Sunday, December 21, 2014

When All Is Not Calm, When All Is Not Bright

The house is messy.  Piles everywhere, items that have no permanent home: wrapping paper, Christmas cards that should already be sent out, suitcases that, in my idealistic plan of a few weeks ago, should already be filling up with swimsuits and warm weather clothes that I'm digging out of the basement in free moments.

Free moments.

I have huge stacks of books that I wanted to wrap for my students, because just arranging books as gifts for them was not enough.  I have rotting bananas that I promised myself would become banana bread for coworkers and neighbors.  I am trying to honor Ben's birthday, a family Christmas, a Florida Christmas, and stay on top of all the normal stuff like work, exercise, an ever-shrinking social life, writing, reading, and constantly being better.  I'm trying to get it right, and getting annoyed with myself when I fail.

There is nothing new about this list of seasonal "failures." I cannot blame it on having children or working full time or any life circumstance- I would follow this pattern no matter what was happening in my day-to-day. Every single person has felt this way, and 90% of it is brought on by myself.  I set up my own expectations.  I put off my own success.  I tell myself, angrily, hissing under my breath, "Next year, you'll start in July.  You won't be so lazy and unrealistic.  You'll be done before November, your cards addressed for December 1st, and you'll never be scrambling the weekend before Christmas again.

Instead of letting myself get caught up in all this stress, I'm trying to remember that it doesn't matter.  It really doesn't.  It will all be over in a blink, anyway.  Wrap, unwrap, Christmas movie, hot chocolate, drive, fly, visit, love, and then we'll be on the other side of it, slightly out of breath, moving into a season of abstinence and optimism, telling each other in work hallways and banks and the check out line, "It went so fast this year!"

Every year.

I won't condescend.  It's impossible to escape the busy of this season, and it's lovely when it clicks and you're watching The Muppet Christmas Carol for the 13th time and tree lights are on and you're digging into one of the gingerbread cookies you decorated while your kids drank frosting like energy gel during a marathon.  There's also the sweet sadness of crying with your husband after wrapping gifts in two different colors of wrapping paper (Santa and Other), picking tape off the soles of your feet while Harry Bailey toasts "To my big brother George, the richest man in town."  I hope you can find something about this riot that you can love, and try not to let the rest of the noise ruin the good parts.  This was the reminder I needed to write to myself today.

After the storm,  when we're lugging bags of cardboard and ribbons to the curb and eating one last cookie, I swear, I encourage you to take a second to think about 2014 as a whole.  Go back through your Facebook statuses, your journals, the picture files on your phone, the box where you keep your ticket stubs and postcards.  Think about what worked.  What were you proud of?  What do you want to do again in 2015?  What do you want to change?  Christmas is like a huge send off for a 12-month year, but sometimes it takes up so much mind space that we stumble into the next one swearing to lose weight and save money as a knee jerk reaction to treats and presents.  There is more to you than what you did in December.

Let's sum it up: Christmas is busy and crazy for most people.  You're not alone.  Enjoy what you can and don't beat yourself up.  Watch The Muppet Christmas Carol.  When it's all over, take some time to look at your entire year.  Make sure to celebrate at least one thing you're proud of.  Talk yourself up, brag about the wonderful being that you are.  If you feel the need to plan for 2015, do it by taking into account all that you've done in the previous year.  Do not sell yourself short. Do not sell yourself short.

This ends my ranty December PSA for the weary and stress-inclined.  I hope that you have some love to be thankful for and some love to give away.  I hope you're ready to enter 2015 bad ass and beautiful.  I hope we all keep finding the courage to be our own lady. Happy everything.

Some more in this vein: A reflection sheet from Tsh Oxenrider (I used it last year) and a post I wrote last December about self care in this crazy season.  Be well, lovelies! XOXO

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Coffee and Blogs No. 15

I'm strong-arming my way back into my old routines and getting into the Christmas spirit. Wrapping presents with Ben while we watched It's A Wonderful Life helped.  Putting these links together felt right.  Slow steps into an ever-changing world, folks.  Here's some good reads from the past month or so.

Read this very beautiful blessing which expands from the literal meaning of "healer of the Earth" onward.  I'd think "healer of the city" is a noble goal.

Now read this very hilarious take on the self-help articles that I consume like candy and often leave me with a shame hangover.  I can get behind this advice. "Dance because you’re drunk at a big dance party with your friends and Michael Jackson is playing, not because ‘no one is watching.’ Everyone is watching. We’re at a fucking party. That’s how parties work."

Sketch comedy is having a moment in my heart right now.  I absolutely adore Key and Peele, and The Kroll Show is endlessly quotable, which means I can text Ben insane lines in the middle of the day and we can spar back and forth until someone laughs out loud at work.  The Kroll Show is ending after this season, so I need to find a new way to connect with my husband.

Important information about WHAT THAT EMOJI MEANS!

I'm a little disappointed in myself that I wasn't more proactive about putting together a gift guide or two- I always look forward to them!  Here is a little book guide from the lovely gal behind Smart, Pretty, and Awkward.  I'm looking for Amy Poehler's book under the tree.

Molly's blog Hey Eleanor, a record of attempting scary things, is fun and fresh.  Her latest undertaking?  Quitting beer.  Really interesting read about evaluating your relationship with alcohol when you're not an alcoholic. "So if I typically don't like being buzzed and I don't want to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, and overdoing it makes me feel like crap physically and mentally, why am I even drinking at all?"

