Scenes from the snowstorm.

blizzard2016On Friday, we moved, racing against the blizzard. DC freaks out about snow on a regular basis, and usually it ends up being a major letdown. An inch or two that, while less than impressive, manages to cripple this city that never got the message about pre-treating roads for ice. Thus, when they predicted snow, I originally ignored it and continued to plan our move for Saturday. But when the movers called and announced that it was Friday morning or nothing, I started tossing things in boxes and throwing out belongings with zeal that would make Marie Kondo explode with happiness. On Friday, we worked alongside our team of movers, doing the last two loads in our car as the snow started swirling. We had to abandon our box spring when it wouldn’t fit up the stairs, which means that it is now a small snow mountain and I am dreading having to dig it out to dispose of it.

And then the snow came, and it didn’t stop, and by Saturday afternoon we had over three feet of fluffy white, with drifts that easily came to mid thigh and higher.

The joy of a city snowstorm versus a country snowstorm, is that you are just stranded enough for all obligations to be cancelled, but not so stranded that you can’t venture out for fun. We followed the numerous Capitol Hill residents who heeded the irresistible call of seeing the Capitol dome obscured by the blizzard and set out on foot. In the absence of anything but emergency vehicles, everyone trekked along in the streets, a merry procession of dogs wearing coats and shoes (because, EAST COAST Y’ALL), and parents hauling sleds of kids to the Capitol.

We stopped first for brunch at a friends’ house, before heading back out at the peak of whiteout conditions. After the unremarkable view of the Capitol (as in, non-view, because BLIZZARD), we went to a dive bar and got the best mozzarella sticks on the planet, squeezing in with the masses of people in wet boots who had the same idea.

But beyond the fun ventures out, James and I spent the [long and getting longer] weekend just snug in our new little home, sifting through boxes and re-wearing clothes because finding new ones was too much work. We focused on settling in, ignoring set schedules, and embracing the cozy laziness a blizzard demands.

Couldn’t ask for a better snowstorm.

 

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Life Hacks: The Notecard System

Sugar-Paper-2015-Planner-Collection.-Only-at-Target.

After a crazy interlude of packing, purging, and more packing before we move on Friday, I’m back with more life hacks.

My first semester of college, I remember a very distinct breakdown. One of those I-have-so-much-to-do-and-no-one-understands-or-has-ever-been-as-stressed things, coupled with a dawning realization that I had to get a system FAST to manage the self-paced nature of college. No one would tell me what to do and when, and the  long deadlines and lengthy projects were daunting. Furthermore, I am a devoted supporter of only working 6 days a week, and I wasn’t sure how to make that happen, when everyone else is off studying on Sunday nights. I do not work on Sundays, be it college papers, Masters thesis, or PhD prep. Taking a day off should really be its own life hack, but I’ll just throw that one in for free. But in order for this blissful day of rest to happen, you have to plan ahead. Like, all-week ahead, so that Saturday night isn’t a breakdown of to-do lists and a frantic decision to once more work on Sundays.

Enter Life Hack #2: the notecard system.

Since college, I have used this organization system to structure my weeks, collect my thoughts, and get things done. I’ve mentioned it before, but there are many things I am not good at. Most natural skills in fact. However, I am a beast of time management and just getting things done, which compensates for most natural shortcomings in life. I am also a type-A list-checker-offer, which makes this system ideal, but I firmly believe it could make any person crazy productive. At its core is the idea that you cannot possibly tackle everything every day. Looking at what you have to do for the whole week– the whole month, will be so overwhelming that you won’t do it. But just looking at one day is doable. Here it is:

