make goals not war

Process, At Home

On One Hand

The newest member of our family is already five weeks old, and there is no doubt that despite my efforts to stay relaxed about everything, I am itching to get stuff done, and to get out and about more than I did when we had our first son.

As a result, when the baby refuses to sleep in the crib, which is common for most of his designated naps, I'm instead walking around with him slung over one arm, seeking tasks that can be accomplished while using the other available hand.  I'm learning fast and sometimes take pleasure in this most supreme multi-tasking challenge.

But You Can Still Be Friends

Isn't it always the case that after you break up, the other party pulls it together and then you can't remember why you wanted to break up?  He gets off the couch, quits the fantasy football league, shuts off the TV, and finally starts the company that he kept talking about while you hung around offering encouragement...he loses ten pounds, he starts cooking, he goes dancing...basically he does all of the things that you had wished could happen while you were together, but he does them with someone else.

Houston is doing that to me a little bit right now.  I have been hanging around, waiting for Houston to come into its creative own, looking for signs of creative life.  Hints of it surfaced here and there, but still it has sometimes felt difficult to actually find people to do creative things with.

Last week, literally weeks before our departure, a new place opened for people to rent space and make things.  People close to me know that I have wanted to try this for sewing; every time I pack up my heavy machines that do not get daily use, I wonder why more us don't share these things.  I have even sketched out a rough idea for a business model.  But the constant moving has stopped me from actually going for it because I was terrified of having to leave it behind.  Anyway, I'm not bitter that someone else did it first; I'm happy it exists because it makes so much sense.  I'm just disappointed that it didn't happen two years ago, when I could be part of it.

Regardless, Houston, you are looking better already, and I'm sure it's not out of the question that I will be back.  Maybe we will make things together at some point in the future.  In the meantime, good luck to Houston Makerspace!







(I couldn't help but add the photo of this cool bus stop bench around the corner.)

Inspiration

A Wise Maker Said (Last Weekend On the Radio)

Last weekend I turned on the radio just in time to hear a snippet of a program to which I rarely listen, but my interest was piqued by the discussion.  The guest was an artist whose name is Ann Hamilton.  Someone asked her how being a maker (the title she prefers over artist) and a teacher and a parent inform each other, and also how she keeps the maker "alive with enough nourishment, how to not claw at the small amount of time/space in [her] head?"  And this question resonated with me, as I'm sure it does with many people who feel that they fight for bits of time in order to bring their ideas to life.

I don't know anything about this artist, so I have no idea what her work or her teaching are like, but her voice was calm and her response was soothing.  Just listening to her response made me feel instantly more relaxed about what I might be able to do in the coming days, weeks, years. I could feel my brow loosening and my shoulders unfolding as she responded to the question.

She said that when her son was born, she just learned how to make differently: "It happens in your kitchen, it just happens differently...trusting that just because you can't be in whatever you call your studio doesn't mean that you are not having a thought or insight.  If I conceive of them as being separate, then I would be forever frustrated, but if they are all one practice, and...all the projects are one big project...not that we don't feel pressed for time in some ways, but there is an anxiousness that I can at least allay a little bit.  Sometimes the most important thing is to...make the soup and in the soup is going to be the project even though a kid is sick upstairs and that's why you're making the soup."

"Everything feeds everything else," she said, and isn't that so true?

It feels lucky that the universe connected me with her thoughts at just this time, as I am coming to realize that executing the move to the village is going to cost me dearly in any kind of private free time for a large portion of 2014; the thought of which renders me both slightly devastated and also a little bit defeated with regard to the uncomfortable goal for 2014.  It's not that I have given it up, but it is true that I had to let go of the pressure I was placing on myself with regard to the deadline.

In spite of my dismay at yet another disruption to the ever-so-brief settled feeling that I have felt only recently in Houston, and how that links to my creative life, I have been working to imagine what small projects will travel well while we are in limbo.  Some days it sounds fine, almost like a fun creative challenge, and other days, it is hard to resist a feeling of desperation about the sum total of lost time due to continuous moving disruptions.  Hopefully, anything I can accomplish along the way will feed both my soul and the future of my ideas, a la Ann Hamilton.

Another notion that Ann addressed was the idea of time as a material, instead of a boundary, and the importance of letting things take the time that they need, which is another nice validation of what I have been working on personally for a few years now.  I know people who succeed, and indeed thrive, at a breakneck pace with no down time, but I have learned that I am not one of those people.  Not only that but it just feels like things are still brewing and fermenting for me, and that maybe the uncomfortable goal was a little premature.  Immediately after I made it, I felt anxiety every time I looked at the calendar, and it had me spinning.

