Tuesday, January 18, 2022

mindful parent

 Mindfulness has been on my mind for a while now, especially since I realized how much nicer a human I was to my family once I went on sabbatical and more more mental space/energy to reflect before I reacted. I also realized the value of separating action from reaction, in the sense you choose the first and you let the second happen. This managing reaction piece is very much part of mindfulness practices.

Before the holidays, I dove more into these ideas. I learned about Dan Harris (from Ten Percent Happier) from the anti-diet dietician I follow, Christy Harrison. Harrison was pairing up with Harris to make a series of meditations for an Anti-Diet Challenge in December, so I listed to the Ten Percent Happier podcast where Harris interviewed Harrison. I liked his podcast, so I read his book, which is part memoir, part introduction to meditation. And then after reading his book, I decided to commit to exploring meditation beyond the sleep wind-down meditations on Headspace I was using to help me fall asleep (which, were pretty effective until they weren't).

All this led to me starting off the new year committing to meditating a little every day and doing yoga (which I talked about in a previous post). But one of the outcomes so far has been on my parenting--specifically bolstered by another podcast, Childproof with Yasmeen Khan, which directly connecting parenting and mindfulness. One of the first episodes talks about the idea of observing our mindsets in certain moments, and accepting those feelings (and thus choosing how to act versus reacting out of those feelings and then feeling terrible as a parent and human because you then screamed at your children). 

I'm only two episodes in, but I think I'm going to really like this podcast. For one, it's not really focused on "how to parent" but more about sharing that if you have certain feelings/reactions, you're not the only one. But there is useful information in terms of how to reframe those things--it's about supporting parents. And the reporting is great, and Khan is using all her research and reporting skills to good effect, so the episodes are engaging and enjoyable to listen to.

I was thinking about that idea of mindsets this morning, and one thing meditation is helping me see is what is happening around me and in my head that usually makes me lose my temper. A big one? Chaos. Parenting is big-time chaos, and that's ok--I am learning to accept that--but also recognize that it's ok that I don't like having too many things happening at once. So what can I do? Take a breath and try to find a way to remove some of the things competing for my attention. A big one is in the kitchen when I'm cooking, so it's either finding something for the kids to do, involving them in the cooking, or accepting that I might have to do things a little more slowly. Or (especially if it involves hot things, like dealing with the oven), I get L to grab a kid to keep them safe and lower my anxiety. So far, this observation of my mindset has been enormously helpful in allowing me to choose my action instead of just snapping.

But, sometimes you yell as a parent, or snap in frustration. And so the other thing I do is apologize for yelling (growing up, an adult NEVER apologized to me, and I think it would have been great if they had when they were wrong), and then I talk to my older kiddo about what I was feeling. I don't want him to have to take ownership of that, but I can help him see how his actions might affect me. Or I can talk through how I'll try to act in the future, modeling making mistakes and trying again. These conversations seem to have a good impact on him. And when he does something, instead of yelling at him, I have him pause, talk about what he's feeling, and then sometimes practice an alternative (so we get a bit of playacting in), and that also seems to help.

These are things I'm trying. I'm not always good at doing them, but I can see how mindfulness and meditation are helping me feel calmer and more centered, which then helps the kids feel calmer, which helps me feel calmer...and so on. I feel great because I don't feel angry/frustrated nearly as often, and I have a good impact on the lives of the people closest to me.

The challenge will be next year, when I return to "normal" work and all the competing demands. I'm hoping to continue to make space for these kinds of practices and use them to have healthier interactions with my colleagues and students, even amidst a lot of stress. It'll be a challenge, but I hope the skills I'm building this year will carry me through.

Thursday, January 06, 2022


 I'm waitlisted for a metalsmithing/jewelry making class that I reaaalllllyyy want to take--and really, this semester is likely the only time I can take it because it requires a lot of lab time to make the items, and during a normal semester, I've got way too much on my plate (particularly if I keep some of my current things going).

The professor emailed all of the waitlisted students, and it felt super weird to be like "hey, I'm a faculty member on this list, I hope I get in!" but I totally emailed that. But it's like the professor can actually change the waitlist, and I know the classroom is likely limited in terms of work stations, etc, so there's no way she can bump me into the class. But I had a student who very eagerly showed up the first week of my editing class, so I did bump her in because she made the effort (and I think some other students dropped), so maybe it'll have a little impact.

Mostly, I'm eager to jump into learning something new and also observing teaching in another discipline. I've grown more and more curious about how each discipline thinks/practices teaching, and I'm also curious to see if I can learn something that I can take away for my own classes. Or maybe just get to know an art professor a bit and learn other things too. Anyway, fingers crossed that future posts will be me showing off what I'm learning!

Monday, January 03, 2022

mindfully entering the new year

 Hey, it's 2022! Unlike most everyone else in higher ed, I'm feeling all right, mostly because I continue to be on sabbatical, where I'm doing work I enjoy. I'm holding onto that as long as I can.

