What I’m Loving This Month: May

May has been a busy month. I’ve been gearing up for three major launches at work, and B had a sinus surgery that knocked him out for a few days. The silver lining? We capped off the craziness with four relaxing days on the beach in Ocean Isle, N.C.

Having just returned yesterday, I’m relaxed and rejuvenated – and wanting to share some awesome discoveries I managed to make in between everything else going on.

Photo: Target.com

Photo: Target.com

$5 beach bag (seriously)
I got this adorable mesh tote at Target right before leaving for Ocean Isle. I went with no intention of buying a beach bag, but, as we all know, aimless browsing often leads to unplanned purchases at Target. (I imagine even the most disciplined of shoppers can’t resist the store’s range of amazing and inexpensive items.)

The bag is roomy, folds up easily for packing and has a handy front pocket for easy access to your phone, camera, etc. I got it on sale for $5, but the normal price, $9.99, is still a steal. If you’re not into polka dots, browse the website. The totes are available in a range of patterns and colors.

My Peggy Li bracelets

My Peggy Li bracelets

Peggy Li custom word bracelets
I love Peggy Li’s jewelry – all of it. And I’m not alone. If you watch Switched at Birth, American Idol, Vampire Diaries or Hart of Dixie, among others, you’ve seen her jewelry. It’s simple, chic and reasonably priced.

These custom word bracelets are among my favorite of her creations. I love the idea of wearing words that I can glance at throughout the day to center myself. Especially because I’ve been feeling off lately.

I can’t explain it other than that I just haven’t felt like myself. I’ve been anxious, moody, tired – just out of sorts. So I’ve been focusing on what keeps me balanced: exercise, eating right and, most importantly, being creative and simply giving myself time to breathe and be. Hence, my two new bracelets – one that says “breathe” and one that reminds me to make time for what I love, “create.”

Photo: GretchenRubin.com

Photo: GretchenRubin.com

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
I realize I’m a little late to the game, since this book by Gretchen Rubin was released in 2009, but I’m sharing in case any blog readers haven’t read it either.

Following an epiphany in which she realizes 1. she’s not focusing enough on what truly matters and 2. she could be happier, Rubin embarks on her Happiness Project. During this yearlong journey, she adds a few resolutions to her list each month to nurture her friendships, health, marriage, parenting, spirituality, work, etc. Each month, she tackles resolutions under a new theme.

For example, in January, her overarching resolution is to “boost energy.” To do that, she sets out to get organized, go to bed earlier, exercise “better” and “act more energetic.” She shares her experience working toward each of these resolutions with humor, personal insights and supporting research.

By the end of the year, she’s indeed happier, and has discovered Splendid Truths of Happiness – light bulb moments about happiness throughout her adventure that she carries with her. She summarized the truths in this great Huffington Post article a few years back (bonus: there’s a link to read sample chapters from the book at the end of the article).

I loved every second of this book. Rubin is a great storyteller, and as a perpetual list-maker and goal-setter, I was in heaven.

Lulu.com

Lulu.com

Lulu.com
In September of her Happiness Project year, Rubin sets out to pursue a passion: books. She soon discovers Lulu.com, a site where you can easily create and publish books. She creates books of her kids’ drawings, of blank books she filled in with her daughters, of her blog posts… the list goes on.

As someone who finds a level of happiness in bookstores and libraries that is second only to that found at home and at the beach, I was giddy as I read about her projects.

That night, I checked out Lulu.com, and it was everything Rubin said it was. I love that you can customize your book, from the size to the cover material to the page design, and print bulk quantities at a reduced price (if you’re self-publishing).

I’ve since begun my first, long-put-off project – getting all our wedding photos into a beautiful coffee table photo book. Sure, our wedding was two and a half years ago, but better late than never, right?

And I’m already thinking about what I’ll create after I finish this big project. A book of short stories? Blog posts? The book nerd in me is clearly over the moon.

What have you discovered this month that you’re loving? Share below!

