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A tune-up for my headspace

I’ll start this post off by admitting that posting has seemingly slowed down a bit on my blog. The short answer is, I’ve been a grump. There is never enough time for all the things I want to do, and am told to do, and need to do. I’m sorting out the priorities, balancing the wants against the musts, and, to be truthful, sometimes being a brat about it. I do not like complainers. They drag me down and bum me out. But I’ve been full of complaints lately. Not so much on this online space, but plenty in person. As I climbed into my car to head home from work, I realized “I’m being one of those people I can’t stand.” And I can’t stand that any further. I’m determined to adjust my attitude.

My attitude is tied in with stress. Not long ago, I participated in a short seminar with Emily Bennington on the topic of mindfulness. (If you aren’t familiar with Bennington, check her out. She is brilliant.) She emphasized that when you are in a stressful situation, you should step back and separate the task at hand from the extraneous noise your mind is creating. She wisely taught, “The facts of the situation are the same, regardless of how stressed you are.”

Stress is pointless. Being stressed does not make you more efficient. If anything, stress clutters your mind, and leaves you more likely to make mistakes. Mindfulness involves letting go of that stress. Simply dropping it.

I get so wrapped up in the noise of all the things that are going on. I get frantic and stressed, and those emotions build on themselves. Settling in for my drive home from work, I realized that it’s not the facts I am facing that have soured my attitude. I’ve got plenty on my plate right now, especially with work. But I’ve had plenty on my plate before and I will have plenty on my plate in the future. At this stage in my career, this is a familiar to-do list. I know how to break the big tasks down into manageable pieces. I know how to prioritize the tasks. I know how to seek feedback. The facts aren’t the problem. It’s my attitude, and here is no good reason for me to have a bad one.

I got home from work, tossed together a quick dinner of soup and grilled cheese. I walked on the treadmill. I spent some time with my family. Instead of worrying about all the things I have to deal with tomorrow, I will accept that I accomplished some big things on my to-do list today and have a very brief breather. I will enjoy today, and leave tomorrow for tomorrow.

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Sometimes, even just for a brief little tiny moment, I feel like I’ve got it together.

It takes somewhere around 2 hours for me to get everything together and get out the door in the morning. This looks like an immense amount of time written down, but it makes sense, considering it involves: getting myself showered, dressed & makeup on, packing lunch for me & Mr. Beez, making breakfast for me & Baby Beez, sometimes throwing dinner in the crockpot, getting the birds fed and watered, getting Baby Beez dressed and wrangled and OMG KID STOP TAKING EVERYTHING APART AND WHINING AND SCREAMING. So yeah, a lot happens in those two hours.

For pretty much every weekday morning since Thanksgiving, those two hours have consisted of alternating whining, yowling and shrieking from Baby Beez. I throw in an exasperated plea to tell me WHAT on earth is so terrible, because I’ll probably fix it for you if you just tell me WHAT is so terrible, but that always goes unheeded. This morning set off pretty much the same way with the toddler drama.

Then I made it to work and in the course of the day I felt pretty proud of myself. I was focused, I was gettin’ stuff DONE. I even had to make a run out to pack up our birds and take them to be boarded for the next 10 days, or as I like to call it “Deliver them to Oh-How-I-Wish-It-Were-Summer Camp.” Tomorrow starts a construction project in the house that involves stuff getting smashed and drilled and sprayed, and the featherbeasts cannot be here for that. I expected that getting the birds into their respective carriers would be the Trauma of the Century for our little Ricky, but he ended up behaving very nicely, not biting me, and even sitting on my hand for a minute and pretending that he does not hate me.

I bite.

I bite.

Even with that detour this afternoon, I got back to the office and I was killin’ it. Mr. Beez had an evening obligation tonight, so it was just Baby Beez and me. When I picked her up from daycare, the teacher announced “She didn’t nap today.”

Great.

