My On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with Decluttering and Tidying Up

A black metal filing cabinet with papers on top and folders learning against each side
My filing cabinet, surrounded by papers that have yet to be filed.

Yesterday, I spent some time tidying up my living room.  I hadn’t planned to spend my morning that way, but I came downstairs and saw the ever-growing pile of papers on the table that serves as a catch-all, and I just couldn’t bear to look at it anymore.  This is usually how cleaning goes for me.  I have no set schedule for it, no weekly cleaning routine; it happens in bursts when I feel the urge.

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In Praise of Old-Fashioned Letter Writing

Embellished stationary, matching envelope, and a pen, perfect for writing a letter

In the wake of my father’s death, I received a number of cards from friends and family members expressing their condolences.  I truly appreciated these tangible expressions, which came in a slow stream over the course of several weeks.  I could read the cards and display them in my home to remind myself of the sentiments they shared, and I didn’t have to immediately come up with words to reassure the sender that I would be ok.  Unlike when I received a call or text message, I didn’t feel the need to say anything.

Receiving these cards led me to think about letter-writing, something I used to do fairly often.  When I was in college, before texting had reached its current level of ubiquity but well after emailing had taken hold as a common means of communication, I regularly exchanged letters with long-distance friends.  Reading and writing them took time, but that time was enjoyable.  Rather than dashing off quick texts in the middle of everyday activities, I would set aside half an hour or so to think about what my friend had written to me, respond thoughtfully, and share what was most important in my life at that moment.  I had no real expectations with respect to these letters.  Sometimes a friend would respond fairly quickly, and other times I would not hear back for weeks, or longer.  I didn’t take the delay personally.  I understood that my friends were busy people who were living their lives and would respond when they had the time to do so.  Receiving a letter in the mail was always a pleasant surprise that brightened my day; it was never something I expected.

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Ask Alexis: How Do I Raise My Kids to be Kind and Open-Minded?

Painting of a row of back patios, divided by fences
September Morning, 2008. Private collection.

Reader Rebecca sent me the following question:

“I have two boys and I live in a very conservative area. I love where I live (mostly), but I don’t like how a lot of people around here talk about people with different skin colors and religions, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and women. I don’t want my sons to ever talk like that. Do you have any advice for raising kind and open-minded boys in an area that isn’t always very kind and open-minded?”

Thanks for the question, Rebecca!  First, a couple of caveats.  I don’t have kids myself (yet), so I’m hesitant to give parenting advice.  In particular, I don’t know your kids, their personalities, or how they might respond in various situations, but I’ll do my best to share some general thoughts on this topic.

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Back to Basics

Trees in a forest

The last month and a half has been challenging for me.  I traveled to Greece for two weeks, which disrupted my usual routines, though I still managed to do some meditating and blogging while I was there.  Then my dad was hospitalized and died, and for a while it seemed nearly impossible to focus on anything else.  I still think about my dad constantly, and my mom and I are doing our best to figure out this new normal.  To top it off, I am pregnant with my first child, making me both excited and exhausted.  Simple tasks like eating and exercising have become much more difficult than they once were.

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End-of-Life Lessons From My Dad

Photo of the author as a toddler, dressed for church, with her dad crouched next to her, steadying her as she walks
Dad and me, circa 1987

When I was a kid, my dad was what today we might call my lead parent.  My mom was involved in my life too, but she often worked 60 hours a week and sometimes had to travel for work.  My dad’s work day ended at 3:00, and he had a little more flexibility in terms of taking time off, so he was the one who picked me up from day care, took me to my first day of kindergarten, and attended school events.  I spent a good bit of time with him when I was young, and he taught me many of life’s essential early lessons.

I sometimes took my dad for granted in my adolescent years, as teens often do.  He went through some hard times and battled some demons, and I didn’t always understand or appreciate him.  When I was in 11th grade, and again during my first year of college, he was hospitalized with serious health issues.  These brushes with death transformed my dad and my relationship with him, and I’m especially grateful for the person he became and the times we spent together over the past 15 years.

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How to Pack for a Two-Week Vacation with Only a Carry-On

A carry-on-size suitcase, tote bag, and water bottle - all you need for your vacation

In response to my last post, several people expressed surprise at my ability to pack for an international vacation with only a carry-on suitcase. As a follow-up, I thought I’d share some details about how I pack. Most of my longer trips have been in the summer, and some of these tips apply best to warm-weather travel, but others are useful year-round.

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The Unexpected Benefits of International Travel

Sun setting next to an Ancient Greek temple to Poseidon
Poseidon Temple, Sounio, Greece

I’ve been lucky to have had a number of opportunities to travel abroad, starting with a school trip to Europe when I was 15.  So far, I’ve traveled to locations in North, Central, and South America; Western Europe; and Australia.  There are many, many more places I hope to go.  Travel is expensive, but to me, the experiences are well worth making sacrifices in other areas.  The world is a big place, full of beauty and adventures waiting to be had.  In addition to the obvious, here are a few less expected benefits of traveling.

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Ask Alexis: How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem?

Charcoal portrait sketch of a young woman
Erika, 2004.

Caroline wrote to me with the following question:

I struggle with my self-confidence. Do you have any suggestions for building self-esteem? I love your confidence. Do you remember any lessons your parents taught you that helped your self-esteem/confidence?

Thanks for the question, Caroline!  First, let me say this:  You have just as much right to be on this planet as everyone else.  You are a unique, worthy person who has many gifts to give: gifts of perspective, kindness, creativity, and more.  We are all works in process, learning and growing as we move through life.  Though it may at times seem like others have everything figured out while you’re still struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, rest assured that everyone has moments of self-doubt.

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Summer Slow-Down: Learning to Relax

A beach with two people relaxing under a pair of palm trees

As my mom will tell you, I’ve never very been good at relaxing.  Since about sixth grade, I’ve been involved in all sorts of things.  As an adult, you will rarely find me sitting down when I’m at home.  I tend to spend my evenings and weekends working out, doing yard work, doing laundry or other chores around the house, attending a meeting or event, visiting friends, or working on some kind of project.  I pretty much never sit in front of a television, and my relaxation time is usually scheduled (e.g., yoga class, meditation group, occasional massage or mani/pedi).

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