I used to think I hated reading. I know, I know… you’re about to clutch the pearls!
Reading and (more importantly) telling everyone what you’re reading right now is so on trend, right? I mean now more than ever— readers are celebrated on Pinterest boards and podcasts alike. They’re rewarded with great swag like scarves made up quotes from “Pride and Prejudice” to witty library totes that proclaim, “Not tonight, I’m reading”.
Open up your Instagram feed and you’ll find your favorite Bibliophile wearing these momentos with a certain literary smugness as they head out to the library or book club. The world needs to be super impressed because on Dec. 31 they met their Goodreads goal last year like the book bosses they truly are.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t meet a single book related goal in 2017.
I mean, I wrote a book, but read a whole one cover to cover… nope. Not at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I did read last year, but most of my reading was for study. The only book I read last year that I can remember actually reading (not listening to because there is a difference, y’all) was something sent me on Kindle for review.
I did not seek out books and nor did I make it a priority. Instead of feel shame about this, I sat down towards the end of the year and examined why my reading life has suffered.
I came to terms with something I think I always knew but didn’t want to admit because I feared the bookish internet would come for my library card—I am an easily distracted reader.
I sit down with a book and immediately my mind goes to my to-do list or re-hashing an argument with my husband or how the author’s description of the hero reminds me of the super hot lead in that new medical drama on NBC. My mind rarely stays on the page.
So instead of setting myself up for failure this year with a book count and a reading challenge, I decided to do one thing: make peace with the distractions.
The truth is, we are surrounded by distractions—our phones, our kids, or homes— all vie for our attention.
Unless I take to the woods like Thoreau and even still while I wander, I’ll notice the distractions: hello little squirrel! How are you today? My you have a ton of energy…I wonder how many calories a squirrel burns scampering up and down trees… how many calories are in a nut… am I eating about healthy fats… oh I could really go for some almonds right now…
See, my friends. Distractions. Everywhere. Especially when I’m reading.
And yet there’s something magical about the page.
It transforms our minds and opens our hearts, so I’ve come up with these five hacks to take control of my brain that feels like I’m herding squirrels every time I sit in down with a book in my lap.
Usually one or two of these are enough to help me focus in so that I can get lost in the book.
Distracted Reading Hacks:
Learn about the book before you read it
Because I’m such a nerd, I like to know as much as I can about the book before reading it.
So, I take a few minutes to google the author and the book. Sometimes, I find a podcast, interview, or book reading to help give me some context about the book.
I like podcasts where the author is interviewed or book club discussion—they give me an opportunity to connect with the author and other readers on an emotional level. That emotion and relational investment I’ve made with the author makes me want to dive back in and focus on the book.
To find a podcast that features a book, I use the iTunes podcast app (because it has the best search function) and then I’ll type in the name of the book and listen to the top rated results.
Create a Reading Commute
Last month when I went to Canada to speak, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane simply because I was out of my regular environment, I had lots of waiting time, and I was on a three hour flight each way.
I’ve noticed, I’m less distracted when I travel so if I want to replicate this in my life to help me get through a book, I’ll choose a coffee shop that is a good drive away from my home— enough that it feels like an adventure but close enough to make it back home in time for school pick up and schedule a couple of hours a week to read!
When we lived in Boston, it was not uncommon for me to just jump on the train and ride it to the end of the line simply to get in an hour or two of reading while the kids were in school. I’ve given up driving on longer trips so that I can read.
Start With the Audiobook
Sometimes, what’s really helpful for to have a voice in my head of the narrator. This is why I love the “sample” feature of Audible.
With copy of the book in hand, I’ll look up the audio version of the book, start the sample, and follow along. It personalizes the story and helps me make connections to people I may know who remind me of the characters.
Read Out Loud
I was sitting on the plane when I noticed that was making my grocery shopping list in my head instead of reading the words on the page. This happens to me often, sometimes the author will mention something— in this case it was eggs, and off my mind went, planning a list.
I really hate that feeling of re-reading the same page over and over again because my mind is drifting. On the plane, I actually started reading the chapter under my breath until I was invested in the story again.
Sure, the person next to me gave me the side eye- but that’s ok! Science has proven that we retain more information when we read out loud—plus it’s really fun to do the voices.
Get a Small Win
If I’m reading a new author, especially one whose style or voice is different than I’m used to, I’ll clock in a small win for me by reading short stories or essays written by this author before diving into their 400-500 page novel.
This is how I started with Gillian Flynn. Before reading Gone Girl, I read, The Grownup in one sitting. Once I got a sense of her syntax, then picking up Gone Girl felt like reconnecting with an old friend who has a new story to tell me.
