Like I Always Say…

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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Let Yourself Off the Hook

Originally published as a TinyLetter


HGTV Magazine has a recurring feature called, “How bad is it…” It presents common everyday scenarios, like “…to swipe $20 from your spouse’s wallet?” and “…to not start bagging your groceries yourself at checkout?” and gives it a rating (kinda bad! and not so bad!).

Darren and I joke that if the two of us were to write the “How bad is it…” feature, our ratings would look like this:

How bad is it…

…to send your kid to the school’s evening fall festival in his uniform instead of his Halloween costume? 
Melia’s rating: Kinda bad! / Darren’s rating: Not so bad!

…to leave a large, fallen tree branch in your front yard until it’s brown and dry?
Melia’s rating: Pretty bad! / Darren’s rating: Not bad at all!

…to delay getting our our old house ready to list because we’ve had a lot of other things going on?  
Melia’s rating: Really bad! / Darren’s rating: Not so bad!

You can see the pattern here. Darren almost always lets himself off the hook, truly believing that he’s always doing his best with the knowledge and the bandwidth that he has at the time. I can count on one hand the times that I’ve ever seen him get mad at himself for something. I simultaneously admire and am annoyed that he’s so easy on himself, because I come down hard on myself literally every day for infractions both big and small. I carry a list of grievances against myself that I run through in my mind, like Arya Stark reciting her list of enemies.

The time I was late for that meeting with my boss (pretty bad!). The time I forgot to send money with my then-three-year-old for the circus, so he couldn’t play games or buy snacks (super bad!). The list goes on.

I want to be clear that I don’t hold other people by anywhere near the same standards. It’s somehow okay for them to do these kinds of things, but not for me.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Gilbert linked to an interview that she’d given for an online course called the Self-Acceptance Summit. (It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than therapy!) It spoke to the issue of being much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else.  Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of “Test Everything Against Love”:

And sometimes I feel like when I’m really beating myself up about my best not having been good enough, “You should’ve known, you should’ve done better, you should’ve seen this coming. Ten times you were warned, why didn’t you…” All of that stuff that you do to yourself, it’s so savage—so savage. I just think—I have to almost go out of myself, and I have to not see myself as Liz who failed. I have to see myself as a member of the human family, as a human being. And I have to look at all the other human beings who I know and love, and look at all of the things that they’ve failed at, and say, “Knowing that person as well as you know them, Liz, and loving them as much as you love them, was their best good enough? Were they doing their best? Was there anything they could have done differently, really?” And the answer is always no.

And what I think we do is that we want to love humanity and we want to be people who love and embrace and forgive and accept humanity, but we forget to include ourselves in that. And sometimes the only way I can forgive myself is by thinking of myself as a human being, not as Liz. And here is a tenet that I believe: I believe that all human beings are deserving of grace and forgiveness and compassion and second chances and humanity. I believe that all human beings are worthy and deserving of that. And I believe that as a member of the human species, I therefore also must be worth and deserving of that.

And if I hold myself outside of that, there’s a dark narcissism to that that says only I, Liz Gilbert, am exempt from forgiveness and grace and compassion. Everyone else gets to have it from me, but I don’t get to have it because I’m some sort of a special case. If I think I’m some sort of a special case, I basically think I’m God. I basically think I’m the only one who isn’t a human among the family of humans. I’m the only one who is held to a higher standard. I’m the only one who actually should be perfect. Everybody else doesn’t have to be. 

And the thing that I tell myself, again and again, when I get on that perfectionist bent of “Your best wasn’t good enough, you should’ve known better, why did you fuck up again, you’re the worst, worst, worst, worst, worst” is I say, “Liz, if you are not innocent, nobody is. If you are not innocent, then everyone has to be held to the same standard, that same harsh cruel standard that you’re holding yourself to. If you’re not innocent, nobody is. That means if you’re guilty of everything in your life, then everybody else is too. And if that’s the case, you don’t need to worry about going to hell because you’re already there. You’re living in a planet that is hell, where no one is innocent, where no one gets a reprieve, where no one is entitled to grace, where no one is allowed to say, ‘I should’ve known better but I didn’t,’ where no one gets second chances, where no one gets to be let out of the hole of shame. And if that’s where you live, you are in hell. You are in hell and so are all the other humans.”

