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

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?

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.

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?

Digital Minimalism | Drop Everything and Read

Today is Drop Everything and Read Day, which, of course, is a favorite holiday for many readers.

Today I’m celebrating it also as Drop the Phone and Read Day, after having read Cal Newport’s latest book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

The idea of the book is this: reclaim high-quality leisure. Build something, join something, spend time with the people who matter most. And put down the darn smartphone.

In my case, I’ve carved out more time to read and to organize my home library. Super rewarding!

This is one of those books that prescribes a social media fast, and I’ll admit I did this only half-heartedly. And still: results!

What I did was to set these parameters for myself:

  • Instagram: only when planking, stretching, or doing strengthening exercises
  • Facebook: only twice a day, and for less than 5 minutes per day; moved app to 3rd screen on phone
  • Twitter: deleted from my phone

Even after the first week, my screen time went down. And I felt the wonderful liberation of extra free time. It was stunning.

And as Newport cautions, it can feel a bit empty at first, when one begins setting boundaries on these apps that benefit more from our attention than we benefit from granting them our precious time. A person feels a little bit at a loss.

But I soon began reveling in the extra reading time. And I felt more calm and rested. Time seemed to expand, and that’s well worth missing a post or two by people I barely know.

Anyone else done a social media fast? What were the results?

19 for 2019: the first update

We’re 1/4 of the way through the year, and I’m feeling a little bit concerned about my (lack of) progress on those wonderful 19 for 2019 goals I set.

The only thing that’s been definitively completed is this one:

Decide whether to catalog our home library

Given my slow progress on all those other goals, the decision on that one is: Ain’t gonna do it.
And that’s OK.

Meanwhile, there’s been headway on several of the goals that are ongoing in nature. They’re a-going…

Here’s what’s been happening…

Learn & use 12 new techniques on the blog

I’ve done 4 new things, including creating a content calendar and expanding the use of menus. This one’s right on course, and I’m excited about the next steps.

Set a twice-a-month grocery shopping rotation and stick with it

This goal’s firmly in place, and I’d say it’s a set habit, to the point that I’m calling it Completed. Every two weeks, I plan menus for the next two weeks, write the grocery list, and shop. Then the Dear Man picks up perishables during week 2. It’s pretty fabulous. Here’s something we cooked…

Have dinner twice monthly with a good friend

One of my happiest traditions!

Maximize the use of our new Instant Pot

This is also underway, and I’m making this amazing red lentil soup later this week. No photos available, because mainly we’ve been making non-photogenic but wonderful soups. And also a couple of things We’re Never Making Again (including that one thing I threw directly down the garbage disposal).

Style our kitchen island seasonally

Our kitchen island styling started out in fall and then the Christmas season, which were relatively easy. As the Dear Man says, Christmas always looks good. After Epiphany, we removed the Christmas-y touches and just went with a simplified evergreen and white motif. And then we faced springtime. We went Easter-y because it just turned out that way.

Dear Man and the Krazy Glue to the rescue, because I managed to drop the rabbit on my way into the house. But he glued on the broken ear so smoothly I can barely see the crack. And now I love that rabbit even more, because less than a minute after the break, the Dear Man was hard at work on the remedy.

Here we’ve also got an heirloom pitcher from my Dad’s Swedish-American ancestors and one of my favorite lidded containers made by my favorite potter. And the Dear Man’s dear mom’s vintage cookbook on the scale. All of these things make me wicked happy.

Research the history of our (school)house

I love research (librarian!!) so I’m undaunted by the obstacles we’ve been facing, including The Mystery of the Missing Schoolhouse Dedication. I’ve searched microfilm of two local newspapers, have been granted access to historical records from multiple local agencies, and still the search continues. There are more newspapers to explore, so onward…

But (big news) we discovered the name of our school’s architect, and we found a book he wrote about schoolhouses, which contains our floorplan, and I ordered a copy via Abebooks. I’m only a little bit impatient for its arrival.

So that’s the situation here.

I still have a Caesar salad to perfect, nearly a thousand blog posts to reformat, some history geek traveling to plan (woohoo!), and a vintage typewriter to decode. Plus KonMari-ing the basement boxes.

How’re your 2019 goals progressing?

Nonfiction November: Self-Improvement… Ask the Expert

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is brought to us by my talented friend Julie of JulzReads. (Hey, Julz!)

And here we have it…

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Last year I posted about self-improvement books, and guess what?

This year: more self-improvement!

 

Only this year, I’m asking the experts. (That’s you-all!)

Now that my life is a much happier thing overall, and now that I have some additional margin due to that much shorter commute, I find myself stretching in some new ways.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got the time management and efficiency pieces pretty much under control. I’ve upped my decluttering game.

And this can only mean one thing… we’re getting into serious Brene Brown be-brave territory. And also some facing of the Enneagram dark side issues.

We’re talking: becoming a better human.

So here’s my question to all of you good people:

What book made you a better person?

I’m looking for some books that’ll take me into the tough territory of really looking at the areas that have been neglected in favor of the easier tasks of getting more done in an efficient way. I’m talking: addressing one’s full humanity. It’s gettin’ real around here.