Category Archives: Choose Happiness

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

Some Thoughts on the Olympics

  • I am an Olympic junkie. I love watching the Olympics. I prefer the Winter Olympics (smaller and cozier and where Canada usually does better) but I will happily watch the Summer Games too if they’re on. I will freely watch for hours during the Olympics (and become very passionate about) sports which I would never, ever, watch of my own volition at any other point (examples: biathlon, luge, pole jumping). Curling and figure skating I will watch at any time. I loves me some curling and figure skating. (I saw a hilarious comment in a newspaper article that said when it came to curling for Canada at the Olympics there were only three options: 1. gold; 2. gold; 3. witness protection. We take our curling seriously.)
  • The time difference makes it largely impossible for me to watch anything live. Bedtime and getting our lives back in order takes up most of the evening and then it just gets too late. At drop off today one of the other Mums was looking decidedly bleary and then she admitted she’d stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch the shoot out for the women’s hockey final. I would love to see some events live (Q. and I have watched the men’s hockey final live the last two Winter Olympics, once with friends in 2010, and once out for breakfast with E. in 2014), but sleep always wins. The first day I downloaded the CBC app I looked up the schedule for the men’s hockey final, which doesn’t even start until 11 p.m. on Saturday. So I’ll be learning about that result the following morning.
  • This is the first time E.’s been interested in the Olympics. It’s not surprising- he was still two the last time the Winter Olympics were on, and the most recent Summer Olympics were in 2016, when P. was a newborn and I was teaching a course online. I barely remember them happening and I don’t think I watched a single event. It’s been a real source of joy to watch him getting excited. We watch a few highlight videos on my iPad or phone after dinner before he goes to bed. He’s seen snippets of most sports, but his favourite sport, by far, is bobsleigh (with luge a close second- apparently skeleton is too scary because they go down headfirst). He even announced to Q. the other night that if he ever gets to be an Olympic athlete he wants to drive the bobsleigh.
  • I especially love that E. is getting into the Olympics because it reminds me of when I was a kid. The first Winter Olympics I can clearly remember were 1988 in Calgary when I was almost nine, especially figure skating (the battle of the Brians! Katarina Witt! Elizabeth Manley!). I watched a lot of the 1992 and 1994 games and got up at 4 a.m. to watch Elvis Stojko at Nagano in 1998. I thought I didn’t remember much from 2002, to the extent that I just had to look up where they were held, but as soon as I saw it was Salt Lake City, it all came flooding back, especially the two gold medals in hockey and the lucky loonie buried in the ice. I was in my final semester of my undergraduate degree and I watched both games live in bars with my friends. 2006 I was overseas in Australia and had been living overseas for four years, so I felt distant from the games for a number of reasons. But by 2010 – Vancouver – Q. and I were living in Canada, and I was hooked again.
  • Clearly some changes happened while I wasn’t as focused on the Olympics. There are all these sports I’ve never heard of (mostly in the snowboarding/freestyle skiing categories, but also, since when is there a luge relay or team figure skating?). Most evenings we have a conversation where E. wants to watch a particular video, slopestyle, say, or big air, and then asks me what that sport is and I have to admit I have no idea.
  • How has Norway won SO MANY medals??!! I read an article the other day that said that their budget for the wax for their cross-country skis at the Olympics was three million dollars (CDN, I’m assuming), so clearly they have deep pockets and they target particular sports (much like the Netherlands with speed skating). But I can’t get over how much better they’re doing than Sweden (currently 10 medals) or Finland (4 medals). I think of all of those countries as ‘winter’ countries. Maybe the Swedes and the Finns are busy drinking hot chocolate and playing board games while the Norwegians are out skiing 50 km every weekend during the long, dark winter months. Denmark has only ever won a single medal at the Winter Olympics (or so Wikipedia tells me), a silver medal in women’s curling in 1998, perhaps because of their culture of hygge?

How are you enjoying the Olympics?


