Happy New Year, friends!
When I wrote this post, Elie and I were curled up in front of the fireplace of a little cabin at the Captain Whidbey Inn, gazing at the shimmering gray tones of the Puget Sound in winter and reflecting on 2019 and setting intentions for 2020 and into the next decade. At the end of every year, we get away for a day or two for this quiet time of planning. We've both come to cherish this thoughtful time to connect, to dream aloud to each other, to put pen to paper and give weight to our aspirations, to be very intentional about how we spend our time and what we hope for us as individuals and for our family as a whole.
It's rich fodder for conversation--how did the past year meet or not meet our expectations? What goals or intentions did we set at the beginning of the year that we let go of, that didn't seem to fit? What rose to the top? What did we end up focusing time, energy and resources towards? How did we change or grow? How did our family change or grow? We talk it all through with each other, being open, welcoming vulnerability, asking questions but never passing judgment.
I often hear a lot of talk of fear and anxiety about setting intentions at the beginning of each year. I guess it's just in how you think about it. I never consider this process to be 'setting new year's resolutions.' Instead, I think about what am I welcoming into my life in this next year? What will I give space and energy to? What will I let go of? How do I wish to grow as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a citizen? Those questions evoke growth and opportunity, not judgment. And if that little voice inside my head begins to sound critical, I reassure her with the same kindness I would a friend. We are always our own worse critics.
I wrote this in last year's post, but it bears repeating. I don’t feel that heavy weight around setting intentions. It’s not a report card, not something I can pass or fail. Writing these posts are like letters to myself. How did I hope to grow in the last year and how did my path change? I don’t care if I don’t check off every box. That’s not really the intent. The intent is just in moving forward, getting just a little better each year...I hope I’m constantly learning and growing, living each year with just a little bit more compassion and grace than the last. That’s why I set intentions each year.
I hope this inspires you to set your own intentions, even if they are just scrawled notes on pieces of scrap paper that you tuck away to look at again at the end of the year. I really believe in the power of this process, both individually and in a marriage or partnership. Elie and I use this process to better understand each other, to cheer each other on, to encourage, to console, and to guide our decision making as a family. If you need some help in getting started, you could look at this post or read through all the intention-setting posts over the past few years, from 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Over the past few years, I also chosen a word of the year, a guiding thought or mantra that resonates with me. It's uncanny how, looking back, the word I choose in January sets the tone for the year. In 2016, the year Theo was born, it was gratitude. So much gratitude. In 2017, it was discovery. I was still redefining myself as a mother, but also figuring out who I wanted to be outside of motherhood. In 2018, it was action. After settling into motherhood, I was ready to start taking action on personal goals again. Last year, in 2019, it was nourish. It felt like the year to take a step back and take care of my physical health.
My word for 2020 is openhearted.
Before I begin my reflection and intentions for next year, I want to say thank you. It means so much that you are here, spending your valuable time to read these words. My hope is that you always leave this space inspired, even in a small way. I know I gain so much inspiration and insight from the friends I have made in this virtual space, and I am incredibly appreciative of this community and the friends I've made here. Thank you for being here.
This reflection mirrors the intentions I set for 2019.
Whenever I reflect on my marriage, I automatically smile. My relationship with Elie is just so good, and I adore my husband. He's the best. I've often said that I don't believe marriage has to be 'work,' although I think I'm ready to take that back. Because, while our marriage is certainly not hard, we do work at making each other a priority, having hard conversations when we need to, continuing to be kind and respectful of each other, and nurturing the spark between us. It certainly doesn't feel like drudgery, but we do actually work at our marriage, because every day, we're showing up for each other in many different ways. This year, it felt like we had to be very intentional in setting time to connect. We were terrible at going out for date nights, but really good at having date nights in. We went away for both my birthday (Whistler) and our anniversary (Vancouver) and this little one night retreat on Whidbey Island.
I feel like I really grew as a mother in this past year. I started worrying less. I continued to be present. I played more. I wasn't perfect, and I tried to give myself grace in my imperfection. Age three was a hard year of parenting with a capital H. Our adorable little boy is fiery, determined and incredibly persistent. I often found myself with a pile of parenting books beside my bed, looking for answers. Sometimes I lost my temper. I apologized. I snuggled. I admitted when I made mistakes. I loved fiercely.
