when she hadn’t been able to do so before (because she was driving, or folding laundry, etc.).

I decided it was dumb not to at least try them. I am not great at trying new things, but this is also something I am attempting to get better at (part of fostering a growth mindset instead of my deeply, deeply ingrained fixed one).

So I figured out how to download the Overdrive app onto my phone and how to link my public library account to the app, and off I went.

And, reader, audiobooks hooked me.

When I went back through my reading journal and tallied my numbers for 2018, of the 118 books I read, 17 of them were audiobooks. I’m sure that number will be higher this year.

I learned a few things as I experimented:

  1. I don’t like listening to books faster than 1.2x the normal speed. Anything faster makes me feel anxious and makes the voices sound funny.
  2. I don’t, for the most part, like listening to novels. I have trouble holding the story in my head, especially if I have to stop in the middle of a chapter. My favourite genre is memoir, especially when read by the author.
  3. I will absolutely stop listening if the reader’s voice bothers me or just sounds ‘wrong’ for the book.
  4. I have trouble turning the story off if I’m in the middle of a chapter, or near the end of the book, or at a very exciting part. Sometimes I have to be strategic about listening to a book when on my way to work.
  5. I can’t listen to audiobooks if I go out for a walk. I can pay attention to the walk or to the audiobook, but not to both. If I walk to the main university library downtown (which takes an hour) I tend to walk with my thoughts on the way there and walk home listening to the audiobook when I’m tired and ready to stop thinking.

It was one of the nicest surprises of the past year to realize how much I enjoy them.

Since my Terrible Tuesdays this semester involve a lot of time in the car (and a lot of walking to and from parking lots), I’ve had even more opportunities to listen. I was incredibly pleased with myself when I had the idea of checking to see if my library carried the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley on audiobook. It does and I gleefully downloaded the next one in the series immediately (no wait list even!). Although these are novels, I correctly guessed that I would love them on audiobook because I don’t actually care very much about the details of each volume’s plot. In general, I’m not a reader of mysteries and when I do pick one up I never try to solve the crimes before the narrator explains them for me. I liked the previous Flavia books I’d read, but only moderately so (as evidenced by the fact that the last one I read was in 2015 and it took me an embarrassing long time reading the descriptions to realize that I had already read #4 and needed to start with #5).

I could care less about the details of each case that Flavia cracks- what interested me was the arc of her character development. If I miss the finer details of the mystery on audiobook, it doesn’t matter. What happens to her and her family is what sticks with me.

I’ve already listened to #5 and #6 this month and am well over halfway through #7. Jane Entwhistle does the narration, and she is brilliant. I love how she captures Flavia’s self-satisfied glee whenever she’s been particularly clever. I still have three more to go in the series, so I’ll be well into February before I’ll need to start thinking about what to download next (although I have holds out on books by (and read by) Eric Idle and Michael Palin, as well as the first Harry Potter, as I’ve heard repeatedly that the audiobook versions are incredible).

Do you listen to audiobooks? Is there a book you’ve loved because of the person who reads it rather than the story itself?

 

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Filed under Books, Choose Happiness

2018 recap (the books edition)

In 2018, I set myself a goal of reading 75 books. In the end, that turned out to be an easy target. I hit 75 by the end of July and finished the year with a total count of 118 books read (108 new books).

I only started tracking my books read in 2015 (in a dedicated journal after I discovered in 2014 there wasn’t enough room in my five-year journal entries to include books), so it’s hard for me to contextualize that figure, but I’d say it’s likely I’ve been a 100+ books/year reader for most of my life. Reading has always been my escape, my self-care, my anxiety management. Even during my busiest periods I would make time to read for fun (my book totals only count books for fun- books I read for my research don’t count). My best friend from my Master’s degree said she knew we were going to get along as soon as she realized I also had a library card for the public library system.