This very wise maker added still another thought to an already-helpful conversation; she posed the question "how does your own vulnerability become a place of incredible strength...if you can just occupy that, then there's whole lot of knowledge in there".

To me it feels that my vulnerability is the uncertainty of our geographical future; the inability to know with confidence that a place I make my own, or my home. will remain my place for any length of time.  I have dug deep into my heart and soul to find ways to live comfortably alongside that notion, and it continues to be a challenge.  We made the hard decision, but today it feels almost unbearably risky and exhausting.  I need to take a deep breath and find a way to make turn these challenges into assets.


Backing Into the Day

My husband backs into every single parking space that he uses.  When we first met it was mysterious to me, and I won't lie, odd.  Over time I have become used to it and have ferreted out the reason: he was brainwashed by his former employer of ten years.  There are many things about that company that I did not appreciate, but on this particular matter, their intentions were good.

Apparently, backing into parking spaces increases the rates of safe driving (or should I say 'decreases the rate of accidents while driving'?).  The logic is that we are paying more attention to the matter at hand when we arrive at a location than we do when are when we are departing.  When we depart, we are already thinking about what will be next after leaving the parking lot.  In other words, while we are driving in reverse, our minds are on other things.  Thus, accidents.

I have a habit of preparing for my next day as much as I can the night before.  Mostly it is a leftover habit from when I had to wake up outrageously early in the mornings for work; I tried to pack items I would need for the day and leave them by the door, or place items that I was likely to forget with items that I couldn't possibly leave without (i.e. put the book that I was likely to forget next the keys that I was physically unable to leave without). Planning outfits the night before, or packing lunches the night before, produces this same effect.  We try to dummy-proof our morning in order to maximize precious minutes.

I find that I am happiest when I do the same thing as a mom; it turns out that it is the best way to steal time in which to work on non-mom projects.  While I do not often have to leave the house early, I do still need to maximize hands-free and baby-free minutes.  So I do things like putting out my breakfast cereal bowl, pre-filled, and preparing the baby's morning bottle and diaper bag, before I go to bed.  It's not rocket science, nor is it a new technique.  The only innovation is that I now refer to it as backing into my day, which also has helped my husband understand these habits not as something neurotic and silly, but something that makes all of us have a smoother, more pleasant morning.

Backing into my day is one life strategy which allowed me to finish knitting a vest this week for my son, luckily while it still fits him.


2014

It is New Year's Eve, a holiday that I adore.  I'm a new-year super-geek.  Even home with only a sleeping five-month-old and a glass of champagne, missing my husband and feeling a smidge lonely, I still love the new year.  It is a holiday of closure but also possibilities, and I especially love possibilities. Everything is all fresh and tidy and optimistic again.  A new year feels like a free pass to try and do things better this time, even if it wasn't great last time.

I like making goals (much more positive than "resolutions", in my opinion).  I dislike the news stories  I've heard this week which lament the overall failure of resolutions; I am certain we achieve what we truly mean to achieve in the course of year. My goal lists from past years, with all of their markings and charts and tracking sheets, prove this. People fail at their resolutions because they don't commit to the next steps.  The chasm between desired outcomes and starting points requires doing the work:  putting one foot in front of the other, more days than not. More interesting news stories would be stories of resolution success.

Sometimes I proclaim my goals to the universe, but this year, my one big goal shall remain relatively private, mostly because I feel shy and a little nervous about it. This violates one of my goal-achievement beliefs, which is that making it public keeps you accountable.  I have told those few folks who are on a need-to-know basis but otherwise I'm playing it close to the vest for now.  I know those people will help to keep me honest, and I know what I need to do.  Or at least, or I know where to start and I have a vague notion of what I need to do.

I have also noticed in the past that I, like most, probably, work on the goals that feel most comfortable and approachable, more than the ones that feel less natural and more forced.  The good news is that as a result, some of my past goals, especially ones that include food and exercise, have become more habitual. Therefore, I feel that I can relax the pressure on those a bit this year in order to give energy to that which feels harder right now.

So, if I only make one uncomfortable scary goal, what will happen?

Wait and see.

Happy 2014!

Doing It Myself (But Not Really)

There have been some big developments recently. Last weekend was a big weekend in fact, but Sunday was especially noteworthy. I had been home alone at that point for nine days in a row, and it has been intense and challenging.

One thing that happened was that I carved out enough time to knit four rows of a baby blanket that I started making soon after I learned that I was pregnant. I swear it will be finished before his one year birthday. It has to be or it won't be big enough to cover him after it's finished. Even a few rows a day at this point will get me there.

