31 Ways to Start Fresh in 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015 0 No tags

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I recently slipped out of the habit of washing my face at night and making my bed in the morning. Those two things don’t exactly sound related, but they are–very much so. They both start and end the day on a disciplined note. And even though the discipline is minute, it made a huge difference in how I viewed my day to day routine, and how I felt about myself.

I’ve gotten back into the habit of taking good care of my skin at night, and making my bed and doing a very quick straightening up of the house in the morning. Just doing these small daily acts makes me feel so on top of things!

Since this is the first time in a long time I haven’t been working full time, there has been a little bit of a learning curve in spending my days productively. Some sort of structure and routine (even if it is only starting the day by making my bed) has proven to be extremely helpful. I want to bring our baby into a home that has order and calm, starting with the first day of his or her life. That’s provided some pretty good motivation for me. (Did I just describe nesting?)

Because it’s January, and the feeling of a fresh start is in the air, I put together a little round up of posts that might inspire you to switch up some part of your daily routine and infuse a little creativity into the things we’ve got to do and the things we ought to do.

I’d love to know if you plan on switching anything up or trying something new this year!

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Morning Routine

1) Two new ways to drink your coffee: one that adds iron, calcium, and magnesium to your day and one that will give you a healthy energy boost (perfect for curing the afternoon slump).

2) Tone your skin with this kitchen ingredient before putting on your makeup (or after you take it off).

3) Exfoliate your skin with two natural ingredients.

What You Eat

4) Start eating the salt that is actually good for you.

5) Learn the health benefits of this stuff you probably already have in your kitchen (and start adding it to your water).

6) If one of your goals for the year is to be healthier but you don’t know where to start, try a different approach and simply start with the basics: learn to truly enjoy food and not be afraid of it. Here are some of my favorite inspiring food-appreciation books.

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Develop Your Personal Style

7) I am continually having to remind myself to sit up straight, especially when sitting in front of my computer. Here is why you should also make good posture a goal for 2015.

8) Three tips to bend your wardrobe to your will.

9) Three important ways to think about style.

10) My attempt at a ten-item wardrobe (it’s easier than you might think).

Books to Challenge the Way You Think

11) A book that sheds new light on just about every “normal” thought you have ever thought.

12) A book to help you cultivate a daily routine at home that will translate to everything else you do.

13) Read this if you are crazy busy (or even just a little bit busy).

14) Read this if you aren’t crazy about the idea of always being “connected” or if you wonder if technology is really as great as it’s cracked up to be (you might be surprised).

On Setting Goals

15) Don’t overlook the significance of seemingly small decisions.

16) Don’t let big goals bring you down. Remember: you just have to take the first step.

17) It doesn’t mean you aren’t sticking to your goals if you don’t feel 100% motivated 100% of the time.

18) Are you waiting for the stars to align before you start that project you’ve been wanting to start? Why you may not need a plan.

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Good Habits

19) Why you should make your bed every morning.

20) Why you should get back into journaling this year.

How to Do Things

21) How to use creativity to find contentment

22) How to worry effectively

23) How to travel with friends without killing each other

24) How to change your life

25) How to start a blog (2015 is the year to do it)

26) How to be jealous (the right way)

27) How to stop being so darn creative and full of ideas

28) How to make your boring office job more bearable

Things to Remember This Year

29) If you are anything like me, you need to hear this on a daily basis: stop being so hard on yourself!

30) Starting really is the hardest part. This year, instead of making sweeping goals that get forgotten after a few weeks, resolve to simply start.

31) If you want to write more this year, but the thought scares you a little bit, here is why you are right, and why you shouldn’t be scared.

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How to Use Creativity to Find Contentment

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 0 No tags

We are far too easily pleased.

That’s the tagline of my blog. The full quote is the basis of my “about me” (also illustrated below) and since I came across it years ago, it has been replaying in my mind as a recurring theme.

What exactly does it mean to be far too easily pleased? I take it to mean that human nature keeps us stuck in ruts of our own design; boring ruts full of mediocrity that we tell ourselves are fine–that they are good enough. It doesn’t mean that we are pleased all of the time, it means we are often content with something that is a mere shadow of the real thing. According to C.S. Lewis,when we settle for what is right in front of us, we are missing out on infinite joy. It is so much easier to make our own mud pies–mud pies we get to design and have full control of!–than to trust that God has created something better for us, already. But if you have no concept of what a holiday at the sea is, it is easy to be content sitting in a pile of mud in a slum, isn’t it?