And until you can extend that same grace and compassion and forgiveness to yourself that you want and claim, especially as a spiritual person, if you’re listening to this, you’re a person on a spiritual path, which means you believe that human beings are entitled to compassion. Until you extend it to yourself, you won’t be able to actually have mercy for anybody else either, because there’ll be this secret dark little part of you that looks upon everyone else’s failings and everyone else’s errors and everyone else’s shortcomings and says, “They should’ve done better. They should’ve known better.” And then you’re just keeping everybody in hell. And that’s not good enough for me. If I’m going to be a perfectionist, I’m going to be a perfectionist about that.

So next time you’re running through your own list of grievances against yourself, ask yourself how Liz Gilbert and Darren would rate each infraction.

Not so bad!

Not bad at all!

Let yourself off the hook. Because you’re doing the best you can with the knowledge and bandwidth you have at any given time. Because if you’re not innocent, nobody is.

what’s fueling me

A Catfishing with a Happy Ending – The Atlantic (h/t Darren). I hope this stranger-than-fiction love story is made into a movie.

This is Your Brian on Nature – Hurry Slowly, a podcast about leveling up by slowing down. As a lover of “The Great Indoors,” I need to be intentional about getting outside. I’ve started taking a short walk outside during the work day to get some fresh air and sunshine and clear my head.

The Big Sick – This is the first movie that I’ve seen in ages, and I just loved it. Funny, poignant, original and based on a true story about the first year of comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, Emily.

Chocolate Riesen – I stumbled upon these at the supermarket the other day. How did I forget that these chewy little delights existed?


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When the Wheels Fall Off the Bus

Originally published as a TinyLetter


Well, this week did not go as planned! On Monday afternoon, the baby was sent home from day care because she was throwing up and lethargic. When I updated Darren via G-chat, he said that he was also feeling bad. He came home that night and face-planted on the couch, immobile. He tends to be a bit dramatic when he’s sick (see The Man Cold vs. The Mom Cold), so I gave him a bunch of ibuprofen and thought it would pass.

The next morning he still had a horrible headache, so after dropping off our four-year-old at school, I took Darren to urgent care. They referred him to the ER for a CT and blood work. We spent the day at St. Dominic’s with the baby in tow (who was still sick, as well, and projectile vomited in the exam room) waiting for test results. Darren’s mom, Jill, works at St. Dom’s and came around lunchtime to hold the baby so I could get some food.

Darren needed a spinal tap to test for meningitis. Just the words “spinal tap” make me a little green, but he said he felt only the stick from the lidocaine shot and then didn’t even realize the spinal tap was happening.

I wasn’t scared until the nurse started an IV on Darren, saying that he was being admitted to the hospital but not telling us why. “The doctor will talk to you about that,” she said. The CT hadn’t shown any physical abnormalities, but my mind still began to run wild.

I walked out to the common area and heard the doctor say to someone on the phone, “Meningitis.” He came into the exam room and told us the same. The spinal fluid hadn’t shown any bacteria, which was a relief, because bacterial meningitis is far more serious than viral meningitis. Darren very likely had the latter. They moved him to a hospital room and started antibiotics just in case it was bacterial (after culturing the spinal fluid, they confirmed that it wasn’t). I wondered if I should take the baby to the ER that night for testing, but the advice nurse said to wait to see her regular pediatrician in the morning. Turns out it was just a normal virus, which has passed now.

In case you’ve been around us recently and are freaking out that you might get viral meningitis, read this from the CDC. You don’t need to worry. In short, it’s typically a regular virus that manifests as cold, flu, etc. in most people but, for whatever reason, inflames the brain and spinal tissue in the rare instance. So you could have caught the virus that made Darren sick (he’s no longer contagious), but it’s very unlikely to develop into meningitis. Darren and the baby probably had the same thing.

And if you’re thinking, “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” — it’s a weird situation, trying to figure out whom to tell about an emergency, and when and how, especially when words like “viral meningitis” can cause unnecessary panic. It takes a surprising amount of energy both to keep all the different circles of people informed and to manage a flood of replies (questions, worries, and offers to help, by text, phone, email, and Facebook) when you’re already overwhelmed. It’s a blessing, of course, that so many people care about us and want to pitch in. We truly appreciate it, and you don’t need to do anything differently. I have more bandwidth to engage now, from here at home, than from the ER.

Jill watched the kids on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings so I could visit Darren. Every time he moved, he felt excruciating pain in his head, but the rest of the time he was able to watch baseball and instant message his Creative Distillery team. He joked that it was kind of a vacation — the most peace and quiet that he’d had in four years.

