Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Aspiration In Life (& in 2015)

When I was a kid, my mom would sit us down shortly after New Year's and have us write down our New Year's resolutions. Goal making is important, especially when you're young, but at the time it always felt really silly, like a chore or something. Last year, I started working up my resolutions in a Wendy's while I was charging my phone on my way back from Texas. I had the time and the momentum, and it felt right.

This year, I've had moments where I felt really inspired to be better, to be more in control, to be less lazy, to take on big things like starting my own business, but I never put any of those feelings into concrete resolutions. So I thought a lot this end-of-year about whether I wanted to make resolutions for 2015...I've talked here before about not needing to wait until the New Year to do whatever I felt I needed to do...and what, really, a resolution is.

It seems to me, resolutions are these little goals that point us toward the person we want to become. Healthier, thinner, better read, better educated, more positive, more aware, more social, more independent...whatever it may be. When we add it all up, I think we want to be all of these things because we think it will make us happy.

So, this year I'm taking a cue from Beyonce, as you do, and making my aspiration in life to be happy. Instead of setting specific goals, or resolutions, that I think would help bring me to a better place of happiness, I want to focus on the end goal itself. This year, I want to ask myself, always, will this make me happy? And if the answer is year, do it, and if it's not, don't. Because really, it's hard to predict on one day what will make me happy in three, six, nine months. Those posts shift. And that's okay. That's not something to beat myself up about at the end of the year. That's just the nature of the thing.

I've thought about this a lot in the last week, and this is a harder question to answer than it might seem. There is the question of instant gratification vs. long term happiness. There is happiness by proxy vs. direct happiness. Sometimes, the things you most think will make you happy are the most disappointing of all. And, when it comes down to it, you and I cannot see the future, so we can't really know how we will feel, we can only make an educated guess.

I know that I cannot always be happy, and that every emotion is valuable. I do not expect to be blissfully happy for every moment of 2015. I know that even with this goal in mind, I will still be sad and lonely and irritated and angry and every other emotion at different times. I cannot dismiss these feelings, and I never would, even if I could. But I think that by being more mindful, and more persistently aware of this overarching goal, and less stuck in these small checkbox goals, that's the way to move forward. This is not to say that checking small goals off of lists is a bad thing. I love checking things off more than the average person. But these things are not the measure of a life. Happiness, in this vein of thought, is less an emotion and more a state-of-being, a rosy tinge at the edge of the picture.

We all make tiny bad decisions every day. We watch another episode on Netflix and are late getting ready for work. We don't do the dishes and then the mess stresses us out. We don't take the time to exercise or meditate and then we feel on edge all day. We spend too much money on groceries, and spent too little quality time with the people who are important to us. We don't do these things on purpose; they just happen. I want to be more mindful. I want to make the choice that will ultimately make me happier. I want to make this choice a 90/100 times a day. I want to make it 100/100 times a day, but let's be more realistic.

I want to be debt-free, and I want to travel, and I want to be a better friend, and I want to dance more, and I want to laugh more, and I want to eat more vegetables and I want to single handedly keep the postal service going and I want so many other things, but mostly, I want to be happy. I think that would be the best me of all.

Here's to being happy in 2015. Maybe you, too, will take up this "resolution."

Yours Truly, Jen

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014, Year End Review

I have always admired people who are so aware of time, who can say what year a style was big or a genre of music was really popular or a movie came out. Not a decade, not a time from, but that year, maybe even the month. Maybe, they can even tell you what other memorable things happened around that time. Those people always seem so grounded to me, so situated, so aware of what's going on, and I want to be more like them. I want to be always aware of my journey, too, so I'm starting a (hopefully) annual tradition: the year end review. 2014 was a big, scary, lonely, important year for me. Looking back, here are some of the events that stick out to me:

Spring Semester
-Headed back to Virginia after a long visit to Texas
-Andy and I broke up (read more about that here and here) & felt super supported by all of my friends
-Started my last semester of my graduate program
-Focused on self care, including joining up with a health-focused support group on Facebook and so much journaling
-Lots of snow in Virginia!
-Visited my older sister and nephew in Ohio
-Taught and loved teaching creative writing
-Had brief obsessions with writing magnet poetry and playing Device 6 on my phone
-Got on OK Cupid
-Babysat for two awesome families
-Found a bathing suit I felt good in
-Apartment and job hunted
-Discovered blogilates (which I still love) and started a semi-regular running schedule
-Started some new writing projects
-Finished and revised (and revised, and revised) and finished and defended my thesis
-Graduated and hosted a rad graduation party

-Started a garden with a friend
-Started working at the jewelry store
-Moved out on my own
-Kept a running schedule with a couple of running partners
-Went on some dates
-Befriended the most awesome coworkers ever
-Helped some of my dearest Blacksburg friends get ready to move to Boston
-Read some good books
-Got my first library card since childhood
-Finally invested in some new glasses
-Wrote some out-of-character for me fiction
-Learned a new software program and did some major edits on an engineer friend's dissertation (maybe this will come in handy some day?)

