2012: the year of…

2009 was (unintentionally) the Year of Firsts. 2010 was the (undeclared) Year of Stability and Re-exploration. And 2011 was the Year of Intention.

When I got back from India at the end of November, I started thinking about what theme would sum up my goals for 2012. After I finished my 2011 annual review, I made a list of things I wanted to do this coming year (nothing too specific to start, just a general list of ideas). Here’s what I came up with:

  • I want to keep learning about intention, especially because I didn’t commit to the theme as well as I’d wanted to this past year. The idea of living with intention, of living everyday of your life, of being present in your own life––I want to keep these things at the forefront in 2012.
  • So many of my friends and family are scattered around the country, and increasingly the world. I want to find ways to be more present in their lives, even though we can’t be with each other in person.
  • I’ve lived in DC for 3 years now, and I’ve been pretty vocal about not loving it (I love my job, but DC as a city…not so much. Some call this Chicago-snobbery, but that is yet to be confirmed). Regardless, I’ve decided that I need to give DC a better chance. I need to learn more about it. Learn to love it. Learn to be where I am. Because it’s looking like we might be here a little while.
  • In college, when I was playing basketball, I was in the best shape of my life. And I’ve sort of let that….slip a little (or…a lot). I loved the presence and confidence that being fit gave me, and I want that back.
  • I want to commit to photography. I realized how much it means to me––how it centers and focuses me––when I was traveling this fall, so I really want to dive into it this year.
  • I want to watch less TV and read more books. Because TV is mindless, and I waste too much time with it (surprising, since we don’t even have cable…darn you, Hulu).
  • I want to volunteer in my community because we love the community we live in and we want to be an actual presence there, not just people who live there for a few years and move away without making an impact.

After I made the list, it was pretty clear what 2012 would be:

2012 is the Year of Presence.

It’s a year to explore my surroundings. To slow down and see what’s around me. To take advantage of opportunities, unexpected or untimely as they may be. To make more time for relationships and even for myself. To be present in my own life.

When I sat down to write out some of my specific goals for the year, I wrote “2012: The Year of Presence” at the top of the page. It was amazing how easily the goals came out after I’d established the focus. I’ve identified goals in nine categories (travel, health, financial, spiritual, family/friends, learning, service, work, and writing), as well as several potential goals. Many of them will help me work towards the stuff on my bucket list, though there are some new things in there too that feel appropriate for this season. Once the list is finalized, I’ll share it with all of you.

Cheers to a new year––it’s looking like it’s going to be pretty awesome.

Question: What’s your theme for the year?

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2011 : a year in review.

Last year, I came across this annual review template by writer/traveler Chris Guillebeau. I wasn’t able to pull together a review last year or set goals for 2011, but it is what inspired the Year of Intention.

I’ve been excited to return to the tool and actually use it. So with that (*drumroll*)…my first ever annual review! Woot!

So with that (*drumroll*)…my first ever annual review! Woot!

The first step is to make two lists––things that went awesome this year and things I wish had gone better. Here are some selections from those lists––

Things that went awesome this year (aka. “the nice list”):

  • At work last year, I was critiqued in my performance review for having bad work-life balance, which was a totally legit critique. I worked way too much. I was stressed and tired and totally lacking in perspective. This year, I’m really happy with the way I turned it around. I’m working reasonable hours. I’m getting better at recognizing my insignificance. And I’m much happier, which is awesome.
  • As I was reviewing 2011 blog posts, I realized a trend was emerging this year that differed from the past: so much more photography (including weddings!)! I didn’t learn to use my SLR the way I’d wanted, but I’ve gotten so much more into just taking pictures, which I’m excited about.
  • We joined a CSA farm share! Definitely a highlight of the year for me (including discovering kale), even though it was definitely a learning experience for me (we wasted a lot of vegetables I just didn’t know what to do with). But I’m so excited to sign up for next year and learn more!
  • Travel––this was obviously a huge year for travel for us! We made it to two new states and three new countries (Ireland, Northern Ireland (UK), and India).

