Author Archive: mjdicker

Delight in the Little Things

Originally published as a TinyLetter

When I’m feeling down, life seems like a series of hassles. The bills to pay. The kids’ needs to tend to. The dishes to wash and house to clean (why won’t it just stay clean?!). My To-Do list is endless and overwhelming. It feels like the next day is going to be the same way, and the next day after that.

When I can step back and see things more clearly, however, I’m aware that for every hassle, there’s also a delightful moment.

Case in point: Before 8:30 a.m. today, I had already let the dog out, changed Avery’s diaper twice and gotten her dressed, asked Evan several times to stop putting his feet on his sister, prepped his backpack, made lunches, gotten myself ready, and dropped Avery off at school.

But there were plenty of delightful moments, as well: I was up before everyone else and had a half hour of quiet to myself, drinking coffee with sweet cream and collecting my thoughts. When Avery woke up, she came across a bendy cow figurine on the floor and squealed, “Cowww! Mooooo!” as she held it up for me to see. In the car on the way to drop her off, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Here to Make Friends, whose funny and brilliant feminist hosts were discussing the latest drama on Bachelor in Paradise.

I’m often so stuck in my own head, ruminating on the hassles and worries, that I don’t fully experience, or even notice, the delightful moments all around me. This morning I made the effort to quiet my mind so I could take in the chubbiness of Avery’s little dimpled hand as she sat next to me on the couch, and feel the soothing warmth of the water on my skin in the shower.

I’m being more intentional about creating these moments, too, and not just waiting for them to show up. I make a point to hug Evan tightly and tell him I love him before Darren takes him to school, even if we’re running super late and he’s been a handful that morning. He’s been replying, unprompted, “Have a good day!” which always makes me smile. I’ve been putting Avery’s hair in pigtails more often, which takes just a minute and makes me want to squeeze her because she looks so darn cute. My version of “Stop and smell the roses” is “Pause to pet the dog before stepping over her to get where you’re going.”

At work, inspired by a Happiness Hack from the Happier in Hollywood podcast, I put up a white board in the kitchen to share a quote of the day. A bit of wisdom about happy living and productivity boost my mood and, I hope, everyone else’s.

The business of living involves a lot of hassles, yes, but it’s full of just as many delightful moments — or even more, if we’re intentional about creating and appreciating them.

what’s fueling me


Darren knows what will crack me up, and he sent me this montage of Paul Rudd interviews with Conan O’Brien. I won’t spoil the joke, but it had me shaking and hyperventilating with tears streaming down my cheeks as I tried to contain my laughter in our quiet office.

I’ve been using the Momentum extension for Chrome, which is a pure joy: when you open a new tab, it displays a beautiful photo from somewhere in the world, with an inspirational quote. It asks, “What is your main focus for today?” and provides checkboxes for little tasks to get there.

My song of the summer is “Adventurers” by Holly Maher, a happy little ditty that I’ve been listening to on loop and playing on the guitar. (“Who’s got time for feeling sad when there’s so much fun to be had?” … like I always say.)

Righting the Ship

Originally published as a TinyLetter

One of my biggest anxiety triggers is feeling like I’ve done something, or failed to do something, that has caused irrevocable damage.

I’ve been feeling this way lately about my kids’ sleep. For the past six weeks or so, it has been awful. I was making progress with night weaning Avery until she got sick, and then we had visitors, and then we traveled, so I’m still getting up twice a night to nurse her. Meanwhile, Evan has developed some severe separation anxiety and won’t fall asleep without Darren or me in the room with him. He’ll wake up 1-2 times during the night and dash across the house into our room, so one of us will take him back to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. and crash on his bottom bunk. I often end up pinballing between Evan and Avery; just as I get one down, the other gets up. The next day, I’m completely exhausted and still need to function at work.

My thoughts about this situation quickly turn to self-blame and catastrophizing. Why didn’t you establish a good sleep routine early on, with an earlier bedtime? No wonder the kids get so cranky and throw tantrums, which strains our family time. They probably aren’t developing and learning as well as they could be. Other parents get their kids to sleep well. You’ve really screwed yours up, probably for life.

