Goals for 2015: The Family Edition

As we near the end of January (How did THAT happen?), New Year’s resolutions, for many, have already gone by the wayside (What was that about a gym membership?). But at my house, where we set goals instead of resolutions, I am still going strong on my year of all things “better.”

With this in mind, my friends at Stonyfield invited me to expand upon my earlier annual planning by involving my family in setting goals for 2015. This was a great motivation to get my kids—my seven-year-old son, R, and my five-year-old daughter, G—to think about what they’d like to accomplish this year. However, despite my enthusiasm for the idea, getting R and G to focus on goals was a challenge (G, after all, is at an age where what her Hello Kitty will wear to stuffed animal day at kindergarten is the.most.important.thing.ever.) but it was definitely worth exploring. (It’s not too early to get them to think about goal setting, right?) So my husband and I sat down with the kids last week to discuss their hopes and plans for the year. Our conversation went a little like this…

[Read more…]

Peep and the Big Wide World

The “Peep and the Big Wide World” temporary tattoos go up my daughter’s right arm. They are faded now, after a week of gracing her arm. She put them on herself as soon as I opened the package sent to us by WGBH, proving to me that, at five years old, she is more capable than I think. My “baby,” no longer.

peep-and-the-big-wide-world

[Read more…]

3 Things I Learned from Having the Flu

(An alternative title for this post could be “the week the germs came to stay.”)

Last week, I had the flu. Or a virus. The doctor—who was unfortunately named Kevorkian—was vague. “Could be the flu. It could be a virus,” he said, shrugging. I was too late for Tamiflu, he explained, so he wrote me prescriptions for cough medicine and a decongestant, and recommended I take it easy for the next 10 days, the amount of time I would likely need to start feeling like myself. “No stress,” he said as a parting gift. Right….

By the time I stumbled into the walk-in clinic to see him, I had been sick for three days, having turned coughing into an Olympic sport. My voice was gone, I had a fever, and I alternated between shivering and freezing. I was tired, and generally unhappy by the state of my health. Being sick is no fun.

In my I-feel-awful condition, I was reminded of a commercial I had seen on television. In it, a woman opens a door, and sticks her head through the doorway to speak with someone. She’s sick, with red-rimmed eyes and a runny nose. “Amanda?” she says. “I’m going to have to take tomorrow off.” The camera pulls back to show you Amanda; she’s a toddler playing in her bedroom, not a boss from work behind a big desk, as you had thought. The commercial goes on to promote a cold medicine, something to help busy parents who cannot get sick get better fast. The next shot is of the mom and Amanda, skipping down the stairs together, all smiles and giggles.

I wanted one of those miracle medical solutions last week, but Dr. Kevorkian didn’t have a prescription for that. His advice was to take it easy, drink fluids, get lots of sleep, and let my body heal. No bounding down the stairs, like Amanda’s mom; the flu kept me out of the office for most of the week.

train_redshutters

The train to good health… A get well soon picture my son made for me

My husband—who definitely won the #1 parenting award last week—took care of the kids and me, replenishing my tea, buying more juice, making dinner and school lunches, and keeping the kids away from me (though, to be fair, it was daughter who brought these germs into our house, so I should have been staying away from her a lot sooner). He, truly, was my equivalent to Amanda’s mom’s magic medicine.

In between my coughing and shivering, I did manage to learn three new things, or, at least, three observations became clear:

1. It’s okay to do nothing. The hardest part about having the flu, for me, was being unproductive. Lying on the couch, sleeping, barely watching television (those “Real Housewives” shows are awful!), or perhaps reading a book was all I could rally to do. The go-go-get-‘em part of me, the part that manages my to do list, was conflicted. I have so much to accomplish! It seemed wrong to not try to cross one or two (or three) things off the list. Only focus on getting better? It seemed… not enough. My body thought otherwise, and I realized it’s—sometimes—okay to do nothing, to put aside to do lists, to spend time not focusing on accomplishments but on yourself.

2. Being healthy truly is most important. I knew this one before the flu; being sick reinforced it. Being sick is no fun; it really gets in the way of living.

3. Don’t make sick days fun. I learned this one when the virus/flu (in a much milder form) reached my son. Since I still wasn’t feeling 100%, I let him stay in his pajamas all day and watch a movie of his choice (no negotiating with his sister). The next day, he protested his return to school, calling for more On Demand television and pajamas. I had made his sick day enjoyable, and he wanted another. Next time: no television and I’ll make him clean the bathroom.