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Fading fast

Photo: pastoralyn.wordpress.com

Photo: pastoralyn.wordpress.com

Last month, Energy Project CEO and Founder Tony Schwartz appeared on seemingly every news station after publishing his article, “Relax! You’ll be more productive” in the Opinion section of the New York Times. His hypothesis: we can’t work like computers, quickly, for long periods of time, juggling multiple functions, and still be effective and engaged. Instead, we’re most productive when we alternate between expending and renewing four types of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

So rather than try to squeeze all the work out of us that they can, employers should be striving to meet our four areas of need so that we are inspired, focused and, ultimately, producing better-quality work.

As someone who experiences the former on a day-to-day basis, I liked what I was hearing.

I visited the Energy Project website to learn more and decided to take the energy audit – a 20-question assessment that helps determine how effectively you’re managing your four sources of energy.

Survey says? I’m 30 percent energized (a.k.a. burned out). My four types of energy are all “fading.” As a former straight-A student, this did not bode well with me. I’ve flunked… in life?

The assessment includes suggestions for re-energizing my life, recommending I start at the physical level, which is the “foundation for the other dimensions of energy, and where it is easiest to make concrete changes.”

I’ve increased my workouts, and, unsurprisingly, they’ve helped lift my energy levels and keep stress and anxiety at bay.

But they haven’t magically changed my workplace.

Luckily, I currently happen to be reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, another written work generating major conversations. Sandberg discusses setting limits in her book, telling the story of a colleague who once told her that her boss “would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line.”

Later, she says, “…long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.”

As a person of extremes, setting limits and achieving balance have never been a natural strength for me.

But now, after seeing how my extremes are affecting my energy levels, health, performance – my overall life – and understanding that limits are necessary, rather than an admission of incompetence, I’m going to attempt to pull back a bit and take the time to replenish my energies.

What about you? How do you set limits and re-energize?

My smaller 2013 un-resolutions

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Photo: Oriental Trading

Happy early New Year, everyone! Being highly superstitious, I never wish a happy early anything – heck, I won’t even change my calendar until the new month or year arrives. But I’m soooo ready to say goodbye to 2012 and welcome 2013 with open arms.

This year has been tough. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that main challenges included the passing of a grandmother, the unexpected – nay, completely blindsiding – passing of my cousin and the murder of a childhood friend. Dealing with so much, along with adjusting to my promotion at work, meant less running, minimal writing and, ultimately, more stress and sad days and a nice 20-pound weight gain.

Needless to say, I didn’t achieve most of my un-resolutions for the year:

1. Run a half-marathon.

Um, nope. But I did begin yoga again after a year-long hiatus and have fallen back in love with it.

2. Officially change my name (this may be tougher than running a half-marathon from what I hear!).

Check!

3. Take a creative writing class.

Sadly, this went on the backburner.

4. Eliminate my debt (my current payment plan will allow for this).

I’m two months away, then I’m throwing the biggest party for myself EVER.

5. Build up my savings account (I have a particular number in mind).

In progress, but not quite where I hoped it’d be.

In my ongoing quest for better balance, I’ve set some smaller goals for myself for 2013:

  1. Run a 10K
  2. Get my shoulder stand to a point where I’m calmly breathing while holding the pose (versus flailing my legs around as I try to stay up)
  3. Finally take that writing class, even if it’s just a one-day workshop, to kick start my creative writing
  4. Give myself 10 minutes when I get home from work each day to reconnect with my husband and review the day, giving him my undivided attention
  5. Learn to cook three new meals without filling the kitchen with smoke, yelling for my husband to help in a panic or giving up and ordering takeout
  6. Continue to build my savings account
  7. Remind myself every day of all I have to be grateful for
  8. Think “I should” less and “I could” more

Like last year, these are goals I’m excited to work toward rather than resolutions I feel like I have to (or should!) make. I’m looking forward to ringing in 2013. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good year. After all, it’s an odd-numbered year (they are always good ones!).

Why you gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself*

This summer was tough. I lost two women very close to me. And while the initial sting and pain of their loss has eased up a bit, fall has been an insanely busy time at the office. Trying to balance my unwieldy workload with fun-packed weekends has resulted in sheer exhaustion – and a serious loss of balance. I feel drained, like I’m in a Frida Kahlo painting, bleeding out everywhere.

On top of the run-down feeling, I was beginning to get unexplicably angry and sad. Becoming annoyed with co-workers and short with my husband. Noticing I was becoming more critical of myself and my work, along with letting my Type A-ness get out of control when it came to cleaning (I clean when stressed).