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The reason I use this quote for my blog is that I like to write about creativity, and I think that creativity is a way to get us out of the slum–to get us to look past our mud pies. A lot of people don’t think of themselves as creative. They think being creative means being talented or that it’s the hour or two they set aside to pull out their old art supplies once a year.

But creativity is so much more than that. Seeking creativity in everyday life means not being content with what society tells us is worthy of our times and efforts. Conversing with someone beyond small talk takes creativity. Making dinner for your family takes creativity. Getting through another day of changing diapers and wiping up spit-up takes lots of creativity. Creativity is one of the things that sets us apart from animals. As humans, our goal is to do more than just survive on a daily basis. We want life to be more than just passing time. Yet, so often, we are far too easily pleased with the mediocre, the bland, the good-enough.

Creativity is a powerful tool that should be used to fight mediocrity in everyday life. Creativity, as thinking outside of the box, thinking beyond what is comfortable, and deciding that some things are more important than our fears, leads to a more fulfilling life. Because when we refuse to settle for the scraps human nature has to offer us, and instead recognize that we have a Creator who has already given us so much, then the mud pies become less appealing. When we are far too easily pleased, things like poor posture, worrying about things we can’t control, and owning a too-large wardrobe that stifles our creativity, become things that slow us down and make us less of who we should be. Yes, even poor posture. So many things in life that stifle creativity are very little things.

I really believe that when we use creativity to combat the mediocrities of everyday life, we become more content. It seems strange to say that we should not be content with the mediocre, in order to be content in our lives. But when we aren’t so easily pleased with average, we become more human–more of who we were made to be. And when we are more of who we were created to be, we are set free from the smothering nature of our natural tendencies.

Being creative, then, is looking outside ourselves, and believing that there is something out there we might not yet understand. We might not fully understand that a holiday at the sea is better than making a mud pie in the slum, but if we trust that there is something better, then there is hope for us. There are so many “better versions” that we have yet to discover in our day to day lives. There is a more content way to live based on the idea that we refuse to settle for what comes most naturally to us. Using creativity as a tool to pursue contentment makes life more exciting and more adventurous. It reminds us that there is always more to discover, always more to find pleasure in. We just can’t be afraid of what we don’t fully understand. We can’t choose what is easy over being creative. We can’t be too easily pleased. We would be missing out on so much joy.

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What do you think? Do you think creativity plays an important role in your everyday life? Do you find yourself settling for the mediocre rather than looking for ways to be creative? I’d love to know what you think!

A Practical Guide to Worrying

Monday, November 24, 2014 0 No tags

When I was young, I used to worry about high school. My brother is four years older than I am, and he used to delight in showing me his math homework, telling me, “one day you will have to do this. Doesn’t it look fun”?

The thing is, I liked math. But his homework never looked fun. Probably because it was shrouded in fear for me, but who can really say.

When we “see” the future, we don’t tend to give ourselves any kind of context. I imagined being four years older, doing my brother’s math homework, with no further training than where I was at in that moment, completely forgetting that my brother was in my exact same place four years before. His homework would have terrified him, too!

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The hard things I have been through in life, for the most part, have not exactly turned out to be the things I worried about. And if they were, they weren’t exactly as I imagined them to be.

As it turns out, I am terrible at predictions.

And the hard things I have faced? I have made it through them all alive. The truth about hard things is that in our minds, they are monsters in our closets. In reality, when we are forced to confront them, we don’t always see them for what they are (things we should have been worrying about)–we just face them. Because in that moment, the time has passed for worry.

When we first found out I was pregnant, I spent a good amount of those first few weeks worrying that something would go wrong. I didn’t let myself get truly excited, because what if the worst happened? What if the baby died, what if the fetus didn’t develop properly because of something I did, what if, what if, what if.

The only way to truly be effective in our worrying–to make it worth our while–is to be more thorough in our worry. After a few weeks of worrying about my pregnancy, I realized something: If I am going to really do this worrying thing the right way, I shouldn’t limit myself to worrying only about the life of this child inside my womb. What about when/if it comes out? My newborn could die in his/her sleep. My baby could be hit by a car. It could be deathly allergic to strawberries, it could be kidnapped, it could die of the flu, it could be bullied, or emotionally damaged by something I said, or eaten by a tiger at the zoo. Eric could die, I could die, the child could be an orphan, the child could be teased for not being athletic, or for not being very smart.

