Friendship Goal for 2019: The Dinner Party Revival

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The friendship sphere of life is a weird place to assign goals, yet I do it anyway. Last year, I focused on broadening our connections to school parents. We hosted a number of families (both parents and kids) for get-togethers. I also organized a class-wide social event and was a room parent.

This year, I’m focusing on a different kind of social event.

Goal: Host 4 Dinner Parties

We already knocked one out, on New Years Eve. The party ended at about 12:30 AM, so yes, I am claiming it on a technicality. The theme was “Auld Lang Syne” as this was a group of old friends. We planned an old school Americana menu: shrimp cocktail, caesar salad, roasted potatoes with rosemary, London Broil and Ruth Reichl’s caramel glazed gingered applesauce cake (see photo above). My husband made “old pal” cocktails. We split the cooking and cleaning duties evenly.

What I like about dinner parties is you don’t have to worry about making restaurant reservations and if you are the host, driving and parking in a crowded urban area. With this particular group of friends, who are parents, all of our kids are also friends. So the kids watched “A Series of Unfortunate Events” downstairs together (no babysitter needed – score!) while the adults enjoyed our evening upstairs. When the ball dropped on TV, we all came together with noise makers and sang “Auld Lang Syne” poorly.

There is something lovely and satisfying about entertaining people you like. The downside is obvious–lots of cleaning, cooking and it can be stressful (what if your meal is a disaster?). But, there are also lots of ways to make entertaining easier. You obviously don’t HAVE to cook. With the current options for delivery out there, you can order all kinds of cuisine. You can also host a potluck, to ease cooking pressures. We scheduled our cleaning service for the day before, which helped us make the house presentable.

My parents threw dinner parties frequently when I was growing up, and I have pleasant memories of sitting at the top of the stairs in my nightgown, listening to the lively chatter. My mom made fantastic food, like Steak Diane and chocolate mousse–she went through a major Julia Child phase. I remember helping to set the table with fancy plates and linen, and helped prepare some of the dishes. My in-laws entertain a lot as well, and my father-in-law is the cook for those events. They have perfected a system over the years so that they can easily entertain for groups of 40 (holidays) or 4.

Other than book clubs and things like kids birthday parties, I do feel like entertaining has gone out of style for most people, at least where I live. So I’d like to do my small part to revive it.

Do you entertain or throw dinner parties? Why or why not?

Read more about my 2019 goals:

 

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Exercise / Health Goals for 2019

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My biggest failure in 2018 was that I vowed to work out 4 times a week and it didn’t happen. Whereas in 2017 I did exercise 3 times a week, I averaged about a workout a week this year. Not great.

This year I am lowering the bar to 2 workouts a week.

We have a local Orange Theory, which I LOVE. But I was only able to get in a workout there twice a week at most, mostly because it is exhausting to me. It also takes so much out of me that I can’t do it on a weekday (I get super drained after the initial high wears off.) I love the way Orange Theory works my whole body and builds muscles in addition to cardio, and my legs and arms look awesome when I do it regularly, but it’s just too hard core for me to pursue as my sole form of exercise. So I will attempt to do one workout a week there.

Running left me frequently injured this year, so that’s a no. Which leaves me with yoga. I don’t like yoga, but I want to try something where I don’t have to leave the house and I am unlikely to get injured.

I’m going to try this YouTuber, who seems like she specializes in helping people who are losers at yoga. Like me!

Exercise goal: Work out twice a week, once with Orange Theory and once with yoga

On the health front, I don’t diet because that doesn’t work for anyone, as we know. My weight is pretty stable, and I’ve settled into this sort of healthy normal zone.

What I want to do more of in 2019 is eat better. The usual: eat more vegetables, consume less sugar. I can’t do the low carb thing because it gives me acid reflux. So, I’m going to try a specific goal.

Health goal: Eat salads 4 times a week, limit chai tea lattes/caffeine treats to one a day (it’s my primary source of sugar).

Do you have any health / exercise goals? Are my goals too safe? I’m sure they are.

