Depths of a Year 2020, Week Eight; In Which I Discuss Letters E, F and P

This isn’t the full list of what (if anything) happened in each Depth Year Letter since the beginning of the year, just the ones that are in the forefront of my thinking this week:

E: Exercise and Eating, sustainable:

I have been saying I need to “get back into exercise” for almost nine years haha. I first started exercising and collecting home workout dvds in early 2007, when I was pregnant with Baby #4. Very early in that pregnancy, I realized that the weight from the baby of five years ago was still hanging around – literally hanging over waistbands and things, a look which I really didn’t like. And I knew I would like it even less if I added on the pounds from another sedentary pregnancy. I bought a few dvds at that time, but didn’t get to them because I was sick in the first trimester. Then I was done being queasy and figured that pregnancy was as good a time as any to get in shape.

I started with the beginner workouts I had recently purchased, including a few Leslie Sansone Walk-at-Home and some entry-level weight workouts like Denise Austin or Kathy Smith. Then (because I am an obsessive and a collector by nature) when I saw that I liked exercise and that there were sooooo many dvd options, I began to spend most of my online time reading the forums at – and I started buying and trying workouts in just about every genre and fitness level. After the baby was born, pretty much all I did was take basic care of baby/family and think about the best fitness rotations (meaning the elusive “perfect balance” of strength/cardio/restorative). Thankfully I didn’t fall into such paralysis analysis about it that I only planned exercise rather than exercising (I did work out almost daily).

In mid-2008, I got P90x, and it is unbelievable but the blog I kept then is still online and I detail my honeymoon period with Tony Horton in some detail there. I kept up with regular exercise and mostly-healthy eating until I was again pregnancy sick (with final baby #5) in early 2011.

what was in my journals and letterzines in 2008 –
same basic personality, different obsessions haha

Fast forward through the years since then –  I did hold on to a few pounds after Baby #5, but when I started intermittent fasting in 2017, the fat went mostly bye-bye without me exercising much. I have only very sporadically exercised since 2011, and I have felt myself becoming less fit and more prone to injury as I have approached and now passed age 50. I know I need to exercise now, more than ever, and not just for vanity’s sake. But I haven’t been doing it despite that huge dvd collection, and despite high cholesterol and thighs which were never a bit jiggly even into my later 40s, but which are now showing signs of gravity and the lack of squats. And I believe that part of the “A: Attitude, mine” problem is a lack of endorphins I got for years with daily walks, even before I got into “home fitness”.

Anyway, I have been mulling this over and envisioning myself in 10 years if I don’t get active again etc. etc. And then last weekend, God broke into this problem, and for a mere 8.99, dropped into my lap P90x3, which I did not even know existed and which seems to have all the good of the original (including the lovable Tony Horton), but at 30 minutes a workout instead of the hour+ of the originals.

I had already been thinking that I need to treat myself like I am an out-of-shape beginner again, and my plan was to go all “depth year back-to-basics” with the kind of workouts I started with – Leslie Sansone and Pilates (I am happy to report that I was able to complete Leslie’s Walk and Jog no problem, so I am still in better shape than I was in 2007).

But how that ties in with P90x3 is that there is a PilatesX which is exactly the kind of classic pilates (with a Tony twist) I was looking for, (after having recently bought a few new pilates discs that were disappointing). I’m not going to do the P90x3 “program” but I can tell they have reignited my love of exercise, and I am making it different by using resistance bands instead of dumbbells for the first time. I am hoping that has a more therapeutic effect on some long-standing issues in the left side of my body

F: Finances and Frugality:

This is the Letter which has had the most significant “progress”, which is good because it was probably the one in most dire need of it. Here is a reprint of my 2016 zine article “Finally Facing the Art of Money”, which will give you the background up to that time.

read the pdf here

Since then, I have started worrying more about our “financial future”, which could indeed be bleak but need not be if we start thinking about our money differently. My husband owns an established one-man plumbing business that supports our family at this time, but it MUST soon be expanded because we have almost no savings, and my husband is almost 60 and doesn’t feel like he can keep doing the hard physical labor for many more years. It is a resource I am grateful to have, but we don’t exactly know how to “take it to the next level”…which for us is not 7 figures or national renown, but rather just hiring another plumber and getting away from paper invoices.

Where we have made some progress is in our personal finances, because we have started using the You Need a Budget System. Our “net worth” (and it can hardly be called that, I am NOT kidding) when we began it in the last week of January, can only be called pathetic for our age (and our cash value has significantly declined since I wrote the Money article). Especially since my husband does bring in quite a bit more than we “need”. We have had to face how much money we have just wasted through ignorance, lack of forethought, sheer stupidity and also trying to alleviate suffering through retail therapy – but I know that looking at how things really are is the right first step.