In terms of the activities we wanted to do with Theo last year, swim lessons, check! He did both Level I and Level II at Bayside Swim Club, and we also joined for the summer, so we had a lot of play time in the pool. We decided not to start martial arts, gymnastics or any other classes (we had also considered piano) until he's a little older. In his second year of preschool at Whatcom Hills Waldorf, he went to school Monday through Thursday from 8:45 to 12:30. That seemed like enough planned activities for him at age three.
Theo smoothly transitioned from his crib to his 'big boy bed' right around his third birthday. He only fell out of bed once, and we have it on video--a spectacular backflip right out of bed. Every time we see it, we can't stop laughing. He wasn't hurt at all, of course. And similarly, potty training was a breeze. We waited until school was out for the summer and we didn't have any trips planned. From day one, he never wet his bed at night. He had a few accidents, but no big deal. I wasn't sure what to expect from both of those transitions, and they were both really easy. If you want to read more about Theo in 2019, you can read this post and this one.
In 2019, I invested in nurturing important relationships in my life, and at the end of this year, my heart feels full.
We purposefully didn't plan international travel this year, so we could spend more time with family and far-away friends. Over Theo's spring break, we did a visiting trip through the south, starting with spending a few days with my friend Tara and her sweet family in Cincinnati, my Granny and other family in Kentucky, and meeting my Dad at the beach in Alabama. We're planning to repeat the same trip next year.
In June, we went to Los Angeles, so I could host my friend McKenzie's baby shower. It's hard to believe that my dear friend is now a mama. Next year will bring a visit to meet Ivy.
In August, we traveled to San Diego with Elie's brother and his daughters, for what has become an annual family vacation. We visited LEGOLand while they did Disney, and we saw the amazing San Diego Zoo and spend lots of time in the sand.
In November, we spend Thanksgiving with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Oregon. It reminded me of how important it is to take time to visit family.
Elie's Dad is now 97 years old, so we spent as much time in Vancouver as we could over the last year, usually driving up about once a week. It was time well-spent.
Closer to home, over the past few years, I've developed a circle of girlfriends, and we've become confidants, cheerleaders and supporters of each other. These ladies have become so important in my life. This last year, in addition to meeting regularly for walks, long lunches or dinners, we had a memorable trip to Santa Barbara in September for a girls' weekend and a wonderful mother-daughter getaway in Vancouver during the Christmas season with our mothers/mother figures.
We spent a lot of intentional time with our extended circle of friends in Bellingham and Vancouver. Here's to surrounding ourselves with positive people in our lives.
I had the goal last year of writing letters every week to important people in my life, and while I started strong at the beginning of the year, the habit never stuck. I do still like the idea, so I may try again this year.
Elie is always so good at making phone calls to people, no matter how much time he has, he'll just call to say Hi. I'd say I got marginally better at making phone calls this year. I can keep getting better.
Our biggest change at home last year was Theo's transition to his new room. Other than that, we didn't have any major renovations, other than painting Theo's bathroom, replacing the carpet in the playroom with foam tiles and some furniture moving in and out. We painted Theo's play house to match our home, and it looks great (I'm planning to share a blog post on the play house this year). Every last closet and drawer in our home got organized last year, which felt great. Everything has a place.
2019 was the year I finally tackled gut health and sleep, two issues that have plagued me my whole life. I'll keep it brief here, because I have a whole blog post or three coming in the new year, but I have always suffered from tummy aches, poor digestions and insomnia. In addition, I found out I had an underachieve thyroid when I was trying to get pregnant. When I was writing my intentions last year, I felt drawn to making those a priority and that intention rose to the top and I put an incredible amount of time, energy and resources into my health this year. After finally getting a diagnosis of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and learning the implications of that decision, my whole digestive (and hormonal) self began to make sense, and I began a year-long journey of repair, something that will continue into 2020. After seeing multiple health care providers and taking a boatload of antimicrobials and supplements, I can see the light of health. In addition, to treat my SIBO and heal my gut, I committed to an almost grain-free and sugar-free eating plan that I stuck to for the whole year. And if you know how much I love bread and pasta, that's a big deal. There will be more details to come in the next few months.
At the same time I was healing my gut, I worked diligently on sleep, slowly analyzing the formula I need for restful, deep sleep, and I made incredible improvements. Again, another blog post will follow with what I discovered.
