Tag: Prioritizing


O[ur] Tannenbaum

Last weekend, the fog drew around our house like a heavy silver curtain. Sophie was sick and Natalie’s school was on strike*, so we had the deep-settling thrill of burrowing into our own little world for a day or two. The girls had been reverberating for weeks with pent-up holiday cheer, and even my no-carols-before-Thanksgiving resolve had crumbled in the home stretch, so it was clear to everyone how our hibernation weekend should be spent.

* Clarification point #1: Kids here typically go to school six mornings a week and get out at lunchtime; it’s inconvenient and awesome all at once. Clarification point #2: Schools go on strike in our district about twice a month, each one formally announced ahead of time. Again, inconvenient + awesome.

Our Tannenbaum - 1

We bought this tree seven years ago for Natalie’s first Christmas. At the time, the three of us were living on a single graduate school stipend, and fresh-cut pines were up there with cable TV and new shoes on the Hierarchy of Unnecessary Expenses. However, the Martha Stewart Holiday Collection went on sale at our local K-Mart, and our baby’s squeals of joy right there on Aisle 5 decided for us. It was nothing fancy; we knew our tree would never evoke nostalgia for either Appalachia or Anthropologie, but the point was that it was ours.

And is it ever ours. Though our collection of ornaments has grown steadily over the years, only two of them—a set of crystal love birds from Dan’s grandparents—actually match. Ours is a tree of keepsakes and fingerprints, cross-stitching and salt dough. We have a wooden bell that Dan colored with markers when he was in preschool and I blotched with melted candy canes a few years back. We hang it anyway. There are the two cartoonish and slightly disproportionate Loch Ness monsters I coaxed out of modeling clay for the girls to remember our summer in Scotland. Natalie hangs hers next to a pony she once made out of pegboard beads and strung up via a hair ribbon with an artist’s pride. Meanwhile, Sophie chooses a single branch for a series of paper hearts displaying a four-year-old’s scissor skills and enthusiastic joy.

These now-dusty limbs sport chocolate lips and jingle bells, felt daubed with formerly-hot glue, a couple of miniature storybooks shellacked into submission, and a rocking horse that may or may not have been through a war… and each year that goes by gives me greater satisfaction in declaring that what our tree lacks in fashion sense, it more than makes up for in memories.

Admittedly, I still pause every time I wander into the Christmas section of the party store. I can’t help scanning the shelves of baubles and lights and blown-glass snack foods—seriously, why are those a thing? and why do I want them so badly?—and imagining our living room transformed into a magazine spread. It’s easy, far too easy, to envision how a cartful of decorations would change our lives. Don’t we want our holiday pictures to reflect perfection? Wouldn’t our daughters’ experience be improved with icicle lights or topiaries or at least an identifiable color scheme?

Last weekend, as the fog wrapped us tightly into the warmth and music of our living room, I remembered as I do every year why I always leave the Christmas aisle with an empty cart. This tree of ours, with its missing PVC needles and mismatched lights and homemade ornament parade, holds a magic all of its own—a magic all of our own. It glows with our family stories and preserves evidence of our personalities, our creativity, our thumbprints. The girls reminisced about each ornament as they chose the imperfectly perfect spot to hang it, and when we were done, it was like someone had hung a sun in the room; all we wanted to do was bask. 

Our Tannenbaum - 2


Do you ever struggle with holiday-decoration-envy?



Grateful today for change, for opportunity, for the delicious tang of adventure.

For laughter ringing like a tuning fork through the dissonance of busy days.

For hearts gift-wrapped in kind words, for all of you brave givers.

For rich flavors and colors and relationships, wealth that outshines money.

For small pleasures, for bewildering beauty, for the goodness cupped in the hands of here, now.

For any reason whatsoever to eat pie.

For all-things-new and the tenacity of hope.


What is making your heart warm today?