Filed under Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, Fun

Progress, Not Perfection

I have been having a difficult time getting back into a good rhythm with my research. Too much time off over the holidays has meant I’ve lost my momentum and my Inner Critic is back up to “shouting so loudly she’s hurting my ears” rather than the “nasty whispers under her breath” I’d beaten her down to by the end of last semester.

I learned last fall that the absolute, most critical key to successful academic writing (for me at least) was consistency. The more I worked on something, the easier it became to keep working on it. My weekly schedule makes this a challenge. Mondays I’m at home with P., and Tuesday nights I teach. This has meant that the work time available on Tuesdays (the morning and the early afternoon), more often than not, has been eaten up by class preparation and marking. I’m hoping this will improve this semester because I’m now into the section of the course that I’ve taught once before, so I already have PowerPoint slides and relevant assessment that can be reused.

The reality is that four days away from my research is too long. Every Wednesday I’d have the same inner battle with myself as I walked to the library:

Inner Critic: “I don’t know why you even bother. It’s never going to get published. No one wants to read your crap.”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’d be so much easier to do something else. So much more fun too. Why not just read your novel? Or go for a long walk? Or answer emails? Or write a blog post? Or we could go eat some cake. Ooh, I love cake. You love cake too! You’ll feel better about yourself then!”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’s so pointless. You’re so pointless. You’re such a fraud. If you actually send this to a publisher everyone will know you’re such a fraud.”
Turia: “SHUT. UP. Just sit down at the desk, Turia.”
*Some time is wasted by going to the washroom, setting up the desk, filling up the water bottle, writing a few emails, checking the phone, etc.*
Inner Critic: “You’re never going to be able to do this, you know.”
Turia: “SHUT! UP! Open the computer, Turia. Open the file. Start writing. Write for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. You can do fifteen minutes.”
*Fifteen minutes pass.*
“Ok. This is going well. These are interesting ideas. You can do it, T. Keep writing.”
Inner Critic: “I’ll be back, you know.”

And she is back, every morning. She’s easier to silence on Thursday and easier again on Friday because by then I’ve picked up some momentum and I can remember what I most wanted to start with when I’d finished the day before. But she never, ever, truly goes away, and by the following Wednesday she’s back out in force.

I described this entire process to my friends in my writing accountability group at our meeting in December and they were both horrified. “That sounds terrible!” one of them said.

It is terrible. I guess I’m just so used to it it doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I’ve never written anything research-related without also engaging in a fierce internal war.

My work goal for 2018 is to try to break this cycle. The fundamental problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a very fixed mindset. I associate editing with failure- I didn’t get it right the first time. I confuse my work with myself, and feel that a rejection of my work would pass judgment on myself as a person. This leaves me paralyzed with fear whenever I think about submitting my work somewhere.

It’s a really unhealthy way to live, and I don’t want to model it for my children.

E. and I talk all the time about how “practice makes progress” and how we have to be willing to try and make mistakes in order to improve. When he’s worried about his dictée words, and is wailing about how he will “never get anything right” and how he will “make a million mistakes on the dictée”, I point to how much he’s improved every time he practices.

I knew it was sinking in when I heard our nanny say to E. “practice makes perfect” one day and he, rather irritably, corrected her that it was actually “practice makes progress because most things aren’t perfect”.

It needs to sink in for me too.

Walking to the library this morning, with my Inner Critic shrieking in my head, I resolved to make “progress, not perfection” my mantra for my work this year. And by the time I’d reached my second-favourite desk (annoyingly someone had already claimed my favourite desk), I’d realized that it applied to far more than just my writing.

It applied when it came to my photographs.

It applied when it came to my efforts to control my lizard brain when I’m frustrated with my kids.

It applied to anywhere in my life where I felt unsatisfied and wanted to make a change.

When you practice, you see, you have to make the time for something. You have to engage in it. And maybe the progress you make is incremental. Maybe it’s tiny, almost unnoticeable at first. Maybe baby steps even seem like big steps at first. But eventually, if you give it enough time, you will be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

I wrote on here that I hadn’t been able to come up with a good word to represent my goals for 2018.

It turns out I needed three words, not one.

Progress, not perfection.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, Choose Happiness, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

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?


