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Simple Joys

It’s National Simplicity Day, in honor of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday—perhaps the original minimalist.

I wasn’t previously aware of the holiday, but it’s resonating with me in this season of life, as our family and household struggles to find balance across summertime, sparse childcare, a new business, additional jobs, reconnecting with friends and family after two years of limited travel; it’s a lot. And I say this from a place of substantial privilege.

Regardless of where life circumstances stand, many of us seem to be juggling too much. And in that, it is so easy to lose sight of the simple joys, and the simple ways to find them.

I didn’t realize how wrapped up we had become in planning things and overpacking schedules and hustle until Reese and I sat down a few weeks ago to draft our traditional Summer Bucket List. I was brainstorming items to add when she stopped me and said: “Mom, this is supposed to be fun, and we’re turning it into more work. What if we don’t do a Bucket List this summer? What if we just have fun when we feel like it?”

Reader, I was stopped in my tracks. She was right, as she so often is, and I was taken aback by something I hadn’t even realized was happening. What started a few years ago as a means to protect space for joy had devolved into another task list.

Kids are much better equipped than we adults are at being present and celebrating simple joys. They apply fewer false labels of morality to their decisions, which is beautifully liberating in the way that childhood can be. Children are makers of spontaneous fun.

I love the practice of holding space to seize moments of joy when they present themselves. And one of the better ways to do that is to start saying no to things that don’t spark joy for you. You do not owe everyone your time. You do not owe traditions the sake of keeping if they no longer serve you. You do not need to plan every minute of your day. Perhaps, like me, you just need to change the lens through which you’ve been seeing the day.

Here are a few simple joys from my past few days that I took a moment to consciously notice. And here are a few Simple Summer Joy suggestions from Reese. I doubt any of these would have made our traditional Summer Bucket List, and I am grateful for each one. We would love to hear some of yours.

Patricia’s Simple Joys

  1. Reading in the hammock (coincidentally, a fantastic book on doing less: How To Keep House While Drowning)
  2. Finding a hidden container of baby frogs and flowers and twigs that the kids had caught for pets (safely returned to the wild)
  3. Going for a sunrise walk to start Monday
  4. Finding a new (to me) fantastic coffee shop
  5. Watching a bedtime episode of The Babysitters Club with the kids (snuggled up in bed)
  6. Noticing that my coffee this morning was extra smooth and delicious today
  7. Meditating outside before my family was awake
  8. Writing out The No List (it’s like a reverse to do list, and it feels amazing!)

Reese’s Simple Joys

  1. Go to the library as often as you can
  2. Go swimming
  3. Eat popcorn for dinner
  4. Draw something
  5. Make popsicles
  6. Listen to your favorite music
  7. Schedule play dates with friends
  8. Watch a good show with someone you love

#NationalSimplicityDay #SimplicityDay #TheSimpleLife #Minimalism #MinimalismLifestyle

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Blank Slates

This morning, I found myself with an unexpected Sunday home alone. No kids, no adults, no meetings, no travel. My day was a blank slate, a gift of time.

As I looked into the opportunity of the day, I found myself consciously resisting the urge to fill the space, in spite of litanies of work and domestic duties and even reaching out to others that I could have done.

It has been restorative, and it also has me considering all of the blank slates in our lives. We have the ability to realize these canvases for rest, reflection, and creation. But we have become conditioned to fill each gap, to turn to our phone screens in moments of silence, to start the next thing.

It has taken a lot of self-work to get to this place, where I can make a conscious choice to hit the pause button when I see it. That said, I am also using part of today’s canvas to create.

Humans are creators by our very nature. Our need to express ourselves, to explore ideas, to find ways to unite and understand and listen and learn: these need tending. They need a canvas.

However, blank canvases can also be overwhelming. (This overwhelm is often part of why art directors supply storyboards to artists, along with a means to jumpstart a conversation around finding a shared vision.) Facing a silent moment, a blank page, an empty score, an unscheduled day: these all have the power to help us turn inward.

If you aren’t in a place of comfort or familiarity with that source—your inner self—then a blank slate can be unnerving. But it can also be the perfect and same space to start to know yourself a little better. And that is an excellent creative space to explore.

Whatever your means of expression and rest look like, and wherever you are along your journey of personal evolution, I encourage you to seek out these moments. We don’t need entire days as a canvas—but we do need to start breaking the habit of reflexively filling free moments with things that aren’t our true mediums. It’s in those moments that we can reconnect with our own humanity. And in doing that, we can better connect with others.

