my weekly rhythms

The word rhythm, in reference to the daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual practices that provide a semblance of structure to our lives, is trending. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the concept; I am drawn to links or magazines that tell me how to improve my bedtime routine or make adjustments to my home to make it feel more like winter than fall. (By the way, it currently feels like summer outside where I am, proving that while the natural world does have rhythms of its own, these don’t always correspond to our schedules.) I think the word rhythm is a little cheesy when applied this way; it always makes me picture a Jamaican reggae guy playing one of those portable drums. (Is that weird? Don’t answer that.) But in spite of the over-trendiness, the cheesiness, and sometimes the total lack of correspondence to reality, I think this idea of rhythms (or habits, if you want to sound more practical or less Rasta) can be useful.

It is particularly useful for those of us who work jobs that do not have a set schedule—a group of people that has become larger this year, since a work-from-home schedule is by nature more flexible than an on-site schedule. (Read more about this in my post from two weeks ago.) I am thankful that, as an online faculty member, I can set my own hours. I want to be clear about that—I realize my flexible schedule is a rare privilege. I also realize that many online faculty members don’t have as much freedom as I do, whether that’s because of a second job or a heavier courseload or small children at home. But despite all that, I thought it would be helpful if I shared a bit about why and how I have developed some flexible weekly work rhythms.

First, why. I actually started learning the importance, for me, of having a semi-structured work schedule two years ago, when I went from working a mid-level administrative position—in which I was expected to be on campus more or less all day, spent a lot of that time in meetings, etc.—to a teaching-only faculty position, in which I was expected to be on campus only during classes, office hours, and meetings (which were rare in this context; my university did a good job protecting people from pointless meetings, at least in my experience). This flexible schedule, combined with the fact that I lived only a two-minute drive or ten-minute walk from campus, opened up an immense freedom to do what I liked with my waking hours, unlike anything I had experienced since my own college years. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of that precious time pacing around my house trying to figure out the best way to use it. Here’s an example: In my previous job, the daylight hours were mostly spent in a windowless office, so when I got home from work, I wanted to spend the remaining daytime out and about. So I had gotten into the habit of grading at night, and I had a hard time getting myself to sit down and grade when the sun was out. When I changed jobs, I was so determined to use my free time during the day for doing non-work things (even if some of those things were time-wasters) that I still ended up shoving all of my grading until the end of the day, dreading it all day, and staying up too late to get it done. Again, I want to stress the fact that everyone has different styles of working, and some people work best at night. I am not one of those people. But because I didn’t have a schedule, or at least an outline of a schedule, for using my daytime hours, I wasn’t getting things done during the time I tend to be most productive and get the most enjoyment out of my work.

I was still trying to figure all this out when I met my now-husband Jordan and made the goal of aligning my schedule with his (he works all day on weekdays except Friday, which is a half day) so that when we got married, we could spend our non-work hours together. And I was still in the process of making that shift when COVID-19 forced my spring classes online, thrusting me into the life of a fully-online professor several months before I expected it. Fortunately, I had received an excellent planner as a Christmas gift and was filling it out religiously every week. The planner and my motivation to align my schedule with Jordan’s helped me create a work week that resembles a typical 8 to 5 schedule, but departs from it in some key ways.

I won’t bore you with all the details of this schedule, but I do want to outline some of its main features in hopes that you might pick up an idea or two for establishing your own weekly rhythms.

  • When it comes to grading, I dedicate one day per week to each class. I reply to emails throughout the week, regardless of the class the student is in, but for grading, when I’m done with the class, I’m done for the day. (There’s an exception once every eight weeks, when I grade the big end-of-course projects. That week, I pace myself more carefully.)
  • I take Fridays off. (This works out perfectly right now, since I have four classes.) Again, I realize this is a privilege, and I’m thankful for it. But I don’t feel like it’s necessary to create busy work for myself just because this is a workday for most Americans. (However, during that big grading week, I sometimes have to work on Friday.)
  • I start and end work around the same time every day. I start a little later than Jordan, who begins his workday at 7 am; I use the first couple of hours of the day to do laundry or other tasks around the house. I take a lunch break with him from noon to 1 pm. And I finish when he’s finished, at 5 pm, if not earlier. If there’s something on my work to-do list that didn’t get done that day, I cross it off and move it to the next day.