Am I super late to this party?  I saw this video completely by chance and adore it- I think Mary Lambert is gorgeous and this song might be my new anthem.  I looked her up and this article gave me a little more info- I like this chick.

The NaNoWriMo blog posted some tips about how to beat the post-November blues, and I was relieved that I'm not the only one struggling.  I'm going to steal the idea of writing a favorite passage somewhere and putting it up for inspiration.

Getting pumped to pick a new calendar?  ME TOO!  These are free.

A powerful teacher friend of mine wrote about the discussions in her high school classroom in the days following the grand jury verdicts regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  The discussion was thoughtful and connected to relevant texts and I hope my kids learn from teachers like her.  "I told them that none of us were present during the incidents and so no one really knows. I then had a student with a very concerned tone of voice ask me, 'Why does this keep happening?'"

On a related note, another educator I love shared this article about what white children need to know about race.  It's wordy and important and should probably be printed out and read with a highlighter and pen to take notes.  I care so much about how gender equality is handled in my home and in my classroom, and I want racial equality to be as important a conversation, but I have no idea how to start.

Mara Glatzel is holding a retreat on the winter solstice- it's online and reasonably priced and it helps you work through your intentions for the coming year.  She specifically promises "no bullshit resolutions," which I like.

I did whip up a tiny wishlist of things I would love to have.  I left off books because my book list is as long as my arm right now, but these pretties are quite intriguing.  The tea towels would remind me of my Grandma, and  I'm especially on the hunt for a good bag that can be everything from a plane carry on to a work bag.  Here are the details: phone case, sweater, tea towels, backpack.

That's what I've got right now.  What do you want for Christmas?  Any recommendations for picture books about children who aren't white? Let me know what you're loving.  I'm loving you.

(image credit here, text added by me)

Friday, December 12, 2014


I feel like I'm starting another post by apologizing, and I don't want to do that.  Let's just say, I note my unusually long absence, and I can't put my finger on exactly why.  Getting up and writing here used to be one of my favorite things to do- something I looked forward to.  I fought to buy the time to spend putting together posts.  It was this huge, exciting privilege.  And in November, I fell out of the habit.

In all parts of my life, I'm feeling a little disconnected right now.  I keep using the word "floating" to describe the weird feeling, even though I'm very lucid and not exactly having trouble concentrating.  I'm just untethered. I feel like I have no time to do all of the things I need to do (original, I know) and at the same time, I'm a little bored.  I don't exactly feel Christmasy, but I'm not feeling hectic or annoyed.  It's a gentle funk.

I think it's because all of last month, I had one very clear, very measurable, very large goal.  It was the thing that I was doing, and I arranged the rest of my life neatly to make space for fifty thousand words.  Without that goal, I'm unmoored.  There is time for everything, so I'm doing nothing.  I want to pick at my story, I want to read other people's work, I want to make gift guides and plan out my attack of my birthday list.  I'm not even digging in that deep into the typical chores of this season.

Another thing I'm realizing is I just finished nine long novels by the same author in about a month and a week.  I loved the world she created and I loved always having another book, another chance to find out what would happen.  There are two different series within this world, and they crisscross, and I'm already rereading the one story where they overlap the most to try and make new connections, but in all honesty, I need something new to read.  I hadn't been so hungry for books in a long time, and I definitely redefined my priorities to disappear into an imaginary world more often.  It was wonderful, but it's different.

I'm liking who I am when reading and writing take up most of my free time, but I need some balance.  December is one of my favorite months- I love year-end reflections and imagining what I want the next 12 months to bring.  I'm hoping I can shake this case of the blues and get back into a routine that makes me proud.  

What do you do to break a funk?  Any book recommendations?  I need all the help I can get.  Love you all!

Monday, December 1, 2014

On the Other Side of November

I missed you.

I didn't know exactly what November would look like.  It's a full month, anyway, and I had this challenge I wanted to try.  It's even on my birthday list: 3. Participate in National Novel Writing Month.  I participated.

I referenced it a few times, but NaNoWriMo totally took over my life.  I did less chores, spent WAY less time watching TV (and consequently had to be more deliberate about spending time with my husband), did minimal blog reading & writing, and generally lived in my story world.  By the end of the month, even my three-year-old knew the drill.  "You going to work on your writing?"  He put a little chair and a cordless keyboard in the office next to me, and we worked together.

There were huge pros and minimal cons that came from a month of needing to write an average of 1667 words a day.  Next year, I will have some posts lined up so the blog doesn't go completely silent for a month.  I will also make sure that all Thank You cards from October birthdays are squared away well in advance...not that a stack of them are still sitting in a lonely pile in the office...never.  I also drank a ton of beer and coffee while sitting at my desk- next year, more water and chopped up fruit, less cookies and candy cane Hershey's kisses.

But I loved working on my story, hunting down weird names for characters, writing scenes just to get them out of my system, picking a word that means 'glare' but isn't 'glare' because I've already said 'glare' four times.  Ben, is great at dialogue and plot from his years of screenwriting, and he took such a flattering interest in the story, helping me hammer out tricky parts and talking me through big ideas.  I made some playlists of sad, mournful, pretty music (Ingrid Michaelson's Ghost featured prominently) to listen to while I created a spookyish world.  I had a freaking blast.