What I read changes depending on the mental bandwidth I have available; I’ve had to return books to the library unread when I realized I just wasn’t in the right headspace to be able to tackle them. When I was in high school I mostly read science fiction and fantasy, but I’m not as grounded in those genres these days. I tend to read a mix of novels, memoirs and biographies, historical non-fiction, and texts devoted to parenting, feminism, behavioural psychology, and time management/organization. I get inspiration on what to read next from blogs (especially Modern Mrs. Darcy), the New Yorker, and other spots online, but I also like to wander the shelves of my local branch of our fantastic library system when I get the chance (admittedly, this is a very infrequent occurrence at the moment).

As I’ve written on here before, I effectively stopped buying books several years ago when I realized they were my latte factor. Our public library system is so good, I can’t rationalize spending the money, or having the new book take up coveted shelf space (especially as E’s collection of novels grows). I’m highly resistant to reading a book that someone else has bought for me (for reasons which I can’t clearly articulate- the best I can think of is that I always have a pile of books to read that I’ve chosen for myself, and I never prioritize the books that someone else selected).

I do buy books for the kids, but I’m selective about what comes into our house to stay and what comes in temporarily from the library. When it’s a book that E. is reading, I try to gauge whether it’s a book (or a series) that I think I would want P. to have easy access to as well in due course. Classics (like the Little House and Ramona books) are a given, but newer stuff too (Aaron Blabey’s Les Méchants  and Tracey West’s Dragon Masters come to mind). E. reads so voraciously that we go to the library nearly every week. I keep his total number of books checked out to around 15 (anything more I’ve learned from experience becomes unmanageable) and he decides which books he’s ready to return in order to take out new ones.

There are weeks where all my holds come in at once (usually because I’ve enthusiastically placed a bunch of new ones and forgot to make some of them inactive) and I do end up waiting a long time for certain items, but it’s a system that works well for me. It’s certainly facilitated my reading.

In 2015, I read 131 books (93 of which were new). I didn’t have paid work that year and I was floundering after finishing the PhD. I took refuge in books.

In 2016, my reading total crashed to 44 (all of them new). If you knew me in real life, you could probably judge just how horrific a year 2016 was by that total alone. I didn’t finish a single book in November of 2016; I think because P. was sleeping so badly I was just too tired to read.

2017 was better at 63 (again all of them new), but still below what I would consider to be my ‘normal’ reading rate. I had thought my monthly totals would have increased in the second half of the year as P. got older and slept more consistently through the night, but looking back I see there was no such pattern.

I know I prioritized reading over other things (most obviously my photography) in 2018, but it still felt like last year marked a return to ‘normal’ reading habits, and I’ll be surprised if I don’t crack 100 again this year. After three years with very few books reread, I suspect I’ll be making time for some of my old favourites, as I have a small(ish) collection of books I tend to reread over and over again. They are my warm fuzzies, my ultimate comforts.

Since I really enjoyed reading Ana’s list of her favourite books from the past year, I wanted to make a quick note of the books I’ve loved the most since I started tracking my reading (these are the ones I’ve marked with a star in my journal). These are the books that captured my heart or spoke to my soul, the books that stayed with me long after I’d closed the cover, and (in some cases) the books that have changed how I think about and live my life. They weren’t necessarily published in the year when I read them.

2015:
A Buzz in the Meadow (Dave Goulson)
Some Luck (the Last Hundred Years Trilogy, Book One- and the others) (Jane Smiley)
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)
The Empathy Exams (Leslie Jamison)
They Left Us Everything (Plum Johnson)
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids (Laura Markham)
H is for Hawk (Helen MacDonald)
Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)
The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
Why Smart Kids Worry and What Parents Can Do to Help (Allison Edwards)

2016:
American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers (Nancy Jo Sales)
Midnight Riot (and the rest in the series) (Ben Aaronovitch)
The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker)

2017:
Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family (Anne-Marie Slaughter)
Option B (Sheryl Sandberg)
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (Amy Cuddy)
The Best of Us (Joyce Maynard)
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
Future Home of the Living God (Louise Erdrich)
The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose (Helen Sword)

2018:
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Matthew Desmond)
Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Chris Cleave)
The Course of Love (Alain de Botton)
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport)
Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child (Ross Greene)
Stylish Academic Writing (Helen Sword)
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things are Better Than You Think (Hans Rosling)
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (Steven Johnson)

If I had to pull out my all-time favourites from that list, the books I think everyone should read, I’d go for They Left Us Everything; Station Eleven; Everyone Brave is Forgiven; and The Course of Love.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

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Filed under Books, E.- the eighth year

Blank Space

I am not quite sure what to do with this blog.

