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First Quarter Check-In

March 25, 2022

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

I hate to break it to you, but 2022 is one quarter of the way done…or it will be next week.

Time seems to have picked up its pace, racing forward with no regard to my readiness for it to be the end of March and Almost Summer (in Florida we have two seasons: Summer and Almost Summer). While I’m a little surprised to find myself teetering on the verge of April, the first three months of the year haven’t been all bad, despite bouts of depression and continued horror around the world. This year, I’m going to try something new: reviewing both my word of the year and my goals every quarter. Previously, I’ve been much more haphazard about the review process.

The year so far

I’ve taken to heart what I mentioned in “First Thoughts for 2022”: “I want a year of ease and serendipity and settling into the spaces of my life in a way that feels organic instead of molded to fit arbitrary goals I set for myself.” I’ve continued to concentrate on my word of the year, simpler. Since I didn’t set a big bunch of goals at the beginning of the year, I don’t feel bad about not having a long list of shiny accomplishments checked off.

The thing I’ve noticed most is that so far this year, I have been operating more slowly and mindfully. I catch myself rushing, and slow down. I single task more often. I’m becoming more realistic about what I can accomplish in a day. This is a valuable mindset shift that’s starting to feel more natural. 

A few noteworthy accomplishments:

  • Continued to add slips of paper to my Happiness Jar.
  • Read two books related to my exploration of simpler (The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta and Do Less, by Kate Northrup). Next up, Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport.
  • Moved Tank to new accommodations. My entire boarding barn relocated to a new, larger property this week. A huge undertaking for the owner, and a bit of upheaval in my settled routine, but the property is great and it will be a positive move. (Tank is happy, so I’m happy.)
  • Continued taking a couple of online courses, one personal and one related to blogging.

Coming attractions

During the next three months, I plan to continue to take small steps toward reenergizing my writing. I’m going to start planning a trip to California to see family. And I’ll continue some cleaning and organizing projects around my house.

I’m also preparing to take an internet break in April (inspired by David from Raptitude, who wrote about taking an internet break here, and about how it went hereI’ll write more about this when I’m just about to do it).

I’m far too tied to my devices—laptop, tablet, phone. A couple of weeks ago, my (newish) laptop’s internal fan died, and I had to use my old (slow and glitchy) laptop to complete some work until we could fix the new one. I couldn’t go even one day without a computer. It’s true that most of my work uses a computer, whether for research, connection, or actual writing, but I also read quite a few blogs and listen to a couple of podcasts on a semi-regular basis. I’ve been scrolling Instagram nightly after dinner while we’re watching something mindless on TV. I try to maintain one day a week where I don’t go to the computer, but I don’t always manage that. I find that when I have a few minutes, I jump online to “catch up” on blog reading or emails. There are other better ways to spend time.

As I continue to learn what simpler means to me, I feel that it’s about “less, but better.” About going deeper into things that matter rather than trying to do or be All the Things. About slowing down enough to feel content. So far, I’m pleased with my word of the year choice, and after some rough days, I’m feeling slightly more positive overall. Baby steps, one day at a time. Learning to live with hard things and still function. I’m looking forward to the second quarter of 2022. 

How is your year progressing so far? Any surprises? 

Austin Kleon

The Only Way to Keep Going

March 18, 2022

But Men Must Work and Women Must Weep, 1883 by Walter Langley, 
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

“‘Art is the highest form of hope,’ said painter Gerhard Richter. But hope is not about knowing how things will turn out—it is moving forward in the face of uncertainty. It’s a way of dealing with uncertainty. ‘Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable,’ writes Rebecca Solnit. To have hope, you must acknowledge that you don’t know everything and you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the only way to keep going and the only way to keep making art: to be open to possibility and allow yourself to be changed.” 