As I mentioned in a past post, one of the personal/professional outcomes so far from my sabbatical has been increased mindfulness. I'm less stressed and therefore less reactive. I took the time to reflect on the experiences of the past two years and tried to learn and grow from them. I understand now the ways that I need to think less about reacting to situations that trigger strong emotional responses and instead creating space to respond/act thoughtfully and, well, mindfully.

With this in mind, I have been thinking about trying to create a better meditation/yoga practice. Our university gave us a subscription to Headspace, so I have tools to learn more about meditation and to do guided meditation. Along with that, I love doing yoga--but I often don't make the time. In the past, my motivation to do yoga was more about the physical asana rather than the mindfulness component, but now, it's a mixture of both, perhaps equally both. I signed up for the YWA Move January yoga challenge (challenge? program?) in an effort to spend a bit of time on the mat.

These are sort of resolutions, but not really--I think I'm just using the start of the year to motivate me to commit to mindfulness practices that I've been thinking about for a while now. And I like that I am not going into these practices with any expectation for changing my physical body (except for maybe just overall attention to mobility, which is great given how much I'm sitting). Overall, these feels like a balanced, anti-diet approach to using New Years to make a change. It's a small change. It's an extension of work I'm already doing. And it's motivated by bigger things--the knowledge that these skills will hopefully help me transition back to the "normal" academic work environment in a way that helps me maintain my energy and take care of myself.

This transition from sabbatical back to the typical academic year is something I'll be ruminating on the next few months. It's a long way off (August!), but I know it'll be here quickly. And it's something I want to be able to engage with intentionally and in a way that allows me to carry what I learned into potentially challenging and tense work environments, hopefully in a way that also supports my colleagues and friends. I don't want to just fall back into the miserable Jenn I was at the end of the spring 2021 semester, so I'll be making efforts to avoid doing just that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

all the christmas delights

 We stayed home for Christmas this year, just like last year--and while we could have made the trek to Oregon, I'm glad we didn't because it ended up SNOWING for several days! The snow melted the first few days, but yesterday and today, it hasn't been warm enough, so the snow is here to stay until next week. I'll be out wrapping up my run streak (run daily between Thanksgiving and New Year's) this week--and running with my YakTrax today since there's snow all over the place. A nice, relaxed, slow run today for sure.

Meanwhile, I've been baking all the things: I made gluten-free rough puff pastry and wrapped it around tiny hot dogs for the Christmas Eve smorgasbord, along with sourdough grissini and other tasty things. I made a cranberry linzertorte that was AMAZING (imagine linzer cookie dough but made into a whole tart with cranberry jam in the middle). Today, I baked a loaf of challah for dinner tonight, and I'll likely tackle babka so I can take it to a friend who is also gluten free.

In non-edible Christmas break fun, I've also been reading tons of books. I quickly read Olivia Dade's new book, All the Feels, which was a delightful rom-com. I am also wrapping up reading a few books that I started this year, including Braiding Sweetgrass (Robin Wall Kimmerer) and Eloquent Rage (Brittany Cooper). Both of these books are stunning--I think I paused on Braiding Sweetgrass because I wanted to mull over my thoughts, and I'm not sure why I paused on Eloquent Rage, but maybe just got bumped down on my Kindle as e-books from the library (thus with a deadline) became available. Either way, these two books have me thinking a range of thoughts.

Other delights involve completely and utterly ignoring work and work emails--I sent off a book chapter, then turned on my vacation responder and refuse to open that email browser window. It took a few days to relax and resist the urge, but one of the benefits of my current employment (and being on sabbatical) is that everyone steps away this week (or should), so I feel more free to just spend the time with myself.

And with the family--the kids are a delight and have really enjoyed the holidays. It was a bit of a challenge to curb the amount of stuff that came in with Christmas, but I think we found a good balance (and put a few things away for next year, so Christmas shopping done, yesss). The baby ooed and wowed as he opened gifts, and they have both been playing with all the things they were given.

When I was a kid, we were pretty poor, so we usually got a few presents each, but I never felt the lack. And honestly, we had so many other fun things around Christmas that the traditions and activities felt way more important than the things--and I want my kids to grow up with that belief too. Yes, it's nice to give and be given presents, but my favorite parts of the holidays are sharing tasty food I made, spending time with each other, watching holiday movies, playing games, and being together. Even if we can't see all the people we'd like to see this Christmas, I'm trying to connect and let folks know I'm thinking of them and love them. And that's a nice way to wrap up the year.

Monday, November 15, 2021

spring learning

 This week, I'm wrapping up my personal training sessions with my final fitness test, which will measure how much strength I've developed. It's a lot--I already saw how well I have advanced when we tested in October!

This got me thinking about spring. The strength training came to be my personal development/learning activity for the fall semester, something detached from my professional work/learning. And I wanted to do something similar for spring, so I think I'm going to sign up for a class I've long longed to take: a metalsmithing class out of the Art Department!

For years, the Art Department (who used to have their offices in the same building as the English Department) would advertise this class, and for years, I dreamed of having 5 hours or more a week to spend soldering, tinkering, bending, and whatever else you do to make metal into beautiful things. Guess what, though? I actually have some time for that in the spring!