Thankfully we have learned to stay pretty much out of the consumer credit card debt cycle – but guess how we learned?  By being IN IT way too deep, several times. I am not going to give a whole overview of the You Need A Budget system, except to say that it is user friendly and seems to be helping us communicate about a difficult topic as well as encouraging us to be more thoughtful about our spending. I like how it works only with actual money that you have and is not forecasting what you “hope to spend” in each category, and it gets you to think about and budget for the MANY (oh so many) categories of real expenses we have that we forget about (life insurance, daughter’s camp fund, etc) just because they aren’t a regular monthly expense.

We have been doing YNAB for about 6 weeks now, and it has been somewhat sobering, but also encouraging – because we are in a better position (in “resources and potential” if not in cash) than we realized when we weren’t paying attention to our finances – so I would like to move forward in that area with (hopefully) more wisdom, and hopefully before a catastrophic economic and societal collapse.

P: Prayer cards, make:

I have not made even one prayer card yet, actually – I have been stuck because I want to make several types of cards, but could not figure out how to integrate them into a deck I can use.

I want to have, in a single deck, cards in these categories (with each card having enough emotional/intellectual/psychological “content” that they will mean something to me- either upright or reversed – when I draw them in a tarot journaling session:

Personal Pantheon of Influences – people who have had a big influence on me but I don’t know them – like Jordan Peterson or author Mary Pipher. Or I do “know them” either online or have known them in real life, but they remain more in the realm of “impersonal mentor influences” rather than friends – like David Zahl or Anne Carlson Kennedy or my high school teacher Fred Lentz. I picture those cards kind of looking like Orthodox Icons but I’m not attached to that idea. 

Cards with important fictional characters: in January I made a Ruth Fisher card, which is not exactly the Queen of Cups or the Empress in Tarot, but is something like those with a bit more Death and Martyr element thrown in. Other fictional characters: Asher Lev. Cadfael. A few other Women of Six Feet Under. Ransom from The Space Trilogy.

the Ruth Fisher card

For prayer cards: in this deck I want to have the closest situations, relationships and people that I will likely be praying for all my life. I’d like for at least some of the art on these to be kind of symbolic, somewhat like the art on my favorite deck of iching cards. (I also would like to make a prayer deck for everyone in our church, but I haven’t nailed down any specifics for that one yet).

The final category I can only call The Archetypes: As an example, in this section there will definitely be a card called The Jew. Sorry if that sounds politically incorrect but I could write many many pages about being a Jew, what I think about “the Jews” and Judaism itself, and in relation to Christianity etc, etc. Other archetype cards: The Garret or Small Hidden Room. The Mistress of the Manor (see the pdf of my money story for a glimpse into that). The Deathbed. And of course, The Fangirl.

The backs of the cards were stumping me, because I can’t be sure I am always going to have the same paper pattern for the back of each category card. I decided that each category would be the same color on the back, not necessarily the same pattern (I love mixing patterns). So since the back of my Ruth Fisher card (as the first of the Fictional Characters cards) is green – the rest of those cards will have backs in the green family. I already have 18 3×4 watercolor paper cards already cut, so I don’t really have any excuse not to start this project. I would really enjoy adding this more personal element to my card readings.

The Depths of a Year 2020

(I have found that communicating in the public forums of social media and blog comments do not foster depth of communication for me, so comments are turned off. I would be happy to talk to you via email though.)

This year is dedicated to the memory of Ehren Starks, whose music broke me open in a new way in 2014. Providentially, one of his albums is titled The Depths of a Year

Thanks also to The Anadromist, whose videos have helped to reconnect me to the more human, less cynical part of myself that I thought I had lost, but thankfully it was just misplaced. The depth year is a way for me to return to living in time in a less mediated and less propagandized way.

There once was a gal, middle aged
Who from life had become disengaged
But she’ll see what life brings, doing everyday things
‘Stead of being online and outraged (see Depth Year Alphabetica below, letter L for Limericks)

Believe it or not, beginning a new personal-development scheme wasn’t even on my mind when I stumbled across the idea of a Depth Year. I had kind of unofficially sworn off personal development altogether – though I admit, I was kind of bored just living my life without playing lab rat for my controlling Inner Behaviourist (she and I have a kind of Stockholm Syndrome relationship). But I was also discouraged and exhausted from what she told me were my many failures in running previous self-improvement mazes. All I wanted to do was guzzle cocaine water from my feeder bottle and lay in the corner of my cage. 

Then I came out of my narcotic haze and remembered I wasn’t a rat, and that honestly, even though I have indeed failed sometimes in my lifelong quest for a “somewhat better life now” (my definition of which will become more defined as I write through the year) there have been some surprising (to me haha) successes as I have jumped onto a few “intentional living” bandwagons over the past half-decade. I have imperfectly but noticeably integrated into my life: 

  • What I thought was minimalism but which I now consider to be more Swedish death cleaning
  • mindful awareness
  • intermittent fasting and 
  • being “disconnected” from the media propaganda machine and social media circus.  