Things I wish had gone better (aka. “the naughty list”):

  • Writing (*sigh*). I had all sorts of high hopes for writing that I just didn’t do. Argh. I’m trying to think about ways to improve blog posting, as well as work on a couple other writing projects. The hardest thing is finding the time! But I’m committed. I always feel best when I’m writing, so I need to make it happen.
  • Exercise––I knew this would make the naughty list when my mother-in-law asked me last time I came home how much I was exercising. Yikes. But it’s time to turn my monthly donation to the gym into something I’m actually getting in return (and by “getting,” I actually mean “taking” since no one is stopping me from going).
  • This year, I spent way too much time freaking out about graduate school. I’m really excited about eventually going (and I feel good about the direction I want to go). But I need to stop STRESSING OUT about it. This year, I really want to focus on investing really deeply in what I’m doing now and really try to get the most out of all my current opportunities.
  • More reading. That’s all.
Yay! Overall, 2011 was an awesome year. A lot of new stuff, new places. There are things I want to do better at next year, but overall a great year. The Year of Intention theme, even though I didn’t focus on it as much as I had wanted to, was helpful for me, even just to come back to every once in a while. I plan to keep thinking hard about what it means to live with intention and to keep exercising the things I learned this year.

The next step of the review is setting goals for next year. I’ve already got some ideas brewing; what I’m aiming to do is identify goals in 9 categories: travel, health, learning, finances, service, family/friends, work, writing, and spiritual. Hoping to blog on several of these, and hoping people will keep me accountable! I’m also excited about the theme I’ve decided on for 2012––but that’ll have to wait for another post.

Question: How was 2011 for you? What could’ve gone better and what was awesome?

since when.

When I was in elementary school, my parents’ rule for me and my three siblings was that there had to be some fever or some throw-up if you were going to stay home from school. The rule was hard and fast. And if you did have a fever or had thrown up the night before, no school for you, regardless of whether you had a math test or Field Day. It was a good rule, especially for a family with four kids––objective, measurable, fair.

But sometime between high school and now––the ripe age of 25––I stopped believing in that need for rest.

When I got to high school, my parents added a layer: one “mental health day” per year. You couldn’t miss tests, and you couldn’t do extracurriculars if you didn’t also do class. You had to make up all missed work, which we always diligently did. And once you used your mental health day for the year, it was back to fever and puke. But for that one day, you could take a day of rest. It was progressive parenting, I always thought, and I intend to do the same with my kids.

But sometime between high school and now––the ripe age of 25––I stopped believing in that need for rest. Or at least believing in it enough to actually prioritize it. Whereas I could always make up a math test after a sick day, now even the most menial tasks at work can’t seem to wait.

Yesterday, I asked my boss if I could come in late to the office so I could go to the health clinic about a cold/flu/infection that’s lasted two weeks. Without hesitation, she said, “Definitely!” (progressive bossing, which I also intend to emulate). When I got back to the office, shockingly (not really), nothing had fallen apart without me.

It’s an important lesson I need to keep learning. A lesson in humility. A lesson that living intentionally also means being intentional about rest.

update on intentional food.

One of my main Year of Intention goals was to be a more conscious consumer, both in terms of what I buy and what I eat. And so, one of my first major efforts to be an intentional eater was to join a CSA. As part of a CSA, which stands for “community-supported agriculture”, you pay a local farm a certain amount of money for a share of their crops. Then once a week, you get a box of vegetables straight from the farm. Sounds too good to be true, especially considering my CSA actually delivers right to my neighborhood. The catch is: if the crop is bad that year, so is your share. It’s the risk you take. It protects the farmer. It protects you (if you agree that eaten chemical-infused vegetables is probably not the best for your health…). Everybody wins or loses together.

So far this year, it’s been a total win. And when I received a large number of cucumbers one week, inspired by how much fun intentional eating was turning out to be, I decided to try a new experiment. Three weeks later…

Pickles!

