Gardens

I grew up around gardens. The smell of mulch and freshly-mowed grass evokes nostalgia every time I am around it. I am transported to a time when I would lie under shady trees, breathing in the aroma of flowers and reading my favorite books in my backyard.

The yard at my childhood home was beautiful, filled with large garden beds abundant with flowers and bushes. I remember a large mulch bed filled with tall grasses and plants, and a pond that was frequented by frogs and fish. On hot summer days, I would sneak out to the pond and try to catch the frogs when my parents weren’t looking and take them inside. I recall family members and parents of friends commenting on the intricacy of our gardens, my dad beaming with pride at his work.

While I was able to enjoy the garden in my childhood yard, I never took part in planting or tending to it. My father, a landscaper, worked solo. That was his way to disconnect and reconnect with the world, and I witnessed his creations from an outside perspective, reaping from the benefits.

After moving into my own home this past year, my husband and I decided to start our own garden. We have a fairly large lot and wanted to fill up the space with beauty. We purchased garden books and started planning out our oasis.

I admit that I was hesitant going in. I did not have a good track record with indoor plants. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. We tested the pH of our soil, dug up grass and got ready for our own perfect space. I was enjoying every moment.

As someone who combats anxiety and depression, I can say that tending to the earth and watching something grow because of your attention and dedication is healing. From choosing the plants to digging, watering, and tending to it throughout the seasons, I felt a sense of calm that I never felt before. I was entranced by the rich smells of the earth, the feeling of the soil on my hands. And while I was helping these living things plant their roots, I realized that I was doing the same.

It seems fitting that my love for creating and cultivating life sprouted at the same time we found out that we were pregnant. On a warm, sunny June day, I got a call from my doctor confirming that my husband and I were expecting our first child. I immediately went outside to the garden, my hand to my stomach, taking in all the magic. As I continue to garden, I hold my belly and tell her about all of our plants and how I am taking care of them. It’s serendipitous to think that when I was mulching and digging and planting and watering a few months back, I was not alone. I had a buddy with me every step of the way.

I am excited to see her curious face as I show her around our gardens. I will walk her to the shade garden and have her feel the coral bells and trace the shapes of the creeping myrtles on the mulch ground. We will read books on the bench under the maple tree. We will pick calamint leaves and smell their beautiful aroma as we walk around our fire pit. We will pick yellow coneflowers and water our lavender plants. We will witness our lilac tree sprouting deep violet petals in April, and watch our azalea bushes bloom throughout the month of May. We will all garden together. A perfect, safe space.

2021: The Year of Creativity

Welcome, 2021. I think it’s safe to say that everyone has been looking forward to your arrival.

Though it is a new year, that doesn’t mean that our work is over. We still have a global pandemic to combat. We still need to have those difficult conversations and take action against racial injustice. We have so much work to do.

This new year feels very different. I don’t feel as inspired as in years past. I’m burnt out and emotionally spent. However, I think that’s why continuing my tradition of establishing a theme for the new year is important, especially the one I came up with for 2021.

Last year’s theme was Self-Care (boy, was that ever necessary), and I am looking forward to continuing that theme with a little creative empowerment. This year’s theme is Creativity.

I have always been creative, from writing stories as a kid and journaling throughout my life to doodling and creating music. As I’ve grown, however, my creative aspirations have taken a backseat. I have found that my career and education are consuming my time, and I really want to balance out those responsibilities with embracing creative outlets.

When I think of a year of creativity, I envision a few things:

Writing: As a communications/PR pro and a graduate student writing a Master’s thesis, writing is definitely something I do all of the time. It can be exhausting, but I want to do more creative writing to balance it out. This year, I plan to update my blog at least once a week with bookish content. I also plan on starting my first book once my thesis is done.

Home: Ian and I bought a house this summer, and while we purchased it flipped, there are a lot of projects that we would like to complete. I would like to use my creative side and look at ways we can make this house even more of a home – from paint colors to wood accents to furniture and carpets! I’ll make sure to update this blog with our home decor.

Music: When I was 12 years old, my grandpa gave me a guitar for Christmas. I’ve always loved singing and performing, in fact, my theme for 2018 involved performing.

