Baking · Food · How-To Tuesday · Pandemic

cinnamon rolls

Well, it’s How-To Tuesday! And after waking up before six worrying about things I have absolutely no control over, I decided to dive into my trusty List O’ Things To Do for some inspiration, and thought, what could possibly be better than trying my hand at cinnamon rolls?

I have been trolling around the InterWebs searching out a recipe that didn’t require me to have cream cheese for the frosting, as that was not an ingredient that made the Quarantine Grocery List cut. (Five bags of tortilla chips, however, did. What does this say about me?) I ended up settling on this cinnamon roll recipe from because it met my “no cream cheese” criteria and didn’t require an unreasonable amount of butter. (My father says there is no such thing as an unreasonable amount of butter

Now, before I go any farther, it is absolutely imperative that you understand that I am an obsessive Great British Bake-Off fan. It is my go-to show, and I’ve seen the whole series to date I-don’t-know-how-many times. (The Vulcan does not share this passion, much to my never-ending sorrow.) So I went into this Cinnamon Roll Challenge with a couple of objectives:

  1. Take photos of different steps in my process, because that is what you are supposed to do, I guess, when you make a recipe and post it on your blog. (Please see: every food blog ever.)
  2. Pretend I am on G.B.B.O. while doing it. (OBVIOUSLY.)

As everyone knows, the first step in creating your food blog post requires you to take a photo of your ingredients like so…

Also, I have to point out my flour and sugar jars are vintage West Bend Bread Co. I love them.

It’s worth pointing out that I forgot I was supposed to do the ingredient shot with every stage of the recipe and only took the picture of the dough ingredients. Notice my open butter box and the fact that, while I remembered to put a bowl in the shot (which I did mostly because I am fiercely proud of my vintage Pyrex,) I neglected to include a spoon… Additionally, I hope you appreciate my attractive, stylized backdrop featuring my knives and chopsticks. It lends that certain je ne sais quoi.

I admit nothing…

Then I combined ingredients to make the dough. It should be said that, if this were G.B.B.O. I would most certainly be the contestant who comes in last in the technical because I failed to read the ingredients accurately…as in, I accidentally put the egg in with ingredients that had to be heated in the microwave. This may or may not have resulted tiny bits of slightly cooked egg being sprinkled throughout my batter.

You may notice the handy use of my wooden ruler, retrieved from my desk drawer to make sure I rolled out the dough to the right size…

Because I’m so nice, I did my sleeping husband a huge favor by foregoing the dough hook on my KitchenAid and instead hand-kneading for a few minutes. I may have imagined the G.B.B.O. music in the background while I did this, except I don’t look nearly as expert at it as anyone who’s ever been on the show. (I did reflect that, between baking and yoga, by the time I get out of the quarantine, I’m going to have some serious muscles.) Then I had to roll it out to a 12″x16″ rectangle. I learned it is very hard to roll out something that looks like a rectangle with a rolling pin, but that there are few things on this earth that butter and sugar can’t fix (particularly when it’s slathered all over the top of something.)

The rolling up process was more stressful than necessary, due in no small part to the fact that I’ve watched way too many people get in trouble with Paul Hollywood for not rolling things tightly enough and leaving big gaps. Admittedly, my primary audience (the Vulcan) is not nearly as exacting, but it’s the spirit of the thing! I cut the roll into something more appropriated cinnamon roll-sized using string (another neat trick I picked up from watching the show,) covered them with foil, and put the pan in the oven to prove. This is the bit I’m worst at, because it’s just sitting around and waiting and doing really un-fun things, like cleaning up after oneself (which I did,) and possibly eating some tortilla chips while I waited, because that’s what responsible grown-ups do.

The baking itself (I did use the steam bath mentioned at the bottom of the recipe–I was taking no chances with possible dried out cinnamon rolls) was the easiest bit. The Vulcan (with his usual uncanny timing) managed to wake up just as they were coming out of the oven to fulfill his duties as official household taste-tester. Because he is a wise man, he gave them his (somewhat sleepy-eyed) seal of approval. I have to say I think they’re pretty good, myself.