Another big event was when I took the baby for a walk in the stroller and we entered a coffee house so I could buy some tea and a croissant. He did not cry. He cried prior to our arrival and he cried soon after our departure, but I blame the unrelenting Texas heat for that. I give the baby credit for allowing me to get my treats without interfering with the quiet environment enjoyed by the other patrons.

Last weekend I also bathed the baby by myself, with no other person present in the house. This also probably sounds insignificant unless you have ever held a newborn and understand how unpredictably their heads and limbs thrash about. He is getting stronger by the hour and and extremely close to being able to hold his head up, but holding him in water without backup hands still intimidates me.

Last weekend I also showered uninterrupted, and even used a blow dryer, with no other adult present. This time the credit goes to the MamaRoo bouncing chair. Really "bouncing" is not really an accurate depiction of what this thing does. Babies apparently love, in fact crave, motion. This chair offers five types of motion, approximating the movements of the ocean, a kangaroo, a tree swing, the car, or a rocker. There are also built in white noise options, or even the possibility of plugging your music device. It has five speeds, and while I am still experimenting, yesterday the lowest speed of the tree swing bought the baby a blissful nap and bought me the grown-up bliss of a complete shower with a little bonus time for laundry.

Unbelievably, I also turned on the oven that day and used it to prepare some food for dinner. I even sat down at the table to eat that dinner, although dinner did not turn out to be one continuous event. MamaRoo came through again here, allowing me to finish my interrupted dinner before turning my attention back to the baby.

These things, and even a few others, happened for a few reasons. One, we are starting to find our rhythm and the baby is getting bigger and stronger. Both myself and the baby are getting the hang of our new existence. Two, and more significantly, for two nights in a row, the baby slept at night for five hours continuously. That may have been some sort of illusion on his part, some kind of baby mirage, because it hasn't happened again since. When I started writing this post a few days ago, I was jubilant from the effect of semi-normal sleep and mild productivity. This morning, on the heels of a brutal night and a rough 24 hours prior to that, it sounds impossible that I will ever feel rested and/or productive again or even that last weekend actually happened to me.


Regardless, these milestones were possible because I'm not actually doing all this by myself. I may be home alone technically, but I have had generous help at some key moments. As I mentioned before, my mom was here for a crucial stretch right as my husband left and as the baby was at the height of his struggle to resist continuous sleep.


After my mom left, I struggled mightily in the days that followed, but friends did not let me lose heart, stopping by with help, encouragement and/or edible treats. Ultimately, a couple we are friends with offered to not just babysit the baby, but to take him to their house, so that I had the experience of my house, but quiet, in which I could nap or do things, or both. I was unbelievably excited, until I packed his diaper bag, at which point I felt strange and guilty. When he left I even felt sad. My eyes filled up briefly but then dried quickly as they drove away; I recovered quickly and then spent a wonderful four hours doing normal things and taking an amazing nap.

When he was returned to me, We were both refreshed and calm, and I was ready, even excited to see him, even though only a few hours had passed. I am very lucky, and that night was the first night that he slept five hours. It felt like some kind of turning point, because when I woke up on Saturday, I felt like me again. The old me, the one that wanted to make things in my studio and that didn't mind being home alone sometimes.

In the beginning of all this, I wanted to do a lot of baby-related things myself. I wanted to knit the blanket. I planned to knit some animals for the mobile over the crib. I got half-way through making a maternity dress to wear to my shower and had plans to make several more. I should have made some burp cloths (just fancy pieces of fabric, really) and a nursing cover (again, a fancy piece of fabric). Instead, everything happened in whirlwind fashion all year, and I made almost nothing for myself or for the baby. I bought lots of things that I'm not sure will ever have a second life (at least at our house), and some things that proved wasteful or unnecessary, because I was had to rush or because I didn't fully understand what I needed.

But, at least this blanket will get done. I swear it will. And maybe events caused a temporary drop in my crafty output and a lull in my efforts at consuming sustainably. But on the other hand, isn’t it amazing and lucky that I don't have to do everything myself all the time?

Slow Down to Go Faster

It turns out that babies cannot be rushed.  Especially ours, but my guess is probably most if not all.

As I mentioned in a previous post, our son does not eat quickly.  He nurses in a stop-and-go fashion, and so far any attempts on my part to alter his speed result in retribution when it is time to go down for the post-meal nap. In short, it is best to not separate him from the food source before he is ready, even if he is playing with his food.  This is probably common baby sense, but since I had no baby sense prior to this year, it was news to me.