It’s like I’m the captain of the Titanic and have rammed the ship straight into the fateful iceberg, so it’s taking on water and sending innocent passengers plunging into the icy depths of the ocean. (As Darren says fondly, I can be “just a little dramatic.”)

In reality, most times I’m steering a much smaller vessel, and it hasn’t been wrecked beyond repair; it’s only veered off course. The sooner I realize that, the easier it is to right the ship. Here are the steps I’m taking to make that happen:

1) Notice when things are off. Pay attention, watch for signs of trouble, and identify the problem. Ours is clear: Our kids resist sleep and wake up multiple times per night. This is not sustainable!

2) Have compassion for yourself. Instead of yourself for screwing up, remind yourself, “If you had known better, you would have done better.” Especially when it comes to parenting. These kids don’t come with operating manuals. None of us has it all figured out, and we’re doing our best.

3) Believe that you can right the ship. Even if it seems daunting, you really can. All is not lost, even when it feels like it is.

4) Look for pathways to get back on course. There will be at least a few, and likely many.

Right now, it seems impossible that both my kids will sleep through the night. But I know that eventually they will, and Darren and I are experimenting with new approaches to this end every day: action figures for protection and stuffed animals for company, nightlights, and various rewards for staying in bed. Next week, we will be discussing Evan’s situation with the sleep consultant who helped us make a plan for Avery (it’s not cheap, but it will be worth every penny if it works).

If you’re in the midst of a problem, you don’t need to go down with the ship and tell yourself that it’s all your fault. If you’ve binged on junk food, you can get back to healthy eating tomorrow. If you’ve spoken harshly to your partner, apologize and commit to being kinder next time. Acknowledge with compassion that you’re off course, make some adjustments, and right the ship.

Where are you having a hard time, and how can you get back on course?


what’s fueling me

I bought this weighted blanket on sale after reading a blog post called This 15 Pound Blanket Helped Me Rewire My Brain. It’s comforting and tension-releasing, like a Snuggie that hugs you, or a Thundershirt for humans. It helps to pile it on the pressure point on my chest, which gets tight when I’m anxious.

I’m looking for daily good news stories like this one to remind me that there are still plenty of good people in the world.

I tried the Whole Foods 365 Liquid Energy Shot yesterday when I was on the struggle bus, and its caffeine and B vitamins perked me up for a good four hours.

You really can.

 Originally published as a TinyLetter

One of the most fascinating things about having children is seeing yourself reflected in them. They’re a mirror that magnifies your beauty, your quirks, and your flaws in ways that you can’t deny.

Sometimes this is amusing, like when I was reading Evan a bedtime story and he asked me a question I had to think about before answering. Deep in thought for a moment, I was surprised to see him looking back at me, stroking his chin as if he had a beard, and I realized that he was doing it because I was doing it. I hadn’t even been aware of this, and we both busted out laughing.

Sometimes our little Mini Me’s make us confront our own shortcomings, which is not nearly as charming. Evan is taking his first swim lessons, and this week he reached the point where he wasn’t going to progress until he could put his face in the water and blow out through his nose. Unfortunately, he would grimace and shriek every time his nose touched the surface, jerking his head up immediately and yelling for a towel.

“Just close your mouth and blow out your nose,” I said. “You can do it out in the air, so you can do it underwater.”

“I can’t!” Evan said, all wound up and shaking his head adamantly.

“You really can,” I said.

“I can’t!” he insisted. I saw his face cloud over. “I don’t want to do swim lessons anymore!” For the rest of the lesson, he pouted and whined and refused to put his face in the water.

“Oh my God,” I thought. “I do this, too.”

I can’t figure out how to wean Avery when she is resisting violently and stealing my sleep.

I can’t accomplish my creative goals while the kids are young and needing so much attention.

I can’t meet obstacles with confidence instead of anxiety.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. My mood darkens. I feel stuck and helpless.

Often these are vague assumptions I’m carrying around, and when I step back and articulate them, I can see them objectively. While I have compassion for where they’re coming from — frustration and desperation leading to hopelessness — I have to acknowledge that they’re just not true. When I’m able to access my wiser self, I see minor roadblocks instead of dead ends, with multiple pathways around them.