  1. Sunday night, lay out 3×5 index cards for however many days of the week you have to be productive. For me, this is usually 6, but if I know I will be out of town or something over the weekend, I will tweak it. Label the cards with the days of the week.
  2. Go through and write down all standing commitments, like “small group” or “mime class.” (Please tell me that last one is applicable for someone.)
  3. Add in all daily personal goals, like working out, reading something each day, or whatever. Feel free to put on things that you KNOW you will do, like making a bed, so that you can be triumphant and cross them off. Productivity is a mental game.
  4. Next, add errands and chores.
  5. Lastly, figure out all the other things you have to do that week and add them to the days in which you know you have time to do them. For me, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days I work from home, thus they get more things assigned to them. One day a week I usually just write “catch up on emails” and do that all in one sitting. The key is to cut work down into manageable chunks. For instance, if I was to look at my work for this semester, it would be: “write 2 chapters of dissertation.” That is impossibly daunting. But for next week, I know that on Monday I need to get 2 books from the library, Tuesday read half of one, etc. This is doable, and thus it will get done.  It is also a very calming thing to sit down Sunday night and, instead of getting stressed, just break down the work into tiny bites.
  6. Staple the cards together and check off things as you do them. Hold yourself to actually completing your day, but even if you don’t- rip off that card and toss it at the end of the day. This step is vital, because it makes you feel like a winner. If things didn’t get done, add them to wherever you see space on a later day.

When you get to Sunday, or whatever your day off is… there is no notecard. And thus, you do no work.

Glory hallelujah.

What’s your weekly organization strategy?

Ramdane-and-Victoires-Paris-Apartment-Eiffel-Tower-7th-arrondissement-desk-library-study

Both images are from here, with all sorts of beautiful desk setups.

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Just the two of us.

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This weekend we got breakfast in bed. Twice. Which now brings the number of times in my life that I have ordered room service to a whopping four.

Last week was rough around here. It was good, as we looked at apartments, found a new apartment, signed a lease, picked out paint, booked movers, got boxes, and started sorting through stuff. It was good, because we started another Whole30, spent time with good friends, and enjoyed being back home after the holidays. It was good, as I did endless loads of laundry, lots of work for the upcoming semester, and actually found places to put away all the Christmas stuff.

But it was rough. All of the aforementioned productive busyness came with stress, late nights, tight schedules, tense conversations, budget crunches, big decisions, and frustration. James and I felt like we kept not connecting, kept getting things done, but having more tight-lipped conversations than is our norm. We kind of pride ourselves on being A Couple Who Communicates, and last week– we just weren’t.

This past weekend I needed to go to West Virginia to photograph a wedding, and James decided to come with me since I am a pregnant-fainter and long car trips with me driving by myself make us a tad nervous these days. I insisted he should stay home and get stuff done, but eventually we hit the road late on Friday night, rolling into West Virginia after 1am. In a final moment before crashing, we opted to hang the room service menu on the door, enjoying breakfast in bed before I rushed off to photograph the wedding.

And like that, the stress of the week started to wash off us. Starting the day in a pile of pillows with food on a tray is a very good thing. I went to meet the bride feeling pampered and relaxed, and James settled into the hotel for some work, followed by his version of a spa weekend: 40 chicken wings consumed over an entire afternoon/evening of football watching.

On Sunday, we decided to do it all again, sleeping in and then reclining on pillows to dine in bed like the rich and classy people that we emphatically are not. We were able to talk, to process the week, to relax and not feel like we should be boxing and folding and sorting. We left the hotel and headed back to DC feeling once again like a team — just the two of us. A team that will soon include a third, but will always only be as strong as the bond between its two original members. Sometimes a quick weekend away is all we need to remind us of that.

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DC Café Crawl

Cafecrawl-3Last Monday I did a café crawl. I know that the youths are into the sorts of crawls that include progressive drinking, progressive partying, progressive unrestrained merriment that starts late and ends later, and almost always involve disorder, uncomfortable shoes, and no snacks.

I am not into that, any of it.

Thus, a sedate café crawl is more my style, drifting from coffee shop to café and back again, enjoying treats and warm drinks as I productively and aesthetically tackle my to-do list.

PARTY ANIMAL OVER HERE. Said no one ever.

But luckily, I have friends similar to myself, and my friend Rachel was happily game for a café crawl through some places outside of my normal DC haunts. We set out Monday morning, loaded with work and ready to drift about, munching and sipping.

