Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Routine Disruptions

 For the past week, my routines have been knocked thoroughly off-kilter, first by campus power outages that moved in-person classes online, then by a wedding and, finally, a sick day, courtesy of a broken tooth. Next week is fall break, promising more changes. Clearly some routine-busters (weddings) are better than others (a broken tooth), but good disruptions are still disruptions and, as such, can knock us off-kilter. I thought my grumpy toddler impression was a new development, one I blamed at least in part perhaps part on aging but, as this post from 2019 reminded me, it's not so new after all. 

I think I first came to appreciate routines when I was a new mom. Routines allowed me to feel in control when, in fact, I was at the mercy of a hungry little person who might or might not deign to nap on any given afternoon. Getting into a routine soothed us both, its structure giving predictability to days that sometimes stretched on endlessly.

But, as Gretchen Rubin says in her book, The Happiness Project, the days are long, but the years are short. Those sometimes challenging, sometimes fulfilling days of infancy and toddlerhood gave way all too soon to elementary school, then middle school, then high school, each bringing new routines and new time schedules by which to abide.

Now an empty nester, I've established routines of my own and, when they are disrupted, I get cranky. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being the free-flowing flexible person I thought I was and turned into someone who loves the control and sense of calmness and expectation that routines provide. While a day off is always welcome, a day knocked off kilter is less so.

These days, I have to remind myself of the flip side of routines -- that too much routine can become boring and rob my days of the joy that the unexpected can sometimes bring. That routine day after routine day can kill spontaneity and wash away the potential for new experiences -- the ones that spark a sense of wonder and awe, or perhaps simply rejuvenate us and spark new ideas and a fresh perspective.

The trick -- the sweet spot, I think -- is to break routines on our own terms. To declare a day off in the middle of a week or to schedule a vacation whose very nature is to leave routine behind and immerse ourselves in the kind of come-what-may, do-as-I-wish days that remind us that, while routines have their benefits, so too does the free flow pursuit of life outside of the box.

Today, for example, this post started off as a list article -- the kind I've been having fun writing for several weeks now -- but, along the way, it turned into something different. I could have tried to whip it into shape and insist upon its submission to my structure, but that would have been silly. If it works better this way (and it does) forcing it into the format I initially planned would have been a waste of time and energy.

And yet, that's exactly my first reaction when my routine falls apart. I try to pick up the pieces and put them back together like some sort of wayward jigsaw puzzle instead of remembering that, sometimes, routines are meant to be wriggled out of. Exploded, even.

The older I get, the more I believe that exploding routines aren't all bad and a that we are where we are meant to be. On days when I remember this, I can take a deep breath, laugh at the detritus of my routine and look for new opportunities that pop up as a result of a routine gone awry.

Definitely beats my cranky toddler impression.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

I deserve it

boaphotostudio via Pixabay

 I’ve developed a really nice morning routine that includes two different kinds of journaling. One is my gratitude journal, adapted from a format that I found on Pinterest and the other is a prompt from a book that takes only a moment to respond to, but that often gets my day started on a positive note.

Occasionally, though, I have trouble with one of the prompts, which is what happened one day last week. The gist was that I buy myself flowers and then jot down why I deserved them.

It’s a great idea in theory (unless you're allergic or don't happen to like flowers). Maybe it’s the psych instructor in me that’s picking at its loose threads but, as I wrote my reply, I found myself wondering how healthy that mindset is. 

Ironically, I had treated myself that day, although not with flowers, so here’s what I wrote:

I did myself one better – I took advantage of Starbucks BOGO Thurs-yay and got both a hot chai and a cold one. I don’t need a reason to treat myself well. In fact that rationale (“I deserve it“) is at the root of many bad habits.

As I said, I think it’s the psych instructor (or counselor) in me that found the flaws in an otherwise harmless prompt suggestion. Or maybe it’s the person who spent the last 2 1/2 years trying to undo that sort of thinking around food and, more recently, spending. 

Thoughts like "I had a rough day. I deserve a cookie (or a glass of wine, or an expensive treat)" seem harmless enough. But, not only can thoughts become habits, they can also lead us to believe that we have to justify doing something nice for ourselves, a mindset that can lead us away from self-care, rather than toward it.

Why do we have to earn nice things or fun things or delicious things? Conversely, and perhaps more concerning, what if we think we don’t deserve those things?

