Thoughts on Planning

Thoughts on Planning.jpg

I’m feeling a need to do some reflecting on the practice of planning.

I am a member and/or current devotee of three main personal growth programs.  First, The Life Coach School’s Self Coaching Scholars program (owned by Brooke Castillo) which has a monthly mindset focus.  Secondly, the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year long cohort program to help teachers maximize their time to find peace and be more efficient.  I’ve completed the year but it is so dense and amazing I have rejoined the Graduate program to eek out more value.  Last, I also closely follow Phit N Phat, a weight loss coaching program whose Queen Corinne trained with The Life Coach School, so the philosophies are similar.  While these programs may vary in topic, there is a strong thread connecting them:  effective, intentional PLANNING.

I hate to think of all the years I wasted pursuing a willy nilly approach.  And really, I actively pursued it.  In fact, in college I was a good planner, kind of natural.  The problem was that I also overdid it.  I overpacked my days and I got shit DONE.  I was in a go-go-go mode from about 18-25 years old.  Folks, no one should be burned out at 25.  So I turned to voluntary simplicity readings and study.  And I started cancelling things.  And scheduling less.  And slowing, and flowing.  And often, not planning anything.  And some of that was a gift – until sometimes it wasn’t.  Because in teaching, you can’t really just wing it.  And I tried.  (My poor students.)  I even left the classroom, thinking in a coaching role I could be less regimented with time during my workday.  It was somewhat true, but I also felt I was doing nothing many days.

Once I had kids, I started to really realize I had to make some changes.  I HATED planning meals, planning activities (especially on the weekends), planning basically anything.  And what that got me was being on childcare duty all the time, because my husband DID make plans, and have ideas of what he wanted to accomplish in a weekend, and since I didn’t, he went ahead and did his thing.  And I didn’t like that.  I was also rushing, frantic, and unprepared most of the time at work and at home.  I had to make a change.

It started about a year ago, first with the 40HTW Club.  I was also part of a mandatory coaching program that all probationary educators go through at work, so there was a huge focus on planning there.  We grouped our tasks by time periods (before school, mid day, after school, evening) instead of making strict appointments for each task.  We identified the main task to be done in order to do it first to feel the pride and reduced stress around having that done.  And that started to work!

In the spring, I found Phit N Phat and started planning what I would eat the next day and evaluate how well I’d stuck to the current day’s plan.  And I started to lose weight!

I was starting to like planning again!  It was getting me results, reducing my stress . . . then came September.

I joined Self Coaching Scholars six months ago and the whole focus of one month – September – was to plan out an “impossible” task per Brooke’s scheduling and planning system.  Basically, in this system you break down the whole task, you schedule every component into a set time, and you don’t allow yourself to exceed the time scheduled.  So I did this.  I scheduled the whole ambitious task for the month, and right away realized I hadn’t planned enough time in each slot, and also who-knows-what happened with the kids and I started to miss slots (ANATHEMA to the approach because really, that’s not honoring myself and my word) and got hopelessly behind and did NOT accomplish my planned goal.  So instead of having the desired effect, which was that we would build a ton of confidence and buy in for the planning system, it had the opposite effect for me, which was to confirm for me what I had been (mis)thinking for years – that planning is hard, that it is impossible to follow a plan, and that if you have kids you can forget even trying to have a plan.

I kind of threw up my hands on all personal planning, but did stick to the work stuff.  Thank God, because one day in October or November, I had nothing to do.  Unheard of.  I was caught up.  I was planned ahead.  And I knew I had to revisit planning once more for myself and my outside-of-work dreams.

Well, a few months later, I am realizing I perhaps overdid it in September.  I think I tried to do WAY too much, and didn’t acknowledge my limitations.  I have a new “impossible” goal, and I want to keep making progress toward it, even if in baby steps.  So I’m studying Brooke’s approach further.  She advocates:  scheduling your free time FIRST.  So one thing where I was mistaken in September was that I scheduled the whole month solid – not only did I choose that “impossible” task but it was our first month back in school!  What was I thinking?!  Ok, so now, there will be no scheduling of anything after bedtime.  It just won’t get done.  Or in the morning before school.  And, I don’t want to work all weekend on regimented stuff.  So that will be protected too.

One confusion I have looking forward is that also in Brooke’s system is that you weekly do a brain dump of all the to-dos rattling around in there, and then you schedule time on your calendar to do it throughout the week.  And then you throw away the brain dump list.  Well, I did my first one and cleared out SEVEN PAGES of to-dos.  I can’t do that all in a week – so then what?  Do I put it all back in my brain?  So another part of my planning evolution is that I need to make it work for me, not blindly adhere to any guru’s approach.  So, I need to have a running to-do list bank for a while until I whittle it down/eliminate some stuff from it.  That’s ok.  I will do that.  I had one going that I hadn’t updated in a while and so it must be time to do that if I had seven pages worth in there!