I learned basic chords and played a lot throughout high school and college, singing to my suite mates and future husband (hehe), but my guitar has been neglected. I now also own a mandolin and a ukulele, and I would like to learn how to play those too. Get ready for a year of music!

Do you have any goals for 2021? Share them below.

How to control the unknown: Journaling during the pandemic

Recently, I rediscovered my love for journaling. I currently have two journals: a bullet journal where I track my bookish creative needs, and another journal where I focus on mental check-ins before bed and other writing.

With the recent pandemic sweeping the globe, I noticed my journaling habits dwindling. I have been glued to my phone, scrolling through Twitter and Facebook to try to make sense of it all. I couldn’t believe what I read, but seeing that everyone was facing the same issues somehow made me feel less alone. The issue with this, of course, is that people don’t always post the most encouraging or factual things on social media, so those notions of connectivity also brought panic, uncertainty, and a lot of anxiety that I could not curb.

I decided to unplug — to only focus on the positive things — and pay more attention to books (more than I already do). I am working to exercise daily, eat healthily, and be mindful of what I can control. I slowly started journaling again, readying myself to write down what I was feeling. I realized that I was avoiding journaling because it was easier to harbor anxiety and fear rather than see it on paper. It’s been a few days now, and I am enjoying the process and act of journaling. It has helped to record my thoughts and activities during this time and work through them rather than avoid them.

I found myself this Sunday morning scribbling in my journal, feeling much like Jo March when she has a moment of inspiration and needs to get it down. I wrote six pages of free prose, mostly detailing what is happening, how I feel, and how my husband and I are coping during these troubling times. I wanted to share some of it with my readers, for I feel like this is how we might all feel. I also want to start sharing more of my writing with others, which takes a lot of courage.

Here are my favorite snippets:

As a homebody, this is certainly a lifestyle that I am used to, but I find myself gripping to my humanity more and more as we encounter outside individuals on our walks or in the grocery stores. As someone who is so introverted, I find myself craving extroversion. Technology is keeping “us” connected through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…Google Hangout, FaceTime and Zoom and “we” are having virtual Happy Hours and game nights. Families are joining each other for dinner in their respective living rooms. Why haven’t we done this before? Last week, my friends and I got together for a virtual chat. We laughed and caught up. One friend said: “We should have been doing this all the time anyway!” It’s true. Why wouldn’t my friends and I schedule regular time to do this? When we can’t get together physically, why don’t “we” embrace technology and still be together socially?

I hope that we all appreciate the simplicities of greetings: a smile, a handshake, or a “hello, how are you?” as we pass each other on the street. Why did we lose that in the first place? Ian and I went for a walk the other day, and every person looked at us and said “hi,” as if they were also craving that social interaction. Before, we wouldn’t get a glance from half of the people we crossed paths with. Where did humanity go? Does it take us to all be locked in our homes to strive for politeness when someone passes by?

I hope we learn to appreciate each other more — that we continue to take better care of one another and of ourselves. What about our planet? What about appreciating those on the front lines all of the time? Or asking those “what about them?” questions when things go wrong? I hope we don’t lose sight of that — taking care of each other.

After this is over, I hope that we continue to pick up more books, appreciate the small things like getting an iced coffee or an ice cream cone. I hope more people browse bookstores or work to support small businesses. I hope that we call our friends more, FaceTime with our grandparents regularly. I hope that we exercise and crave to go outdoors and take care of it. These things were always options, but now it’s something that we want to do and share.

I hope that we rediscover hobbies during this time- our love of books, favorite movies, playing or creating music. I hope that we are creative – that we paint, write, draw. I hope we are OK if we do none of those things but take time to look within ourselves and know that we are resilient … that we are strong and we can regain control and maintain that control when the world seems to have lost it. I hope we can just “be” and know that if we do anything, it is good enough. Enough with comparing ourselves on social media, thinking that we are not good enough. Enough with the drive for money and the greed to be successful. Can we continue to check in with one another? Can celebrities and musicians continue to share their talents?

I hope we act silly; that we dance. That we come out of this stronger than ever.