 

 

 

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6 Tips to Read More in 2019

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Like many people, one of my goals in 2019 is to read more.

I have 3 specific reading goals:

  • Read 30 books total
  • Read all my book club books (or at least make valiant attempts)
  • Read and discuss four books with my husband

I’ve learned, through trial and error, that I have some serious reading pitfalls. My biggest problem last year was not being able to finish a book, but then also not reading anything else–because I felt like I needed to read THAT book.

I’ve come up with some tips to help me this year, which may be helpful to others.

1. Plan your reading year in advance

For the first time, I’ve chosen 30 books that I want to read in 2019. You can check them out here. I’ve been keeping a list of books I want to read on my phone from a combination of sources, like “best of lists” from the New York Times and NPR, the What Should I Read Next podcast, and of course personal recommendations. (One of these books is a weird pick. I really disagreed with an author’s POV in an interview I heard, but I feel like I should read the book before making my final opinion.) I will add to this list once I get my book club recommendations. Which may have some overlap.

2. Monitor the books you read

For the first time, I will be tracking the books I’ve read. I often forget books unless it was something transcendent and fantastic (Station Eleven, All the Light You Cannot See) or a book I could not stand and threw across the room. I like the idea of tracking my books in one place, and I am more of an electronic than paper person.

3. Plan ahead and put library holds on your books NOW

I tend to be impulsive about books. I’ll hear or read about something that sounds great and I’ll want to read it ASAP. Or I get into a book series but the library has a waiting list of 20 people or don’t have the next book in stock. Buying books, which I already do for book club, is an expensive way to meet a reading challenge. While I definitely do like buying books, I want to use the library more in 2019.

4. Create a mix of books

I love reading literary fiction. In my 20s and early 30s, I read the Man Booker prize winner each year, and I have cherished some recent award winners. But sometimes I get stuck in a book, especially if it gets too depressing or scary or whatever trigger it pulls for me. Last year, I got stuck in a dreary section of The Goldfinch (that book’s first 100 pages, by the way, were so compelling I could barely breathe while reading them). I know if I got through that part, the book would be worth it. But instead I fell into a reading rut and didn’t read anything for two months!

So I’ve added some lighter fare to help me keep reading. Sometimes I need to read for escape, and I think it’s better to do that than get mired in Netflix reruns. Which I did way too much of last year.

5. If you like a series, reserve more books in the series than just “the next one”

This tip comes from my mother-in-law who knows how to use the library system better than anyone I know. I LOVED Still Life, but there is a hold on the next book in the Louise Penny series. She advised me to not only reserve that one, but also the next few, as I will not want to wait for another hold. She knows how impulsive I get about a great series.

6. Share your list with someone you’d like to read with

My husband and I want to read and discuss more books together. When we lived in London, we did not have a TV for a time. We read a lot of the same books and had a great time discussing them. I’ve shared my list with him so we can choose 4 books together. Spoiler alert: Asymmetry will be the first one.

Are you planning to read more in 2019? Do you have any book recommendations? Were you able to finish The Goldfinch?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Dangers of “Being Real” — Or Why Authenticity Can Become Toxic

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Lately I have noticed the same topic coming up again and again, everywhere I go.*

Whether offline, online, listening to podcasts, reading a book or watching Netflix, I’ve noticed people praising the virtue of “authenticity.” Core to the value of authenticity seems to be the belief that those who talk about their struggles are more “real.”

An example of this could be people speaking about difficulties within a variety of areas, whether related to their career, housing, or parenting. The rush of approval is what I’m talking about — a slew of “wow, I can relate” and “thanks for being real” sentiments from an audience. The current popularity of social media platforms where people project an edited, ideal version of themselves is often cited in contrast as “inauthentic.” Which isn’t incorrect.

The “I can relate” statements are quite telling. Relatability is a key aspect that determines whether someone is liked by others, and I suspect it’s a quality that is more meaningful if you are a woman. We tend to like people more if we think they are “like us.” Jennifer Garner, a star who is worth millions of dollars, is a great example of someone who puts her relatability front and center. In this picture, she points out she wasn’t invited to something out of reach to most people (New York Fashion Week) while looking quite silly in some colonial costume. For all her self-deprecation, if you look at her IG, it’s clear she’s paid a lot and has insane arms that would be difficult for most women to achieve. She’s a mix of aspirational and relatable, and that makes her very appealing. Read the comments on her photos for the full effect she has on people.