And because the flu doesn’t like to be alone, the rest of my family, in one way or another, also spent last week sick. (And, we all got flu shots!) We’re ground zero for coughing and sniffling. At least, we’re in this together.

I have a dream

The kids and I began today, Martin Luther King Day, early, as usual. Curled up on the couch, we watched Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.

The kids asked to see the speech, and R even quoted some of it. They were surprised by the thousands of people who attended the speech–both white and black. They, I think, saw Dr. King as a man alone. The clip, however, showed them that his work was shared by many, and that his dream is for all of us.

My 2015 Book List

Last week was quieter on the blog than I had anticipated because I got lost… in a book.

Yup. A book.

It’s been divine.

I’ve always been a big reader, but I have found that I often struggle with finding time to read. Reading, blogging, and exercising share the same timeslot in my day. They regularly battle one another out for top billing, and reading, despite being my first love, doesn’t always win the number one slot as much as I would like.

In order to give reading the leg up in the battle for my time, I’m signed up for the 2015crossing_to_safety_red_shutters Reading Challenge from Goodreads. I’ve committed to reading 45 books this year. Since I read 38 books in 2014 (while feeling I didn’t read enough), 45 should be (hopefully) a doable goal.

So far, this year, I have finished “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout, which I highly recommend. I’m already in the middle of books two and three on my 2015 Book List. Two is “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner, an author I had been looking forward to reading for some time. I learned of Stegner by reading interviews with successful writers; they would praise his works and describe him as a favorite. I’m nearly done with “Crossing to Safety” and understand why he is so recommended. His writing is beautiful, poetic, and evocative. He won a Pulitzer for “Angle of Repose,” another book that is on my to read list this year.

The other novel I am in the midst of is “The Rosie Effect” by Graeme Simsion. It’s a sequel to Simsion’s widely popular novel, “The Rosie Project,” which I read last year for my book club. I normally don’t take on more than one book at a time; however, “The Rosie Effect” is my commuting book. I’ve been listening to it, via Audible, on my drive to and from work. I’m not enjoying the sequel as much as I did the original, but I am still a fan of audio books. Listening to them makes traffic much easier to handle!

My to read list for 2015 also includes:
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt
“The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant
“My Notorious Life” by Kate Manning (book club)
“Kindred” by Octavia Butler (book club)

That’s as far as I have gotten. I am considering tackling some big reads this year, books I should have read in college or graduate school, but never did. Proust and Dante come to mind. I’m also going to try to make a dent in Goodreads’ 100 Books to Read Before You Die list, though I will not take on Jane Austen (other than “Sense and Sensibility,” which I have already read). I am not a Jane Austen fan.

With the kids, of course, my husband and I read every day. My son currently loves graphic novels, jumping back and forth between the Tintin and Lunch Lady series. My daughter and I are reading the Ivy & Bean chapter books together—well, I’m reading to her—and we’re discovering the Nancy Clancy books (she’s the Nancy from Fancy Nancy but a bit older).

The good news is that I’ll never run out of engaging things to read, which makes this 2015 goal a true pleasure.

I need suggestions for My 2015 Book List! Please share your recommendations in the comments below.

2015 Word of the Year

Do you have a word of the year?

The buzz on the blogosphere is the “word of the year” post. I have read a number of them this week. Each is dedicated to selecting a word that summarizes the intentions the writer has for the year. It’s a resolution of sorts, for sure, but, more than that, it’s an aspiration for the life the writer wants to live in the coming year.

I like the idea; it’s more hopeful than resolutions, which always seem to go by the wayside once the calendar switches to February. Resolutions, indeed, seem destined for failure—perhaps because we overcommit when we create them. After all, if we really wanted to change something about our lives, wouldn’t we just do it? Why wait for January 1?

I, as you might have guessed, don’t do resolutions (“firm decisions to do or not to do something”). I do, however, create goals (“objects of a person’s ambition or effort”) for the year. Each January 1 (or thereabouts), my husband and I sit down for a quiet meal with our blue spiral-bound notebook. Since 2006, we’ve been creating annual goals for our family, recording them in our spiral-bound notebook. We use the goal setting as a check-in of sorts (How are we doing as a family? As a couple? As parents?) and a chance to plan ahead (What house projects should we get to this year? Should we go on vacation? If so, where?). Our focus is specific, as we have found the vague (“get healthier”) doesn’t translate into action. Mid-way through the year, we’ll check in on our goals, and, at the end of the year, we’ll review the goals we set, checking off the ones that are done and re-committing to those we want to continue into the new year.