Most days I would get a chunk of writing done in the hour from 5:15-6:15 am, but this time was also eaten up by making coffee and eating breakfast and checking Facebook.  If any kids woke up while I was on a roll, I would lose steam.  I'd come back to writing around 8:30 pm or so, after I went to the gym for a half hour of reading time speed walking on the treadmill.  The website stats say my average was 1,672 words a day, but there would be days where I'd only get a few hundred, or even nothing at all, and then return on a weekend morning or holiday and pound out 3K-5K in one sitting.  On Sunday, November 30th, I woke up at 4 am and started clicking, with plans to stay planted all day.  Around 11:30 am, 4,567 words later, I validated my chunk of text and "won" National Novel Writing Month.

My story isn't finished.  I have about 2/3 of the action down, but I don't write in order, so I need to fill in some gaps.  It's also ROUGH.  One of the hardest things about NaNoWriMo is training yourself to leave it all on the paper, but that means you have to go back later and clean it up, and I need to seriously tweak most of what I wrote.  I'm stepping back from the whole thing in the month of December, but when I come back to it, I'm going to clean up one chapter at a time and I'd like to share it here.  Fiction Fridays, maybe?

Yesterday afternoon, I laid in the living room and read a novel by the light of the Christmas tree while Ben and the boys watched the Polar Express and did gymnastics on the couch cushions- no trying to squeeze 200 words in while the boys were occupied. This morning I woke up, made coffee, and browsed through some of the blogs I've been ignoring for a month- no pulling up my document and forcing myself not to waste time rereading my last chapter.  Tonight, at the gym, I am going to do the weight machines circuit that I really love.  There will be time to read when I get home.

Thank you so much to all you lovelies who have been cheering me on (or even just patiently tolerating my droning about this- I hear your words) for the past month.  It helped me give myself permission to take this silly challenge seriously, and I am grateful.

An excerpt from the beginning of my story, tentatively titled The Family Historian, can be found here.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

NaNoWriMo Is Eating My Soul and I Like It.

As I predicted, almost all of my time has been consumed with working on NaNoWriMo.  On one hand, it's a little crippling, because I've adjusted almost every part of my life to make this work: I've stopped running or doing a circut at the gym, because while I'm on the elliptical is my only chance to read.  I've stalled halfway through a big stack of adorable thank you cards I made after Milo's birthday.  We picked out a new dresser from Salvation Army a week ago, and I still have baskets of laundry surrounding empty furniture.  I think about reading and writing all the time.

Still, I'm loving this.  A big part of what makes it so exciting for me is how interested Ben is in the project, and how much he encourages me.  We were out to do some Christmas shopping and errands together last week, kid free, and we talked about my plot and characters and he gave me a tip that changed the structure of the story to something I felt much more comfortable bringing to life.  I remember sneaking his printed screenplays into class to reading during lectures in college and being so impressed with him.  I've always admired his writing style, especially his dialogue, so having him compliment me and talk about my story with true interest is super flattering.

I was thinking about how I'd like to do this every November from here on out (unless it gets torturous and painful near the end and I change my mind completely) and how lovely it is to add another tradition to month that's already full of it.  I'm into Thanksgiving.  My family doesn't travel, my sister always comes Black Friday shopping with me, and we get a tree that weekend.  But I also love some of the lower-profile happenings.  Small Business Saturday is a huge push for some of the holiday-season cash flow to get rerouted into smaller businesses in your community, and I love hunting down the best local places to pick up some gifts.  I'm also getting happy tingles about The National Day of Listening.  StoryCorps is one of my favorite things in existence, and I wish constantly that I asked more questions of people who are already gone.  Here is an instruction guide for recording your own interview, with some sample questions that are sure to get a deep convo going.

I'll leave you with some of my favorite pieces of writing from past Novembers:

This is the two part story of my first time hosting Thanksgiving at my house, when I ended up in the ER with poison ivy in my throat: Thanksgiving Nightmares, Part One & Part Two

Something I was grateful for every day in November 2011.  Milo was a month old and I was on maternity leave and it was a good time to be Ashlie.

Last year I did some more detailed notes about Small Business Saturday and The National Day of Listening.

This is some writing about my dad, who died in November 17 years ago.  Recently Milo has been asking lots of family tree questions ("Who is daddy's daddy?  Who is your mama?") and I'm trying to make Grandpa Kevin a big part of our conversations.  To All Who Said I'd Find Relief, You All Have Lied and Why Your Middle Name is Kevin

Lastly, here is a link to my homepage for National Novel Writing Month.  I have an excerpt of my story, with the working title The Family Historian.  I'm hoping to share much more very soon!

Thanks for being patient, lovelies!  Be your own lady!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Coffee and Blogs No. 14

Hello there.  We're headed into the second weekend of November, and I'm beginning to see that this month is going to slay me.  I'm trying to go the gym regularly, get ready for parent teacher conferences at work, plan for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and complete National Novel Writing Month, all while keeping my house a tiny bit clean and paying some attention to Ben and the boys.  I'm not actually succeeding at any of these things, but it's strengthening my balance practice.  

I'm sorry that posting will be lighter during the month of November, and that you're going to have to hear me blather about writing and plots and characters more than usual.  Doing NaNoWriMo is one of the things on my birthday list, and writing is definitely one of the ways that I'm able to be my own lady.  I'll be back to normal soon.  My long term goal with this story is actually to clean it up and share it one chapter at a time, so hopefully you get to see the end product, because if there's anything more annoying than listening to someone talk about their 'writing process,' it's probably someone making you read it ;)

In the meantime, here are some links.  A lot of them are about writing.  I'm obsessed focused.  Here we go!

