Lots of people do their goal-setting at the end of the year, or the beginning of the year, or near the end or the beginning of their financial year. I just realized I do mine while on summer vacation. That makes sense, right? After all, I’ve always lived by the school calendar, even when I wasn’t in school and didn’t have kids in school.
But this year, on my annual visit to my hometown, I paid attention to the restlessness I always feel after a couple of days away from my “real life.” I sat with my coffee and my notebook and practiced a goal-setting technique I’ve seen in many places, but learned more about with Ruth Soukup’s free goal-setting resources on her blog Living Well Spending Less. I downloaded this one a few years ago and went through the motions and I can actually say that I met some of my goals at the time by articulating my goals and steps in her easy to follow format.
You need to sign up for her mailing list to download the Goal Setting Workbook, but I am recommending this because it’s one of the only newsletters I actually read! This isn’t a sponsored post, just a resource I often recommend to people. I also like Samantha Ettus’s book The Pie Life for a more in-depth examination of the working parent life.
Anyway, I’ve done this exercise enough times that I can just do it on my own. Basically I list the main areas of my life:
- Mental health
- Physical health
I articulate, through journaling and reflection, what I feel could use improvement in those five main areas. Then I pick small ways (or big ones, and I break those down into small ones too) I can work toward improving those things. I pick an “action item” I can do today and give it a star.
And then I forget all about it and everything stays the same.
This time of life has been challenging. My children are getting older, I’m learning a lot at work, always missing my far-flung family and friends, redefining (again) my place in the world. I think we are all always redefining our standards: what we will tolerate and what we want to welcome into our lives.
For now that translates into a nap after work and getting up early in the morning to journal and meditate. Remembering to take my supplements and eat healthy and drink plenty of water. Practicing self-compassion and making room to succeed in all of the areas of my life.
It’s true that I identified some action steps a week ago and then promptly ignored them. But I didn’t forget—one of those actions was “write a blog post, tonight!” Self-compassion means it’s okay that “tonight” translated to “in a week!”
What do you when Mother’s Day sucks?
I don’t have high expectations for gifts or favors on special occasions. My husband isn’t much of a planner or a big-gesture kind of guy, and try as I might to set the example for my kids, when it comes around to my birthday or Mother’s Day, it doesn’t seem to have taken. One year my husband actually forgot my birthday, something that can only happen once.
The kids are 13 and 11, old enough to know better now. Old enough to have ideas and plan and execute. So this morning when I woke up, even though I figured the bar was low, I expected them to do something. They sleep in on weekends, but Stewart got up early and made me breakfast and brought it to me in bed. That was sweet, but I was excited to see what the kids had done for me. Boy did I set myself up for disappointment.
They did nothing.
The younger one came and gave me a hug. “Do you have something for me?” I asked.
“We’re supposed to have a card for you,” he said. “Kyle was supposed to make it.”
I asked Kyle about the card. “I forgot,” he mumbled from his bed.
So, they were going to do the very least they could possibly do, but they couldn’t bring themselves to do even that.
At first I wasn’t upset about it. As penance, the could clean the house, I joked. But then they started complaining about doing that. My back has been out since Wednesday night, and I’ve been laid up and unable to take care of the million daily tasks that they take for granted. I started feeling like they take me for granted.
So I said so, and the more I talked the more upset I became. Because of my back, I couldn’t even take the opportunity to escape and go for a rejuvenating hike, returning with a fresh attitude and instigating a do-over. I went back up to my bedroom to rest and lower my expectations. Even further.
I tried to count my blessings and focus on those. My mother is alive and well. My kids are healthy, if ungrateful. Who was I to complain? Mother’s Day is a manufactured holiday anyway, right?
But then social media. Look at how my peers’ children cooked for them, or made them dinner or cards or did favors and took them out. Got them flowers. I shouldn’t have looked. What would I post? Photos of my kids laying around in the clothes they wore yesterday, in our messy living room, absent of cards and gifts for Mom? Won’t that be impressive?
Of course Stewart and the kids cleaned the house, made me a card, and picked flowers from the garden after I expressed my disappointment. But their guilt gifts only made me feel a little bit better. They could have saved themselves all that work with just the tiniest consideration for Mom. I would have been happy in the first place with a simple gesture that I didn’t have to demand.
In the end, I made reservations at a restaurant and we went out for an early dinner. My Aunt Kathy was in town so she came with us, and we had a nice time. I am able to release the bitterness of having to do everything around here, even make my own Mother’s Day dinner arrangements. But only because I have this blog to release it to. I decided to spill it here because I can’t be the only one. If you had a Mother’s Day like this, I feel you, sister.
Let that be a lesson to you, children of mothers. It doesn’t take much to make her happy, but it’s just as easy to piss her off.