I have other weekly work rhythms too, like posting my weekly announcements on Sunday afternoons, but I’m afraid this post is already pretty boring, so I’ll stop. Perhaps next week I’ll write about the non-work rhythms I try to incorporate into my life—the “restorative habits” I write into my planner each week. Meanwhile, do you have any regular scheduling habits or other work habits you’d like to share? Like I said, I eat this stuff up, so I’d love a new strategy to try! As always, thank you for reading my blog.

home: the new co-working space

Yesterday afternoon, I took a break from folding laundry and replying to students’ discussion board posts to make myself a cup of tea. I looked outside and saw a chickadee in our birdfeeder. Chickadees are harbingers of colder weather and new birds to look at, and besides, ever since a small stand of trees near our backyard was cut down a few months ago, we haven’t seen any birds at our feeder besides the occasional mourning dove that plants itself there for hours and doesn’t do anything but poop. (Sorry, mourning doves. At least you have a pretty voice!) So, the arrival of the chickadee was an exciting event, and I hollered to my husband, Jordan, who was working in his home office, to come out and look. As if they had been waiting for his arrival, a flurry of birds suddenly appeared, including more chickadees, some cute little brown guys (look, I never said I was a real birder), and even a couple of Eastern bluebirds—my favorite songbird but one that I rarely see. For about fifteen minutes, they flew around the backyard, alighting now and then on our feeder, the neighbors’ fence, and the scrubby bushes on our property line, even daring to get as close as our patio picnic table. Then, shortly after Jordan went back to his office, they were gone, and they haven’t been back (though I’ll be on the lookout around 2:30 this afternoon).

I shared this story because moments like this are among the blessings of working from home, especially with someone you love. This year, millions of people around the world started doing what fully-online professors (and those in an increasing number of job sectors) have been doing for years: working in the space where they also sleep, eat, do chores, and spend time with those they love. Working from home comes with its share of challenges (e.g., distractions, guilt over unfinished tasks, the difficulty of establishing a quitting time), and those challenges are compounded for those with children at home. I don’t want to minimize those challenges, but in this post I am focusing on the joys of working from home, as well as a few of the practical considerations.

Jordan, an engineer, started working from home in March, like many people did. He already had a home office with a pretty sweet computer set-up (powerful processor, big monitor, headset, etc.) because he’s an avid gamer. With a few adjustments (purchasing a second monitor, downloading the primary software he uses for work), he was able to set himself up to work basically the same way he did at the office, with one major difference: his co-workers aren’t here.

Sure, he can and does email, call, and ping them on Microsoft Teams. But if he wants to get up and stretch his legs and decompress after a stressful meeting, the only person in his physical space is me, and I’m not much use in a conversation about solenoids. (They’re little magnetic parts that open and close things. I’ve learned that much.) But then again, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe what Jordan needs in that moment is both a cup of tea from a real teakettle (which I know he can’t get at the office) and a conversation with someone who’s doing something totally different, like grading English papers.

I think we all know that siloing is a major problem with the way our culture treats work, especially in the higher education sector. We specialize in one thing, starting with our undergraduate majors and getting increasingly narrower as we move through the levels of education and professional development, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting really good at one thing (like making solenoids), I fear we are neglecting skills and character qualities that transfer from one situation, context, or career to another. Perhaps we are losing the ability to have meaningful intellectual conversations with those in other fields.

That just got really philosophical. But I went there because I’ve been thinking about the relatively recent phenomenon of co-working spaces. You’ve probably heard of them: they’re buildings (or floors) where anyone who needs a space to work—freelancers, private practitioners, telecommuters looking for a change of scene or some peace and quiet—can rent a room or cubicle alongside others who are doing the same thing. Though I’ve never worked in one of these spaces myself, I can imagine that one of the benefits—besides having someone to split a lunch order with—is that you get to have conversations with (and possibly eavesdrop on) people who are doing very different work than you are. Maybe you learn something from them, and maybe you even come up with ways you can partner with your cross-disciplinary co-workers. I wonder how many new businesses and community services have been hatched out of these almost accidental partnerships.

During this year’s pandemic, many couples, families, and roommates found themselves in a co-working situation with people they already knew and loved, but had never worked alongside. For Jordan and me, who just got married this year, this has been basically an unadulterated blessing. It has allowed us to spend almost all day, every day together during the formative early months of our marriage. It has allowed us to become familiar with each other’s work habits and given me a peek into Jordan’s relationships with his co-workers, who I know are very important to him. We have been taking an hour-long lunch break together, which gives us time to prepare and eat healthier meals. (And as a side benefit, we’ve gotten through all the seasons of Friends and most of Avatar: The Last Airbender during our lunches.) And sometimes, we get to share special moments like the bird-stravaganza of yesterday afternoon.