Chip Chat

We’ve started a diet here at Casa de Bassett—nothing groundbreaking, just a protein-and-veggie response to all those watermelons we inhaled over the summer. (I would blame record-breaking temps and a lack of air conditioning, but the truth is that I would eat watermelon in a snowstorm if afforded the opportunity. I am powerless to resist. Thus… Diet.) I have no problem with the figure-friendly meals we’ve been cooking up, but snack time? Folks, snack time is hard. Chips and salsa! my traitor of a brain cheers, bouncing up and down like an expectant three-year-old. Chips and guacamole! Chips and other chips! Tortilla chips! Potato chips! Chocolate chips! Chiiiippppssss! Let me tell you, stale chickpeas and celery sticks lose a great deal of their charm when your taste buds are begging for these.

I’ve stuck with it though, motivated as I am by the chatty mom at school pick-up who asked if I was having a boy this time (!!), and as the snackless days have rolled on, I’ve noticed my mid-afternoon cravings turning toward something very different from food: good old-fashioned human connection. I find myself wanting to simultaneously read every blog entry I’ve missed over the past year and leave warm, engaging comments and call up loved ones on the phone and wade into the Twitter rapids and have a heart to heart with my husband and take the girls on a playdate at the park and reply to long overdue emails and flood the Instagram feeds of the world with a deluge of my newfound present-ness. It makes me think my word for the year—with—has been waiting for just such an opportunity to ambush me.

The fact that this golden relational opportunity is snacklessness though… well, it’s a puzzler, not to mention a disappointing headliner. Chip Deprivation Leads To Deeper Relationships? Celery Inspires Local Introvert To Get Out More? It’s missing a certain panache I look for in my transformation stories.

But one day last week, my mid-afternoon craving led to my writing pages of correspondence, playing with the girls at the park, sharing an hour-long conversation with neighbors, and bumping into not one but two friends bearing birthday invitations… and the result was a feeling of sheer comfort. It was that comfort, that utterly content, my-needs-are-being-met high, which flipped on the light bulb in my head. Of course. Comfort food has been replaced with comfort companionship.

I feel a little unstitched to consider that I might have been substituting deep-fried potato discs for the real and meaningful relationships in my life. I mean, I’m not a binge eater. More often than not, I grab a piece of fruit instead of the chip bag, and I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had a particularly complicated or co-dependent relationship with food (aside from watermelon, that is). These words would never escape my lips in reference to any other area of my life, but when it comes to food, I’d say I’m pretty much normal.

Normal doesn’t necessarily translate to healthy though, or at least not the personalized kind of wholeness my life is constantly shifting toward and away from like a paper boat on choppy swells. I started a diet to redistribute my proportions, but it honed in on my time instead, and as I sit here with my lime-water and resolve, it’s not a dwindling waistline that has me mesmerized; it’s this increasing sense of connectedness and the thrill of inhabiting my world more fully. (The dwindling waistline is just a charming side effect to be appreciated and then promptly forgotten come Watermelon Season 2013.) 



It’s an Imogen Heap day, an unstrung week in a gray-blue tangle of a month. I’m clinging obstinately to summer, but there are long sleeves under my t-shirt and school schedules on the tip of everyone’s mind; it’s time for a switching of gears.

I’m gravitating toward so many directions at once these days, my imagination bigger than my plate, and while it’s thrilling to teeter on the cusp of everything, I still haven’t summoned whatever latent superpower allows other women to gather the whole realm of possibility in their arms and craft an award-winning life out of it. Honestly, I feel stretched too thin as it is, and yet there is so much untraveled road between this kind of day and the kind I want to inhabit.

I draw too many conclusions from the online world, I know this. I subconsciously assign soul-value to the frequency of someone’s blog posts, the timbre of his or her Tweets. I paint others’ lives between the lines of their Instagram feed and conclude that this one is effortlessly happy, that one writes articles at the speed of light, those love their children perfectly. Every book being read or written, every Pinterest-worthy back to school party… they all accumulate into my perception of better than, and it’s my self-worth that takes the hit.