NaNoWriMo was featured on an hour of On Point earlier this week.  It was so awesome to hear different authors talk about their experiences with the month, and hear from people who have published because of it.

Amy Poehler's new book came out last week, so I feel like she's popping up everywhere.  These are some of the best answers from her Reddit Ask Me Anything.  My favorite is the birthday advice to the girl who was turning 18: "Oh!  Happy 18th Birthday!  Exercise your right to vote.  Whenever you feel drunk, stop, because 18-year-olds have a hard time figuring out how much they can drink.  Be with a good friend who can get you home safe, and try one new thing on your birthday every year.

I've seen these storytelling rules from Pixar a lot over the past few years.  My favorites are no. 4 & no. 19.  Neil Gaiman's writing advice is simpler, but his no. 5 is one I'm going to need in December.

I'm using the beta version of Novlr to write my novel this month.  It's a very basic website that lets you add chapters as you go and helps you keep track of your word count.  My only worry is that I don't have a back up, because it's still on the website, but I think they're working on an export feature. They also have a great twitter account that has a lot of NaNoWriMo chatter this time of year.

I love all of Kelly's adulting advice (and her great book), and this little gem is one of my favorites.  It might a mantra for hard times, especially if you're a people pleaser. 

My friend Holly wrote a letter to the girl in the back of Zumba class, which is kind of like writing a letter to me.

A huge thank you to my cousin for pointing me in the direction of this Parks and Rec themed wedding.  If I had seen this before I was married, things may have been different.  I still want to have some sort of party just so I can use the phrase "apps and zerts."

That's all I've got for now.  I need to head back to my story, resist the urge to delete most of what I wrote last night, and keep pushing forward.  12,061 down, 37,939 left to go.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tips for Lazy, Last Minute Voters (Like Me)

Happy Voting Day!  In Massachusetts, we have candidates and 4 ballot questions, and the polls open at 7am.  I was really disappointed in myself that I didn't take the time to research all the candidates like I thought I would.  We have a Governor's race, which I've been idly following, and I took the time to read the newsprint handout about our ballot questions that my state sent out.  I've been really convicted lately that I should know who is in charge of me and what they believe in, especially at a local level where it effects me most directly.  It's something I plan to work on.

As a human, voting seems a little futile sometimes, especially if you've ever watched an episode of House of Cards.  But as a lady, I have to do it anyway.  There was a time, not terribly long ago, when the right to vote was not mine, and fierce people fought so I would never have to ask someone else to be my voice.  I feel like I shouldn't waste that gift.

My local NPR station put together this infographic to help you understand what a yes or no vote would mean for each ballot question.  I'm going to pull it up when I'm voting this morning. I also Googled "Who is on the ballot in Leominster" and a little gadget appeared at the top of search results.  You could plug in your address and find out who was on the ballot in your area, and most of the names were hyper linked so you could do a quick scan of their web presence.  I imagine this works all over the country!

Ideally, I would have starting researching candidates and understanding the issues in my area awhile ago, but that simply didn't happen this year.  I'm not going to let it stop me from participating in this process, especially when the internet  gives you the ability to get some info on the walk from the parking lot to the voting booth.

What do you think?  Have you been following these midterm elections closely?  Did you just realize this was a voting day (I've been there, that's real)?  Are you going to vote today?  Love you, sister suffragettes! 

(image credit 1 and 2)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Unfolding November

We are big Halloween fans in this household, so the end of October is kind of chaotic.  We had three separate costumes for each boy this year: they went as a caterpillar and construction worker to a Halloween party last week, dressed up as Indiana Jones and Superman for daycare on Halloween, and then went trick or treating as Marty McFly and Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  Ben and I were George and Lorraine McFly (the 50s versions) and we trained Milo to tell people who he was after he said "Trick or treat!"  A lot of people got it! We ended up exhausted with a ton of candy.

I'm getting super excited for November.  I never realized how much I truly love this month.  I like all the grateful/thankful chatter on Facebook, hype for the parade and the delicious Thanksgiving meal, and the promise of Christmas hovering right around the corner.  This year I'm doing National Novel Writing Month (write a 50K novel in the month of November!) and I am challenging myself to interview my Papa (and possibly my stepdad's lovely mother) for The National Day of Listening, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving.  I also have the bittersweet joy of remembering my dad during November.  It used to be a really sad time, remembering the day he died and our first Thanksgiving without him.  I'm going to try to refocus it this year to remember him happily!

This chick popped up on the Pandora station I play at night for the boys, and I love love love her covers.  I've been seeking her out on YouTube and will probably download her album so I can make some more mix cds for the car.  She's also my writing playlist right now.  When I was in high school, I wrote a looonnng serial Harry Potter fanfiction and used to dash home after school and put on musical soundtracks and write for hours.  I had a COUCH balanced in front of my ancient desk top and I was so happy.  I'm feeling echos of that now, with a new writing spot in our new office, with songs making me think of my characters. A lot of times I hold back, because I want to write something LITERARY and deep but the truth is I mostly want to read about teenage girls falling in love and having advnetures, and I mostly want to write about it, too.  It's okay if everyone is doing it.