The only thing we’re still trying to figure out with regard to working from home is where my space will be. This was Jordan’s house before we got married, so I didn’t already have a workspace of my own as he did. I started out working on the dining room table, which had its benefits (good lighting, plenty of space, good view of birds), but I felt like I had to clean up my stuff at the end of every workday, and I wanted a more permanent area. So lately, I’ve been working in the bedroom. Next to one of the windows, I’ve set up a small, brown and green vintage metal table that I bought at an antique shop a few years ago. My laptop sits there all the time, along with my planner and a few other items. A chair doesn’t quite fit underneath the table, so when it’s time to work, I pull over a vintage wooden chair reupholstered in a bird print (another antiquing find) that usually sits in another part of the room. So far, this setup is working pretty well, but I’d also like to try setting up a little work corner in our living room. Jordan and I have talked about sharing the home office, but we don’t think this would work very well for meetings, and I’m happy to let that be his space since my work is more mobile than his.

I’m still figuring out my space, but trying out different spots is more fun than inconvenience. I’m thankful that I get to work from home, and even more thankful that I get to do it alongside my favorite co-worker.

What does your workspace look like? Who are your co-workers, in both senses of the word? What are some of the challenges and benefits of your work setup? I’d love to hear from you!

marriage observations from a non-expert

Remember a couple years back when I kept talking about re-branding this blog into a Hufflepuff leadership blog? (If you think this idea sounds strange–I agree–and want to know more, check out this post and others throughout spring 2018.) This never happened because I ended up leaving my job for a regular classroom faculty post, and thus organizational leadership no longer formed a major part of my reading and thinking. I bring this up because I’ve noticed that for the past few months, I’ve been posting fairly regularly about marriage, and I imagine this will only become more frequent now that I’m actually married. Even though I do not plan to leave my marriage like I left my job, I probably will not re-brand Penelope Clearwater into a marriage blog–Hogwarts-themed or otherwise. One, there are too many marriage opinions out there, and two, I like the freedom to be able to write about whatever the heck I want to. (I am currently mulling a post about Ross Geller, Jimmy Stewart, and the enneagram.) Just know that I will probably be posting about marriage fairly often, at least for a little while.

And sometimes my marriage posts will be fairly sappy. Today, I basically just want to tell you how great my husband is. See, I’m having one of those days that might be funny on a sitcom but in real life is mostly sad. The day began with a large portion of the built-in shelving in our closet breaking and crashing to the floor because it was overloaded with my clothing. Then, this afternoon, while trying to start the process of getting my last name changed on my Social Security card, I fell for a scam that, though relatively benign, cost me $40 for basically nothing. (Ironically, I was just “teaching” my online students this morning about how to evaluate a website for credibility.) It’s one of those days when I feel like quoting Charlie Brown after he puts an ornament on his sad little Christmas tree and it droops to the ground: “Oh, everything I touch gets ruined!” It also doesn’t help that I’m reading a novel about a man who gets Alzheimer’s disease at a fairly early age; I keep thinking I notice his symptoms in myself. I have cried at least twice today, and I have tried to shoddily cover up my embarrassment (about how much clothing I own and how I could be so stupid as to fall for an obvious internet scam) by alternately over-apologizing and blaming my husband for making me feel bad about myself. It’s been ugly.

Here’s what my husband did, though. He hugged me. He calmly helped me pick the clothes up off the floor. He told me a story about how he recently almost fell for an internet scam. He kept walking back into the room where I was working to tell me that I wasn’t stupid and that he loved me. He did this so often that it kind of got annoying, actually–I mean, I was trying to reply to emails! But if given the choice, I’ll always pick being annoyed by too much love over wondering whether my husband is mad at me and thinks I’m dumb. Always.

gaming with a gamer

As many of you know, I got married a few weeks ago! My husband, Jordan, and I decided to postpone our Hilton Head honeymoon until later in the year, but we still found ways to make the week after our wedding special, despite the fact that I had a lot of grading to do: we had a movie night, took lots of walks, and even went on a DATE (i.e. we picked up coffee and drank it in the car while waiting curbside for tacos, which we brought home and ate).

As you know if you read my interview with Jordan, he is a massive board game geek and owns more games than anyone I’ve ever met, which is not a judgment but merely an observation. (I have no room to judge; my books take up way more space than his games.) He/we had received several new games over the past few months that, for understandable reasons, we had not had time to play, so one of the special things we did during our honeymoon week was a game night…which turned into a game week-and-a-half. That’s because the game we decided to play that night–Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, a Cooperative Deck-Building Game–is actually seven games, one for each year at Hogwarts, and while we breezed through the first several, it took us multiple tries to beat the higher levels.

This was my first experience playing a cooperative game and only my second playing a deck-building game. I should add that, while I’ve enjoyed board games ever since I was a small child who made my parents read the Candyland backstory to me every time we played, I tend toward games that play to my strengths (vocabulary, trivia, yelling) and not my weaknesses (strategy, backstabbing, learning complex rules). My idea of a complicated game, until I met Jordan, would have been something like The Game of Life (though my favorite part of that one has always been naming my little peg children) or Monopoly, a game that Jordan finds so embarrassing that he hides it in his closet instead of displaying it on his nerd game shelves. I say all that to say that I’m probably going to show my ignorance of games in this post, and I’m okay with that.