Regular readers (if there are still any) will have noticed that I haven’t posted regularly since very early in the year and haven’t posted at all since April.

It’s a result of a combination of several different factors:

1. I’ve been working really hard on my book revisions which ate up all my mental bandwidth to the point that any more time in front of a screen was exhausting, even if I was going to be writing for fun. I did get Q. to read it when I had planned, after which I finished most of the revisions, then got mired for a while until I gave up and spent two days rereading favourite books, at which point my brain was clear enough to resume work. I’m now at the ‘so few things left to do it’s like pulling teeth and soooo painful’ stage and I am going to get it sent back to the press by the end of September. There. I put it in writing. It will be so.

2. I’m not sure what this blog is for any longer. The older E. gets the less I feel I can write about him (he starts SECOND GRADE next week- HOW did that happen??!!). I wish I hadn’t been as lazy with recording P.’s second year, as this is a lovely memory box for E’s toddlerhood. But I feel like my training wheels are off as a parent. I know my strengths and my weaknesses and I’m better at taking the long view and I don’t need to hash as much out on here as I used to. At the same time, it would feel weird to end it- I’ve been in this space for over ten years now.

3. I want to write more under my own name and I don’t think this blog is the place for me to do it.

4. I have so much less free time and I’ve continued to prioritize reading over anything else. I’ve read lots of good books this year (and a few great ones) and reread some favourites (I haven’t reread a book since 2015).

But since writing, like everything, is easier when it’s a habit, I’ve been aware that I’ve been neglecting writing (or writing that isn’t book-related). I’m hoping now that the revisions really are close to being finished I’ll be able to carve out a bit more time and space to sit with my words here while I think about next steps.

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Filed under Blogging, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Accountability: January and February 2018

Since it’s now March (and how did that happen?), I thought I’d take a minute to assess how I’m doing with my various goals for 2018.

1. Conquer my lizard brain.

Hard to tell. E. has been on a pretty even keel these last two months, which has meant I haven’t been as challenged in my parenting. So I’m not sure whether I’ve made much progress. I am definitely working hard at keeping my cool during the hour between when I get home to relieve the nanny and when we eat dinner, which is total chaos every time, even with Q. prepping most dinners ahead of time. Both kids want all of my attention and it starts the second I walk in the door. It can get very overwhelming, but I’m trying to embrace it.

I think I’m doing ok, but I need a rough patch from E. to know that I’m actually making progress on breaking my cycle of responding.

2. Start getting ready for bed at 9:30 p.m.

Mixed results here. The good: Q. and I are getting ready for bed earlier and we usually manage to be in bed with the lights off by shortly after 10 p.m., which is a noticeable improvement over what was happening in December, and I always plug in my devices. I’ve also stopped hanging out on my phone right up until I go to bed, which has made it easier to fall asleep. The bad: I have failed to start making E.’s lunch (or snacks if he has a hot lunch at school) or my lunch ahead of time, and my desk is still in a constant state of chaos. The mixed: I am sometimes flossing, but not always (I was doing better in January), and I’m not 100% there with the litter box yet.

Definite progress, but still room for improvement.

3. Stop taking the phone to the bathroom.

Total fail. Still reading blogs in the bathroom.

