Little acts of stoicism

 

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Reading this book during the onset of a global pandemic turned out to be a really good idea. As things were getting scarier and stranger by the hour, I was bolstered by the calm, quiet, gently encouraging tone of this book, which offers guidance on how Stoicism can offer a sense of peace. 

I needed to find a way to experience peace. 

And I have to say thank you to Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm, whose review of this book made me sit up and take notice when she posted a few years ago. Sometimes people and their words reach us at just the right time. Thanks, Bybee dear. 

William A. Irvine is a kind guide through the ideas of Stoicism, and for me, the book really got going once he started describing the actual practices of Stoic living. 

For example, imagine the loss of everyone and everything you love, because this will increase your appreciation for them. 

Clearly, that sounds dreadful (especially when the world’s so frightening), but he describes how this approach can actually lead to our living the way we really want to live — in loving appreciation of the gifts we’ve been given. 

And another… determine which aspects of life you have some control over, and focus your efforts in those areas — and let go of the areas where we have no control. This reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Irvine distinguishes between our setting a goal of winning a game vs. setting a goal of playing our best. The first goal is outside our control, while the latter is something we can actually achieve if we put our mind to it. 

And there’s much more… 

So I’ve determined to begin practicing Stoicism in small ways, and then perhaps in larger ways. And this means I’ll be re-reading this book, because the first reading of this kind of life-changing book can inspire me, but it’s the second and third readings where I’m actually able to grasp the ideas and put them into practice. 

 

Anyone else like that? A single reading just isn’t enough, if I think there’s potentially life-changing stuff at hand.

 

What strategies and mindsets are getting you through this difficult time?

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, diminishing anxiety, finding peace

My word for the year: Abundance

Anyone else feel like there’s never enough time? 

That’s my constant refrain, and this year I decided to address it head-on. 

I chose “Abundance” as my word of the year. 

Here’s the backstory… 

 

abundance chalkboard vignette

In recent years, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft of the Happier podcast have talked about choosing a one-word theme for the year, and hat idea has resonated with me.

Last year, I chose “Comfort” as my word, since 2019 was all about cozying up our new nest. Weirdly, “Comfort” also gave me permission to slow down and just be

It was a good word. 

So this year, I looked at my biggest pain point, and it’s scarcity. I fret about not having time to do the things I want to do; I fret about whether I’m spending my time in the best way possible; I fret about whether I’ve saved enough for retirement someday; I fret about whether I’m doing enough to take care of my health; I fret, I fret, I fret. 

And I gotta say: I’m not really thrilled about that. 

So, that brings us to Abundance. 

This year, I’m focusing on abundance in every aspect of life. 

When I feel like I’m running short on time, I think about the fact that the way I’ve spent the day is aligned with my values — and then I let go of feeling like I should’ve done 12 other things on the to-do list. 

When I feel like I should be getting more sleep, I resolve to honor my bedtime alarm and get back on track with my sleep schedule. 

Since I work best when there are action steps, I set up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets, where I record one example of abundance each day. It’s basically a gratitude journal, and I only ask myself to record one good thing for each day. It’s also keeping me mindful of looking for examples of abundance throughout the day, which helps with my shift from a scarcity to an abundance mindset. 

My friends, it’s working.


An added bonus to choosing Abundance as my word… videos

When I announced my word of the year to the Dear Man, he mentioned the Mama Celeste pizza commercial from the 70s.

Then we also watched one of my favorite: SNL Morning Latte (“abundance” at 2:40); cracks me up every time.

Anyone else choose a one-word theme for the year? I love hearing people’s choices, so please let me know if you’ve got a word for the year. 

Love Where You Live: Next Level

When I first read This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick, I tested out some of the recommendations in the book and found that they boosted my happiness with my home.

 

Now, in our first year in our new home, we’ve taken it to the next level. I re-read the book and marked so many pages, and we took some serious action. Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far…

 

We’ve walked to the farmers market several times and bought fresh produce (corn grown 20 miles from our home!) and flowers

 

 

We walked to a great restaurant downtown (1 mile away) and ate on their patio on a beautiful late summer evening

We’re exploring all the local pizza places

 

 

We’ve attended lectures with friends at a large local venue

 

 

I greet everyone I see on the running path (and sometimes we recognize each other)

 

We’ve taken family and friends for walks along the riverwalk in our town

 

We researched the history of our house

 

We bought vintage and handcrafted home goods from a wonderful local boutique

  • I’ve walked to work 
  • We’ve gone to several local craft markets
  • We stroll our historic neighborhood
  • We’ve explored the cemetery nearest to our house and found the names of old local families
  • We’ve visited the local history museum 
  • We stop and chat with neighbors 
  • We strolled around downtown during Second Fridays — when local businesses are open late 
  • We bought locally roasted coffee
  • We bought and are reading books about our city’s history

All of these things have deepened our connection to our new town. It’s truly a boost to happiness, to the point that sometimes I just hum with joy.