After too many midnights still at work and sluggish mornings prodded along like mules, the better than begins to grow fangs and I start thinking that I’ve somehow disqualified myself from grace. This mysterious joy that Jesus taught, the utterly relaxing, glorious gift of knowing you don’t have to be any more or less than you are—it starts to seem earmarked for those more important, those with more credentials and charisma, probably more money, and certainly a much longer string of accomplishments at the end of each day. My mind turns to frustrated mantras instead—If I did more, I’d deserve more… or First-world concerns don’t count—and I imagine grace enjoying after-dinner drinks with the cool kids while I scrub burnt grease off the dishes.

It’s work ethic and Baptist theology gone horribly wrong.

The girls start school one week from today, and I’m looking at the mornings ahead with undisguised hunger. There is so much I need to do compounded with so much I could do topped with a heaping swirl of so much I want to do, and five quiet, guilt-free hours a day sound almost too good to be true. However, I need to face the fact that I’ve always supplied my own guilt and chosen defeating mantras over life-breathing grace; I’ve let myself twist others’ beauty into better than. A mere schedule change isn’t going to fix what’s broken here.

I’m the one who has to choose grace and protect it from getting crowded out of my headspace by mule-prodding demands, who has to accept that I am not too much or not enough or worse than or any other point of comparison. This… is hard. I can’t even tell you how hard it is. Clinging to poisoned aphorisms can feel so much safer than letting go of insecurities and embracing the imperfect, uniquely valuable person I am. Even writing that sentence makes me want to reach for my lead security blanket and come up with a few more defeatist insults for myself and over-schedule the rest of my day to keep from hoping for more and and and…


It’s definitely time for a switching of gears.


Do you ever do the negative mantra routine? What do you do to get your thoughts and beliefs on the same page?


The Gift of Permission

When I told Dan that I only got a cumulative ten minutes of sleep last Wednesday night, he ran it through his Bethany Hyperbole Filter and concluded that I meant seven and a half hours instead of my usual nine. (I need more sleep than any creature I know, newborn sloths included.) The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but the point is that I spent Thursday tired, and even a luxury nap after breakfast didn’t jump-start the kind of energy or inspiration one would hope for on her birthday.

My perceptions of cold, hunger, tiredness, and sadness have always confused themselves with each other, and so I never was quite sure throughout the day if I needed a snack or a blanket or maybe some stand-up comedy. In reality, I probably needed some double espressos with an extra spoonful of grace, but clear thinking is not my forte when I’m running on a sneeze-worth of sleep. Instead, my instinctive drive to do more! accomplish more! amps up in direct proportion to my rising exhaustion—all the more so on “special” days—and I basically turn into my own personal Dementor.

Sucking out my own soul is a habit I’d love to kick in this coming year, so my first instinct was to put that at the top of an extra special birthday edition to-do list:

  1. Stop sucking out own soul.
  2. (But really, accomplish more please.)

Self help clearly isn’t my forte either.

It’s just that I want to feel in every synapse and pore of my being that I’m doing life well—living it deeply, thoughtfully, openly, and significantly. I crave purpose the way our palm trees crave water; that’s my internal design, and it could be a force for good if I could simply ditch the accompanying stress. Search for purpose – guilt-ridden paranoia + a chill pill. (Optional: more wine and/or Rumi.) Sounds pretty perfect, right? To that end, I’m writing a different kind of list for myself this birthday. Instead of lining up the things I hope to do this year (see 2008, 2009, 2010, and a dizzy buzzing noise from 2011), I’m giving myself permission this year to not do. (Feel free to adopt this list for yourself or anyone else in your life who could use a break from self-flagellation.)