That doesn’t mean that there is no longer any need for serious tinkering with my life and/or personality and/or psyche. I have certainly NOT “arrived” as an enlightened being and I never expect to do so. But now that I am 51, I am ready to stop identifying so strongly with my failures and my many negative qualities. I really have learned some things over the years which have stuck, and my FAILED personal engineering experiments taught me a lot. Habits and skills that eluded me for decades have finally developed a bit, often in ways I didn’t expect or envision. 

Stephen Covey writes about the Personal Integrity Account, which is where you either deposit or withdraw from your trust in yourself. My PIA is overdrawn and has been for years, and you know depressing and scary it is when any of your accounts (tangible or intangible) get low – and it feels more so as I get older. But with my newfound Early Crone wisdom I can see that many withdrawals of the past came from my own unhealthy tendency to make plans and/or goals that work against my real temperament, which was just stupid. I unconsciously set myself up to fail. 

I also have been too tied to results rather than process, and too motivated by the desire to create a persona that was intelligent/interesting/talented/creative enough so that I felt like I was a worthy human by my general impressiveness-to-others factor. That persona has crashed and burned, and providentially I have kind of Phoenixed out of there. But Phoenix Me limps, is blind in one eye, and my left wing is immobile and featherless. So I have had to pare down to the bare essentials of who I really am and what I want to do with my time.

From one of my 2016 zines

Enter the Depth Year.

I was looking at something totally unrelated when I came across the Depth Year idea. I guess it originated with this article, which points out how we can be like crows collecting baubles, even though that appears to be a myth. Anyway, we flit from one interest to another, never delving deeply into any of them, and often spending a lot of money in the process and accumulating “stuff” that doesn’t really enhance our lives.  

(That isn’t fully true of me, there are several things I do in depth and have for many years. But I do get obsessions and interests that fade away and/or I overspend on and overconsume new (and not necessarily improved) information about my established pastimes).

So, at first I thought a Depth Year would just be mostly about my creative-type pursuits. But as I was using the alphabet as a scaffold to brainstorm my possible depth year, I saw that “depth” conjured up not only hobbies and interests I had neglected or abandoned, but also some important time-bound tasks (meaning that my death draws ever nearer) and life changes that I have been unable or unwilling to make but for which I now feel “ready”, and also things that would be called “inner work”.

Depth Year Alphabetica (also my blog topics for the year)

A: Attitude, mine & Acrylic paintings in small Bible

B: Bookbinding for Etsy, bedtime reading & Bible copywork

C: Christian Focus Sundays

D: Death planning, delayed gratification & differentiating myself from those I admire

E: Exercise and eating, sustainable

F: Finances & Frugality

G: Guitar & gifts, handmade

H: Handlettering & Household management

I: Integration & congruence, personal

J: Journal signatures, bind completed from late 2017-2019

K: Kids, steward a learning/creative practice

L: Lunar Tracking, Limericks & Library curation

M: Minimum maintenance

N: Noble Eightfold Path Lite and Path of the Superior Person

O: Outside

P: Prayer beads and cards, make & piano 

Q: Questions, live the

R: Raw meals, repair what is broken & replace beloved children’s books

S: Snail Mail

T: Temperance

U: Uncomfortable feelings/situations, face & Undone projects, complete

V: Vitamins/supplements, video skills & vanity

W: Win/win, waiting on the Lord, wu wei/work clean & watercolor projects from Ana Calderon books

X: eXcavate through books/courses etc. that I already own

Y: “Yesterday’s” photos of the past, print

Z: Zine, at least one in 2020

I am flooded with relief as I look forward to a year where a lot of my decisions are kind of pre-made, within delineated boundaries that I have intentionally chosen. Decision-making on a day-to-day level is exhausting and I don’t necessarily trust myself to make “good choices” in the moment. I am still very much ruled by impulse. I also like that about half the things in my Alphabetica are more “practices” which don’t have “products” attached to them, and therefore don’t need to have hands-on time “penciled in” to a to-do list or schedule.

one of my blog posts about “productivity”

And yes, yes (my inner productivity junkie is poking me) a year is enough time to make “progress” without having to fit too much of anything into any one day or week – which for me is a trigger to rebel and say screw the whole damned plan. It was pleasantly surprising to see how far I had gotten into my two devotionals (The Mockingbird Devotional and Nailed It) just by reading one devotional each (most days) with my cafe latte. At the same time, getting through one-third of two devotionals in about four months is not very impressive in our get-more-done-in-less-time culture. But it really is a “deeper” experience for me, not rushing through the books in order to move on to the next one. I notice more in the text and think about it longer. That feels nourishing after 20+ “internet years” of shoveling “information” down my gullet so fast that it can’t be digested.