Actually, they taste awful. Too much cumin in the recipe. But I’ll modify it and try again. Still, they did smell and look like pickles, which in my mind constitutes a victory. And as I’m beginning to realize, it’s not so much the outcome that matters.

a brief thought on intention.

When I’ve written or thought about intention in the past, it’s typically been on a macro sort of level based on different topics. How am I traveling intentionally? How am I eating and cooking intentionally? How am I being intentional about writing (or not, based on the frequency of posts recently)?

Intention, as far as I can tell, is not about the activity…

But when work is overwhelming, it can feel like opportunities to be intentional about living (to bake bread, to travel, to write) just aren’t priorities any longer. And it’s easy to let months slip by without grabbing hold of the whole purpose of everything, without taking a step back, taking a moment to breathe.

Intention, as far as I can tell, is not about the activity, though it’s easy to make it about that (I’m being intentional because I hit all my travel goals…). But it’s not about finding several hours where you can be home to watch bread rise. It’s not about making sure you hit your personal writing deadlines. It’s not about traveling to a bunch of places (going to a place is not the same as being there). In times of stress and overcommitment and overwhelmedness, intention is about attitude. It can be as simple as laying in bed for an extra two minutes to notice the way the sunlight streams through the lace curtain. Or leaving a tip in the tip jar at the local coffeeshop. It’s about finding joy where it might get buried and drawing it out into the daylight.

year of intention: travel

I realized in my last New Places post on Maine that I actually never wrote about my Year of Intention goals related to travel. I tried to link to them triumphantly after saying how pleased I was to be able to check off the “travel to a new state” goal. And I’m preparing for a new New Places post in the next few weeks. So here we are, tardy but nevertheless…

The travel goals are, for the most part, the most difficult and the most important for me. Because travel often seems the product of a luxury of time or money, neither of which I can seem to scrounge up much of. The travel goals, therefore, are the most difficult to accomplish because they require a wily resourcefulness––because after a long week of work I usually just want to spend my weekend at the farmer’s market or reading on the couch. And the reality of the matter is there will never seem to be enough time, and there will never seem to be enough money. But if travel is a priority, then even if you can’t scrounge up much, you can find enough of these things to go wherever it is you want to go.

But, particularly for the smaller trips, the travel goals require discipline, prioritizing, budgeting. They’re slower to check off than goals like “sign-up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share” (which we did last week!), but they are absolutely crucial. But since they take time, the year-to-year goals are modest; this year: (1) two new states (done!), (2) two new countries.

Saturday, Jon and I are leaving for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to check off the new countries goal. Stay tuned for a New Places post, pictures, and other wanderlusty musings since, after all, the best writing is done on the road.

writing schedule.

Year of Intention goal: Dedicate one half-hour every day to writing.

A recap of the first week’s progress:

Day 1: Outline book ideas. Select topic  to focus on. Brainstorm a general outline of chapter ideas or topics. Consolidate all written pieces on selected topic. Even think up provisional, working title. End the day feeling very proud and decide to reward myself with a Tryst latte.

Day 2: Start to feel self-conscious. Are these just regurgitated ideas? What am I thinking? Decide to copy down lines from a T.S. Eliot poem about how everything we think and write and do has already been done by wiser men of the past. Conclude feeling sufficiently depressed.

Day 3: Go back to day 1 outline. Write each topic down on a post-it note. Organize and reorganize. Throw out some post-its. Come up with some new ones. Complete a new, significantly improved outline, and start to feel somewhat better, though acknowledge I’m not actually writing anything (still plagued by self-consciousness).

Day 4: Write blog post draft on entirely unrelated topic.

Day 5: Feel inexplicably inspired this morning. Pull out pile of written pieces, consolidated on day 1, and start to organize them under the topics determined on day 3. Get about halfway through before half-hour is up. Actually end the half hour feeling like I want to keep going (which is the point of restricting it to a half hour).

Day 6: Finish organizing materials under topics. Turn attention to topic 3, which has the most material and is therefore the most interesting (and makes me feel the least depressed).