-Made myself lots of awesome food for my birthday week
-Got used to the cats (that I'm watching right now while my friends get settled in Boston)
-Took over the store's social media
-Shopped the shelters for the perfect dog
-Adopted Olive
-Listened to so many great audiobooks
-Kept in touch more regularly with my mom than usual, which was really nice
-Replaced running with dog walking for the colder weather
-Went through a 6 week puppy training class with Olive
-Did Sunday yoga for six weeks (my first time ever doing yoga!) and absolutely loved it
-Got addicted to Serial along with everyone else
-Chopped off my hair (& absolutely loving it)
-Hosted two of my sisters and my nephew for Thanksgiving
-Survived working in retail through the winter holiday season
-Sent a birthday card and a Christmas card to my dad, who I haven't spoken to in years. Feels like it's time to take a step in some kind of direction
-Sent out holiday cards (and thank you cards for gifts received) to family members. Hoping next year to step it up and send out to more people
-Hosted my mom and brother for late Christmas/New Year's

In 2014, I made some hard choices. I was sad/lonely a lot more than I would like to admit. Self love and self acceptance was really important for me, as well as self forgiveness. I made strides toward some resolutions at some times, and totally dropped the ball on others. It was a funky year, a year for learning and for self reflection.

Do you ever do a year end review, privately or publicly? How did your year stack up?

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. Tune in Wednesday for my 2015 resolutions and Friday for my thoughts on the future.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How I Spent My Christmas

A couple of days ago, I posted a list of alternative activities to the traditional Christmas, geared towards loners (like myself this year), and also people of other faiths (as my friend Nicole pointed out in the comments). So, I thought I'd check back in and share which things I actually did!

I wish I could say I slept in, but this little girl wouldn't let me. Oh well.

I tried to put a bow on Olive's head so that I could get a good Christmas picture of her. Instead, this happened.

I'm going to make a "real" Christmas dinner when my mom and brother are in town, so I decided a big breakfast would be the best way to celebrate on the day of. Banana whole wheat buttermilk waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon, too much coffee. The best.

Olive chilled, I watched You've Got Mail. I decided I wanted to watch some old favorites, and I hadn't seen this one is so long! Plus, I think it's done on Netflix at the end of the month, so the timing was perfect.

It was a seriously gorgeous day. I was so happy because of the weather and the holiday, and Olive's gift to me was that she was on such good behavior.

Olive and I haven't played fetch in a while because it's been cold and, depending on the day, rainy, snowy, wintery mix-y, muddy, or generically gross, plus I've been busy. All the things aligned and we played fetch for so long and soaked up some vitamin D.

After fetch I had this feeling like I wanted to run, which I haven't done since early November because of the weather and crazy schedule. We drove through our trafficless town to the track and did a few laps.

Olive doesn't seem to love being in the car (or, at least, she doesn't ever want to get into it and she jumps out asap), so I rewarded her for good behavior with a quick walk around the neighborhood when we got back home.

Then it was Meg & Tom part two with Sleepless in Seattle. Seriously, those two. Perfection.

Later, Olive chilled out with me while I drank wine and watched Good Will Hunting. Because you just can't see that movie too many times. First Robin Williams movie I've watched since he passed. Bittersweet.

Not pictured: dishes, floor sweeping, lounging in bed, photo printing and displaying (been meaning to work on this forever!), Christmas light hanging (for the family when they arrive), face mask, late holiday card writing, thanks giving.

Christmas Day this year was like a really great day off, a good mix of relaxing and productive, but I was in a super good mood because of the holiday and felt totally justified in allowing myself little indulgences, like three movies in one day. I was the happiest I can remember being in a long time, and I am grateful for it.

I hope you all had lovely whatever you celebrate days, and I'd love to hear about how you spent them!

