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Entries in no in november (5)

Thursday
Nov292012

Five Signs It's Time To Slow Down

We’ve reached the end of the month and the million dollar question is - Did I successfully slow down and say “no” in November?

Well… no.

The irony! I committed when I shouldn’t have. I volunteered when I should have kept my mouth shut. I piled too much into certain days – even weeks if I’m being honest.

But did I learn anything?

YES!

At the beginning of this month, I was frazzled and anxious and miserable. I felt overwhelmed by commitments and duties and unhappy no matter where I was or what I was doing. The good great news is I no longer feel like that. 

I did make some changes. I outsourced household stuff that was stressing me out. I lined up help with work and was able to focus in on projects that are really important to me. More importantly, thanks to the wisdom and suggestions from Susan Sachs Lipman in Fed Up With Frenzy I was able to take some time to slow down, settle in, and soak up the joy that is my family.

What I realized more than anything is saying no will never be easy. There will never be a set of rules or a simple formula I can follow to know when I should say no and when I should step up. Deciding how to spend your time and energy is a moment-by-moment case-by-case gut check that never changes. It’s part of being an adult and it stinks.

However, I have learned some cues and indicators in my own life that mean I’m moving too fast and it’s time to slow the heck down.

I’m mean to my dog. I know it sounds crazy but Maggie is my little barometer. If I feel myself snapping at her or getting frustrated with her demands, it means I’m piling too much on. If I don’t have time to stop and pet my dog, then I’m doing too much. Period.

I’m not cooking. I am not the main cook in our family so it is possible for me to fix a couple of bowls of cereal, buy lunch, and avoid my kitchen for days on end. This is not a good thing. When I don’t have time to slow down and eat a warm meal with my kids, it’s time to re-evaluate.

I haven’t seen my friends. I have a group of women in my life (my sister wives – as they’re called on occasion) who are always there for a fun field trip, a park play date, or craft session. When I don’t see these women for a while, I know I’m spending too much time completing tasks and not enough time living life.

My knitting basket goes untouched. Knitting is what I do to unwind and relax. I love making gifts for special people in my life and I love to hear those needles click as I watch the latest episode of Parenthood or Parks and Recreation. When I’m using every spare minute (including that precious evening time) to keep my head above water, then it’s time to let some things sink to the bottom of the pool.

My desk looks like a bomb went off. My work area is also an excellent indication of how fast things are moving in my life. The higher the pile (and more random the assortment of items in said pile) the more likely it is that I’m moving too fast and it’s time to slow down.

I don’t think I expected one month to cure me. I don’t even think I can be cured. We live in a world that says what you can accomplish is the most important thing. Ignoring that inner voice that screams “Go! Do! Faster!” isn’t ever going to be easy for me, but I do think I’m getting better. There is too much to be missed by speeding through this life and too much to be enjoyed by slowing down. 

~ Sarah Stewart Holland

Wednesday
Nov212012

Remembering the "Thanks" in Thanksgiving

I hate Black Friday. The idea of spending a holiday and my vacation time shopping for the “best deal known to man” makes me run for the hills not the nearest Gap. I can’t put my finger on when this shift happened, but one day I woke up and the possibility of getting a great pair of leather boots at half off did nothing for me. I think the old soul in me finds this raging (and competitive?) consumerism a huge turn off because it really takes us away from what Thanksgiving is truly about—gratitude, contentment, slowing down, and togetherness.

“I am grateful for what I have. My Thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau 

After I started working at a law firm and didn’t have time to shop for shopping’s sake, and especially after I had the Little Dude who much prefers parks to malls, I really learned that I didn’t need anything. What I had was always enough. So, I now try to spend my time appreciating the big and the small and the ordinary and extraordinary in my life.

This Thanksgiving, I look forward to:

1. Baking with the Little Dude, while listening to his stories of Thomas the Train (even though I have no idea about the series’ plot) or his fictional sister whom he’s going to share a bunk bed with and drive around town.

2. Our annual viewing of Christmas Vacation. It’s the perfect way—other than a walk around the block—to help all the scrumptious food we ate digest (and no one judges you for wearing sweat pants!).

3. My lovely uncle visiting from DC. Anytime he’s around we laugh because he reminds adults that life shouldn’t be so serious. There’s time in life to be a bon vivant.

4. Sunshine.

5. Sleeping in for one day (maybe two).

6. My husband. Lately, I’ve enjoyed hearing his side conversations with our son. They’re so funny because boys will be boys.

7. The Little Dude. His imaginative storytelling and endless enthusiasm for scaring people with a lion’s roar makes my heart sing.

8. Abundant produce and vegetables from our local CSA. I never thought I’d see the day when fluffy spinach and kale made me excited.

9. Friendship and community and wishing all of you health, love, and prosperity always.

10.   This great life.

~ The Other Sarah

Tuesday
Nov132012

Making room in my life for joy

There are a lot of things that bring me happiness. Lattes bring me happiness. A good book brings me happiness. HBO brings me happiness on a weekly basis. (Hello, Eric Northman!) There are also a lot of things that leave me feeling fulfilled. When someone connects with something I’ve written, I feel fulfilled. When I can help someone who is less fortunate then myself, I feel fulfilled. When I can share something that has made my life easier with someone else, I feel fulfilled. 

But as I say no in November (which is getting harder and harder), I'm trying to prioritize between things that make me happy and things that bring me joy. 

There are only a few things that bring me real and lasting joy.

Bliss. Delight. Felicity.

That feeling that starts deep down into the pit of your stomach and then blooms and spreads until you feel like every cell in your body is smiling.

I feel joy when Amos smiles and giggle with glee as I toss him into the air. 

I feel joy when Griffin runs to greet me in the morning with his tousled head of hair - still warm from the covers. “Good morning, mommy!” 

