I spent the month of February working on a private ranch in Raymondville, Texas. Here’s where it lies in comparison to Flagstaff, AZ. (Note: Route pictured is not the route we drove.)
We spent two days driving down, and then it was off to work!
The task was to plant 45,000 shrubs during the month, in order to create a more ocelot-friendly habitat. (An ocelot is pictured below, courtesy of Wikipedia.)
The Frank Yturria Ranch where we worked let U.S. Fish and Wildlife and a local nature conservancy do this project on their land. It felt kind of weird to be working on a conservation project there because the ranch is home to all sorts of exotic animals, for the purpose of hunting. The ranch charges a hefty fee for hunters to come hunt on the land.
So on the drive in each day (20 mph limit within the ranch), we’d see all sorts of wildlife. Deer, javelinas, turkeys, this strange deer/antelope from India, etc. One day we even saw zebras!
Here’s what the plants looked like:
There were over 30 varieties of shrubs and they came in these crates of 49 plants.
And the crates were in these trailers of something like 80-90 crates. There were multiple trailers around the property.
Each day the most important number was how many crates we had planted. Our very first day we planted 19 crates, and later we’d get around 30/day, with a high of 52. (Our partner’s original goal for us was 66 crates/day!, which was simply not possible.) Later in the month they brought in a 12-person NCCC AmeriCorps group, and our last three days they also brought in a 6-person ACE crew from the Corpus Christi branch. On the days when all 28 of us were planting, we got 60-64 crates in a day.
For a majority of our work days during the month, we used augers to make holes in the ground. Plants were supposed to be 7′ from each other, which later got changed to 6,’ so that’s how far apart augers made the holes.
Three or four people would auger side by side moving forwards in a straight line, from one end of the plot to the other.
The augers were followed by “tubers,” who would lay a tube next to each hole. (After each plant is planted, tubes are put around the plants to protect them during their first year in the ground.) We set the tubes out right away to make the holes visible and to make the planting go faster.
Finally, someone would walk along with a crate of plants and place a plant at each hole. Everyone else would begin planting at that end while the augers, tubers, and plant-passer-outer continued creating their rows across the plot.
Here’s what a hole would look like for the planters:
First you rip the plant wrapper at the top and fold it over a bit, so the wrapper doesn’t stick out. (It’s biodegradable so we buried the plants in the wrappers; they simply couldn’t stick out of the soil.) Then you put the plant in the hole and pack in dirt tightly around it, followed by sticking the tube in the ground around the plant. Sometimes we could push the tube stakes all the way down into the ground, but we often used a hammer and block to hammer them in. The stakes couldn’t be hit directly with a hammer, which is why we carried around wooden blocks.
When the augers (and distribution group) reached the far end, they would all get on their knees and begin planting and tubing, until we met with the other group in the middle. While I wasn’t using much upper body this whole month, my legs certainly got a workout from jumping up to my feet and back down to my knees over and over.
Odds and Ends
Another part of our work day was assembling the tubes that we put around the plants. Stakes had to be put through each tube, and then we’d stuff a bag with around 20 tubes to take out into the field. Often there were volunteers who worked on assembling tubes while we planted during the day, but any extra time after finishing our final row of the day was also spent assembling tubes.
Because of all the wildlife, we would find bones all over the fields while we planted. Here’s a deer skeleton spotted one day:
This was a strange hitch for me because our project partners put us up in a motel, so we weren’t in tents all month. It was weird to fill up a motel room with all of our food bins and coolers, and do the cooking in there with a tiny sink.
We also had to drive 90 minutes to different housing for our off days, which meant lots of packing/unpacking the trailer, coolers, etc. all month every three or four days—all done on our “off” time, of course.
Luckily we had a stellar crew, so we had lots of fun together despite some less-ideal work conditions on this hitch.
And that was my first (and only) monthlong while in ACE! Have any questions?
Some people avoid the word “resolutions,” but I continue to make them each year because of these lovely monthly check-ins. This simple monthly post turns my attention back towards new directions and provides the space for me to briefly reflect. That said, I’m diving right in!
Emailed my place of work with ways we can reduce waste as an organization.
Used my tupperware/hitch dishes for breakfast at all of our motel/hotel stays (which only offered single-use utensils/dishes) and encouraged crew members to do the same.
( ) Track in bullet journal. (And bring bullet journal on hitch if I’m front country.) — I stopped using my monthly tracker after the 18th, and only had three yoga checks in that period.
(-) Do yoga at home at least four of my six off-days. — Being put on a monthlong, I wasn’t on an 8/6 work schedule after all. Due to our location on off days (bunkhouse without Wi-Fi) and the logistics surrounding all of that, I didn’t do any yoga on my off days this month.
(-) On hitch, do just 5 minutes of stretching after the work day. Do it from inside my tent if it’s cold. — Again, the schedule/logistics, our locations (i.e. grimy motel), and my various health ailments all led to this endeavor being completely dropped from my awareness. I did some stretching one work night from our motel bed, but that’s it while on hitch.
Art Journal Regularly
(+) Track in bullet journal. — I tracked it in my bullet journal through the 18th, where everything left off, but kept on making pages nearly every day.
(+) I’ll aim for creating a day-marker page 20/30 days this month. — I’ll have to count pages for an exact number once I’m back home (currently I’m at the library), but I know I have more than 20 pages for February.
(-) Read two more chapters of the art journaling PDF I bought last month. — Never did this.
Art journaling in my day-markers notebook has been so fun. Making my daily page is something I continuously look forward to; there’s still no resistance. So I’m going to ride the wave and keep on enjoying that part of my day.
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
( ) Go to the library at least twice per set of off-days. — While on my monthlong, I worked on this quarterly creation three times. One was a longer formatting session, so I’m surprisingly close to have the bulk of it written. (I’m at 80+ pages at the moment!)
(+) Write for at least 30 minutes each session. — Not all of these were writing sessions, as I jumped ahead and started to format the document, but each work session was 30 minutes or more.
