Working From Home: Gaining Traction

 

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I took a walk one day last summer and stumbled upon a house sale where I found and purchased this desk. A lucky find, it turns out. (My motto: You can never have too many desks.)

I’ve been home from work since February 26th, when I had my shoulder surgery. At the time, I expected to be out on medical leave for about six weeks, then head back to campus. Then things went kablooey. The college sent students home before Spring Break in March, then went to essential staffing only. And that’s where we sit two months later.

As of April 22nd, I was released from medical leave and headed “back to work.” Well, back to work at home. I know I’m lucky. The husband is at work, the dogs sleep like cats, and the cats are…well…cats. I have a good computer and multiple desks. And, you know, a few pens, and enough notebooks to scrape by (hahahaha!). Working from home is kind of nice (very few distractions…ah, peace) but also weird (very few distractions…maybe it’s a little TOO quiet).

No wait. I’m wrong. There are distractions at home. They’re just different. Because of the medical leave, I got used to having very unstructured time at home. I fell back into the “stay up late/take my time getting up” habits of old. Gone was my well-honed early morning routine—coffee, journal, stretch, shower, dress, breakfast, drink 20 ounces of water, drive to work. I did most of those things but in a very loose lackadaisical way. When the mood hit, and my shoulder cooperated, I tackled some much-needed decluttering and dusting—chores that are never really done. The “craft room”—which honestly could use a match tossed into it—is still a disaster that needs fixing. I took Flapjack, our youngest dog, for long walks in the afternoon. The pantry and refrigerator became a perpetual draw for both procrastination and reward.

So I must admit that when the back-to-work switch flipped on, I floundered. I was still at home, but now I needed to get back on track. I needed to shift into work mode without leaving the house and all of those ever-present personal projects and snack options. I needed to—well, wanted to—regain the ground I’d lost with my morning routine and well-structured work habits. There is no shortage of work. Our department brainstormed a laundry list of back-burnered projects that we could finally tackle remotely. But it’s so strange to not do what you’ve done for 40+ years—drive to work, do your work, drive home from work. Suddenly work and home are in the same place, the lines are all blurred, and I’m having trouble remembering what day it is. Time is both long and short. Plus there’s that Covid-19 anxiety always lurking in the background—mostly for my dad, who’s in a nursing home.

What’s a formerly well-organized and diligent worker to do? How do I regain my footing?

One answer came from a recent William Hannah Instagram post that I blatantly stole. (Pretty sure that I admitted this to them when I commented on their post.)

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I took their lead and charted out a very basic blueprint for my work days. Have I followed it to the letter? Well…no. But I like that I have this as a “north star”—something to glance at when I start drifting off course. The colors make me go “ahhhhhh” and the basic outline helps me regain my focus at a glance. (And isn’t that Levenger Vivacious Cross Dot paper the best? I’ll never understand why they discontinued it but I’m happy I had the foresight to load up on Circa refills and freeleaf notepads when they were on clearance.)

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A tabbed junior Circa notebook (Levenger) continues to serve as the place where I collect my action, waiting, and maybe/someday lists for the main categories of my life—work, personal, parents, pens, Newsline (a professional publication that I edit). This notebook sits at hand as I process email and is a faithful companion for capturing anything that pops into my head. Sometimes I get lax about WRITING THINGS DOWN and this is always a mistake. This notebook continues to help me parse out the tasks and ideas that constantly run through my head.

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Write Notepad’s Weekly Planner has been a lifesaver again. I was using it at work, then fell out of the habit. Who knows why. Working from home made me revive and appreciate this notebook all the more. The wide format gives me a great overview of the whole week. I use it this way:

  • Work tasks at the top
  • Personal tasks in the middle
  • Appointments at the bottom (in a section that I created with a pencil and a ruler)
  • In the official “Actions” section, I list my responsibilities and priorities, then make a check mark when I do something/anything related to that category. It’s a quick way to check in with myself to make sure that I’m spending time on the things that are important to me.

The tasks for the week are chosen from the master lists in the Circa notebook and scheduled in the Weekly Planner. I also pencil in my own checkboxes as that’s my MO. Nothing more satisfying then coloring in that tiny box. (I even write out my grocery lists this way.)

I do wish that the subtle dot grid in the “Actions” section extended throughout the whole spread, but that’s not a big deal. I’m managing fine as is.