In fairness, I think that’s what the prompt was trying to get at -- that we should treat ourselves well and we should treat ourselves to nice things sometimes. But I think when we start to look at it through the lens of whether or not we deserve it, that’s where trouble comes in.

My value as a person should not be contingent upon how much work I’ve done, how much weight I’ve lost, how productive I've been, how clean and organized my house is, or any of the myriad things upon which I may judge myself (or fear that others are judging me). We are valuable just because we are and we don’t have to earn nice things by outward behaviors or accomplishments. 

Or, at least that’s how I see it.

I’ll say this much for that prompt. It definitely made me think. Can't wait to read the next one.

Thursday, September 28, 2023


 I don’t remember the last time I missed two blog posts, let alone two in the same week, but it’s been one of those weeks. Nothing terrible has happened. In fact, it’s been a good week, albeit a very busy one. 

Then today, the unexpected happened. I came downstairs to check my computer before work only to discover that a power outage on campus had delayed the start of classes until at least 10 a.m. While I didn't yet know if that would affect my 11a.m., I still had a decision to make. 

And emails from three students already awaiting that decision.

My choice? I gave us all the day off. Sort of. I gave them an assignment, and I dug into my virtual pile of things to be graded.

The plan? Work all morning and write all afternoon. 

That was almost three hours ago. As I write this, I’m halfway through my plan. Actually I’m sitting in line at the Starbucks drive-through, awaiting my turn to pick up my BOGO Thurs-yay drinks. 

A day off and double the caffeine.

From here, I’ll go home, finish grading a set of quizzes, post this blog, and dig into the writing that has consistently gotten drop-kicked to the bottom of my to do list. 

The gift of time is a beautiful thing and I plan to make the most of every minute.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

My Heart Belongs to (all the) Books

 This post seemed to be a fitting companion to yesterday's :-)

Are you a single-book reader or a multi-book reader? Do you give your heart to one book at at time? Or, do you prefer to play the field, seeing several books at once, giving a piece of your heart to each but not making an exclusive commitment to any?

I definitely fit into the second category.

I don't know when this happened, although I'm sure that it evolved over time. I used to take books out of the library or buy them at the bookstore and read them one at a time, fully committing to each book for as long as it lasted. But somewhere along the way, I stopped committing. 

I think it might have begun when I realized that "too many books, too little time" was a reality check, and not just an adage. I gave myself permission to begin books and discard them, unfinished, if there was no chemistry after the first few chapters. There were, after all, plenty of other books in the library, and I'd never have time to read them all. Why go all-in with a book that was unsatisfying when I had so many other options? 

There were other contributors to this lifestyle. A smorgasbord of Kindle samples. Book club deliveries that showed up while I was seeing another book and tried to lure me away. Magazines that were, by nature, interested in just having fun for a season.

And here I am. So much reading material. I can't focus.

I can't choose. I want to read them all. 

But there's not enough time.

Oddly enough, I'm monogamous when it comes to fiction. I think it's the characters. They pull me in and beg me to stay -- at least in the books where I get past the first few chapters. 

Cdd20 via Pixabay

I'd like to say that I'll reform -- that I'll break my serial reading habit and commit to just one book at a time -- but I know there's no turning back. I've tasted the freedom of having a reading selection to cater to my every mood and, when I can easily take a wide selection of choices with me wherever I go in one simple, lightweight container, the temptation to see other books is just too great.

I've resigned myself to the idea that some of these relationships will be meaningful and others will be just flings. I'm okay with that.

And so I'll continue these pursuits, judging books by their covers, seeking both truth and fiction, in search of the perfect match.

Even if it's only for one night.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Quitting Time?

mikesween via Pixabay

 A couple of years ago, frustrated by my ever-growing pile of partially read books, I set a goal to finish two books a month. I could read them or listen to them. I could start them from the first page, or pick up wherever I'd left off months (or more) before. I could recognize that I'd gone as far as I wanted to with one (or more) of the books in the pile and donate it (or them) to the library.

The goal was to finish the books, or let them go.

In addition to making my selections from the pile of books I'd already begun, I started (and abandoned) a number of additional contenders. This wasn't a new development; I decided long ago that there are far too many books I want to read for me to spend time reading those that are barely keeping my interest. 