Bits and Pieces: Poetry
(+) Carry poetry notebook and pen with me.
(-) Do at least two exercises per week. — I did one exercise in the van on our drive to Texas, and then nothing for the rest of the month.
(+) Track in bullet journal. — I do have a checkmark for that single day!
I can tell you right now, the biggest adjustment I’ll be making for March is to remove my focus from yoga/stretching in order to swing the pendulum towards daily poetry reading instead. You can’t do everything all the time, and often focusing on one element for a prolonged period of time is when you’ll get the most growth. (That’s how I learned French back in 2015, for example.)
This is my final month on the conservation corps in Arizona, and I kept that in mind while making this tweak. April is wide open, and likely I’ll return to my parents’ home in Wisconsin which means ample space and time for yoga and stretching.
I did set up a column for this on my March calendar page, but like I explained above, I’m letting this drift from my attention this month.
Art Journal Regularly
Create a day-marker page for 20+ days of the month.
Read two more chapters of the art journaling PDF I have.
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
Write the PDF’s conclusion
Write the PDF’s introduction
Bits and Pieces: Poetry
Read a poem per day (track in bullet journal).
I realized after January that I needed to change my target from publishing a poetry collection this year (lofty goal; feels unapproachable) to simply filling x notebooks with poetry exercises/wordplay. Despite this change, there was still enough resistance last month to the exercises that I want to scale it back and simply be reading poetry every day in March.
I bought the poetry books “salt.” and “the sun and her flowers” as a gift to myself a few days ago, plus I checked out several books of poetry from the library. This is something I’ll easily be able to do even while on hitch, which makes it reachable.
My hope is that by turning my attention towards poetry at least once a day, my subconscious may start to think in poetry without so much force. To my delight, on my walk to the library today I pondered a topic and then my mind automatically worded it into a brief, two-line poem—in the style of many of Nayyirah Waheed’s poems. So I jotted it down in my poetry notebook upon arriving at the library. Hooray for small successes!
So that’s where my attention will be this month. What about you? What’s one small thing from February that you’re proud of? Where would you like your attention to be during March?
It was interesting to reflect on these life experiences which happened between seven and four years ago (teaching in Madrid and teaching in South Korea, respectively). While looking back, I found myself staring at a canyon-wide gap of distance between the 22-year-old me in Madrid, the 24-year-old me in South Korea, and the current almost-29-year-old me writing today from Texas where I’m on hitch with ACE’s conservation corps.
This distance is more than the years, more than the miles.
I’ve shed and grown several layers since my days teaching abroad; I’ve turned the page not just to a new chapter, but to a new book. Might I teach English abroad again in the future? It’s an option. But that would be with my new identity, which is based strongly on living my values in everyday moments as a human being. The creation of this very site last fall has played a much larger part in adopting this new identity than I realized at the time.
Every day we change, though often it’ll be years before we look back and find ourselves staring at a stranger with our eyes, but whose mind we can no longer enter.
I’m a huge fan and supporter of the podcast Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette. One question she has asked past seasons’ guests in her rapid-fire questions section is “What is one thing you wish people would be more honest about?”
And can you guess what the most common answer is?
A month ago in the podcast’s Patreon community, Nicole started a thread about this topic. Most everyone expressed an interest in learning the behind-the-scenes about people’s incomes and financial situations—especially for those on a more unconventional path. So as someone without a career who has lived abroad several years (Spain, South Korea, and France), I’ve decided to add my voice to this discussion and pull back the curtain on my personal finances.
Real Talk About Money
My dad helped with one of my first housing or tuition payments my freshman year, I think it was around 1K, but from then on I covered everything myself via student loans and working. I had an office job throughout college, where I’d work 10-15 hours a week during the semester, and full-time over Christmas, Spring and Summer breaks.
At some point in here I bought an old car (’89 Honda Accord) from my neighbor for $500. The summer of my sophomore year I got an additional weekend job at the hostel, so I’d work there Friday nights and Sunday mornings, picking up an additional Saturday shift here and there.
My junior year of college I studied abroad in Madrid. I knew I wanted to study abroad somewhere that spoke Spanish, and ultimately chose the Madrid year-long program because its tuition was about on par with a year at UW-Madison (~$7K). I applied for and received a $1,000 scholarship from the study abroad alumni foundation and taught private English lessons each week while living in Madrid, bringing in 65-80 euros/week. My rent was 320 euros/month.
By the time I graduated from college in 2011 I had ~23K in student loans.
I paid on all of my school loans as soon as the grace period was up, overpaying each month. By the end of my time in Spain (September ’12) I still had over 1K euros in my Spanish bank account, which I left there. I’m pretty sure this was the year abroad during which my dad sold my car to someone for scraps.
Working in Madison: 2012-13
I returned to Madison and was able to work in the same office where I’d worked all through college, this time as an LTE. I made $16/hr before taxes, the most I’ve ever been paid to date. During the tax season I got a second (weekend) job at H&R Block ($12/hr). I would leave my university office job a little early on Fridays to work at H&R Block Friday night, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday.
My rent this year was around $420/month (I shared a flat with two housemates). I put all my extra money towards my loans and finished paying off two of them in 2013. To date, this is the most money I’ve ever made in a year (~35K), and that was at age 23.
Teaching English in South Korea: 2013-14
I left my office job in the fall of 2013 to teach English in South Korea. The school paid for my airfare (to/from) and my rent during the year. I made around $2,000/month, which included some compensation for the extra after school classes I taught as well (requested of me by the school).
In spring of 2014 while still teaching in Korea I started writing blog posts for a language-learning startup. I made $65/post and wrote just a handful of them. Then I was asked to come on board as an editor for the startup—$13/hour. I started working a few hours after school each day, coming out to maybe 10 hours/week. When my contract ended in Korea that fall, I visited Spain and spent a month walking the Camino de Santiago, using the money I’d left in my Spanish bank account two years earlier to fund the journey.