As the Dear Man often says, with such warm fondness, “You love this town.” And I respond, “I love this town.” And then we smile. It’s like a civic commercial without an audience.

 

I’m grateful to Melody Warnick for providing such a fine road map to “love where you live” happiness.

What activities make you love the place you live?

19 for 2019: 3rd quarter update on life goals

We’re barreling into the 3rd quarter of the year, my friends, and some of us have some serious work yet to do on our goals. At least, that’s the case here. But! There’s also been some decent progress. Here’s what’s happened since the previous 19 for 2019 update.

Accomplished since the previous update

Learn Instagram Stories

I watched some online instructional videos and then tested a few different Instagram Stories techniques. I’m still figuring it out, but so far I’ve posted some polls, a before & after sequence, and a quiz.

Spend some serious quality time with our sisters

My sister's pup
Newfoundland with our family

We spent a wonderful weekend hanging out with my sister and her family (and laughed so much), and we traveled with the Dear Man’s sister and her husband to Newfoundland. Quality time with quality humans, all of it.

Style our kitchen island seasonally

We upped our autumn game this year, so I can say with confidence: we’ve got all four seasons well in hand.

Write a series of blog posts

While I have a couple of other series in mind, I’ve already got one series well underway: Favorites (favorite books, favorite pizzas, favorite bookish shirts…)

Go on at least 3 history geek trips with the Dear Man

We’ve visited St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Mackinac Island — and dug into the history of each place.

Have dinner twice monthly with a good friend

Except for September (which was so weird, schedule-wise, for both of us), my friend and I have met for dinner twice monthly like clockwork. It’s one of my deepest sources of happiness.

Do at least 3 of the activities in This Is Where You Belong

OK, I gotta say: I’m rockin’ this one. Here are a mere 3 of the many activities I’ve done:

  • Walked to work & walked to a local restaurant
  • Walked to the farmers market and bought local produce (corn!)
  • Attended a lecture at a local venue

Maximize the use of our Instant Pot

We’re heading back into Instant Pot season, because soon it’ll be all about soup at our house. We’re both a couple of soup fiends, and throughout the chilly months, we’ll resume our soup-making ways.

The items that remain to be completed

  • Learn & use 12 new techniques on the blog
      • I’ve done 8 new things so far, so I’m on track… 
  • Find out if my vintage typewriter actually works… and if so, use it 
      • I’m weirdly blocked on this one, even though a friend helped me identify some sources of information. Gotta get a move on.
  • Actually go through all those boxes in the basement
      • There are maybe 8 of them; I’ve gone through 2. I’m promising myself this’ll be a cold weather project. I could crank through it in a weekend… but will I? 
  • Fix formatting on all blog posts
      • I’ve done this only piecemeal — when I’m linking to a previous post, I reformat it on the fly. I’m thinking this would require more time than I’m willing to give it. Stay tuned. 
  • Go on a field trip with a good friend 
      • We’ve put a date on the calendar, and we’ll be discussing what we’ll do that day.

So, anyone else as far behind as I am? Do you have goals for 2019 that you’ve met — or still wish to accomplish?

Talking with strangers: Newfoundland friendliness edition

 

Send two introverts on vacation in Newfoundland, and one of two things is gonna happen: either they’re gonna talk with a lot of strangers and like it, or they’re gonna talk with a lot of strangers and feel uncomfortable. 

For these two introverts, happily it was the former. 

Even though we traveled with another couple, we talked with strangers on the regular. Meaning: every single day.

It started on the flight from Toronto to St. John’s, when the man seated next to me delighted us with his friendly helpfulness (and his Newfoundland dialect).

Usually when an airline seatmate is chatty, I withdraw into my book and my headphones. In this case, I was enchanted. And the Dear Man and I remained enchanted the whole time we were on vacation, talking with strangers.

Here’s what’s going on in Newfoundland that’ll turn even the most devout introverts into happy conversationalists with people they’ve never before seen

The culture

At our 2nd B&B, we had breakfast with a couple from Quebec. They said they’d told a Newfoundlander their itinerary, and she said, “Ah, you haven’t allowed much time for chattin’ with people, eh?” We all laughed… but within a day, we realized the truth of that comment.

At our 4th B&B, the owner was one of the chattiest people we’ve known — and that was a wonderful gift. He directed us to great restaurants, he told fascinating tales of Newfoundland history, and he answered all our questions with patience and apparent pleasure.

And all of it in a truly delightful dialect that sounded 60% Irish, 20% Canadian, and 20% unlike anything else. Sounding the refrain, he also said, “You can’t know Newfoundland without talking with the people, right.” We were beginning to believe it.