I can experiment with different weaning strategies until something works. Avery is not still going to be nursing when she goes off to college.

I can accomplish my creative goals, even if it takes longer than it would if the kids didn’t need me so often. I can make good use of the short windows of quiet time that I have, even if they’re interrupted (multiple times!).

I can learn to pause and breathe before reacting to challenges so I can think through them rationally. I can learn to believe that I can handle any challenge.

I can, I can, I can.

If I really think about it, there are very few “I can’ts” that are actually true if I really set my mind to overcoming them.

When I feel an “I can’t” coming on, I’m going to picture Evan in that pool, anxious and frustrated by a challenge that he’s actually well equipped to overcome, and calmly and confidently tell both of us, “You really can.”

A recent episode of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Question Your Limiting Beliefs, delves into this topic. What are your own “I can’ts” — especially the ones that you haven’t articulated yet but are holding you back? 

what’s fueling me

My sister, Gill, and I love sharing music recommendations with each other. We used to make birthday playlists for each other but recently decided that it was silly to save everything up for a whole year instead of sharing the joy year-round. We made a collaborative playlist on Spotify, and it brightens my day to come across a song I know she’d love and add it to the playlist right away, or to hit refresh and hear a new song that she’s added. It’s a fun way to stay connected from afar.
I’m really excited to see these movies: Oceans 8 (Sandra! Mindy! Cate! Badass female heist movie!), Hearts Beat Loud (single dad and teenage daughter form a band), Ibiza (ridiculous fun, like The Hangover with female leads), Crazy Rich Asians (all-Asian cast being glitzy and fabulous), and A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper sings?! and with Lady Gaga?!).

It makes me so happy to look at the subscriber list for this TinyLetter. It means a lot to me that you — people I know and love, and people I haven’t met — invite my words into your inbox. Thank you.

The Difference Between Knowing and Doing

Originally published as a TinyLetter

There’s a big difference between knowing and doing, isn’t there?

It’s baffling, the gap between what I know and what I do. I called this TinyLetter “Like I always say…” because it’s infinitely easier to rattle off wise words for happy living (like “This, too, shall pass”) than to follow them. Especially in moments of stress.

I actually know quite a bit about best practices for a happy, productive life, having immersed myself in personal development (a much better term than “self-help”) content since high school.

I can tell you all about Martin Seligman’s research on learned helplessness and learned optimism, but I still get stuck in self-defeating thought patterns of “I can’t” and “This is never going to change.”

I can explain researcher John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four types of interaction that predict divorce and other ruptured relationships, but I still react with defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling when I’m really angry.

I can share nuggets of wisdom from my sheroes Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, and Gretchen Rubin, and I have 20+ parenting books on my shelf (see photo — Evan’s spirited nature has really given me a run for my money!). So why am I not a fully expressed human being and exceptional parent by now? Why do I keep tripping over what Gretchen calls “happiness stumbling blocks”?

In moments of stress, Darren will sometimes ask me, “Is there a tool you can use here?” and I sit there searching my mental database and coming up empty. (Darren, on the other hand, doesn’t know half of what I do about all of this, but effortlessly manages to practice it. Must be nice!!)

So what’s going on here? A few things, I think:

1) Analysis paralysis. Over 20+ years, I’ve amassed an enormous toolbox to draw from. Under duress, I find myself desperately rummaging through the jumble of tools and coming up empty because there are just so many to choose from.

What I can do: Organize my toolbox in advance. When I learn about a new tool, I can decide what to use it for: “This will be a good tool for (when Evan sasses me / I find myself procrastinating / I feel hopeless.”) That way, when the situation calls for a wrench, I’m not trying to fix it with a hammer I grabbed from the mess at random.

2) Unrealistic expectations. I expect myself to apply best practices as soon as I encounter them, but things are simply easier said than done. That’s why new year’s resolutions fall by the wayside, even though we know they would make us happier and healthier. It’s just human nature to fall into the same old habits we’re used to.

What I can do: Realize that these lessons are called “practices” for a reason, because they’re not quick and permanent fixes, Like the board game Othello, they take “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” I’m working on taking a pause before reacting, and while this will get easier, it may always take conscious effort — especially when it comes to parenting.