When I returned to the states in the fall, I was able to bump up my editing hours full time. It was the same flat hourly rate without any health benefits, so I got health insurance through Obamacare (my contribution was ~$80/month) and maxed out my Roth IRA contribution again that year. I was living with my parents rent-free.
Moving to France: 2015-16
For the previous five years I’d been dabbling in French, and when 2015 came around I decided that was the year I was going to really learn it. Using money earned in Korea, I booked myself six weeks at a private French school in Montpellier, France. I rented an AirBnb for two months at $500/month and was able to reduce my work hours to 20/week (for maximum French time). I asked for a raise during this time and my hourly wage went up a dollar. I started dating Damien (a French guy) near the end of my time there, and we decided I should try for a year-long visa to live in France.
I returned to Wisconsin in July and began applying for the year-long tourist visa. (<<The breakdown of what the visa cost is in the previous link, but the total comes out to ~$1,200.) Basically I had to prove that I would have enough money to sustain myself, which my virtual job made possible. I moved to France in October of 2015.
I continued working from home full-time for the language-learning startup. Since I split rent with Damien, my half was about 150 euros/month. My phone service was actually free, as it came with a deal through our internet. I broke up with him in March and found a place to live in Montpellier for 300 euros/month, staying until my visa expired at the end of September. Per my usual, since I live without a car (and many other things), my main expense after rent was simply groceries.
Personal Sabbatical (aka Intentional Unemployment): 2017
It was that summer (2016) that I decided to leave my job. After 2.5 years working virtually, I was ready to spend more time away from the screen, interacting with people and the outdoors face-to-face, and to pursue other interests. I stopped working full-time in September, but worked minimal hours (10/week) through December 2016 until I left for good. I was living at my parents’ home when I came back from France, again rent-free. When I received my final paycheck in December I had around $16,700 in my savings account.
My flight home from France (I actually flew from Madrid to Chicago) had been cheaper to buy round trip (600 euros), so I had a return flight (Chicago to Madrid) booked for January 2017. I took the flight and a backpack and spent three months slow traveling Italy, returning to Madrid/Montpellier, and visiting a friend in Munich. I stayed at hostels, did a work exchange, and stayed with friends for the duration.
When I returned to the states in April I lived with my parents again. I got a U.S. phone number and a month-to-month plan for $30/month with Cricket. I started a garden in the backyard, participated in a local art project, and read lots of books from the library. Again, my only expense was food, as I had no rent or car expenses. My mom is amazing and let me use her car if I needed to get anywhere in the evenings, so from time to time I’d fill up the tank—but I honestly wasn’t driving much.
I volunteered as a camp counselor in July (took the bus to Minnesota) and visited my younger brother for a week, taking the bus back). I was on the state health plan (Badgercare) during this time of unemployment.
Then in August I applied for an AmeriCorps position with American Conservation Experience (ACE) in Flagstaff, Arizona—where I’ve been based since the end of August. At the bottom of this post is a breakdown of how much I spent to get there (~$700). ACE provides group housing (I live with 16 people in a 4-bedroom apartment), food on work days (hitch), and a biweekly stipend of $512 before taxes (it’s around $470 after taxes).
I’ve been on food stamps in Arizona since arriving, receiving $190/month for groceries. It’s more than enough and for the first time in my life I shop at Whole Foods, as it’s the closest grocery store to me. Twenty-seventeen was the first year since opening my Roth IRA that I did not contribute, since I hardly made anything. By the end of the year I had around $14,500 in my savings account—so I only went down about 2K overall during those twelve months of personal sabbatical.
Currently: February 2018
I’ll turn 29 in April and here’s where I stand: I have no debt, my Roth IRA has around 20K, my savings account has been hovering around $14K over these past couple of months, and I have a couple hundred dollars in two different checking accounts (Charles Schwab Investor Checking—no foreign transaction fees and Capital One 360). I have a Capital One Venture credit card where I make nearly all purchases (no foreign transaction fees), and which I treat like a debit card.
My AmeriCorps term is coming to an end next month and I don’t have any idea what I’ll do next. (I’m not worried; this is normal for me.) But based on my lifestyle and the opportunities I know exist (i.e. HelpX—volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation, WWOOFing—work on organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation, Couchsurfing—free lodging for travelers with open-minded community members, AmeriCorps, volunteering to live at intentional communities like Ratna Ling, seasonal work via CoolWorks, etc.), the money I currently have in the bank can last me a looong time. My food stamps are scheduled to last until August, unless my income rises above $1010/month.
I know my money perspective is quite skewed (and that it will likely change with time), but to me at this point in my life, anything over $50K seems like a huuuge amount of money to make in a year. If I were to ever make 40K a year, for example, that also seems like so much.
Everyone has situations that give them an advantage in some way. In my case, I have parents who live in a house which they’re happy to share with me rent-free when I’m in the country. I had the privilege to choose not to own a vehicle, which definitely limits what I can do in certain ways, but also allows me more freedom in other ways. I also had the privilege to choose to not buy a house or to not go in debt after paying off my student loans. (Among many other privileges I was born with…)
I take my time to search for the lowest rent possible (with roommates) when moving somewhere new and have also been willing to live with my parents in a town of 12,000 people for different periods of time in my upper 20s. I prefer experiences over things, and always shop secondhand when I want new clothes. I’m still single and don’t have any kids yet. My unconventional life has evolved such that I spend my time doing things I enjoy; it doesn’t feel like I’m living with monetary restraints. This lifestyle feels most natural and joyful to me, which I know is definitely not the case for everyone (nor even for a majority of others).
All right, that all said, what questions do you have about my money? Did anything surprise you? Want to know more about a certain topic?
As you’ve read in my 2018 resolutions, this year I want to put more of my attention towards the zero-waste lifestyle. This means learning about ways to reduce the amount of waste I produce and making gradual changes as I’m able.
To document this journey, I’m taking a snapshot of what my practices look like today. (I also have a Zero-Waste Bit-by-Bit page with a more detailed record.)