So if you’ve got some time to kill (and since we’re all in some level of social quarantine, who doesn’t have some time to kill) might I highly recommend the cinnamon rolls? Not only were they not overly complicated, people think you’re a genius. If my social media feeds are any indication, everyone is making bread. Be the original in the group and make something delicious and decadent! (Just make sure not to put your egg in with the ingredients that need to be heated in the microwave…) Happy baking!

See you tommorow!


Music Monday · Pandemic

music, hope, and mr. rogers

Today, we got our official “stay home” order from our governor. As of tomorrow, only essential functionaries are free to move on their way. The rest of the state is (in so many words) self-quarantining to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our area.

So this evening, the Vulcan and I went for a walk through our neighborhood, and I saw sign after sign of businesses advertising their curbside menus and even more signs explaining they were closing for the duration of the quarantine. It was such a poignant snapshot for me of what this outbreak means to so many. Not only are folks having to make decisions that affect the health of themselves and their loved ones, they are also being asked to make decisions about the small businesses into which so much blood, sweat and tears have been poured. Businesses that make our neighborhood “ours,” and build a community.

By the time we got home, I felt overwhelmed and defeated. We have tried to support our local businesses–to buy their goods, buy gift cards, to show our support. Our neighbors have done likewise, but is this enough? With a bailout package at the national level that will, most certainly, focus on large corporations, will our leaders see the essential value of our small Mom-and-Pop shops, our little grocery stores, and microbreweries? Will they help us?

Help sometimes comes from unexpected places.

After I begged out of the McMillions documentary about the McDonald’s Monopoly fraud, the Vulcan dug out the episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood from our VHR, when Mr. Rogers goes to visit concert pianist André Watt. I was amazed by how much time was devoted to Watt simply playing–making glorious and masterful music–far longer than I would expect even my middle or high schools to listen to music with no agenda but to listen.

And how glad I was that this was Fred Rogers’ expectation for his young audience in 1987, because in 2020, grown-up Emily needed to be wrapped in the warm, comforting blanket of a Chopin étude, a Schubert prelude, and a little piece by Franz Liszt called In a Dream, all in the hands of a master for whom every note is laced with emotion and beauty. It lifted my heart.

In a world that has so much that is not, beauty matters. Music matters. Pausing and breathing it in matters, because it brings hope. I believe God created it to touch us in the deep reaches of the soul that nothing else can touch. Which is why beauty still matters. Music matters. Hope matters.

Happy Music Monday.

See you tomorrow!


Life generally...

things to do (other than disinfect the world)

This is it! My giant list of things to do that don’t include trying to a.) construct some sort of Marie Antoinette-style skirt to keep other humans six feet away from me at all times; b.) figure out how to create an Eric Whitacre-style virtual choir (If you do not know what I am talking about, you need to watch it immediately, and don’t come back until it’s done); and/or c.) consume all the candy and bread currently in our house.

  1. Successfully bake a Victoria Sponge as an homage to my favorite show EVER, “The Great British Bake-Off.” (I have made several attempts previously–all total failures. Paul and Mary would be horrified.)
  2. Storyboard all the way through the novel currently referred to in my hard drive as “Kate”–a book I began 8 years ago, and made the mistake of letting people read before it was finished…
  3. Finish writing above manuscript
  4. Sew new cushion covers for my dad’s sailboat. Fabric has been sitting in my house for the past nine-ish months…oops…
  5. Memorize some of my favorite Psalms
  6. Get back into yoga, so I can do a tricep push-up without wanting to die.
  7. Make chalk. Write positive messages to my neighbors on our sidewalk.
  8. Pack a picnic lunch. Walk somewhere to eat it while appreciating social-distancing.
  9. Actually make my China years t-shirt quilt (I’ve been holding onto the t-shirt squares since I got back stateside seven years ago…?)
  10. Read Robert Frost
  11. Learn to make bagels
  12. Order prints of all the photos I like from the last (shameful wince) 11 months. Put them in our photo album.
  13. Memorize some Shakespeare sonnets (I don’t know which ones yet.)
  14. Read all the awesome books I checked out from our library before it closed.
  15. Write a thank you letter to the authors whose work I love to read.
  16. Learn Italian! Rosetta Stone and all those other programs were LITERALLY invented for this moment!
  17. Take time to do wood-shedding in the long list of arias I need to learn, so when I get to work with my (amazing) teacher again, we can work on the fine-tuning and music making.
  18. Write letters to the people who I love who are far away from me right now.
  19. Knit a project to get yarn out of my stash.
  20. Defeat the gnats in my house.
  21. Learn to bake cinnamon rolls.
  22. Write in this blog.
  23. Marie Kondo my closet–if I don’t want to wear a t-shirt after two months in my house, I never will.
  24. Sit on my front porch and read a book. Fresh air is good for everyone.
  25. Listen–really listen–to great pieces of music. I’m talking “put on the album, lay on the floor and let the music overwhelm you” kind of listen. (I was inspired by this L.A. Times article.) Titles on the list: Eroica, St. Matthew Passion, Brandenburg Concerti, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Mahler 2 (Resurrection), Sea Symphony, and literally ALL the Mozart. Probably Chopin and Debussy, too. I’ve never spent much time with Debussy. If I need a break from the classical world, I’ll move onto Broadway (Big Phish, Les Miserables, Jekyll and Hyde…) If you have suggestions, include them below! I’m always on the prowl for new music.
  26. Finish the paint-by-number I bought last summer.