P.S. I would love to know: Are you actively resisting the urge to escape into distraction rather than reflection or creation? Where are you finding or protecting moments that feed your creativity? Do you recognize blank slates?

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Making Magic

Reading with a child is a gesture of love. It is a tangible gift of time, our most precious resource. Reading can stop the noise and fury of everything else that surrounds us in that moment. It creates a space for questions and conversations, observations and laughter, a means to model gestures of kindness and creation and exploration and how to get through hard stuff.

We love picture books for so many reasons, but their ability to make us laugh, to help us cry, and ultimately to allow us see each other and ourselves a bit more clearly are my favorites.

It is critical to our collective survival to protect the creative space of picture books and children’s literature, to protect the magic of what happens when we read with children and when we help them start the journey of literacy. Perhaps that sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you it is not.   

Picture books, children’s books, are vehicles for a multitude of life skills. Of course, this includes literacy and critical thinking. But alongside that, the experience of being read to taps into social and emotional learning cues that children will carry throughout their lives. And what stories are available to read, to hear, to hold need to include everyone’s story, not just those that reflect our own.

Today is National Children’s Picture Book Day, part of the larger IBBY-sponsored International Children’s Book Day. I hope you can take a few moments this weekend to read to a child in your life or to yourself if you have a chance to revisit a favorite book (or find a new favorite). It is also a great reminder to support your local libraries. Shop independent bookstores. Champion teachers who are working to broaden classroom collections for readers.

Read together. Make magic.

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Irony and Rest

A couple weeks ago, I started writing a post themed “do less, encourage rest,” in the spirit of our collectively self-inflicted holiday chaos.

Ironically, I was writing the post on a Monday evening, laptop perched literally on my lap, in the lobby of my children’s piano lesson academy, while also answering the endless question “what will we have for dinner after this?” and thinking over a seemingly infinite litany of errands and work.

The hypocrisy was not lost on me. I stopped writing, closed the laptop, and paused. In such a state, who am I to tell others to slow down?

A number of influencers today (including Glennon Doyle) noted we’re addicted to Productivity: we feel uncomfortable when we stop moving. Busyness is a means to distract ourselves. But from what? The answer varies by person, but it’s worth reflection. What are you afraid to sit with if you slow down enough to face it?

In late November I promised my kids that I would close Kind World Publishing’s shop during their winter break. It seemed such a lovely idea—until said break arrived. I struggled for nearly a week to allow myself to do nothing, to sleep in, to unplug. (I worried about what wasn’t getting done; am I enough if I’m not working?)

My original notion was to shorten my to-do list. But in recent days, I’ve realized what I really needed was (temporarily) to ditch the to-do list altogether. I needed to be fully present.

When I discussed this post with Reese, she (wisely, always so wisely) pointed out that by not doing everything else the past week, I was doing the most important thing—spending time with her and Axel. And when that “to do” is done, it still should be done over and over again. Love doesn’t belong on a list. The most important things are ubiquitous.

I have a parade of hopes and goals for the new year, both personally and professionally. Some will be on my fresh to-do list; others will be bigger than that. The privilege of having time to reflect means I also have the responsibility to use these insights to the best of my abilities. For me, this means staying aware of our critical human need to pause and reconnect—with ourselves and with each other. To actively resist being active every moment of our life. To create and protect space for all of the thoughts and feelings and fears and dreams.

Humans—all humans—deserve the right to rest without guilt or worry, and to create without pressure to produce.

I hope your 2022 is healthy. I hope you find an important nontangible you are seeking. I wish us all peace and rest and wellness and space. I wish you a to-do list worth doing, and a life worthy of pause that exceeds a list. Happy (almost) 2022 to you and yours.

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A Small Business

Today I approved final files to go on press for our very first book. Then, I sat here alone in my home office, and I let the tears come.

Tears of joy, relief, pride, nerves, gratitude, all of it. Because, as a small business owner, I feel all of it.

It’s fitting that our first book is The Struggle Bus, as we have taken a few rides on it through this process. But, as Julie Koon wrote in that lovely text: “Faster now, the way is clear. You can do it, persevere!”

Launching a publishing company has long been a dream. I still can’t believe it’s becoming a reality. Bootstrapping my way through this effort, in the midst of a pandemic, among the bluster and blur of parenting small children, has been a lot. There are days where it’s been hard and scary and lonely.

And yet. I have never been alone. Instead, I have been reminded over and over again how many wonderful people we have in our lives, people who have cheered on this effort, who have picked me up and dusted me off, who’ve sent me flowers and notes and warm cookies and support beyond what I could have even imagined.