I was bracing myself for an evening to mirror our morning. In the car ride home, Baby Beez asked for Cinnamon Toast Crunch & Scrambled Eggs for dinner. Sure kid, that’s fine. I won’t be winning any child nutrition prizes tonight, but that’s a dinner I can handle making, especially if it will keep her happy. Since I’m the “fun parent” (i.e. the idiot responsible for encouraging all that whining), I even let her watch her current Disney favorite (Hercules) at the table while she ate.

And she ate everything. And didn’t whine. And after eating, she played a little bit. And then I said it was time for a bath. And she went upstairs. And took a bath. Without whining. And then I said it’s time to brush your teeth. And we brushed teeth. Without whining. And then it was time to get in bed, and we read a Llama Llama book. All without whining. And I gave her a kiss and she closed her eyes and snuggled under the blanket.

And I went downstairs and ran a couple miles on the treadmill. And it felt good. Then I stretched and drank some water. And now I am writing all this down. And for once in recent memory, I feel just the tiniest tiniest bit like I’m not treading water. Like I’ve made it a couple paddles forward, and I’m going to be OK.

Now I will go upstairs and read my book.

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Good Morning

Hello. It is Saturday Morning. Well, afternoon technically. It’s 12:05. So far I have survived Baby Beez’ ballet class, got a little coffee, and got a little work done. None of this has been easy. Baby Beez is in the “Fighting about Every Darn Thing” phase which involves a lot of screaming and flailing. Plus she’s aggressively cuddly, meaning that she throws elbows and knees in a crazed race to climb into and monopolize my lap. That makes it very hard for me to any work. I got so unbelievably frustrated and irritated that I was yelling too, and had to hide up in the bedroom to get my work done.

I hate being so angry in response to her WANTING to be close to me. I know that the time for her cuddles is limited. And I never want her to feel like I am pushing her aside to get work done. But sometimes I just need a darn hour to revise a Complaint, and she just needs to WAIT one darn hour (watch Tangled again for goodness sake!) and she’ll get all the cuddles she wants. I am thankful for Mr. Beez running interference today. I try to be patient. But try is not always the same as succeed. And when I don’t do as well as I would wish, I’m glad he is there to help out.

So the remainder of today involves holiday parties and writing briefs. I have two very big filings at the end of the year, which is unusual because December is usually a slow month for litigation. Truth be told, I would rather work hard and bank the hours now, and have a little more room to breathe in the warmer months. Winter is not my thing and I don’t mind spending the hours in the warm indoors takin’ care of business.

I’ve been looking forward to the release of the BlogHer Food agenda, ever since BlogHer announced that the conference will take place in Miami this year.  It was released earlier this week, and after much thinking and talking with Mr. Beez and thinking some more, I have decided I am not going to go this year.  This year’s conference has a much more commercial focus than last year. Most of the sessions are tailored towards brand/blogger relations, and people who want to turn their food blogging into a career, whether through a book or company or what have you.  It focuses a lot more on the cooking side of food blogging, and has nothing on the restaurant/food enthusiast side of blogging.  This is not a criticism in the least. The conference provides a totally valuable forum for a huge number of people. It’s just not the right emphasis or approach for my interests, so I decided that my time would be better spent just picking my own weekend to visit Miami at another time. I was considering buying my ticket earlier, but now I’m glad that I held off, because I think the event would not be the right fit for me. Big Summer Potluck is still TOTALLY in the cards, and now that I see that Big Traveling Potluck is only a bit of a drive from my Mom’s house, that too is a possibility….gotta choose FAST though, because tickets go on sale Monday!

During the last few weeks I have gone a little crazy with Amazon purchases (lots of sales!), so I’ve got the following books locked and loaded: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt). And the Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini), Burial Rites (Hannah Kent), Orange is the New Black (Piper Kerman), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card), Books 2-5 of the Song of Ice And Fire (aka Game of Thrones) (George R.R. Martin). I am also 2% into Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), but I can only hope to get that read by the end of my life, forget the end of this year.
What do yinz guys have on your nightstands?