The Failure Formula

So, what is my problem with “being real?”

Let me be clear. There is a time, need and a real place for true and empathetic support. Expressing pain, fear and emotion to a group of supportive, similarly affected people is often healing for those going through cancer, infertility, divorce and other hardships. “Not wanting to feel alone” is a universal human quality, and we know that hearing individual stories can be a key element to changing someone’s mind about a political or social issue.

But, getting validation simply for expressing hardships can be a bad thing. This post sums up an interesting technique the author has noticed certain writers use — it’s called the “failure formula.”

Step 1: Write about a mistake they made

Step 2: Get hundreds of supportive/validating comments (“I definitely needed this today!”)

Step 3: Repeat!

The Dangers of Co-rumination

I, like many women, learned early on within social interactions that if I did one thing, I would often receive solace and understanding. A simplified way to put it is this: if I complained about something to someone else, I could often create a bond.

Relying on this type of bonding is a common trope for female friendships. The idea is women vent to each other over a glass of wine about their boss, husband, the patriarchy, etc. then they will “feel better.” But, this cycle can become destructive, not just to the person who complains, but the one who is listening and empathizing as well. Because a pattern of complaining, then “feeling better” doesn’t cause real change, either personally or on a broader stage.

Turns out there is an actual word for this destructive venting: co-rumination. Rumination is obsessing over a problem and can “make us feel stuck and less inclined to actually do anything constructive about a situation and our associated distress.” Co-rumination is the venting process of that problem to someone else–and it is deceptive. “Talking with a friend, partner, or family member about our problems can feel really good. It can make us feel supported, bring us closer together, and even trick us into believing that we are doing something productive about our situation.

We’re all going to have problems, always. For me, the key is to be around people who don’t just offer support, but push me to solve my problems. I also try to read and listen to content that offers real solutions and inspiring tales of grit, not just sad stories of woe.

Some examples:

  • When I was mad at what was going on politically? I made my calls/emails!
  • If I thought too much about my weight and eating habits? I re-read this and this, then reminded myself to make healthy eating and exercise (the REAL kind, not the Goop kind) my new goal.
  • When I wasn’t getting enough sleep and struggling with some things, a friend told me I needed to make it my number one priority. She was right. Sleep is everything. EVVVEERRRYYTTTHHHIIINNNGGG!!!!

* Turns out, there’s an actual word for this phenomenon and it’s called the Baader Meinhof Syndrome.

That is the end of my soapbox lecture. For anyone (still) reading, how much do you value authenticity? Do you agree too much real-ness is unhealthy?

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Goal Setting or Resolutions for 2019?

IMG_6063I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions last December. What I did do in 2018, for the first time ever, was set goals. I set goals in multiple sections of my life–work, parenting, marriage, friendships, hobbies and health.

I made them specific and I wrote them down. I  tacked them onto a bulletin board in my office and literally kept my eye on each one every day. Every morning, I made my to-do list echo my larger goals list.

Did it work? 

Mostly, yes. There is something about staring down a list of goals all the time that makes me more motivated to see them through. And there is some evidence that writing them down makes achieving goals more possible for a majority of people, at least according to this study.

So which goals did I achieve and which ones did I not achieve?