It snowed on the day of my grandmother’s funeral. Big fat flakes. I wore the full-length wool coat I left behind when I moved to Los Angeles in 1995. The boxy shoulders dated its style, but it kept my legs warm, and besides, my Nana was dead, so who cared?
I insisted on being one of the six pallbearers. She would have loved that. Or maybe not. She was the firm matriarch of a traditional family, but her drive to take matters into her own hands made her a role model for women, like myself, with the desire to become leaders, to make positive changes in the world around us. It seemed fitting to have a girl’s hand to carry her that day.
The funeral director was a girl, too. Young, with pale skin and long dark hair. She guided us, the people who don’t often carry coffins, in shifting the load into and out of the hearse. She had quiet command of our captive audience. Maybe I’m the only one who worried about it at all. My male relatives had done this before.
Our funeral procession was escorted by several police SUV’s, with sirens and lights and blocked-off intersections. A heroine’s parade.
By the time we got to the cemetery the snow was coming down fast and thick, stilling the cold air and the usual city sounds. We got there first. As we waited, we learned that the young funeral director had attended the same college as my aunt.
“Of course,” said my aunt. “Because of the funeral program.”
The funeral director nodded. And the others walked away but I couldn’t stop staring at the girl. We stood there, just the two of us, as the family met the hearse pulling up to the site of the freshly dug grave.
“Why did you decide to pursue funeral home management as a career?” I asked. As if we were at a cocktail party or a job interview.
She paused for a moment, and I swear I watched her go through a decision-making flowchart. I wasn’t the one to tell.
She looked at me, as serious as death itself, and said “It’s a long story.”
Then she walked through the snow and began lining up the pallbearers for the last walk with my grandmother’s coffin. I hurried to take my place.
In reviewing my first draft of my (first?) novel, I have found the word “bloom” used as a verb several times. You might wonder why I don’t remember writing it so often, but other writers might tell you that they, too, review their words as if reading a work penned by someone else. They feel unfamiliar, yet of me. When I see the sentence “An answer blooms in her mind: a chance to say goodbye,” I am surprised to see that word again, but I also think of course. Because that’s how a feeling happens to me, or a slow realization.
It’s been a busy weekend, with sports, an epic sleepover, and at last a long lovely hike for me. It’s been raining or overbooked for me the last few weekends, and I started getting itchy to get back out on the trail. (I still haven’t tackled The Lady yet, but as soon as I do I will post about it.) When I got home today I took an epic nap, thanks to House Hunters Renovation, which always puts me to sleep before the couple tours the third house. I highly recommend it as a sleep aid.
When I woke up I had fresh energy. My plan was to clean out the pantry and cabinets and inventory our food supply so I could shop intelligently and come up with some meal ideas for the week. My body’s plan was to procrastinate instead, so I wound up pulling all the items off the bulletin board in my office.
I had years of photos, bits of paper with ideas scrawled on them, the phone number of the concierge at the hotel where we stayed near the volcano in Costa Rica, lists of books to read and TV shows to watch…
And this prayer.
Prayer for a Merciful Home
You open your heart to us with unconditional love and devotion. Help us to follow your example of mercy.
May our home provide a warm and welcoming space for all who enter our door.
May we strive each day to ask for and extend forgiveness with generous and open hearts.
May the words we say be ones of kindness and respect.
And may we listen twice as much as we speak, ever willing to remain open to one another.
Enfold our home in your merciful love.
In your sacred name, we pray.
When I pray, it’s usually a wordless plea for help, or I am in church reciting words along with everyone else, not thinking about what they mean. But this prayer was handed out to the families at our children’s religious class one Sunday. I don’t even remember how long ago. Its simplicity touched me in a way that the Bible’s prayers, translated from ancient languages and re-translated and changed every so often, never have.
I put it aside with the photos and keepsakes. I separated out the items I could toss. I put the prayer in that pile, but the words grabbed me again. I’d like to live this way. I typed them here because this website has lasted longer than most scraps of paper I’ve ever squirreled away.
The bulletin board is mostly clear now, waiting for new bits and memories to fill it up. And once I hit “publish” here, I’ll be done procrastinating. Thanks for joining me.
Yesterday I learned that the word tresoro means “treasure” in Spanish. I immediately thought of this photo:
The red checkered seal and the yellow horse were made when I was in grammar school, just for me, by my friend’s mom. Liz Chatfield was incredibly colorful and creative (I’m sure she still is!) and their house was a wonder to me at that young age, full of adventure. She had a store at one time called Serendipity. I remember not knowing what that word meant, and looking it up so I would know.
Like many of us, I went through my stuffed animal phase, when my bed was covered with them. Eventually I got rid of them all…or so I thought. These two showed up in a box in the mail a few weeks ago, along with a note from my mother saying she found them in a closet she was cleaning.