Needless to say, this past weekend was a time to check myself. Okay, to be honest, I didn’t plan to check myself; I crashed. I napped on Saturday afternoon in my PJs and zoned out like a zombie, watching football all day Sunday.

The good part? I remembered why it’s so important to give yourself time to just be – time to forget deadlines, tuck the to-do list away, catch up on some reading, take a yoga class or go for a run and get back in tune with myself.

Inspired by my two days of relaxing, I turned a critical eye to my calendar and began moving back plans, spacing them out a bit so that I can build in “check yourself” weekends between busy ones. I made sure I got to the gym a few times this week, and carved out time to blog (hence, this post). I’m already feeling lighter and back to my usual self, rather than the crazed maniac I was becoming.

Can you relate? Do you have to check yourself, or have you mastered balance? I’m always looking for tips!

*Ice Cube is so wise!

When Rex met Penelope

First car ride together.

I’ve fallen in love with someone else. She’s a 16-pound pug named Penelope that my husband and I just rescued, and she’s the sweetest little thing. She looks up at me with her Ewok-like eyes, and my heart melts. More importantly, she’s fit into our family seamlessly, like someone had already decided she was meant for us and was just waiting for the right time!

Our other dog, Rex, who has been the center of our universe since he arrived via plane from Iowa at eight weeks old, is taking it all in. He doesn’t quite know what to make of this wriggling, hyper, furry little girl who demands our attention and has smacked him across the face a few times for getting too close to her and thus jeopardizing the attention she’s getting from us. In short, he’s been force-fed a huge helping of humble pie. But he’s adjusting. We all are.

What’s amazing is how reminders of my need for balance continue to emerge. I have to make sure to give equal attention to both dogs to make sure they both know how much they’re loved. And I need to remember to do the same for myself.

Lately, work has been winning in the battle for my attention. Rather than training for a half-marathon, I’ve been crashing on my couch and watching the It’s a Wonderful Lifetime marathon, holiday shopping via the Internet (thank God for technology) and calling it a night by 10 p.m. Not exactly how I want to live my life.

My goal in the next two weeks: get myself back on track – and on the treadmill!

June Cleaver? Um, no.

Photo: flickr.com/photos/evilerin/

Before you read the title of this blog, roll your eyes, declare this yet another example of how women are screwing themselves in their quest for equality and leave, let me explain. Baking in high heels is a serious balancing act in a few ways – it’s balancing home life and career, it’s multi-tasking, and it’s trying to do something that’s freakin’ difficult (and uncomfortable – I suspect June Cleaver had some nasty callouses on her feet from her high-heeled-housekeeping shenanigans).

I’m doing all of the above, as my husband pointed out to me the other night. I was in the four-inch heels I’d worn to work, running around the kitchen, making tartlets for Thanksgiving the following day (I love to bake, hate to cook). “Look at you, baking in heels,” he chuckled. And the blog name I’d been trying to come up with for a while presented itself. I’m constantly, metaphorically baking in high heels.

Some background on me:

In April 2010, I got engaged to the love of my life. A few months later, once my eyes re-adjusted after staring at my ring non-stop, I had a thought: getting married really means I’m an adult now. But an adult takes care of herself and does what’s best for her, right? If that’s the case, I’d say I’m a preteen or a teenager, at best.

In all material ways, I take care of myself. But in the spiritual and mental ways, I often put others first. I’m a grade-A people pleaser. I’ll often overwork myself in the office or take on too much in my personal life, often foregoing what I really need – a good workout, time to read a book or do something else I enjoy, a good conversation with a friend.

I had committed my life to my fiancé. And he deserves a happy, healthy wife who takes care of herself physically and emotionally. And, more importantly, I deserve those things. So I began making some major changes and detailed my journey in becoming a “real adult” and heading toward the aisle in my previous blog, Pre-Aisle Adventures.

Now, I’m blissfully wed and trying to learn how to balance my relationship with my career, friendships, writing, running and overall continued evolution. And I’m chronicling my adventures in this new blog.

From learning how to manage a shared budget and navigating name change paperwork to training for a half-marathon and juggling a heavy workload at the office, my plate is full, which means this blog will be, too! I hope you’ll subscribe and tag along on my adventures.