So if you’re like me or even less of a gamer, let me explain what a cooperative deck-building game is. Deck-building means that you start out with a few dinky cards (in this game, you start with mostly Alohomora! spells worth one coin each) and gradually use these to acquire increasingly powerful cards that eventually help you win the game. Cooperative means that instead of trying to beat each other, Jordan and I worked together to beat increasingly powerful villains, from Crabbe and Goyle (mildly annoying) to Fenrir Greyback (will bleed you dry in several different senses) to, ultimately, Lord Voldemort (when you beat him, you’ve won the game). This sounds like a good way to start off a marriage, right? I thought so too.

And I was right. 🙂 (You thought I was going to say that I was wrong, didn’t you?) The week and a half during which we played this game almost every night taught me a number of things about myself, my new husband, and how we work together. We were very predictable and played as Ron (Jordan) and Hermione (me), but in this case, Jordan was actually the highly logical one who was able to look at a complex situation and immediately understand it. I was the one who yelled, “Bloody hell!” a few times. I generally think of myself as a pretty smart, quick-thinking person, but games are Jordan’s domain, and my quick wit looks pretty slow next to his in a gaming situation. And in a cooperative gaming situation, that works to my advantage!

We had to be a team. I had to swallow my pride and let him explain things or gently correct me sometimes. He probably had to swallow his impatience when my turn took forever or his amusement (or fear?) when I got mad and threatened to throw the cards. (I never actually did.) And in the end, all of this deference and kindness helped us to defeat the forces of evil and save the wizarding world (not to be too dramatic or anything).

I highly recommend this game to anyone who loves Harry Potter or games, but especially to anyone about to get married. Go, put it on your registry now! You’ll thank me.

what marriage is all about

You might have looked at my title, knowing that I’m not even married yet, and written me off as a person with a (very small) platform who’s presuming to lecture on things she knows nothing about. Before you tense up, let me put you at ease. All I’m offering today is a quote. I think it’s about all I have the creativity for today, after grocery shopping, emailing distraught students, and calling hotels to hold blocks of rooms for our wedding, a task that had me disproportionately stressed out for some reason. (And I didn’t even teach today, at least not in the formal classroom sense.) Plus, coming up with a blog topic every week is hard work, you guys. Normally, around this time of year, I have something to say about the Oscar nominations, but I haven’t even looked at those closely enough to say anything intelligent about them. Maybe next week.

So, for today, a quote. This is actually a secondary citation, which I typically discourage my college students from using. You’re supposed to go to the original source; it’s a (relatively minor) infraction of academic etiquette to cite the book where you found the quote instead of the book where it originally appears. But this isn’t a dissertation; it’s a blog, so there. Anyway, in my premarital counseling homework reading, I came across this lovely and fairly lengthy quote. I found it in Greg and Erin Smalley’s introductory chapter of Ready to Wed, but they’re quoting Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. (Note to put that one on our to-be-read list.)

When looking for a marriage partner, each much be able to look inside the other and see what God is doing, and be excited about being part of the process of liberating the emerging “new you.” … This is by no means a naive, romanticized approach–rather it is brutally realistic. In this view of marriage, each person says to the other, “I see all your flaws, imperfections, weaknesses, dependencies. But underneath them all I see growing the person God wants you to be.” … The goal is to see something absolutely ravishing that God is making of the beloved. You see even now flashes of glory. You want to help your spouse become the person God wants him or her to be. … What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness.

This is true. I don’t know much about marriage yet. (I wish I could trade my nearly-useless knowledge of citation etiquette for something useful like marriage wisdom.) But I already know the Kellers’ description to be true. This is why, already, Jordan can point out (he always does it gently and rarely does it at all) an area for improvement in my life without me getting angry or hurt like I would if a stranger, or even perhaps a friend, said the same thing. And why I can do the same for him. This is why we can feel, and act, confident in one another’s presence–because we know that we have already accepted one another.

It is a faint glimpse of the acceptance we find in Christ. Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of the woman at the well in John 4. When she went back to her town to tell people she had met Jesus, she said, “Come, see a man who told me everything I had ever done.” She said this excitedly, like it was a selling point. Because for her, that may have been the best part of her conversation with Jesus: the fact that he knew everything about her–her sin, her social isolation, her confusion about spiritual matters–and still accepted her. He sat and talked with her, took her questions seriously, and after the initial mention, never brought up her sin again. Full knowledge, full acceptance.

Well, that is not the direction I thought this post might take when I started it. I’m actually sitting here crying right now. I hope this will encourage someone else, but if not, it did me. Thank you for reading this quote and my thoughts on it today.