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

How to Name a Goal

I’ve been struggling a little with how I want to articulate my goals for 2018.

I’m not usually big on New Year’s resolutions. As I’ve said on this blog many times before, I always think of September as the new year, because my life is so tied to the academic calendar.

This past September. though, wasn’t just a regular “back to school” start to the year. It felt like a seismic shift in our family. It wasn’t just that my maternity leave ended and I went back to work, but that I went back to work to a position that required full-time hours. I’ve always been working, with the exception of the first six months of E’s life and all of 2015 when there wasn’t any teaching to be had, but previously I’d been able to fit the work in around my family. Even when I was registered as a full-time student for the PhD, I never actually worked more than three days a week on it once E. was born.

Something approximating full-time hours (because I’m still cheating and staying home with P. one day a week) was a real shock, for all of us. E. had never had someone other than his parents pick him up from school in the afternoons.

The fall was a big period of adjustment (although it took much longer for me to adjust than anyone else).

We survived the fall.

That makes it sound probably worse than it was, because everyone was largely happy with the new routine (I’d still rather be home an extra day, but c’est la vie).

What didn’t happen, at least from my perspective, was this: we didn’t really ever slip into a groove. We made the routine work, but we weren’t settled in the new rhythm yet. On the surface, we probably looked under control- the house got cleaned and everyone ate and the kids went to activities and had clothes that fit and we didn’t forget appointments- but I think Q. and I both felt like we just careened from one week to the next, always only one step ahead of total chaos. (That we avoided chaos at all is almost entirely thanks to Q. who took on the lion’s share of the house management.)

It is quite possible that this is just normal life for two working parents with two little kids, but we’re not used to feeling so out of control.

It wasn’t a comfortable fall.

So I feel like there is value to setting some resolutions or goals for 2018, because I think it would be useful for me to sit back and look at my life and see what is working and what is not and to think about what I can change to improve things.

I just haven’t quite worked out yet how I want to approach it.

I have an all-or-nothing kind of personality, so it’s not at all practical for me to make resolutions like “do x every day” because as soon as I start missing days I tend to decide the entire thing’s a disaster and I quit. I once made an abortive attempt at a photo 365 (starting in 2016) and gave up even before January was half over because I’d missed a few days. In July it became clear on the photo blog which inspired me to start the challenge that she’d missed a bunch of days, including quite a few in quick succession in the summer. It was honestly shocking for me to contemplate the idea that you could keep doing something even if you hadn’t done all the rest of it perfectly up to that point.

I have to be careful with numbers because my inner perfectionist loves to tell me I’ve failed at things. That’s why I really liked Ana’s idea about posting 30 times in 30 days during NaBloPoMo: even if you missed a day, you could still complete the challenge. I didn’t quite get there, but I also didn’t give up almost immediately after missing a day, so I call that a win.

At first I thought about choosing a word for the year, to keep it simple. But the best word I could come up with was “less” (as in less stuff, less stress, less worrying, etc.) and that didn’t seem to encompass everything.

From Ana’s blog I heard about the Happier podcast’s idea of 18 in 2018, which seemed promising for about fifteen seconds before I decided that I’d get overwhelmed with 18 things, even if some of them were small.

I usually like goals better than resolutions because I’m a very results-oriented person, especially results that come with lots and lots of external validation. But some things lend themselves better to resolutions than goals (I am happy to resolve to “floss more” as opposed to working towards the goal of “not having my gums bleed copiously every time I go to the dentist”). Plus sometimes I don’t want to do the thinking to make sure all my goals are SMART. And sometimes the process is more important than the result: from a results-only perspective, my happiness boot camp back in 2015 was a total failure, in that I didn’t keep up with my charts and didn’t stick to the plan and didn’t achieve most of the goals (although the ultimate end goal was a success as I did end up much happier).

I take choosing my resolutions/goals seriously, even when I usually don’t achieve them.

Does that make any sense?

How do you approach your goals/resolutions? What works for you? What are you hoping to achieve in 2018?