First stop- Slipstream on 14th St. Cafecrawl-6Cafecrawl-2cafecrawlI loved Slipstream. It would probably be my top pick for “good coffee shop to settle in for a long time and enjoy good drinks.” The food was tasty, my latte was exceptional, and the space was cozy, but still bright and airy. Plus, we were blessed to sit next to someone who had the exact personality of Jean-Ralphio’s sister from Parks and Rec. By that I man that she was everything that is wrong with millennials. Throughout the course of our eavesdropping, we learned that she is currently unemployed, but has dabbled in acting, painting, bartending and philanthropy management. She now looks for new jobs in between a VERY demanding schedule of high-end fitness classes including spinning, hot yoga, pilates, etc. She is a vegetarian, and did not like the scone she ordered, which she rudely detailed to the server, only to follow her rant about how it “was just bad, you know? Like, I’m sure you know if you’ve had it,” proceeded to ask for a job application. She also demanded a new scone, insisting she liked savory things, before settling on a chocolate-dipped croissant. She referred to every male in her life as either an ex or a bro and she thinks she should just start a blog. She was fascinating and reviling all at once.

Which of course begs the question: how are all these coffee shops so full all day? It was a workday — why was everyone there? Is everyone a grad student or tourist? When do people work? 

Around lunchtime, it was on to stop two – A Baked Joint on K Street. Cafecrawl3Cafecrawl-8Cafecrawl-10cafecrawl2Oh man. Maybe it was because I knew that a new round of the Whole30 was looming, or maybe it was just that I am weak, but the food at A Baked Joint was perfection and I ate all of it. Perfect sandwiches, toast slathered in Nutella and sea-salt, salted-caramel ice cream sandwiches — all of it. The space was big, much bigger than Slipstream, and Rachel affirms that this is her pick for “where to work and snack all day long.”

Following our sugar binge, we headed over to La Columbe.Cafecrawl-13Cafecrawl-15Cafecrawl-16Cafecrawl4It was cute, but the bar had been set pretty high by our first two stops. Still, points for them being nice and giving me a big mug of hot water since I brought my own tea.

Lastly, we finished up back near home at Bourbon Coffee. By this point, I was so full of tasty food and good drink that the scales were skewed against it being overly impressive. But I can still attest to it being cozy and comfy, full of good chairs and nice spaces. Cafecrawl-19Cafecrawl-20Cafecrawl-21 And thus ends the first DC café crawl. Till next time, when I continue making my way through the never-ending list of places I want to explore around this city.

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Life hacks: You always have 5 minutes.

NY_Met_demuth_figure_5_goldThis is not one of those types of blogs, the ones that have it together and do things like series, where they post about the same sort of thing every Wednesday or whatever. Sometimes, I think it would be fun to be one of those types of blogs, the polished and shiny kind, but then I remember that this is the first thing that gets back-burnered when I get stressed (long before my line-up of CW shows), and I think – nope, not possible. But, I do have a couple posts on a similar idea that I wanted to drag along through January, so there you have it: Life hacks.

We all have them, those little things that we do to make our lives easier. They span across all different domains, from organization to cleaning to cooking to clothes and fashion. They are our own little tricks for working out this life thing in a better way. And it’s January, the month where we are all supposed to be striving for lofty goals and being better versions of ourselves, and I’m just over here thinking…. Does anyone have any tricks to share? Because I seriously doubt that 2016 is going to be my year of ACCOMPLISHING EVERYTHING, of losing weight (HA), funding retirement, writing a book, and remembering to floss every day. But what if each day could be just a little bit better? Enter life hacks. Over the next couple weeks, I’m going to be sharing mine, the little tricks, the shifts in perspective, that help my life flow better, and I sure would love to hear yours. Feel free to blog them on your own and email me the link (click the Contact tab up top), or just email them if you don’t blog. At the end of the month I would love to pass them on. Or, if none of you do that, I will go back and delete these last two sentences so that I don’t look like a friendless loser for future blog posterity. Thus, without any further ado –

Life Hack #1: You always have 5 minutes.

Let us not even try opening the discussion of who is the busiest of us all. This is one of the stupidest and yet must ubiquitous arguments there is. The busy corporate working woman thinks that the stay-at-home mom must certainly have all the time in the world since she is at home and not balancing meetings. The mother of three spending those days at home cannot possibly imagine anything busier than her lot, and looks down her nose at how the childless cannot fathom real busyness. The doctor imagines how nice it must be to have one of those swank teaching jobs with all the time on your hands, and the teacher dreams of one of those cush desk jobs where your work never follows you home. You all reading this blog might think that that Hannah person sure has lots of time to brunch and blog and cannot possibly imagine what your busy life is like and HOW DARE SHE imply that you have 5 minutes of free time in your day because you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT.