  • I did well with the work goals, even hitting my stretch revenue goal.
  • Friendship and marriage goals were hit, with lots of date nights, couple trips, girls nights and hosted dinners. I also took an awesome trip with my college friends.
  • I did not hit my 4x a week exercise goal. Maybe it was too ambitious? In the first six months of the year I went to Orange Theory twice a week for their HIIT class, which frankly was exhausting but great. Then I got vertigo and was advised to quit any exercise on a treadmill or elliptical. Vertigo is gone, so I should be back working out.
  • I incorporated a couple of bucket list items into my travel goals–we went to Machu Picchu as a couple, and Italy with the kids. We used our Starwood points and rented our house on Airbnb to help pay for everything.
  • My hobbies goal was to write more, and it was kind of a bust. I didn’t blog here much. My writing goal was to add value–write things to make people think and provide useful and hard-won tips for life. I wanted to get across the value of stoicism for modern life, and its value in particular for women. That didn’t really happen.
  • For politics, I gave money, made calls and wrote letters. This made me feel more in control, without spiraling into despair.
  • I didn’t make a budget goal. Did this make me happier? Maybe! We didn’t overextend ourselves, we continued to pay our debt down, but we didn’t save more than our usual 401k, retirement stuff, etc. Normally we have a big savings project each year, but not this year. Food for thought….

Overall, I was really happy in 2018!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 2018 was my favorite year ever. Yes, EVER!

Definitely, there was some good luck involved to make it my favorite year. But there were also the usual challenges and stressors. I really think the goals helped me to stay as functional and focused on happiness as possible.

For 2019 I’m going to make goals again, but I am going to try something different.

Some people choose a one word theme, but I am going to choose a mantra. Not an inspirational quote (I hate those), but something that will not only help me stay on track, but also be a better person.

My mantra for 2019 is:

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” (Nelson Mandela supposedly said this, but who knows)

I am susceptible to anxiety and fear can be the emotion that drowns out almost everything else, if I let it. By constantly reminding myself to choose hope over fear, I hope to maybe change my brain passageways. The most basic version of CBT is telling yourself that dysfunctional, fearful thoughts are not the truth. But I like the added benefit of transforming fearful thoughts into something more hopeful.

What about you? Do you make resolutions or goals? Which works best for you? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Not Trudging Through the Holiday Season

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This December has been absolutely bananas. My tendency–when life is this busy–has been to trudge through everything I need to do, feeling exhausted and martyr-y. This year, I have made a strong and sustained effort to NOT slog my way through ANYthing. This month has definitely tested that effort.

See, it’s one thing to spout off about stoicism when life is going at a normal pace but quite another task altogether to manage a season of intensity using perspective. But I am trying, with varying degrees of success. Here’s what is on my plate:

Work

In a normal month, my growing business takes up large amounts of my time and energy. I love being an entrepreneur, the business partnership is going really well and I am very proud of the work we’ve done. We hit our stretch revenue goal this month, and considering we’ve bootstrapped our company with our own freelancing and taken no outside funding, I am pretty proud about that. There is tremendous control and flexibility that comes with working from home and deciding what projects to take. The downside of being a business owner is that I am pretty much always on, and there are no days off. But I love what I do, so that seems like a good tradeoff.

We had two huge projects that we pushed live in the first week of December. I worked 60 hours that week (which I haven’t done since starting the business). We also have had multiple client events and parties to attend this month. This coincided with…

The Nutcracker

My daughter is performing in a big city Nutcracker ballet production. It’s a whole other level of extracurricular activity. We had to sign entertainment licenses with the state, and arrange for her to be transported back and forth 30 miles for multiple performances at VERY specific times–and you CANNOT be late. She is in a total of 16 performances this month, including matinees and evenings. She’s missing some school, and she’s only ever missed a few days of school in her elementary school life. We’ve had to hire babysitters to help us drive her back and forth because we both work full time. Complicating matters is the fact that we couldn’t find out what performances she would be in until the week before they began. When I saw the list, I literally burst into tears (not my proudest moment) as I could not fathom HOW we could make all that driving happen. My husband created a spreadsheet but there were many moments when we feel like this:

Math lady

My Son’s Karate

My son had a huge belt test, and is now in advanced karate — it’s intense and involves more practice. At least the dojo is close to our house, but between this, school, holiday events and the Nutcracker, it’s A LOT. Speaking of events…

Holiday Fun Stuff

We have almost two dozen events scheduled this month. From company cocktail parties to my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary dinner (which was almost as elaborate as a wedding) to a holiday dinner party we hosted and cooked for last week, every event has been so wonderful. Yet, I’ve had to struggle to get into the spirit sometimes, especially after a long day of work.