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness

Road Trip

We drove back yesterday from visiting both parental households. Q. and I spent most of the drive discussing the current state of my parents (mother very stressed but long-term prospects are still good; father’s situation provokes rage and despair in equal measure). There was a lot of ranting (not all of it from me) and some serious talks about what to do next, all buried under loud music for the sake of the little pitcher with huge ears in the back.

Meanwhile, it the backseat, the drive looked a lot like this:

Five scenes from a six hour drive

Scene 1. Turia is driving. P. is asleep. E. is telling a story to himself.
E.: *unintelligible* “Don’t worry, I borrowed it from the solar system! The Earth said it would be all right.”
*sound effects of crashing and explosions*
E.: “And all the planets were consumed!”

Scene 2. Turia is driving. We are thirty minutes away from stopping for dinner.
P. *shrieks of laughter*
E.: “Pick up the monkey and throw it back to me, P.!”
*flurry of motion in the rear-view mirror*
E. & P. *shrieks of laughter*
Repeat scene with everything within reach in the backseat

Scene 3. Q. is driving. We are trying to get back on the highway after having to take a detour to avoid an accident right before our on-ramp.
P.: “P. Door. Car.”
E.: “How far away from home are we?”
P.: “P. Door. Car. Out.”
Turia: “One hour and forty-three minutes, according to Google, once we get back on the highway.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”
E.: “I meant, how many kilometres?”
P.: “P. DOOR. CAR. OUT!!!”
Turia: “One hundred and sixty-eight.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMY!!”
E.: “Oh, ok. I will not start to look for the [very well-known building] yet.”
P.: “P!!! DOOR!!! CAR!!! OUT!!! MUMMY, MUMMY, MUMMY!!!”

Scene 4. We are listening to Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Greatest Hits. Q. is driving. “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is playing.
E.: “You know, I think there are other versions of this song where they are eating things other than chicken and dumplings.”
*song ends*
P.: *very quietly* “Choo-choo.”

Scene 5. P. is asleep again. Q. is driving.
E.: “I still feel sad when I think about P. [our cat who died in April of 2016] just like I still feel sad when I think about Grandpa I. [my stepfather, who died in August 2016].”
Turia: “It’s ok to feel sad, E. You feel sad because you loved them and you miss them. I still feel sad when I think about them too.”
E.: “Remember after Grandpa I.’s funeral and I said that maybe at night he would get out of the cemetery and go geocaching? Maybe our cat gets up at night too.”
Turia: “Do you think she’s the one who makes our floorboards creak when L. [our other cat] is asleep on our bed?”
E.: “Yes!”
Turia: “Is she a little cat ghost?”
E.: “No! She is a cat zombie! She gets down off the shelf in her box and goes all around the house.”
*long pause*
Turia: *very quietly, to Q.*  “We really need to make time to bury her and get the box off of our bookshelf.”
E.: “Brrrrraaaaiiinnnnssss!”

Happy chaos.


Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)


Dear bulbs,

Thanks for joining our garden. I’m sorry it was so late in the year before you were planted, but luckily we’re pretty far south for such a northern country; winter hasn’t really arrived yet.

You might be wondering what kind of a life you can expect here. Perhaps you noticed the relatively haphazard way in which you were planted- at high speed, not evenly spaced, and at inconsistent depths. No one was thoroughly watered, like all the packages recommend, but it’s supposed to rain soon, so that should help. Those of you who are most likely to be eaten by squirrels over the winter (tulips- I’m looking at you) did receive a dusting of cayenne pepper before the soil was swept back over, but otherwise you’ve largely been left to fend for yourself.

The good news is you’re in good company. I planted around 250 of you this year, and I’m certain I’ve planted close to 1,500 bulbs over the last seven autumns. You probably noticed some of your older and more experienced neighbours when I accidentally dug them up while trying to find space to plant you.

That happens a lot. Every spring I tell myself I’m going to mark the areas in the garden where there aren’t enough bulbs to make things easier in the autumn, and every spring I’m too busy keeping one step ahead of the weeds to do so. Some of you had a taste of what that feels like when I accidentally dug you up the same day I planted you because I’d forgotten where I’d been digging.