Sometimes, you can combine audio with this short story hack by listening to Levar Burton Reads. He has an amazing voice and well produced shows of his favorite short stories. If this hack intrigues you, listen to a short story and if you find one you love, then look to see if the author has a longer work for you to dig into.
Reading is vital to me living wholeheartedly.
Reading is an on ramp for peace and the making of it in our everyday lives.
Reading stories from new perspectives reminds us our shared humanity.
If there’s one thing our world needs more of it people who remember our humanity and protect it fiercely. Reading helps us get there.
If you’re like me and you are a distracted reader, try out my hacks and let me know what has helped you. I’m always looking for more ways to not conquer, but make peace with my distraction because the world is full of buzzes, beeps, and squirrels.
A few years ago my husband and I began a new annual tradition: traveling with friends to attend an away football game for our college alma mater (Go Tigers!). We don’t typically have a lot of time in the cities we visit – the main attraction is always the game itself – but we pack in as much as we can.
Last fall’s game of choice took us to Louisville, KY, and I’ll be honest: I wasn’t that excited. Beyond the Kentucky Derby, what could be special about Louisville?
Well...I couldn’t have been more off base (shame on me). I was quickly reminded of what I already know but sometimes forget:
Every town tells a story worthy of learning.
So, before I share a few thoughts about this lovely city, may I remind you of an essential for making the most of any trip?
Do your homework in advance. Even learning a little about the places you plan to visit makes a big difference. Typically, I do this for vacations and other types of trips, but in this case, I was lax, fully relying on my husband and friends to investigate and plan. It was my loss. Had I planned better (and communicated my interests), we wouldn’t have missed out on two things I would have loved to do (but which paves the way for a future return trip).
Louisville is Kentucky’s largest city, located along the Ohio River on Indiana’s border. It’s a gateway to the Bluegrass Region where the landscape is dotted with horse farms and bourbon distilleries–which made me happy we were close enough to drive. The countryside is gorgeous.
Louisville is a place where memories are made. Here are my favorites:
Home to the famed Kentucky Derby Thoroughbred horse race, this is a non-negotiable; you simply must go to Churchill Downs.
Mere mortals will never score a ticket to the Kentucky Derby itself (I don’t want to even think about that ticket price), but be sure to go when “regulars” are racing. The horses are magnificent, and the jockeys are big in color though little in stature. Don’t let their diminutive size fool you–these men are incredible athletes.
General admission starts at just $3, and it’s special to walk the hallowed grounds brimming with history. Whether or not you’re thirsty, a Mint Julep or the lesser known Oaks Lily, is in order. Sure, they’re pricey, but you get to keep the commemorative glass and there’s just something about drinking a long-held tradition.
For fun, you can even place bets for only a few dollars, but be sure not to chose winners based on the names alone. Rumor has it you can lose all your money that way. DO try on a hat in the Churchill Downs shop. Take advantage of the onsite museum.
Just don’t go to Louisville and miss this treasure.
Muhammad Ali Center
From my childhood, I remember the pageantry and bravado of Muhammad Ali, but after visiting the Muhammad Ali Center I realized how little I knew about him.
Though often misunderstood and misrepresented by the media, Ali was not just a great man, he was a great American and national treasure.
Putting news stories into the context of the day, I understand better why he made the choices he did; I admire his ethic and reasoning, and his hard choices demonstrated an inner strength that complimented his outer.
He lived by six core principles – confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality – and I’d agree that “The Ali Center appeals to the heart, spirit, and imagination.” No matter how long you spend there, you’ll wish you had time for more.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Kentucky is famous for its bourbon – 95% of all bourbon is made within the state – and a distillery tour is as fascinating as it is fun.
We chose Buffalo Trace based on recommendations and the availability of walk-in tours (others required reservations, and with all those Clemson fans in town, they were full). Located in Frankfort, KY about an hour from Louisville, I’d highly recommend this choice. The grounds are beautiful, the tour is entertaining, and if you’re interested, there’s a free tasting at the end (including chocolate!).
Ask Google or locals where to eat, and you’ll consistently hear the same thing: Jeff Ruby’s or Jack Fry’s.
We were lucky enough to eat at both. I’ll tell ya right up front: Jeff Ruby’s is the most expensive meal I’ve ever had. I’m very thankful to report that it’s also one of the best restaurant experiences and meals I’ve ever had. Not only is there a fun story about how we ended up there, but the entire night evolved into one fantastic turn after another.
Jack Fry’s is a small venue with historic ties to gangsters, and you have to make reservations well in advance. We learned that the hard way, but ended up there for lunch instead, and in the process had a wonderful meal for a fraction of the price.
My Favorite Area
We found a very affordable rental in The Highlands right off of Baxter, a fantastic location because it’s within walking distance of shopping, dining, and fun nightlife.
