16 June 2017
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I think my parents were and are really good at parenting. I haven’t figured out all of their secrets (yet), but one key seems to be consistency.
My Dad, in particular, had a number of phrases that were on repeat throughout my first 18 years — if I’ve heard them once, truly, I’ve heard them a thousand times. They have shaped the kind of person I am, and will undoubtedly be issuing from my lips a thousand times in the next 18 years as John and I do our best to raise our children. I wanted to share a few of them with you today, in honor of Father’s Day.
Kate and Kim, repeat along with me…
If you’re going to give, give graciously. Let’s start with a particularly hard one to learn :) This meant that it wasn’t enough to simply shove a coloring book across the table at my sister if I begrudgingly agreed to relinquish it; no, I was supposed to politely place it in her hands, ideally with a smile. No bare minimum shortcuts at the Ayer household, much to our dismay while growing up. My Dad taught (and still teaches) me so much about going the extra mile AND doing it with your heart in the right place.
You might not have meant to, but you didn’t try hard enough not to. Again with the heart focus. This phrase would be employed when I’d, perhaps, knock my sister over as I ran past her, then whine, “but I didn’t meeeeeean to” when told to apologize. Again, we weren’t allowed to take the easy out.
Life isn’t fair and You can’t always get what you want. (The latter, usually sung to the tune of the Rolling Stones.) I was under no illusions growing up that everything was always going to go my way. Somehow, my parents were able to balance this blunt reality with a sense of possibility and hope, but I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to be crushed by the realization that the world wasn’t going to bend to my will, because I was reminded of it early and often.
Photo by Tanja Lippert
Steps are our friends. Way before FitBits and Apple Watches became commonplace, my Dad cheerfully expounded on the benefits of getting our bodies moving. He can often be found standing instead of sitting while reading, he’ll never miss a chance to accompany someone on a walk, and it was no surprise to any of us when he rigged himself a standing desk at work. With the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle becoming more and more clear, my Dad was definitely ahead of his time on this one.
Pleases and thank yous aren’t rationed. Simple enough. This was an extremely common catchall reminder that it’s hard to overdo it on politeness and kindness.
Don’t be overly fastidious. As the father of three girls, this was my Dad’s main offensive against raising a gaggle of “girly girls.” We were taught to be unafraid of mud, comfortable with sweat, capable of taking out the trash, and unlikely to leap to the top of a chair when a bug was spotted in the room.
Photo by Nancy Ray
Two wrongs don’t make a right. I bet this is a familiar one to many of you! My Dad always encouraged us to take the high road, to hold to our standards even when others weren’t holding to theirs. This was the basis of integrity in our family.
That’s the price you pay for an active childhood. This was my Dad’s favorite phrase when we came in sniffling from skinned knees. While we crawled up in his lap to be comforted, he was gently reminding us that a few bumps and bruises were a small price to pay for the glory of a childhood spent wild and free in the great outdoors.
Everything in moderation. Longtime readers will know that this is a life maxim of my Dad’s that I have latched onto hook, line, and sinker (mentioned here and here, for starters). In eating habits, in paying off debt, in establishing traditions — pretty much in everything besides my faith — I think it’s healthier, more sustainable, and more enjoyable to stick to a middle road than lurch to an extreme.
There’s nothing like a good Dad, and I’m so glad I have mine. I love you, Dad!!
Friends, I would LOVE to hear: what common phrases did your parents repeat throughout your childhood that have stuck with you?
8 June 2017
You know something I’m grateful for? John re-learning to play the guitar in 2015! I was pregnant, he hadn’t picked up a guitar since middle school, but of his own accord he decided that he wanted music to be a part of our family life and so he busted out some YouTube videos and was playing all of our favorite songs in weeks. (Side note: what?! It would have taken me YEARS to do the same!)
Fast forward a few months, and there was only one downside to our frequent family singalongs. A black, bulky guitar case had taken up permanent residence in our family room — which was not exactly my idea of a good time, interior decorating speaking.
I was itching to ditch it, but was wary of falling into a trap Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage:
Had the path of least resistance led me astray? I thought back to that initial experiment. I had kept my guitar tucked away in the closet, out of sight and out of reach. It wasn’t far out of the way, of course, but just those 20 seconds of extra effort it took to walk to the closet and pull out the guitar had proved to be a major deterrent. I had tried to overcome this barrier with willpower, but after only four days, my reserves were completely dried up. If I couldn’t use self-control to ingrain the habit, at least not for an extended period, I now wondered: What if I could eliminate the amount of activation energy (the time, choices, and mental and physical effort) it took to get started?
I took the guitar out of the closet, bought a $2 guitar stand, and set it up in the middle of my living room. Nothing had changed except that now instead of being 20 seconds away, the guitar was in immediate reach. Three weeks later, I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.
What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. The strategy is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.
Obviously this applies to more than just guitar playing, ha! We had gotten into such a good rhythm of family singalongs, and I didn’t want to derail us by storing the guitar out of sight and out of mind. But I wanted it off my floor. So after some thought and Googling, I bought a guitar hook and we hung John’s beauty right behind our sofa. Problem solved! The guitar was still easily accessible, we no longer had a big case taking up floor space, and we gained some fun new wall decor, to boot.
Have y’all ever used this trick to form or break a habit? It’s a good one!
26 May 2017
It’s hard to believe, but this year’s summer fun list is even longer than last year’s! Every age with June has been sweet, but I’ve heard from many people that 15-24 months is an exceptionally fun stretch, and I believe it – we just can’t get enough of our girl!! I fully intend to check off every one of these things together before September 22, and I’m ridiculously excited about the thought.