I have a lot of sympathy for squirrels who can’t find their acorns.

Not all of you will grow, of course. Some of you I’ll have planted too deep, and others I’ll have planted too shallow, and some of you will be eaten by squirrels or dug up by squirrels and abandoned on the surface. Some of you will bloom next year but then never again. You at least have the advantage that I’ve learned not to cut off your leaves until they’ve died back, so you’ll be able to store up all your energy for the following year. I got a little snip-happy one day this spring, so it might not be as colourful next year as you would expect given the number of bulbs in the garden.

Some of you will get to meet my kid. He spends a lot of time keeping me company in the garden. When he was younger he used to like helping me plant bulbs. I’d dig the hole and he’d drop the bulb in, telling each one, “Night, night, bulb. See you in the spring.” These days he doesn’t plant or weed much but he loves digging for nature. The rule is he can’t dig for nature where there’s an established plant, so he digs in the empty spots which also happen to be where you hang out. He’s very good about putting you back in the ground when he fills in the hole, but he doesn’t always pay attention to which end should point up.

Lest you think the life of a bulb in the garden is unfairly difficult, I hasten to point out that, in my garden, the general attitude towards plants is one of benign neglect. I water perennials the first year they’re put into the soil, but after that they have to rely on rainfall and the occasional full-garden sprinkler. We mulch semi-regularly and I do weed, although you’re likely to have died back by the time I really get started on my annual battle against the bindweed that’s hiding almost everywhere. I’m pleased to say that I’m finally winning the war there.

I make the same mistakes with my perennials that I do with my bulbs. I forget that I’ve planted them and pull them out in the spring, thinking that they’re weeds (icelandic poppy and red coneflower, I am truly sorry). I let other plants overgrow them and block out their light (lupins, if you’re not dead, I promise no more calendula incursions next spring). I dig them up and move them around if I don’t think they’re thriving (and sometimes the digging up and the moving around guarantees that they won’t be thriving).

Plants in my garden have to make flowers (sorry, ornamental grasses, I’m not very sorry that you all died). Most of them need to attract bees and butterflies. They need to be pest resistant as the sum total of my pest control strategy is occasionally sprinkling baby powder on the oriental lilies so the red lily beetles don’t eat them. There are a lot of worms in our garden, so I hope you like worms (there are also lots of grubs and larvae and centipedes and snails and pill bugs and ants, to judge from the results of my son’s digging for nature expeditions).

The good news is that most plants get to just keep on growing. I’m always looking to fill in gaps, and block out the bindweed, so it’s rare that I make the decision to uproot or even divide a plant (although, salvia, your time is coming; yours too, prairie coneflower). I know I should pull out tulip bulbs when they only send up one leaf and no flower, but I often just cut the leaf off instead when I’m weeding, and the bulb survives to grow again another year.

You don’t know this yet, but you’ve become part of something very special. The corner where you now live used to be a terrible eyesore in the neighbourhood. It’s taken a lot of time and energy, and there’s been a lot of sweat, some swearing, some crying, and even some blood, but I’ve turned our little patch of earth into something I can be proud of, something our neighbours always comment on when they walk by. When I was out this week planting you and cutting back the frost-wilted plants, nearly everyone who walked past stopped to ask what I was planting and to tell me how much they were looking forward to the spring.

The garden is beautiful in almost every season, but you, my bulbs, you are the heralds of spring. The indigo and yellow and lavender of the crocuses is the first promise that the winter is ending, and every year I count the blooms as they emerge. Yes, daffodils, I know that when the tulips are at their peak they are a riot of colour and everyone is drawn to their showy exuberance, but I love you best for your cheerful yellow faces and your steadfast loyalty in returning every year. Irises, you are a new experiment this year as I adore your larger cousins. And snowdrops, you’ve been a dead loss in the garden every other time I’ve planted you, so hopefully you’re game for a challenge.

I may grumble and complain about planting bulbs in the autumn, when the days are too short and the wind is too sharp, but when spring comes I am reminded, again, that every bloom was worth it.

Night night, bulbs.

See you in the spring.


Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Choose Happiness, Daily Life