I keep thinking of the cliche, Hindsight is 2020, because this is 2020 and hindsight is part of depth. In hindsight, I see that the neurotic side of my intelligence has led to me thinking and overthinking everything to DEATH. That keeps me from enjoying things and is so bad for my nervous system. Mary Pipher wrote in her book Another Country that people are least alike in their thinking and most alike in their feelings. I do believe my thinking-focus and the attendant emotional repression developed as a necessary coping mechanism – but it has outlived its usefulness and has led me into ever more isolation from other people and from life.

I put up barriers between myself and others (in my younger years mostly) by starting unnecessary and potentially divisive debates with people about my pet subjects (of which there are many haha). Social media made that way too easy, of course. I used “intellectualism” (ironically I now admit to never really having an impressively developed intellect anyway, despite a fairly high IQ) as a way to protect myself from my wounds, my shadow, my vulnerability and from love. I have missed out on a lot in human terms because of being so head-focused. So hopefully my depth year will be an organically evolving time of living life rather than overthinking about it. If I drew a caricature of myself to show my “imbalances”, I would have this huge head which could no longer be supported by my small and neglected body (body of course representing the totality of my humanness and not my level of fitness or the beauty of my physique).

What I am discovering as I get older is that life itself is way more interesting than the IDEAS I have always had about life. Ideas for their own sake are starting to bore me and can never encompass what life really is. For me, living is somehow more enjoyable and more profound AND paradoxically, I am also more “effective” (in the ways most important to me) when I am just Hanging Out In Life (making and drinking my coffee, cleaning the kitchen, interacting with the actual humans in my life, learning things – basically tending to only what is within my circle of influence) instead of focusing overmuch on the philosophical “meaning of life” as put into words and/or on What Life and People Should Be Like In Order To Best Please ME.

Here are some quotes that have stood out to me recently, which hint at what I am trying to get at with my depth year:

“Notice the way God does things; then fall into line. Don’t fight the ways of God, for who can straighten what He has made crooked?” 

  • Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT

This means that I am tired of bumping into reality. Reality always kicks my butt. I am ready to work with and not against: the human condition, my personality and all that entails, and the people in my life as they are and the circumstances of my life as they are.

“You have strayed from the path of the superior person. Reflect on your inner state and your external situation to determine how and why this digression has occurred. When you identify it, gather all your inner reserves to turn back to the path of light and abundant life. You will never be sorry for having strayed from the path or for returning to it. However, if you fail to turn back, you will sincerely regret it.”  

  • Hexagram 24:5 The i ching workbook by Wu Wei. Interestingly, Wu Wei is not a person but an idea which means “natural action, or action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort”. 

Of course, as a Christian, I know I have strayed from the path of the superior person – that’s why I need a savior. I have made an idol of personal development and like every idol, it really hasn’t delivered despite all my sacrifices – and I don’t have any more hearts to rip out and throw down into the pit. And I know from His word that the true God has prepared in advance good works that I should do (Ephesians 2:10) – so I am going to assume that I will indeed do them, despite all my faults, without struggle or excessive effort (this doesn’t mean that nothing will be hard…I’m sure I will elaborate on this as I write throughout the year). It’s an odd thing to say – don’t regret straying from the path – but straying from the path is what reminds you that you prefer to be on the path.

“In Zen we speak of living in vow. This means we attend wholeheartedly to the activities of daily life. When it is time to get up, we just get up. When it is time to wash the dishes, we wash the dishes…living in vow…is to carry out your routine with no sense of attempting to satisfy your individual desires. Under all circumstances, beyond your likes and dislikes, you have to carry on…the changes that occur through spiritual practice are not really your business. If you make them your business, you will try to change your life directly. If you try to change your life directly, no matter how long you work at it, you will not satisfy yourself. So, if you truly want to change your life, you should just form the routine of doing small things, day by day”. 

  • You Have to Say Something by Katagiri Roshi

And finally: “Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not created in the image of God for nothing.”

  • Robert Farrar Capon

I don’t yet understand how these ideas will play into a depth year or maybe a deeper experience of life as a whole. I do know that I am overthinking this post haha forgetting that I have a whole year (at least) to flesh them out in writing. Stay tuned if you want to “live the questions” (Depth Year Alphabetica, Letter Q) with me during 2020.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  • Rainer Maria Rilke

How I Determined My Productivity Personality

In all the “online business” stuff I’ve been reading over the past few months, I hear that I need to “present myself as an expert in my field”. I’m also supposed to have some kind of system or thing to teach that will Get Results As Quickly As Possible For My Students. But honestly, the only thing I am an expert at is persevering over decades in self-improvement and creative work even when I don’t see tangible results and when no one else seems to be all that impressed. It seems like the perseverance itself is what keeps the tiniest ember of hope burning when my inner fire pit of hope is just about extinguished.

