Living naturally, most of the time.

Happier at home … by staying at home?

The more I channeled Happier at Home author Gretchen Rubin this morning, straightening up and dealing with clutter, the more I started thinking about ditching the chance to see her speak tonight.

Talk about shooting the messenger.

She didn’t exactly say the words “don’t do anything that doesn’t make you feel joyful” in what I read of this book, and in fact she suggests tackling things that make you uncomfortable so that you will feel more comfortable. But I do think the spirit of her work, as far as I can tell as a newbie, conveys the idea that you do not have to do everything all the time, and that focusing on what is important is the most important thing of all.

Or so I’m going to tell myself.

So why not go tonight? I don’t wanna. I did, but the more I read her book, the more I struggled with envying what I call her “wellness privilege.” I’m sure it’s been plenty discussed that she benefits from white privilege and economic privilege, but what I cannot stop seeing as I read her book with the eyes in a body that requires lots of care, is how little she seems to need to care for her body.

There is almost nothing in the book about food. She talks about holiday breakfasts and about abstaining from candy (and oh! the freedom that brings when it’s not a health necessity!), and she mentions that her kids told her they’d like something besides cold cereal or peanut butter toast for breakfast. But that’s it, as far as I saw.

funny breakfast face

For me, home and food are inextricably connected. I cannot imagine undertaking any kind of happiness project without food at the center or at least as a key component. Not because I am a chef or anything, but because I don’t have a choice.

In my world, cooking and cleaning up from cooking take probably at least two hours on a normal day. Although I’ve made a lot of progress since I started the GAPS diet in 2010 and then since I resumed eating some carbs in 2013 when things shifted with my digestion, I still have a gut that needs me to make all my food from scratch. That is, if I want to enjoy optimal wellness and only pleasant experiences in the bathroom.

My kids are healthy but need to be gluten-free too and do best also dairy-free. They came from my body, which was decidedly not a perfect beginning, and I’m pretty committed to trying to see that they don’t suffer the same health woes I did from a childhood that contained lots of gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, processed foods, medicines, and early-than-I-oughta-have nefarious substances.

So they always have hot breakfasts and lunch from home while at school, and usually fully home-cooked meals. Their snacks do include GF  grains (including toast and crackers), dried fruit, packaged baby food pouches (at least they contain green vegetables!) and nuts.

My needs go beyond those minimum requirements.

  • I can never eat any gluten, ought not to eat much in the way of grains at all, and not unless they are soaked overnight in a neutralizer or cooked with broth
  • I can’t eat corn or soy or things with unnaturally occurring oils like canola. I’ve developed a sensitivity to coconut oil from overuse so I’m on a break from that, and I still have a little trouble with breaking down fats so am not currently using lard. Olive oil is up to bat at the current moment.
  • Any meat or veggies I eat are made at home fresh. If I have a sausage, even from a local farmer, that’s almost as much of a cheat as eating out, and I can expect some backlash
  • If I have to get up or if I get stressed while eating, I just don’t digest. This is half the reason my three-year-old is in full-day preschool: so I don’t have to share lunch with her or quickly eat before she would get home from half-day preschool. My body works best if I sit for at least 10 minutes after eating. Try that when you’re needed to help in the bathroom or your child actually eats all of her food and wants more (which you left in the kitchen so she wouldn’t grab it all and then leave the pawed on food sitting on her plate, or worse, lick it and not eat it).
  • I ought to have (homemade) bone broth with every meal and am still needing some supplements for optimal digestion. I drink apple cider vinegar and/or kombucha with most meals.
  • All meals ought to have a fermented veggie, usually sauerkraut, and lately I’ve been adding chia pudding/gel for omega-3s and fiber.
  • In order for things to run smoothly on the outgoing end (that is, to stoke my digestive fire), to at least do yoga and ideally exercise and get dressed before eating anything.

I have made some amount of peace with all these requirements (and more), but when I read about someone who seems to exist on air and water but manages tremendous professional success and personal satisfaction … well, I stop feeling like spending the evening with her.

Last night I went to bed past 10:00 p.m. – a no-no for both me and Rubin – and then this morning slept through my two alarms and so had woken at the very late hour of 7:00. I had to pee the entire time I was prepping their breakfast and finishing the kids’ lunches.

