Most things remain to be done

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around. Isn’t that the point?

The family and I are in full acquisition mode at the moment. As expected, setting up shop in Scotland has required endless amounts of admin and purchasing and “getting things done”. We are very much trying to keep things small and simple, but there are myriad things that a family of four needs and we’re knocking those off one-by-one in (what seems to me to be) short order. In under two weeks we’ve added a rental house, car and insurance, beds, kitchen table, couch, desk, bikes, new phone numbers, and millions of other tiny things to our list of possessions here. Oh and we’ve probably added a few pounds from stress eating while chasing two little ones down the aisles of you-name-it shop. At times it’s been a grind (example: four hours on the phone trying to get car insurance with no credit history), and there are times where I’ve periodically lost sight of why we moved over in the first place.

A quote seen at Ikea stating most things still remain to be done. A glorious future.

I spotted this while in Ikea yesterday and it has stuck with me. Although it feels like we’re doing stuff to get to an end goal (finally being able to sleep in our new place!), that will be another beginning.

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around, like this moment from the road to the farm where we live (the place we are renting is a house converted from a horse stable). It’s stunning.

I came across the following passage while writing this and it fits nicely to the topic. We chose to climb this mountain, and are fortunate to be able to have the means to climb it. Why not enjoy every moment?

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

There is more to do and there always will be. A glorious future indeed!

Good mornings

As life has gotten more fluid and less predictable, I am finding a lot of magic in my mornings.

Mornings are my favorite part of the day, and I typically protect them fiercely, to the point where I have been reflecting on whether I’m being well disciplined (my intention) or overly rigid (definitely not my intention). I’ve learned the hard way that morning routines are made to be disrupted, especially with young children in the mix. Add in moving to another country, leaving work and selling all belongings, including the bed you sleep on, and the idea of holding tight to a morning routine seems like a perfect recipe for unhappiness. So yeah, I’ve been trying to take a softer approach as of late.

The week before last, I spent a rare Friday morning with Sam because Kav wasn’t feeling good. She usually gets up to watch the kids on work mornings (she’s the best) but this morning I had the rare sense that I ought to forgo my routine to help out. I made coffee (for me) and poured milk (for Sam) and put on some music (Damien Jurado in this case) and we sat on the couch in mostly silence, he on my lap, watching the birds in the trees out back. The only break in silence between us being when a new bird flew into view, Sam pointing and saying, “Daddy Nick that birdie go high!” or “Not sunny Dad, cloudy”.

Eventually, Sam and I started in on some important topics, like which one of the Paw Patrol was his favorite (Marshall), which was mine (Chase), and the same for his Mom (Rubble) and sister (Sky). Vivian came down after a while and joined us, and they both pretended I was a pillow instead of a person, and tried to find ways to “get comfortable” on me that involved poking, prodding and wrestling me as much as possible. Once that slowed I got up to make breakfast, only to have them quickly grab on to my legs and hold fast while I walked around the kitchen, pretending to be some type of growth that couldn’t be easily shaken off.

Later, Sam followed me upstairs into the shower (he would stand in the shower all day if you let him), and we sang a few songs and used our fingers to draw fruit on the foggy shower door until we were wrinkly. In time Kav was able to take over and I resumed my regularly scheduled programming and went to work.

Fast forward to the past week. I got a surprise visit from Vivian just after 6am while I was starting my workout, and I subsequently spent the morning in my garage doing pull-ups (and other exercises) while Vivian took notes on how many reps I did and then made the numbers into animals in between sets while I rested. I varied the number of reps in my sets so that we could get different numbers and make interesting animal number combos. Instead of 10 reps each time, I did 8, then 12, then 9, then 13.

When I did my push-up sets she joined in too, doing 3 or 4 push-ups alongside me. She thought it was funny how my nose touched the mat each time and cracked up, making me also laugh in mid-rep, which surprisingly added to the challenge and seemed like it made for a better work out. When I reached for my towel to wipe off the sweat from my brow she told me her friends at school get really sweaty and sometimes “they come in from recess with their hair soaking wet.” Burpees were her favorite. Both because of the name (“It sounds like buuuuurrrp”) and because it had to be done “fast” (her own conclusion after watching me for a few minutes). During my cool down she flipped to a blank page of my notebook and drew a horse, and then a fence, and then I drew a cowboy and a squirrel, and we made up a story about what they were all doing together and going to do together next.

Eventually I resumed my regularly scheduled programming and went to work.

With all of the craziness of moving to another country, resigning from a place I’ve worked for 13 years, saying goodbye to a place I’ve lived for 27 years, and doing all the usual stuff that comes with trying to be a good husband, father and son, I would expect that I might not only be more stressed, but also be letting more of the smaller moments in life go unnoticed, and I’m trying to not judge myself to harshly for this. However, quite the opposite has happened, and I’ve found that my appreciation for the magic of everyday moments has grown right along with the craziness increasing.

As life has gotten more fluid and less predictable, my approach to my routine, and my mornings, is softer and more malleable. I am finding a lot of magic in it all. I’ve thought about both of these mornings every day since, and I’m paying attention to the one I am having right now.