Here are some other things I've learned this month about being home with an infant:
  • Most parents do at least one thing while home alone with their infant that goes against pediatrician recommendations (which is one very good reason to try not to judge other people's parenting). Usually the illicit things parents are doing while home with their baby are related to the procurement of sleep.
  • Digestion is everything. Also, digestion is profoundly linked to sleep.  Giving up too early on the burping, or skipping it if the baby looks sleepy, in order to get to the nap sooner, can have serious repercussions involving spit-up and sleep loss.
  • An entire industry of products and services has grown up around trying to get your baby to sleep in the crib. Your baby will sleep happily anywhere but the crib.
  • Sucking boogers out of your baby's nose using a glorified overpriced filtered straw is more fun than it sounds.
  • Amazon Prime is worth it.
  • You can order Jelly Bellys on Amazon, along with any other items which may or may not help you survive the first months of caring for a baby.

In the meantime, instead of trying to speed up the baby, I'm slowing down my pace. My goals for these days have become modest, if not skimpy.  They involve knitting a row instead of knitting for an hour or going for a walk instead of going for a run.

It's hard to let go but also nice sometimes to sit still with a snuggly, sleepy baby.

Third Trimester: Monitoring and Adjusting Accordingly

I have dropped some balls during the last couple of months.  If my husband was here, he would very kindly tell me that it is not true; he doesn't like to hear me critical of my own accomplishments (or lack thereof).

But here I am, deep into my third trimester, and still so much unfinished business!  After our period of extended waiting came to an abrupt end, my husband's few days in the Gulf of Mexico in May turned into three weeks, followed by forty-eight hours at home, and now over a month in Indonesia, with the return date still fuzzy but possibly occurring in mid-July.  All of that is helpful from a financial point of view, but less so from a physical and sometimes emotional point of view.  Who knew that the end of pregnancy was so tricky?  Obviously lots of people, but not me; I can't say that I had a full understanding.  Seeing other people do something, and then doing it oneself are two very different animals.

I have had many kind offers of assistance, and it's not that any particular one thing is impossible, yet.  But everything is just slower and clumsier.  I have only one speed, and it is not the one to which I am accustomed.  It takes longer to get dressed and get organized.  I have to take breaks and put my feet up a lot, otherwise I morph into Shrek from the hips to my toes; it seems I'm one of the lucky ones who experiences edema (significant swelling of the legs and feet).  These are small things and I am grateful to not have other more severe concerns, but these things also mean that my high hopes for getting lots done before this little guy comes into the world have been edited to a more moderate altitude.

I was not a particularly gifted teacher.  Most of us that have tried teaching are not.  Like any profession, many of us were fine, having some good days, occasional great days, some bad days and lots of average days in the middle.  Lesson planning was not an area of strength for me, but on the other hand, I was usually adept at changing the course of the lesson on the fly if I could see that the students were not with me.  The education term for this technique was 'monitor and adjust' and it was something that came naturally to me from the beginning.  What's funny to me now is how much I need that skill in my daily non-teaching life.

We have to monitor our home life and adjust plans regularly, as the course of my husband's career takes unexpected turns.  I have had to monitor the impact of all of that on my own goals and adjust my decisions accordingly.  And this year, we have had to monitor our expectations for happiness, togetherness, parenthood, and financial health and adjust appropriately.  The outcomes and structure of the next couple of years are still fuzzy, but our emotional health so far remains firmly intact.  Luckily this feels like a winning adjustment.

In the meantime, some of my other activities have been monitored and largely forsaken as a result of adjusting to the limitations of late pregnancy.  One example is shaving.  Sorry if this is T.M.I. to any male readers out there, but how would you like to shave your face if you couldn't reach it or see it?  I haven't given up all the way, but I can tell that my days are numbered.  Another activity is cleaning the house...it still happens, but very gradually, in stages.  Sitting at the dinner table or in a restaurant for very long is also getting very uncomfortable.  According to the medical people in my life, when I'm sitting up with my feet on the floor, my baby, bless his sweet soul, is cutting off the blood supply that is trying to flow back up from my legs to my heart, which is what causes the extreme Shrek-style foot and ankle swelling.  Traveling is definitively out these days, as is sitting in the sun, which also triggers the swelling switch.  

One more activity has had to be adjusted, but not necessarily just because of the pregnancy...I have slowed down a little on the bread and cooking goals for the year (I was aiming for one new loaf a week and one new recipe a week).  Turns out that being home alone with a lot of baked goods and cooked food just leads to me eating more than I should and to running out of room in the freezer.  I'm still cooking, but I just had to slow it down and not worry about it for a bit while I caught up.  Now that things are kind of caught up, it might be time to start cooking again to make a supply of meals for when we first bring the baby home.

So have I dropped some balls, or just made some appropriate adjustments?  Not sure.  But I can say that now that I'm finally putting together the nursery, there are some sewing projects for the baby that are behind schedule.  Will they get finished?  I don't know.  If they don't, I'm sure the baby and I will both adjust accordingly.