In addition to all of the concentration on gut health and sleep, I continued to attend Barre3 classes regularly and get outside for daily walks. As much as I love yoga, I just couldn't make myself commit to those classes, and my body misses it. However, at the suggestion of my functional medicine doctor, we purchased a Pelaton bike this fall, and Elie and I both have loved this addition to our home gym.
When it comes to learning something new, I still love my book club and the accountability of reading for pleasure, something beyond parenting books or interior design blogs. I also completed CEU's for multiple nutrition courses in this past year, mostly on gut health. I didn't attend any nutrition conferences, but I listened to so many podcasts on gut health, and I feel educated. And, 2019 was the year I embraced the Enneagram and finally discovered my nine-with-a-one-wing self. This revelation freed me from so much angst and guilt over habits I've had, decisions I've made (or not made) and tendencies for which I've always berated myself. It's a powerful tool for self-growth, and I'm hoping to continue to explore the Enneagram in this next year.
Over the past few years, spirituality has always been the intention that just sort of remained the same. I have continue my own personal spiritual practice, but I haven't experienced much spiritual growth. I still practice daily prayer, both myself and with Theo. Elie and I faithfully maintain a practice of daily gratitude, which we both treasure. I sporadically write in a gratitude journal, and this actually feels okay. I think it's the practice of recognizing the grateful each day which has power, whether or not I actually put it to paper. I meditated a little more this year. Certainly not every day, but probably every week. Baby steps. And this year, Elie and I had some sensitive but loving conversations about spiritual life and our family, and we finally took one step forward in choosing a church. At least for now, Theo and I will attend the First Presbyterian Church and Elie will come as he feels drawn to. It feels like good progress.
Since we didn't spend as much time traveling internationally in 2019, we had a lot of fun close to home. We took Theo sledding at Mount Baker and he skied down Taylor hill after the big snowstorm last year blanketed South Hill with snow. We went to Phoenix in February to find the sun. Over Spring Break, we traveled to Ohio, Kentucky and Alabama to see family and friends. We went on our first camping trip in an RV, which Theo LOVED. We got an electric bike, and Elie and Theo spent a lot of time buzzing around town. We spent a long weekend in Los Angeles. We did a family retreat at the North Cascades Learning Center. We spent a lot of time at the pool over the summer. We spent a week in Del Mar, California with family and went to LEGOland and the San Diego Zoo. We went trick-or-treating in Vancouver, and we had as much fun as our little astronaut. We had fun at many fire stations and train museums, the Space Museum and the Vancouver Police Department Family Day. We traveled to Oregon for Thanksgiving. And Christmas this year was just magic.
As a family, we support several community organizations, including the Bellingham Schools Family Resource Center, Skookum Kids, the Lighthouse Mission and Common Threads Farm. This year, Elie started the process of being a direct service volunteer with Skookum Kids and he joined the Board of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, since supporting a thriving downtown business community is one of his passions. This Christmas, we created another advent calendar with acts of kindness with Theo, so he will grow up with the practice of service. We did things as simple as delivering coffee to someone in need to making cookies for delivery drivers to delivering toys and personal care supplies for Christmas drives. I didn't end up pursuing any other volunteering myself this year, but I'm going to be kind to myself about not achieving that goal. Next year.
Aside from my intentions around gut-health and sleep, this might have been the intention that I focused most on this year--sustainability (which I had titled consumer). At the beginning of the year, we set up a great new system for garbage, compost and recycling. We put large receptacles under the sinks and in the cabinets in the kitchen to hold garbage, paper recycling, glass recycling and compost. We started recycling plastic film, but then stopped when we discovered our local recycling center doesn't actually recycle it. Also in this category, I really worked this year on reducing food waste. We don't tend to eat leftovers, and any leftovers I store in the freezer always tend to go to waste. So, I only cooked what we would eat, but if I did have leftovers, I would give them away to my Mom or friends. We also eat a very plant-forward diet. And while I didn't purchase 100% of our clothing and goods from sustainable and ethical sources this year, I still made conscious choices most of the time.