I took him home on Thursday afternoon, and he’s doing OK. He still has a nasty headache and tires easily, even walking from room to room. A full recovery will take weeks. It’s going to be an interesting adventure, given how much we already have going on when we’re both healthy. This morning I was trying to color pictures with a whiny four-year-old while preventing the baby from putting each crayon in her mouth, while the dog was barking for food and the cats were scratching up the new furniture. There are a lot of competing needs to meet all at once.

So yeah, this week kind of sucked, and things are going to be a little rough for a while. But it could be much worse, and we have a lot to be grateful for. We live a few blocks away from excellent medical care. We have insurance. We sought treatment early. We have tons of loving support from family and friends. My boss and team cleared my calendar for the week. My in-laws will do anything for us. Seth and Alicia, our dear friends next door, picked up our son from his after-school program when I was rushing to drop off Darren’s prescription and pick up the baby. They fed him dinner (he even ate vegetables!!), then fed us, and took him to school the next morning.

I get choked up thinking about how fortunate we are to have our little village surrounding us. When the wheels fall off the bus, we have a lot of people helping us put them back on again.

what’s fueling me

Celebrities Read Mean Tweets #11
 – Jimmy Kimmel Live (h/t Gillian Burgess)

President Obama: Dropping off Malia at college was like ‘open-heart surgery’ – (h/t Laverne Dicker)

Teen Titans Go! – A wickedly funny cartoon that the whole family loves.

Snack Pack Naturals Chocolate Pudding – Chocolate pudding makes everything better.



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Image via Tsuji, Flickr Creative Commons

Am I Turned Outward Today?

Originally published as a TinyLetter



As I dropped off my daughter at day care, a poster on the wall caught my eye. “AM I TURNED OUTWARD TODAY?” it said in white capital letters against a red background.

If you ask me that question at any given moment during the day, the answer is probably no. One of the hallmarks of being an introvert is a “rich inner life,” as I’ve heard it described; I’m often so lost in thought that I don’t register what’s happening around me. I’m turning an idea over in my mind, running through To Do lists, or ruminating on something that’s bothering me. I take up residence in my own head without even realizing it.

Last night I was reading a bedtime story to my four-year-old, one called “Lion Lessons” that he’s chosen for the past few nights. When I got to the middle of the story, I noticed a scene that I’d read out loud several times before without even registering what it said, because my mind had been a thousand miles away. This happens we’re playing action figures, too. I’ll have Spider-Man run away from Venom, and my son will say, “No, Mommy! They’re friends!” He’s told me, but I didn’t hear him. I was just going through the motions.

The problem with turning inward is that you miss out. You’re staring at your phone instead of being aware of your surroundings (it kills me when I look up and see my baby girl smiling at me, and I wonder how long she’s been trying to get my attention). You don’t take in useful information (my mind has wandered off during more webinars than I can count). You’re so focused on your own little corner of the universe that you don’t observe what’s going on elsewhere.

When this happens en masse, neighbors don’t know each other, and we’re blindsided by the things that happen in our communities. Here in Mississippi, the State Board of Education voted yesterday to take over the public school district where my son is enrolled. A community group came together to try to maintain local control, but it was too late. On a national level, forward-thinking Americans were shocked by the election last November and only then realized that we’d been asleep at the wheel, not attuned to the way that millions of people were thinking. We were not turned outward.

The poster on the wall at my daughter’s day care came from Harwood: The Institute for Public Innovation. I looked it up and learned that it’s “a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.” I found a HuffPost piece by its founder, Richard Harwood, who wrote:

Being intentional means becoming more deliberate in your actions. It is to make choices about whether to take one course over another. It is to be more attentive to your surroundings – that you hold a greater awareness about who we are, who we want to become, and the kind of change you seek to generate. In these ways, being intentional is about being more directed.

But I am moved most by the following definition of intentionality – which comes in two parts. The first involves what I think of as “wakefulness.” I love this word. I encourage you to consider its meaning and potential for your own engagement. Wakefulness suggests that we are alert. That we come to the world awake! Our eyes are wide open, our hearts are open, and we are willing to see and hear that which is around us. In being wakeful, we are ready to engage, to be with others.

We can start now by asking ourselves, “Am I turned outward today?” We can get out of our own heads, look up from our phones, talk to our neighbors, and go to school board meetings. If we see something gets us fired up, we can share it with our friends instead of just consuming it. We can pay attention to what’s happening in other parts of the country and the world; we can call our representatives and vote at the ballot box and with our dollars.