It took me a while, but I plainly saw that I wasn’t worrying about enough. There is always so much more to worry about. How will we ever worry enough? What if we forget something that needs to be worried about?

So we should ask ourselves, when we are worrying about one small, solitary thing: what else could we add to our list of worries? And after a few moments, when we realize that we can never possibly worry about enough, we should work ourselves into a tizzy and ignore the things around us that need to be taken care of. We should worry until we can worry no more, and collapse into a state of worried panic. How useful we will be in that state!

Our only other option, if we decide not to worry about everything, is to worry about nothing.

That is the only logical alternative. If we are capable of worrying about everything, and are able to do something about all of our worries, then by all means let us spend our hours worrying. But if we are not capable of worrying about everything that needs to be worried about, then we should not worry about anything. Because it is entirely pointless.

So, to sum up this practical guide to worrying, we can be productive in our worries in only two ways: by worrying about absolutely everything (and not forgetting anything!), or by worrying about nothing, and simply deciding to face whatever trials come before us with courage. When it comes to worrying, it is all or nothing. We either have complete control, or we don’t. We must choose to act accordingly.

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P.S. Two more guides:

A practical guide to jealousy

How to Keep Your Heart Intact

Traveling Courtesies: a guide to how to not lose your friend on safari or other long adventure

Monday, September 8, 2014 0 No tags

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Five years ago, I did something I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember: go to Europe. I had just graduated college, didn’t have a real job, was single, and most importantly, had time. I knew I had to jump on the chance or it might never happen again. I think I will always look back on my trip as one of the best decisions of my life.

When my friend and former roommate, Amy, emailed me a few weeks ago telling me she had something I might like for my blog, I was thrilled! I was thrilled to hear from Amy, yes, but also thrilled to read what she sent me: a travel manifesto written by two of her friends before they went on the trip of a life time together.

When I backpacked Europe for three weeks with my friend, Jennifer, we did not have a written code of conduct. We talked about what was most important for each of us to do on our trip, but mostly we relied on the fact that we were good friends and had the exact same taste in food. It is not always that easy, however. It worked out for Jennifer and me (we didn’t fight or get annoyed with each other), but things did come up that we didn’t predict.

For instance, a travel courtesy document would have been nice to help us address the issue of one of us twisting our ankle in Budapest and the other encouraging her to carry on (hint: I did not twist my ankle). Traveling with friends or family, no matter how much you love them, can cause tension, and a lack of communication about what everyone wants to do can result in everybody doing what they didn’t want to do.

If you have ever traveled, I am sure you know this to be true.

Don’t you think a “travel courtesies” document is a great idea? This one is thorough, and covers just about everything that needs to be covered to have a good trip that doesn’t suffer from a lack of communication. Lucky for us, we get to use the document composed by Alexis and her friend Larissa in all of our future travels. If you are planning any fall trips, you may want to print out a copy of this, and perhaps coerce your traveling buddies to sign it in blood (for bonding purposes). Or at least give it a thorough going-over as a group.

Aside from keeping you from killing each other, it might also help you to just have a better trip in general. And isn’t that all we want?

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Alexis and Larissa in Tanzania.

A note from Alexis about what inspired them to take this trip, and write this manifetso:

“Larissa and I have known each other since we were two years old and were next door neighbors. For years we talked about going to Africa before we got married and started families. Our excuse was that we didn’t have the time and we didn’t have the money. One day Larissa, in her brilliance said, “We’ll never have the time and we’ll never have the money. We have to make the time and make the money.” And that’s what we did. We went to Tanzania in Sept of 2006. The trip of a lifetime. It was fantastic. And now we’re both married and have children so doing that trip when we did was good timing.”

 


Traveling Courtesies

– a guide to how to not lose your friend or loved one on safari or other long adventure

 