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My Hobonichi Techo has been a steady companion for the past four years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I list my appointments here. Redundant, I know, but the Techo is the book I carry with me to appointments. The Weekly Planner isn’t handy in that way.

I also record quotes that resonant with me in my Hobonichi, and make a habit of recording a few good things from the day. These are little gems to reread and cherish when I need a mood-lifter. (I have to smile at that third bulleted item on this page from early February where I was so happy about “An actual whole evening at home.” Now we have nothing but.) Capturing things to be grateful for has always been important to me, but now these super short reflections save me. Even in this time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty there are blessings and joys. Jotting them down both for now and for later helps me to remember that—helps to calm the mental turbulence when my mind starts to flail.

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Our long-neglected TV trays have become the perfect surface to stack work files, reference material, and notebooks. I work throughout the house, but make a concerted effort to clear counters and desks and tables at the end of the work day so that I can start fresh the next day. Clearing a space clears my mind.

I’m getting some good and focused work done here at home, thanks to my lists and notebooks and workday blueprint. Zoom meetings keep us connected, but boy, could I use some casual conversation, lunch with a friend, and some non-virtual hugs.

We will get there. Until then, stay healthy and at least somewhat productive. And have a little fun, too.

Note: There are no affiliate links in this post, and all items were purchased with my own funds.

Keeping Them Honest. (And by “them” I mean “me.”)

I love Anderson Cooper’s “Keeping Them Honest” segments on CNN.com where he takes the day’s political stories and reviews the facts versus the spin. I thought I’d do the same for myself, as a way to look back at 2018. Where did I fail? Where did I succeed?

Let’s hit some areas where I fell short.

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I believe I declared that I was going to clear out my backlog of notes and stationery by mailing a card or note to someone every day of 2018. That habit stuck for awhile—into March, I think. And I DID send a good number of cards, but lesson learned: you’re not going to do ANYTHING every day of the year*. This basket, I must admit, looks pretty much the same as when I made that declaration. Not only that, but I bought even more cards and notes (at 75% off at Barnes & Noble, but still) so the stationery situation is actually a little worse than when I started. Something to work on in 2019.

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I also started scoring my days, drawing the weather, and charting my mood in my Hobonichi Techo. That venture petered out after a month or so. I do like looking back at those pages, but I don’t think I was gaining much insight from the practice, so I just stopped. I’d like to use the monthly calendar pages to track something, but I haven’t given that much thought yet. It’s only January 6th. There’s still time. (A friend suggested, just today, that we get back into running so this might be the perfect place to log those workouts. And my mood. And the weather.)

There are certainly other areas where I fell far short of my goals, declared or not. I acquired more pens than seems healthy, and didn’t dip into my own collection of under-used pens when I had the hankering for something new. Definitely working on this in 2019. Six days in. No new pens. High five!!

So…where did I succeed in 2018?

I started dream journaling.

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This isn’t something that I do very often, but I do do it every now and then. Especially vivid or meaningful dreams get recorded and drawn, and I do my best to tease out the significance of the what I experienced or felt. Sometimes what seems like a stressful dream actually delivers a positive message when I sit down and dissect the images and emotions. This is a “sometime” kind of journaling, but it’s sticking. Success.

I finally made it to CW Pencil Enterprise. Twice. LOVED IT.

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I’ll do a separate blog post about my experience in the store, but let me just say that this little shop feels like home. It’s warm and wonderful, full of delightful people and pencils. There’s a little bit of magic there. I’ll be returning in 2019. For sure.

I’m still writing my morning pages. Every single morning.

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I started this practice in the summer of 2016 and once that switch flipped on, it’s never been turned off. I can’t imagine my morning without coffee (french-pressed cold brew) and my journal.

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A few days before Christmas I started my fourth 480-page Nanami Paper journal. That’s a lot of ink and words—a lot of whatever spills out of my groggy head and onto the page. A lot of struggles, doubts, anxieties, pep talks, and precious memories.

2018 was a weird year. Lots of drama and changes (ongoing) with my elderly parents. Very little blogging. 2019 will probably be weird, too, but I hope to do significantly more blogging. And if I don’t, feel free to keep me honest.