3) Blind spots. It’s hard to notice the gradual evolution in yourself because you’re with yourself 24/7. It’s like how you see someone else’s kids every so often and see how much they’ve grown, but you don’t notice the same kinds of changes in your own kids.

​What I can do: Recognize progress. I wish my 15-year-old self and my 37-year-old self could have coffee together so I could see all the ways I’ve evolved, due to life experience and work on myself. I know that I’m kinder, more confident, and less judgmental, and even in the areas I’m still working on, I’ve made progress.

What are the gaps between what you know and what you do? Where have you made progress, and which tools are you using to keep doing better? Hit reply and tell me.

what’s fueling me

Last week I was drafting a different TinyLetter that just wasn’t working, and I felt deflated and frustrated after wasting the one precious hour I have for creative projects in the morning. My sister happened to send me a clip of Janelle Monae on Sesame Street singing “The Power of Yet” (It “needs to be my mantra,” she said). It brought tears to my eyes because it was — and continues to be — exactly what I needed to hear.

Selling our old house (hallelujah!) has freed up time and money to put into our new house, and I was overjoyed to buy a longtime wish list item: a digital piano. I grew up playing an upright piano but have grown to prefer a digital because it’s compact and easy to move, you can change the key (helpful for singing when the piece is written too high or low for your voice), you don’t need to tune it, and there are a lot of fun features built in, like different instruments, a metronome, and the ability to record. I’ve been learning the Westworld theme, which is a shiveringly gorgeous piece of music, through a Guitar Hero-style tutorial on YouTube. The kids are enjoying messing around with making music, too.

I’ve been loving Spotify’s Time Capsule, which creates a two-hour playlist of songs from your teenage years based on your age and location. From “Interstate Love Song” to “I Love Your Smile,” these songs are making me feel like I’m 15 again, in the best way possible.

Signs from the Universe

Originally published as a TinyLetter

I was not expecting to change jobs last month, but sometimes the universe has other plans.

I’d been working for an education foundation and had started a new marketing role there in January. I was loving the work and my team, and things were humming along smoothly. I had just announced the new job on Facebook, and my friends were excited and supportive.

Then, one afternoon, somewhat but not completely out of the blue, it became clear that the CEO and I were not going to mesh. It felt awful, but it didn’t seem like I had much choice but to brush away the tears, dig in my heels, and soldier on.

As fate would have it, I did have another choice (and of course we always do). The very next day, Darren’s marketing director at Creative Distillery, his branding and design firm, let him know that she’d accepted another job. He was going to have to find someone to fill her role, someone with my exact skill set, and someone he trusted. What kind of crazy cosmic timing is that?

Still, my first reaction was no. I felt loyal to my team at the foundation. The money was good. It was easier to stick with what I knew than to risk making a change.

Darren and I kept talking it over. Could this work financially? Yes. Could we work together? We did it for four years while we got the business off the ground. Working for myself would open up more time for creative projects — my writing, the podcast that my sister and I have been working on — and I’d be able to speak freely about what I was struggling with without worrying about optics. Plus, when my kids were sick, I could work from home without feeling guilty about being out of the office.

It felt like a door had appeared in front of me, inviting me to step through it toward a bigger life, the kind I envisioned for myself. And I decided to listen to my instincts, summon my courage, and step through.

My first few weeks have been not without their challenges — the learning curve of any new role, adjusting to taking direction from my husband instead of leading my own team — but I know in my core that this was the right move. I just need to be patient and bear with the process (like I always say…) as I settle into the new normal.

I believe in signs from the universe that point us toward our calling. It’s up to us whether we pay attention and follow them. Sometimes it’s a rough road, and we may be able to see only a few feet in front of us at a time, but we have to trust that we’ll end up better off than where we started. Right now I’m not quite sure where my own path will lead, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

what’s fueling me


My friend Kathryn recently introduced me to “The Mother,” a gorgeous song that gets me a little verklempt every time I hear it. It captures the joys and sacrifices of motherhood that are so difficult to put into words. I’d heard Brandi Carlile’s name go by for years but had never listened to her music, and my friends say that her albums “Bear Creek” and “The Story” are their favorites. I love her voice and vibe and can’t wait to hear more.

 re: my last TinyLetter

In my last TinyLetter, “Untangling the Knots,” I wrote about being overwhelmed by the prospect of untangling a big, ugly mess of necklaces but achieving it one strand at a time. Afterward, I wrote to my writer friend Margaret, “Was I clear that the untangling can go beyond necklaces? Darren thought so, but now I’m wondering whether people got the metaphor I was going for!”