I'm also deep deep in reading another young adult series that has me hooked.  I held off for a long time because the author was actually a fanfiction writer before she was published professionally.  I used to follow HER serial series and was a huge fan, but also followed a lot of controversy about her writing and whether her lines were "borrowed" from other places.  The fact remained that I loved her story lines and her romance, and I love her series for the same reason.  It's The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.  I'm devouring them the way I did the Twilight Books- rolling my eyes at obvious plot points, feeling a little annoyed that all the characters constantly do huge and selfless things without ever hesitating or acting like humans (most of them aren't), but feeling desperate to see what happens next, to read the subtle flirtations, to see if they'll finally get together.  I've read the first three novels over the past two weeks, the second two each in a day.  I'm headed to Barnes and Noble for the fourth today.

I have to be very careful with my reading material during NaNoWriMo, because I have a feeling that what I read and listen to will really influence my novel.   I'm trying to balance the pleasure reading of The Mortal Instruments with some of favorite authors like Madeline L'Engle and Anita Shreve to keep it from becoming a full-on fangirl Mary Sue extravaganza.

At any rate, I'm so pumped to have this month unfolding in front of me, with so many projects I'm interested in and so many things to read and enjoy.  It's been a long time since I've felt so good about the ways I spend my spare time.  I guess you really do just have to find what you love and do it for the rest of your life.  (For me, it's going to Rushmore.)

Let me know what you are reading, what you're writing, and what you're grateful for.  I send wishes for a fabulous November.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Closer Look At My Birthday List: Ideas for a Happy Home

This year, I'm digging in to explain my birthday list choices.  I'll also update as I accomplish different goals.  Tips are WELCOME!

Ideas for a Happy Home

14. Create a nightly routine that involves reading every night.
I'm good at routines all day long- to get out the door in the morning, for learning centers and quiet times during the school day, to be ready to leave for the gym as soon as Ben gets home from work.  But I completely suck at getting ready for bed.  Almost every single night I fall asleep on the couch with my makeup still on.  I'm a heavy sleeper and Ben can't get me to move to the bed until I wake up on my own.  It's usually 12 or 1 by that time.

I want to wash my face and brush my teeth, change out of my sweaty clothes into cozy pjs, and curl up with whatever book I'm reading.  Almost every other part of my day is scheduled down to the minute, and it helps me thrive.  I want to make this a habit this year.

28. Adopt a skincare routine (face wash, moisturizer, foundation)

I pay no attention to how I take care of my skin (see the above habit of never washing my face at night) and it's finally catching up to me.  When I do act like a clean human, I use whatever products were appealing/on sale at Target.  I have no brand loyalty for skincare or makeup, and I have no idea what products would be best for my skin type.  I'm iffy on what kind of skin type I am.

When I got married, I had a make up trial done at the Clinique counter, and I used their face soap and moisturizer for awhile.  I was gorgeous and glowy, but I think that was the 21 talking, and less the products.  Before I'm 30, I want to have a set of products that I use, every morning and night, to take care of the only face I've got.  Side note: I'd also like to have a habit of using lotion or oil on my body every day, especially in the winter.

25. Create a weekly schedule with time allotted for writing tasks, exercise, and housekeeping.
I've started to flesh this out a little, and it's making me much more accountable to myself.  Those three things are all very important to me (housekeeping least so, but I'm a grown ass woman and I'd like my family to have a semi-clean space to exist in) and without careful planning, they slip through my fingers.  Right now I hold myself accountable to go to the gym Monday and Wed-Sat, and have Tuesday night as a writing night.  Ben and I both know about it, there is no expectation that we'll be watching movies or hanging out.  There is always at least one hiccup in the gym schedule, but I'm still going 2-3 times a week, which is a 100% more than this time last year.

For housekeeping, I need to commit to something like a few loads of laundry a week, and a task a day.  I can clean the bathroom while the boys are in the tub, can do the kitchen floor once a week while I chat with Ben about his day.  Also, folding.  I think no TV at night unless I'm folding.  This will also keep me from falling into comatose sleep on the couch.

24. Hang a picture ledge in the living room to showcase seasonal books.
I'm not a huge decorator, but I love collecting books.  Children's literature especially makes my heart beat faster.  The whole internet is throbbing with ways to use Ikea spice racks and ledges to show off the books.  We're in the process of taking out the "adult" art from our living room and making it a very kid friendly space- bright posters, shelves for games and puzzles, etc.  I want to put a few ledges over our train table and switch out the books for holidays and seasons. Instant art!

You can see the rest of the birthday list here.  If you have ideas about how I can accomplish these goals, or want to share your own list, PLEASE let me know!  I'm especially interested in skin care tips- I have no clue where to even start.  Thanks, lovelies!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Things I'd Tell My Younger Self

(21-year-old Ashlie in her beloved college apartment)

I'm far from having it figured out.  I still fall asleep with my make up on and teeth unbrushed horrifyingly often.  I haven't completely broken the habit of picking fights with my husband.  I ramble when I'm nervous, or when I'm super caffeinated, or when I really am into the sound of my voice.   I'm a precious work in progress, people.  