It’s a start. I expect this list will grow and change with time (as do all things.) But what a grand opportunity we are given–so much time for focused attention to the “extras” which really are, at their core, the things that make us most human.

So make your own list. Use this time to do the things you love.

See you tomorrow!


Home Fry Friday · Pandemic

revelation: drink your dang water

So, yesterday was rough. It was gray and rainy–that kind of day when the sun never really rises, you just get stuck in an unending, dismal twilight. The Vulcan and I officially cancelled our planned vacation to Florida (which I think we both knew, but were holding on to that vain hope that maybe it would somehow be magically possible,) I struggled with the whole idea of having to spend my whole day in front of a screen, because this is what my job is now. (The Vulcan has a job where he sits at a computer every day. I now know I couldn’t do this and am so impressed he can manage it.)

I spent an unhealthy amount of time wandered back and forth in my house and felt directionless. I started a lot of different T.V. shows that I decided I didn’t want to watch after five minutes. I spent a lot of time stewing about people who don’t take all of this seriously thereby extending the amount of time I’m going to have to live like this. I ate a lot of jellybeans.

It wasn’t pretty.

Today is a new day, though. Yesterday showed me some things. I learned that taking care of myself looks different than it did two weeks ago. I know, I know, that’s a “Thanks for that, Captain Obvious,” moment, but I mean in small ways that apparently affect me more profoundly than previously reckoned. Let me give you some examples.

REVELATION 1: ADAPTING MY THE SCHEDULE TO WHAT NATURALLY SUITS ME. When I wake up, do my little morning routine, I’m full of vim and vigor for projecting and challenges. Ideas are abundant. I am hopeful and ready to try new things and adapting seems easy and exciting. At 8:00 am, I view COVID-19 as a challenge that I can help solve. I am motivated to contribute, do my part, and be resourceful. Doing projects, coming up with creative teaching strategies, making music, all of these are things I am ready to tackle. By mid- to late-afternoon, I fizzle. The problems seem bigger and more insurmountable, and I just want to curl up in a ball and wake up when it’s summer. So, I think for me, getting up and “doing the things” in the morning is the answer. In the afternoon, when I’m not as “uppity,” it’s a better time to sit in front of a screen, listen to student recordings, and write lesson plans. Being a music educator is basically being part pirate. I need to make the system work for me.

REVELATION 2: NEWSFLASH–SOCIAL MEDIA IS (STILL) A TOXIC PLACE TO LIVE. I need to avoid screens when I don’t NEED to be on them. In “regular times,” I am rarely on social media of any persuasion (except Pinterest. I loooove me some Pinterest.) But in the past week, Facebook and Twitter have being lifelines as my colleagues across the country and I grapple with teaching our kiddos from laptops, and my neighborhood community attempts to mobilize to help our local businesses and at risk neighbors. I have gotten great stuff this way, but, you guys, social media is depressing! Like, “I-don’t-know-how-so-many-of-you-do-this-all-the-time-on-purpose” depressing. Some folks are really petty and unnecessarily belittling, and the general news all over is doom and gloom. (Yes, I know we have a real reason for doom and gloom, but I can get that in 5 minutes. I don’t need to keep going and slide further down the spiral.) The problems feel bigger when you’re wandering Twitter or Facebook or Insta. Bigger and scarier and more overwhelming. I’ve got to go back to “former times,” and check myself here.

