Category Archives: Decisions
The last third of the year can become unenjoyably busy for our family very easily, with ten family birthdays and our anniversary sprinkled in among the bustle of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. So in 2016 Greg and I resolved to designate one day from each weekend in October, November and December as an “at home only” day: no outings, no plans, no chores and no to-do list. We called it a family Sabbath, although we first instituted this for practical reasons and our own comfort rather than as an effort to obey the religious guidelines of Sabbath keeping.
When we first decided to implement this in October, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we would benefit so much from the rest this boundary around our schedule would afford us. There was one problem though. The only date that worked well for Rowan and June’s joint birthday party fell on the same weekend that the huge Lego tour would be in town. The Lego event that Rowan has been asking to return to since he saw it the last time it came to town two years ago. The one I had been excited to take the kids to for months.
We looked at three different scenarios: attending an abbreviated weeknight Lego session, packing the Lego fest in on the same day as our at-home birthday party, or breaking our Sabbath guidelines and attending the beloved Lego event on the second day of that weekend. We decided to break our new rule and go to the event on the second day of the weekend. After all, we made the rule so that we could enjoy the holiday season more fully, and we knew we would all enjoy the Lego fun. This never sat right with me though. In seasons past when our busy-ness sapped our strength and joy, our schedule was (over) filled with fun, enjoyable things- no drudgery; yet the pace still wore on us. So I sensed that breaking our Sabbath boundary to avoid missing out on something fun and enjoyable was not going to work at all. I knew that every single weekend during this festival-and-party season, the prospect of something fun, memorable, important or educational would beckon to us, asking to be dropped into that emptied Sabbath calendar square. Still, I persisted. I told myself, “We’ll go to the Lego fest this one time, then that’s it- we’ll protect a Sabbath day each week through the end of the year.”
Two days before the big weekend, I went online to secure tickets. I had delayed, at first, because we were throwing around our scheduling options, and next due to reluctance mixed with a delusional belief that the less popular time slots wouldn’t sell out. In reality, all of the time slots for this hugely popular, once-every-two-years event sold out long before I got around to checking on tickets. So we didn’t go. After the excitement of their birthday party, the kids never even asked about the Lego event that weekend. They still haven’t- it just hasn’t come to mind. While I’m sure the event would have been a blast, I was surprised that there really was no sting in missing it. And we had a very restorative day at home instead.
That first experience illustrated to us the immense value of rest, and it revealed that the one obstacle that most often robs us of rest- the fear of missing out- is actually not a very formidable foe; it turns out that the thing we feared- the phantom prospect of missing out on something- never materialized at all. True, we did not attend the Lego event. But during our peaceful unplanned day spent at home, we did not miss it either.
This is how we started to implement the principles of Sabbath as a family. We continued this practice of keeping one weekend day clear for the rest of the year. We have enjoyed it so much that we are going to continue it indefinitely.
A quick look back:
Unbeknownst to me, this Sabbath idea was percolating at the beginning of 2016. Last year began with a post about The Big Rocks: Self-Care for Care Givers, which describes prioritizing items in your schedule which are of the most value to you, then fitting in less important or unimportant tasks around those big rocks. It seems as though the rest of last year was a slow, progressive implementation of that post as our family pared down our schedules and our possessions. That was providential because 2016 was indescribably stressful for me, with so many people, opinions and mistakes thrown into our well-established routine via the Medicaid hoops, nursing SNAFUs, invasion of our introvert sanctuary, the start and shuffling of twice-a-week therapies, the transition from ECI to the school system and ongoing nursing and Medicaid difficulties. This “Big Rocks” process of purposefully stewarding our time and energy protected my sanity last year. At the same time, I was completing an intensive spiritual discipleship program through our church which introduced me to the works of CS Lewis and other gifted Christian and Jewish theologians. As I studied, the themes of prioritizing my time and resources and seeking rest stood out to me, given my stress. Naturally this led to the study of the Sabbath, with is prominent in the Jewish theology I ventured into, and which is the subject of the Bible study I ultimately finished the year on (Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe).