My Current Zero-Waste Practices
Reusable Shopping Bags
I’ve been using cloth/reusable grocery shopping bags since I first moved to Madrid in 2009. There, you had to pay a few cents for each plastic bag you used—all the more incentive to simply buy and use the durable reusable bags that were available in every grocery store. I quickly got in the habit of bringing my own bags when grocery shopping, and this has continued everywhere I’ve lived since.
When making smaller purchases without a bag on hand, I simply tell the cashier “I don’t need a bag” when I check out, and carry them in my arms.
Reusable Produce Bags
This fall I bought some reusable produce bags from Whole Foods after moving to Flagstaff, to use instead of those thin plastic bags. When I told my mom about it, she bought these organic cotton bags for herself—and they were excellent to use when I was home over the holidays.
Tupperware at Restaurants
My parents go out to eat on Fridays, so while I was living with them for a greater chunk of last year, that meant I got to come along, too. Together we got in the habit of bringing tupperware along for our leftovers, so we weren’t taking any single-use styrofoam take-away containers. Sometimes we would still forget, but what worked best was keeping a clean container or two in my mom’s car for this very purpose.
Tupperware/Sandwich Wraps on Hitch
During these past five months working on the conservation corps, I always bring tupperware and my two reusable food wraps in my lunchbox. I’ll use one wrap for a sandwich and the other for snacks. I use the tupperware when there are leftovers at dinner, saving both on food waste and ziplock bags. (Our corps sends along ziplock bags with each crew, which mainly get used for lunches and leftovers. I try to avoid using any, but usually use one for the whole hitch, for salty snacks.)
I’m trying to remember who I first saw washing ziplocks—either my grandma or my friend Cathleen—but the idea hadn’t occurred to me before I saw someone else do it. While I eventually want to stop using ziplocks altogether, this is a simple way to reduce my plastic waste production.
I bought this set of bamboo travel utensils this winter and have been using them a lot! I could have just as easily made my own travel set with metal silverware from home or from St. Vinny’s/Goodwill/Savers, too.
This month I’m in Texas working on a monthlong conservation project, and we’ve been staying in many hotels. The breakfasts at all of them only have single-use styrofoam dishes and single-use plastic silverware. Ah! I’ve been using either my bamboo utensils + tupperware or silverware and dishes from our camping cook set instead.
I’m quickly learning that recycling should be thought of as a last-resort rather than the green goodness I was taught it was in elementary school. But if it’s recyclable, my top priority is to get it to recycling rather than a landfill.
That said, we haven’t seen any recycling yet here in Texas! When I asked at our hotel the first night, the woman had to ask me a second time what I was looking for. Recycling? No, we don’t have that here. So my precious little bubble has been popped as I’ve seen more recyclables going to a landfill than ever before. We have a hodgepodge collection of recyclables going in the back of our trailer, but we haven’t been able to save everything. I do have a new curiosity to investigate, though: Why haven’t we been seeing recycling in Texas?
When I was at home with my parents, I’d save food scraps for our compost bin in the backyard. We’re not allowed to compost at ACE housing, so I try to minimize what food waste ends up in the garbage. (I’m also learning that it’s harmful to the environment for food to end up in a landfill.)
I’ve been wearing these cloth panty liners since 2015, as well as a set I bought on Etsy. Although the ones from Amazon are super comfy and work well, I do recall that they were shipped a long distance (from China?) and were packaged in plastic—so this particular set is not necessarily the greenest solution I would recommend today. I have, however, to date prevented three years worth of disposable panty liners from landfills by switching to cloth! (And would never go back!)
Here are some of the zero-waste resources I have my eye on.
For the past several years, I check in at the end of each month to see how I’m coming with my resolutions and to pinpoint some specifics I can work on in the following month. It doesn’t take that much time, but without this simple monthly reflection these resolutions would certainly stray from my focus.
I meant to write a post this month about where I’m at now with my waste production, so that I have my starting point tracked—but haven’t done that yet.
I continued to use my reusable sandwich/snack wraps on hitch, as well as a plastic container for hitch leftovers. Despite being a conservation corps, ACE doesn’t usually recycle on hitch (unless it’s available at our campsite/worksite). But this past hitch, I started a collection of cardboard and other recyclables, which we drove back to the office (in Flagstaff) and recycled at derig. (Yay, small wins!)
I set up my new bullet journal on the 14th of January, and had five checkmarks in my “Yoga” column from the 14th to the 23rd. Although I didn’t track yoga on hitch, this was the first time I actually did some stretching/yoga on hitch (maybe three days?). While I didn’t have time every evening, it felt good when I did make room for it.
The Tuesday before hitch I had three different phone interviews for a farm internship (which I’ve since turned down, FYI) and was feeling really anxious about all of it. I was trying to read a book but couldn’t concentrate at all, I was so stressed/anxious. But in that moment, I decided to do some yoga. I turned on a video and cleared my mind through the breathing and moving. In the past it wasn’t habitual for me to turn to yoga immediately in stressful situations, so I’m proud/grateful that it was my response last week.
Art Journal Regularly
This is where I’ve done the best this past month. As you saw in my last post, I started a new day-marker art journal in January and hadn’t missed a day until this past hitch. I brought it along on hitch and made some collages the first few days, but there were a few evenings where there just wasn’t time to pull it out (usually on cooking/washing nights).
This is totally fine with me, as I don’t want to stress myself out with this, but rather enjoy the time creating in there. So as long as I get back into the swing of art journaling on off days and keep bringing it on hitch, that’ll be excellent.
I checked out a couple of books from the library this month which have helped spark ideas, as well (one on collage, another on hand lettering, another on creative ideas, etc).
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
On January 15 I started work on my IBS story by pasting old blog posts and emails into a huge Google Doc. Then during my first three days back in Flagstaff I came to the library twice and worked on it. After that, I was gone on hitch for eight days and I just got back yesterday afternoon.
I’m typing this very post from the library, so I’m getting into a routine of coming to the library multiple times during my six off-days in Flagstaff. However, I may need to lower my expectations on this one while on my ACE schedule, as I’m gone on hitch over half of each month.