I don’t always feel like I deserve the kindness that’s shown to me. But I do always, always feel overwhelmed by the gratitude I have for everyone who has been in my corner.

My family and I have so many people to thank for helping Kind World Publishing reach this milestone. And we have so many wonderful milestones ahead. For today, I want to pause to both “feel these feelings for a bit,” and to express sincere thanks: to each of you who have read this blog, rallied for our business, and championed our work, I am so excited—and grateful—to have each of you along for this ride.

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Toxic Positivity

The sign you see here hangs in our entryway. It serves as a reminder for me, a marginally recovering perfectionist, to lighten up about life. We’re about a lot of things here at Kind World Publishing, including, of course, kindness. But one thing I’m keenly aware of and actively attempting to avoid along with perfectionism is toxic positivity.

You might have heard the phrase toxic positivity recently, as we wade through the pandemic and the state of the world. Messages to “stay strong” and “do your best!” and “be grateful” and “you’ve got this!” are everywhere, and they can become exhausting (not to mention more extreme versions that can be used to gaslight or worse.)

Dictates and mandates to do and to be things are tough to receive. That is a truth, regardless of your age. None of us wants to be told what to do or to be, even if the intent in those directions is positive. And therein lies the rub.

When things are hard, difficult, extreme, exhausting, life-threatening, simply being told to pull ourselves up by the emotional bootstraps and just keep going does a disservice to acknowledging those painful realities. Before any of us can solve a problem, we first need to accept that a problem exists. And we need to sit with the problem, both in order to notice it and to then put it into perspective. After that, we might be able to better reach the “how” of solving it.

But if we continue to brush over those steps by cheerleading only positivity, that cheerleading becomes pretty hollow. Eventually, incessant positive messages make things worse because it sets an impossible bar of expectations for our emotions. For those who struggle with perfectionism, the expectations can be overwhelming. Hard stuff keeps piling up because it isn’t really addressed, and the space between “stay strong!” and daily realities keeps widening. How many times have you found yourself or the kids in your life on the precipice of falling through and feeling completely stuck?

Rather than telling each other how to feel and championing an impossible state of being, perhaps we should be creating space to listen to other people’s realities, and sit with our own. Rather than letting that urge to “solve it and sweep it” lead conversations, perhaps we should accept that acknowledging hard things has value unto itself.

Modeling this for the kids in our lives is critically important, to avoid setting them up for a sense of failure when they can’t make themselves feel “amazing” about something.

I am not suggesting that we stop championing each other, nor am I saying positive messages can’t be powerful. We can help avoid toxic positivity by remembering that the activities of listening and acknowledging can speak loudly too. They can say, “I see you.”

Part of reaching a positive state involves creating space to process everything that isn’t.

Post Script: If you’re looking for a broader read on this subject, Kate Bowler’s recent book No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) is worth your time. If you’d like a book that can help support kids with acknowledging obstacles, preorder The Struggle Bus by Julie Koon. We’re proud to be able to support work that addresses these topics in a practical, accessible way.

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Vanishing Time

As I reflect on what happens during transitions, and what the start of fall and school and life changes means to the relativity of time, September is the month that disappears.

I’ve written before about time. But one thing that’s always fascinated me is how quickly time goes the closer we get to the end of something: the end of a ballgame, the end of the year, the end of life. Vanishing time makes things exciting or exhausting, sad or hard. As humans, we often feel there is never enough time. The effect of its relativity can also make it more challenging to stay present in the moment as we think about everything that seemingly needs to be done.

Generally, children are immune to that feeling. Days are longer. Years are longer. Wild imaginations and active play create the beautiful magic of suspended time. Reality pauses while they are immersed in those states. Being present is an aspect of a growth mindset, which makes a lot of sense when you think about children and how much and how quickly they are learning and growing as they are fully absorbed in something.

As adults, we sometimes refer to capturing that feeling as “flow.” We aren’t watching the clock or dreading the clock. We become unaware of it altogether. Capturing flow doesn’t pause anything. That time still vanishes. But playing or daydreaming or diving into something we love to do is how we would hope to spend the time we have here.

As I look to October and the rest of the year, I’m reminding myself of this: my time is not guaranteed just because time exists on a calendar. If I want to suspend the moment, I need to be present in that moment.

As you possibly look for your own ways to slow down the time-space continuum, I hope this simple reminder helps. Being *here* rather than thinking about what needs to be done when you get to an unpromised *there* makes both moments (here and there) more fulfilling.

You cannot fill up a moment in which you’re not fully present.