A look ahead:
As I mentioned in the last post, however, this attention to rest and Sabbath results in less blogging. Or no blogging. So, while I have many topics and resources I would love to share, posts in 2017 may be sporatic. If you ever wish to check-in with us or ask a question, feel free to use the Contact button on the blog. We don’t expect any big medical changes for June this year, since she recently got her g-button out (WOOHOO), and her doctors want her trachea to grow for another year before re-evaluating options for another attempt at removing the trach. However, Greg is hoping to transition into a new professional field this year, so we are waiting to see what new adventure his school and career opportunities will bring to us as a family, in terms of our routine and location.
We are quite excited about the year ahead.
One week ago, the kids and I ventured out to the polls for early voting. The “big kids” (my 5-year-old, Rowan and my 3-year-old, June) had decided who they would vote for, hypothetically, by watching snippets of the debates. This was our pre-voting conversation- June contributing in ASL.
Me: OK, guys, let’s go vote!
June: I’m scared of boats.
Me: Not boat. Vote. V-O-T-E. [I showed her the ASL sign VOTE see here.]
June: Vote, not boat, V-O-T-E. What’s vote?
Me: It’s where I pick who I want to be in our government.
June: Who you vote for?
Me: I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.
Rowan: I’m voting for the same person, the girl in the red shirt [in the first debate].
June: I vote for the moon and stars.
Me: That sounds good, June. The election is very important because the people who we elect make decisions about our whole country.
Rowan: Maybe our president will help Ms. Clinton.
Me: Probably, because our president and Ms. Clinton are in the same political party.
June: OOh! I go vote. See the party.
Me: It’s a different kind of party. Ok, let’s go vote!
June: I vote. Not boat. With talker in my backpack. [Her new AAC device to communicate with people verbally.]
The kids and I excitedly made our way to the early voting location, which was conveniently located at a church that we frequent for Deaf ministry events.
Me: Ok now, we gotta be quiet while we choose.
Me: So other people can make their choices too. What’s happening here is very important.
Me: Well, whoever wins will be president until you are nine years old. And we want to pick the people who will make the choices that we want them to.
June: I pick the stars and moon and water.
While explaining our voting experience to Greg, later–
Rowan: We picked Ms. Clinton! She’s our president now.
Me: No, actually, we don’t know who won yet. Everyone in the country gets to vote, then only one person wins.
Rowan: Why is that?
Me: Because our country only has one president, and everyone gets to vote for which person they want to win. On election day we’ll keep track of it on a big map and find out who the next president is.
Tomorrow is the big day!
It is a new year, and the decluttering continues with renewed force. The area that has been most difficult but most rewarding to clear out is the digital clutter category including emails, data storage, and social media. I’ve been meaning to make some of these changes for years, but I was always stopped by a familiar snag in the downsizing process- the “things” I wanted to be rid of were not all bad. Regardless of how often I trip over the largely unused items (literally or metaphorically), I wonder, “What if I need/want/miss it later?” Oddly this applies whether you’re parting with a sweater or an email.
I received a few nudges down the digital decluttering diving board, and the correspond to the three main tasks I have completed in this area.
1. Clean up email providers
The nudge was that Yahoo’s webmail performance became unacceptable. I’ve used many email service providers over the years, and I’ve used Yahoo as my primary for over a decade. But in the last few years, their webmail has been down multiple times per day more often than not, and the interface they keep changing never functions correctly, though you never know which glitch will be active at a given time. And Yahoo has had a surge of security breaches.
The steps I took were to switch to a new provider for my primary email, download my Yahoo emails off of the server completely and delete my contacts and history in the account. This way I can keep the account open to catch straggler-emails that are sent there instead of my new email, but my account history and data aren’t quite so vulnerable. I revisited all of my email accounts (old internet service providers, employers, schools, and secondary accounts) to deactivate unnecessary ones and to update forwarding and security on addresses I maintain. This coincided with migrating my blog from blogger to wordpress. It was like an Extreme Makeover for my digital environment.