  • ASPIRATIONS – Before you plan your trip, spend some time asking your travel mate what she is most looking forward to doing. Make a note of it and plan around that.  Similarly, while on the trip itself, take some time each day to check in as to what you enjoyed about that day so as to be able to learn from each other.  What one person loved and assumed the other did as well may not be the case. Knowing this may help in gauging what your next day should look like.  If you both really enjoyed the same thing, bonus!
  • WHO’S THE BOSS? –There may be days and times when it makes sense for someone to take the lead.  This should be done with agreement about who that will be, beforehand if possible, and with the day’s leader checking in to see if decisions are being handled in a way that is satisfactory to the other.
  • SCHEDULES, SCHEDULES – Schedules are important but it’s also good to plan and schedule for spontaneity.  Some people like everything planned out; some like to freewheel. Compromise and talk about each day either the morning of or the night before. Speak openly so the other person doesn’t have to guess that i.e., you need to shop for 4 hours on the last day of the trip because you forgot to buy any gifts along the way.  Don’t assume the way you planned out your day is the same as your mate’s.
  • PERONAL HABITS – Discuss beforehand what is tolerable for you in terms of neatness/messiness while traveling especially if sharing a bathroom or a tent.  While on vacation, some people like to let go a bit. This may annoy your travel mate.  You may feel the need to unpack and hang up all your clothes, while your companion prefers to live out of her suitcase. Decide what your threshold is.  Folks might not mind it being messy for a spell as long as it is agreed to be cleaned up by bedtime (like leaving dishes in the sink, fine to do so as long as they are washed and put away before bedtime).
  • PROBLEMS – Be willing to help out your travel mate in a bind. i.e.a credit card gets eaten by a foreign ATM, her luggage or wallet is lost or stolen, she falls off a boat and needs dry clothes, she gets food poisoning or she forgot to bring reading material and is twiddling her thumbs for something to do.  Remember: Bad luck can and will happen to you; wouldn’t you appreciate someone there to lean on when it does?
  • CHOICES – If given a choice between a side-trip, alternate destination or some other unplanned opportunity, ask your travel mate what she prefers.  Accept that she may prefer to stick to the plan or even not make a choice.
  • MONEY – Take a moment to gauge your own and your travel mate’s budget for how much you both want and are able to spend for a meal, a special trip, or some other presented unplanned-for opportunity.  Don’t assume your views on money is the same as the other person’s.
  • GUILT – Sometimes a friend will offer to pay for their travel mate’s share of an unplanned opportunity in order to take advantage of an experience that the other cannot afford.  If this happens, certain courtesies should apply: 1) The other can accept graciously and should not feel guilty or in debt for doing so; 2) the person offering should not and will not hold that offer in the “debit ledger” to be used to balance out other costs at a later date; 3) If one person declines the offer for whatever reason, the person offering will accept that graciously.
  • REST – Look for fun things to do together, but be willing to let your mate have “alone time” if that’s what she needs.  If you need “alone time” don’t assume your mate knows that by your giving her the cold shoulder; taking a two hour shower or saying “mmm” in response to her questions or suggestions on things to do next. Tell her what you need. Everyone will be happier and no one should take it personally.
  • SLEEP – Not everyone goes to bed or wakes up at the same time. Figure out how much sleep your travel mate needs and let her have it. If you like to read in bed with the light on, agree on a time when lights should go off each night and on every morning.  Not all days will people feel the same need for sleep so consider asking about this daily or at least often.  If your trip calls for early morning meet-times with a group, discuss with your travel mate your general habits regarding being on time. (see section on DEADLINES)
  • DEADLINES – Sometimes a travel itinerary will have built-in timelines for meeting a bus or plane arriving at a certain destination. Some people like to be 5-15 minutes early for these types of deadlines; others scramble to be the last one on the bus while still shoving their wet laundry in the outside pocket of her open suitcase.   Decide which one you are.  Let your travel mate know that she is free to be either with no judgment and let her know which category you fall into.  There should be no guilt when the bus leaves without your companion and you didn’t do anything about it.  If the bus has to wait and delays everyone due to your (or your companion’s) tardiness, be gracious the first time about it.  If it keeps happening, have a chat about it.
  • OTHER PEOPLE* – If you meet new people along the trip, be thoughtful about inviting them to share your meal and travel by checking with your mate first. She may not share your enthusiasm for your new friend/s. If you want to hang with said new friend/s, communicate that and look for ways to double back or loop in with your travel mate for previously planned shared meals or events.

 

*If this new friend you have met is your potential soul mate and you think you want to spend the rest of your life with him/her, inform your travel companion immediately.  This rare and unforeseen occasion is universally understood to automatically grant a “pass” for any anti-social travel behavior.   If your traveling companion is single and in her 30s, she will understand this and make arrangements accordingly to find a new travel partner and happily give you all the space you need.

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Would you use these traveling courtesies on your next trip? What is your favorite trip you have taken? Do you travel with friends?

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All photos courtesy of Alexis and Larissa