  • You have permission not to catch up with friends’ online worlds before getting in touch. It’s okay to call or write a loved one without knowing exactly what she’s been up to the last few weeks (or, ahem, months). If anything, it will give you more to talk about one-on-one, so ditch the guilt, mark all as read, and spend your valuable time enjoying the relational part of your relationships.
  • You have permission not to take other people’s success as indication of your failure. Personal amazingness is not the last piece of pie; there is more than enough to go around in this wide, ever-possible world of ours, and it has no expiration date. You can’t be late to a game that doesn’t exist, so stop worrying that your friend’s book deal was meant to be yours (it wasn’t) or that the scholarship accidentally fell out of destiny’s hands into the wrong person’s (it didn’t) or that each new name worked into a Ben & Jerry’s flavor pun knocks you even further out of the running (Fruit Bassett for 2015, anyone? anyone?).
  • You have permission not to wait until ideas are fully formed and Beowulf-epic before acting on them. Your husband is right in warning you that incubating a project until it’s reached theoretical perfection means never starting that project at all. Wrinkles are best smoothed out with forward motion anyway, so put more energy into your doing than into your thinking, start small, and at least try to befriend imperfection along the way. (He’s so much more interesting to hang out with than perfection; just think of the stories you’ll accrue!)
  • You have permission not to wear all your hats at once. Just one at a time is enough, I think, but not the everything hat. It’s not really a hat at all—just a piece of tinfoil hot-glued with delusions of grandeur—and the only thing you manage to do while wearing it is bump into walls; please, for the love of all that is holy, throw the everything hat away. Also, you know the housecleaning hat is too tight, so limit your time with that one; the mama and friend and writer and teacher hats fit you much better. As long as you don’t wear them all at once.
  • You have permission not to protect the worry. I know you think that someone has to be responsible for worrying, and not just for worrying but for keeping the worry comfortable, well-fed, and safe from harm, and if you don’t do it, who will? I also know that sometimes worry feels like the only constant you can grasp when life is surging around you. But oh honey—the worry doesn’t need a protector. It’s an animal of prey, and you know all too well how it bites the hand that feeds it. You already have plenty to do without this job on top of all; you have my express and hearty permission to resign.

The gift of permission

Bonus: You have permission to slip away to the park for an hour or two and fill yourself to capacity with fresh air. Recommended especially for those with a Dementor habit to break.



Anti-Humanitarian Effort

Hello there, world.

So. These past two weeks of lifestyle reevaluation have not gone exactly according to plan. The Plan, you see, went something like this: I would wake up early, all self-imposed pressure having evaporated overnight. I would read an inspiring book over coffee and then journal my way to self-actualization. It would take two, three hours tops. After an invigorating run, I’d start the pasta water for lunch and, while waiting for it to boil, whip out a manifesto or two. That afternoon, I would make serious headway into some new, affirming, revelatory project—while having plenty of mental energy left over for my family of course—and I might not even need to sleep that night, so profound would be my invigoration. By dawn the next morning, I would have replied to all the emails I’ve been so delinquent about lately (sorry!), conquered the ironing pile, and come up with a portfolio of new business plans. Who knows? I might have even switched to decaf.

Reality, however, went more like this: Wake up. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Breakfast, with a side of ANXIETY. A lengthy meditation on panic followed by escalating stress. Sprained ankle. (For the record, I no longer recommend jumping up from your computer chair when your leg has fallen asleep. It may look funny, but… well, it is. But still.) No workout. No revelation. Foot turning purple; water-boiling is no longer on list of known abilities. ANXIETY. Can no longer locomote. Can no longer see beyond Cage of Failure. Will never be able to write anything again ever. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Repeat to varying degrees for several days. Ankle mends. Head cold descends. Life ends.

These haven’t been the best of weeks. I’ve been letting everything slide—my writing, my friendships, those five freaking kilometers I’ve worked so hard to be able to run—and I’m feeling the void keenly. I thought that by taking the pressure of my own expectations out of the equation, I would find instant peace and clarity, but it feels more like I accidentally removed myself from the equation. When I’m not nurturing the creative or communal parts of my life, I become a shell… and maybe that’s the real revelation I needed from these weeks of navel-gazing.