We didn’t have time to check out any shops (see? another reason to return), but we enjoyed a stroll up and down Baxter and part of Bardston. Quills Coffee was our go-to every morning, and I’d highly recommend the very eclectic Ramsi’s Café on the World for Sunday brunch, though I’m sure it’s delicious anytime.
We discovered historic Cave Hill Cemetery, a 170-year-old, 296-acre Victorian era National Cemetery and arboretum right down the road. It’s beautiful and very worth the time, but better planning would have been helpful because it’s huge. Several famous people are buried here including Muhammad Ali and Colonel Harlan Sanders (yes, THE Colonel from Kentucky Fried Chicken).
Two Must-See Things We Missed
Because we arrived the day after our friends had arrived, we missed two Louisville destinations that add to my reasons for wanting to return (Sally and Jeff had already been).
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Baseball is as American as apple pie, and the home of the infamous Louisville Slugger conjures the nostalgia of simpler times. They started manufacturing bats in 1884, and they’re still going. Admission seemed a little pricey to me at first ($15 for adults), but it does include a mini-bat.
Louisville Waterfront Park. Any waterfront venue is usually a city gem, and I especially wanted to walk the Big Four Bridge that connects Louisville to Indiana. It’s a two-mile walk over the Ohio River, long enough to count as exercise, while providing a unique view of the city.
It’s 3:30 p.m — almost the end of a long, exhausting (if fun) day. The kids are winding down for a rare, quiet moment with a book, or a toy, or a show on TV, and I know it’s time to start thinking about dinner. We have friends coming over, and while I don’t like to stress about “making things perfect” for guests, I do like to tidy up a bit.
I glance around to assess the house, only to get a peek at the kitchen sink and see the whole day’s dishes piled up — I like to clean as I go, but today I just never seemed to get to them. The dish pile matches the pile of crumbs under the kitchen table and the pile of laundry on my bed that’s still in a bit of a boxy shape from when I dumped it out of the basket this morning.
I see all that, and yet, what do I honestly feel like doing? Probably something along the lines of flopping on the couch to close my eyes for just a few minutes, or better yet, pulling out my glasses and Kindle to do a bit of reading.
It seems my motivation to be productive is sapped. There are things I know I need to do, but they seem impossible. And while rest is indeed valuable, sometimes — whether in the late afternoon or when the kids have finally gone to bed — there are chores to be done, no matter how lacking my motivation may be.
Sound familiar at all? (Please tell me I’m not the only one who would usually rather hide in the pantry with a piece of chocolate than wash the dishes.)
What I’ve been finding lately though is that all I really need is a catalyst to spark my motivation, because once I accomplish something, one thing leads to another. I found this to be true when I was pulling myself out of a funk a few months ago, and I find it to be true when comes to undesirable housework.
The answer is so easy that it sounds cliché, but it’s as simple as this: finding something that distracts me, energizes me a bit, and keeps me going.
For you, maybe that means going for a quick run before you start your housework, or putting on some upbeat music. I’m not much of a runner, but I hear those endorphins are powerful, and I’ve definitely got some Spotify playlists designed to be played at a particular time of day that needs a little boost.
For me, and I think for many others, the best tool I’ve found to motivate me to get up and do the work that needs to be done is the wonderful world of podcasts. At first I began listening to podcasts when I was driving or on the treadmill, but then I began to see how powerful they are for me at home as well.
As an extrovert, I think that popping in my ear buds and turning on a conversation between two people energizes me the way spending quality time with people does. And listening to a podcast definitely distracts me as I begin the task at hand. My mind isn’t focused on how mundane it is to rinse the millionth fork of the day; it’s captivated by something that is entertaining, inspiring, encouraging, or educational (or all of the above!).
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, as someone to whom keeping up with housework doesn’t come naturally, podcasts have changed my homemaking life.
There’s just something about listening to a podcast that actually — I can’t believe I’m saying this — makes me want to do more housework (my mom’s jaw just hit the floor), just so I can keep listening. Multi-tasking isn’t always actually that productive for me, but this is one area where I can fill my mind and soul while also doing things that need to be done.
Everyone’s tastes are different, but here are a few of my favorites right now:
The real lesson is that, like anything, you have to find what works for you. If you haven’t found a motivator for getting things done yet, I encourage you to try out a few podcasts. And now that podcasts are so prevalent, it seems like you can find one to inspire and encourage you in the area of any number of passions or preferences that you might have (my husband listens to shows such as the Baseball Tonight podcast, Serial, and How Stuff Work).
So pop in an ear bud or two, find a podcast that speaks to your heart and before you know, your floors and sink will shine and you’ll be surprised at how much laundry gets folded.
Editor’s note: This post was previously published on October 1, 2015.
Today, I’m reflecting on my friend, Brooke, and her family, as they embark on a new adventure. She’s a contributing writer here, but you might also know her as the host of the home where we were shown radical hospitality in the Sydney area during our family’s trip around the world (I wrote about this in chapter 8 of At Home in the World).
They sold that lovely home (sniff) and are heading out into the unknown—they’re now road-tripping with their two young kiddos throughout the U.S. and Canada with nary an agenda. They’re just out… exploring.
Brooke is going to write every now and then here at AoS about her experience in becoming a location-independent family, and I can’t wait to read her thoughts. Since she’s busy in the early stages of all this, I asked her for her initial thoughts, as sort of a record to compare what she might share with us over the coming months.
Here are Brooke’s thoughts:
This year, my family and I are taking a great big leaping dive in to the unknown as we’ve sold our house in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, Australia, and are off on an adventure that has very few concrete plans.
What we do know is that we’re spending the first 6 months of the year exploring western Canada (our heart home) and the summer months road-tripping through the US. We’ve got a very rough outline for both of these adventures and know we will maximise our time in the mountains until spring arrives. But aside from that, we have no real idea what we’re doing.
No real idea what daily life will look like over the coming months. No real idea of how we’ll begin to find a rhythm that works for each of us, as we juggle schooling and work and exploring and life and grocery shopping and spontaneity and writing a new book and documenting our trip.
No real idea of what our goal is, or if we even have one. No real idea of where we’ll settle, when it will happen, and how we will know it’s time. No real idea about much at all.
2018 is, in short, the year of experimentation. It’s the year we lay to rest our assumptions and fears. It’s the year we acknowledge the discomfort of change and new-ness, and it’s the year we move ahead regardless. It’s the year of paying attention to the voice that’s constantly asking us, “What would happen if…?”
What would happen if we travelled long term?
What would happen if we sold our house rather than renting it out?
What would happen if we gave all our stuff away instead of storing it?
What would happen if we told our family and friends that we genuinely don’t know what our plans are for the future?
What would happen if we lay ourselves bare and open to the opportunities and discoveries we don’t even know exist yet?
What would happen if we learnt to be comfortable in the discomfort, to not fight it, but embrace it instead?
I’m really stoked to find out what Brooke learns as she travels with her family, because if she’s anything like me, the things she discovers will completely surprise her. What she thinks might be her points of growth might turn out to be something totally different. Her family might bond over things she couldn’t have planned.
Friends like these, who take healthy risks, remind me of the importance of keeping that spirit alive in me even as I currently spend most my days here at home, renovating our fixer-upper and walking with my kids to the library.
Both are a sort of adventure, and I need both in my life. That’s what I discovered on my family’s round-the-world adventure that I never expected: I can both love home and love exploring the world, and both are good to cultivate. Both are needed to make the other sweeter. Both get me out of my comfort zone, ask me to find contentment wherever I am, to do the work of loving wherever I am.
Whatever you’ve got going on, be on the lookout for both adventure and everyday rhythms in your life—and perhaps notice how they intersect. Can you find a spirit of adventure in running errands? Can you embrace a needed routine as you deal with a temporary health or housing situation? How can both speak to you right now?
I confess to a bit of jealousy over what Brooke’s family is doing right now. I felt a bit of envy creep up yesterday when Steph and I podcasted, as she shared off-mic her family’s plans to explore Europe for a few months later this year.
And yet, I woke up this morning at peace, content to watch the neighbors’ chickens over the fence pick for worms as I type this at my desk. I smiled when I woke up and saw my son whittling a stick in the living room, bowl in lap for the shavings, listening to an audiobook on earbuds.
Today, I’m working, having lunch with a friend, cleaning the kitchen, and watching the Olympics over dinner with my fam.
Be on the lookout for Brooke’s column soon here on AoS. And if you’d like my monthly letter, where I write more often than I do here these days, head here—it’ll go out in the next 48 hours.
We have been in and out of a state of hibernation the past few months because of two words: Chicagoland winter.
Having spent so much time together has been great but at the same time, hibernating can produce some flared attitudes.
When we get that way, we know we need to take a step back and figure out what our family needs. As a family of six, it seems we are constantly evaluating how we can improve ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Inspired by Episodes 105, 106, and 107 of The Simple Show, I thought it would be fun to share what’s saving our life right now.
What’s saving our life right now?
Don’t laugh. If we’ve learned anything as being adults, it’s the importance of sleep. Especially after you’ve had kids. Kids will rob you of sleep from pregnancy and beyond.
We love our kids, but when we’re sleep deprived, we struggle to maintain decent attitudes.
My husband’s current occupation as a broker requires that he be at the office by 5:00 a.m. on weekdays, so that means he leaves the house at 4:15 a.m. Most weeknights, he’s in bed by 8:30 p.m.
With six people in the house, three who are teenagers, we all have different bedtimes. For the longest time, my husband was having a hard time staying asleep after I came to bed or he would hear the kids. We had heard great things about weighted blankets and finally purchased one just after Christmas. How is it? AMAZING. He’s sleeping so much better!
Weighted blankets can be expensive, but we believe the cost has paid for itself with the saved sleep that it has brought us.
Now you can laugh.
We love to watch family shows together that make us laugh but don’t make us blush. Those shows are hard to find these days. Our family has always enjoyed America’s Funniest Videos on Sunday nights. A new favorite is Ellen’s Game of Games (& they are looking for contestants! Maybe we’ll apply?)
Five of the six of us love to play board games—ahem, my husband isn’t a big fan, but even he loves to play Hearing Things.
“If music be the food of love, play on.” William Shakespeare
The Greatest Showman Soundtrack has been on repeat since we saw it in theaters a few weeks ago. We have it on when we’re cooking dinner together or cleaning the house. My daughter listens to it while she’s getting ready for school in the morning.
Listening to podcasts are a huge part of my day, and I have been encouraging my family to listen to podcasts. My teenagers haven’t found them appealing yet, but I believe that one day they’ll catch on.
As parents, one of our jobs is to remind our kids that what you choose to listen to can affect your life. Notifications on our smartphones can be a LOUD distraction. We are the ones who control the settings on the smartphones but sadly, most of the time, we allow them to control us (myself included.)
Take some time today to silence some (or all!) notifications that distract you from being present in your daily life.
There’s also something to be said about paying attention to those voices that give us life.
We have found that listening to a podcast called The Next Right Thing has helped us pay attention to those things that give us life.
A few random things worth mentioning that are saving my life, as a wife, mother, and friend:
The first haircut. The last day of preschool. The first loose tooth. Moments when we sigh to ourselves and say, “Our babies aren’t babies anymore.”
And while I have grieved the passage of time and the fact that it truly does go by too fast, I have also allowed myself to enjoy this new stage of life. A stage where I can tell my kids to go take a shower, everyone is sleeping through the night, and we can have actual conversations about interesting subjects.
I don’t mind telling you that family movie night has also become more enjoyable in the past couple years. No longer are we watching the same cartoons over and over again. These days we get to watch movies everyone enjoys—movies that make us laugh and cry and have more of those good conversations.
Maybe you’re entering this stage soon? If so, here are 21 movies to get you started.
1. Flight of the Navigator – In 1978, a boy travels 8 years into the future and has an adventure with an intelligent, wisecracking alien ship.
2. E.T. – A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home world.
3. The Parent Trap – Teenage twin sisters swap places and scheme to reunite their divorced parents.
4. Back to the Future – Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent thirty years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown.
5. The Princess Bride – While home sick in bed, a young boy’s grandfather reads him a story called The Princess Bride. As the grandfather reads the story, the action comes alive.
6. Hook – When Captain Hook kidnaps his children, an adult Peter Pan must return to Neverland and reclaim his youthful spirit in order to challenge his old enemy.
7. Night at the Museum – A newly recruited night security guard at the Museum of Natural History discovers that an ancient curse causes the animals and exhibits on display to come to life and wreak havoc.
8. Enchanted – A young maiden in a land called Andalasia, who is prepared to be wed, is sent away to New York City by an evil queen, where she falls in love with a lawyer.
9. Yours, Mine & Ours – A widowed Coast Guard Admiral and a widow handbag designer fall in love and marry, much to the dismay of her 10 and his 8 children.
10. The Sandlot – In the summer of 1962, a new kid in town is taken under the wing of a young baseball prodigy and his rowdy team, resulting in many adventures.
11. Jumanji – When two kids find and play a magical board game, they release a man trapped for decades in it and a host of dangers that can only be stopped by finishing the game.
12. Dolphin Tale – A story centered on the friendship between a boy and a dolphin whose tail was lost in a crab trap.
13. Holes – A wrongfully convicted boy is sent to a brutal desert detention camp where he joins the job of digging holes for some mysterious reason.
14. Freaky Friday – An overworked mother and her daughter do not get along. When they switch bodies, each is forced to adapt to the other’s life for one freaky Friday.
15. Homeward Bound – Three pets escape from a California ranch to find their owners in San Francisco.
16. Hidden Figures – The story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.
17. Wonder – The incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.
18. Pete’s Dragon – The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.
19. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Alexander’s day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by more calamities. However, he finds little sympathy from his family and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him, his mom, dad, brother and sister – who all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
21. Goonies – In order to save their home from foreclosure, a group of misfits set out to find a pirate’s ancient valuable treasure.
As with all things parenting, use your own judgement based on the specifics of your family. One tool that can help is the Common Sense Media website which breaks down movies by recommended age, positive messages, language, etc. The movie synopses above are from IMDB.com which is another great resource.
When I first graduated from college, I wanted to know all. the. things. Or at least look smart in those oh-so-important conversations.
People were pissed about Iraq and Harry Potter, up in arms at George Bush and Twilight, and in my then-context, debating all things about the “right way to do church.”
I read the books and listened to talks and asked questions and pried deeper and enjoyed every minute of it. Discourse is my jam and I was never happier than when digging for information or sharing thoughtful conversation.
Then our future began shifting overseas and other subjects dominated my life. There was so much I had to learn and discover and DO that I just couldn’t keep all the information-plates spinning anymore.
When we finally arrived overseas we were three months without internet. When it finally worked, I awoke one morning to photos of a white Christmas in Dallas, something I’d longed for my entire life.
I couldn’t handle it.
I forsook the internet, deleted my Facebook account, and climbed into an introverted cave of depression I wouldn’t find my way out of for another year or two.
When I finally emerged I was so far behind on “current” that I gave up all together.
Looking back on my younger self, I see that my friends and I were not staying informed about everything as I fancied to be true, but rather were tracking select things someone told us were important. They weren’t necessarily the topics closest to my life or heart, they were just what someone somewhere thought I should be bothering about.
Here are a few of the questions I ask myself these days to make sure I’m not getting swept up in a direction opposed to my highest priorities and purpose.
These are big questions to consider. You shouldn’t have answers as you read them and maybe one or more don’t really speak to you. Just put whatever catches your attention in your back pocket to ruminate on in the coming days.
Skim if you need to, but don’t miss number six, okay?
1. Do I really need to stay informed?
To what extent? To what end? Time is limited, and keeping up comes at a price. Is it worth it? Am I willing to spend fewer moments with my family or sacrifice action in an area important to me?
Keeping current is relevant mainly when a decision is hanging on a particular development (like evacuating during a hurricane), or when we intend to be an active participant in another way (like voting or calling our congresspeople).
But when it’s time to vote, I can find what I need pretty dang fast. And that information is a compilation of everything that’s transpired. I also ask questions. Then I have a variety of perspectives and deeper relationships with people.
Or maybe like me, sometimes staying informed for you is about looking smart (or not seeming stupid). But maybe smart is actually living by my priorities instead of someone else’s.
2. What do I need to stay informed about, really?
Everything? Headlines? The Kardashians?
I’m not current on much these days and that includes the shifting American policies that are affecting our relationship with the Middle East. US/Middle East relations acutely affect my life because we remain in Lebanon by the grace of the Lebanese government. If we lose our visas, we lose our child.
But whatever I know or don’t know doesn’t change anything. If war breaks out, it breaks out. If we lose or almost-lose our visas, no amount of anxiety is going to help. We’ll take it one day at a time just like we would otherwise.
So what is it that you really, truly need to know from day to day? Decide, and boot the rest.
3. Is staying current fueling my hate-fire?
Do I find myself becoming more angry and rant-y and turning into one of those people who drive me nuts?
I’m not talking about the indignance that rises in you about certain issues. If the intensity of your “this should not be” is rising and motivating you to act, awesome.
But if keeping up is fueling your hate-fire, and you feel increasingly stressed, short-tempered, or hot-headed, pull back. You’ll have less to say on the topic (which makes you a better listener) and when you really need to know something, you can catch up quickly online. No amount of in-the-know is worth destroying health or relationships over.
4. Am I finding my own information/sources?
Everyone who shares news has an agenda. Stories are delivered from a particular point of view, and gazillions of stories never exist because a teller decides they aren’t important.
Whatever is being handed around is never as valuable as discovering your own questions and digging up answers. Plus, following your own questions and thoughts is fun!
Each person will have their own “how” to this, and I suggest an approach in number six below. I personally don’t scroll headlines because it makes me dizzy.
Instead, when I hear something intriguing, baffling, or heartbreaking, I take my most pressing question or curiosity to the internet. A few searches later I’m on a roll, keeping number five below in mind.
5. Can I see multiple sides of an issue?
People do what makes sense to them. There are reasons why people do things that make no sense to me and it isn’t because they’re stupid.
Make a point to understand how someone else sees a thing. Empathy respects humanity and is midwife to participating in lasting change. You might be surprised why people think what they do.
Keep digging until you can argue against your point of view so compellingly that you’re almost not sure of your position anymore.
6. Am I confusing knowing with caring?
When we see the tragedies the news so masterfully presents, we feel sad, aghast, outraged even. Then we discuss with others the atrocities, compare the fine details, and shake our heads at the world’s horrors.
But feelings don’t put food in a hungry child or keep a family from selling their 7-year-old into slavery. They don’t provide housing for tsunami victims or protect dying species or bring a missing child home. Nor do they change laws or un-do political awfuls.
Knowing isn’t caring. Acting is.
You shouldn’t care about everything. No soul can carry the weight of the world. So know about things, and select only a few to care about. Maybe choose a single cause with your family and learn everything you can, including the ways a person or family can get involved.
Maybe choose a justice issue for 2018 and an environmental one for 2019. Pick local or go global. You could visit the elderly in your community, give to disaster relief, provide micro-loans to people trying to start businesses or send their kids to school, encourage people who are working on the front lines, or sponsor a child.
You could be the deeply-informed one on one topic and encourage others to help you learn about something important to them. By putting knowledge into action you’ll be becoming more of the person you want to be; it will be an example to your kids and a catalyst for your community.
Whatever your road to staying in-the-know, spend your efforts in a way that matches your priorities and purpose, and you’ll be another step closer to that just-right-for-you life.
As far as American news headlines go, 2017 felt like a rollercoaster. I felt incredibly conflicted about my deep value of being an informed citizen and my need to not go crazy.
I think it’s safe to say that no matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum, 2017 had a different sort of intensity and an enormous amount of significant things happened.
From mass shootings to devastating natural disasters, from international terrorist attacks, to health care bill changes, to women speaking up about sexual harassment — it wasn’t just about drama in Washington. But, of course, there was also drama in Washington.
I’m a 4 on the Enneagram. If that means nothing to you, I’ll say it another way: I feel things deeply. I feel all. the. things. Empathy is my default.
I’m not going to wander into analyzing personality here, but I think it’s important to note that I’m aware of how I’m wired and it’s something that I accept responsibility for managing.
I also think it means that I have to be extra careful about what and how I consume content, because if I’m not careful, it can leave me devastated and struggling to function. Additionally (file this under knowing thyself), I need a lot of thinking time and silence without any input to feel at my best. I am careful about the amount of content I read, watch, and listen to because prioritizing this need keeps me healthy and sane.
On the other hand, my job involves managing social media for clients, which means it’s critical that I have a sense of the headlines, especially if something needs to be adjusted or rescheduled in order to be sensitive to an event that happened. I don’t have the option of disconnecting entirely, even if I thought that was the solution (which I don’t!)
Last spring, I realized that something needed to change in how I was consuming news.
At the time, my husband and I had our morning alarm set to a news station, so even though we were usually up and awake before it went off because of kids, one of the first things we heard in the morning was the top-of-the-hour headlines.
Not only did this start to feel like a really stressful way to start the day, but there were often too many news stories that I wasn’t comfortable having my kids hear about in that context.
Previously, I had thought of myself as someone disciplined about resisting click-bait and sensational headlines, but in 2017, I found myself spiraling into anxiety after what would start as an innocent attempt to just stay informed about what was happening in the world.
I needed to take back control of when and how I read the news so that I could better manage my emotional health, stay productive at work, and set myself up for success to be the parent I want to be (which basically means not a crazy, emotional wreck).
(I should also mention as a side note, that we don’t have cable or ever watch live TV, so listening and reading are my primary mediums for news.)
The changes I made to better manage my news intake:
• I changed the morning alarm to peaceful music instead of the news and we stopped listening to the news while getting ready in the morning.
• I waited until I dropped off kids at school and got back to my desk to scan the headlines and I would only scan the headlines as much as needed for work, but did not allow myself to read political articles at the beginning of my workday.
• I stopped turning on news radio as default in the car and instead set aside specific, limited time to listen to a 10-15 minutes podcast like NPR’s Up First.
• We subscribed to a print newspaper and started to read it instead of reading news on the internet. This helped because each article has a physical end, instead of links to more articles and all the distracting, annoying, flashy ads are not there. They also tend to be less sensational in tone and style.
• I subscribed to The Week, a print magazine that I recommend to everyone all the time. It feels so much less overwhelming and gives a great overview of the most important things that happened in the nation and the world and quotes from partisan sources so you can see how different perspectives opined about each event to get a perspective that doesn’t feel like an echo chamber.
• I started taking action on things that matter to me. I now call my representatives when something is important to me, even if I think they are already voting that way. Not every week, but when it’s really important. I also started volunteering and donating to causes that help me connect with the people impacted whenever possible.
• Books are still my favorite way to learn. I also prioritize the long-form content of books to learn about things in the headlines when I’m able. This doesn’t happen every week or even every month, but I truly believe something is better than nothing.
Should you do exactly what I did? Of course not.
But, I hope this will encourage you to examine your passive or active own news consumption and shift out of default into being more intentional.
Alittle over a year ago, I told my husband I wanted to be more involved in CrossFit (I’d been doing it for a year and was addicted). The next day, the owners of our gym asked my husband and I if we’d be interested in becoming coaches. Um yes.