Yours Truly, Jen

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas! (Plus Some Things To Do If You're Flying Solo This Year)

Christmas has been kind of weird in my family since my parents divorced when I was in college, and my little brother (my only sibling still at home) goes back and forth between my parents. But, this year is my first year ever not being home to celebrate Christmas with my family, and that feels really weird. Since I'm working in retail right now, driving home this year didn't seem feasible. Since I'm not religious, Christmas is really a secular holiday for me; it's all about tradition and being with my family on a special day. And since that wasn't possible for me this year, I'm keeping this holiday low key and staying at home and celebrating with my pup.

Merry Christmas from Jen & Olive!
If you're flying solo this year, here are some ideas for how to make this holiday special:
-Make yourself an awesome meal
-Gift yourself something you really want but would usually never buy yourself
-Send out holiday cards/email/e-cards
-Call--or better yet, facetime/skype--family and friends
-Use this extra day off of work to do a small project. Check your to-do lists, or browse through your Pinterest board for inspiration!
-Make some mulled wine or cider or eggnog (these recipes are everywhere!), drink too much, and dance
-Start writing up your New Year's resolutions
-Watch Christmas movies, or not-so-traditional Christmas movies (You've Got Mail is on my docket for the day!)
-Spend extra quality time with your pets
-Order chinese take-out
-Look at photos from Christmases past
-Get everything clean and organized so you can have an awesome, stress-free work week and NYE
-hone your snowflake-cutting skills
-write something
-binge read your favorite book, or pick up a new favorite
-download some new music (hint: All Songs Considered's favorites lists are up!)
-Pamper yourself. Light a candle, have a long bath, do a face mask, drink a hot toddy or tea, slather on moisturizer from head to toe
-Meditate (Headspace Take 10 is awesome for getting into it. If you haven't already, you need to try it. I promise it's worth it).
-Go to bed early
-Drink hot cocoa
-Make some cookies and bring them to work the next day
-Meet up with other loners for a drink
-Do some volunteer work

Thankfully, my mom and little brother will be visiting me next week and two of my sisters and my nephew were here for Thanksgiving, so I will have seen most of my family this year. Hoping to see more of them next year! What are your plans for the holiday?

Yours Truly, Jen

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Meet Olive!

Hey! Here's a story for you.

It's Spring 2013. I suddenly get an irrepressible urge to get a dog. I find out about some beagles that are being re-homed for free by my school's vet school. I make an appointment to go look at the dogs. Then Andy says, we should find out how much it's going to cost us (from our rental company) to have a dog in the house before we go. I check into it. My jaw hits the floor. I cry. I scream. I make plans to get a dog without telling said rental company. Andy says no. I have all of the feelings.

Fast forward to Summer 2014, and I'm moving into my new place, a basement apartment in a house owned by my friends Dan and Amanda. Amanda asks me if I'm going to get a dog now that I live in a pet friendly home. I say no, because I know I'm going to have to move to other rentals in the future, and it doesn't seem practical. Plus, I have debt to pay off, and I shouldn't be taking on anything as expensive as a dog.

Then I get lonely, and that urge to have a dog comes back, and it comes back hard. I started talking to my coworker Heather, who has lived in the area her whole life and has the lowdown on the animal rescue situation. Because duh, obviously I'm going to get a rescue. I look around. I tell myself I am not going to get a puppy, because a puppy is going to be too much work. I drive all around, looking at dogs for weeks. I'm looking for a young dog, 1-2 years old, still trainable, still healthy and active, but not with all of that crazy puppy energy. It's hard to find dogs in this age range, because everyone wants one. I start to get frustrated, and start feeling like I have to have a dog NOW.

I had seen Olive in my local humane society before, earlier in my search, but she was a baby and I told myself no. I saw her again a second time, on a return trip to see if they'd gotten any new dogs, and I went into her kennel and played with her a bit. I almost filed paperwork on her then, but the workers said to be sure before they put her on hold, so I waited. I couldn't stop thinking about her. I went back a couple of days later and told myself that if she was still there, I would get her. She was. I put in the paperwork, and on Halloween, I picked her up.

Olive is a German Shepherd/Lab mix, which means she's smart and friendly and energetic and headstrong and food-motivated. She was a little less than four months old when I got her, and now she's 5 and a half months old. It's crazy how much she's grown up, and crazy how far we have left to go. Raising a puppy is hard, y'all! More about that later.

That's my getting my first pet (as an adult) story. I love her so much!

If you've got dog rearing/training tips or stories, lay em on me!

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. For plenty of puppy cuteness, make sure to follow me on Instagram!