My husband left at 7:53 to take the kids to school, and I spent almost two hours straightening up, going through mail (which usually piles up), taking out the trash and recycling, and doing laundry. I emailed my daughter’s teaching about her missing nap blanket and gluten-free snack and my brother and husband about issues related to the home and furniture.

computer on desk

At 9:41, I got on the rebounder and bounced for 5 minutes, followed by about that much yoga. Then I warmed up dinner’s leftovers with my daughter’s uneaten egg, took a quick shower (splashing a few drops of Clarity essential oil into the water for support), got “dressed” (still in yoga pants but at least not my pajamas), plugged in my SAD light, and ate breakfast at 10:38 a.m. Of course by this time, I was so hungry I had to go back to warm up seconds. At least NPR was there with me throughout it all.

I then checked some email and some Facebook (in part to see if anyone had said they’d go with me to the reading tonight; they hadn’t) and decided I needed to clear my head by writing this post before I could do any real work.

It is now 11:46 a.m.. The kids will be home in just over 3 hours (and that is because I am sticking them on the bus instead of picking them up, which would suck an extra 50 minutes away). I have yet to do any of the things on my to-do list regarding emails to return or editing I promised to do Monday (and didn’t do Tuesday thanks to a two-hour delay) or plans to make for my new business or for health-related phone calls or for activities related to my kids. I am once again going to fail in my promise to get the oil changed or go to the AT&T store to turn off my phone plan and get a Go Phone card so my husband can finally transition to his work phone. Maybe tomorrow, if I start the day two hours earlier.

sunrise on snow

My home is a little neater for this morning’s efforts, and I do feel a little better about that. But the more small stuff I do, the larger the big stuff looms. I doubt my husband will notice or comment o the small, but I know he’ll continue to wish I would tackle the bursting files in our office and basement. (And I’ll continue to wish he’d take the kids away for two days so I could tear it up from top to bottom without interruption).

Who knows if the progress will even last until the time he gets home. Beads, stickers, paper cut into shapes. They multiply. And I still ought to vacuum the places I didn’t get to on Monday. The thought of trying to go out to make a 7:00 talk downtown is daunting. There’s a good chance my husband won’t even get home in time, and the one babysitter on our list right now is busy tonight (I asked).

Instead of going out to take the Metro and walk in the cold just to get more jealous of Gretchen Rubin’s life, I think I would rather finish watching Downton Abbey by 9:15 and then go to bed early so that I can get up early and have a stronger start to tomorrow.

I could still “leave” the house when my husband gets home and avoid the end of dinner, pajamas, and bedtime by going to work on clutter in the basement. Or actually leave and go to the library to hang up a Holistic Moms flyer for our awesome meal planning meeting next week and write on my laptop for 90 minutes. That sounds like it might feel more productive, and more fun. And less cold.

laptop on desk

Am I claiming my own personal joy or just wimping out?


9 Responses to “Happier at home … by staying at home?”

  1. Catherine says:

    Jessica – yes! Stay home! You’re right: some people have fewer time-consuming things they must do in order to stay healthy. I remember feeling inadequate after I listened to a mom speak at a conference, and what stuck with me was her recommendation that moms do calisthenics while folding laundry. Yikes! I was barely getting the laundry done at all….

    You seem to be doing a great job of figuring out your needs and meeting them, and doing the same with your family’s needs. Count me in among those who are happy to see you say “no” to this event!

  2. Hi Jessica,

    Fellow From Left 2 Write book clubber here. I’m a bit sad and confused reading your post. It sounds like you don’t want to go tonight because Gretchen does not relate to your food and dietary struggles. Am I right? I’m with you in that food is very important to me when it comes to home, maybe not in the same way as you because of the restrictions you have to take. However, I don’t think she has “privilege” in this area. For the most part, the majority of homes/families do not go through what you and your family go through when it comes to meal planning/preparation/awareness. I, personally, don’t think this is a reason to not want to meet an author. I would feel different if she talked down on people who had to prepare food and focused on meals, but she didn’t. She just didn’t really talk about food.

    If you weren’t going because it’s going to be freezing cold and you’re not a superfan, I would completely understand. But because (this is at least what I’m getting from the post) you’re not happy that she can’t relate to your battles in the kitchen, I don’t know, I think you should still go. At events like that, you have the opportunity to talk to the author, and I think it’d be great if you brought up your concerns with her as to why food was not an integral part of her being happier at home.

    So I ask, don’t see her as having “wellness privilege” because unfortunately, you and your family may be the exception (granted, a growing exception, but still), not the rule. And I would hate to be judged or even miss out on meeting you and learning more about how you navigate eating clean and natural, simply because my body may be able to digest things better than yours.

    I hope I made sense and didn’t come off preachy or judgmental.