REVELATION 3: DRINK YOUR DANG WATER. Hear me out. When I am doing my job the “regular way,” I drink about a gallon of water a day. Since being homebound, I have been positively beside myself with all of the beverages I can have whenever I want to. A second pot of coffee? Why not? Perhaps tea? Sure! Maybe a late afternoon glass of wine for no reason? I’m not going anywhere, so what the hey! I have been drinking woefully small amounts of water. Water is really important to the body in all sorts of ways, and dehydration is actually a major cause of feelings of lethargy and generic “yuckiness.” It also helps keeps your lips from getting chapped. And it helps your body fight germ-y baddies. So why am I not doing this? GOOD QUESTION. I don’t know. Well, I do know, I’m like the kid the day after Halloween who has to get sick on candy before realizing maybe a turkey sandwich isn’t such a bad plan after all…

REVELATION 4: IT’S TIME TO GET CREATIVE WITH HOW WE DO EXERCISE, TEAM. In “normal times,” what does working out look like? Well, if you’re like me, it means you walk 12,000-15,000 steps helping educate the next generation, then you go to the gym to run three or four times a week. I am now in a world where everything I need is within approximately 50 steps of everything else I need. Gyms are closed. I can’t run outside because it’s raining. I have spent the past week wallowing in the fact that I can’t work out the regular way (because, you know, everything ELSE is totally unchanged.) But enough is enough! Yesterday, friend turned me on to a local yoga studio that is live streaming some classes for free. I pulled out my (very dusty) yoga mat this morning and “went to yoga class.” It kicked my butt! I am sweaty and my triceps are currently on fire, but I. FEEL. GREAT. I am so happy right now. It is great. I am going to go to class everyday, for sure! I would encourage you to do the same! Find your own “virtual class” and attend. Check the local businesses in your area–I bet many places are doing similar things!(But if you want to “join me,” you can find the schedule on Helium Hot Yoga’s page.)

REVELATION 5: SUPPORT A LOCAL BUSINESS ON HOME FRY FRIDAY! It IS Home Fry Friday, guys, I haven’t forgotten! As I’m sure many of you know, small, locally owned businesses are in real trouble in the light of this pandemic. I hurt for these businesses, because these are the people who are really part of our communities–they’re the ones who support local little league teams and pour their profits back into the places we love. Today, a local restaurant’s fish fry (if you guys are not for Wisconsin, it is hard to understand, but fish fry is a BIG. DEAL. HERE) is donating 50% of its profits to support their employees whose hours have been cut because of gathering restrictions. 50% even when I’m sure they are concerned about paying bills, too! These are the owners of our small businesses. They deserve our support! So, take a look around–make a list of places that have gone delivery–we have one that I stuck on our fridge courtesy of a Facebook post in my neighborhood group. If you have a salaried job and are not laid off yourself, consider ordering out once a week to support the places you love. Buy a gift card so they can use the money you put down now to pay the bills until life gets back to normal. Do what you can, even if it seems tiny or unimportant. If everyone does a little thing, it amounts to a big, huge thing. I know I’ll be venturing out to get a fish fry for lunch today.

Remember, a thing, no matter how imperfectly done, will also be better than doing nothing at all.

And drink your dang water, for Pete’s sake!

See you tomorrow!


Pandemic · Thankfulness Thursday

This is happening for real, you guys

So, this is happening, guys. We are currently on March 739, and this is happening. COVID-19 is dangerous, real, and here. We are living in a reality none of us imagined three weeks ago.

I am a teacher, and this time a million years ago, when the world was young and it was my birthday, (last week Wednesday) I was just about to hear one of my colleagues who is involved with tech for our district say, “I was just in a meeting about how our district can go to fully virtual learning. They think the Corona Virus thing might require us to shut down school.”