Day 7: Write one page.

Conclusion: Well, I realize I’m going to need to set myself some parameters because there’s not been much product from this method. But I still, somehow, feel pleased, and I’m hoping to gain some momentum. Part of me is just putting this out there for the accountability of it all. Who knows what will actually be produced in the end? But regardless of the quality, or of whether or not anything comes of this, the dedicated time is helping me, even just be more thoughtful, more attentive to plots and characters around me. And regardless of the number of pages, that in itself is worth it.

year of intention: food.

One of my goals of living more intentionally this year is to be a more conscious consumer and, in particular, a more conscious eater. I’ve read a bit about buying local and the Slow Food movement. I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Dupont Circle farmer’s market and am an avid lover of vegetables.

But a combination of two occurences made me realize how important it would be to focus on this this year: (1) my mom gave me a book about farming full of hundreds of beautiful local recipes for Christmas, and (2) before leaving for Chicago for the holidays, I had to dispose of nearly half a garbage can full of food that would go bad, the extravagant wastefulness of which was deeply, deeply shameful.

So the goal for the year is to plan better. To know what we’re eating in the upcoming week and to shop smartly for the necessary ingredients. To learn what grows when and to choose winter recipes when it’s winter, summer recipes when it’s summer. To buy from local farmers whatever can be sourced locally. To meet the woman who runs the new urban gardening store that just went in down the street. To slow down. To learn to grow.

It will take a lot of time, I realized yesterday as I started cooking and baking some of the things we had chosen for the week, including a beautiful sweet molasses oat bread to go with a smoky paprika vegetable stew. But the smell of bread baking, the warmth of the kitchen after the oven’s been on, a piece of fresh homebaked bread with jam with a cup of coffee this morning makes me think it will be worth it.

“What I have learned so far…”

Aside

Occassionally, I run into quotes, book passages, poems that, more than usual, arrest me. Especially as I start to think — or at least start to think in a more organized way — about this idea of living with intention. I’d like to share them with you, hear your thoughts, your perspective. And as you stumble on similar things, feel free to share.

This one is especially good.

What I Have Learned So Far

By: Mary Oliver

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I

not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,

looking into the shining world? Because, properly

attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.

Can one be passionate about the just, the

ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit

to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a

story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.

Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of

light is the crossroads of—indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

a new year. a year of intention.

I’ve just returned to DC from two weeks visiting family in Chicago, and have been reinforced in the fact that, no matter how long I live here, Chicago will always be home. I love the attitude, the grit, the absence of exchanging business cards at happy hour.

But now, back to “normal” life. Back to a lock that needs to be replaced. A closet that desperately needs organizing. A pile of dishes that I washed but apparently forgot to put away that now needs to be washed again.

Over the past week, I’ve been pondering, like many others, new years resolutions. Generally, I don’t even bother, but I do appreciate the feeling of a fresh start. I’ve also been pondering this blog and why I’ve kept it up for the past year and a half (ish). I’ve loved the reason to write, the opportunity to develop my photography skills, and the interaction with people who’ve stumbled upon it.

But what exactly is the purpose?

One of the main things I hope to convey through my writing is a sense of intentionality about life. The title (“talitha cum.”) commands this.

So this year, on the new year resolution front, I’m doing things a little differently. I’ve broken down my life to-do list into categories, and I’m setting goals for the year based on the things I’ve told myself I want to do. Obviously, I’m not tackling everything this year, but I’m hoping breaking things down will help me be more intentional about the way I spend my time (my life?).

I also intend to work with this idea of intentional living in a more…intentional way over the next year right here on the blog. I’ll still be writing about a lot of same things (crazy life in the nation’s capital, community, and especially travel…some exciting plans there on the docket for 2011). But I’ll also spend more time tracing this cord of living with intention through all of these areas. I hope you’ll continue to stop by, read along, and, if moved, participate in the conversation.

Cheers to a fresh start.

Question: What are you resolved to do this year?