She replied, “Oh, I think people should get it! Especially with the context of your letters in general, no one would think you were advocating a child-centered approach to jewelry maintenance. :P”

But I think it did seem like I was just sharing a story about organizing my jewelry, to which you may have thought, “Hmm…good for you?” I could have given an example or two of applying the “one strand at a time” strategy, like paying off major debt or getting in shape when you haven’t exercised in a while.

With my old job, I’d have to rush a TinyLetter out on a Friday morning so I could get to work, but with my new role I can take a bit more time to say what I mean. Cheers to that.

Untangling the Knots

Originally published as a TinyLetter

You know when you move house and stash a few items in the corner, and suddenly it’s eight months later and they still haven’t put themselves away?

One of those items stored during our move last summer was my wooden jewelry rack. When I packed up the master bedroom in the old house, I put the rack in a large plastic bag, jewelry and all, and placed it flat on a high shelf in the master closet in the new house. I moved a few of my favorite necklaces and earrings into a bathroom drawer to wear until I could access the full selection.

As I was getting dressed each morning, I’d look up at the jewelry rack in the closet and think, “If you just make time to hang this, you’ll have less clutter and more jewelry to wear.” But the weekends would pass, and still it wouldn’t get done. Darren and I needed to buy a stud finder and batteries, and find some drywall anchors and the level and a sharp pencil. It all seemed like too much.

Last Saturday I told Darren, “If we do one thing this weekend, let’s hang my jewelry rack.” So with that laser focus, and with the kids playing together on the floor of our closet, we gathered up all of the items we needed and hung the rack. Seeing it hanging on the wall, at long last, felt like a huge victory.

But as it turns out, there was a Part 2 of the Jewelry Rack Challenge. My strategy to move the jewelry without it tangling didn’t work, and two dozen necklaces and various earrings had become twisted into an ugly mess. I set it on the floor and took stock of it. It looked tangled beyond resolution.

Maybe I should just put it back on the shelf and deal with it another day, I thought. It just seemed like too much to handle, when the kids were starting to go wild. But I knew that I would probably put it off for another six months.

Instead, I sat down on the floor and gently pulled the end of one strand, a thin, silver chain. Evan wanted to help, so I asked him to help me look for the path of the necklace. Over, under, and through, we freed the chain, hung it on the rack, and high-fived each other. Then we tackled a second. When one snagged too much, I resisted the temptation to use brute force that would further tangle the jewelry. Instead, we changed our focus to another necklace that was easier to extract.

One by one, we untangled them, unhurried but determined to reach our goal. Twenty minutes later, the pile on the floor had disappeared, and the necklaces and earrings hung in neat rows on the jewelry rack.

I almost couldn’t believe that we had overcome such a daunting task so quickly. It felt almost magical that suddenly there were no more knots to speak of. We had untangled all of them, one thread at a time.

what’s fueling me

I love The Bachelor, and I’m not ashamed to say it. The collective outrage this week over Arie’s take-backsies proposal to Becca and for-realsies proposal to Lauren, then the nationwide cheer when Becca was announced as Bachelorette, was riveting. The routine of watching The Bachelor and Bachelor-related shows, then dishing with my friends, consuming tweets, the feminist Here to Make Friends Podcast, and Ali Barthwell’s delightful Vulture recaps is one of the few things I do for pure enjoyment and not self-improvement.

The Parkland teens. ‘Nuff said.

This is from last spring, but a friend recently shared it and had me LOL’ing: Newport, Oregon police investigated what appeared to be a cat perched in a tree, holding an assault rifle.

This Is the Work

Originally published as a TinyLetter

“Mommmmyyyyy!” I hear my four-year-old wailing from his bedroom.