I have gone back and forth with myself on the importance of having “specific, measurable goals” – the necessity of which is of highest importance to most productivity voices. I like to achieve goals as much as the next person, but when I take the meandering out of my life and my projects (in favor of reaching a specific outcome by a specific time) that’s when my Ego Gets Involved, and an ego is a fragile and fickle thing. If I “succeed” at whatever my goal is, I feel good (usually better than is justified in proportion to the actual success). But then anxiety starts creeping in because I now have to keep performing up to the standard of my previous awesomeness. If I fail at achieving my goal or if my project isn’t well-received, then I’m just a loser who doesn’t even have any laurels to rest upon.

One of the big themes that has run through my life is the relationship between freedom and form. Too much structure or too much focus on one project, and I rebel. I dig my heels in and refuse to do anything because no one (not even ME) is going to give me orders! No rulers, no masters, anarchy FOREVER!!! But when I have too much freedom (too many art supplies, too many “possible” projects or plans or too much outer chaos because I am just too “free” to have to do basic household chores) then I freeze up and do nothing. Either way, I don’t get a lot done, which for a self-improvement junkie means that withdrawal symptoms kick in pretty quickly. Understandably, this is something most addicts try to avoid.

But sometimes, I’m being super-effective and my inner Stephen Covey is patting me on the back, and then suddenly I find myself burned out and unable to do anything except what I call monk’s work – those repetitive tasks of daily living that sometimes seem to be what hold me back from the mythical self-actualization, but which save me when I can’t eke out even one more “productive” thing, when I just want to  be left alone to die in peaceful obscurity, thank you very much.

It’s the proverbial vicious cycle or the blessed paradox. I can’t decide which.

Before you decide whether I have the right to say anything about productivity, let me tell you about myself and what my life has been like for the past quarter century. I am a 48-year-old homemaker with five children from 23-5 who have never gone to school. I haven’t been the CEO of any companies or started a successful nonprofit. What I have done is spent spent untold hours answering questions, wiping butts and making rotini pasta with butter and romano cheese. I’ve also spent a lot of sleepless nights (pre-Netflix). Despite these challenges, I have made 13 long zines, written scores of illustrated letters to friends, made acrylic paintings, hand-bound and then filled numerous art journals and sketchbooks and written a 22,000 word spiritual memoir that was published by Christianity Today (and they even paid me!) I have done thousands of shoulder press reps with 20lb dumbbells and read a lot of theology and psychology books, as well as as many pleasantly gruesome crime novels. I did not do all these things within the same week or even the same year.

I used to strive for “balance” in my life planning, but I have found through long and sometimes humiliating experience that I can’t “manufacture” balance. But in hindsight and often in spite of manic planning, some kind of balance and a measure of freedom within form appears when I follow some “general principles” maybe 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time I am having some kind of existential crisis and doing nothing but drinking too much coffee:

1) Focus On One Thing, But Not For Too Long:

This might mean that I binge a project over a relatively short time, like a thirty-day zine (which necessitates ignoring other semi-important things but which quickly gives me a finished project and a significant deposit into the oft-overdrawn Personal Integrity Account) OR I work on a bunch of different projects for maybe 25-minutes at a time. I have accomplished extensive projects and goals using both these methods. I have also accomplished things with absolutely no plan at all and now I am baffled as to how I managed to do (insert whatever I did here).

And let’s be honest, I have also gone years where I accomplished nothing except basic household maintenance, no matter what my self-improvement technique was at that time. I have learned to honor the fallow periods. If you don’t honor them, they are like the Godfather when he doesn’t get any respect. But at the very least they do allow you to develop simple memories of your life with your people, undistracted by too much doing. And sometimes, like their agricultural cousins, they are working unseen in the soil of your life, and some weird but beautiful plant may grow.

2) Try New Projects and Self-Improvement/Productivity Techniques On For Size, But Feel Free to Abandon Them If They’re Not a Good Fit:

I have tried so many creative things and quickly realized I hated them. Despite the cultural belief that quitting equals failure, I have finally accepted that time is limited and just because I admire something as a concept doesn’t mean I have any talent for or true vocation towards it as a pastime.

And just because I am impressed by certain techniques, planning systems and philosophies other people may use to accomplish things, that doesn’t mean their method will work for me. You will ultimately get more done in the areas that are important to you if you accept who you are and work with your strengths. Time spent learning discernment about yourself, your energy levels, your motivations and true aspirations – that time is never wasted. So even if you “fail” at whatever it is, you have learned what doesn’t work. That’s important information.

3) Go Outside Your Comfort Zone Sometimes, And Retreat As Far As Possible Into Your Comfort Zone at Other Times:

This is the difficult challenge of determining when you are experiencing fear and resistance, and when you are experiencing burnout. They can look the same on the surface but require different tactics to overcome. What fear and resistance want to do is keep you from working, that’s why they are always distracting you with other things and/or tell you how much you suck so you may as well stop now. It really pisses them off when you ignore them and work anyway. They retreat and lick their wounds for a while. You will, unfortunately, deal with them again and again in your life.