Like I said. A million years ago. LAST WEEK.

Fast forward from the 11th to the 19th of March. A LOT has happened. Schools are closed. All major sports shut down. Everyone learned what the phrase “social distancing” meant. We all discovered that grocery store employees, custodial staff, semi truck drivers, and anyone who delivers for Amazon are LITERALLY the most important people in America…and that no one cares about the newest iPhone when you have toilet paper concerns. I went from sightreading new repertoire with my choirs in our choir room to hatching a scheme to teach choral music while I sit at my dining room table with my computer.

It’s been a heck of a week. And it’s tough. I am now trying not to eat the universe out of boredom. I miss my students so much more than I thought I would after only one day of virtual learning. I am trying to come up with some sort of schedule so that I construct a new “normal” for the next (apparently) several months of my life, when the systems I’ve used for the past 36 years will not be allowed…

I have already learned stuff about myself. I now know that I am a person who likes to have structure if for no other reason that I enjoy flying in the face of it. I’ve also discovered I am apparently an extremely social person, which I didn’t ever realize before because I usually teach all day and by the time I ditch my teacher gear I’m human-ed out. I also have some gnats living in one of my potted plants and they are driving me INSANE.

SO. Where does this leave me? It leaves me needing to make structure and schedule for myself. Also to figure out how to kill gnats using what supplies are currently in my house.

I need to develop some sort of daily routine to follow. Right now, my routine is this: Get up. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Make coffee. Disinfect all flat surfaces, light switches, cabinet handles and door knobs. …That takes about twenty minutes, which leaves me about, oh, 14 hours or so to kick around in.

School helps. I will continue to teach my students and plan with my colleagues. But it doesn’t take the same amount time of my REAL job. There’s still a massive amount of free time in my life.

One thing I’m going to do is start a giant list of projects that I can tap into when I’m bored (It’s Day 3 of work-at-home social distancing and already I’m getting bored with Netflix, and if I keep comfort eating like this, I will be 400 pounds when this is all over. Giant list of projects it is. I will actually now COMPLETE the multiple projects that are sitting in corners all over my house!

I’m also going to rock my teacher need for nerdy alliterations and give myself a “goal” for each day. I can do projects that fit into this category, but also just things that make me happy. Here is my weekly schedule:

  • Music Monday: Yes. I know I’m a music educator so everyday is music day for me. But I want this to be really intentional music. Like–stream a concert. Record music to share.
  • How-To Tuesday: You know what makes me really grateful? Last year’s polar vortex. I spent the days locked in my house when it was -50+ learning how to make BREAD. I have this skill now, which means I don’t have to worry about trying to freeze loaves of WonderBread. All I need is flour and yeast! There are so many DIY skills that I can hone right now because, well, I’ll have to. Sewing, knitting, cookery, baking…Sharing the skill is real!
  • Writing Wednesday: Remember how I’m supposed to be finishing all these books I’m working on so my friends don’t come after me with pitchforks? I am officially out of excuses. I have huge chunks of time to actually get this done.
  • Thankfulness Thursday: Yeah, I know. It sounds corny, and there is a lot that’s not great about right now. But GUYS–there is so much good happening. So many people are stepping up to the plate and doing amazing and selfless things. It’s so easy to be weighted down with the negative. We cannot lose hope. We must celebrate the best things that make us human.
  • Home Fry Friday: My husband, the Vulcan, and I have been talking like this a lot this as things have been shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are fortunate to have salaried jobs, but we are trying to be really intentional about putting money into our local community to help the shops, restaurants, and businesses in our neighborhood weather this storm. Major chains will make it because they have cash reserves as big corporations do. Little businesses run on tight margins and closure is a real threat. I do not want this to happen. There are lots of little ways to help your home fries! (Plus, it means I get to say the phrase ‘home fry,’ which literally makes me giggle every. single. time.)

And I’m going to document it all here. Hopefully we will connect through this. We are all in the same boat now. We must weather these uncharted waters together. And since it’s Thankfulness Thursday, I am thankful for all that is good. My home. My extraordinary colleagues. My family. This computer that connects me to the world around me.