I also started tracking the books I'd finished, eventually creating a book journal where I could keep track and capture bits of books I wanted to remember. I embarked on Sunday Sampling, where I spent a part of my day going through the various ebook samples I'd downloaded, determining what to keep and what to delete and, later, doing the same thing with the physical books on my bookshelf.

Most of the time, all of this works quite well. In addition to achieving my book completion goal, I also re-established a long-dormant reading-for-fun habit. 

But, sometimes, I don't know when to quit.

My first completed book for this month (an audiobook which shall remain nameless) is a good example. I'd enjoyed the beginning of it, gotten a bit bogged down in the middle, and lost enthusiasm before the end. 

But I finished it. I was so close, I didn't want to stop listening and miss a chance to meet (or surpass) my goal. It wasn't a slog through to the end, but it also wasn't the book I wanted to jump to when I got into the car and turned on my Audible app. And, after the first few chapters, it wasn't a book I wanted to keep listening to after I got out of the car either -- both sure signs that there might be something better out there.

But I persisted. I finished it.

Could my goal be backfiring? Could there, perhaps, be factors at work beyond time constraints and motivation? Would I have been better off letting the book slip to the bottom of the queue, spending my time on something else instead?

What got me thinking about all of this is my latest jigsaw puzzle. Now that we have our sunroom, and I have a place to chip away at puzzles without taking up the dining room table, I've really been enjoying working on them. 

I'm on my second go-'round with my latest puzzle. When I started it more than a year ago (it might even have been pre-pandemic), I wasn't successful in making progress on it. Eventually, reclaiming the dining room table became more important than finishing the puzzle and so, with a twinge of regret, I took it apart and put it away.

When I re-started it in the sunroom a few weeks ago, I was enthusiastic. But now, although I chip away at it, I don't get absorbed in it as I did with the others. It's a challenge, and not one I'm completely enjoying.

Is it quitting time?

I think the answer will reveal itself in time, as it does with most of the books I read (or don't) but, in the meantime, the more I think about my puzzle conundrum, the more I realize how universal this question is. 

Should I quit or keep pressing forward? Stay or go? Salvage this relationship or walk away? 

And what does it mean if I do?

In the case of my puzzle conundrum (or a mediocre book), it means nothing -- or close to it. It's a puzzle (or a book) and deciding I'd rather spend my time on something else is hardly a character flaw. In fact, it's probably a sign of decent self-awareness and/or a recognition that the joy we garner from some activities is lifelong, while for others, there's a season.

So why is it so hard for me to pick up the pieces, let a recording fall to the bottom of a queue, walk away and leave something unfinished?

GDJ via Pixabay

Why indeed. 

I want to have rules and guidelines, something that promises to make the choice simple and leave me with no lingering regret. 

Or maybe I don't. Maybe I don't want to give up my wiggle room. I'm not big on being told what to do, after all.

In the end, the choice is mine, and the choice I make means only what I let it mean. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sometimes, an unfinished book or puzzle is just that -- not a habit or a character flaw or a commentary on my value as a person.

Usually, it simply means there are far too many things I want to do for me to spend time in pursuits that are barely keeping my interest.

And, in that case, knowing when to walk away is a wise decision.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

S Words


Since this is my second time through the alphabet with my alphabet posts, I thought I would scroll back and see what my “S word” was the first time. I located it toward the end of another “S word” (September), posted around this time last year.

The“S word”? Semester.

Once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. (New semester, same dilemmas). I’m not sure what that says about me but, right now, I’m too tired to think about it.

S is for semester and this one is kicking my butt. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize why. I’m back to full-time – or what counts as full-time for an adjunct. Although I’ve taught all these classes before, I’m never happy unless I tweak them. 

This isn’t too bad when it comes to the development classes that I teach every semester, because the tweaks are minor and, when the technology cooperates, not too overwhelming. But my first year seminar, which I have taught numerous times before, comes with built-in changes every time it rolls around – changes I didn’t put into place. They aren’t bad; in fact, some are quite good. But, add them to the tweaks that I would normally do and the lists start to grow. And, of course this time around, I agreed to add in some content related to a new objective, as well as once again rethinking the major assignment that comes at the end of the semester, along with the instruction that leads up to it.

You can see how quickly I can get in over my head. Or, more accurately, in my own way.

And therein lies the problem. I teach my students about perfectionism and yet I struggle with my own, never satisfied leaving well enough alone. 