Bits and Pieces
There’s just one bit from here that I want to touch on in this check-in:
Write in poetry notebooks weekly — I haven’t been back in my poetry notebook since this post, though I did bring it along with me on hitch. I think I need to change my resolution from publishing a poetry collection to filling x notebooks with poetry exercises.
So, all of that said, here are some concrete things I can do next month to work towards these resolutions.
Write and publish blog post showing my starting point of this journey.
One day this summer my mom gave me a set of notebooks, one of which had blank pages. Immediately I knew I’d use it as a little “day markers” journal, à la Candace Rose Rardon. A day marker is something from your day—perhaps a receipt, business card, envelope, ticket stub, scrap of paper, etc.—to mark that day, so it doesn’t just blend in with all the rest.
I’d simply glue the item down with a glue stick, and then write the date and any other details/notes I wanted to jot down.
Here are some pages from that journal:
When I moved to Flagstaff in September, I brought along this journal as well as a glue stick, pen, and small scissors. I kept these supplies all together in a zippered pouch, which I’d pull out at least once per set of off days to record some days. (The pages for this chunk of time in Flagstaff were heavily receipts-based, so it was a fun creative exercise to keep my eyes on the lookout for non-receipt ways to remember a day.)
It’s so fun to page through and relive those days! And this journal was a lot easier for me to crack open than my writing journal—there was never resistance.
That’s what has been so lovely about the practice, I think: how quickly you can start and finish a page (under five minutes). And secondly, it’s been helpful knowing that this journal is just for me and my personal records, so early on I gave myself permission to not make it look good. (Although I’m sharing pages today, this was never my intention when I began and worked in the journal.)
This journal is now falling apart (and bursting open wider than it was ever meant to), so I got a new sketchbook over the holidays (with spiral rings!). It sat untouched for over a week on my desk, until I finally decided I could use this bigger notebook in the same way: for “day marker” pages.
I’ve played in my new sketchbook for 11 days in a row so far! My initial goal is 30 days straight, though if that melds into a 100-Day Project, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed.
The right side of January 5 (above) was a sketch for #MomentSketchers, while the left side was another quick gluing of a receipt and shopping list, like in my first journal.
For a few days I’ve been drawing out what I did, or notable happenings.
I glued an envelope onto one of my latest pages. Inside I put the note and check I’d received in the mail for my first watercolor commission, as well as a print-out of the dog I’d drawn over with pencil with my Great Aunt Lois when working on said painting. I cut apart the yellow envelope and glued parts of it onto the page.
I’m really enjoying this type of daily journaling. It’s creative, easy, and fun, and looking at old pages takes me back to those moments in time.
Do you keep any sort of art journal? What does your practice look like?
Or, if you’ve never had an art journal before, does this look like something you want to try?
I wrote two poems this fall, and haven’t moved the pen in that direction since. So one day last week I searched for poetry-writing exercises/prompts and saved a bunch of links to a folder on my bookmarks bar. This way, I wouldn’t have that hurdle the next time I’d try to write.
Finally, the other day I acted on my “10 minutes of writing poetry” to-do list item. Sitting down with the intention to write a poem will likely leave you frozen, so I sat down with the intention to do one of the prompts, that’s it. To get myself in the habit of regularly writing freely in this little notebook (from an issue of Flow), which I’ve dubbed my poetry notebook. To condition myself to be okay with writing shit on the page, so that better stuff can come later.
Although I never intended to show these pages with anyone, today I’m going to share what happened that day—as a reminder to myself of how ideas are born and why sitting to write anything for 10 minutes, no matter how “bad” it sounds, can be helpful to one’s creativity.
One that I’ve used from The Crafty Poet is where you choose a profession or worker of some kind – plumber, accountant, hairdresser, contractor, lawyer, whatever – then brainstorm a list of words associated with this job. I find nouns and verbs work best. The prompt suggests adding in some contrasting terms, which will add tension and depth later. Your title or starting point is to be “The ________________ said you need” and then you write from there, using your word list. My poem “The Mortgage Broker Asks for My Net Income from the Previous Year” in my recent book came out of this exercise.
I chose “teacher” and began to make a list of nouns, verbs, and some contrasting terms, writing whatever came to mind first:
Then on the left-hand page I wrote:
The teacher said you need to study
But I know you must also play
I continued on a new line:
Playing will teach you to share
But then I was bombarded with a bunch of other thoughts about sharing, that you’ll create and entertain yourself, too, plus all the other benefits of play. I noticed there was no rhyme scheme going on here, and I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But instead of halting and trying to write some “good” lines, I let my stream of consciousness continue:
and create and entertain yourself.
You’ll visit worlds never before seen
After writing “and,” my mind focused on “never before seen,” and flashed (you’ll see I never even finished the phrase) to the idea of a never-before-seen movie, a premiere. Almost instantaneously, my mind brought up the contrasting idea of painting a never-before-seen picture.
And then as if a water hydrant had cracked open, all of a sudden my pen began to spurt out a list of contrasting things to do, x or y, consume or create: scroll through memes or invent your own using a template, or even creating your own meme. To stare wistfully at a friend’s photo album from a trip to Costa Rica, or take a walk and marvel at nature’s beauties: a squirrel, a bird, a stone, a leaf.
After I had jotted those down, I turned to a fresh page and wrote this list:
Just like that, I now had the idea to write a poem that compares and contrasts different options of things to do—one which is an act of consumption and the other of creation. Its ideas of creation would hopefully inspire and prompt people to use their creativity immediately after reading.
Later I’ll go back to this list and start to make phrases, seeing what sort of structure the poem might take on.
But what’s important here is that it all began with an unrelated prompt about teaching, and allowing the pen to move. By not censoring myself and letting my pen write whatever words were coming to mind, I ended up drawing connections and now I have several ideas of possible poems to pursue!
I started with nothing, and in less than ten minutes I had ideas.
This is how it begins!