So stay safe. Be well. Wash your hands often, and be kind to those around you.

See you tomorrow!


Life generally...

A Little Bit is Better than Nothing

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I am not a naturally very disciplined person. I am a perfectionistic dreamer who has the ability to focus in on something to the exclusion of everything else until it is finished (or I lose interest, whichever comes first.) This is a great trait when you are 20 and in the middle of your undergrad, not so great when you are 35 with a career and a hubby at home…

I am trying to be better. This past summer, I discovered the FlyLady (she is marvelous, and you should check her out over at!) She is a wonderful woman who helps recovering perfectionists like myself declutter their lives and living spaces for the long haul. One of the things she says frequently in her writing is that you are NOT behind–just jump right in right now!

So, as 2020 is officially underway, I am trying to embrace this mentality. It is the “Even a little bit is better than none at all.” This is not an easy lesson for the recovering perfectionist–we thrive on the “It will be PERFECT, or I will not do it!” line of thought. This line of thought is also why I paid good money for a blog that I never used. It wouldn’t be perfect, so I just…didn’t.

But because a little bit is better than nothing, I’m trying! I am practicing voice twenty minutes, five days a week–because it is better than nothing. I am running four times a week, even if it’s just a little way–because it is better than nothing. I am doing ten minutes of cleaning in my house every day (Thanks, FlyLady!)–because it is better than nothing. And I am going to drop a blog entry into this site to keep track of my progress–because it is better than nothing.

2020 has officially become the Year of A Little is Better Than Nothing!

Join me! You can do it–because a little bit IS better than nothing!

Goals · Simplicity

bag cleaning

So, the Hubs and I are taking a vacation in a few days, and I snagged some great deal tickets. The caveat? No overhead-bin-sized carry-on. So that means we’re paying for one checked bag and splitting it. It also means I had to find something that could hold my computer, a notebook, novel, water bottle, and wallet, and still fit under the seat.

So, I did a little research (read: a three minute search of Google followed by a 90 second search on Amazon), and found a bag that fits the bill. It is immensely exciting to me, in part because it is a fabulous mustard color and can work as a backpack OR a handbag, and in part because I love that it can fit all the things I need so neatly. It requires me to edit where I may be inclined to go with the “Bring ALL The Things” strategy. And once I’ve gone through the trouble, I’m always happier for it. I guarantee I will not miss whatever I didn’t pack. And I will not hold up the TSA line trying to find my ID, which will make my fellow travelers grateful.

Bags are like life, I reckon. How often in life do we carry around extra things we might need? How often do we stuff things into because it might be helpful? If there is one thing I am learning, it is this: If you don’t fiercely edit your life, you will find it has turned into your overstuffed carry-on–crammed with old receipts you can’t read, bandages without the wrappers, empty lipstick tubes, a pulverized package of fruit snacks, and a vintage edition of Scrabble (because that sounded like a good idea at two in the morning…)

I am challenging myself to prune down the bag of my expectations and commitments so that I am free to do the things I want to do and be fully present with the people I love. I find myself asking…

Am I holding on to my (usually bad) past? This is not strongly me, but I have known so many amazing people who are trapped by this that I can’t not say it. We are not life experts, and yes, sometimes we do stupid stuff. Sometimes, we do really stupid stuff. But me lamenting my old stupid stuff is not helping me move past my stupid stuff. My obsession with how awful it is/was is chaining me to my stupid stuff. Let it go. Seek forgiveness if you need to seek it. Acknowledge it happened with yourself. Forgive yourself. Commit to being better. Change what you can change, then turn your eyes to the eastern horizon!

Am I filling my life too full of good things? Hear me out on this one before you freak out and close this tab. There are lots of glorious things to do in the world. Things that are genuinely wonderful and do enormous good. Now listen to these next words very carefully: YOU CANNOT DO ALL OF THEM. You do not have all the gifts. You do not have all the resources (of money or time.) Last time I checked, I wasn’t Jesus. It is not my job to save the world. It is my job to find the little corner of the world where I CAN help and do some good and do it well. Saying no to something is not a crime.