Off to print and hang this list on our fridge! Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, friends!
— dine under the lights at Vin Rouge
— take June to splash at Fews Ford
— decorate June’s bike and walk in our town’s Fourth of July parade
— spearhead a street potluck
— invite friends over for a cookout in our backyard
— take June to a splash pad
— make berry cobbler
— go to a Bulls game
— road trip to Maine
— roast s’mores in our fire pit
— jump off the wharf at the Island
— outdoor movie at Koka Booth or the Art Museum
— picnic at a Back Porch Music concert
— spend a day at the beach
— film our second June in June movie
— ice cream at Maple View
— road trip to Michigan
— pick blueberries
— have a classic cookout with hot dogs, grilled corn, pasta salad, potato salad, and more :)
— lemonade at the Honeysuckle Tea House
— camp with friends
— check out the books, flowers, and potstickers at Brewery Bhavana
— make pavlova
— try a canoe ride
— celebrate Cow Appreciation Day
What’s on your summer fun list?
17 May 2017
First, I just have to acknowledge the semi-ridiculousness of me writing this post. I am a well-known and thoroughly-documented introvert, it takes me forever to make friends, and up until last year, I could count the number of neighbors I knew well on zero fingers. But, I’m almost up to needing two hands for my hyper-local crew, so it seems I may have turned a corner! Let’s file this post under “if I can do it, anyone can do it” :)
Here, my seven best tips for making friends in your neighborhood.
Still my two best friends in my neighborhood :)
1. Make it matter to you. Like pretty much all goals, the only way something will be prioritized in your life is if it matters to you. Before June was born, it would have been nice to have friends close by, but I didn’t really NEED them. Since having her, neighborhood friends have become much more of a necessity. Emergencies are what pop to mind first, or a contact to give our babysitter, but there’s another reason that’s even more important to me.
I NEED to know who these people are if I’m going to feel comfortable letting our kids play outside unsupervised as they get older (a huge priority for me). I need to know their names, what matters to them, what kind of people they are, what the insides of their homes look like… I need to be friends with them, and I need to trust them. A childhood with freedom to roam matters to me, and so that’s why I was finally able to push past my discomfort and take action on making friends. If it really matters to you, you will, too.
2. Wave. That first tip was more existential, but this one is very concrete: wave. Wave to everyone. All the time. Whether you know them or not. If you want your neighborhood to be a friendlier place, let the community start with you. I recently watched a TED talk about public speaking and confidence, and there was one line that stuck with me: “fake it till you become it.” If you do something habitually, it will become a part of who you are. If you act friendly, even if you aren’t an extrovert, it will eventually become more comfortable. Small steps matter.
3. Send welcoming signals with your home. If you have a garage, it is possible to go about your business without ever breathing your neighborhood’s air, let alone interacting with another human. Appearances matter. A house with a closed garage door looks closed-off, with little way of knowing if anyone is home. We’ve taken to leaving our garage door open when we’re around as a signal that we’re available for socialization, quick questions, or sugar cup borrowing :)
A screen door is another way to make your house appear more welcoming to interaction, as again, it’s a symbol to neighbors that you’re home, and it also allows you to easily hear if something’s going on outside! (So then you can go join!) Screen doors were a huge marker of my New England summers growing up, and I am desperate to have one (especially as kids get older – much easier to have them playing outside by themselves if you can hear what they’re doing from inside!). With Southern summers and the prevalence of air conditioning down here, however, a screen door is not practical for much of the year… boo.
4. Go outside when other people are outside. Again: obvious, right? But I’m a bit embarrassed to say that when we first moved in, I pretty much did the opposite. Hiding in your house might help you avoid awkward conversations, but it will not help you make friends. So get your butt outside, in the proximity of other people, and let the extroverts strike up a conversation with you, as I can assure you they will :)
And if you live in a neighbhorhood where no one is outside? Be the one to change the environment! Putter around in your front yard “pruning” things, sit on your porch, go for a walk every evening – find any excuse to be where people can see you, so they start to recognize you as a generally friendly-looking person and associate you with a particular house.
5. Be the invitation. After a few months of casual interactions with some of my neighbors, I was ready to go a little deeper. Instead of waiting for someone else to invite me over, I did it on my terms! I invited all of the ladies on my street that I had even once interacted with to a Favorite Things party, and I heavily encouraged them to invite their friends. It was a huge success as a kick starter to closer relationships and a broader social circle.
6. Start a hyper-local Facebook group. I haven’t personally tried this one, but I’m considering it. It’s something John and Sherry recommended on their podcast recently, and I think it’s smart! My neighborhood has a Facebook group with about 1,000 members, and it’s great for certain things (selling patio furniture, chatting about macro issues or upcoming events). But a hyper-local group (say, just for the 15 houses on our “L” that ends in a cul-de-sac), lets you get to know people on a more intimate basis, extend BBQ invitations, and let your hair down in a way you might not in a larger, more impersonal group (John talked about sharing funny memes about neighborhood deer in his).
7. Have a kid or get a dog. Kidding. Kind of :) The truth is that even with all of these tips, we didn’t really make friends in our neighborhood until we had our daughter. Kids and dogs are just great connectors, and they will make your job of making friends a whole lot easier. But, you know, they require a few other things of you, so make sure you’re prepared before committing :)
I would LOVE to hear: have you found it difficult or easy to make friends in your neighborhood? If so, how did it happen? Is it a priority for you, or do you fill your friend need elsewhere? Tell me, tell me!
P.S. Cultivate What Matters is celebrating and teaching on friendship all this week. So much good stuff! Sign up for the series, and check out the Fruitful Friendship guide. I contributed to it, so you know it’s good :)