But you do, because you are reading this, and it will probably take you about 5 minutes.

Before you get huffy, before you think that I can’t possibly understand your life, I’ll go ahead and admit it: I don’t. And you don’t understand mine. And we are all living in our own little towers of personal experience that have their own pitfalls, but can we just get over that? This is not a judgment, but rather a statement that might just be true if you try it out, if you look at the little wasted 5 minutes throughout your day when you mindlessly surfed Facebook or zoned out on your phone. I know highly productive, organized, and successful people whose lives all look very different from each other except for one thing: they get things done because they find a way to make time to do them. And that starts with 5 minutes. (And the people who truly do NOT have 5 free minutes, they aren’t wasting time reading blogs, so I don’t have to worry about offending them. Like my mom, who worked, raised kids, and managed a huge chunk of property growing up. She is always wondering when my generation has time to “Facebook each other” and read random articles, and I always explain that we are doing those things while she is busy conquering the world. )

You do not always have 20 minutes, you might not even have 10, but I operate on the system that I can find 5 minutes to do something. If I am stressed and need to get things done, I will set a timer and then race myself to see how much I can do in 5 minutes. No time to clean the whole house? Set that clock and be amazed at what you can get done in 5 minutes. Overwhelmed by emails? I bet you can answer one or delete ten pointless ones in five minutes. No time for those devotions you swore you would do every day? Start with 5 minutes—time to read one short daily devotional or chunk of scripture. This is not a revolutionary concept at all, and on one hand, I debated starting with it as my first life hack. But I think it is fundamental, because it transforms your mind from one that says “I have no time to do ________” into one that just seizes time where it can.

This mindset is especially helpful for random house tasks, as those eat away at us, seem daunting together, and yet can be squeezed in throughout the day. 5 minutes allows you to switch laundry from washer to dryer, wash 3 dishes that sat in the sink all night, put away those 3 dishes later when you get 5 more minutes, make the bed, hang up a coat and toss aside a shoes, or wipe down counters. It does not allow you to do all those things. But by adopting the 5 minute mindset, you take on the world one chunk at a time, refusing to look at the big picture until you have taken enough little bites out of it to make it manageable.

Now then. You just wasted this 5 minute window by reading this, but may your next one be a breath of fresh air, a burst of productivity, and a chance to encourage yourself by tackling one tiny mountain in your day.

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Christmas break by the books.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetToday I am heading back to DC after an extra stolen week in Kentucky with my family when James flew back to the East Coast last weekend. Even though my graduate school schedule doesn’t have the rigid hours of a lot of jobs, I still feel like vacation is ending and it is back to reality when I drive back to DC. For me, reality means reading lots of books and writing many pages. At least, hopefully many pages…. because I hear that writing a dissertation might be just a tad harder when there is a snuggly newborn in the house.

I don’t really get to read books during the semester. I mean, I read Books, Literature, Tomes of Ideas, but not books. I will spend a lot of the next couple months getting real friendly with Le Rouge et le Noir and Madame Bovary (Julien and Emma- you all were born for each other, and in my dissertation, I shall unite you at last!), but that will probably be the extent of my reading. I plow through audiobooks as I slave along to my Fitbit, but that’s not the same. There is a special magic of curling up with a book — one from which you expect nothing more than the pleasure of losing yourself for hours. My mom knows this, so every year she gives me one of my favorite Christmas gifts: a stack of wrapped library books that I request in advance, gleefully unwrap, devour in a binge of antisocial pajama-wearing on the couch, and then leave for her to return upon my departure.

And so, should you need some fluffy reading recommendations, here is Christmas by the books:

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. This book was EVERY SINGLE THING I WANTED IN A BOOK. A flu that wipes out the earth’s population in one fell swoop! A Shakespeare troupe trying to keep art alive 20 years after civilization falls! A non-linear plot! Beautiful prose! Random dogs of significance! Definitely my top recommendation from this break’s book fest.