When I find myself burned out, I either have too many projects going at once and/or I am not getting enough time alone and/or my work is being done with wrong motive – meaning I’m using it as a self-justification project, trying to impress people etc. Sometimes I misread the symptoms as resistance, and I make it worse by pushing through for longer than I should. Once I recognize it for what it is I go into monk’s work mode, and I usually choose a new television show and I take a lot of baths with the oil lamp burning. I try not to judge how long it takes me to come out of this and “start working again”, and so far, I always have.

4) Keep a habit tracker, and be generous to yourself when filling it out:

I’m not a big pinterest person, but when I first saw a habit tracker there I knew it was something that would work for me. But what it took me a while to figure out was that I respond better if I just have to do a little tiny bit of something for it to “count”. With my first habit tracker, I think I had to do a whole workout DVD to be able to color in “exercise” on a certain day. Well, I rarely had time or energy to do a whole DVD, which left me discouraged when I looked at my tracker, because it looked like I wasn’t exercising at all. But most days I really do at least a few minutes of exercise…I might jump on my rebounder for two 5-minute periods or do 15 knee pushups and 20 single leg bodyweight deadlifts or eke out a few downward dogs or sun salutations.

Now, I give myself the pleasure of taking out those Inktense pencils and waterbrushes and I color in that darned “cardio” square if I stepped on the freaking rebounder. I color in the “writing” square if I wrote three sentences in my journal. And I color in the “mindfulness” section if I sit outside with my kids for 15 minutes without doing anything else. Our get-as-much-done-as-possible-every-day-society would think I was cheating here, but what I want to do is develop a habit, and I know I am not going to stick with anything if I feel beaten down and judged by my very own self for yes, keeping the habit but doing it in an unimpressive way. It’s better to give myself the small wins and they will either add up cumulatively over time OR I will eventually feel confident enough to expand the length or scope of the habit.

Today I hula hooped for 250 turns each way, but I’m not sure if that should be labeled cardio, strength, or restorative? Either way, I’m marking it down!

Please tell me in the comments what you know about your own productivity personality!

This blog will soon be replaced by Rough Edges Life, which will focus on encouragement, creative resources, and gentle self-improvement for the tired and somewhat jaded optimist. If that sounds like something you need, please sign up here and I’ll let you know when that site is “live”.






The Coffee Silence – or How an Antsy Person Like Me Found a Way to Meditate

the-coffee-silenceI have been “into” mindfulness and meditation for a few years now. But for me, being “into” something often means I read about it more than I practice it.

Learning to be more present in my daily tasks has been easier than finding time to do more formal meditation, and let’s be honest, sometimes it wasn’t about finding the time. It was about my aversion to doing seemingly “nothing” for any length of time. I’m a person who doesn’t like to be idle, which is fine in itself. But I am also an unhealthily reactive person. I have the Not-Very-Zen tendency to believe I need to take action RIGHT NOW on any thought or task that comes to mind. That can lead to a lot of unfinished tasks and projects and also creates stress because I can’t accept a thought as just a thought. I often allow my thoughts to morph into such a negative storyline about myself or my relationships that my body starts pumping out the stress hormones (because it perceives this ephemeral THOUGHT as a clear and present danger, like I’m being chased by the proverbial saber-toothed tiger.) I knew that meditation would help me with those things, but I had to find a practical way to fit it into my life.

In her book Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin talks about various methods that can help us create healthy habits in our lives, while still being sensitive to our own personalities and “what works for us”. The strategy I used to create my meditation habit is “pairing”. One thing I already do every day about the same time is drink my morning cafe latte, so I decided I would pair meditation with that already ingrained and pleasant habit.

Since I often suffer from paralysis by analysis, I decided that the formalities of meditation (how I sat, whether my eyes were open or closed, how I held my hands) weren’t important. All I had to do was find a comfortable place to sit (alone and in silence), set the timer for 20 minutes and do nothing but drink my coffee and return to the breath when my mind wandered. For all you laid-back people, that might not seem like a big deal. But for me, the first day I accomplished this was a real milestone.

It was a gloomy, wet day, and I was in a funk about my life. I sat there by the window and watched the sparrows flitting in the crepe myrtle trees. I felt a heaviness and silent tears ran down my cheeks. But still I breathed, and a few sparrows landed on the windowsill and seemed to look into the room. That felt like a blessing to me, I had never seen them do that before. A lot of thoughts and fleeting emotions came up during that 20 minutes, including the question “WHEN THE HECK WILL 20 MINUTES BE UP????” When I felt like I was about to cave and look at my timer, the 20 minutes ended. I had done it.

This is still a new practice for me, but it feels sustainable. My kids don’t go to school, so once or twice they ignored my command not to come in the room, but I took that as an opportunity not to be my usual reactive self (meaning I didn’t yell). Right when the timer goes off, I take my journal and write down any thoughts that seem important to remember, or ideas that will need action. Then I read the day’s entry in The Mockingbird Devotional, and then I allow myself to leave Being-Only mode (and I usually go wash the dishes).