2. Inbox Zero
The nudge was downloading TWENTY TWO THOUSAND emails from the server onto my computer. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating, and that was only my inbox from the last 6 years. It doesn’t count email I filed into folders or my sent messages. I decided I would only keep what I *reasonably* expected that I might refer back to sometime, which was perhaps 1 out of 100 emails. If you’re thinking, “I could never get rid of emails from her, and him, and them, even if I haven’t talked to them in 10 years! Emails are memories!” I totally understand. See above- that’s how 22,000 emails happened. But something simply changed in my thinking one day- perhaps I reached a critical clutter level in one or more areas- and I wasn’t so sentimentally attached to these emails that I admittedly never re-read anyway. I was/am still attached to the people who wrote them, but I realized I can sit down with them for coffee or revisit fond memories of them in much more meaningful ways than digging through old emails. In other words, once the sentimental charm had faded, I realized most of these emails did not pass the “Will I ever need or use this again?” test.
The steps I took were first to sort the email by sender and delete whole batches this way. Then I created a few meaningful folders to organize the few “keepers-” such as emails from Greg and emails referring to ongoing business. Then I turned my attention to my new email address and decided to maintain the inbox at zero as well by deleting any email that I won’t reasonably need and filing the few remaining ones into folders. Any emails that require follow up linger conspicuously until I act on them, which turns the inbox into an efficient task list system.
3. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe
The nudge was deleting thousands of ads and newsletters from my inboxes earlier in this process. And I don’t mean spam. I mean the emails I got with varying frequency from every company that I had ever been required to provide my email address to as part of a transaction. I actually decline to give my email to cashiers and on forms when it’s not necessary, but it’s increasingly unavoidable because of online purchases, product registration, and loyalty cards/coupons.
The steps I took were to unsubscribe to the recurring emails before deleting them. Simple, but it’s tempting to skip the extra effort because it usually requires opening an unsubscribe website or even logging into your never-used “online profile” with the company. (I miss the days that reply: UNSUBSCRIBE usually worked.) Once I committed to this though, I was shocked by exactly how much I was being advertised to via inbox bombardment. I’ve unsubscribed from over 60 emails! They fall into specific categories:
Products like software, tires, toys and diaper companies
Social networks like Linked In, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter. Linked In actually emailed so frequently and began to use my activity to advertise to my professional contacts without offering an “opt-out” or even an notification of what they were doing that I deleted my account entirely. And I finally left the black hole of time and attention that is Facebook. I’d love to write more on this complicated process and decision, but for now I’ll reference this rather blunt post I stumbled upon summarizing some problems with Facebook. However, I don’t intend to echo his universal statement that “Facebook is bad for you,” to judge, or even to urge others to jump ship. I just know that I’m really enjoying finally being off of it after years of contemplating leaving. What I intended to be a week-long trial absence after Thanksgiving turned into a month because I was so reluctant to reactivate my account temporarily to send my official farewell post.
Professional websites related to my counseling or higher education such as continuing ed opportunities and textbook advertisements
Service providers like fitness clubs, dry cleaners and insurance companies
Charities that I’ve interacted with as a donor, counselor/advocate or event participant
Universities I disocvered that my two alma maters were sending me four separate recurring emails each including news for alumni, school sports, specific college alum and specific majors
Financial institutions like banks, credit holders, and retirement accounts
Retail chains like grocery stores, pharmacies, and toy stores
Unsubcribing is well worth the effort. In nearly all instances, the information from the email is available somewhere online if you ever do need to seek it out- even coupon codes.
For more thoughts on decluttering digital space, see this inspiring post from Sorting Buttons.