*Edited to add: Tina correctly pointed out, in a comment, that I have maintained a daily journaling habit, so clearly I can do something every single day if I really want to. She’s right. Because I’ve scheduled this, and made it an ingrained habit, I’ve been successful at maintaining this streak. Something to think about as I work to make improvements and tweak my priorities in 2019.

A Week Away

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I spent last week at a conference in Spokane, WA. I learned, laughed, and networked. We rarely got out of the hotel until evening, but that was fine as the sights were still spectacular. I love walking in new places with old friends.

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Since the conference was scientific in nature, my Baron Fig Experiment made the trip with me, and got considerable use. The green ink pops so I used it to write down those things that I want to come back to—issues, questions, things to think about.

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My roommate and I were often the first ones at breakfast so I’d sprawl a bit—coffee, water, Nock Co. case wide open, Hobonichi ready for updating. I took a pared down selection of pens, but enough to keep things interesting. The pens that got the most use were my Lamy Aion (black, fine) and my clipless Karas Kustoms INK (tumbled aluminum with a wonderful titanium medium nib), both filled with Colorverse Cat. I took notes in a Nock Co. A5 DotDash notebook which was the perfect choice in both size and performance. I almost filled it with my conference notes and will use the remaining space to flesh out thoughts and ideas that popped up during the week’s sessions and conversations.

But ya gotta have some fun, too.

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Atticus Coffee & Gifts (222 N Howard St, Spokane, WA) was definitely my happy place. I could’ve spent all of my free time there happily browsing through their selection of books, mugs, t-shirts, unique cards, stickers, pencils (Blackwings!), pens, and journals, or settled at a cozy table with some cold brew coffee or huckleberry tea. What a cool and comfortable place.

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A “must buy” sticker. (I also bought the t-shirt. HAD TO.)

Saturday morning, I made one last visit a few hours before my flight back east, and walked away with a nice little bag of souvenirs (t-shirt, novelty pen, tea, travel mug, stickers), as well as a much needed caffeine boost.

Flights went well, the weekend went fast, and Monday arrived as it always does. A friend on Facebook said, “The Monday after a week away is the Mondayest Monday ever.” She’s so right—re-entry is hard.

Well, I thought, if I have to work, I’m using my new pen. Which is exactly what I did.

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And you know what? It kind of helped.

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Are YOU having a Monday? Do you need a rubber feather pen? Atticus Coffee & Gifts doesn’t appear to have an online presence, but I see the pen is available HERE. There’s also a grass pen that I should’ve bought, too. You know, for those pesky Tuesdays.

 

 

 

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The Best Night

Sixteen year old Sawyer Fredericks auditioned on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2015 with the song I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” I’ve been a fan ever since, especially because Sawyer is a local boy. Well, local(ish), having grown up in Fultonville, NY, about an hour from here.

Sawyer went on to win “The Voice,” released a post-Voice album, but ultimately decided to go independent—a decision that makes complete sense. He’s a unique talent that doesn’t fit the corporate record company mold, and has his sights set on making his music his way. He’s an old soul in a young man’s body—quiet and kind—with a voice that gives me chills.

One of my favorite songs is “Four Pockets,” which he wrote at age 14(!!!).

Last Sunday night, Fred and I attended our first Sawyer Fredericks concert at The Glove Theatre in Gloversville, NY. We purchased $30 VIP passes which included a pre-concert reception, priority table seating, and a post-concert meet and greet. Immediately before the concert, Sawyer premiered his latest video, “Gasoline,” which was filmed in the same venue.

After the concert, about 40 of us lined up to meet Sawyer. His mom was on hand to take photos with our phones, and he graciously signed his fans’ tickets, programs, and VIP passes. I had the presence of mind to bring my Hobonichi and decided to ask him if he’d sign the June 3rd page.

As you know, my Hobonichi has become my “everything” book—the place where I document the details of my life—so it seemed like the perfect place for Sawyer’s autograph. AND I think I have a better chance of hanging onto a Hobonichi through the years than I do a single concert ticket.

So sure, he signed our tickets and VIP passes, AND my Hobonichi.

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As he picked up his Sharpie, he quietly said, “I hope this doesn’t bleed through,” which I thought was adorable—his concern for my notebook. We had to move along so I didn’t launch into an explanation of Tomoe River paper, but just laughed and told him that I really didn’t care. I SO did not care.