I know that meditation isn’t about progress or achievement, so I am trying not to judge whether the 20 minutes was “a success”. The success for me is in keeping the commitment. I trust that over time the practice will shape me in some positive way.

A few questions for you:

– Do you have any long-term practices that have enriched your life?
– Do you have any strategies for developing and maintaining healthy habits?


In Which I Re-Enter the Blogging World and Recap My Blogging History

I started blogging in 2002, as a way to affirm life after a 9-day bout of the stomach flu. My first-ever blog post was called “A New Beginning”, probably because I was so glad to not feel sick anymore, plus the blogosphere of that time was my oyster, People. I was a stay-at-home-homeschooling mother in my mid-thirties, and I felt like I had found my “tribe” in the Godly Woman Subculture (wherein I felt included but also interestingly “edgy”…since my Proverbs 31 credentials may or may not have been forged or from an unaccredited institution). At that time I didn’t even know what a digital camera was, so I didn’t understand how these women always had photos on their blogs from THAT VERY DAY, too quickly to have had film developed while they were already so busy with bread baking, latin games with the children, plus being the kind of wives whose husband’s desires were always at the very forefront of their humble and modest thoughts. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I started blogging at The Home Realm (where I wrote a few okay pieces but mostly, too many posts from my smug young mother vantage point) and I continued there until about 2006. I also had a few (basically unsucessful) forays into “business” during those years, and a short and forgettable stint on the now-defunct Intellectuelle blog (it’s my contribution that was short and forgettable, not Intellectuelle itself).

In 2007, I discovered the world of home fitness and became obsessed enough with that to start a blog called Eclectic Domestic Works Out. I chronicled my P90x experience and documented my workout DVD collection as it grew to over 200 discs. I gave up on that blog in 2009, but I kept working out almost daily until Moppet 5 was born in 2011. Since then I have been more sporadic with exercise, but I have retained a lot of my fitness gains and I do work out fairly often in short spurts. I have no idea why that blog even exists in cyberspace anymore.

No Spring Chicken was born in 2010, a year or so into my Midlife Crisis. I was considering getting back into zinemaking at that time, but I guess I didn’t and started that blog instead. I still talked about diet and fitness a bit at first, but overall, NSC is a good screen capture of Who I Am Now (in germinal form). There are a lot of thoughts and feelings chronicled there, which were clarified for me a few years later, when I heard art historian Dan Siedell interviewed on The White Horse Inn, and then found Mockingbird. I last wrote on that blog almost exactly two years ago, when I started my eponymous blog (which shares characteristics with No Spring Chicken but has definitely also been a precursor to the business blog that will hopefully “go live” in early December.) I am also a “contributor” to the Creative Circle Blog, where I have not contributed since probably February.

One thing that concerns me about having a business blog or being a “contributor” or “guest poster” is how I will manage the contant drumbeat from the biz gurus to Stay On Brand, and even better if your brand is so inspiring and inspirational and full of those bright colors I hate. I’m sure I can come up with a somewhat cohesive and/or coherent “brand” (even with my various interests) but I don’t like the feeling that I can’t let the “brand identity curtains” get at all frayed. Like if somehow people get a glimpse behind the curated image, that’s a negative for your business. But since my business is called Rough Edges Life, I don’t want to feel trapped by my brand or like it is a facade. I need to have a place for my honest writing (especially since the zine is on hiatus) but not necessarily interspersed with “content” on a business blog. I think I will just keep this blog and link to it in my new About page, so anyone who might want to risk seeing “behind the brand” can do so.

Two women who were small-time bloggers on the periphery of my early blogging circle are undoubtedly millionnaires by now (Pioneer Woman and Ann Voskamp). I think it’s unlikely that I’ll become a millionnaire, but I am ready to “embrace the blog” again and see where that leads me.

Failed Plans and Schedules

The main article in my new zine is called My Favorite Time Management and/0r Productivity Books, wherein I share with you, yes, my favorite time management and /or productivity books (catchy titles have never been one of the more creative aspects of my zines).  If you have read the article, you will know that none of these books have succeeded in making me all that much more productive as a direct result of reading them (though I do think that, when taken cumulatively, they have had a net positive effect). An artifact in my Box of Important Papers is an envelope labeled Failed Plans and Schedules, which are just a fraction of my actual failed plans and schedules (more recent ones are a bit less fleshed out and live inside various journals). All of the ones in the envelope date from the mist-shrouded, long-ago years of my Godly Woman Phase (as you can see from the Biblically-appropriate illustration of the busy mother, working diligently in the home).