I love that we have this ritual and that part of the ritual is writing down our goals. It’s fascinating to see how our goals have evolved over the years, and how in sync we are developing priorities for our family. Part of this process is holding one another accountable for our personal and professional goals and offering the support we each need to make sure we’ll be able to put more checkmarks than not in our blue spiral-bound notebook at the end of the year.

And, what about a word of the year?

I’ve decided, for the first time, to embrace the word of the year movement, seeing this idea as a complement to the specificity of my annual goal-setting, and a small embrace of the aspirational bent of the resolution, while still keeping myself fully ensconced in goal land.

My 2015 word of the year is… better.

Perhaps not so new-agey, it’s the first word that came into my mind when I decided to select a word for 2015. I want 2015 to be a year of me being better: a better mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, writer, colleague, neighbor, and person. Being better, for me, means being a bit more patient and understanding. More listening, less complaining. More reaching out and connecting. More deep breathing, less yelling, More teaching and sharing. More feeding my mind with inspiration, more learning. More taking care of my body, more pushing myself. More reading, more writing. More laughing and being present. Essentially, working harder to be a better version of myself. Life, after all, is far too precious to not be the me I’d like to be—or the me I should be.

2015-word-of-the-year

For a look at how other bloggers have committed to their Word of the Year, read on:

Do you have a 2015 Word of the Year? Tell me in the comments!

2014 in Review

2014-in-reviewAs is the custom on New Years Eve, I’m looking back on how my year went–2014 in review. It was a fast year, a year that disappeared more quickly than I ever could have imagined. For my family, 2014 brought milestones (my son mastered reading; my daughter started kindergarten; they both are whizzing around on bicycles and skis) and memories we’ll treasure. For Red Shutters, it brought new readers, new topics to write about, and new opportunities to make connections and friendships with other bloggers I admire.

In 2014, I wrote 139 posts (including this one), an increase from 2013 (I wrote 103 posts that year). I completed NaBloPoMo, writing a post a day for 33 days straight.

Overall, Red Shutters’ readership in 2014 was the highest ever—thank you to you for making that happen! The posts that received the most page views (i.e., posts that were viewed the most by readers) in 2014 were:

  1. My Review of Instacart
  2. 5 Things to Do with Kids in Salt Lake City (a 2013 post that’s still very popular)
  3. Bye, Bye Frumpy. Hello Stitch Fix.
  4. An Unexpected Wedding Anniversary
  5. Three Tips to Rock the Lunchbox and a Giveaway! (This was also the post with the most comments in 2014.)
  6. What I Learned About Race at BlogHer14
  7. Strategies for Promoting the Sexual Safety of Young Children

Readers came from more than 100 countries, the most from the United States with Canada and Brazil not far behind. The top referring sites (i.e., places on the Internet that lead people to Red Shutters) were 1) search engines (people looking for a topic written about on Red Shutters or looking for Red Shutters directly), 2) Facebook, 3) Twitter, 4) Pinterest, and 5) Bloglovin.

Interestingly (and I have no idea why), I posted most often on a Friday (26 posts of my 139 posts went up that day), and most consistently during the month of November (for NaBloPoMo).

My Twitter followers leapt from 800 at the end of 2013 to nearly 1400 at the end of 2014. My Facebook page for Red Shutters in just under 300. (Help me get all the way there! Like the page today, if you haven’t already!) I’m also on Pinterest and Google+, too. Come find me there.

Speaking of leaps, check out my first infographic, another way to illustrate this year in review:

info_2014

What does 2015 have in store for Red Shutters? More writing, the reason I’ve claimed this piece of the Internet after all. More readers, I hope. More chances to work with brands like Stonyfield and Wayfair. More connections with other writers and bloggers. Perhaps even more hours in the day, though that one may be somewhat of a stretch.

No matter what 2015 brings, to every person who has stopped here to read or comment on a post, who has told me how much they enjoy this blog, and who has shared something I’ve written with others, please know how very grateful I am for your support and encouragement. It has meant–and continues to mean–so much. Thank you.