I gave the seal and horse the place of honor on my current bed. The seal has since received a different, somewhat dubious honor: when the cat tries to wake us up early in the morning, I search around for something to throw in her direction, and this seal is perfect size and weight to scare her without hurting her.
Thank you for the lifelong treasures, Liz. And Mom.
Okay, sorry to alarm you. I’m not dead yet. I just feel kind of bad for this blog, House of Prince, because I’ve been working on my taxes today.
What does that even mean? I know you’re asking yourself that question. Or maybe you asked yourself Why am I even reading this?and you clicked away already. Fair enough.
My point is that my two websites, this one and Agoura Hills Mom, pulled in less money last calendar year than in the days before marketing through a blog was a thing. I’m not ashamed of it. The reason is obvious: I took a full time out of the home job at the end of 2016 and last year was the first full tax year during which I was a W2 employee. I didn’t have time to hustle for the freelance gigs, and many of the ones that came my way from word of mouth were hard to fit into my schedule.
It makes me a little bit sad, but on the other hand, I’ve made room in my life to make more money and focus my creative pursuits on my novel. I’m enjoying blogging in this space, flexing my writing muscle and allowing my voice to evolve. Agoura Hills Mom is evolving too. She doesn’t really know who she is right now, as evidenced by her recent silence. Since she is the other part of my personality, I can tell you she’s been working on her taxes today, and looking glumly out the window wishing the sun would come out and dry the trails so she can go for a hike.
When that happens, you should check her blog out, because her pictures of Southern California after a rain will probably be very pretty.
Anyway, if you’ve been playing along with this blog since its beginning, or for any length of time at all, you’ll know that it started out as a journal of my first pregnancy, then grew into one of the first honest-to-goodness “mommy blogs,” then I don’t know what, and most recently it’s been my outlet for writing exercises. For several years in there, I was making respectable money with ads, sponsored posts, and freelance projects for other sites. I reviewed the decline of the income I pulled in through my writing and blogging work with a bit of sadness.
The trajectories of women who started “mom blogs” around the same time I did have been interesting to watch. They published books, or their blogs evolved into online magazines, or they started blogger to brand agencies, or they branched out into other media, or they quit blogging altogether. I know several women who have sold their successful blogs to new owners. Many of these women employ other people, support their families, and are very public figures on social and other media.
I’m blending back into the world of regular people. It feels weird. But also okay and good.
So. Not dead yet. Just reincarnated, I guess.
Her greatest wish was to have a best friend. Someone she liked, who made her laugh, who brought her joy. To be included. To have someone to save a cookie for. A buddy for the bus ride to the field trip.
Her best friend would hand deliver a birthday party invitation instead of sending hers in the mail or putting it in her lunch cubby at school. There would be a party to look forward to. Her mom would take her to the department store toy section to pick out a gift. She would pick the perfect thing because she knew her best friend so well.
They spent so much time together at each other’s houses after school, of course, and had sleepovers on the weekends. At her house, they played songs and made up dances and dressed up her baby sister in her clothes and hats and put makeup on her, the baby laughing and squealing and posing eagerly for pictures. They tried to teach the baby how to walk in her mom’s high heels. She fell down, bouncing really, because babies are closer to the ground.
At her best friend’s house, the sun filtered through the stained glass window in the back room, making colored patterns on the carpet. The cat slept in one patch and the girls played in another, with Barbies and toy horses. They made up elaborate story lines and adventures for them. They hid the toys from each other, playing “hot and cold.” They stacked old cardboard bricks as high as the staircase would allow them to be tall.
At her best friend’s birthday party, she would wear a white dress with a pink sash at the waist tied around the back. She would help her friend’s mother bring out the cake, and tell the other kids where to find the bathroom.
The gift she brought would be her best friend’s favorite, because it would be just right.
Image by jesuislesien on deviant art
I was a child when Video Games became a thing. The Christmas when my parents got us an Atari 2600 has become a mythical time in our lives. I remember bleary dry eyes and joystick thumb from playing until we dropped.
Even with advent of the screen, we played outside all the time. I had a bike with a banana seat. I had Barbies and coloring books and Simon and dolls and Colorforms.
But my all time favorite toy to play with was the game Connect Four. Maybe it was the power of commercials in the 70’s, but I will never forget the commercial for Connect Four. “Pretty sneaky, sis…” I played this with my brother, and I’m sure I wanted him to say that line. Maybe he even did.
My kids have the small travel version of this game, so the plasticky kerthunk of the checker dropping into its space on the grid isn’t quite the same , but the game play itself is just as I remember it. For many years I’ve had to hold myself back from beating them at it, but now that they are older, they beat me fair and square. Funny how life works. Pretty sneaky, indeed.