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Sure there’s some show-through, but no big deal. I was just thrilled to meet him, capture this memento of a special night, and to say thank you for his music and kindness.

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It really was the best night.

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#mykeisprobablyright: Daily Tracking in My Hobonichi

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The best guys

One of the thrills of the Atlanta Pen Show was FINALLY meeting Myke Hurley. I’ve been a fan since his 70decibels days, and love seeing his hard work pay off with the success of relay.fm. I religiously listen to The Pen Addict, Analogue, and Cortex podcasts, bumping each new episode to the top of my bloated queue. I think he’s great.

Knowing that I’d be meeting him, I pictured myself waxing eloquent when it came time to tell him how much I admire his work. Instead, I sputtered out some jumbled praise, never really getting traction with my words. But Myke was gracious and kind as I garbled my compliments.

One point I did manage to successfully express was how I’ve taken to copying his latest foray into journaling. On Cortex, he’s talked about answering a series of daily questions in a journal, using different pens every day. I gave that approach a shot, but, so far, I’m having trouble making it stick. My evenings tend to be a crapshoot, with available time magically evaporating. But I haven’t given up on this. Morning journaling is now an ingrained habit, and I think I can make this evening journaling work as well. I’m going to keep trying.

The other day, on another episode of Cortex, Myke talked about using the monthly pages in his Hobonichi to track a handful of goals on a daily basis. This idea REALLY appeals to me, especially because my monthly pages are just sitting there waiting to be filled with something.

I love the idea of a quick way to track daily habits and goals. But which ones? Obviously Myke’s goals are not mine, so I had a little thinking to do.

After doing some brainstorming during my daily walks, I came up with a list of five goals (I guess you’d call them that) to track.

  • Eat well
  • Exercise & movement
  • Connect with/support others
  • Write/create/blog
  • Fun/laughter

These may change on a monthly basis, though I know that good nutrition and exercise will remain as constants. I set a scale of 0-3 for the daily score in each category, with the highest possible daily score being 15 (math whiz here).

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I also added a mood tracker—a simple hand drawn emoji—to document my overall mood for the day.

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And today I decided to also track the weather with a very quick sketch. I might as well use some of the colored pencils I have laying around. A tiny sketch is better than no sketch.

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I have no idea what all of this will tell me, but I’m curious to find out. Will my mood affect how successful I am with my goals, or vice versa? Does the weather affect my mood and my daily success? Will I be able to extract anything of value from this data? Will I ever score the elusive 15? That’s all yet to be determined.

If nothing else, I’m finally using those empty monthly pages. I’ve documented what I want to focus my attention on, which means that I have a better shot at success. I may discover something about myself, but even if I don’t, this is a quick and easy way to look back at my day and think about how I used my time and energy. How do I feel? What did I accomplish? What needs improvement? How can I make tomorrow better?

So Myke, keep doing what you love and trying new things (that I can copy). I’ll always be a fan of your work ethic, humor, honesty, and podcasts. And with this daily tracking, I’m thinking…

#mykeisprobablyright

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Dear Hobonichi Techo

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When I met you in 2016, I wasn’t sure that you were my type, that I’d be able to commit. But here we are in 2018 and I’m more in love with you than ever. You’re where I share my secrets and the mundane details of my days. Always with me—a true companion—you inspire me to record the small joys found in ordinary days and are the keeper of the quotes that touch my heart.

If anything ever happened to you, I’d be lost. You mean that much to me.

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You’re my journal, appointment book, to-do list, mood-lifter, and philosopher. You’re the archive of my simple and quiet life.

I love you—now and always.

Mary

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Truth. The quote, not the pancakes. Well, maybe the pancakes.

 

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Heading Off Hobonichi Heartache

Usually my cautionary tales (lost ink, spilled ink) are tales of woe, and a lesson for you to learn from my careless mistake. This time, I’m hoping to head off some heartache BEFORE I experience a catastrophe. Progress!

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I started using a Hobonichi planner January 1st, 2016, and immediately bonded with the thing. It’s become the place where I record my appointments (always in pencil), jot down the good things from my day, and copy down quotes that capture an important thought or feeling. You’ll note that I also record our dinner, as prompted by the tiny fork and knife icons in the left hand margin. Every page is filled with the details from my day. By the end of 2016, I realized that this diminutive book held the story of my life, so of course I ordered another for 2017, and now a third for 2018. This is a habit that’s stuck.