Every year, I write intentions down in every category of my life, knowing that some of them will fall away and others will pull my energy and attention. Last year was not a year for meaningful work, it was a year to be a present wife, mother and friend. I took a deep dive into my health and I let go, at least for now, of the idea of pursuing a cookbook. At this point in my life, I'm just not willing to give up time with my important people to be able to produce a cookbook. I'm tabling this goal for now, and it will reappear in my life again one day, when it fits. It's a good example of why writing down intentions can be so powerful. When I see something reappear every year, year after year, but I don't make progress on that goal, it's time to let it go, at least for now.
It feels apt that 2019 was the year to nourish. In looking back on this year, it was a time to cocoon and take care of myself and the people I love. Less a year of action, 2019 was more a year for looking inward, for learning, for parenting and for just being. Now to 2020.
Over the past few years, I've used this same format of writing intentions for each of my primary roles in life. While it might seem odd to write intentions for marriage or motherhood, focusing on these relationships in a conscious way makes them stronger--makes me better. Some of the intentions repeat from year to year, so I don't provide a lot of details but I keep including them because they continue to be a priority for my life. In areas where I’m setting new intentions, I’m writing more detailed goals.
This year, I changed the order of the intentions, because it struck me, as I was reading back on the past few years, that I never put my own needs first. This is a theme in my life (hello, Enneagram 9), but this realignment of priorities goes with the essence of this year's intentions--to be present for the people I love, to be a good human, I have to recognize my own needs and take care of me. It's been a hard lesson for me to learn in life, but one that I'm beginning to embrace. It's not selfish to practice self-care. It's vital to every other role and relationship in my life, because when I nurture myself, I have more to give to others.
In 2020, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, in terms of really (hopefully) healing my gut and balancing hormones and nutritional deficiencies. But I still have a lot to do.
As a mama who doesn't work outside of the home, sometimes I feel boring. Elie reassures me it's not true, but it's hard to not play the comparison game with other women I know who run companies, lead projects or have achieved recognition in their fields. I wouldn't trade my life for anything--it's my choice to stay home with Theo and I feel so lucky to have the flexibility to make that decision. But sometimes insecurity creeps in and I feel intimidated or less than. My answer to this voice in my head is to practice curiosity, stay engaged and try to be kind to myself.
Also, this year I'm pursuing therapy to address past traumas in my life. My parents had a very ugly divorce. I lived in an emotionally abusive marriage for 10 years. I've experienced several 'me too' situations I'm only just now starting to recognize. Although I don't feel like I consciously hold on to or dwell on these, my functional medicine physician suggested past traumas may be a contributor to my gut health, sleep issues and hormonal imbalances. When I looked into the research, it's fascinating. It's time to take a look at all of those past experiences and let them go. 2020 is the heart to be openhearted.
Continue to focus on my own spiritual practice and continue the spiritual practices/traditions/gratitude practice that work for our family.
Continue to make my marriage to Elie a priority: being present, spending time, practicing kindness, listening, being understanding and accepting of differences, checking in regularly, having fun, giving love.
Continue to be a loving, nurturing, playful, and open-minded mama to Theo. Be present. Be patient. Help him to develop his own independence and give him opportunities to grow in his own unique way. Support him in the activities and opportunities that bring him joy. Set aside my own desires or expectations. Here are specific activities for this year:
Continue to nurture meaningful relationships with family and friends.
Continue to maintain our home as a warm, welcoming, nurturing place for friends and family to visit. For it to be a place that creates wonderful childhood memories for Theo. For it to be organized and serene, because that keeps me calm and makes life easier. Here are two specific goals for this year:
This year, we're resuming our zest for international travel, but also with plenty of domestic trips to visit the people we love. Here are a few things we're going to include.
When it comes to supporting our community, my heart is drawn to those organizations that help kids to thrive.
Be a thoughtful, conscious consumer. Try to buy less: reuse, repurpose or recycle whenever possible.
I spent a lot of time in 2019 thinking about what meaningful work means to me, and how I want to spend my time as Theo transitions to Kindergarten. I reflected on my true skills and talents, and where I need to ask for help. At the point in my life, I feel drawn to bringing women together for opportunities to develop meaningful relationships and to nourish themselves, body, mind and spirit. Here are a few goals related to my plans.
Here's to an openhearted 2020, and the beginning of a new decade. I wish you a new year of well-being, meaningful work--whatever that means to you--and genuine connections with the people who fill you up. Happy New Year!