Watch for the next decluttering series topic, photos and crafts, coming “soon” (aka a non-specific time frame mean to avoid jinxing my writing)
We are in a decluttering frenzy here at the safari house. We aren’t aspiring to minimalism, or any specific movement. We just realized that in some areas, our habits and our “stuff” had begun to detract from what is important to us. (More on values clarification below!) The clutter falls into several broad categories, so between now and Christmas, I plan to highlight decluttering tips for one or two categories per week, including:
A helpful first step is to simply identify what IS important to you. Several years ago, Greg and I composed ranked lists of what we value, both individually and as a family. These lists are concrete reminders of what guides our decision making. We used values clarification exercises from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a favorite approach of mine as a counselor. Examples of some self-guided exercises can be found here on Working With ACT.
At six months into my 30’s, I feel that I can provide a bit of information about what it is like on the other side of three decades. At least I can dispel a few myths about this era. I had always thought of 30 as a base camp before the final leg of the big journey “over the hill.” I imagined that crossing the threshold which left my 20’s behind would be a momentous event in my aging, and many things would instantly be different.
1. I’d take myself more seriously. I’d finally feel like an adult instead of a long-term extension of my 16 year-old self.
2. Others would take me more seriously and assume I have a reasonable level of competence in most areas of life.
3. My wardrobe would contain much more linen, like I was always just walking off the set of Mad About You.
4. My life would be a long-standing and comfortable routine, where the biggest adventure any given week would be buying new bath towels. Again, I think Mad About You served as my mental 30’s template.
5. In this comfortable routine, existential questions of purpose would have been resolved along the way, or simply evaporated with time.
Well. Let me tell you.
1. It’s partly true that I take myself more seriously, because I no longer feel that my teenage years were “not that long ago.” How could I when I recently realized that I started high school 15 years ago? But it still startles me when medical professionals ask my age (because those are the only people who dare to ask nowadays) and I must respond, “30,” suddenly feeling very like Neo waking up outside the Matrix for the first time wondering how in the world did I get here. And incidentally, I’m treated like a geriatric patient now. When I inquire about an ache or pain, the doctor makes a pinched, patronizing face and begins, “As we age….” This is especially true regarding my pregnancy, where the phrase “advanced maternal age,” has actually been thrown around a few times in my presence. (?!?)
2. It’s also partly true that others take me more seriously in that, on the rare occasions that I attempt to buy alcohol, I am never carded. But in terms of quickly being judged as competent in any situation, especially now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, no. The only place that people ever assume I am in my element is at the grocery store, where dazed-looking men ask me which of the 12 varieties of apples they should buy for their fishing trip snack stash.
3. About 50% of my clothes are 8 or more years old, and will never again be appropriate to wear, post child-bearing. I tell myself that I keep these items for upcycling sewing projects. 0% of my wardrobe is linen.
4. There is no long-standing or comfortable routine when rising small children. Maybe I’ll revisit the Mad About You template for empty-nesting.
5. For those of us with existential questions, the 30-year mark holds no special power to help answer or shed them.
However, what has completely surprised me about this time is realizing that I have well over a decade of my very own decision making behind me. Past the age of 17, my choices and my time were never governed by any person or institution. What at first may seem obvious and mundane to others- that I employed my own judgement and continually built upon the consequences of those choices over the last decade- was a surprising source of joy for me recently. Because I can remember some utterly discouraging times and difficult choices- the kind where even the right choice feels terrible. At the time the situations seemed unfair, confusing, and senseless. But looking back well after those storms passed, I know that not only did I make it through, but the choices I made in the midst of the difficulty were right. And I can start to see how pieces of the story- even the jagged ones- fit together, and it all makes a little more sense.
It is this act of looking behind me that hints at an answer to my questions of purpose. It encourages me to trust my judgment, regardless of the esteem in which others hold me at any given point. It reminds me to be purposeful in what I am building with my choices. Because in another 10 years, I’ll look back at what I am cobbling together with my time and resources right now.
Here’s to the next 30 years.