Or maybe it’s not so much of a revelation as it is a truth that I discover over and over in different ways. The negative and deprecating voices in my head have been doing a number on me lately, assuring me that I have nothing of value to offer the world, that the world would actually be a better place if I weren’t contributing to it, and that the only respectable course of action for the good of all mankind would be to slink into a quiet corner somewhere and try very, very hard not to be noticed. (Now you understand that my blog is at heart an anti-humanitarian effort.) Going through life as a shell of a person though… Nothing is worth that. Nothing.

I do have some other projects percolating now (should I thank the sprained ankle or the head cold for that?), and I’ve confirmed in the space between my heart and my fingertips that this blog is meant to be sanctuary, not money-maker. The ads are gone now, and coming back to the page now is like opening my front door after sending away guests who had long overstayed their welcome. The air is lighter, the ambiance softer. It feels like home again.

And now that you know I’m not here for you and am actually here in flagrant disregard for your wellbeing, how are you? What have you been up to these past two weeks? Any fellow sprained ankles enjoying their restored dignity?



The last couple of days were for holding my breath, playing the undercover researcher to my own life, and sometimes just hiding under the blankets for an hour or, um… four. Some days are just this way, and it’s probably due to a combination of late nights and early mornings and too much not enough coffee and hormones and the weather and any number of swiftly colliding circumstances, but in the murk of it, all I can reason is that I have finally, irrevocably failed at existence. (People who are not me would call it a bad day, shrug, and move on. To those people, I ask—Where is your commitment to suffering? I mean, really.)

The funk had been creeping up on me for a while—see here, here, here, aaaaand here—and my husband and I both agree that it’s time for some lifestyle reevaluation. The fact that we missed an episode of Sherlock to talk through this just goes to show how badly we need a change. More specifically, how badly I need a change. This year so far has looked nothing like I thought it would; my Ready, Set, Write! expectations were strangled by a months-long situation I couldn’t share about here, and I’ve been getting up each morning at the last possible minute without a glimmer of creative purpose.

Some mornings once the coffee is stirring my veins back to life, blog entries land decisively on my heart to be typed out in a heady glow. This compulsion to write is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s one of my favorite processes in all the world. But many other mornings, far too many, I stare at my computer screen trying to force sentences out of a thick silence and spiraling by the minute toward self-disgust. If I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a mere blog entry each day, how can I consider myself a blogger? And if I can’t hack it as a blogger, how can I even hope for the infinitely vaguer and cooler title of writer?

Here’s where the lifestyle reevaluation comes in. See, I have an idea of what is required of a successful blogger—a personal brand, dedicated networking, and frequent content that manages to be both familiar and engaging—and I chafe against all three points. I have no agenda for my blogging, and I honestly feel claustrophobic at the thought of limiting myself to one theme or niche. I’m just me, folks, and I write because I can’t not write, and I share that writing here because I can’t not share it. This blog is my community. However, I don’t think it was ever meant to be my career. All those mornings spent glaring at a blank “New Post” page should have clued me in long before now. This space here is a place for inspiration and outlet, an aviary for my thoughts, a personal lounge for kicking back and drinking in beauty. It’s not my nine to five.

Which means it’s high time I stop letting misdirected stress over branding and networking and commenting and posting schedules keep me from asking myself what projects I’m truly meant to pour my energy into for the second half of this year. Ergo, I’m going to be taking some much-needed time to figure myself out, starting in approximately eleven minutes when I hit the running trail and the horrible, agonizing pain of exercise stabs my stress level to death. I’m not abandoning this blog, never fear, but posting might be sparser than usual while I get reacquainted with me. Either that, or this space will soon be overrun with blurry snapshots of my navel and esoteric questions about the meaning of life. Either way, you’ve been warned.


How do you go about lifestyle reevaluations? Do you have any tips for ditching unnecessary stress and honing in on a direction that will bounce me out of bed with the sunrise? (Drink recommendations totally count.)

© Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.