I am so excited to see all the creative work that comes from this. I can’t wait to see all the art, read all of the prose, and listen to new music. I hope to create my own work, academic and personal, during this time. I hope to learn how to be OK with my work, breathe slowly and be patient with my craft — to continue being diligent as a writer. I want to be loud; I want to praise others for their talents and help others feel safe and not alone. It’s time to be there for each other.

2020: The year of ‘Self’

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m a little late to my 2020 theme post. Actually, I’ve been later. Did you notice I didn’t post one last year? Neither did I. I don’t even know if I had a theme in 2019, and it sure did prove to be a tough year for me.

Not only are we welcoming a new year—we are also welcoming a new decade. As I reflect on my life the past 10 years, I see tremendous growth: I met my husband, graduated with an undergraduate degree, traveled to places around the world, had many rewarding jobs, got married, got a cat, went to graduate school, won an alumni award, and rediscovered different hobbies like theater and avid reading and writing. Life has been good to me!

If there’s anything that I’ve learned this past decade, and continue to relearn, is my self-worth. It’s something we all have (not to be confused with self-esteem) and I’ve worked hard to combat those negative thoughts.

What I have noticed throughout the past year is that I have been super negative. From looking in the mirror and picking at my face, my body, and overall image, to writing and calling myself incompetent or worthless, I’ve really pushed myself down this year. I feel as if I can never say a good thing about myself. I’d like for that to change in 2020.

Writing a master’s thesis and starting a new job at the same time is extremely stressful, but they are both very positive things. I’ve become so stressed that I’ve been sick since October. I haven’t been eating well, and I haven’t exercised as much. It’s taken a toll. It’s time I start to become more positive and erase those negative thoughts that constantly swirl in my head telling myself that I am “not enough.” As a perfectionist, these thoughts occur often, and it is affecting my overall health and happiness.

In 2015, I learned that there is a key difference between resolutions and habits. Resolutions just don’t work. If you say you want to eat healthy, you aren’t really creating something that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based). If you really want to succeed in your goals for the next year, try to form habits.

In 2016, I took it one step further (all inspired by Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert) and declared a theme for my year, which was Health. In 2017, I created a theme of Improve, and in 2018, my themes were Perform and Travel. This year, my theme is “Self.”

Coffee, Food, Drink, Hottest, Leaves, Winter, Cold

I was trying to find the perfect word to describe what I wanted to achieve this year, and I found that one of my friends has the same goals for 2020, calling 2020 the year of “Self.” So, inspired by her, that will be my theme!

Now, along with a theme, you must create goals that correspond with that theme. Then, you create SMART habits that will help you achieve your goals.

Here are my goals for Self:

GOAL: Become more mindful: Do you every feel as if your mind doesn’t stop? My mind has raced constantly and I cannot concentrate and complete everything on my to-do list.

Habit: To achieve mindfulness I will use my Stop, Breathe, and Think app once a day and meditate throughout the year.

GOAL: Be organized: From my full-time job and writing my master’s thesis to side gigs and a social life, I have found that I have lost touch with my organizational side (a side I took pride in). I want to be able to juggle all my tasks—from my blog and bookstagram posts (follow me @keepitkassual on Instagram) to my work meetings and academic projects.

Habit: Purchase a monthly/daily planner and a bullet journal and regularly update both items once a week, on Sunday mornings. Sundays will be your day to be organized for the week and start the work week recharged and focused.

GOAL: Prioritize fitness: This one is pretty straightforward. When I exercise, I am not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy. I am energized, confident, and can concentrate and complete my other tasks with a positive attitude.

Habit: Go to the gym 2-3 times a week, incorporating regular strength training with cardio (spinning on Saturdays or using the bikes at the gym on weeknights). I also plan on putting the gym in my planner to hold myself accountable and not move it if other things were to arise.

I am hopeful that these goals will be achieved this year! If I am mentally and physically healthy (mindfulness and exercise), I will feel organized and energized to complete my other tasks. I also hope to prioritize writing not only for my thesis and other academic projects and read slowly, enjoying the books I want to read rather than rushing through them. With the help of achieving these goals, I will truly be able to focus on myself—mind, body, and soul.

What about you? What are your “themes” or goals for 2020? Share in the comments below, and wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!