So I started the process to become a non-degree seeking student (which, by the way, they ask for my high school credentials, a thing I found hilarious because it's been over 20 years ago), so I can sign up for the class. And it'll be my first shot at using the tuition waiver we get as employees!

As I was planning this, I kept thinking about how I'm surrounded by experts and expertise in all areas--a literal center of learning--and I should be finding ways to take advantage of that and keep on learning. So I may also sign up for a class here and there to keep reminding myself of what it means to be a learner and to live by my values of being curious, being engaged.

And next semester, hopefully I'll get some pretty things to go along with that learning!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

how to afford a full-year sabbatical

 In order to take sabbatical for a full year at some institutions, you have to be prepared to lose part of your paycheck. Believe me, it's totally worth it (particularly because sabbatical is giving me a break from the chaos pervading my workplace)--but you still have to pay your bills, especially if you're like me and your paycheck is the only paycheck coming into your household. In my case, I took a 35% pay cut.

So in order to fund this full year, the first step is to save up what you need to cover your expenses for the year. One of the upsides of living through a global pandemic is that we are one of the lucky families who ended up saving all the money we weren't spending because we weren't going out to eat and venturing places where the money is easy to spend, and I kept my job. So, despite not really planning to need to save up for sabbatical, I ended up stashing away enough to cover the difference in pay. Also, those extra child credit payments are basically making up a good part of the difference too. All of this is to say that I had good timing and a few other factors on my side, which may be hard to replicate, but certainly took the pressure off given that I didn't originally plan to have to cover the pay gap.

Second is to budget, budget, budget. I figured out how much my monthly income would be with the pay cut and figured out roughly how much we'd need to try to spend on things like groceries. We like good food and if left to our own devices, we end up spending more on food than is strictly necessary, so now I hound my spouse to stay under a specific number and *surprise* he does--and we still eat delicious food. This took about a month or two to get used to, but now we seem to be able to stay mostly within our budget. Also, we're still not eating out much (like maybe once a month) or buying coffee out anymore (which would be higher if I could actually go work at a coffee shop), so that amount continues to be very small. We use YNAB for our budget (link contains a referral code), and I like it a lot--it synchs with all your accounts and helps you spend only the money you have if you're also using credit cards because it makes those expenses visible, even if they aren't coming out of your bank account in the moment.

Third is to make/thrift/mend instead of buying new. While not practical for all things, I certainly have sufficient clothes, but I'm finding myself doing things like patching a ripped seam in my undies (they are perfectly useable otherwise!), darning socks, and knitting up things we might want. I am a crafter, though, so I also have all the materials around, so if I'm making something new, I'm generally trying to use materials I have on hand instead of buying new materials because that would defeat the purpose, so yay for fabric/yarn stashes. And the spouse is taking advantage of some time to browse thrift shops for things we want--and I'm trying to make lists, like telling him to find me yoga blocks at the thrift shop instead of buying new ones, or looking there to replace our waffle iron (which is better for the environment anyway).

Finally, it also helps to have fewer expenses, like being able to get through undergrad/graduate school without loans (or being able to pay off the small loan I took out quickly), not having a car payment, and not having to pay for childcare. This series of circumstances reminds me that where I am is a mix of good fortune, resources, and other things outside my control (along with a few choices we made).

I meant for this to be a little tongue-in-cheek, except as I wrote it, it got earnest. Mostly, I want to point out that the combination of luck, lowered expenses, increased funds from outside my job, and other factors that I had little control over actually helped me out--and I'm leaning into a year of being more deliberate with how I spend money (and using all our skills to make things more cheaply). 

And as I told my partner, the goal wasn't austerity but frugality, and I think we're seeing how making a little less money isn't so bad because we have enough overall, which isn't the case for a lot of families. When I was younger, I didn't have enough--my family was poor in the full definition of the word, and I had to get to a point where I had enough in order to break the boom/bust cycle of spending that happens when you never know if you'll get a windfall again (basically, after I got this job). But now that I've had sufficient resources for long enough, I'm able to manage--and have a safety net too. My financial security is still something I marvel at and feel grateful for every day. And I'm glad it can support this sabbatical year that I sorely needed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

a series of unfortunate books

 Apparently, October is the month for books about misfortune and heartbreak: I finished Qian Julie Wang's Beautiful Country, which was incredible but so dire, so I told myself, I'll read something light to balance that out, only to dive right into Lessa Cross-Smith's This Close to Okay, a book about the relationship between the two main characters after one stops the other (at first, a stranger) from leaping off a bridge in the aftermath of his own shattering losses. Then, I dive into Suleika Jaouad's Between Two Kingdoms, the memoir of a young woman's live during and after being diagnosed with leukemia. All three books were beautiful, and I rated them highly on Goodreads, but all three were about loss, in-betweeness, and learning to keep living in the face of pain.

Maybe now I'll dive into something fluffier, or I'll see if the theme of unfortunate books continues.