Big Girl Pants: Conclusion

I recently wrote about having accepted a position as a relocation consultant.  I'm not going to lie; I had reservations from the beginning.  But it's always flattering to be offered a job, and it did not feel appropriate to decline while my husband was between contracts.  I felt obligated, and also curious, but not particularly confident or excited about how the position would fit into my life.

That was back in late January.  Fast forward to April and now I'm sure that this position is not the way I want to move forward.  I fought urges to quit (which occurred almost immediately and then continuously), but kept at it long enough to realize that while parts of it are quite easy, it still wasn't right.  At the same time I learned some important things about what I do and don't want to be spending time on right now.



I liked the feeling of being productive again, and by that I mean that even if I didn't love the work, it felt good to have worked, earned, accomplished things.  I liked meeting some new people, and adding some knowledge and complexity to my life in Houston.  I liked it when I understood what was going on; when I knew I had done something correctly, and I was reminded how every time we start something new, we push that feeling of accomplishment farther away.

I tried to be very clear and objective about what I did not like, or what was a mixed bag.  I am seeking the balance between holding out for what feels right, and realizing that every job has things I won't like,  and at a certain point I just need to decide which of the things I don't like I can still live with in order to do strong work.  The baby on the way makes that priority even more clear.  As tricky as it is to figure out how to have a flexible, mobile and rewarding work life while married to unpredictable oil and gas, pulling that off with a baby will require me to be extra firm and clear about how to use my time.

In the spirit of all that...I liked learning about being "self-employed" (which contractors are in the eyes of the IRS), but I was not wild about doing that for another person's company.  I think if I try that again, it will be for my own vision, my schedule, my rules...ideally my own company.  I liked working from home (i.e. without an office), but I found it difficult to learn the job without any nearby colleagues or any group time.  I was also not impressed by how little paid training was offered.  Much of the anxiety that I experienced could have been reduced by a more professional training environment.  However, as far as training goes, many companies do not invest in quality paid training, so that by itself does not feel like a valid grudge to hold against this particular group.

The two most significant conclusions I reached, which caused me to alter my course in a way that I think is for the better, were driven by the practical consideration of schedule and by gut reaction and reflection.  With regard to schedule, I learned that due to the other moving parts of my life (a husband who will be away as much as fifty percent of the time, starting any week now, and a baby coming sooner than I can believe), I was not comfortable with a truly unpredictable schedule.  I can live with not having a routinely predictable paycheck, but it was unpleasant to be going about my business and then asked with little or no notice if I was free to accept a client, and then after having accepted them, to never know exactly for the next few weeks when I would be needed periodically by them.  I found this experience harrowing even without having to worry about childcare yet.  It was also making me hate my phone and inbox.  In light of that, I am not interested in spending my final baby-free months learning how to get better at the job I knew I wouldn't go back to later.

The other revelation was that I did not feel happy with the idea of adding yet another new dimension to my resume. I have spent a large amount of time learning how to teach English to non-English speakers, and I have also spent a substantial amount of time learning the foundation of clothing development and design.  Instead of starting down an entirely new path, for the time being, I want to stick to my guns on looking for work only related to those fields for now.

I have moved my English teaching materials across this continent several times, and each time I have not been able to bring myself to donate the books.  I have had the thought that before I leave Houston, I want to either have donated them, or made them again useful in my life.  I am equally reluctant to relegate sewing, illustration or design to the mere hobby designation; it's still not clear to me what to do with those skills, but I know I haven't gotten far enough in yet to be certain that I can't use them.

So.  I'm wrapping up my final relocation clients this month, and I've positioned myself on the substitute and tutoring list at a local English language learning center.  I've also been working on some new sketches and a new pattern, for the first time in months in these strange and confusing months.  I'm behind on my sketching and sewing goals for the year, but I know it's not too late to catch up.

Sunday Cooking

I did not help my mom in the kitchen very much while I was growing up, unless you count making my own school lunches and learning how to make certain foods that I wanted to eat over and over again, like mashed potatoes and chocolate chip cookies.

So when I was living alone as a younger adult, I soon realized that I didn't know how to cook real food.  Recipes had mysterious ingredients in them, like "stock", and unclear commands, like "cut the butter into the flour".  Obviously I avoided those recipes until I had made all of the other ones with easier instructions.  I even tried once to make soup not only without stock, but also without onions.  I have never liked raw onion, and I hadn't yet realized not only that cooked onion completely different than raw onion, but also that cooking an onion is the beginning of almost everything.