If each of us can turn outward a little more, we can take those rich inner lives and leverage them into rich lives in general, for us all.

what’s fueling me


Nathan Fielder: How The Cult Comedian Rules the Outer Limits of Awkward (Rolling Stone) – Nathan for You is one of the most uncomfortably hilarious shows on TV, and I laughed out loud at some of the scenarios he’s cooked up to help small business owners.

Inspired Man Bolts Out Of Bed At 3 A.M. To Jot Down Great New Worry (The Onion) – Me, pretty much.

By the Book podcast – A believer in personal development and her no-nonsense friend follow the rules of a different self-help book to the letter for two weeks at a time. It’s fun to hear about what worked for them and what didn’t, and they share takeaways from books like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

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Filling the Gas Tank

Originally published as a TinyLetter


The world feels like it’s gone to hell lately, doesn’t it?

In my news feed last night, there was Charlottesville, Pyongyang, Barcelona. The president of the United States won’t condemn actual Nazis and could very well Tweet us into nuclear war. People are willfully driving cars into their fellow human beings. To quote Kathleen Norris, “Only ideology can hate that thoroughly.”

It’s hard to understand how someone could possibly act that way, and even harder to figure out what to say or do. It’s nearly impossible when we’re running ourselves so ragged that we don’t have the bandwidth to engage with the world around us.

These days I’m so exhausted and stressed out that I put off looking at the news, sometimes for days. I simply cannot muster the energy. I realize that white privilege allows me to shield myself from the headlines. I can hide from reality because I’m not at much risk of becoming a headline myself — at a traffic stop, a park, or a convenience store.

Yesterday the gas tank in my car dipped to nearly empty. My office is right next door to a Shell station, but when I’m rushing from home to day care to work and then back again, I think, “I’ll fill up at lunchtime,” which becomes “before I leave work,” which becomes “tomorrow,” and I don’t fill up until there are seven miles left before the gas runs out. I treat my body the same way, putting off tending to its basic needs until it starts screaming at me that I’m dehydrated, ravenous, or am about to pee my pants.

My friend Charbel’s excellent new podcast gave me a word for what I’m experiencing: burnout. Signs of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment and cynicism, and self-focus. It’s why I feel like I don’t have the headspace to engage with the news, much less do anything about it, or treat my toddler with compassion when he’s demanding chicken nuggets.

We need to fill up our gas tanks before we can drive anywhere. We are of no use to anyone when we are running on empty. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish; it’s what allows us to be good stewards and allies, effective parents and workers. If we don’t do it for our own sake, we must do it for the people who are counting on us.

In true “like I always say” fashion, I’m not entirely sure how to take my own advice. It’s one thing to know the best thing to do — especially when it comes to self-care — and a totally different thing to do it.

Here are a few ways to start. I can listen to my body’s signals and take care of my basic needs as soon as they present themselves. I can stop swiping away the daily reminders I get from my Headspace app and take 10 minutes to meditate. I can take note each day of the ways I’m able to help other people when my own gas tank is full, because I’ve opened up the room to notice and address their needs.

And on that note…

what’s fueling me


Malala is going to Oxford (and The Onion is on it)

An 84-year-old woman recovered her long-lost engagement ring when her daughter found it on a carrot on the family farm (h/t Laverne Dicker)

My kids are starting to play together as the baby grows, and she just adores her older brother

Jason Isbell’s newest album, The Nashville Sound, speaks to my soul right now. If you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Hope the High Road“:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

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Originally published as a TinyLetter

I can understand why some people with young children don’t go anywhere. Darren and I have to move mountains every time we leave the house with the kids, and often we’re scrambling at the last minute. Don’t forget the diaper bag. Argh, the baby’s bottles aren’t prepped. Buddy, where’s your other shoe?!

Managing this day to day is challenging enough, but traveling takes it to a whole new level. This week we are in the Nashville area on the annual Schwindaman family trip that Darren long ago dubbed “Schwindamania.” I’m realizing how many items I wish I’d brought, and how the ones I did bring are scattered willy-nilly around our vacation rental. Yesterday I spent a frenzied 30 minutes pinballing around the house, gathering supplies and toys for our excursion.

“What I need is some damn mise-en-place,” I thought.

If you watch cooking shows, you’re probably familiar with mise-en-place, the system that chefs use to prepare their utensils and ingredients for cooking. It’s pronounced meez-on-plahss and is French for “put in place.”

This NPR piece explores mise-en-place as a way of being that chefs carry with them outside of the kitchen.