It’s the fourth time he’s called me in there, and the clock reads 10:35 p.m. It’s a weeknight, and I want to scream. All I ask after a long day is to drink a glass of wine and watch a half hour of Bachelor Winter Games before I inevitably fall asleep on the couch. A friend has just shared with me an article called “Study Confirms Putting Kids to Bed Earlier Is Better for Mom’s Mental Health,” and to this I say LOLOLOLOL.

As I go to tuck in my son and reassure him for the zillionth time that there are solid brick walls between him and the darkness outside, I remind myself that this is not a waste of time. Instead, “This is the work.”

I’ve had to repeat this mantra more than usual lately. The kids have had colds and have been clingy and fussy. The baby has wanted to be in my arms at all times, not understanding that this prevents me from washing her clothes, cleaning the kitchen, or doing much of anything else.

“This is the work,” I remind myself again.

These interruptions feel frustrating, like detours from whatever I want to be doing at the moment. And they are. But they’re also the actual, boots-on-the-ground work of parenting, not just a distraction to push past to get to the real stuff. I want my son to feel safe and learn to sleep better. I want to comfort my daughter when she’s sick. The minutes and hours I put in now are an investment in an outcome that’s important to me: happy, healthy kids.

This philosophy applies to creative work, as well. This TinyLetter has been sitting in my drafts since last fall, and I keep trying to get it right, changing out the anecdotes and tweaking the phrasing like I’m trying on hats.  I’m still not quite happy with it. But I keep plugging away, because one of my 18 for ’18 goals is to write a post biweekly. Even when it’s not quite working, this is the work.

The darkness outside won’t hurt you. Shh, baby, sleep. Type / delete / repeat. This is the work. This is the work. This is the work. A mantra to repeat often, as many times as it takes to get you where you want to go.

what’s fueling me

Elizabeth Gilbert recently lost her beloved partner, Rayya Elias, and posted this video of Rayya singing at the top of her lungs to the Doobie Brothers, full of joy in the midst of her suffering.

Amy Purdy’s story on Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast gave me chills. Amy lost both of her legs to bacterial meningitis at age 19, but she has gone on to be a Paralympic snowboarder, model and actress, nonprofit founder, author, and competitor on Dancing with the Stars (I watched her in utter awe). She is a reminder that so many of our obstacles are internal, and there’s nothing really stopping us except for our own fear. I can’t wait to watch her TEDx talk, Living Beyond Limits.

18 for ’18

Originally published as a TinyLetter
I love a fresh start. Even opening a fresh page in my notebook at work or closing the many tabs open in my browser is a hopeful act, a chance to do a little better than before.

Gretchen Rubin, happiness researcher and one of my greatest role models, calls this “the strategy of the clean slate“:

The slate may be wiped clean by a change in personal relationships: marriage, divorce, a new baby, a new puppy, a break-up, a new friend, a death. Or the slate may be wiped clean by a change in surroundings: a new apartment, a new city, even rearranged furniture. Or some major aspect of life may change: a new job, a new school, a new doctor.

The New Year is the Super Bowl of fresh starts. I like to do a Year in Review in my journal — even a few bullets about the progress I’ve made — and then an activity envisioning what I want for the new year. I’ve done vision collages, outlined resolutions in Google Docs, and chosen a one-word resolution for the year.

This year I tried “18 for ’18,”which Gretchen and her sister, Liz, have been talking about on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. You write down 18 things you want to do in 2018, big or small, fun or not so fun but good for your well-being.

Here are my 18 for ’18:

  1. Stay current on news, from local to international, to know the headlines-plus.
  2. Work a little exercise into each day, even dancing to one song.
  3. Hang the pictures.
  4. Buy black dress pants that fit.
  5. Go on a date night with Darren at least once a month.
  6. Arrive five minutes early.
  7. Publish the book.
  8. Launch the podcast.
  9. Write a TinyLetter biweekly.
  10. Get rid of clothes that I haven’t worn in a year.
  11. Clean out the kids’ toys.
  12. Reinstate weekly lunch at home with Darren to connect with each other, pay bills, etc.
  13. Make time for joy every day: play guitar, dance, or sing.
  14. Meditate or journal for five minutes at least 3x/week.
  15. Make an emergency kit.
  16. Write a will.
  17. Spend 20 focused minutes a day following the kids’ lead in play.
  18. Connect with my parents and sister at least once a week.