Ironically, the harder I try to make things perfect, the more the little details trip me up. This is not surprising. I’m a global person. I love big ideas, sweeping plans, and dreaming of new ways to do things. But then it comes down to the details and, as we all know, that’s where the devil lies, especially for a global thinker.

And I very quickly found myself drowning in the details. So much so that, despite my best efforts to achieve balance, that plan was flooded out just as quickly.

It’s early in the semester, though, so I still harbor a bit of optimism, along with the out-of-the-box thinking that also goes so well with a global personality. Yesterday, I decided that I was renaming my days. Well, not exactly renaming them. Frustrated by a schedule where I’m losing a whole weekend day getting ready for the week ahead, I decided to give myself comp time, recouping some of those hours on a weekday, thus making Monday (or whenever I take my comp time) Sunday (or whatever weekend day I gave up).  

It remains to be seen whether my latest big idea makes things better or worse, but I’ve already learned that pairing that comp time with other chores, like things that need to be done around the house, is probably not the best use of it.

This week, I'm challenging my freshmen to think about their chronotypes (lark, night owl, third bird). From there, I want them to consider these presets, as it were, using them as a tool for developing time management skills befitting a schedule more wide open than any they had in their previous thirteen years of education. 

Once the structures that have been our touchstone have been largely ripped away, it can be a struggle to decide what goes where. Not surprisingly, it can take longer than we expect to rebuild a routine that functions for the long haul. And, in a world where the schedule can change with every semester, it can be difficult to establish a routine that can function as a life raft, no matter how imperfect, in time to rescue ourselves from drowning in a sea of details.

Some days, we can follow the schedule we've devised, ticking all the boxes and congratulating ourselves on our insight. Other days, all we can do is enjoy the ride.

And coming to terms with that is perhaps the greatest time management trick of them all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


 I am a global girl. Details exhaust me. I’m okay with a few at a time, or breaking down one project into its component parts but, when details come flying at me, I run for cover, taking refuge in inaction and procrastination. 

The first few weeks of school consist not only of myriad details, but also a lot of switching back and forth between those details and global planning (syllabi and overview of the semester, for example). When the details are manageable (my prioritized to-do list, for example), it's easy to take care of them and move on but, when they come at me simultaneously from all sides, they remind me of a poster I used to have in my college dorm.


I think my poster featured Garfield rather than the one-eyed dude above, but the sentiment was the same. Back then, however, there was no email, no Internet, no texting, and little responsibility for anyone but myself, so I had no idea how many directions things could come from in a single day. When I considered this alongside the change in routine that a new semester brings, I suddenly understood  the tired, overwhelmed feeling that is my constant companion during the first month of school.

Last weekend (the end of my third week of classes), I read this tidbit in my mindfulness book:
Say you are holding a heavy parcel with both hands and someone gives you another parcel to hold -- you would have to put down the parcel you're holding in order to accept the second parcel.  

It is exactly the same principle with thoughts. You can only hold one at a time.

I am far enough into the book that I accepted the second paragraph as truth, although holding one thought at a time is definitely something I'm still working on. 

But it's actually the first paragraph that tripped me up. It never occurred to me to put down the first package. In my mind's eye, I lowered the first parcel to allow someone to set the second parcel on top of it.

And therein lies the problem. I keep letting people stack parcels on top of parcels, and it's not just my arms that are exhausted. 

Furthermore, other people are only part of the problem. If I don't open my arms to yield space for more parcels, they can't place them there.

Clearly, I need to work on narrowing the list of things I sign for. Either that, or I need to recognize that, just as my front porch can only hold so many deliveries, making it necessary for me to bring some inside and do something about them before I accept any more, so too will my days hold space for only so many details. Some will need to be delivered to another day.

And that is okay.

And that is okay.

Yes, I know I typed that twice. Arriving at the explanation was a tad challenging but still, that was the easy part. The bigger challenge lies in accepting the inevitability of the concept of "full" and being okay with it, even when others might not be. I'm not suggesting we all skip work and lounge around all day on a tropical island (or mountain resort, if you prefer). Although that sounds wonderful, a more workable long-term solution is identifying our limits and adhering to them as often as possible.

I don't know about you, but I love packages. Getting myself out of habit of reaching for them when they are held out to me will be a slow process. 

But more and more, I believe that my sanity depends on learning to do just that.