Just move the pen. This is how ideas are born.
Write anything and connections will be made, the mind will turn the soil, and with consistent practice shining down, over time, creations will bloom.
Like many of you, I consider the end of the year to be a natural opportunity to look back and realign—not some sort of finite ending to an “old” me. So I’ve been reflecting, looking back on the year, flipping through old bullet journals, thinking about what needs to be illuminated and eliminated, and even turning over some tarot cards.
A Look Back at 2017
To start, here’s an overview of where I began the year and some of the themes that kept coming up throughout.
Setting the scene, at the end of December I published my atheist coming out story, which is the first time I’d written publicly about all of those events. It was fueled by the push to tell the truth and be more vulnerable in my creations.
Also, both of these events ended up being great ways to reflect and incorporate lessons I’d learned so far that year. The podcast required me to respond on the spot—something I’m not used to doing as a writer, but which provided insightful moments when I went back and listened (and re-listened!) to the episode—and the train allowed me to bring together and express (and share publicly!) many of the thoughts I’d been having as of late about human connection, social media, vulnerability, and unplugging.
The rest of the summer allowed for calm days reading lots from the library and growing my first garden. Highlights were volunteering as counselor at Camp Quest—something that’s been on my “life list” for years and years, and which was incredibly fun and fulfilling—and giving a talk about the Camino de Santiago at my local library. Camp Quest is incredibly accepting of all people from all backgrounds/lifestyles/dietary choices/sexualities/interests/etc., thus it was liberating to be around people who were so bravely themselves.
Throughout August I worked with Meg Kissack (highly recommend!) via her “Get Shit Done” encouragement/accountability experience to create this very site. That project is another which allowed for much reflection—looking back at who I’ve been and trying to articulate who I was at that moment in the present. (And that was just my About Me page!)
Although that project kept me creating and excitedly working towards something, my lowest point of the year fell during that month as well. I felt ready to move on to somewhere/something new (out-of-state seasonal work is what I was looking for), but was overwhelmed by the options. There was a period of days where I hardly left my room and would spend hours in the evening doing internet searches of jobs and potential places to live, feeling lonely and mildly depressed.
It was ACE which got me out of that rut, and within less than two weeks’ time I went from feeling sad, lost, and hopeless in my bed at my parents’ home to living in Flagstaff, AZ with an exciting new community/friends and work life. The people/environment at ACE has only helped me to become more of myself, and even more openly. I’ve been learning how important it is to play and laugh, as well as how good it feels to unplug and hang out in nature.
Aside from the mild depression in August, other challenges this year were losing two prior-good friends (by “breaking up with them” in my mind, to change expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed at our distance) and mourning that loss of friendship; losing (to suicide) a cousin in May; and being disconnected from a family member.
For over half of the year this family member needed distance from all of us, which was more difficult than I let myself feel. It kind of all exploded out earlier this month when we finally saw each other; I’d been distracting myself from feeling too sad about all of it while in ACE, but the feelings were there, underneath. And now we’re reconnecting, though it’s been prompted by significant health issues with their partner (I actually just pushed my return flight to AZ back two weeks so I can help be caretaker), so there’s a lot still being worked through at this rocky point in time.
Overall, I’ve really improved listening to my hut (hut = heart + gut, à la Alexandra Franzen) and am settling into myself. I look inwards for wisdom/answers/direction rather than doubting myself or turning to outside resources/”experts.” I’m much more comfortable and confident being my true self in a society which doesn’t necessarily share my values/lifestyle/choices. I can see the growth towards my compass directions and I’m excited to continue moving in these ways!
I tracked my computer/internet usage with RescueTime during the year, which you can see in the year’s Resolutions Checkpoint posts on the old blog. My lowest-usage months were the three months I was backpacking in Europe and the three months since I joined ACE. (We work for 8-9 days at a time, camping, so I’m completely off of phone/computer during those times). I was hardly ever on my laptop during our off days, too—as evidenced by the silent blog over here—but it feels really good to be blogging again these past few weeks, so I’ll make an effort to continue doing so even when I’m back on the 8-on/6-off hitch schedule.
Twitter is a platform I’ve enjoyed for many years. Since getting a smartphone, I’ve never had the Twitter app—I only use it on my laptop from a browser. That means to tweet a picture, for example, I’d have to email the photo to myself from my phone, open it on the computer, download it there, and then upload it to Twitter from my computer. It sounds cumbersome, but that’s basically the point. I was much more intentional about sharing photos because there were a few extra hurdles.
Since it’s not on my phone, and since my laptop basically lived in a bin under the bunkbeds once I moved to Flagstaff, I was rarely on Twitter this fall. In October, someone tweeted at me that they’d read my post about leaving Facebook and had been thinking about leaving Twitter. I encouraged her to just do a two-week hiatus and see how she felt. She emailed three weeks later in November saying that she hadn’t been back on, and eventually deactivated her account. I let this soak in and about a week later I thought, why don’t I go on a Twitter hiatus, too? I’d hardly been using the platform lately, and I knew it was a distraction for the mind. I was curious what it would feel like to not have that distraction, plus I’d become more and more aware of how I’m spending my life minutes.
So, I signed out of my account that day, November 24, and haven’t logged back in since! Although Twitter has been excellent for connecting with new friends/opportunities online in the past (i.e. Meg Kissack/Couragemakers! Violeta Nedkova/Creative Rebel Academy!), asking quick questions, receiving poetry prompts, or sending bits of encouragement, I’m going to remain logged out of Twitter as we enter the new year and see how it goes.
I think one reason it was probably so simple to leave Twitter in November was because I’d recently joined Instagram in September. My prime motivation for joining the platform was to interact with the #MomentSketchers community. While in ACE I was happy with my usage—but being home in December with wi-fi all day has me checking the app like crazy. Ah! I have notifications turned off, of course, but being so accessible (it’s three swipes to the right, hidden in an “Other” folder) has me checking multiple times a day. There’s simply no need to do so!