“You mise-en-place your life,” said Alexandra Tibbats, a student at the Culinary Institute of America. “You set up your books for class, you set up your chef whites, your shoes are shined, you know everything that you need every step of the day.”

Another CIA student said, “It really is a way of life … it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”

Another principle of mise-en-place is “slow down to speed up.” Telepan chef and owner Bill Telepan explains: “I always say, ‘Look, I’d rather you take an extra minute or two and slow up service to get it right.’ Because the one minute behind you are now is going to become six minutes behind because we’re going to have to redo the plate.”

I can’t stand the frenzied mental state that comes from not preparing well, at work or at home. It sets me up to get mad at myself for being late, holding other people up, and making mistakes. That’s energy I could expend in more productive ways — on playing with the kids, for example, or on creative projects.

Mise-en-place is incredibly rewarding when it works as intended. When the baby soaked through her diaper while we were out and about, I grabbed the large Ziploc bag I’d packed with supplies and quickly changed her into a fresh onesie. I didn’t need to hunt for what I needed or get upset because I didn’t have it. I could just move on and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with the family.

Setting out what you need now, with everything in its place, sets you up to calmly move through the day and spend your limited energy wisely. Mise-en-place, like I always say. 🙂

 what’s fueling me




  • A flight of three half-scoops from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (I could eat a whole pint of their signature Brambleberry Crisp)
  • A karaoke machine in the vacation rental (with “I Want It That Way,” “Ice Ice Baby,” and a bunch of Britney)
  • Playing guitar and singing with my brother-in-law (we killed “Down in the Valley” by the Head and the Heart)
  • A morning walk in the sunshine
  • Sitting on the porch with the family, sipping a beer and just taking a minute to breathe


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Image via Stijn Nieuwendijk


Originally published as a TinyLetter


I feel as if I’ve been run over by a truck. Really, by a whole fleet of trucks, which keep flattening me each time I try to stumble to my feet.

We moved into our new house a couple of weeks ago and love it. There’s much more space for the kids and pets to coexist, and the open floor plan lets the family spend quality time together even while Darren and I are cooking or cleaning.

But there’s no way around it — moving is just plain stressful, and moving with a baby and a spirited toddler is nearly impossible. How can you be interrupted six times while attempting to pack a single box?

Even though the new place is exactly what we wanted, the transition hasn’t been easy. My four-year-old is acting out because he needs more attention than we can give him right now. One of the cats is peeing on the furniture, including the guest room mattress and the living room couch that’s our home base. The dog is eating some kind of leaf growing in the backyard and vomiting all over the floor (why does she insist on eating that damn plant?!).

This week the baby had a high fever for three days straight, poor girl, and I was trying to work from home because I don’t have much time off accrued yet at my new job. She wouldn’t let me put her down, so I found myself cleaning up dog puke from the rug — having stepped in the cold, slimy mess with my bare feet — while balancing the little fuss-face on my hip.

#blessed, I thought.

But really, though. Even in that tough moment, I reminded myself that all of this chaos results from good things, from creating the family that Darren and I envisioned and moving into a house we adore. (And, of course, these are first-world problems that we are lucky to have, and I don’t take that for granted.)

Last night, after I had scrubbed the cat pee from the couch and went on to tackle the dirty dishes, I stopped for a moment to take a photo of Darren and the baby napping in his recliner.


Then, when she woke up and crawled over to see what big brother was doing, I snapped this one.


It’s a good practice, to pause just for a second in the frenzy of daily life and acknowledge the ways in which we are truly and non-ironically #blessed, to really let them sink in. The house so lovely that I can’t believe I get to live here. The tiny humans that didn’t exist before my husband and I brought them into the world. The new job that is pushing me to develop a whole new skill set.

Each time you expand your life, it adds a layer of complexity. It stretches you to your limit, forcing you to grow into an experience that’s fuller, richer, and totally worth the trouble in the end.

what’s fueling me


Darren found a couple of boxes of books in the attic, ones that I’d read as a kid. Evan is loving the collection of Disney’s Little Golden Books, especially the Three Little Pigs. We sing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” together, and he plays an imaginary flute when I sing “Tra la la la la.”

Darren and I are watching the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and it brightens my day.


We saw Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires in concert for the third time, and the creative energy between them is palpable. It’s beautiful to watch him sing “Cover Me Up” to her and still seem to mean every word after all these years.

Also, I’ve been stress-eating Cheetos and chocolate at my desk. It helps.


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Image via markgranitz