4. Make the switch to manual and RAW on my camera.

Mixed success. Still not shooting in RAW and still not practicing enough. I have been making an effort to shoot more on Manual, but I get easily frustrated if I’m trying to shoot pictures of my kids and the light keeps changing. The course is interesting (although I’ve failed to share my homework with anyone). I think I need to start carrying my big camera with me when I go to work and take some time at lunch to take pictures (preferably things that don’t move so I can fiddle with the dials to my heart’s content.)

I did take a good photo of my cat, which wouldn’t have been possible on any mode but Manual because of the lighting (she was sitting in a sunbeam in my room). It’s not perfect- it needed a slightly smaller aperture to make sure both eyes were in focus- but then I would have had to change my shutter speed yet again and the cat had only so much patience. So there’s that (this is SOOC):

5. Read 75 books.

Exceeding expectations. I read 21 books in the first two months of this year, so I’m well up on where I would need to be to meet my goal. The reading frenzy was partly sparked by some interesting holds coming in, partly due to a conscious decision to read at night more often, and partly resulting from a ‘ready to read’ mind-set. I sometimes have periods where I don’t feel as much like reading, but during these past two months it was easy to make reading a priority.

I read some wonderful books and am hoping to write blog posts about a couple of them soon(ish).

6. Go on two dates a month with Q.

I forgot this was one of my goals. TERRIBLE!

We did get out for our monthly date lunch for both January and February, and we did go out for dinner in January, but I don’t think we managed a second date in February. I did go up to the main campus yesterday to surprise Q. (he was giving a brief presentation) and we had hot drinks and brownies afterwards, but I’m hoping I can still do better for March.

I did organize for Q. and I to have a night away in the summer as a wedding anniversary surprise (I’m taking him to one of the nearby theatre festivals). I booked the tickets and the accommodation and coordinated with my mother (who has very kindly agreed to look after the small fry), so I feel like I did make some forward progress with this.

Q. and I have also really enjoyed watching detectorists (gentle English village comedy- one of our favourite things) on Netflix this past month, and we’re currently watching Broadchurch (which feels like a Doctor Who reunion and is well done, if containing very upsetting subject matter). I think we’ve agreed that House of Cards was too stressful (we’re mired in the second season).

7. Work Stuff

At the time I wrote my goals post I didn’t yet know what I wanted to say about work, but later in January I figured out that I needed to edit 15 pages of the book manuscript a week in order to finish the editing process by the middle of June (which is when I’ve booked Q. to read it). I’ve been storming along with that goal- I almost immediately pushed it up to 20 pages to buy myself some more time at the end for more substantial reading/thinking/writing revisions, and some weeks I’ve managed to do even more than that. I’ve finished this round of edits on the first four chapters now, and I’ve been pretty consistently trimming the manuscript down by just over 20 percent (with the exception of the fourth chapter, which is a strong one and didn’t have as much fat to trim).

I’ve taken the view that any substantial changes (i.e., ones that require me to go and do a significant amount of further research) can be left at this stage to a later date (hence my shift to 20 pages per week). What I most needed was to get up a head of steam with the book and break the paralyzing voice of my inner critic. I feel I’m making real progress with this- I no longer feel like I’m going to throw up when I start work on it each week. I have a new file where I list the changes that still need to be done to the manuscript and I’ll start tackling those once I’ve finished this first round. I still tend towards panic, but I’m getting much better at repeating to myself ‘You don’t need to edit the entire book today, you only need to edit these seven pages’ until I calm down and can focus.

The deep work of editing usually takes me until lunch, if lunch starts late (I often don’t eat until 1:30 as I don’t like to break my concentration). I haven’t yet found a good way of using the couple of hours I have left in the afternoon once I’ve had lunch if I don’t have pressing work for my other big project (the edited volume I’m working on with Q.). I need to come prepared with something manageable to read (journal articles, maybe), as I don’t have the mental bandwidth left at that point to do more deep work. Another option would be to do teaching prep and/or marking to try to free up some of Tuesday morning to allow for some deep work on that day. So my work goal for March/April, along with finishing the first round of editing on the book, is to figure out how best to use the rest of my day.