STILL, there are some things I do know.  Most of my sage is advice is hard earned and can boiled down to "drink slower and listen more."  But after celebrating ten years of dating and living with my now-husband, I've been thinking about college Ashlie, the girl who carried years of insecurity and the need for validation with her into a binge drinking, self regulating atmosphere, and I marvel that I made it out alive.  It makes sense that you can only earn the confidence that I feel at this point in my life, but there are messages I wish I could send to my younger self.  Here are a few of them.

1. A guy wanting to sleep with you is not a compliment.
Let's get this one right out of the way.  In college, the culture tends to be "drink up, get down, hook up, YOLO!"  If yolo was happening while I was in college, I would have been one of the people non-ironically leaving YOLO as my away message on Thursday and Friday nights.  I wanted SO BADLY to be a part of the college life that I had seen in movies.  One of my biggest regrets is wearing a shirt that said "Makeout Bandit."  I found it very thrilling at the time.  I wanted to entice someone, to be watched across the room at a party, to banter.  I wanted to interact with someone, to be liked, to have the feeling be mutal.  I confused a lot of these feelings with someone wanting to make out with me.  I figured that if someone wanted to kiss me, touch me, come home with me, then I'm the chosen one! Even if the chooser is very drunk and kind of gross and throws up twice before asking you to go back to his place, it feels good to be chosen.

We know where this is going.  Most guys (especially the kind picking hookups from a pool of drunk girls in a dirty basement) are going to sleep with anything warm and with a pulse.  It does not mean they are into you.  It does not mean they will be nice to you later.  It does not build up your esteem.  If you are having consensual, fun, unattached sex, then more power to you.  But if you are a 17-year-old looking for an older brother-ish kind of mentor figure who will also make out with you (wait, what?) and who will stop every single time you want them to stop, don't hook up with people who have been drinking at house parties on Myrtle Street.

2. You never have to finish your drink.
Ever.  I still get guff for this at 29 freaking years old.  There are no wounded soldiers, there are no "sober kids in China," (I think this bumper sticker was a play on the 'hungry kids in China' line from childhood?) and it is not a damn shame to waste that booze.  I can remember times in college when large guys would literally block the door and not let me leave a party until my cup was empty.  I would smile and giggle and love that I was getting attention, and then drain my cup and then black out.  I'm sure every one of you has a similar story about being "teasingly" forced to drink.

Even after college, when I would go out with friends, there was this whole weird thing where people would insist that I drink everything I ordered. No one has ever even noticed if I don't finish my diet coke, but leave 1/4 of a beer in the bottom of the bottle and people get embarrassed for you.  YOU NEVER HAVE TO FINISH YOUR DRINK.  You can one take sip, zero sips, or drink exactly half.  No one dictates what you put in your body.  Take the indignation that pours out of you when your mother suggests you do something, and direct it to the next person who tells you you have to finish your alcohol.

3. You are doing the right thing going to class about 65% of the time.
I recently realized that I am a poor student.  I thought that because I like to read and write and can carry a decent intellectual conversation, I must fit into the ranks of teacher's pets and hard workers.  In reality, I did papers and assignments late or not at all, asked for extensions and extra credit work at the last minute, and skipped class often.  Unless it was a theater class, I would pretty much treat it like an optional thing.  I would skip for weather, if my apartment needed tidying, if my friends wanted to go out to lunch, or if my boyfriend wanted to go on a drive. I particularly remember skipping class on a Monday when my grandfather was visiting and touring Boston with him and my family.  Not a carefully planned trip, just spontaneously decided to shirk responsibility. I regret nothing. No job has ever asked to see my transcript or asked me what tools my Humanities in the 1800s class provided me with.  Those memories with my friends and family and cat/daytime TV are so much more important to me than a perfect attendance record, and it's much harder to take 5 mental health days a month at this point in my life.

4. The teachers you are working with as an intern will be your colleagues in a few years.
On the flip side of the skip-all-the-classes coin, I want to emphasize to my younger self that these practicums and internships and student teaching gigs are REHEARSALS FOR REAL LIFE.  I had a move to Florida scheduled to happen right after I graduated, so I never imagined that I would be looking for jobs in the district where I was doing all my intern work.  Luckily, I didn't let that have much effect on my performance, and I was proud of a lot of my student teaching work.  GOOD, because one year later, I was applying for jobs where I had student taught, and I know work with several people I brushed elbows with as a student teacher.  Some of my most valuable treasures are the letters of recommendation I received from professors and teachers that helped me with pre-service teaching practice.   Younger self: you don't know where you'll end up or what connections you'll need to draw on. Try as many work places as possible.  Be polite to everyone.  Take notes, and send thank yous.  This is where you should pour your college focus.

5. That little girl submissive thing you have going is not your best look.
Career-wise, I haven often played overly sweet, overly helpful, overly deferential. With teachers and employers, I picked up the habit of never talking back, always agreeing that I am not put out, and always saying yes.  Laughing at jokes that mock things I believe in, gossiping about someone I don't actually dislike, executing plans and projects that I don't think are the best.  Kelly from the blog Adulting tells a story about this "good girl" syndrome becoming actually dangerous, and I'm afraid I would do the same thing in her place.  This attitude has saved me at times, I know- people keeping me on because I am helpful, and kind, and in general the things they want young women who teach children to be.  But it has also blinded me to the worthiness and power of my own voice.  My mother, sisters, and husband can attest: I have a voice.  I have opinions.  And only people who can't fire or unfriend me got that side of my personality for a long time.  Writing has helped me find my voice again, but I wish I had never lost it in the first place.  Teenage Ashlie, it's hard to figure out the line between tact and not speaking up.  Spend the next few years exploring instead of ignoring that difference.

When I asked my friends what they would tell their younger selves, I got answers like lighten up, let go of the situation, read more books, recognize that class/paper stress is much less than family/work stress will be one day, accept your family for who they are, know you are not alone, tell people what you really feel, you are pretty, you are worth it, you deserve happiness, enjoy this moment right now.  I think almost everyone has a pretty serious message they want to send back in time, and at first this made me feel a little sad.  So many wasted 20s.  But it doesn't have to be a downer, because we can learn from this right now.  I may have spent too many years in my life being submissive to authority or drinking too much to make people like me, but when I look back at the regrets of the 30s, those things will not be on the list.  Listen to the message you want to send to your younger self, and repeat it to yourself now.  There's still something to take from it.

Dear Younger Ashlie, work very hard for what you love, be purposeful about having fun, and above all else, be your own lady.

Dear Current Ashlie, you too.

I was definitely inspired by Sarah from Yes and Yes and her Notes to my Younger Self series that she ran last month.  Check out some excellent advice that others gave their younger selves.  I am so nosy and am dying to know what you would tell your younger self.  Please tell me in the comments!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Coffee and Blogs no. 13

This week was whirlwindy.  Last weekend was spent in Chicago, celebrating my kick-ass marathoning sister and hanging with my family.  I got home on Monday for a quick celebration of Milo's birthday, and then the rest of the week has been a little off- late bedtimes, random evening obligations, routines gone to hell.  Real talk: I haven't spent enough time with Ben and I'm feeling it.  Today is full of errands and cleaning, but tomorrow we're headed off for some one-on-one time in Salem.  I'm really looking forward to it.

Even through all this craziness, I've been stockpiling some links to share.  We had a humidity wave all week and THIS MORNING IS COOL AGAIN.  Get your quilt and coffee ready.

I'm going to lead with Ebola, because there's no way you're sick of this yet.  Another blogger shared this link, which I found strangely comforting.  It also inspired me to get my flu shot and go to the gym.  Is this a silver lining to what I still find to be a scary and intriguing health story, even if my personal risk is very low?

Amanda is cute, all the time, and I want a mustard cardigan, stat.

Kate Baer (of the Ebola article share) writes a lot that I relate to about the struggle to reconcile religion with our current adult beliefs and values.  Her son is starting to ask questions.  I hope I have to courage to teach Milo and Elliott how to be good people and believe in things that are larger than them without tapping into any particular doctrine.  Kate's answers are my starting point.

I've been lazily wishing for a book club for most of my adult life, especially lately when I was gifted some awesome books at my birthday. I've been toying with the idea of an online book club, but I can't tell if it would be too tedious to share our thoughts in comments?  I'd love to know what you think!  These women nixed the problem of reading a long book by creating an articles club.  Bonus in this post- they share the list of articles they've read and discussed, some of which look really interesting.

This is a bummer, I'm not going to lie.  We all grew up spouting rhymes about 1492 and accepting at least partial credit for our awesome American country belongs to Christopher Columbus.  This comic from The Oatmeal reveals a lot of ugly things about a terrible man and his terrible legacy.  It's truly atrocious that he has a federal holiday.  I was worried that info in the comic was one-sided, since I'm not a scholar of Columbus or the early Americas, but the quotes pulled directly from his diary entries and letters were enough to turn me off to Columbus.  This is a petition to change the holiday.  I've signed.

42 Ways To Make Sure People Like and Respect You.  Take even a handful of these to work with you and become instantly more awesome.

I love Kerri at Your Wishcake.  She writes about caring for her daughter, keeping her creative process fresh, and running her little home with thrift and style.  I especially love her honesty about the things her family goes without, a bit of a rarity in the mommy/lifestyle blogging world.  Her article about things she's quit made me think.  No cable?

I'm getting super into my monthly horoscope and following astrological events.  On the lighter side of that cool craziness, here is a handy guide to determine which Halloween candy is appropriate for your sign.  Libras are so eager to please that we lose our king-size bars to keep everyone happy, womp womp.

I've been writing about friendship (confessing my checkered past and picking the people you spend time with), so this article about courting your friends was quite timely.  One of my goals in my 29th year will definitely be about cultivating friendships.  Still open to tips and stories!

Ben has been the unsung hero of a lot of my fun lately.  He watched the boys all weekend while I was off in Chicago, has been putting the boys to bed so I can dash to the gym as soon as he's home, put together more Ikea furniture than is fair for our new office (pictures to come!), and encouraged me to take my sister up on her offer of a dinner cruise tonight.  I am the luckiest.  Here are some of my favorite posts signing the praises of Mr. Swicker: My Film Maker, My Funny Valentine (my favorite memory of dating Ben), Ben is a Rad Dad

What did I miss?  Send me your lovely links!  Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The People You Spend Time With

Last week I started musing about adult friendships and how powerful they can be.  I also admitted that I have my share of failures when it comes to be being a good friend.  I'm writing as an exercise, and as a call for help, and to see if all the bits and pieces make sense when I lay them out.  What is a good friend?  Will I ever be one? (Fair warning: I'm reading Lena Dunham's book right now, so I feel particularly compelled to be brutally honest and mildly melodramatic, despite the comfort level others might feel.  Also, if you are a woman, (or a human), read it.)