What I learned last week (#8)

I am now on the neti train, have a new go-to gratitude exercise, and got bansky’d, among other things.

  • I never realized what I was missing by not trying a neti pot earlier: The family and I have been battling various sicknesses for the past month, and on a friends advice I started using the NeilMed Sinus Rinse. It feels weird at first, sure, but the results are real.
  • This short exercise to change your mindset: I’m about half-way through the Sam Harris Waking Up course and have been listening to some of the lessons as well. Like the rest of the course, this short lesson on gratitude really has had an impact. I find that a lot of the time I am in a mental malaise at the end of a work day, especially after a long commute home. This is a fantastic tool I’m using to break any feeling of mediocrity.
  • The most nutritious plants: I didn’t think this article, Ranking Vegetables on How Healthy They Are, would be as surprising to me as it was. In particular, the fact that 100 calories of spinach has more protein than 100 calories of beef. Being vegetarian-turned-pescatarian now for 5 months I’m still learning about all of goodness out there. (Hat tip: Ben Tamblyn)
     
  • A quote I’ve been pondering:

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”

Lao Tzu
  • Vivian is a natural Bansky: I did a quick portrait sketch of Sam on Sunday morning and showed it to Vivi. She said I could draw her also “as long as you don’t make me look weird”. I left the room to change Sam’s diaper and didn’t think of it. Later in the afternoon I opened and found that she drew herself in the notebook on the opposite page.
A couple of sunday morning portraits
My portrait of Sam on the left, Vivi’s self portrait on the right.

What I Learned Last Week (#6)

This week: drawing tips, crazy 2018 facts, and good advice from smart people.

  • Everything that Anne Lamott has learned: I’ve been reading Bird by Bird recently (it’s great) and heard about this list she did of everything she had learned to date (apparently thinking about her grandson). I copied a bit below but the full post can be found here.

  • A new inspiration for drawing practice: I’m starting up a habit of drawing regularly (like writing) and my friend recommended Gris and Norm’s Tuesday Tips. Check out their tumblr and Instagram, very cool. I’m going to follow their weekly tips for a few months and see where it goes. I started on Saturday.

  • A good reminder about your responsibility and owning your story: This video from The Fresh Prince is great. “Fault and responsibility do not go together”.
    A good quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”– Abraham Lincoln
    There is great pride, quality and art to be found in all occupations.

What I Learned Last Week (#4)

A weekly list of things I learned, discovered, or was reminded of in the past week.

  • A reminder about how little time we have with those we love: I thought about the article The Tail End from Wait But Why as I was pondering the new year coming up, our planned move and how we may not see some people for a long time because of it. Also, if you want to do some existential pondering, check out The Fermi Paradox.
  • Different models for understanding who we are and who other people are: Enneagram and the Big Five (aka OCEAN) personality trait models. I think both of these seem like interesting ideas to explore. I use the word “ideas” purposefully, as any framework or model will have it’s flaws, but taking time to reflect on what makes you and others operate the way you do from different perspectives is a good use of time. For more info on Big Five, I’m going to check out Making Sense of People by Sam Barondes.
  • How personalized medicine is transforming your healthcare: This article from National Geographic really blew me away. We have had a couple friends staying with us over the holidays that are both doctors in the pharmaceutical industry and many of the stories in this article resonated with them. The continuous monitoring of your health and the ability to tap into the body’s immune system to fight disease, versus using drugs, were particularly compelling.
  • Another meditation app: I heard about Waking Up from Sam Harris on recent Tim Ferriss podcast and think I’ll give it a try. I want to experiment with a refresh of my daily practice and his approach sounds interesting.

Thank Your Reader

In living your story you can easily lose sight of who makes it possible. This is a reminder that practicing gratitude can help you see more clearly.

“If you are paying attention you can find truth and inspiration everywhere.” – Brené Brown

Having two young kids means you read a lot of children’s books and I’m amazed at how good many of them are. They way they distill powerful life lessons and wrap them in memorable artwork accompanied by a few powerful words is truly special.

In The Thank You Book by Mo Willems, Pig realizes she has a lot to be thankful for and that she better get thanking! So, she goes on a quest to thank everyone that she is grateful for (a noble mission), and she thanks literally every character in sight in the hopes of not forgetting anyone. She thinks she has everyone covered but her friend, Gerald, reminds her that she is still forgetting someone. After racking her brain she finally realizes she never thanked us, the reader. Without the reader, they wouldn’t exist, after all.

This lesson about expressing gratitude and recognizing the people or things outside of your bubble is something everyone can benefit from. Pig doesn’t realize who she’s missing until she slows down, listens to her friends warning, and zooms out of her everyday life to look at the big picture.

We all tend to forget the readers in our lives: the people that aren’t visible everyday, that we take for granted, but who make us who we are and allow us to exist in our daily life.

Who are these people or things in your life? Your parents? Your children’s  teacher? The barista or the cleaning guys for your building at work? Experiment with sending a note, thanking them or simply smiling, making eye contact and saying hi.

You might realize, like Pig does, that you have a lot to be thankful for.

Related:

  • Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey
    “The idea was deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe, transforms his life, and reveals secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.”