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Happy Thanksgiving! I know that most of you are busy eating and watching football and hopefully going for a nice afternoon waddle with your dear ones to work off all that tryptophan… or just napping on a comfy couch! I thought, though, in the spirit of gratitude, I’d share what the weekly pages for the Best Self Journal look like.

(Just a quick reminder: I don’t get anything from you checking out the Best Self Journal or buying it; I just really like it and am finding it useful!)

It took me a couple of weeks to get the hang of the top section of this page, where you choose activities and how often during the week you want to do them. I remember to do my daily pages but end up, often, catching up on these logs of activities later on in the week. One benefit is that, for instance, if I realize I only did yoga or went for a run 2 times that week, I can redouble my efforts for the next week. It’s a way to look back at more than just the one daily page.

I also like the 1-10 scale that it gives me to rate how I “did” this week. Sometimes I write about external factors, like good news from my editors, or internal factors, like feeling alert with less caffeine in my life during my quest to master my coffee addiction.

The rest of the questions are like a compendium of similar questions I ask myself every day, and I’m already starting to notice and say to myself, “this isn’t just a win, it’s a weekly win!” or “This is not a great circumstance, but I’ve definitely figured out my “lesson learned” for the week.” For this reason, I’m glad that once every 7 days I have an extra step to my Best Self planner.

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Thanksgiving week is a time that my students have off, so it is a particularly good time for me to try to stop thinking about work for a little while. However, a few things stand in the way, namely emails, goals, and unfinished projects.

Emails are the most obvious one; I automatically check email whenever I log onto a computer and often when I open my cellphone, so I am instantly informed of anything going on at work. Never mind that, this week in particular, most of the emails are big-group emails and don’t have anything to do with me. I still read them, and sadly, I still think about them and let them occupy my headspace.

To detox from email, I give myself two “checks” a day: one in the morning, and one in the evening, after dinner but not right at bedtime. I do what I have to do (usually nothing) and I avoid the thoughts the rest of the time.

Goals are harder; I spend 40 or more hours a week trying to figure out what directions I need to go with my work, so it can be tough to turn off the mind-wandering part of my brain that wants to plan. Especially now, 3 years into my job with not a lot of change in responsibility, the ability to make the job go in a productive, new, and interesting direction is available, but I cannot just magically know where to take my work. I have to plan!

To stop planning as much during breaks, I try to, paradoxically, plan on purpose for a few minutes when I have a waiting moment. I might plug a few notes into my cell phone or Best Self Journal. This way, I know for sure that I’ve thought about the goals and gotten them on “paper” or paper, leading me to stop dwelling on those ideas.

Finally, unfinished threads: I didn’t finish planning my class for next semester, and there are a million small things to resolve as the semester concludes in 3 weeks. It’s so hard not to want to keep working even though I know that there is time enough to efficiently do my work when I get back!

The best way to avoid thinking about the unfinished threads, I find, is to fill my days with activities. I’m not a person who loves total-relaxation vacations, but even a game of backgammon with family or a good book is enough to make the buzz in my brain about unfinished work quiet down a bit.

I feel lucky that I have more than just a weekend this year to think through how to get my work thoughts out and make space for other thoughts of friendship and family, gratitude and community.

 

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On my trip to Virginia, I also ate some seriously good brunch. While I think many of my generation enjoy the idea of brunch and live for it on the weekends, it actually makes rare appearances in my life because it doesn’t work well with my schedule. I’m a girl who wakes up already hungry, and wakes up insanely early, so the idea of waking up hungry at 5:30 and waiting till 11 for my first meal just doesn’t work.

On this weekend trip, though, we managed to sleep in a bit and drink our coffee early, but put off eating for later. We met up with an old friend I haven’t seen for 3 years, and even though brunch lines are monumental (45 minutes chatting in the cold!), the food was delicious when I finally got my meal: the picture above is not my meal, but I got an amazing omelette full of herbed cream cheese, spinach, tomatoes, and swiss cheese, with a multigrain biscuit and cheese grits. Can you sense a cheesy theme?

Another reason brunch rarely fits into my life is that I end up eating a wonderful, heavy meal and feeling worthless for anything useful for the next few hours. This time, though, my friend was able to show me a cool community park full of found sculptures and cool misshapen furniture, and our slow stroll was enough to re-energize me for the rest of the day.

Do you have favorite brunch foods? I know that I usually am torn between sweet and savory, and there was a raspberry brie and honey french toast calling my name, but I resisted, since I can usually get more actual nutrition if I aim toward my cheesier, savory choices. Still, my perfect brunch would probably have some kind of pancake or waffle, a biscuit, some bacon, and a fluffy pile of scrambled eggs… or some home fries? Just bring me the whole menu, I think.

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I don’t know what does it, but I feel like the longer we are focused on our daily life, the less we are able to think some of those “big thoughts,” the ones that make us feel like we are learning about life. I have recently had a surprising amount of this tunnel vision, getting to the end of every day exhausted and ready for sleep.