What makes a good friend?  Good is a cheap, nothing word.  It's so basic that I challenge my first graders to come up with a better descriptor in their little chicken scratch sentences.  Still, it seems like the natural adjective to sit right in front: good.  Solid, salt of the earth, uncomplicated.  A good friend.  Does this mean a fun friend, or a loyal friend?  Is it the friend who brings you coffee the day after you get yelled at by a mean customer, or the friend who tells you calmly that the tongue-lashing was justified and offers to help you sharpen up your skills?  Maybe it's just the safe feeling you get from certain people.

I also know there are a small handful of people with whom it's zero work.  Our souls just naturally match, and we can go months without talking, then click back into sharing information about our break ups and bowel movements with no chit chat.  We just get in there.  Then there are people who stand out because of matched interests or a similar style, and we find each other and can't help being friends and people say "Oh that makes sense."  There are other people where the friendship seems more earned; built up from shared time, exchanged favors, and mutual respect.  The second two groups are the people who effect our day to day.  The soul friends usually just effect our souls.

Think about your every day life and evaluate the people you spend time with. There are lots of platitudes about your personality being a combination of the five people you spend the most time with, and that's because its a real thing.  I remember, in the early days of dating my bold and opinionated husband, saying blunt or even offensive things to friends who had known me longer.  A few particularly stunned reactions later, I began to realize that I wasn't talking like myself.  Ben's language and personality were perfect for him; layered and understood by the people who knew him best.  Those qualities didn't translate the same way for me, and I wasn't emulating him on purpose.  It was happened from a combination of adoration and exposure.  It can be eerily easy to slip into someone else's mannerisms when you're putting in the hours.  The lesson is two-fold: be careful to hang on to "yourself," no matter who you're spending time with.  Conversely, because you'll never be able to completely guard your personality: pick people to spend time with that you won't mind acting like.

Another thing to keep in mind, when you're sorting through the people who meld with your soul and the people who might influence your tone, is that friend does not meet same.  It took me a scary amount of time to realize I could dislike something a friend did and not need to end it all dramatically.  Small differences (an offhand comment criticizing something I liked, for instance) could make me fold my arms and announce that I didn't want to play anymore.  But since I'm not that mature, I would actually just think that and then stop returning calls.  I think a real grown ass woman or man should be able to sort through things and realize which discrepancies can be handled.  Maybe you can't handle a friend who makes racist comments, but you need to be okay with the friend who is backing a different candidate for governor.  Or maybe your friend hates New Girl and you need to be brave enough to a) keep loving the show and b) forgive your friend for bad taste.  Because it's not middle school, your friends are no longer required to like every single thing you like.  You're grown now, so you get it.

In summation: realize the different kinds of friends there are and be cool with the differences, check out the people you spend most of your time with and make sure you're okay with sounding like them, and don't expect middle school friendships from grown ass people.  Everybody can play.

Next week I'm going to look at the actual living of a good friendship, things to do, places to go, ways to connect with the fabulous people who lift you up, even when you're busy and stressed (spoiler alert: everyone, all the time).  As always, tips and stories are welcome.  Thanks for being my friend!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

29 and Feeling Fine

My birthday was Monday and I was spoiled so deeply by my friends and family that it embarrasses me a little.  I stop sometimes and try to take in the love that surrounds me, but my human brain has no algorithm to process it.  

Here are some reasons I'm happy, lucky, loved, and free:

1. I got books for my birthday!  I'm reading Not That Kind of Girl right now, and I also got #Girlboss and Humans of New York.  I can't wait to take in all the STORIES!

2. Laurel showed up at my house on Monday to surprise me with love and gifts.

3. She brought these awesome rice cakes from Whole Foods (SWEET CHILI!)

4. Milo got a little sad when he woke up Tuesday and she was gone.  I love seeing how much he loves her.

5. My friends at work brought in fish chowder and apple crisp to have a little celebration at lunch.

6.  Ben, Milo, and Elliott made me cards and Milo wrote his name and I could almost figure out the letters!

7. I've been going to the gym regularly and I feel really strong.  

8. I brought some Christmas lights into my classroom and it's feeling cozier every day.

9. I've also started playing quiet classical music while we're working.  It's lovely.

10. Chicago happens SOON!

11. I bought a new outfit, including my first ever pair of skinny jeans.  I've never trusted my curves in them before, but I like how I look in these!

12. I get to snuggle my baby nephew and squeeze pouches into his mouth and spoil him with kisses.


14. I get to sight see with my beautiful parents and I know at least one long life-choice talk will take place.

15. I scheduled Milo's 3 year check up and plan to take him out for a special Mama-Milo date after he gets his shots  I want to start a birthday tradition of giving the boys some one-on-one time.

16. I'm also keeping up with doctor's appointments for myself.  Taking care of yourself is basically a full time job, just to keep level at zero.

17.  I downloaded a Healthy Holiday chart that shows all the dates from now til New Years Eve.  You put a heart of days (holidays, vacations, special events) that you're not going to stress about your diet, and eat clean and chug water on every other day.  Get one here!

18. I get to make a new birthday list, and this year it will be a BEFORE 30 LIST!  I have a really good feeling about my 30s and can't wait to be in the next decade, but I will live it up in this last year of my 20s.

Thanks for listening to my spouting of gratitude.  What is making you feel lucky lately?  I'd love to hear!