Restaurant owners: also chatty and friendly and helpful. At 2 of the 3 best restaurants where we ate, the owners were particularly kind and happy people. Seriously: they radiated joy.

Sam, our flight seatmate, said, “I think you’ll find the Newfoundland people to be quite welcoming.” (Imagine those words, spoken in the Irish/Canadian/Newfoundland dialect. Lovely, right?) 

Dude was correct.

Also: thanks, Sam, for the invitation to stop by for coffee and for the recommendations of cod tongues with scrunchions and Ches’s Fish & Chips. All so good. 

Bed & breakfasts

When you’re travelling through small towns in Newfoundland, your only accommodation options are B&Bs or cabin rentals.

We stayed at several B&Bs, where we had delightful breakfast conversations with people of the following descriptions:

  • True crime writer 
  • Movie grip 
  • Family history tourist 
  • Retired history teacher 
  • Swiss bankers
  • Retired veterinary professor
  • Couple who live on the same street as our BIL’s sister 

Lack of Internet service

Guess what? No Internet in the fjord

When traveling internationally and being frugal, often there’s no Internet service.

Also, when traveling in remote areas of Newfoundland: no Internet unless you’ve got wifi.

Therefore… more reason to talk with people, to find out information.

And… more reason to talk with people because you’re not all absorbed in the screen world.

Small island

We kept seeing the same people everywhere we went.

Then we’d drive to a new region, and we’d encounter a new group of fellow travelers who’d appear repeatedly at our B&B, on the overlook hike, at the shipwreck site, and then again at dinner.

Hello, friends! We’ll see you tomorrow on the whale watching boat. 

 

For a couple of confirmed introverts, the experience was nothing short of life-changing. 

I’ve returned to the States refreshed and renewed and feeling like a new human. When I say life-changing, I’m not even kidding.

I love stories of lightning bolts of self-development.

Anyone else have one of those life-changing moments during travel?

What I learned about (not) slowing down

Last year one of my 18 for 2018 goals was to remind myself to slow down. And I did. Kinda.

I set up a Google Calendar reminder that pinged me daily with “Slow down.”

I’ll confess: every day, my reaction was basically:

Then, this year, out of nowhere (it wasn’t even a goal!), I chose a theme word: Comfort.

And guess what?

Totally slowed me down.

It turns out, I need something to aim for, rather than something simply to avoid.

This should be surprising to no one.

Give me a target (comfort), and I’ll try to hit it (within reason; I’m not gonna do something awful just cuz someone suggests it).

The result: I’ve been taking it easier this year (mostly — there’ve also been some fantastic failures already) because I’m targeting comfort.

So if you’re one of those Achiever / Upholder types, I invite you to benefit from my year of slowing-down failure.

Reframe a vague goal about slowing down to smell the roses into a targeted positive goal. (Take 5 deep breaths. Find comfort. Stand up and stretch.)

It’s weird how enticing the slowing-down becomes, once it’s stated as a target (comfort!) to aim for.

Any other Achiever / Upholders out there who’ve experienced this kind of brain jujitsu? What other tips do you have?

Plan better parties

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

3 words: conversational, thought-provoking, intriguing

 

 

You know how sometimes you pick up a self-improvement book and you don’t even want to put it down? This is one of those.

Right from the start, I was drawn in by Parker’s conversational tone and then held rapt by her surprising statements about how to put together better gatherings.

I finished this book in a whirlwind right before hosting a party, and I went from my usual Mary Richards near-fiasco to a level of confidence I hadn’t had before. 

Here are my favorite takeaways from the book:

Have a purpose for your gathering

And if the purpose isn’t evident, sit down and figure it out ahead of time. This’ll give you a destination to aim for. It seriously helps make decisions about how to make the event meaningful.

Be a bossy host

Parker warns against the dangers of being a chill host — which is done to be kind, but ends up being unhelpful. Be a little bit bossy. The host should protect guests from boredom and uncertainty. Have a plan.

Equalize your guests

If people attending the gathering differ due to perceptions based on career or status, take steps to bring everyone to the same level for the duration of the gathering so they can connect as equals.

Make each gathering different from all other gatherings

Think about how this gathering will be unique and play up those aspects. 

 

While I’ll never be the hostess with the mostest, this book helped me up my game and made me feel more solid in my role as host.

Don’t you just love it when a book can do that for you?

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning how to plan parties that are more meaningful and meetings that are more effective, new ways of conceptualizing gatherings, why being a benevolently bossy host can be best

So, my friends… please tell me your favorite hosting tip. Or the best thing you ever experienced as a guest at a gathering. I love this stuff.

Red, white, and blue — and learning something new

As a kid, I did this dorky thing almost every year on the 4th of July: I’d sit down in the family room (the perfect room for summer — all windows on two sides) and teach myself something new. 