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter. In general, I trust NPR on all things. But my trust is now shattered, because this book was reviewed on “Fresh Air” and the review was glowing- gushing even – only for the book to be pretty bad. I made myself finish it, and it was kind of a waste. Should have used that time to enjoy my parents’ cable and watch reruns of America’s Next Top Model. But then again, I read it right after Station Eleven, so the bar was impossibly high.

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart. My takeaway from this book: there is nothing scarier than rich kids who don’t have enough chores in the summer. Give them a lawn to mow, some neighbor kids to babysit, and the world would be a better place. But, I also devoured this book in one sitting, which says that it was nothing if not fascinating. Not sure I liked it, but I was fully engaged.

We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride. So many emotions about this book. I tend to like the every-chapter-is-a-different-narrator-and-they-will-all-converge-at-the-end thing, so I appreciated it. The ending was beautiful and emotional, and I am a sucker for anything with small children who have to act more mature than they are because the adults in their lives have screwed up royally.

A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson. Mostly I was eager to read this because I LOVED Life After Life (from last year’s book binge), and I just wanted more Ursula Todd in my life. It was good, with a destabalizing twist at the end that left me thinking, and well written. Not the magic of Life After Life, but a noble companion novel and beautiful in its own rite. I’m also a sucker for author’s notes that reveal some truth about how the author views fiction, literature, and reality, and Atkinson delivered, which made me love the whole thing more. (For instance, and for the record, I think The Fault in Our Stars would have been just a bland book with little to distinguish it from Lurlene McDaniel’s numerous novels about dying kids finding love if it wasn’t for the Q&A with the author that came in my addition.)

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan. I mostly wanted to read this because I was fascinated with Keegan’s story, her tragic death days after graduating from Yale, and the posthumous  publication of the essays and stories she had written during undergrad. They are beautifully written, but also especially poignant and thought provoking from a young girl, who writes with the honesty of a young girl, but with an extra dose of wisdom and talent. The short stories were all depressing, proving that it is far harder to write a positive and still worthwhile one than it is to crank out a disturbing one (I’m looking at you Flannery O’Connor), but the essays were wonderful.

“I used to think printing things made them permanent, but that seems so silly now. Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortably tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.” -Marina Keegan

Have you all read any of these? What are you reading now? I’m keeping a list for next year’s Christmas binge… and it’s never to early to start adding the good ones!

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The family photo dump.

If you have been reading around here for long, you were probably getting very worried that you would be spared the annual family photoshoot that I always drag you through in excruciating detail following Christmas (like these fine bits of memory lane from 2010, 2011, 2012, apparently 2013 disappeared somewhere, and 2014). But fear not– we dragged that tripod out into the woods as always and rocked our delay-timer photographed Christmas shoot.Family2015-2When preparing for photos, it is important to select a color palette that is easy to follow and instantly understood by everyone. This is why I declared “muted woodland” and inflicted it on everyone. Some members of our crowd seemed confused by what that meant, and I had to repeat the obvious answers -beige, cream (obviously different than beige), hunter, sage, gray, chambray, tan, maroon, leather, denim — multiple times. But eventually, we were appropriately frocked and ready to whip out our best poses… Family2015-8Like the one where we cluster in couples and pretend to be goofy, minus some members of the family who participate by not participating. Family2015-9…Or the one where we prance around like the cast of Friends, strolling through a path not quite wide enough for us to all saunter arm in arm. Family2015-13And Zach’s introduction of Liz into the family makes the sibling set complete!  Untitled-1 Family2015-68Oh what, these old things? We just happen to have matching blankets wrapped around our necks as we toss our coiffed hair in a woodland clearing- NBD. Untitled-3 Family2015-50 Untitled-2Ok fiiiiiinnnne- we can all admit that maybe Zach and Liz win for best interpretation of “muted woodland.” They are like a flipping Eddie Bauer add for love over here. But Lyman and Ruth win “best coordinating outfits,” and James and I get to have a baby, so I guess we are all winners of some sort. Family2015-57The boys… Family2015-72The girls… Family2015-77 Family2015-80 Family2015-82… and the in-laws who have learned to tolerate our crazy pack. Team #winlaw forever.Family2015-85 Family2015-5No one I love better than this bunch in their muted woodland finery. Till next year, O Faithful Tripod!

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