Recently, I visited the Monticello house site, where Thomas Jefferson built his home and lived. The history of the place, including the contraptions and the functioning of the whole plantation, made me think about how hard life was before the modern age, even for people with insane amounts of wealth. It really inspired me, walking through the pretty Virginia woods, to live deliberately and to think about the impact I want to have.

It’s hard to put down on a to-do list the things that end up becoming a legacy; so many of the people whose lives I admire lived their values each day in very small ways that added up to the achievements of their lifetimes.  Even so, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and committed high treason and started a new country when he was 33 years old. 33 is soon for me. I haven’t founded a country, as you might guess.

Part of my current stage of life is holding two opposing views in my head: one is that I need not delude myself that I will ever be famous or accomplish something encyclopedia-worthy. At the same time, I also need to keep working toward the smaller, daily and weekly goals I set for myself in order to create a life in which the extraordinary might happen, because I’ve been preparing for all potential opportunities as a writer, a teacher, a wife, a friend, a community member.

I would prefer to leave aside the impulse to be overwhelmed by the amazing things that people have done in the past, and I’d like to always take their actions as inspiration that by having my big thoughts and pursuing my daily tasks, I’m working toward something of a legacy, just like them.

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There will be no photo today, because I am embarrassed of the state of the kitchen lately. I feel like late in the week I stop being able to catch up on dishes – there are too many things to do, and I know the weekend is coming. This week, in addition to all the normal dishes, I ended up making pumpkin bread. As anyone who spends time baking knows, baking makes zillions of dishes, and often need to be cleaned immediately just to avoid glue-like goop fossilizing on them.

Can you tell I don’t like doing dishes?

I’m been trying to build some time into each food-creation time just to quickly load back everything into the dishwasher before I even notice that there is a giant overwhelming mess. However, that doesn’t always happen; the other strategy I’ve been accepting more and more is that sometimes, I’m going to have a gross kitchen. Maybe for a day, even two days, at a time. It’s happened a bunch recently and I have learned: no one dies.

I don’t ever want to end up with bugs or mice or anything based on having been unclean, but a little gross kitchen has taught me that sometimes, relaxing and watching the news with Husband or playing a board game for half an hour or just getting to sleep on time are better than having this particular set of dishes done.

It is hard for me to accept that I cannot get everything done in one day, 24 hours. But once I do accept it, in any given day, the pile of messy dishes reminds me that I’m actually prioritizing things I care about. I still wish they were done though!

Do you have a particular chore that just escapes you and you worry about? If not, I’m so glad and I want your secret, even if it is just that you are an ordinary level of conscientious.

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It’s one of our downfalls: Husband and I love eating food out at restaurants! It saves time and effort after a long day at work, the food is often inventive and delicious, and I don’t even have to go grocery shopping! We figured out a long time ago that this was one of the budget items that we were going to struggle to keep under control.

While we still eat out a lot, one really effective way we cut down on eating out and thus got ourselves to save some money by cooking at home was by turning it into a game. At first, we wanted to just count each time either of us ate at a restaurant and the person who ate the least won. However! We realized a better way: once ONE of us mentions eating out, all bets are usually off: both of us love the idea of getting some sushi or curry or barbecue, so as soon as someone mentions it, that is actually the moment in which we choose.

So we decided to keep track of how often each of us mentioned eating out, and it became a bit of a game of chicken. When we got home from work, tired and hungry, we’d kinda size each other up, see that the other person wasn’t saying anything, and resign ourselves to making some salads and baking some chicken.

What was great was that we really loved cooking together and eating at home, once we got more accustomed to it. Sure, when we have a totally bonkers day (or month…) we still eat at restaurants with relish, but this competition has made us more likely to get all the groceries we need to be frugal and cook many meals. The winner, ironically, only gets a 30 dollar gift card to some store they want (for me, a craft store and for Husband, a hardware store). Yes, it’s already our money, but we had to figure something as a reward.

🙂 What’s your budget splurge category? Do you have any creative ways to keep that spending under control? We’re definitely a work in progress.

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Another week has gone by, and I wanted to share something interesting about the Best Self Journal. In the beginning of the book, there is a page to fill out about your big, 13-week goals, and I really liked one question more than others: If I complete this goal by my target date, I will reward myself with:

I have always been eager to bribe myself to do things, offering an unhealthy treat or a night of relaxation watching television to myself in exchange for productivity. The problem was that I always spent so much time dreaming up a bribe that would be motivating, that by the time it came down to be productive… I just wanted the bribe. And me being me, I wasn’t good at keeping me from taking the bribe first.

So this question was harder to answer than I thought it would be. I needed something motivating, but also something that I realistically couldn’t give myself ahead of time without having some kind of consequence. I am really happy with the resolution I came to, which was a 10-pass at my favorite yoga studio and a trip somewhere, most likely with Husband.

This combination works well, because I usually try to do yoga on my own at home, but it is lovely to be led through vinyasas by a trained professional – in my case, I’m also becoming friends with some of the yoga instructors, and so that time builds relationships too. I don’t usually commit to yoga, and it is cheapest when bought in “bulk” with the 10 pack, so this reward is both large but also satisfyingly prudent.

The trip is a nice addition, because I would actually be fine giving myself a 10-pack of yoga classes any time I desired them, since it spurs me to do more yoga. The trip is something that Husband knows about, and he knows how much I like to plan ahead, so he can hold me to not purchasing anything for a trip until I have accomplished my goal. What’s more is that the act of planning the trip will make me more and more hungry to accomplish my tasks (healthy eating, caring for friends/family, writing more) over the next 3 months!

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There are a lot of stereotypes about coupon users, most of which have to do with them being obsessed with saving money, to the point where they sometimes buy things that they don’t even need. I’m sure actual coupon users aren’t like the stereotypes, but for those of us who have a tendency to obsess anyway, I can see how it might be easy to get caught up in the goal. I do love saving money, and I’m sure I sometimes take offers for free or cheap things that I otherwise wouldn’t accept, but I don’t want to be an obsessive when it comes to coupons.

I have some simple rules for how I use coupons; one way is saying that I’ll take a finite quantity of “waiting” time and turn it into coupon-seeking time, but I generally won’t seek out good deals. This means that if Husband is still getting ready in the morning, I’ll flip through the latest flyers to be thrown on our doorstep and clip anything we already use to stick in my wallet. If I know we will probably go out to eat on the weekend, I’ll clip a coupon for our favorite Mexican food place.

If I know I need to grocery shop soon, I’ll open the grocery store app and go to the “pre-load coupons” part of the application. This is unusually wonderful because I have a tendency to forget the coupons I do cut, so keeping them pre-stored on my store card is a great idea. I will pre-load more than I might actually use, but in general my shopping strategy is to forget what I loaded and buy what I need. That way, I can truly count the 50 cents or 3 dollars as savings, not as having prompted me to buy more.

What are your strategies with coupons? I wouldn’t mind using them better or more, but I also really like the small amount of time I spend on them now. Any pointers in the comments are more than welcome.

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On Saturday, we hosted our first ever Friendsgiving, which is essentially just a potluck that falls sometime near Thanksgiving, but is more festive because it has an autumnal theme. There were multiple dishes that featured squashes of various types. I was in heaven.

I especially liked that I didn’t have to make anything fancy; I toasted hawaiian rolls and made turkey sliders out of them, then baked up some grocery-store frozen sweet potato fries, and made a loaf of take and bake multigrain bread. I also made green bean casserole, mostly because I love crispy fried onions. The guests provided the charming food: homemade butternut squash soup, corn pudding, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and an amazing cookies and cream cake.

The beginning of the party felt comfy and homey, given that almost everyone had met each other before, but around two hours in I thought the party was about to peter out and people were going to go home. Instead, someone started a card game and everyone who wasn’t playing watched and chatted and ate second servings of dessert. They finally left just before midnight, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

The thing I noticed with this party was that the people who know us are starting to become a group – sure, I may not invite each person’s favorite people to every party, but they know each other well enough to wish each other well. One of my guests suggested we make a potluck a monthly thing, inviting a big list of people with the assumption that some people won’t be able to make it each month but overall getting some subset of people together through the winter time. I love the idea of a roving party that happens each month in a different house; not only am I not really one for hosting (I do my best but love visiting other people’s homes more), I love the automatic-ness of a monthly gathering where you’ll get to catch up with the same group, deepening the bond.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you as well! I’m grateful that you read my blog. 🙂

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Today’s Monday Motivation is all about a common problem: unclear supervisors. Certainly, people talk about their bosses in a negative way, but I rarely encounter truly unpleasant bosses. Instead, I find bosses, or sometimes editorial supervisors when I’m writing, have trouble making their expectations clear.

I worry because I want my bosses AND myself to shine, and lack of clarity wastes time, exhausts both of us, and results in bad work. So when I don’t understand what a boss wants, I try to process a little first: certainly, my impatient self wants to run in and demand a clearer response, or (too often) a better project or writing design. Instead, it is important for me to clear away my initial impatience and rebellion and look at what will really help the situation?

9 times out of 10, giving my boss the benefit of the doubt and asking for clarification in a way that respects their vision of the project is the best way to go. I will only be really blunt with a boss who has persistently not answered my questions or made the work take much longer than necessary; otherwise, I want to avoid burning bridges.

So if you are dealing with a supervisor who isn’t clearly expressing what he or she wants, know you are in good company – we have all been there! Anyone who has also BEEN a supervisor knows how challenging it is to express what you want from a project before you’ve seen the final project. Respect, patience, and kindness can go a long way on both sides, and by giving each other the best you have to offer, you are more likely to power through your Monday and the rest of the week to come!

What do you do when faced with an unclear supervisor’s needs? Share your best strategies for remaining positive in the comments!

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