Using Mindfulness

What has worked? This month, I’ve been relying on that boring old chestnut–mindfulness. Being in the moment.

Seeing my daughter join world class ballet dancers on stage was a huge life highlight. I always enjoy the parties, once I get there. I savored the success of the projects we launched, rather than just plowing on to the next big thing.

And, for the first time, I have actually contemplated the thought that sometimes, it’s OK to make life complicated. (Gretchen Rubin discussed this in a thought provoking podcast episode.)

It’s a concept I am considering, as I enter the New Year and think about my goals and planning.

What about you? Do you prefer simplicity during busy times? Or is a more complicated schedule the way to go? 

 

 

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Collection of 8 Good Things

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  • Inspirational quotes aren’t my favorite, and I’m not alone. So I really liked this post, because in addition to pointing out the limits of inspirational phrases, there is some real wisdom in here about the value of frustration. I’ve done so much reading about productivity lately, yet have read little about how sometimes you have to grit your teeth, want to throw things and scream before you can create great work. And it can be difficult to “schedule” the time that it takes to work through that frustration. This need for frustration may be one of my biggest problems with the prevailing theories out there about how to be more productive with your time, like the four hour work week (great in theory!) or even time-tracking which I do find useful. Yet, frustration is so often, as Jess points out, critical to accomplishment.
  • I find her hilarious on The Good Place, but this free-wheeling interview with Jameela Jamil was an eye opener. Turns out she’s a brilliant commentator about the toxicity of Instagram / its insidious effect on the latest beauty standards, “the double agents of the patriarchy,” Me Too/Time’s Up, and much more. She has her own Instagram account called @i_weigh that helps to counter that IG toxicity by picturing real women talking about much more than how much they weigh. Jameela also has a distinctively stoic attitude (the REAL stoicism, not the Cliff Notes version) that comes from early experiences with misfortune. My favorite quote came from her takedown of Hollywood’s role in promoting ridiculous body standards: “They will have to run me out of this business, which I’m sure will happen, but I would rather go down in flames than stick around and be part of this.” She’s hoping for an Amy Poehler-type career for herself, and now I am too.
  • Speaking of Amy Poehler, I wish we saw more of her but I’m making do with ridiculous amounts of reruns of “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix. (I also wish Leslie Knope was the real Indiana governor, especially with midterm elections coming up.) On the latest re-watch, I’ve been noticing how hilarious Rob Lowe was as Chris Traeger. In one episode, after getting dumped by his girlfriend he DJs a community Valentine’s Day dance, playing such bangers as Sigur Ros, Sigur 4 and worst of all, a creepy chanting/screaming number.
    • Chris: “Happy Valentine’s Day Pawnee. For me, it is not happy. But don’t let my sadness diminish your night. (Ominous music plays) Anyway, life is fleeing.”

      Worst Setlist Ever. But I mean, who hasn’t felt this way at least once in their life on Valentine’s Day?

  • Thanks for Maggie and Nicole for answering my question about whether to invest in cyber currency. Their answer, and this link, runs counter to the hype we’re surrounded by here in Silicon Valley.
  • The ultimate Blind Item
  • My brother writes about a cool music project
  • I am enjoying Sharp Objects on HBO. We still have four episodes to go, but holy potatoes. Wind Gap is a uniquely macabre, messed-up town (the anti-Pawnee), and Adora Crellin is the absolute WORST.
  • I would love any podcast recommendations. I’ve recently enjoyed “By the Book,”a hilarious, yet often moving show where two comedians follow a self-help book’s advice and report back, and “What Should I Read Next.” Every episode of WSIRN feels like a therapy session for one reader, and there are lots of solid book recommendations. I also find it compelling to hear which books people love and hate–even if the book they hate is a book I love. Did you know many readers out there hate Charles Dickens?

What do you think about frustration, the possibility of a four hour work week, Chris Traeger, Charles Dickens and Sharp Objects? Also, podcast recommendations welcome. 

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