One idea which would help me reduce logins is if I could delete the app from my phone and only use Instagram from my laptop, as I did with Twitter. However, you cannot post to Instagram from a desktop web browser (why!?), so the only way to post is through the phone app. (I’ve looked at a few workarounds but haven’t found a way to post from the website, yet. I use Opera, by the way. If anyone’s found an Opera workaround, I’m all ears!)
Aside from number of log-ins, I like how I’m using the app. I’m choosey about who I follow because I want to control what I see in my feed. It’s primarily sketches and art journal pages. I’m not really interested to be distracted with other people’s day-to-day lives, so I don’t put those in my stream. Following on Instagram is nothing personal to me, it’s simply the content I wish to be consuming when I’m there.
The “Discover” area (which I’ve recently discovered, hah) has been fun, because there are cool calligraphy/painting videos which get me excited to create. So, I’m still working on this one. I know usage will be fine again once I’m back in ACE, but I won’t be living on an 8/6 schedule forever. I will experiment with different ideas to figure out how I can use the platform more mindfully.
Quick Lists: What Went Well / What I Released
These next two sections are mostly for myself for future reference, so I’m leaving out lots of explanation.
What Went Well in 2017
The Writing Sit in June — I took on a 30-day challenge of “sitting” each day for 30 minutes in front of my computer to write. I could write in my journal with a pen if I didn’t feel like working on a post, but I had to show up and do my time. This worked well!
Playing, being outside, and unplugging in ACE
Growing a garden – (Actually starting it when I could have easily not)
Trains on Main
Waunakee Tribune interview
Travel sketching while in Europe / Moment Sketching
Yup, we’re not even to last year’s resolutions yet—but here they are! My three resolutions of the year were originally (1) leap, (2) stretch/yoga/pilates, and (3) unplug/be outside, as well as to continue living my values, creating, and meditating. Here’s where I stand on each of those:
A refresher for those unfamiliar with the term, the idea of “leaps” came from Tara Mohr’s book “Playing Big.” A leap is a decision + action that puts you in contact with those you want to reach/influence (aka involves sharing; is not solitary). It’s a simple action that can be described in a short phrase and completed within 1-2 weeks. It gets your adrenaline flowing and has a question at its center (something you can learn by doing). It gets you playing bigger now, not when you feel “ready.”
My leaps were:
April: Put up flyers at university in Montpellier (and made video advertising the editing service)
April: Submitted a proposal to be an artist for the Trains on Main public art project in town
May: Was a guest on Meg’s Couragemakers podcast
July: Contacted my local library about speaking and gave a presentation about my experiences on the Camino a month later
August: Applied to ACE/AmeriCorps
August: Launched this site
It didn’t feel at all like “The Year of Leaps” I’d originally intended to have (as I mentioned earlier, it was more like the year of becoming myself and trusting my inner wisdom), but I might not have done half of these if the idea of leaps hadn’t been on my radar. So I’m happy with the small leaps I did make, even though I wasn’t ever at or near any “max” capacity of comfort zone pushing, if that makes sense.
This one has been on my resolutions list (either main three or in the “tidbits” section) for several years now, and I finally made it a priority this year! Writing a reflection on 12 years post-spinal fusion in June definitely brought the topic to the front of my mind. So much so, that I made an appointment with a PT (especially since I was on BadgerCare). The appointment was successful—I asked questions and learned, I got specific exercises/stretches to do, and I did them nearly daily for the next two months. (Here’s where I recorded the start of this journey to have photo evidence for progress shots and whatnot.)
During that time I also bought a set of adapted yoga videos, made specifically for people with spinal fusions. These are excellent and I’m still using them today, however they require wi-fi so I haven’t used them on hitch nor much at the apartments in Flagstaff (we had several weeks without internet off and on throughout my first two months). My stretching also fell from my focus these past three months in Arizona, but I’ll turn it around.
Unplug, be outside
I was outside a lot this year—thanks to my personal sabbatical (choosing to be unemployed) and then serving on ACE’s conservation corps in the fall. We’ve already touched on social media usage above, so that’s all I’ll say about unplugging. Yay!
Continue Living My Values, Creating, Meditating
These were three other tidbits I’d thrown in with last year’s resolutions.
Living my values — I kept my personal compass at the top of my mind throughout the year and recorded small moments when I used it to take action in an everyday situation. I’m planning to put together some sort of booklet/PDF with a collection of these stories and examples, to show how the compass guided my daily actions this year.
Creating — I’m happy with the role that Creating has played in my year, and feel the energy only mounting to create more in 2018.
Meditating — Looking back at my Calm app, the first part of the year I was meditating about half of the month, then I was on a roll for every day in May, June, and nearly all of July. It’s September (my move to AZ) when things dropped way down to 3 days, 8 days in October, 4 days in November, and back up to 15 days being home most of December. Part of the reason is that there’s no wi-fi out on hitch, though I could have always done a silent 10-minute meditation, or used an offline meditation. I’ll work on this in 2018!
I did a quick mind map in my journal of what I wanted to see more of this year (though I prefer the term I saw Havi use in a blog post a few days after: “illuminated”), and here’s what I wrote that day:
Lindy hop / dance
Regular writing (read: Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, get a journal I like)
Mindful Instagram usage
Big creations quarterly
Sketching (Weekly? X portraits?)
Music (ukulele, guitar, singing, songwriting?)
Creating (zine, turn off wi-fi)
Leaps (postcard painting, lead a workshop)
[Side note: Seeing it here above, I just realized I haven’t shared yet that I bought a ukulele two weeks ago! A gift to myself—yeah!]
Tarot Card Reading
Then, back in December I was hanging out with my friends Emily and Liz, and we all ended up working on lists of 18 things we want to do in 2018. When we got stuck, Emily suggested we use her deck of these Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards. How fun! I’d learned the month before that a friend’s mother reads tarot cards, plus I knew Violeta Nedkova offered a tarot card reading as one of her services—so anyway, the idea had been on my mind for months and I was excited to have an easy opening to play with them!