My other goal for March/April is to go buy new running shoes as I’ve started the Couch25K program twice now and both times have had to stop when I hit the continuous running weeks. I have a dodgy ankle, a leftover from an injury when I was in elementary school, and it niggles at me. I’m hoping new shoes will solve the problem.

How are your 2018 goals coming along?

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD

2018 Goals

1. Conquer my lizard brain

Back in 2015, when I sent myself to happiness boot camp, my first happiness reset sphere was parenting. At the time, E. and I were butting heads A LOT. It was a combination of a difficult developmental stage for him (no one is exaggerating when they talk about how miserable 3.5 can be), a lack of purpose for me (PhD finished, no job, no second baby), and very long, cold winter.

We had slipped into some very negative patterns in our relationship, and I knew things needed to change.

It was a bad phase, but we got through it and things did change and get better and, for the most part, things are a lot smoother chez Turia these days, even with the addition of P., the pint-sized tornado.

When I took a step back and looked critically at the way I interacted with E., I could point to this as the problem:

One of the things that I dislike the most about how I parent E. is how easily I get frustrated/irritated when he starts yelling or getting hugely upset (especially when it is over something that seems highly inconsequential to me). The moment I get frustrated, I feel my jaw clench, and my willingness to compromise or to not sweat the small stuff evaporates. Although I almost never yell, I do raise my voice. The minute I do, the situation escalates.

E. is very sensitive. Yelling doesn’t work. I know this, and I almost never yell at him in anger. But he is just as easily upset by a loud, stern voice, and I am guilty (very guilty) of resorting to using it, especially once my buttons have been pushed and I feel like I’m locked in a battle of wills that I must win.

It’s still the biggest problem in our relationship. I ask E. to do something, he refuses to do it, I ask a different way, he refuses again, I get frustrated and wham! Here comes my lizard brain, which sees danger around every corner, and suddenly my back is up and I’m dead set on winning whatever battle of wills we’re currently engaged in.

I am pretty sure it was Dr. Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting which first explained to me exactly what was going on in my brain when I would feel myself losing my temper over the most inconsequential of things (but I didn’t write any quotes down from the book, so I’m not 100% positive. I do remember thinking it was a really important book once I had finished it). Basically, when our children push our buttons, our lizard brain (the oldest, most instinct-driven part of our brain) rears up and takes charge. Lizard brain lives in fight-0r-flight mode. My beloved son is not a sabre-toothed tiger hiding in the grass, but when he’s arguing with me and my lizard brain kicks in, he might as well be.

I don’t feel like I have enough patience for E. a lot of the time. I think sometimes I am too quick to think of him as six-and-a-half-SO-big! instead of six-and-a-half-still-little. Maybe my expectations are too high, or maybe they’re reasonable for his age but he’s not yet able to meet them because of his own developmental arc. I do know I had so much more patience for defiance and meltdowns and hysterics when he was two, because I expected the behaviour.

I know my triggers: not enough sleep, not enough me-time or quiet, being hungry, or having him suddenly disagree about something when I wasn’t expecting it. I know it is developmentally normal for kids to push boundaries and to test their parents, but it’s very very hard for me to keep my lizard brain suppressed when he’s arguing with me or speaking rudely or refusing to do what I’ve asked. I almost always react too quickly and too strongly. I don’t give myself the time and space I need to respond the way I would like. I hit panic mode: “I have to stop this behaviour NOW” rather than being able to take a step back, assess the situation and think “Why is this behaviour happening?”

Lizard brain doesn’t let you step back, take a deep breath and assess the situation.

So if I achieve only one thing this year, I want it to be this: less time with lizard brain in charge.

2. Start getting ready for bed at 9:30 p.m.

Before the holidays, Q. and I were in a bad pattern of going to bed too late, and I was in an even worse pattern of taking ages to actually get ready to go to bed (largely because I kept taking the phone with me to the bathroom so I could read “one more thing” while brushing my teeth). I also hated doing anything that would make the morning more efficient in the evenings because that was my precious “me” time, which meant that E. and I spent quite a bit of December sprinting to school to make sure we wouldn’t be late. We were never late, but it wasn’t a great feeling.