Do I get to the end of my day and realize I literally cannot remember a single thing I did, person I talked to, or event that happened? I get it. Life happens. We all have seasons where life is frantic and frazzled. This month has been like this for me. However, as a general rule, I am a big believer in quality over quantity. Do a little less. Invest a little more time/effort in a few fewer things so you can really experience and enjoy them. I am working really hard of this one right now and I really think it makes a difference!

Have you ever “cleaned out your bag?” Do you have any tricks or tips that have helped you? If you haven’t, you CAN! I believe in you–just take a baby-step!


a single step

BY nature, I fall into the “highly creative and equally disorganized” category. I was the child who was never reading any fewer than five books at a time–allowing me to leave a book in all my usual ports of call and thereby never be caught without. This trait has followed me into adulthood. Left to my own devices, I would happily exist in a spinning vortex of dozens of craft projects, novels, and recipes at various stages of “done-ness,” awaiting me to return to them at my leisure.

This is not a trait that is smiled upon in modern American culture. And so, to combat this societal expectation (and to make sure I remember to do things like make dinner and drink enough water), I have become a huge fan of the list. I have lived most of my adult life followed by a trail of little Post-It notes and scraps of paper to keep me from forgetting important things (like when it’s time to pay the electric bill and what I need to pack for vacation.) My lists get the job done, but they don’t exactly embrace the streamlined simplicity I aspire to (being a big one for lists makes me, by proxy, a big fan of goals.)

And then, I discovered the Mountain Journal.

The Mountain Journal, which came to me via my friend’s husband who has been doing them for years (because he’s one of those people who likes math and numbers and other scary things like that…), is designed to break down the big goals that all of us have (Example: I want to lose twenty pounds) into smaller steps (I am going watch what I eat this week) and even smaller steps (I am not going to snack after dinner today), with the idea that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Thanks, Lao Tzu, for that little spark of genius.)

After a few stuttering starts, I started using this Mountain Journal, and let me tell you, this little baby is the best thing…possibly ever. I am a big picture dreamer, which enables me to imagine great, sweeping changes in my life, my classroom, my everything. I struggle with breaking these giant goals into things that I can accomplish today. My Mountain Journal lets me harness my sweeping War and Peace-style dreams into actual writing-paragraph-and-sentence-accomplishments. And then I can see my progress. The little to-do boxes get checked off, and once a week I get to reflect on how things went last week, what I’m thankful for, and what my goals are for next week.

It. Is. Amazing. And you know what? It actually works! The fact I’m writing this post is proof of it! For the past 18 months, I kept thinking, “You know, I really should start my blog up again.” But it never happened. But then I made writing more one of my New Year’s Resolutions. I broke it down in my Mountain Journal to actually writing a first draft of a novel this year and restarting my blog. So then I saved up and bought a new (working!) computer. Then I reworked my blog format. Then I wrote a post. And here I am.

To, for all my fellow big picture folks out there, don’t be disheartened! That big goal you’ve been dreaming CAN be accomplished. But you have to start the road with a little baby goal. You can do it! Take a single step!

Do you have mountains you’ve scaled with baby steps? I would love to hear about your inspirations!


Simplicity and Kindness

So…let’s just say it’s been a while and leave it at that.  Short version, I took two years off from “Life as Usual” to meet a guy, fall in love, plan a wedding, get married, and get used to living with someone who literally never goes away and with whom you do not share any DNA which requires you to care about them. So, yeah…2018 was kind of a busy year for me.

2019 as a year has also started off with a lot of changes, but different than last year. Last year was full of changes because, well, God and life happened. I was just sort of along for the ride. But this year has been full of changes because I decided to make them.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions as a general rule. In part, because I’m a teacher–my “new year” starts in September every year, and by the time January rolls around, whatever I’ve done, good or bad, I’m committed until June.  But recently I’ve been getting on the bandwagon of making sure I’m taking care of myself (physically, spiritually, emotionally) so that I can do all the things, all the jobs and roles I have in life–teacher, daughter, wife (wow, that still is weird to write!), Christian, friend.

So, this year, for the first time every in my entire life, I sat down in the first week of January and made New Year’s Resolutions.  And as I read back over them, I realized that most of my resolutions centered around two things: simplifying and kindness. Start using non-toxic cleaning products. Prioritize my quiet time. Be polite and helpful even when other people aren’t. Stay away from artificial dyes and ingredients. Reach out to friends who are hard to get a hold of.