Shoot for the moon and land in the stars, right? Because visible is memorable, I’m going to print them out and post them on the fridge. Then I can give myself stickers (literal gold stars) when I stick to my goals. It’s silly, but it totally works for me.

What are your 18 for ’18? Hit reply and tell me.

what’s fueling me


When I found out that my dear friend Chris Balme was dating the sister of indie artist Kina Grannis, I couldn’t get over how cool that was. When he married her over the holidays, and Kina not only wrote a song about their love story but featured their wedding footage in her new video, I lost my fangirling mind. It makes me so happy that Chris has found a love for the ages. Watch the video for “I Found You.” You may need some Kleenex — you’ve been warned.

Darren and I have jumped aboard the Instant Pot bandwagon, and it’s fantastic. Granted, he’s the one who does 90 percent of the cooking, so I’ve only observed the magic so far, but it’s made tender collard greens and potatoes fit for mashing, red lentil stew with kale and sausage, and chili in no time. It’s true that it should be called the “Hands-Off Pot” because it takes a while to come up to pressure and back down again, but it’s much more efficient than the slow cooker we used to use every week.

The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer is both hilarious and creatively encouraging. I love her stories about eight years of struggle and rejection in Hollywood before landing the role of Pam on The Office, and her advice about getting good at your craft and not giving up. It’s inspiring not just for actors, but for writers and other artists, too.

Christmas Cheer 2017

Originally published as a TinyLetter

As a child, I felt more and more excited as the holidays approached. Strings of lights twinkling around town, tins of cookies, Christmas carols, presents, time off school…what’s not to love?

Now that I’m an adult, I realize how hard the grown-ups, especially Mom and Dad, must have worked to make the holidays magical for me. All of those presents don’t thoughtfully pick out themselves! I wrote about this feeling a few Christmases ago, when the weight of so many obligations had all but crushed my Christmas spirit.

This year when one of my preset radio stations started playing all Christmas music, all the time, it wasn’t excitement that I felt. It was dread. Instead of singing along to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” like I wanted to, all I could think about was my long To-Do list unspooling like a scroll.

When I told Darren about this, he said, “That’s not acceptable to me. What can we do to change that?”

In my world, any new undertaking calls for a Google Doc, so I created one called “Christmas Cheer 2017″ (yes, tongue-in-cheek) and started unloading the To-Do’s rattling around in my brain: Bake cookies. Shoot Christmas cards. Buy presents. I was hoping that making a To-Do list would clear my mind and put the “happy” back in the holidays.

Well, it’s now midway through December, and I’ve succeeded in not being a stress ball. But I haven’t ever gone back to the list. I turns out that it wasn’t the To-Do list that’s made this holiday season more pleasant; it was the To-Don’t list: the things that I cut out or simplified that took the pressure off.

Darren designed a Christmas card with some of our favorite photos from this year, so we didn’t need to shoot new ones, and the printer sent it out. I made a one-stop shop at Shutterfly to personalize gifts for the whole family (looking at photos boosts happiness). I’m going to bake the simpler Christmas cookies and save the labor-intensive ones for my family get-together, when we can make a day of it. I bought a tabletop Christmas tree while grocery shopping at Kroger, and we decorated it as a family with carols in the background (Bing Crosby made me smile this time).

Project Christmas Cheer 2017 is working. It’s not that I’m gritting my teeth and getting through the Christmas season; I’m just cutting out everything that doesn’t matter to me so I can focus on what does.

Please remind me of this next week if I have a meltdown next week during “Spirit Days” at Evan’s school. (Why, God, WHY?!)

what’s fueling me

I printed a few copies of the Reschool Yourself manuscript on CreateSpace, and it was a beautiful moment to lift it out of the box and into the world as a real book. I have a few trusted “beta readers” who are helping me tighten it up, and they’ve been sending me photos of “Reschool Yourself in the wild.” My sister, Gill, sent me this from a cafe in Barcelona:

My sister-in-law, Meghan, sent me this one, cozy in her PJs with a fittingly inspirational mug:

I put my book on the shelf among the ones written by talented women I admire. It’s good for my soul.