When I was thinking about goals and resolutions for 2018, there were a whole bunch of little ones that could all be neatly folded under this one simple change. So this morning I set an alarm on my phone for 9:30 p.m. called “Go To Bed”. My goal is to be all tucked up in bed by 10 p.m., and to use those thirty minutes to do a bunch of little things that I never prioritize:

  • make E’s lunch for the next day
  • make my lunch if I’m going to be at work
  • fold laundry if it’s hanging out in the dryer or put it away if it’s in a basket
  • file important papers and tidy my desk
  • clean out the litterboxes
  • plug in all of my devices (and put the phone down!)
  • floss

I need to stop thinking of 9:30-10 p.m. as “me” time and start thinking about it as “get ready for tomorrow” time. This is hard- I’m often still upstairs with E. until 8:15, and I don’t like to give up “me” time. I think it will make a huge difference though.

3. Stop taking the phone to the bathroom.

I still have a love-hate relationship with my smartphone. Lately I’ve felt it’s been creeping into my life a little too much. I’m on it too much in the evenings (which noticeably affects my ability to go to sleep) and I tend to take refuge in it too easily. I have been known to hide from everyone in the bathroom with the phone, which feels, on the one hand, like some excellent multi-tasking and, on the other, like maybe I’m a bit addicted to it. So no more email writing or blog reading in the bathroom because it always ends up sucking far more time than I expected.

4. Make the switch to manual and RAW on my camera.

I feel like my photography skills have plateaued. I can shoot pretty well on Av mode, and I control my ISO and my white balance, but I’ve been hesitating before taking that last final step to full manual mode, and I’ve still refused to start editing my images. I’m sick and tired of being jealous of other people’s photos without ever taking steps to change what I know, and I’m frustrated that I default so quickly to using the camera on my phone while my big camera sits on a shelf. Shooting inside my house in the winter is always a challenge- the light’s never very good- but I don’t want to just keep taking snapshots with the phone.

I signed up for the same photography course that Mali is doing. Hopefully that will give me the push I need to practice more. I also need to be more willing to take pictures of things other than my kids, both because they’re not the most cooperative of subjects if I’m trying to fiddle with settings and because I try not to post photos of them online. It seems silly to take a course and not make it possible for others to offer critiques of your work. Plus I do like finding beauty in the everyday.

5. Read 75 books.

I will hopefully write an entirely separate post about this one, but for now I will say this: I am an avid reader and reading is one of my most important mental-health management strategies. 75 books is more than I read in 2017 or 2016, but far less than I read in 2015 (which was the first year I started keeping track). These all have to be books for fun- the (no doubt many) books I will read for my work will not count. My TBR list has expanded exponentially since I started following Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I currently have over fifty books on hold at the library (most listed as inactive), so finding the books will not be the challenge.

6. Go on two dates a month with Q.

Q. and I have a monthly lunch date, which he organized as his present to me for our tenth wedding anniversary last summer (the envelopes with the restaurants’ menus were all presented to me in a tin lunch box because tin is the traditional gift and Q. is amazing). I want to add to this and make sure we get out at least one other time each month, whether that’s for dinner or to see a movie or a concert or just a long walk together and a chance to poke around in a bookstore. Our nanny is happy to babysit on days when she hasn’t been at our house, my mother will soon be close enough to babysit as well, and P. is now (I think) getting to be old enough that my youngest sister might be occasionally willing to look after them both (although her schedule is usually pretty busy). We have options. We need to start taking advantage of them to make sure we remember to prioritize our marriage.

I feel like there should be something in here about exercise and something about writing in general (and blogging in the specific) and something about work, but I haven’t been able to clearly articulate something for those areas yet, and I don’t want to get overwhelmed. So I think I will leave it at six and reassess how I’m going at the start of the next quarter, in April.

What are your 2018 goals/resolutions?

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Filed under Books, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness