150 Hours: A Quest to Spend More Time Outside

A quick disclosure: this post uses affiliate links.

Like most self-improvement projects that I’ve decided to jump into, I got the idea for spending more time outside on Facebook.

Someone shared a link about the #150hoursoutside project, which is intended to help kids spend more time outdoors.

I connected immediately with Leah, herself an “idea person” prone to creating or jumping into new projects. But even more so with the concept of setting a goal to spend 150 hours outside in 2019.

I have good friends who are serious runners, horse trainers, dedicated hikers, elementary teachers, and avid gardeners. They regularly spend time outdoors in support of their occupations and their hobbies. Me? I could go weeks only being outside to get in and out of my car at the grocery store or the library.

My sister tells a story about a kid in her preschool class on a field trip to the zoo, asking if they could please turn down the A/C. She had to tell him, “That’s just the wind.”

I can relate.

150 hours over the course of one year works out to a little less than 3 hours per week or a little less than half an hour per day. That seemed perfectly reasonable. It takes about 15 minutes to complete a lap around our block, so doing that a few times most days is definitely achievable. (I do appreciate a good SMART goal!)

I had an early advantage: we had several days of 50- and 60-degree weather, definitely not the norm for Kansas City in January. It was easy to take longer walks in sunshine and chilly—not frigid—weather. I started out with a streak of ten days in a row of spending at least half an hour outside.

But then the ice came. And the snow. And the single-digit temps.

Honestly though, I think I’ve found it easier to bundle up with two pairs of pants and a fleece-lined hat than I will find handling peak Midwestern heat this summer.

In any case, the time outside has literally been a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I take along a podcast or album I’ve been enjoying, but mostly I walk in silence. I’ve been meditating on my big-picture goals and my daily to-do lists, drafting the things I’m writing at the moment (like this post), or just remembering to enjoy looking at the trees. Plus, it beats sitting in front of my HappyLight—no matter how much I appreciate its full-spectrum glow this time of year.

I’ve discovered that it takes me about 15 minutes to get to my local library branch and 20 to get to my favorite grocery store, which make perfect (non-shopping) afternoon errands to complete on foot.

So far I’ve got 10.5 hours under my belt, which puts me just slightly ahead of schedule for the year. I’m genuinely enjoying the #150hoursoutside challenge, so I’m excited to continue taking afternoon-slump strolls and keeping my FitBit well-fed each day.

Freedom from Routines: My Surprise at Missing the Structure

I’ve written before about the hate/hate relationship I have with my alarm clock.

It’s been a long time in the making: I was not a morning kid or a morning teen (sorry, Mom!) or a morning college student. I’m certainly not a morning adult. So I was none too sorry to stop it using it completely and forgo commitment to any routine when I became a full-time freelancer.

arrows-background-black-and-white-745365.jpgBut it turns out there can be a downside to having a completely unstructured sleep pattern. Like regularly staying up until 2 a.m. watching Black-ish working and taking naps every afternoon. Add in the manic rush of the holiday season and I was feeling more than a little disoriented by the time 2018 came to a close.

I knew better than to set any kind of resolution, but I did want to be more intentional about my sleep habits and general daily routine in the new year. Let’s just say that the first week did not go as planned. (Can’t break a resolution if you don’t set a resolution!)

But this week I’ve been working out of a coworking space, which has encouraged to get me up and going earlier in the morning, be more productive during the day in an office setting, and more comfortably relax in the evening—and to get to bed before the stroke of midnight. I’m not sure if it’s the space itself or just the change of scenery, but it’s done great things for my sense of accomplishment.

Away from home, I’m not getting distracted by the TV or snacks or a sudden urge to vacuum. It’s easier to draw the line between work and not-work when there’s a short commute at the end of the day. (Otherwise, it’s remarkably easy to let the workday just bleed right into everything else.)

I don’t have any plans to return to a regular 9-to-5 schedule, but this week has given me some insight into how far I’d swung out of any routine—and made me appreciate the value in creating a little structure in my day.

How about you: Is routine your friend or your foe? If you’re a freelancer or remote worker, what tactics help you stay in the groove?

The Tidiness of KonMari and the Joy of Book Clutter

Ali (that’s my husband) and I have been watching Marie Kondo’s new show on Netflix. I read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, not long after it came out and was smitten with the idea of only keeping what sparks joy. I have such a tendency to hold on to things just because I have them—but what’s the use in having fifty T-shirts if I only enjoy wearing two of them?

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic premise of the KonMari method, it’s that you gather up all your belongings by category (such as every article of clothing you own) to consider what to keep or discard, rather than the more traditional decluttering tactic of tackling one room at a time. You hold each item and ask whether it sparks joy, whether you get some feeling of love or thrill from wearing, using, or looking at it: if it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, thank it for its service to you and let it go.

But giving up clothes comes easier than paring down my collection of books, the second category to prune using the method. I just like having them, even the ones I’ve already read more than once and even the ones I’ve owned for awhile and haven’t yet cracked open. There’s a Japanese word for buying books and never reading them—tsundoku—and I certainly relate to that spirit.

More than just an affinity for collecting books, though, there’s a sense of vastness in having a large personal library. Keeping shelves stocked with books is a nice reminder that there’s so much out there still to read and learn and enjoy, no matter how many titles I read. As a recent Fast Company post puts it, “An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about.” So much possibility exists!

I like what Marie Kondo encourages in suggesting that we let go of the things that no longer spark joy in our lives. Ali and I are planning our own KonMari-style tidying. But books do create joy for us, and I’m definitely not planning to force myself to give mine up any time soon.

Tell me what you think! Are you diving into the KonMari method in your home? Are you ready to give up books for the sake of tidying?

2019 Shopping Ban: Why I’m Not Shopping This Year

I was searching for a pair of boots in the back of the closet—ones I usually just wear around the holidays—when I found it. A plastic bag from Kohl’s with a pair of boot socks and a couple of shirts that still had their tags, the receipt crumpled up in one of the sleeves. I had no idea how long they’d been stuck back there and I was too embarrassed to check the date on the receipt.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been here.

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One of the books that really stuck with me in 2018 was The Year of Less from Cait Flanders. I’ve had my moments of minimalism over the years, but mostly my tendencies lean more toward packrat. I buy things on an impulse, I like to “take advantage” of a good sale, and I get sentimental about the things around me.

I’ve flirted with the Container Store method (buying my way toward organizational salvation), the KonMari method (keeping only what sparks joy), the cash-only method (put those credit cards away), the wait-30-days method (don’t shop on impulses). None has been an outright failure, and yet . . .

What I liked about Cait’s book is that it points to something beyond the stuff itself—and also the money itself. It’s not exactly that the things I like to buy are terrible or extravagant or regrettable. It’s just that it’s become a habit. I didn’t have any trouble spending my money before, but now I have the Amazon app in my pocket and find myself looking at Target’s clearance endcaps more than weekly. Yikes.

My apartment houses two adults and a cat but it’s stuffed to the brim with stuff: stuff we don’t really need, stuff we don’t actually use, brand-new stuff we don’t even know exists in the back of our closet.

So we’re going to stop.

My husband and I are doing a 2019 shopping ban.

We can buy groceries, fresh flowers, birthday cards. We can buy household and personal care items like laundry detergent and shampoo, but only when they run out. We can buy cold medicine and cat food.

But no books. No clothes. No trinkets or gadgets. No throw pillows or vinyl records or scarves or impossibly adorable baby clothes for our niece and nephew.

It’s going to be tough: I love to shop and to find clever things and to support local makers and to send gifts to my loved ones.

But it also already feels like a relief. There’s a line in the sand and an opportunity to reset that impulse. I hope that by the time this year comes to a close, the biggest thing I’ve bought myself this year is some mindfulness.

Meals on Wheels

When I leave Evelyn’s house, she usually says something like, “Thanks for sharing a few words with me!” or “See you next time! Stay coolio!” It’s always the best part of my week.

I’ve been delivering Meals on Wheels for about a year. Every other Thursday I drive around my city for about 45 minutes to take hot food to seniors. Some of them don’t leave their houses much. Some are on restricted budgets. Some just don’t cook.

Some tell me about the phone call they just had with a son or daughter or grandkid, and some talk to me like I’m the only person they’ve spoken to all week.

It’s a great program: providing a nutritious and hot meal, a little human interaction, and a built-in wellness check (if someone doesn’t answer, program managers follow up to ensure the client is okay). In the winter, volunteers provide a couple shelf-stable meals in case drivers aren’t able to get out there because of inclement weather later in the season.

Meals on Wheels is a national program and I recommend it to anyone I know who’s looking to get involved in their community. All you need is the occasional free lunch hour and reliable transportation.

Currently, 1 in 5 Americans is over the age of 60—and that population is expected to nearly double by 2060. People are living longer, but many of the eldest in our communities start to have physical and financial challenges that put them at risk for going hungry. But two million Meals on Wheels volunteers are supporting them, one lunch break at a time.

Do you volunteer in your community? What causes are you most passionate about?

Handwritten Notes

Do you write handwritten notes? I’ve always loved to send snail mail, but it can be so easy to settle for a quick text instead or to rely on greeting cards to do the talking for you.

I’ve been reading The Art of the Handwritten Note. I picked it up at a used book store several years ago and had peeked through it occasionally. But I’m only just now reading it cover to cover. It’s reminding me of the joy of finding a handwritten note—slipped into a purse or coat pocket, in a stack of junk ads and bills in the mailbox, or from someone unexpected.

I have some regular pen-pal buddies (Hi, Jessie! Hi, Kaitlin!) but I hope to send more notes in 2019. More notes to say thank you. To say I miss you. To say hello or isn’t this sunshine nice or here’s what I’m reading or I love you.

If writing more notes is something you’re interested in, I recommend Margaret Shepherd’s book. She helps you consider the words, the envelope, the pen, the paper. (“Do not write with a pencil or use blue-lined school paper, especially not notebook paper with holes punched in it. That’s like going out dressed only in your underpants. That is only for rough drafts and for people under the age of ten.”)

She reminds you both of the absolute treasure that a handwritten note can be and that done is better than perfect: you don’t need to be a professional calligrapher writing on parchment with an expensive pen to give someone the joy of receiving a thoughtful note.

4 Sites to Help Diversify the Sources You Rely On

book-books-bookshelf-159621.jpgDo you wish you had more diverse sources to reference in your writing? Sometimes when I’m working on a piece, I realize that I’m using the same types of resources and citations over and over again.

When thinking of promoting diversity, paying attention to whose work you’re referencing and whose voice you’re quoting is an important piece of the puzzle.

That’s why I was so excited to learn the existence of the brilliantly named Women Also Know Stuff page . . . and then shortly thereafter, Women Also Know History, People of Color Also Know Stuff, and Sourcelist.

These sites all provide searchable databases of women, minorities, and other underrepresented populations who are experts in their fields. Need a scholar who studies the American presidency and executive politics? Here are 57 women located in the United States, sorted by state, with links to their own respective websites.

Search by field or location or experience level. See content areas and read short bios and find contact information. Be encouraged by the number and diversity of voices out there who want to talk to you about what they know.

Don’t just quote the most readily available content or the voices you tend to hear the most often.

How to Write a Book: 3 Tricks to Finishing Your Novel

More than clearance Halloween candy, more than the promise of turkey and pumpkin pie, and even more than the joy of sweater weather . . . November is about writing.

Have you thought about writing a book? As far as bucket list goals go, it’s a pretty popular one. But where to find the time or the energy? Or even the pressure of a deadline? NaNoWriMo to the rescue! National Novel Writing Month is a free global community program that encourages you to set a goal and stick to it: write 50,000 words in the 30 days November has to offer.

I’ve attempted it several times but have only “won” once; I have high hopes of doing it again this year! Here are my three favorite tactics for making it across that word-count finish line:

Put it on your calendar

This can seem like both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. Time can feel scarce, but there’s definitely something to be said for making it a priority by including it alongside other must-dos (like work, childcare, or feeding yourself). Whole afternoons can be great when you can find them, but don’t forget to look for those 15-, 30-, or 60-minute chunks too.

Find a buddy

Nothing keeps you accountable like a friend who’s in the same boat. Get a buddy to sign up with you or find fellow writers who are participating (there are tons of great communities, both online and in real life). Check in with each other, meet up for a write-in. And when you find yourself getting stuck, remember that others are out there chugging along on their manuscripts too.

Just keep going

Even if you’re certain that what you’re putting on-screen is garbage, even if you’re sure it’s not propelling your plot, momentum counts for a lot. Whether you take advantage of sprint exercises at a community write-in event or through the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter account—of if you’re just forcing yourself to keep those fingers moving—that energy often allows you to find some clue, angle, or thread that will inspire you sooner or later to really move forward in earnest.

You can always edit later, so keep stringing those words together. Before long, you have a thousand words and then fifty thousand words. Now you’ve got a manuscript!

Signed up? Let me know how you’re doing!

5 Easy Steps for a Luxurious At-Home Facial

One of the best things about working for yourself is that you can work anytime! And one of the worst things about working for yourself is that you can work anytime.

After a couple exceptionally busy weeks, I found myself nearing a breaking point: I was not making enough time to take care of myself and it was showing in my stress levels. So I’ve been creating space on the weekends to relax: with a novel, with a TV show, or with a facial.

Let’s be real: when you think of facials when you think of self-care, that can get expensive in a hurry. But I’ve found some little luxuries that won’t max out my credit card and still feel like a true treat. My routine these last few Sundays has looked a little like this:

  1. Scrub: I’ve long been a fan of Indigo Wild’s stuff. (They’re not paying me!) They’re a local Kansas City company, they make all-natural products, and their scents are amazing. But I don’t think anything can top their Rosemary-Mint & Walnut Sugar Scrub. It’s like absolute magic on your face, leaving it looking and feeling like new.
  2. Mask: I used to love picking up a sheet mask, but typically went for the bargain option at a big-box store. It turns out those are often full of scary chemicals—like hormone disruptors and known carcinogens. Yikes! But Indigo Wild’s Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Treatment is thick, refreshing, and carcinogen-free.
  3. Moisturize: Dry winter skin is a pretty common issue, especially if you tend to have dry skin year-round. Last year seemed particularly harsh, but luckily I discovered Wild Wash Soap Co.’s Winter Crème. “Deep hydration” is almost an understatement: super soothing and basically an overnight miracle for restoring dry skin.
  4. Roll: Ice rollers can help alleviate redness and puffiness, shrink pores, and calm skin. Plus, it feels wonderful! I actually bought this one (full disclosure: affiliate link) to help with occasional migraines, but it makes a perfect addition to an at-home facial. It also helps soothe angry muscles after you try to force yourself to go for a run.
  5. Treats: Sugar is not known for promoting healthy skin but adding a beer and a small treat can make the whole thing seem even more indulgent. There are few things, particularly on a Sunday afternoon, that can’t be improved with a bag of caramel bites.

What I love most about this process is that I can take enough time to really enjoy the process, but it’s not such an ordeal that it becomes a chore or a major scheduling hassle.

Do you have a favorite self-care routine? I’d love to hear about it!

Meditation

I went to my first meditation class in college, where we did 30- and 45-minute sessions. I enjoyed it so much that I went back to my dorm to place a big Amazon order: floor cushion, mala beads, an eye pillow, most of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books. It turns out that buying a bunch of props does not automatically create a consistent meditation practice, but that first experience stuck with me and I’ve enjoyed meditating ever since. Here are some ways that meditation has been especially helpful since becoming self-employed:

Transitioning between tasks

Running a one-woman shop means that I’m not just doing work for clients, but also marketing my services, preparing for taxes, and sharpening my skills. More and more studies are showing that multitasking is a farce, but meditation can help! Taking a couple minutes—or even just a few breaths—between to-dos can make all the difference in refocusing my energy and preparing for the next item.

Calming anxiety

Dealing with anxiety is no joke, and the more tools you have the better. Meditation has been a great way to keep anxious feelings in check during busy days and stressful situations. I’ll often put some time of my calendar to meditate, but it’s helpful to remember that I don’t need a whole hour (or a special cushion) to get the benefits. Just taking one or five minutes can be enough to slow down and feel the present moment, lessening the anxiety.

Getting to sleep

Especially if I’ve been up late watching TV or working on a big project, it can be hard to get past the thoughts of to-do lists, the next day’s plans, or upcoming deadlines—instead of getting to sleep. Meditation is a great addition to a before-bed routine. Focusing on my breath and waiting for the change in my heart rate can help me drift right off to sleep with ease.

If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice, I highly recommend calm.com and their app (as a customer, not an advertiser!). Have you tried meditating? What tools do you like?