I think my very biggest thought work and logistics item is where to actually find time to do anything beyond my 8-4 and co-run the household.  We have two young children, and three aging parents – and two of them live an hour away.  I have an autoimmune disorder that is under great control right now and sleep is paramount in maintaining that.  My personal goals feel so insignificant in comparison to this day to day pressure.  I am puzzled about where to find more time.  I may add an afternoon a week of after school care for my oldest who is at my school so I can have an hour to do some business work.  I may do a go-out session every weekend to get some focused work time on it.  So I have a few ideas, but they involve escaping my family, so I don’t feel great about that.  But I also think it could be preferable to what I’m doing now, which is trying to sneak time, diverting my attention from them, parking the kids in front of the TV, and really getting not much of anything done anyway in the end.

Also, I need to make the weekly scheduling process inviolable.  If I reference my brain, my bank of tasks and actually DO make a realistic weekly schedule, I WILL start to honor it, make progress, reduce the amount of pending items, and feel better overall.

I’ll keep you updated!  Thanks for reading my novel!  It helped to write it.

 

How I Did – and Didn’t – Live My Values This Christmas

How I did and didn't live my values this Christmas - a post at SnowshineCottage.com

So, Xmas.  Another December 25th has come and gone.  I thought it would be worthwhile to review how I did and did not embody some of my personal values this season.  I’d love to hear the same from you in the comments!

Less waste & reducing consumerism

Wins:

  • Bought some secondhand plastic toys rather than buying new.
  • Several gifts given and received were things we needed anyway, just maybe with the fun factor ratcheted up a bit – superhero undies, for example.
  • Conscious effort to restrain what we bought our kids knowing our lovely family would shower them with goodies.
  • Laying the groundwork long ago that secondhand gifts would be welcome and enjoyed – extended family gifted some secondhand items as well.
  • Several consumables given and received – candy, candles, bath bombs.
  • About 1/2 the gifts wrapped in reusable wrapping – gift bags, drawstring bags, tins, etc.

Not-so-greats:

Family togetherness & connection aka FUN

Wins:

  • Attended and enjoyed Xmas Eve at my BILs.  Brought the Santa suit along for my 4 yo to wear and his 9 mo cousin sat on his lap.  Hilarity.
  • Had my side over to our house for Xmas Day.  Made a fire and made s’mores in the fireplace.  Had a bunch of favorite desserts and foods.  People felt they could arrive well ahead of lunch – surprising me a bit, but happy they feel at home in our home.

Not-so-greats:

  • None here yet!

Egalitarian workload – emotional labor and otherwise

I’m trying not to own every detail of our married life.  It’s hard, because it’s easier for my husband to let me do that, and often easier for me just to do it.  Add the invisible societal expectations around it and it just seems like a no brainer to be “in charge” of Xmas.  But I don’t want it to be all me.  So I’m working on that.  (P.S. I always feel I have to give the caveat that my husband is very active in home life.  But the fact that I feel this way says that it’s still a force at work if I even have to point that out:  “Hey!  But my husband is an amazing anomaly!”)

Wins:

  • Refused to be the gatekeeper of the number or types of gifts for the children.
  • Created a shared gift idea list in the app we use for sharing our grocery shopping list.
  • Sent suggestions for what I wanted in my stocking.  I guess that was kind of providing emotional labor though.  But I was happy with what I got.  LOL
  • Co-planned Xmas hosting, using co-developed lists to communicate tasks and check them off.
  • Not extending more emotional labor than necessary when my brother waited until the last minute to obtain a contribution for Xmas Day and didn’t feel he could find what I suggested and wanted further discussion and suggestions.  So I told him whatever he wanted or nothing at all.

Not-so-greats:

  • Constantly having to pay attention to this.
  • Having to set up the things like shared lists like the gift ideas in the first place – and then to find out the other day he didn’t even know I’d shared it.
  • Coordinating/reminding/hounding my immediate family to declare what they would contribute on Christmas Day.
  • Husband declared that he would not ever be texting anyone on our babysitter list (developed by me, of course) because he doesn’t want to be creepy.
  • Total abandonment of sending Xmas cards or even electronic greetings.  Just too hard this year.

Honoring the spirit of the season

I feel I have few wins in this area outside of the family time stuff.  To me, this value is about giving to the broader community (didn’t, despite my best intentions) and engaging in worship or acknowledgement of the birth of Christ (ahem, a big fat zero in this area).  The best I did was to get a few of my families from school included into the schools Giving Tree, ones who hadn’t been included in the program previously.  So, big room to grow in this area.

How about you, dearies?  If you are a celebrant, are you happy with how you honored your selves and your beloveds this holiday?

Family Holiday Traditions: How We Do the Season

background-2937873_1920Kelli says:  I was thinking it might be nice to get and share some ideas for traditions that work well for younger kids and older kids and how they might change over the years.  So Ilse and I have put our heads together to share some our favorites, and at least in my case, sticking points with developing traditions with my younguns.

Daily-excitement-in-December traditions – aka Advent Calendars or Elf on the Shelf

Kelli says:  We have an advent calendar, which we are filling with activities written on tags, but the 4 year old has emptied the calendar (frustrating me, because a few of the activities are meant to go on certain days), and also has expressed his distaste at the apparent unexcitement of some of the already-revealed activities.  So I’m discouraged. We might not put it up next year but rather offer simple activities on nights where we all can handle them. I want there to be magic without pumping them full of sugar (candy’s the easy hit around here, but they are weirdly obsessive about it) and without filling the house (and planet) with more plastic crap.

We do not Elf due to our own overload but I think my kids would have liked it better than the Advent calendar anyway, which hasn’t been much easier to pull off.

Ilse says: Mari painted a wooden Advent calendar one year; it has a small drawer for each day and came with tiny paintable ornaments that fit in the drawers.  We’ve also printed easy activities for each day – such as, “decide which house on the block has your favorite lights,” or “make pancakes for breakfast.” More complicated activities can go on the weekend days.  

Activities in the community

Kelli says:  We’re strongly entrenched in the Santa years, so a visit is always a must.  We’ve let go of the professional photo Santa visit though as the price kept climbing and climbing.  I think this year we’ll see him at the Rec Center attached to school next week. My home town, where my parents still live, has a lighted parade and tree lighting just after Thanksgiving and that was really fun to kick off the season this year.  I think that’s a definite repeat. I’d like to add in simple things like sledding at school and ice skating, too. We live just two block from a rink with free rentals, but it’s not ready yet this year.

Ilse says: I’ve learned to aim low over the years when it comes to activities.  We’re a family of introverts and we all need some down time after the work/school week.  We’re usually pretty happy to spend time in our house reading, cooking, crafting, listening to music, and just being.  So while we live in an area where there are many fun activities of all kinds every weekend, I always ask myself what we would all enjoy the most at any given moment.  Just getting outside is a huge pleasure after a week in buildings; today we walked on a sunlit, frozen lake with our dog jumping around, delighted with the snow.

Travel

Ilse says:  Our biggest holiday tradition is the annual drive over the river and through the woods and then over the river again, across hundreds of miles of cornfields, past two windfarms, to grandmother’s house.  It’s always an adventure to travel in the Midwest at this time of year. One year, as we were driving home very slowly through freezing rain, I proposed that we visit Mari’s grandma in the summer instead, and both Thom and Mari expressed disbelief that I could even suggest such a thing. We don’t have any family in Minnesota, so this is Mari’s chance to be around some of her cousins, as well as to load up on attention from Grandma and a ridiculous quantity of sugar.  The extended family has a Christmas Day brunch, during which Mari and her younger cousins used to run around like a pack of coyotes, but now she reads a book while waiting for the adults to finish talking. Grandma lives in an old neighborhood, and our dog goes along, so we take lots of walks at all hours of the day in all directions and admire the holiday decorations. This year, Mari will be able to help out with the driving!

Kelli says:  We have all our immediate family within an hour of here, which is nice.  Some extended family lives several hours’ or days’ drive away, but we’ve never really gotten together at the holidays, and that’s ok.  We are both teachers, though, so we do tend to like a mini trip over the Xmas break. This year we are thinking about a hotel near the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  It’s close to us, but not super duper close, so the idea is go to the holiday lights, swim in the hotel pool, sleep over, get up the next day and swim some more, then join some family for brunch on that side of town.  Last year we were at a condo with my in-laws and my parents and happened to be able to get in a visit to Bentleyville.  So I guess a mini-break is kind of turning into a tradition.  Before kids, we loved going to Tettegouche Camp over the break, but we haven’t tackled the 1.5 mile walk in with the kids yet.  We are waiting until our youngest potty trains – so maybe next year we can go again?

Gifting

Ilse says:  We make and buy gifts for friends and family, but our gifting has been drastically simplified over the years, with fewer people in our exchange circle. This year, our family gift is the one thing we always want most in January, which is to leave Minnesota for a few days for a warm, sunny place. Not frugal, not simple except that it doesn’t require shopping trips or wrapping paper, but something that we will all thoroughly enjoy.

Kelli says:  This has been the hardest for us.  I think we have finally settled on having a stocking of gifts from Santa, and 1-2 big gifts from mom & dad and from each sibling to the other under the tree.  Last year we waaaaay overbought and I suspect we have this year as well, though we’ve stuck to mostly stuff they need anyway (fun undies, new socks) and books rather than toys.  They will get plenty of those from rellies. Which reminds me – I kind of want to make an annual toy purge part of the December traditions. Kind of a pre-Christmas cleanout, so to speak.  

I fantasize about homemade Xmas gifts but the reality of the past few years has been a big fat NO WAY.  Luckily, all of the adults in our immediate families are off the gifting train now, so it’s not too many people to whom we need to gift.  I’m thinking of getting back on for teachers – but as a teacher, I know how nice it is to get a big fat gift card, too. So this year, that’s the route we went.

Making

Ilse says:  For a number of years, Mari and I worked on Christmas crafts together.  Sometimes they were gifts for others, and sometimes they were decorations for our house.  That was something that we both enjoyed doing, and now we have them to remind us each year of that time together (now our co-crafting time tends to be more focused on making gifts for our individual friends).  Some of them took multiple holiday seasons (i.e., years) to complete, but the idea was the time spent together, not the product.

Kelli says:  This year I had Norwood paint his own wrapping paper for the gifts he’s selected.  They do like making and so does their dad and so do I. Maybe something to integrate as they get older.

Togetherness and relaxation

Kelli says:  Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas are a must, and conveniently for having little kids, we have both of them on DVD – and VHS!  (Ok, tangent: Ha! That’s right! We are still VHS users). We also have a wood burning fireplace that we’ve used ONCE in living here for over 5 years now and I really want to make fires part of the holiday season.

Ilse says:  Mari and I decorate our tree and bake holiday-special cookies (her favorites are spritz, for which we use her great-grandmother’s cookie press), and she and Thom hang lights outside.  Sometimes two or three of us will play holiday songs on various instruments. We always watch particular Christmas movies and cartoons (and Kelli, we watch Charlie Brown on VHS also!).

Food!

Ilse says:  Some families have a lot of holiday food traditions.  Our holiday meals vary from year to year. When we’re at Grandma’s, I do all the cooking, and it’s a change-resistant audience, so I stick with reliable favorites.  But there are some food traditions that come yearly: the package from my parents, Mari’s out-West grandparents, filled with cookies I’ve been eating since childhood, my parents’ rendition of my great-grandmother’s stollen, and the fudge my mom’s made every Christmas since the 1970s.

Kelli says:  We just lost my husband’s mother in November.  Her cookies were a highlight of every holiday. Sadly I cannot find the copies of her recipes that we had.  I know they are somewhere . . . but we might have to have “close enough” recipes for this year. She always made sugar cut-out cookies, Mexican wedding cookies/Russian tea cakes, and some kind of amazing cookie rolled in nuts.  She also always made a potica nut roll, but I’m not sure we’ll tackle that one. The adults have always enjoyed chili and grasshoppers on Christmas Eve.

In the past I did peanut brittle in the microwave and it was amazing.  Maybe I should resurrect that with the kids – it’s fun to watch it foam, and easy to make.

Your turn

What simple traditions have been the most memorable over the years for your family?  How have traditions changed over the years that may have been cherished – or difficult – with young children?

On Comparison

Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m sitting here in my warm house, in front of glowing candles in the fireplace and – in my eyes – a Better Homes and Gardens-worthy mantel, reflecting on the day.  We went to my brother-in-law’s beautiful new lakeside home to celebrate our first Thanksgiving since losing my mother-in-law just last week.  She was a timeless hostess.  She’d stepped back from doing the big meals the last few years, but it didn’t matter today.  She and her ever gracious hostess presence was warmly remembered around the table and more than a few tears were shed.

Now, my little family does NOT live in a brand new lakeside home.  We live in a 1926 Tudor in a beautiful neighborhood in St. Paul.  When we moved in, it felt palatial.  We’d lived in a matchbox of a 1917 bungalow with an awful layout and really lived in about 600 square feet of it and deposited our junk in the other 300 barely usable square feet upstairs.  So to get a 1400 square foot house felt amazing.  But when I go to my brother-in-law’s, the thoughts of comparison start marching through my mind . . . I wish I lived on a lake.  No cracks in the plaster here.  I bet he pays less in property taxes on a house twice as big.  They have so much space!  The fact that he has to drive an hour to work is kind of lost in all the comparison.  Or that they have to clean that whole place.  Or pay for it . . . for how long?

Emotionally, life’s been a little hard lately, and so also lately, I’m kind of obsessing about home improvements – stuff that should be low on the current priority list.  Painting the living room/dining room/sun room/stairway.  Getting a big girl bed for my daughter who I’d really rather keep in the crib anyway.  Scraping the popcorn coating and skimcoating the ceilings because it’s clear WHY they put that popcorn up in the first place – to cover the humongous fissures in the plaster.  (See how I wrote “should be low on the priority list?”  Bear with me.  That’s important later.)

I suppose it’s easier to window shop online and browse Pinterest for paint colors than to be sad that my mother-in-law died, or to face that I’m really not committing to losing that weight, or to admit that no matter how bad I would like to be a self-employed person I’ve taken no more steps toward doing so than making some lists of ideas in my journal, or that it’s generally grey and dark right now and I’m kinda sluggin’ it up around here.

So I’m starting to indulge in this dangerous game of comparison.  It’s a thief of joy, or should I say of feeling my emotions fully?  Because I’m not really trying to escape joy here, am I?  So then I’m letting these thoughts of envy lead me into activities and thoughts that distract me from feelings I need to feel.  I’m letting it lead me into imagining it would be better to trade up the whole house rather than spend a few hundred bucks on a paint color I like better and that we could actually wipe clean or maybe a few thousand in getting properly sized furniture for the quirky layout of the living room.  AND WHAT IF I MISS THE BLACK FRIDAY DEALS ON THE BIG GIRL BEDS?!?!

I’ll allow myself to make my home the way I want, but I’m gonna force myself to make a decision.  No more bed browsing.  Now I know that the bed I want exists, and when it’s time to get it, we will.  No need to worry about Black Friday.  There will be another sale.  No more fantasizing about paint.  I’ll buy it and hire our handyman to paint, or move on.  I’m getting better at this decision making stuff.  It’s all a journey.  I’m learning how to recognize when I’m envious, when I’m distracting myself from needing to feel, and when – gosh darn it – I’m just actually really tired of the handprinted, penciled up paint color and want something fresh and new on the walls.  And it might cost money.  And that is allowed.

Kindred Spirits

greatauntpostphoto

Strong social connections are among the common characteristics of the Blue Zones, those islands of longevity.  I grew up in a small family that moved repeatedly, and as a result have always considered my closest friends to be part of my extended family.  Time with kindred spirits is among the most enjoyable simple pleasures of life.  Conversing while walking, having tea or coffee, cooking, gardening, sharing – the connections we forge and feel are life.

It was only after I became a mother that I got to know my great aunt Louisa.  She became a nurturing, supportive voice to me across the 1200 miles between our homes. Born 60 years before home computers, she communicated regularly by email.  When my daughter and I visited her six years ago, she had everything she needed in her cozy studio apartment, including a patio with a garden bed for flowers and tomatoes.  Friends dropped in regularly, and she still volunteered frequently at the age of 86.  She enjoyed trying new activities, and since then had taught herself to quilt.

This year, my aunt, my daughter, and I visited Aunt Louisa, now aged 92. She has lived with a chronic health condition for many years and was seriously ill this winter.  She had asked us to help clean her apartment, but I was unprepared for the overwhelming clutter that had developed.  Our visit began very differently from my expectations, but we achieved fun and conversation across four generations of women.

We interspersed fun into the hours of sorting, and even the cleaning was enjoyable, with rewards in our conversations and the emergence of a tidy, safe space. At  dinner, she narrated the story behind old photos that had been found under many objects on a table, including photos of her grandmother with young children, circa 1890. On the last day of our visit, she told us about some dark, depressing times in her life.  She was a brave woman.  She has always inspired me with her kindness, energy, and adventurousness, and I told her so; her face glowed with surprise and happiness. Each of us took home memories as well as mementos; she gave me a cheery floral apron that she sewed and a much-loved cookbook.  She loved to bake for others, as do I.

Not long after our visit,  Great Aunt Louisa passed away.

Despite her health challenges at 92, she emanated joy and generosity, and shared her zest for living with all those around her.  I am very sad that I will never again talk with her or hear her love in an email or card, but treasure the conversations we shared.     She told me that these were among her happiest days.  We will hold her memory in our hearts, and now my aunt, my daughter, and I have a new connection between us in this last visit with her. She will always be a kindred spirit.