We dove into helping at the gym, took the level one trainer course and went through the internship program. Before long, I was working as a full-time coach and my husband was coaching when it fit around his full-time job as a paramedic.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, though, our duties/coaching schedules increased due to some unforeseen circumstances.
Alone, that would be a bit hectic. Combine it with my online business, his full-time job and our four children and things could be downright crazy.
Thankfully, I’ve been pursuing simple living for several years and it’s the habits I’ve developed that are saving my life right now. I could be burned out. I could be sick. I could be hating life and missing all the important people in my life.
But I’m not.
Instead, I’ve learned some tips and tricks over the last decade that are keeping me more than sane right now.
I’ve always hated meal planning. I love the results, yes (not wondering what’s for dinner is lovely), but the sitting down and figuring out what to make part? Meh.
However, I knew that in this crazy season of life, this simple practice I picked up long ago would be key to keeping my family well-fed without blowing up our food budget.
Thankfully, I figured out a way to simplify it even more – a Pinterest board (slaps forehead).
On Sunday night, I sit down with my computer and search Pinterest for Instant Pot ideas (this post could easily be on how my Instant Pot is saving my life right now).
Once I find a few that sound good, I pin them to my “This Week’s Meal Plan” board. I use the Pinterest app on my phone to pull up the recipe while I make dinner.
Every weekday at 3:30, I throw everything in my Instant Pot then head out at 4:05 to coach a class. My husband either takes over from there or I finish up after my class. This takes so much stress off of feeding my family and we’re able to sit down to eat together almost every night.
In addition to simplicity, connection is one of my top values, which makes dinners as a family a top priority. But it extends beyond our immediate family – we have a weekly family dinner on Sundays with my parents and brother.
Time with friends is also important, so there are still coffee and dinner dates with friends on the calendar.
I love knowing these gatherings are sprinkled among my classes.
I’ve been a big proponent of self-care for a long time now, but as I was transitioning into coaching last year, I slacked a little. Ok, a lot. I got pretty sick with strep throat and was out for days. When it happened again a few months later, I got the hint.
Self-care has to be a priority so I don’t wind up sick in bed, unable to do anything.
So, in addition to making sure the important people in my life have a place in my calendar, I make sure I do as well. Daily workouts. Haircuts (my favorite). Even the occasional splurge like a massage.
Fitness can be complicated. The fancy clothes, the special equipment, the wearable technology that dutifully calculates your steps and heartbeat 24/7 – it’s all a bit intimidating, let alone expensive.
Which isn’t to say sports that require technical gear can’t be loads of fun. I remain proud as heck that I’ve completed two triathlons, and managing the necessary wardrobe and accouterment is often considered the fourth event of the otherwise tripartite race.
Skiing, kayaking, rock climbing – there are so many ways to break a sweat and build strength and enjoy the incredible gift of having a functioning body. (Given how many times in my life I’ve been sidelined by recurring back pain, I don’t take that gift for granted.)
But fitness does not have to be complicated.
I am presently healthier than I’ve ever been in my life – healthier than when I was logging elliptical sessions at my college gym, healthier than when I was training for a half-marathon, healthier even than when I chiseled two minutes off my swim time in my second tri.
I attribute my newfound fitness to eating more healthfully, practicing yoga regularly, and – wait for it – walking.
Last March we adopted Betsy, a Labrador mix with a penchant for hyperactivity. I started taking her on longer and longer walks to burn off some of her boundless energy.
We worked our way up to brisk four mile jaunts through the streets of our town, often returning just as the rest of the family was waking up. I quickly came to cherish the time.
I learned my neighborhood in a far more intimate way than is possible from behind a steering wheel. I started checking out audiobooks from our public library and, as our constitutionals lengthened, left my annual reading goal in the dust. I burned enough calories to drop a dress size.
Walking is not universally accessible, obviously. Some legs do not bear weight; some neighborhoods are not safe for strolling.
Though I’ve enjoyed witnessing the subtle changing of the seasons, for the last couple of weeks it has been bitterly cold in my neck of the woods. Turns out both Betsy and I call it quits when the thermometer drops too close to zero.
But walking is one of the more accessible forms of physical exercise one can take up. It is free and freeing, gentle yet remarkably effective.
It can be urban exploration or wilderness wandering, peacefully solitary or a wonderful way to connect with friends. Childcare issues cramping your exercise regimen? Toss that baby in the jogging stroller and you’re good to go.
The bottom line is this: If you are diligent enough to take a decent walk daily, you may well find yourself fit as a fiddle.
It’s that simple.
(More or less. It helps to cut the sugar and eat your veggies, too, but that goes without saying, right?)