And over two months in, I can tell you, that they go together a great deal more than I would have ever guessed! Do all of these “simplifying” things has left me with the emotional time and energy to be kind. I am willing to help because I don’t deeply resent this further drain on my resources.  It’s crazy!

So, as I finally come back to this blog after…hm…a bit, that is my goal. To document this process and journey (and some of the neat-o stuff I learn and do along the way!) Because life is too precious to waste in the swamplands of cluttered existence.  In all its ways.

Are you on this journey, too? Do you have any great insights or dreams for a life like this? I would love to hear about them below in the comments!

Life generally...

Packing list for a writer’s weekend

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be washing the last of my dishes, packing up my battered purple carry-on, and heading off into the wild blue yonder for a spring break “gift to me,” a three-day “write-in” retreat.  I’ve rented a cute little cottage with a comfy bed, a fireplace, a little kitchen, and a table that looks out of a big bay window.  (In case you don’t follow the line of thought here, this will be my writing command center for the weekend.)

I cannot wait.  Writing is something I really enjoy, but unlike music (a passion as fundamental to my spirit as breathing,) it is something that often gets put on the back-burner.  Other things–laundry, errands, rehearsal, friends, exhaustion–take precedent over my fictional endeavors.  So those rare times I manage to carve out a few hours to work, I spend the time daydreaming, or paying bills, or whatever.

But not this weekend! I’m going to a place where mobile reception is spotty at best, and there is no one I know for several hundred miles, armed with several projects at different stages and a determination to make progress in something. 

So, because really I am thinking about this, and my mind is a thousand miles from this blog tonight, I thought I’d take you through a little “greatest hits” version of my packing list–it really embodies the essence of what I hope this weekend to be.

  1. Slummy clothes.  I am taking nothing but leggings and old sweatshirts and oversized, old sweaters.  It is all the essence of comfort.  I aspire to change from pajamas into (essentially) other pajamas.
  2. Fuzzy socks.  As I have very few plans to venture into the cruel outside world (save maybe a walk to get the creative juices going, as it were,) socks that are basically slippers are a must.  My poor feet suffer through “work shoes” for most of their existence.  They will be free for these next few days!
  3. My computer.  Obviously.  I have this rocking writer’s program called Scrivener.  If you are a writer and you have not downloaded it, DO IT NOW.  It is such a slick program. It is worth every penny of the $40 or whatever I paid for it!
  4. Pink pocket notebook with gold embossed “Awesome Ideas” on the cover.  This may seem a bit more out there, but I subscribe strongly to pen-and-ink lists.  This little baby has got the running record of different writing projects I can work on if I get frustrated with what I’m on.  Sick of trying to get through that one dialogue? Do a plot map of that new idea!  Totally over trying to think yourself out of that corner you wrote yourself into?  Brainstorm landscapes for that fantasy you’ve been “meaning to get back to!” And so on.  You get the idea.
  5. “The Writer’s Journey,” by Christopher Vogler.  This book was recommended to me by a great writer, and it is the single best thing I have read about how to structure fiction writing.  It is genius.  I love it.  I need it to reference.
  6. Other reading. And by that, I mean real reading.  During the school year, I read, but it’s largely the kind of fluff one reads on a plane when you don’t really have to focus. I want to read other authors who really knew how to write–to inspire and feed the writer’s soul.  There’s no place better to learn than at the foot of the masters.
  7. Walking shoes (and I guess I’d include my puffy vest here, too).  Sometimes, you just need to take a good walk and let yourself think without distraction. (Isn’t that an odd thought?)
  8. Coffee.  Do I even need to explain this one?
  9. A heart that’s ready to write.  This has not been me for ten months, but it is finally me now.  I am hungry to write.  I am hungry to start trying to get things down on paper (er…on the screen?) I want to be creative in the way that writing so uniquely is.

I am so ready for this! I can’t wait to get there and get started and get frustrated and get over it! There is no way to write a novel, I have heard, except to make yourself write.  Well, chalk that one up for me, anyway!