—Austin Kleon, Keep Going


Six Simple Pleasures for a Spring Happiness Refresh

March 11, 2022

Photo by Justin Ha on Unsplash

Even though I love winter in Florida (so much less sweating!), right about now I need a refresh. My routines have become ruts. I’m caught up in reading bad news and forgetting how fortunate I am. I don’t want to fail to enjoy or appreciate what I have, and I want to gently encourage myself to move forward on my personal and professional goals. If you feel the same way, maybe you need a spring refresh, too! 

Since my word of the year is simpler, I’m starting small and not adding a lot of unnecessary complexity. I’ve chosen these six simple pleasures to embrace spring: 

  • Growing a mini herb garden

Despite (ahem) mixed success with gardening, hope springs eternal. I love having fresh herbs available when I cook, and they are less work to grow than vegetables. M-a-y-b-e I can keep them alive through our brutal summer? Right now, I have basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Unfortunately, my lavender plant recently died a quick and puzzling death. I may call this good, or I may add one or two additional herbs, depending on how these fare.

  • Keeping fresh flowers on the kitchen table

This is a continuation of something I’ve been doing for a while, but it brings me so much joy every day that it’s worth mentioning. (The only downside is keeping my cat from pulling on the flowers and knocking over the whole shebang, sending a waterfall onto the floor!)

  • Investing in new pots and pans

My current set was given to us as a wedding present more than 30 years ago. I cook dinner most nights, so my pans get used a lot. I won’t tell you how long it took me to decide on a set, but I finally did! I haven’t actually used them yet—they’re sitting on the kitchen table until I clear out the old ones—but I’m looking forward to trying them out.

  • Lighting a candle (rather than cursing the darkness)

Even though the days are getting longer, I still get up while it’s dark because my husband goes to work so early. I don’t like it. So I try to make the early mornings as pleasant as possible. I enjoyed the calm I felt while reading by the Christmas tree in December, so I’ve tried to recreate that feeling by lighting a scented candle and keeping the lamplight low while I do my morning reading and journaling. It feels like being held in a little circle of peace.

  • Following a schedule

Over the past couple of pandemic years, my already loose schedule went completely to pieces. I felt like I was either always working, or always wasting time. I’m experimenting with putting myself on a schedule with set work hours, an actual lunch break, and weekends off. I need a way to work with reduced distraction while at the same time keep work from bleeding into all waking hours. My goal is to reduce the number of decisions I make about my time, while still retaining some flexibility. Right now, a schedule feels like a safe place, and a way focus on what I can do instead of on all the things I can’t.

  • Wearing perfume

My friend and walking buddy, Barb, inspired me to stop saving my perfume for “someday.” During our walks, we often share our efforts to declutter and organize our spaces, and one thing that comes up is things that we’ve been saving for special occasions. Perhaps you’ve noticed we’ve had very few special occasions in the past two and a half years? We both have multiple perfumes and scented lotions cluttering up our bathrooms. I’ve started putting on perfume almost every day, even if I’m not leaving the house. Just because it gives me pleasure.

Are you ready for your own spring refresh?

Refreshing your life doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or require huge changes. If you’re not sure where to start, think about what would be pleasing to your senses. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches will refresh your spirit and boost your mood? Perhaps you could start listening to music while you cook or do other household chores (also on my list to try!), eat at a new-to-you restaurant (or buy takeout), experiment with diffusing essential oils, set up a reading nook with an extra fluffy throw, or refresh your home or office by buying some spring-ish decor (or even just rearranging what you already have). Remember, you don’t have to make major changes to see real benefits…unless you want to!

Just writing about these things is boosting my mood! This weekend I’m going to see what other spring refresh-ments I can think of.

How about you? What are your favorite ways to refresh your life in spring? Do share in the comments!

For more ideas for bringing spring joy into your life, check out these resources (no affiliation):

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee (Amazon, Bookshop). I wrote a blog post about this book here.

Aesthetics of Joy website (by the author of Joyful)

Hill House Living, Paula Sutton (Amazon, Bookshop).

Alexandra Stoddard’s writings, particularly Living a Beautiful Life (Amazon, Bookshop) and Creating a Beautiful Home (Amazon, Bookshop).