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There have been days where I’ve accidentally left my Hobonichi at work, and even though I know it’s there, I feel edgy until I walk in the next day and see it on my desk. I often flip back to read about a day, to see what some of the highlights were, what I was thinking, what I was inspired by, what I ate. To lose the precious volume that I’ve filled day by day by day would make me incredibly sad.

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I carry a Tile on my work and car keys so they can be tracked down if I misplace them, but until recently, it hadn’t dawned on me to safeguard my Hobonichi the same way. The Tile website describes the device this way—”Our little Bluetooth tracker, paired with our intuitive app, makes it easy to find everything that matters.” Once paired with your keys or purse or, in my case, Hobonichi, you can activate the app to ring your lost item, track its last known location, and connect with the larger Tile community to find what you’ve misplaced. While not a perfect solution, having a Tile tied to your critical belongings makes it more likely that you’ll be able to find them when they’re misplaced, especially if it’s just in your own home or office. No more time consuming hunts through rooms and desks and piles of paper. Activate the app for your lost item and Tile plays a sound while also helping you hone in on its exact location. (For more details on how Tile works, check out this link.)

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I recently purchased a Tile mixed 4-pack (two Tile Mates and two Tile Slims) and after connecting one of the Mates to to my keys and another to my dad’s cane, I had the two Slims left over. That’s when it occurred to me to slip a Tile Slim inside the pocket of my Hobonichi cover.

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I may never need it, but boy do I feel better knowing it’s there. And my other Tile Slim will get tucked into my pen case when I head to Toronto for Scriptus. (At the DC Pen Show one year I recall a frantic search by someone who had misplaced a full case of pens somewhere in the hotel. I do not want that to ever be me.) Having a Tile in your pen case might help in the unthinkable situation where your pens are stolen, as happened to Dan Smith, especially in a metropolitan area where there’s bound to be a larger number of Tile users.

Hey, look at me…taking steps before a disaster happens! It’s like I’m an adult or something!

That feat only took 58 years.

I purchased all of the Tiles mentioned here with my own funds and have no affiliation with tileapp.com. I was not compensated in any way for this post. I just wanted to share my idea. Hope this helps, or at least makes you think about protecting your important belongings.

Edited to add: As Ana Reinert noted in the comments, your Tile can also be used to find your cellphone as long as it’s nearby. Double-press the “Tile” button and your phone will play a tune so that you can figure out where you set it down. I don’t use this feature too often, but it’s good to know that it’s an option. Here’s a link to a more detailed explanation of this phone-finding feature.

 

 

In Praise Of Habits

 

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Back on January 1st, I vowed to use the Hobonichi Techo I’d finally purchased (peer pressure) to record…

  • Appointments, in pencil because appointments often change
  • Good things/moments from my day
  • What I ate for dinner

Oddly enough, I’ve been recording all of that. Every day. I have the world’s worst record for consistently journaling. The bottom of one of my filing cabinets contains stacks of partially filled notebooks. I used to write a complainy blurb, then let seven or so years go by before I felt moved to record another paragraph. On the plus side, this makes a notebook last a really long time, but, on the other hand, it doesn’t make for insightful or inspiring reading.

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The Hobonichi Techo and I just clicked. I worried that the size might be too small, but it’s proven to be just right. Filling up a page doesn’t take long, yet I can get in a lot of detail about my day and all of the good things that happened. No complaining allowed in this book. I’ve also taken to recording quotes that I come upon, usually on Twitter, often by Anne Lamott.

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On the monthly pages at the front of the book, I’ve continued to record exercise details—gym visits, step counts, and mileage. Thanks to the Whole Life Challenge, and the support of a very good friend, the gym has become a place I enjoy even when I’m breathing hard, sore, and soaked. For someone who dreaded every moment of gym class in school, this is yet another miracle—another habit that has taken root. I’m learning that habits are like that. Sustaining the first habit makes it that much easier to stick with another one, and another one after that.

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Full of quotes that buoy me up, details from my day that I surely would’ve forgotten, little epiphanies, and dinner ideas, the 2016 Techo has already become a treasured resource. I love leafing through it, seeing different inks, and moods, and blessings. I can’t imagine life without one. The 2017 version is already waiting in the wings.