I made a lot of gourmet grilled cheese with tomato soup from a box and relied upon Amy's Organics frozen meals for my lunches at work.  I ate out a lot.  I was not unusual among my peers in this, but I know my parents were confused.  They knew that I should have been on a budget, so my habit of eating out frequently seemed strange to them.  But, that's what we did; as entertainment, as a vehicle for socializing, as a way to feel grown-up, and probably because suddenly delicious food was quite hip.


Over the years, my cooking skills have expanded, in fits and starts.  I have made peace with the mighty onion, although I do experience what I consider to be uncommon discomfort in my eyes when I chop one.  My respect for its capacity to flavor gets me through it.

Today as I was working on my new recipe for the week, a pot pie recipe from a cookbook by the chef and founder of my favorite restaurant in Minneapolis, I was reminded of past Sundays spent in the kitchen.  When I was teaching, and and trying to learn how to make some homemade things, I was not successful at making time or finding energy to cook well during the week.  Saturday was always spent running around, working on my master's degree, catching up on sleep, seeing friends, exercising, all manner of normal Saturday things.  Sunday, the day that I should have been catching up on work, more often than I not, was the day that I cooked things.   Or at least it's fair to say that if I was to cook something healthy requiring multiple steps and multiple ingredients, it most likely occurred on a Sunday. 

Since I should have been working, cooking beckoned, by virtue of it being more appealing than working and yet still providing a sense of accomplishment.  Plus, when I started the week after having worked all day on a Sunday, I felt ornery and worn-out by Tuesday. If I spent Sunday cooking a big pot of chili or a chicken casserole, I was not only nourished for several days, also more refreshed for the coming week.  Maybe learning how to cook taught me what can be good about Sundays, which is a day of the week I had never much appreciated before.

I'm grateful that I don't currently have to spend Sundays working, or feeling guilty for work I'm not doing.  Still, I have noticed that the Sunday cooking habit has stuck with me.  Lately I have even noticed that I enjoy it.  It is a nice way to be both methodical and creative, with a low level of investment.  Today I cooked in the spirit of Michael Pollan, making indulgent foods from scratch, instead of buying the junk-food versions at the store.  The pot pies provided the tasty comfort-food effect I was seeking and the homemade peppermint patties satisfied my raging pregnancy-amplified sweet tooth.  I didn't want to get my hopes up, but both treats went very well, so it was a Sunday well-spent.




Big Girl Pants (Not the Maternity Kind)

People have been asking me how my new job is going.  I find myself not wanting to talk about it, for a variety of reasons.

I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.  Some of my initial reactions have been quite negative, but since I have a history of feeling that way when faced with a new job in a new field, I have been trying to fight those feelings.  And, since it is not full-time and I have not yet completed very much paid work, I have been resisting the urge to say terrible things about it.  The lulls in the schedule have also provided welcome moments for me to step back, take breaks to do something else when I have wanted to run screaming in the other direction.


My biggest frustration is the significant lack of paid training (only four hours and none of them with an actual client), which has led me to spend many hours at home trying to better understand how to do the job well.  There are a few other tricky aspects of it, the main one being that I am considered self-employed, which creates a lot of work in terms of understanding how to deal with the tax ramifications of my pay, my time, and my expenses.  It does not bother me to learn about this, since I would have to learn this anyway if I ever started a business of my own, but it does mean that I'm faced with a lot of unfamiliar tasks in the short term.

I have also been reflecting on the positive aspects of the job, since considering those helps me stay focused during the moments when I wonder if this was a terrible idea.  The positive aspects of the work are giving me good food for thought as I continue to consider my work future.  I even wrote down that list in my planner, so I can be easily reminded from time to time why I am doing something that is causing me discomfort.  I won't go into the list here, but for now I will say that the timing was right for me to put on my big-girl pants and try this, even if it is uncomfortable.  It's a lot of pressure on my husband to be the only earner in the household and with the unplanned break in his contracts this winter, the timing is good for me to help fill the gap so that we can continue to work toward our financial goals.

I'm not sure how busy I will be with work prior to our baby's arrival, since the timing of client arrivals is unpredictable, and I am hoping to do some travel prior to my 34 week travel ban.  I'm also not yet sure if I will want to do continue this work after the baby, or if it would even be financially worth it with the cost of childcare, but for now I am trying to stay calm and remain focused on doing something because seems like what I should do, both personally, and for our household.

I Love Carbs

I have written in the past about how irked I am by the Paleo diet trend.  It seems unsustainable, extreme and controlling, several qualities that do not feel comfortable in my food life.  I should care what other people are up to, but for some reason the Paleo thing gets to me.  Also, I just really love bread and potatoes, so even if the math added up on the Paleo diet, I could still see myself living with the risks of flour, just as people now openly encourage pregnant women to go ahead and have that occasional glass  of wine.