Overcoming Overthinking

March 04, 2022

Photo by Sensei Minimal on Unsplash

Lately I’ve noticed a worrying trend in myself—my tendency to overthink things has gone into overdrive. Around 2 a.m., my eyes pop open and my mind takes off. My thoughts run in circles, replay the time I was brusque with my mother-in-law, or dash ahead looking for things to fret about.

Query: why do I never wake up at 2 a.m. to replay something delightful that happened? Or to think about something I’m looking forward to?

Hello, my name is Kathy and I’m an overthinker

Before I continue, I want to clarify that there are several types of overthinking—some more serious than others. What I’m speaking about here is a generalized pattern of negative or repetitive thoughts as well as a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over making a decision. For me, it looks like falling into a spiral of replaying mistakes and of worry about the future, especially when I’m tired. Small decisions loom large and little challenges feel overwhelming. Sometimes I can’t go to sleep, or I wake in the middle of the night as described above.  From what I hear from my friends, I’m not alone.

It's certainly not bad to think. But as our world continues to offer us tragedy and suffering on an unimaginable scale, our (my) thinking can become overthinking. And overthinking isn’t good for us. Jenny Maenpaa wrote, “Overthinking is an anxious tendency that I encounter in my psychotherapy practice. There are many ways we tend to overthink, such as rehashing the past—replaying the same scenario over and over in our head. Worrying is another form, in which we obsess over what the future might bring…. Research has shown that overthinking can decrease energy, limit creativity and cause sleeping problems.”

(Click on the first link below for three excellent exercises she uses to reduce overthinking.)

Thinking too much can cause overwhelm, keep us from making decisions, and drain the joy from life.

 Practices for coping with overthinking

Here are four practices that have helped me. Maybe they’ll help you, too:

Letting go of perfectionism (or trying to). As Anne Bogel notes in Don’t Overthink It, right doesn’t equal perfect. When I start to get wound up about the possibility that I didn’t make the absolute perfect choice of new cookware to replace my decrepit pots and pans at the absolute best price, I remember that I did my research, thought about the purchase, and made a reasoned choice. That’s good enough. I don’t need to obsess about it.

Postponing the thoughts. I don’t know why my brain thinks 2 a.m. is the ideal time to trot out every concern, little or large, that has been on my mind—but it does. I’ve started simply saying, “I’ll think about this in the morning. Right now, I need to rest.”

Distracting myself. In the middle of the night, I make mental lists: alphabetical book or movie titles, foods, and so on. During the day, I play a game, read, watch a video or TV show, or play with Luna. Anything that will give my busy brain something else to ponder.

Repeating affirmations. Before bed lately I’ve been turning to Morgan Harper Nichols’ “Phrases to repeat to yourself late at night,” which I found on Instagram:

I am loosening my shoulders.
I am relaxing my jaw.
I am taking a moment to stretch.
I am taking deep breaths.
I am looking forward to rest.
I am releasing worry.
I am letting go.
I am trusting in the process.
I am ready to dream a beautiful dream.
I am practicing peace.

During daylight hours, if I need to reach for encouraging words, I read through a few of the 3 x 5 cards with inspirational quotes I’ve gathered over the years.

Overthinking divorces us from simple pleasures. It doesn’t help us make better decisions or be kinder to others. All it does is exhaust and overwhelm us. The world itself is exhausting enough without our own thoughts becoming a source of anxiety. I hope these practices will help you as they’ve been helping me. 

Do you have any practices you use to calm your thoughts? Please share in the comments!

For more information:

“A psychotherapist shares the 3 exercises she uses every day ‘to stop overthinking’”

Dropping the Rope: The Power of Letting Go

Life Lessons From the Barn—Relax Your Mind

Don’t Overthink It, Anne Bogel (Amazon, Bookshop)

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts, Martin N. Seif, Sally M. Winston (Amazon, Bookshop)