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At the end of June 2016, I made a decision to FINALLY get out of bed to sit at my desk to faithfully write Morning Pages. As I’ve said before, this is an idea I’ve toyed with for years, but never put into practice. I was always too lazy, too tired, too full of excuses. Finally I decided to give it a shot. June 25th, 2016—a new habit was born.

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Now I can’t imagine my life without this practice. It’s been three plus months and though I have to get up at 5:30 am during the week to get to work on time, I look forward to writing these pages every single day. I dump anything and everything into this Nanami Paper Seven Seas “Writer” journal—dreams, worries, conversations, inspiring moments, petty complaints, joys, and anxieties. There’s not too much of the “we did this, we did that” kind of stuff, though, of course there is a little of that. What’s so cool is that I usually sit down with little idea of how I’ll fill the lines and pages, and yet there are always words. There are always ideas and problems and moods and feelings.

Tommie River Seven Seas Writer

I used to write three pages a day, but I’ve recently scaled back to two so that I have enough time to do ten minutes of meditation followed by five minutes of stretching before I jump in the shower. Meditation? Stretching? More habits? Who am I?

Encouraged by my ability to sustain these writing habits, and with the help of The Whole Life Challenge (I’m currently entering the third week of my seventh challenge), I’m finding it easier and easier to sustain other lifestyle habits. So every morning, I write, meditate, stretch, and drink 20 ounces of water before leaving the house. And you know what? I feel great. Calmer. Lighter. Stronger. (Stretchier?)

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The idea for a Jar of Awesome also came out of the Whole Life Challenge. While some on my team found the practice to be “hokey,” I loved it. As I wrote back in June, the thought of having the jar fill up with special moments from the day seemed like a great way to notice how much goodness there is in our lives, much of which would zip on by if we’re not looking for it. So I started a jar and have it sitting on my dresser.

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I will admit that this habit fell off my radar for awhile until recently, when I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert on the “On Being” podcast. She spoke about her Happiness Jar, and I vowed to revive the practice. It takes less than a minute to write down something from your day that made you smile, something that will be nice to remember when you’re having one of those days. So I cut up some paper into strips, and have the strips and a pen sitting right next to the jar. I’m still not super consistent with this habit, but it’s one I want to continue to cultivate. I want to see this jar STUFFED with the tiny but wonderful things that accumulate as we go through our ordinary days. I want to get better at noticing those things even in the days that leave me feeling wrung out and run over.

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Habits. I was never very good at sustaining them. But look at me now—journaling, exercising, meditating, stretching, looking for the good in each day. One habit made the next one seem possible, then the next one, and the next one.

Habits. Practiced day by day. Words. Feelings. Recorded letter by letter, line by line, page by page. I’m writing. I’m living. I’m grateful.

Always grateful.

I can think of no better use for my pens, paper, inks, and notebooks than to express that.

I’m currently participating in a weeklong Social Media blackout, the latest Whole Life Challenge lifestyle challenge. I normally post a link to a new blog post on Twitter but can’t do that without losing points. If someone reading this could post a link for me, I’d be…you guessed it…grateful.

 

A Hobonichi Techo Update: March 2016

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The only thing consistent about my previous attempts to maintain a journal is that I’ve failed. Every. Single. Time.

Which is why I was reluctant to pick up a Hobonichi Techo. Who needs another failed attempt added to that pile?!

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BUT——after all those years of half-filled or barely touched journals, we finally have a winner. The Hobonichi Techo and I have bonded and I don’t see us ever breaking up.

I’m journaling every day. NO misses. I’m using the Techo pretty much as I described in my original post—for appointments, for recording good things, for jotting down quotes, for keeping track of our dinners.

The Hobonichi’s Tomoe River paper handles fountain pen ink, gel ink, and pencil without issue, which adds to the ease—and joy—of use.

Exercise log

I’m still logging my exercise, steps, and mileage, which keeps me motivated and interested in doing better each day and each month.

The Hobonichi Techo has become my bible. It holds my laughs and tears, triumphs and struggles, encouraging words, lots of Anne Lamott quotes, and all of those little joys that used to simply evaporate.

This Hobonichi Techo holds my life.