I hope 2015 brings you and yours health and happiness and that the memories you make bring you joy.

Breakfast Parfait with Stonyfield

Everyone talks about the weeks leading up to Christmas as a tough time for healthy eating with the ubiquitousness of sweets and treats (and they are everywhere). For me, though, the trickier time is the quiet period afterward, the days leading up to New Years. That’s when the carbohydrates take over my house. My husband makes pancakes and waffles. There’s leftover coffee cake, homemade bread, coconut cake, and pie residing in my kitchen, despite my great efforts to the contrary.

The best solution to the sluggishness of all that not-so-great eating (other than getting rid of the food to begin with) is to reset my diet, and that of my family’s. And the first stop on that journey is breakfast.

yogurt_parfait6

[Read more…]

Notes From a Blue Bike Book Review

Recently, at dinner with two friends, the subject of our kids’ extracurricular activities came up. My husband and I had been considering signing our son, R, up for a local swim team—he has the aptitude and the exercise would do him well—but we were limited by a lack of available time. Two working parents don’t have an excess of hours in the week to shepherd kids about, and R and his sister, G, were already enrolled in soccer, Tiger Scouts, dance class, religious education, and piano lessons. I was feeling bad about our inability to make swim team work when my friends chimed in with their own extracurricular stories.

One talked about a friend of hers who had her child in activities every day, well past dinnertime, and how such commitments were beyond what her young daughter could have handled—nor did she want that kind of life. Another of my friends shared how she and her husband had specifically decided to limit their kids’ activities to give balance to their family life. Both of my friends emphasized how their choices around kid activities centered on the important question of values: what kind of people do you want your kids to grow up to be? When you can answer that, my wise friends said, the selection of activities and how you spend your time falls into place.

That concept—that the long-term goal informs the short-term decision—has been echoing in my mind ever since. It came to the forefront even more as I read “Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World” by Tsh Oxenreider, founder of The Art of Simple blog. I had never heard of Tsh or her blog when I was sent the book to review; I was inspired by the subtitle, “The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.” As someone whose life often feels chaotic, I am always keen to find ways to slow down and be present.

[Read more…]

Spontaneous Dance Party

disco_ball

In “Yes Please,” the new memoir by comedienne and actress Amy Poehler, the author explains the power of the spontaneous dance party. It’s a way, she writes, for people to get out of their heads and into their bodies, to just be in the moment. Poehler is a big fan of the spontaneous dance party, incorporating it into personal gatherings and business meetings.

I finished “Yes Please” last week, “reading” it via the Audible app on my phone on my commute to and from work (It was my first Audible book; I am now a big fan, and no, this is not a sponsored post). Listening to a good (and, in this case, funny) book was a terrific way to deal with constant traffic in and around the Boston area, decreasing, if possible, am-I-really-stuck-at-another-red-light induced stress.

As the last chapter of “Yes Please” ended, I pulled into my driveway, the Christmas lights sparkling in the dark sky. I sat in the car for a few moments, thinking.

The past few weeks had been hectic with holiday preparations and personal obligations. I had been trying to cross a number of items off of my to-do list at work before the holidays. And then a colleague lost a friend in a car accident. She was, as you can imagine, devastated. I was reminded of our fragility and of how to-do list and holiday shopping aren’t really things to stress about.

I walked in my front door, as my husband and children were finishing up dinner. Normally, the next step was bedtime, but, inspired by Poehler and touched by my colleague’s loss, I called for a dance party. A spontaneous dance party.

My husband turned on the music, and we gathered in our living room. We put on hits from the 1980s and learned that our kids do not care much for Def Leppard and Van Halen but that they are fans of MC Hammer and Run DMC. Our daughter changed into a special outfit for the dance party—a bright pink leotard and stripped tights with a headband that made her look very much like a Jane Fonda aerobics video extra. Our son worked on his break dancing moves. My husband and I laughed and relived our teenage years through our favorite songs. We spun around the room, together and one by one. We all, as Poehler recommended, got out of heads and embraced the moment. It was just what we needed.

The kids have been calling for dance parties since then, and on Christmas Day, they’ll have a disco ball under the tree to unwrap. Santa, after all, is also a fan of dancing.

Photo credit: MelanieAnneMarie via photopin cc