In fact, this year one of my goals is very flour-focused.  After years of hemming and hawing about wanting to make bread after one or two long-ago failed attempts, I have finally made some progress.  I have successfully caused dough to rise, and navigated my way around a packet of yeast.

For my weekly attempts in the beginning of the year, I stuck with one basic white/wheat yeast bread recipe and repeated it several times until it became more comfortable.  But this week, I have cleared a new hurdle: the soft pretzel.



I have never met a pretzel that I didn't like, but these produced an unusually high level of satisfaction.  I veered slightly from the technical requirements of my goal; this recipe was not from one of the books already on my shelf, but rather from a blog that I stumbled across recently.  It was a very simple version, more simple than the versions in my cookbooks, thereby making it a good stepping stone.  There will definitely be more pretzels baked in our house; my husband and I enjoyed these so much that we almost ruined our appetites for dinner.

Next on my list of homemade Paleo-busting recipes: cinnamon buns.  I have yet to find a good one made in Houston, plus, if it's homemade, it's fair game according to my Michael Pollan "diet". 



Resolve

We are three weeks into the new year.  Into our resolutions, goals, promises and lists.  Which means that many people, myself included, have likely reached the feeling of discomfort that occurs from venturing into unknown territory and not feeling great about the results.  Suddenly we wonder if the goal was silly, or if we are not good enough, or if we have wasted our time.  And very often, we slink away to lick our wounds, letting the new goal slide off the table, no harm done.  But why do we feel uncomfortable?  And how do we build that bridge between old familiar skills and new desired expertise?

I have so far been essentially meeting the weekly goals I have set for myself, with some minor deadline tweaking, and with hints of the aforementioned disappointment.  For example, since one of my goals is to learn to bake bread, I am working to accomplish it by baking one loaf per week.  The first loaf I made went mostly according to the recipe and I was tickled when the dough actually rose, just as the recipe suggested it would.  I did, however, forget to add salt.  So, it looked nice, but tasted less than fabulous.  Then last week, I made the dough on time, but it turned out that there was no time to finish the baking process until today.  Since I'm within one day, I will still count it for last week's loaf.  And I am still required to make one this week.  So...progress, but definitely no artisanal bread just yet.  Obviously.  What we forget is that in the beginning, everything feels hard.  We have adult, gourmet expectations, but our skills always begin as elementary.  Time and patience are required.  This is not surprising, but it is easier said than managed.








I have successfully engaged in the expansion of my cooking repertoire by trying at least one new recipe per week, as planned .  The two standout recipes so far are one for tsasiki, and one for homemade (no box, real cheese) mac 'n' cheese.  




So things are proceeding nicely in the food department.  However, I'm disappointed with my performance in the craft, fashion and sewing department.  I loved the illustration class that I took last spring.  I was originally intimidated by the notion of drawing, but as it turned out, I was a strong student and benefited from the teaching of an excellent instructor.  Doing the work that he taught made me feel more confident and more creative.  

For that reason, this year I set the goal of creating one new illustration per week, to also include one new garment per week.  My intentions with regard to this goal are to build my skills, gauge my enjoyment of the process and also to explore my potential as a designer who can move beyond creating occasional and individual garments, into the realm of one who can imagine cohesive looks for collections.

I describe all of this in order to explain my frustration that while this feels like it should be the most important goal on the list for me, since it affects other short and long-term plans, it is the goal with which I am struggling the most.  Which brings me back to this conundrum of how hard it is to get ourselves to do new things that feel fuzzy or uncomfortable.  I have been giving it some thought over the last couple of weeks, and have concluded that it is easier to get myself to cook because I already have strong comfort with cooking basics.  Plus, ever few hours, we have to eat.  Since eating cannot be avoided, it's easier to get started in a timely way, and must be frequently repeated.

So here I am today, with last week's drawings not yet complete, this week's looming ahead, plus this weekend's dough rising ungoverned on the counter.  I'm not employed by anyone else, and yet I'm somehow way behind schedule.  It feels shameful.

My suspicion is that this is how new goals fall off of lists and are forgotten.  In the process of trying to improve the quality of our lives, we can end up feeling inadequate and unsure of ourselves.  It's tempting to pull back and to forget the resolutions, which actually means that this is exactly the moment to keep going, and not throw in the towel.  In spite of a missed deadline, or an inadequate loaf, the goals can still be met.  More importantly, the process of chasing them will still improve the quality of our lives.

In conclusion, it's time to stop writing in order to finish the baking and double down on drawing before another evening sneaks up on me.

When I Started Writing This Post, It Was Still 2012

But now 2012 is over, unbelievably.  Back when I started writing this, a few morsels of 2012 remained with which people could quit smoking, get skinny, top off the 401k, be better neighbors, or whatever it was they started working on last January.  And then it was over.  