I like looking through this stuff because some of the plans/planners are actually kinda impressive. I have thought that I could make some money designing and selling printables for homeschooling and life management. I would seriously be rich  if I had a million little businesses selling all the many services/products I have created over the years. I’m not sure if I am just truly lazy and don’t want to do the work of production, or whether daily living tasks are indeed so time consuming that I just can’t get to “art and business” regularly enough or is it that research and development really can take decades?

Looking at this stuff put me into Plans and Schedules Mode, but my current approach to that is thankfully a bit more organic and merciful than it was in the past. Beginning to see everyday memoir as a process is helping me to clarify my business objectives as well as channel my self-improvement tendencies into something less neurotic, more helpful, and something like market research on myself. I assume that whatever niche or demographic I am meant to serve with my creative talents and/or offerings is comprised of people who are something like me, so if I make and try something, if I like it, I assume there is probably a market for it.

A few days ago I had a lot to do in a few different “categories” of my life, and I was feeling overwhelmed. I decided I was going to take two hours and dedicate that to house and home stuff, then the next two hours would be dedicated to art and business stuff. One problem I have always had with a housekeeping “schedule” (do this or that on such and such a day) is that, well, either I just rebel against the schedule – being a natural lawbreaker – OR there is another area in the house that really needs work or a chore that really has to get done if my sanity is to be taken into consideration. So, what I did on that day was walk around and see what was really bothering me the most and/or what I felt like I could handle, and I did that stuff for two hours. Then I went in my art room and did a few different things for two hours. I liked that because it alleviated boredom but still required focus. I would not let myself move from one task to another until I was done with at least some pre-determined segment of the current task. It was cool to realize what stuff “fit” into each category. Today when I was in my two hours of “house tasks” I wouldn’t look at Facebook, but it was fine to look for rice pilaf recipes for dinner. No matter what I am doing, it’s always “acceptable” to make notes in my new mini-journal.


I am thinking that after having a four hour block of “productive” hours (two “house and home” and two “art and business”) I will have a personal hour where I can exercise or read. I don’t expect this to work perfectly or be The Thing forever, but it combines the best of both worlds (Freedom Within Form).

Introducing Everyday Memoir, Part 1: My Box of Important Papers, Part 1

I have mentioned my Box of Important Papers elsewhere. What is in my BoIP is a lot of stuff that is important in the chain of my Everyday Memoir, mostly things that are individually printed or handwritten sheets and not bound like a zine or art journal. Since I am about to begin an online collaboration with a few other women, I was thinking about another online collaboration I was involved in – back in 2005  I was part of a woman’s blog called Intellectuelle, with a few women I still know (at least peripherally) through Facebook.

Intellectuelle was sponsored by The Evangelical Outpost (which still has a website that comes up blank for me). To be a contributor, you had to be one of the top 5 or 6 in an essay contest. I wrote some kind of post about apologetics, and was chosen to be one of the ground-level contributors, along with my still-friend Marla Swoffer. That first essay is the only one I don’t have a copy of (who knows why) and I’d love to see it, because I was never a whiz at apologetics and can’t imagine what I might have said about it that won me that contest.


The first post is my “introduction” and it is dated June 30, 2005, and titled “Everyday Living Gives Us a Lot to Think About”. The final post was not even three months later, September 16, 2005, titled “Another Resignation”. Every one of my measly 14 posts began with a limerick. Some examples:

…from the post titled “Concealed Estrus, or Why is the Ovulation of the Human Female Hidden?”

There once was a thing, ovulation,
Necessary for human creation.
But it cannot be seen, and what does this mean?
Is there a Christian Explanation?

…from the post titled “Memento Mori”

There once was a gal quite alive
Who could think of no way to deprive
The spectre of death from a-stealin’ her breath
But she knows in the Lord she’ll survive


This whole thing was nerve-wracking for me because 1) I had to make some appropriately intellectual post EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK and 2) I’m really not all that intellectual and most of the other contributors really were. They were doing stuff like reading difficult books and writing thoughtful commentary about them, probably seamlessly integrating all their other knowledge into the post as well. It’s likely they even spoke French and so were true Intellectuelles, while I was pretty much a poseur. We were also buying and moving into our first house at that time, and I’d had three miscarriages in the past year, and in general this was my last attempt to prop up a certain fantasy about myself as A Great Thinker, and I got out when I finally admitted that to myself, and I haven’t looked back.

This is an interesting pit stop on the Trail of Everyday Memoir (sometimes known as the Avenue of Absurdity). I could write a blog post or zine article on any of the same subjects I did at Intellectuelle, but I know my tone would now be different and my thoughts about most of the subjects have changed, maybe significantly. It’s both humbling and encouraging when I look at my past self, because I see definite evidence of sanctification while I simultaneously still possess some of the annoying and/or sinful traits of my youth, which range from actual bad behavior to well-hidden but impressively crappy attitudes that are rarely seen by anyone except me and God.

We’ll come back to the Box of Important Papers again in a few days.