I’m not sure what that was all about, but I suspect that after a full month of summertime — and reading whatever I wanted all day long (oh my gosh… the bliss of it still hits me today) — I think I was feeling the need for some academic rigor. 

So I taught myself the sign language alphabet one year. And the Greek alphabet another. And the phonetic alphabet after that (…so when I saw the title Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I knew that wasn’t very nice language).  

And this year, I learned some bloggy things. The biggest part of the day I spent learning to use the Elementor plugin for WordPress. 

 

I reworked my About page and pre-posted a couple of upcoming posts, and then attempted to do some stuff to the header, but that didn’t work out as well. 

But I learned stuff!

And it was fun. And I didn’t even say Whiskey Tango anything at any point during the process. 

And then the Dear Man and I went for a stroll through our beautiful new neighborhood and looked at all the lovely old houses, and we talked history and it was so pleasantly geeky. And now here I am, writing this post and feeling excited about all the things I can do with Elementor. 

And now, your friendly Independence Day dork is signing off for the week. 

My fellow Americans… I hope you had a happy 4th!

What are your favorite 4th of July traditions? 

 
 

My 19 for 2019 list: mid-year update

19 goals for 2019 — it doesn’t seem so very ambitious. But almost half the year’s zoomed by, and guess what? So much still to do! But there’s been some progress…

Here’s my goal status tally at the midpoint of the year:

Completed: 7

In progress: 6

Not yet: 6

So it could be worse.

In March, I’d made some progress, and today we’ve got an update on what’s happened since then.

Newly completed

Perfect my Caesar salad

If you don’t expect homemade Caesar dressing (and I don’t), I’ve got this one nailed.

Here’s my formula:

  • Organic romaine
  • Shaved Parmesan
  • Marie’s Caesar Dressing (based on this review)
  • Croutons: the crouton part of this recipe from Bon Apetit; I like to use Lucky 7 Grain & Seed Batard from Trader Joe’s

via GIPHY

Style our kitchen island seasonally

We’ve now been in our new house for all four seasons, and we’ve styled the island for each of them. Here’s our summer look…

Figure out the layout of the den

We have a sweet little den in our house, and it’s my upstairs lair. It looks like this except for when I swap out the typewriter for the laptop…

Get the TVs set up

OK, so we got one TV set up. And the other one went into storage, since we don’t need a TV upstairs. (Seriously: we hardly even watch the one in the living room.) We hired an electrician, he added an outlet in the floor (it’s all hidden!) and now we’re all set. (And the most exciting part about hiring the electrician was actually that now I can run on the treadmill in the basement. I love that.)

Research the history of our (school)house

While this will be ongoing (probably for years), at this point I’ve tracked down some of the major information and have seen historic photos of our place. As a yearly goal, I think we can say it’s been achieved.

In progress

  • Learn Instagram Stories with the Dear Man
  • Spend some serious quality time with our sisters
  • Learn & use 12 new techniques on the blog  
  • Go on at least 3 history geek trips with the Dear Man
  • Have dinner twice monthly with a good friend
  • Maximize the use of our new Instant Pot

What I haven’t even started yet

  • Find out if my vintage typewriter actually works… and if so, use it
  • Write a series of blog posts
  • Actually go through all those boxes in the basement
  • Do at least 3 of the activities in This Is Where You Belong
  • Fix formatting on all blog posts
  • Go on a field trip with a good friend

As mid-year approaches, how’s your year looking? Any re-tooling of your goals for the year? (I love this stuff.)

Organizing the spice drawer

I meant to write about spring goals and new growth. Instead I’m writing about organizing our spices. Because that’s where I am right now, and it sure feels like growth.

When I read Carson Tate’s post about balancing your life like the four seasons, I was immediately captivated by the idea. And also relieved, because this framework allows us to tackle only one aspect at a time. And that’s such an easing of a burden.

I tend to overload myself with ambitious projects, and then I just get tired. So one season at a time? I got this…

For springtime, she suggests:

  • New ideas
  • New beginnings
  • Decluttering
  • Letting go of the past

As I see it, there are two phases here, which kind of line up with Marie Kondo’s thinking: let go of the past to open up possibilities for the future.

One of my “19 for 2019” goals is to go through all the boxes in the basement, which contain I’ve-forgotten-what. So that project is saying “spring” to me. (But will I get to it before winter? I have my doubts.)

Meanwhile, what I have done is to tidy up the spice rack. It’s actually the spice drawer, and it was pretty horrid. We both got frustrated trying to find the oregano. And really, people shouldn’t have to live like that.

So, inspired by The Home Edit, I bought:

…and we had ourselves some results.

Before:

During:

After:

It’s a small step, growth-wise, but it sure makes cooking more pleasant. Plus, every time I open the doors of the pantry, I get a little ping of joy.

So, along with walking along the river to see the spring flowers, that’s part of my springtime celebration.

What’re you doing to celebrate spring?