It’s Okay to Buy the Cookies

Originally published as a TinyLetter


I signed up to bring cookies to my one-year-old daughter’s Thanksgiving luncheon knowing full well that baking on a weeknight would be stressful. But I love to bake, and the teachers love when I bake for them. I do it as often as I can, because God bless them for taking care of our munchkins all day, every day.

It was 8 p.m. by the time I started pulling ingredients out of the pantry to make cowboy cookies. I searched high and low for baking soda, but we were completely out. I vaguely remembered using the rest of a box to clean up a pet mess. I silently cursed the cats and dog and all of the messes they make.

Pretty much every cookie worth its salt (ha!) has baking soda in it, so I was SOL. It was too late to run to the store or bother our friends next door for some.

“Can you use Bisquick?” Darren said. “It already has baking soda in it.”

I thought this was a good hack and found a recipe for Bisquick cinnamon monkey bread to make after the kids were in bed. It wasn’t difficult, but it took a lot of time to roll each ball of dough, coat it in cinnamon sugar, and arrange it in a loaf pan. The consistency didn’t seem quite right, so I made a wetter version and a drier version.

It’ll be nice to have some extra for breakfast and bring some to work, I thought.

Well, neither scenario happened, because the wet version tasted like wet Bisquick covered in cinnamon sugar, and the dry version tasted like dry Bisquick covered in cinnamon sugar. Unless I screwed something up when I doubled everything, this recipe should not be out in the world!

I felt deflated. I’d tried so hard to make it work. I knew that a lot of the other parents would be bringing homemade side dishes and desserts, but it just wasn’t going to happen for me this time.

It’s okay to buy the cookies, I told myself.

I repeated it again when I stopped by the Whole Foods bakery before the luncheon and picked up a box of chocolate chip cookies. And again when I arrived at the school and saw the pies, cobblers, and homemade chocolate chip cookies that the other parents had brought. I felt so sad about my failed baking experiment that I almost turned around and went back to work.

I know that comparing yourself to others pretty much guarantees that you’ll be unhappy. I wouldn’t judge another parent for bringing something store-bought instead of homemade, because we are all doing the best we can, but I hold myself to a stricter and often unreasonable standard. And I really just wanted to contribute.

The funny thing was that there were so many other desserts in the luncheon pile that mine wouldn’t have stood out even if it had turned out beautifully. And the store-bought cookies ended up being eaten more than some of the homemade desserts that were still covered and didn’t have serving utensils with them. Plus, the bakery cookies were actually pretty delicious (I ate two).

Most of all, seeing my little girl’s face light up when I walked into the room unexpectedly reminded me what was really important — and why we parents brave the unbridled chaos of the preschool Thanksgiving luncheon. She climbed all over me, using my leggings as a napkin, and when her dad arrived she beamed even more. She didn’t care a bit that I’d bought the cookies. Having Mama and Daddy eat with her was more than enough.

Friends, it’s okay to buy the cookies. It really is.


what’s fueling me

A few of the talented women I know have released books in the past month:

The Grasping Root, by Margaret Pinard – a historical novel set in 1824 Nova Scotia, book 2 of the Remnants series

Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-Up World, by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun – a practical guide to building a healthy relationship when your partner is an entrepreneur

Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, by Beth Ann Fennelly – a new genre of poetry + narrative nonfiction, a collection of vivid snapshots from the author’s life

I’m going to dedicate a shelf to these books, to inspire me to add my own to the collection. I’ve ordered some copies of the Reschool Yourself manuscript in book form from CreateSpace and am in the process of researching and querying agents. It’s slow going because I have only around an hour each morning, but it’s going.

I felt buoyed by this Happier in Hollywood podcast interview with Jenna Fischer, who talks about her new book, The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide. She struggled for eight years before being cast in The Office and talks about feeling like no one would ever notice her. She urges artists to keep trying and assures them that they’ll find their fit eventually. It takes fifty no’s to get one yes (like I always say… :) ).

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