I feel joy when I look around the table on Sunday evenings and see my family smiling back at me over a delicious meal.  

I feel joy when my husband pulls me close at night and throws a heavy arm over my body. 

I feel joy when the warm sun shines on my face and I realize the people I love are safe, happy, and healthy and so am I.

Joy is not permanent. It can be fleeting and evasive. But when it is here - when you feel it wash over you - it is so, so sweet. 

And it is absolutely worth saying no for. 

~ Sarah Stewart Holland

Tuesday
Nov062012

What I Do Is Not Who I Am

 

I'm a week into my little experiment and I think I'm making progress. I've racked up two real "no's." Two times I know I would have said yes in the past. Nothing major - a dinner invitation and an opportunity to join in another group - but definitely something I would have jumped all over a month ago. However, I stopped and took a breath and thought, "What else do I have going on? What do else do I need to get accomplished? What do my children need from me during that time?" 

I'm sure I missed a good time and a chance to make some great connections, but I've been reminding myself that these opportunities are not finite and there will always be more. 

Since I'm not running myself ragged, I've had more time to think. Time to think about why I was saying yes so much. I'd like to think it was all out of extreme generousity of spirit but I know that is not the case. As I've said, I like being seen as a person who gets a lot done. People would say, "You have more hours in the day than other people!" and I would beam. It became a part of my personality. 

But what I do is not who I am. 

That's my new mantra. What I can accomplish, how much I can tick off a to do list, how full I can cram my life, my day, my every waking hour has nothing to do with my value as a human being. What I do is not who I am. I've watched friends face that moment - either due to illness or depression - when they can no longer do the things that defined them. They cannot work. They cannot take care of their children. They cannot even take care of themselves. 

What would I do if that happened to me?

I'm trying to slow down, strip back the layers, and see what's left. If I was no longer Super Sarah who has eleventy jobs and two kids and joins and shows up and participates and gives and gives and gives, who would I be?

I would still be Nicholas's wife if I couldn't make a beautiful home for him. I would still the mother of Griffin and Amos if I couldn't be at every party or make every craft. I would still be a daughter and granddaughter and a friend if I wasn't at every shower or celebration. I would still be a writer if no one ever read another word. 

It's a little scary to stop and think about myself in that way. However, the distractions and the chaos and the running are no less scary - just in a different way. If I can learn I am not valuable because I am constantly doing, I'm hoping to find what I do chose to say yes to truly valuable. 

Until then, I take a deep breath and repeat, "What I do is not who I am. What I do is not who I am. What I do is not who I am."

~ Sarah Stewart Holland 

Thursday
Nov012012

No in November

This is a small selection of the invites we've received in the last six months. An endless sea of high school graduations, baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, and birthday parties. It doesn't even include charity events or work obligations. We were honored to receive every one and attended (almost) all of them.

You know what else this is?

Insane.

Of course, this in part is a monster of my own making. I've written before about my almost pathological need to say yes to things. I want to feel included. I want to be a person people know they can depend on. In particular, I take celebrations seriously. If you have invited me to witness and participate in one of the most important days of you life (or even year), I want to be there. Plus, for so long, it was "just us" in the big city and I love being a part of a community now where I'm constantly included in people's lives.

However, it goes beyond that. I say yes because I want to be there, but I also say yes because I don't want to miss out. Ever. On anything.

I've talked missing out before, particularly in regards to how I spend money. What I didn't realized until recently is that there is something else that I spend everyday that reflects not only my priorities but how I view myself.

Time.

Because here's the thing about being that busy. It's like living on minimum wage. It almost works as long as nothing ever goes wrong but... something inevitably does. In my case, someone I cared about got sick and I didn't take the time necessary to really feel the enormity of that. I just continued moving forward full tilt until I arrived stressed and overextended at my best friend's doorstep for a weekend away.

It took her about two minutes to ask me what was wrong and about two seconds for tears to start pouring down my face.

"You have to say no to things," she said sympathetically.

I protested. I did say no! Sometimes. If I really didn't want to do something, I said no...sometimes.

Of course, due to my aforementioned desire to never miss out, there aren't many things I really don't want to do. What happens most often is it's just too much. I'm too busy and there will be too much shifting and rushing and hustling to attend this event or that party but I say yes anyway. I say yes. I say yes. I say yes.

I say yes until I'm saying no to other things I want to do. Things that can't be scheduled. I say no to playing Candyland. I say no to watching a movie on the couch. I say no to the people in my life that mean the most to me. I say no to myself. I say no to knitting or cooking or organizing or reading or a million other quiet activities that feed my soul.

"You'll have to say no to things you want to do and it might mean hurt feelings or missing out on something fun," she reminded me.

So, I'm saying no. I'm saying No in November. October has been crazy and Christmas can be even crazier. I want to take some time to be still and slow down. The idea of living a slow life is part of the reason I moved back to Kentucky in the first place. But as they say, where ever you go - there you are and my fear of missing out followed me home. I'm just going to have to tackle it head on.

I've made a couple attempts. We backed out of wedding we were supposed to attend a few weeks ago after we couldn't find a babysitter and the stress of one more weekend of travel seemed too much to bear. It pained me but I was happy we did it in the end. I'm also trying to look to others for help and advice.

I've followed Simple Mom and Frugal Mama for a while and have always loved their calm and conscientious approach to parenting and life in general. I've also been reading Fed Up With Frenzy by Suz Lipman, a leader in the slow family movement, and have joined the Fed Up With Frenzy book tour. Over the next month, I'll be sharing some of her suggestions (and how they worked for me) for how to slow down and reconnect with what is really important.

If you are as stressed out, overextended, and plain ole tired as I am, then join me in saying No in November ... unless you WANT to say no, then that is ok, too.

~ Sarah Stewart Holland