I've missed writing my blog, and feel bad about my no-warning disappearance.  I have reasons for my lapse, but who cares about that.  I'm back and what's important is that this is my favorite time of year.  I love making the lists, cleaning out the cobwebs, and just generally trying to do a better job doing life.  So it seems like the right time to get back on the blog horse.


Before launching into this year's list of goals and plans, it seems wise to review my performance from last year:


  1. make a business or organization plan: The last time I updated the goals, I had begun looking into this.  I haven't strayed far from that spot, but I have made some progress.  I've learned more about the process, but as a result, I have also learned how far I have to go before I could operate my own business.  I'm in no rush for this one, but it remains on my list of (longer-term) goals.
  2. make a patio herb garden: I grew two herbs this year: basil for a wee short time until the blazing Texas sun killed it, and mint, which struggled at first but rallied when we moved.  Then it suddenly died.  I can't lie, I could only describe my commitment to this goal as half-assed.  As soon as the basil died, I fizzled too.  However, settling into a house of our own has made it seem more of a real ongoing possibility, so I recently picked up a couple of books for guidance on this foreign Houston climate.  Now the trick will be to actually use them and execute in 2013.  I can report that many mojitos were made with mint that we grew, so it's a start.
  3. exercise at least 30 mins 3x a week: I am proud to say I nailed this one.  The only weeks that did not get the 3x treatment were due to travel or illness.  And it worked! I was mostly able to able to fit comfortably into all of my clothes for most of the year.
  4. get a tattoo: I still want one of these, but it doesn't seem like the sort of thing that should be rushed, and I have not yet settled on the correct expression of what I want.  As with the first goal, stay tuned.
  5. put down roots: We did it!  The execution of this goal morphed a few times, and the result was different than we expected, but I am content with the results.  We have settled into our little house in Houston, and are the proud possessors of both a yard and a mortgage.

So... on to 2013.  I know that some people make fun of goals and resolutions, and I think that it is partly because we are humans, and as such, we make goals and resolutions in moments of enthusiasm, and then they fall by the wayside as our day-to-day habits take over.  But I do not accept that the fact that we do not complete all of the goals renders worthless the exercise of putting them down on a list.  Even if you only cross off five or three or one, isn't that still more than you may have completed if you had never made the list?  This point becomes more clear if you make these lists every year.  I have had goals living on lists for years before they get done.  So what?  If it keeps making the list, there must be something compelling about it, or it wouldn't continue to occupy space in my mind.  And if they lead a surprising direction, that's cool too.  Don't skip trying just because you might not get to cross it off.

My husband and I reflect a lot on how to continue to grow and be successful in our lives, and in the course of this discussion, we recently read an article maintaining that it is a relatively simple formula: we are successful at the things that we spend the most time doing.  It makes a lot of sense.  Of course aptitude and talent help, but when it comes down to it, straight-up hours spent on task and continued effort on an activity will get a person pretty far.  My goals for 2013 reflect the spirit of this philosophy:

  • Continue reflection on goals 1 and 4 from 2012
  • Repeat goal number 3 from 2012
  • make bread: I have always had romantic notions about the art of making bread, and I have only actually tried doing it a few times.  As a result, it has not yet gone all that well.  So in 2013, I will complete one bread-baking or bread-learning activity per week
  • cook one new recipe a week: I have mentioned on earlier posts my obsession with and enjoyment of cookbooks, especially those that are place-related.  I love to look through them and wonder at the amazing dishes.  However, it also always strikes me how many I haven't tried cooking yet.  I consider myself a high-beginner or a very low-intermediate on the cooking scale.  I'm getting the hang of the basics, but sometimes shy away from unfamiliar products (especially animal ones) or new procedures.  However, I want to be a better cook, so the way forward seems to be to get into those books and push myself to expand.  Julie and Julia-style is too much, but once a week, barring travel or illness, I can handle.
  • sketch more (weekly, ideally): Last year I took an amazing course on fashion illustration that I loved.  However, months have gone by and when I recently picked up my pencil, it felt foreign, like when you stop speaking a language you once knew.  So this year I will make one fashion illustration sketch a week, with a different garment each time, in order to expand my repertoire.
  • make some maternity and nursery items: Now that I've come clean about the baby, I can add this on.

And finally, I have some home-improvement related activities, but they are contingent on a few other factors so they are not fitting neatly yet into my New Year New Goals framework.  Ideally we will add on to the house, or morph the yard into more garden, but it is too soon to tell at this point which direction that will go.

Anyway, Happy New Year, and happy goal making!