So the three of us took turns using the cards to guide questions, and eventually we each made a map of the year (one card for each month, plus an overarching card). Here’s my year:
My guiding card for 2018 was “Sensitivity,” which you can read more about here. (There are longer descriptions in a booklet that comes along with the deck.)
My first thought upon flipping that card over was my increasing awareness about the amount of waste we produce, so I took it as an affirmation that continuing to learn about the zero-waste lifestyle would be a great focus for the year.
It was uncanny, though, because not two days later my friend Cathleen sent me an email which included the phrase “You truly are becoming an aware and sensitive being…” Aha! Sensitive! There it is! I thought.
For fun I later asked the cards what I’ll do after ACE, come April, and I got these gems:
In sum, if you’ve ever been curious to try tarot cards, I really enjoyed this particular deck. All of the possible cards are positive traits, but it’s interesting how seeing a word or phrase (when asking a question or thinking about a situation) can help you view things through a new lens and perhaps leave you with new connections/insights.
18 Things I Want to Do in 2018
Here’s the list I came up with after finishing this exercise:
Publish a PDF of my IBS story
Put together a poetry collection
Use social media/phone intentionally — develop framework and evaluate monthly
Explore counseling / life coaching (as possible paths)
And with the “illumination”/”18 things” lists as warm-ups, I’ve narrowed down the focus (somewhat) for the year (or rather, until I reevaluate and realign!):
I do want to continue learning about the zero-waste lifestyle and slowly implement changes to reduce the amount of waste I’m producing each day. I’ll do my best to learn in public, so others might have the chance to learn / make small changes as well.
As I touched on before, I had a hard time keeping this one into focus with my 8-days-on/6-days-off hitch schedule, but I’ll be back to Arizona soon for three more months of it, so I need to come up with a plan to make stretching/yoga more frequent than it has been this fall.
Making the Magazine Playground Art Journal in August was fun, but I didn’t bring it along with me to Flagstaff. The other day I purchased Amy Maricle’s “Starting Your Art Journal” ebook and have been playing around while I’m still at home (and thus have many more materials available—I only bring my tiny watercolor journal to Flagstaff, for sketches). As I wrote about earlier, I’ve also been curating my Instagram feed to show many art journals. So anyway, I’m interested in developing a regular art journaling practice this year!
Create One Bigger “Thing” Quarterly
Somewhere on her blog I saw Candace write about using this quarterly framework (to make her free “Travel Sketching 101” and “Art Journaling 101” resources, for example), and it really resonated with me. So the goal then is to create four bigger works this year, one every three months.
The first one I want to make is a PDF about my decade-long journey with IBS (now that it’s over). It felt good to capture my atheist-coming-out journey and my spinal fusion story last year, so I want to get this one written before it becomes any more distant. I’d plan to share the PDF freely from this site, in case it should help a fellow IBS-sufferer.
I’ve mentioned two other “bigger things” in this post: a poetry collection and a collection of stories about navigating the year with my personal compass. So those are on my horizon as well! I’ll have to develop a writing habit on my off days in Flagstaff, to chip away at it bit by bit (like when I finally finished that Korean food guide in 2016).
Bits and Pieces
Lastly, a few bits I want to capture here, to revisit on my monthly resolution checkpoints:
Continue to use compass/values to guide everyday moments and monthly reflections
Write in poetry notebooks weekly — If I ever want to publish a collection, I need to have poems to pick from first! I’ll ease myself in with some poetry exercises to get myself regularly playing with words and phrases. (It’s hard to even open the notebook if your endeavor is to write a good poem!)
Monthly/weekly screen sabbaticals — It was either Emily or Liz who mentioned this idea while we were thinking about the new year. I love it! Maybe I’ll have a “social media/screen time” section of each monthly checkpoint, to make sure I’m periodically evaluating and visiting the topic.
100-day project — I really liked doing my 100 Days of Mind Mapping project the end of 2016/start of 2017. I learned so much from it! So I’d like to do another 100-day project this year. (Ideas?)
Past Years’ Resolutions
Finally, if anyone’s curious, here are my year-end reflections and New Year’s resolutions over the past five years:
I reread those posts before I put this one together, and as always, I gained some new insight by looking back that far. I had dubbed 2015 the “Year of Creating,” for example, but I feel like 2017 is when I really created.
In 2014, one of my three resolutions was “I have been struggling with a digestive disorder for over nine years, and this is the year I’ll conquer it.” Again in 2015, a resolution was “Eat a whole foods, plant-based diet; improve digestion.” At the start of 2016, I reflected “Unfortunately I can’t really say that my digestion improved at all during the past year. I should give it more focus this year, but have lost that hopeful “this is the year!” I had back in 2014. And again in 2015.” And yet, eight months later was when it all started to turn around. And 2017 was my year without IBS issues. (Yeah!) This is also the year I went from a primarily plants-based diet to a primarily vegan diet (I’d been eating dairy-free for years, but cut out meat/eggs at the end of July. I still eat honey and do not like to give myself the label “vegan,” though. This is a post for another day, though.)
Here’s one more: In 2015 I wanted to “Develop a daily stretching routine/habit.” In 2016, part of my “Tidbits” section was “See doctors in France about my IBS and back” and “Develop daily stretching/yoga habit.” But it wasn’t until 2017 when I finally saw a PT and began developing a daily stretching/yoga habit. Maybe there’s a two-year lag on these focuses or something!
Regardless, by bringing these desires into focus, I am slowly making my way towards them, as evidenced in the past five years of year-end reflections.
And so, once again, I’m adjusting the focus at this time of year, while taking stock of all of the growth I’ve experienced over the past twelve months.
Okay, dear friends, the space below is all yours—and I would love to hear from you!
Do you do any sort of reflection at the end of the year? If so, what does your reflection look like? And what did you notice this year?
What would you like to illuminate/eliminate in 2018?
Have any recommendations to help with my resolutions?
And anything else you’d like to share/comment on/question, the space below is always available.