  3. Nancy says:

    To answer your question, and to be honest, you sound like you are doing neither. We all have to deal with the cards we’re dealt and being jealous, to me, is a big waste of energy and soul-sucking. I could very well be jealous of all the people out there who have hearing but I’m not. I definitely envy some of the things that hearing people can do but to be jealous of someone for having a normal physical trait that I happen not to have? It serves nothing. That morning you had? It’s called parenthood. I have three kids and if I wake up 30 minutes later than usual, which happens often, my whole morning is a mad, chaotic rush. I feel you, I do. You don’t have to make excuses for not wanting to go hear an author you don’t like if it’s not a good use of your time. When I have several big tasks to do, like getting the oil changed and going to the phone store, I schedule them on different days and set out to accomplish one major task a day or every other day. As for those bursting files, Gretchen’s suggestion to spend 15 minutes a day on an overwhelming task, until it is done, is a pretty useful one! I hope tomorrow is a better day for you.

  4. Elaine says:

    Saw on facebook that you went anyway. Good on you for finding the energy! And then – you gave folks so many great tips on how to decompress and get through the resulting schedule disturbance. You’re one of many women in my life who don’t seem to realize how amazing they are. How about this? Next time you’re up at E’s school and see that amazing garden – whether it’s dormant in winter or bursting in the spring, remind yourself that you were a huge part of bringing a community together and brought a LOT of happiness to A LOT of people – and that happiness is long-lived and lasting.

  5. Jessica says:

    Thanks for sharing. For sure envy is not productive! Knowing that is part of the frustration when I can’t seem to pull myself out! Great to hear your perspective.

  6. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Briana! I’m sorry I totally missed this before the evening event. It’s pretty much about me feeling like she can make such a difference in her life without having to take seemingly ANY time on the thing I have no choice but to spend TONS of time on! So I grumble that some of her message is not applicable, and I wish it was! Wah wah wah is not a pretty sound, I know! I also wish I could go out at night and not feel the effects of it as though I tied one on! I don’t want to be getting so old so quickly! I just turned 40 and feel like I turned 62 instead!

    I didn’t much enjoy the talk as it didn’t reveal much beyond what I’d read in the book, and it would have been totally out of place to ask that question as everyone else was clearly such a grateful devotee. I could have tried to stand in line for signing and maybe asked then (assuming they were doing a signing) but her very first recommendation was to “get enough sleep” so I left when she still have two questions left to take from the audience. I tried to get to sleep early but journaled first and cried some, then woke at 3:30 and did some yoga and breath work and more journaling (which I rarely do) and got a little more sleep before the day started. If you’d asked me at 4 a.m., I’d have said I should have listened to my intuition and stayed home, but now I’m glad I went. These challenges are all part of the journey, all learning experiences.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post!

  7. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Cathy! I got swayed by the “just try it” voices and then sort of regretted it (see above in my reply to Briana) but am now glad to have gone. I am pretty sure I would have had trouble sleeping anyway and would probably have kicked myself for missing an opportunity to “get happiness” even if the talk itself didn’t turn out to be all that revealing since I’d read everything she discussed in her prepared remarks.

  8. Jessica says:

    Oh, Elaine. That is so kind of you to say. I’m really taken aback! Thank you! If only I hadn’t sacrificed some of my health to do that fundraising campaign for the wetlands learning lab!

    And I bet it also cost me a “friend.” Recently another mom at E’s school laid into me about an unrelated email I sent asking a group for info she thought I should have asked her for – somehow that warranted calling me manipulative and passive-aggressive for what I thought of as simple crowd-sourcing! Anyway, it gave her what she needed to call me manipulative and inappropriate and passive-aggressive. She went off on how no one cares about the things I do and how my emails are too long, and I just want to be at the center of things… I really don’t know what exactly she’s talking about but have to assume it had to do with my trying to get folks involved in the wetlands campaign two year ago and maybe other things I’ve done in the school (maybe asking for people’s opinions on the scariness of movie to be shown at school movie night she deemed rude to the organizers? Maybe not unlike my thumbs-downning marshmallows at the old school, I’m sure you recall!)

    In the midst of building beauty, I think I also supremely pissed off at least one person and probably more! But I also think she was an angel sent to test me, to remind me — as I’m about to embark on a new business project that will not be everyone’s cup of tea — that I have to believe in myself and cannot expect to please everyone. And I get the chance each day at the bus stop to be reminded of this important fact!

    Thank you again for your encouraging words, Elaine!

  9. Elaine says:

    I lovingly refer to that event as Marshmallowgate. And my firm memory is that you and I actually talked it through pretty honestly and openly – which is a pretty great characteristic of yours. Do we disagree? Yes. Can we still respect and understand each other? Absolutely!

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