When I was 24 I moved from New Haven to Pasadena. I packed everything I wanted to bring with me into a bunch of big boxes and shipped them via UPS to the site of my new unseen apartment on Cordova Street, blocks from Colorado, a mile from CalTech. It would have been romantic and adventurous to say that I hitchhiked across the country, or jumped on a boxcar on a moving train, or tested public transportation by riding buses and subways across the states. But I didn’t. I packed up my Honda Accord and stuck my mom in the car and off we went, on an epic mother-daughter road trip, stopping along the way to visit family and friends.
I didn’t have much to aim for when I made this move. I just wanted to do it. True to self, though, I had lined up a job. I didn’t just come out here with only a dream, job-hunting and waitressing while I tried to define what that meant. I had done the research and interviewing ahead of time, and accepted the most responsible boring job you can possibly conjure up in your mind: insurance broker underwriter. I wasn’t even really an underwriter. I prepared the paperwork and steps for people applying for very large amounts of life insurance. I worked in an office and had a direct report who would scold me if I showed up even 2 minutes late.
But! I lived in Los Angeles! I made friends with other women at the office, and I made friends with my roommate’s friends, and I made friends at bars and in the acting class I eventually signed up for (because Los Angeles).
Lisa was my roommate. She was the best.
Of course I got bored working at an insurance company. So when a woman in my acting class told me about a job as a production assistant at a small company a billion miles away through LA traffic in Santa Monica, making 1/3 less in salary than I was making at the time, I went for it.
So then I had to move because traffic, and my Pasadena roommate moved to D.C. I picked a shitty apartment under the stairs behind what was then a Lucky grocery store. But it was rent controlled, 10 blocks from the beach, and 12 blocks from work.
I felt like a tourist on a very long vacation. I drove wherever the party was, even if the party was watching a movie at a girlfriend’s apartment with a glass of wine, even if the apartment was in Orange County. I went on dates and had a few short-term boyfriends. One of my old flames from back home called me out of the blue. He wanted to try again, so he hopped in his car and drove across the country to see me. He wanted to take me back to New Haven and marry me. I swooned—it was the biggest romantic gesture I had ever experienced. What if that had worked? What if I had gotten into his car and returned with him?
What if I had been too scared to even entertain the idea of moving in the first place?
What if I had stayed at the insurance company, gotten my broker’s license, and become an agent?
For that matter, what if I had actually been a good actress and gotten a role?
The view from now, looking back over the peaks and valleys of the years ago, looks so dramatic. But as I sit here remembering, my body is filled with the same sensations I felt during each one of those turning points. Adrenaline. A sense of purpose. The knowledge that my life hangs in the balance. I can go this way, or I can go that way.
We all do it every day, just not as…large. Do I wash my hands after using the bathroom or do I just rinse and flick? Can that tiny decision mean the difference between a healthy week ahead or a raging case of the flu? You don’t realize how small choices can have big effects in your life until afterwards.
But those big decisions, the ones that climb up into your face like a cat on a keyboard, you can’t ignore those. You’ll remember them for the rest of your life. They are what makes you.
What do you when Mother's Day sucks?I don't have high expectations for gifts or favors on special occasions. My husband isn't much of a planner or a big-gesture kind of guy, and try as I might to set the example for my kids, when it comes around to my birthday or Mother's Day, it doesn't seem to have taken. One year my husband actually forgot my birthday, something that can only happen … [Read More...]
It snowed on the day of my grandmother's funeral. Big fat flakes. I wore the full-length wool coat I left behind when I moved to Los Angeles in 1995. The boxy shoulders dated its style, but it kept my legs warm, and besides, my Nana was dead, so who cared?I insisted on being one of the six pallbearers. She would have loved that. Or maybe not. She was the firm matriarch of a traditional family, … [Read More...]
In reviewing my first draft of my (first?) novel, I have found the word "bloom" used as a verb several times. You might wonder why I don't remember writing it so often, but other writers might tell you that they, too, review their words as if reading a work penned by someone else. They feel unfamiliar, yet of me. When I see the sentence "An answer blooms in her mind: a chance to say goodbye," I am … [Read More...]
It's been a busy weekend, with sports, an epic sleepover, and at last a long lovely hike for me. It's been raining or overbooked for me the last few weekends, and I started getting itchy to get back out on the trail. (I still haven't tackled The Lady yet, but as soon as I do I will post about it.) When I got home today I took an epic nap, thanks to House Hunters Renovation, which always puts me to … [Read More...]
Yesterday I learned that the word tresoro means "treasure" in Spanish. I immediately thought of this photo: The red checkered seal and the yellow horse were made when I was in grammar school, just for me, by my friend's mom. Liz Chatfield was incredibly colorful and creative (I'm sure she still is!) and their house was a wonder to me at that young age, full of adventure. She had a … [Read More...]