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Ready for Fall

Ready for Fall

Don’t hate me for it you guys, but I’m totally ready for fall.  Sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, new boxes of pens.  I love everything about fall.  At the beginning of summer I had just come off back-to-back trials and nonstop other work and was exhausted.  I was ready to travel. I was ready for fun. I needed to get the heck out of dodge.  Then I spent pretty much eight weeks outta dodge.  It was incredibly fun and incredibly relaxing, and boy did I need fun and relaxing.

But now I’m ready to be back in the swing of normal life.  Normal weekends with normal things like doing laundry and getting some exercise in and catching up on the various “to-do’s” that have gathered up.  Quality time on the couch with my husband, watching silly sci-fi TV.

The combination of a blog post by Emily Levenson and the buzz of back-to-school in the air has invigorated me with newfound excitement for my work.  While I did a long run through beautiful North Park on Saturday, I thought about Emily’s question at the end of her post: What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?  My initial thought was running the marathons in 2005, but then that faded away beneath the bad thoughts about how everyone runs marathons and that’s not special and other such not-nice things that I really should not be bogging myself down with.

But then I thought more about my work.  I obviously knew it, but hadn’t thought about it so much in this context before– I’ve had a hand in briefing/presenting cases to the PA Superior Court, PA Supreme Court, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (yes 4th, not 3rd, but probably 3rd too in the relative future) and US Supreme Court.  I’m only going in to my 7th year.  This is both tremendous luck and tremendous hard work.  And I think that both the coolest thing that has ever happened to me is that I’ve had these opportunities, and that the coolest thing I’ve ever done is that I’ve worked hard enough and proven myself enough for senior people to trust me and have me involved in these amazing projects, and that I’ve had the hand in the interpretation of this country’s laws.  Those warm fuzzy thoughts powered me through the last 2 miles of my run.

I said I’m “only” going in to my 7th year, but it’s also “omg I’m going in to my 7th year.”  It’s business time, folks.  The forgiveness of a learning curve is long gone.  I’m at that point where (I hope) I’ve shown the people I work with that I know how to practice law, and know how to do so efficiently and knowledgeably.  Now it’s really up to me to show the rest of the world how well I can do these things.  And those memories encourage me that even when I’m uncertain or stressed or nervous, I do know how to practice law. The next few years are make it or break it time. I intend to make it.

I’m ready for fall. I’m ready for back-to-school. Now pass the pumpkin spice latte.

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So You Want to Take a Vacation?

So You Want to Take a Vacation?

Lawyerist posted some thoughts on vacationing tips for the solo practitioner.  The post was helpful, but even with client and court commitments, when you run your own shop, it’s a lot easier to get permission to put up the “Out of Office” for a few days.

As a lawyer taking a vacation takes skill and practice. You can’t just go.  There are court deadlines, partner expectations, assignments you’ve backburnered for way too long and someone’s bound to sneak up and demand why wasn’t that done two months ago already? I can only speak from the time demands of a litigator. I don’t know what the transactional folks face, but I do know that it sometimes involves surprise projects that go til the wee hours of the morning.  The newer you are to practice, the less control you have over your time. And when you don’t have control over your time, you can forget vacationing.

My vacation technique is the product of meticulous planning and soul-crushing anxiety. I remember the very earliest years in practice where I just wanted to sleep in the office overnight and not go home on the weekends, not because I wanted to work work work, but because all the new lawyer stresses were so cripplingly bad that my only relief from the 3am panic attacks over missed (imaginary) deadlines or this or that thing I screwed up was by physically being in the office.  I got serious practice in out of office planning when I was pregnant with Baby Beez in 2010, and if I wanted maternity leave I had to create it myself, which resulted in 2 weeks off and 4 weeks working from home. (Be ye not so stupid, if you ever even consider having children, get yourself a job in an office large enough to be covered by FMLA).

My techniques are in no way perfect, but they manage to get me a few days somewhat-off each year to spend with my family:

1.    Mark your vacation in your calendar MONTHS in advance.  You can pick the destination later, but carve that time out as early as possible. And be vocal about it when things are going to be scheduled during that period.  It’s easier to ask for an alternate date for something during the scheduling process than to ask for a date to be moved later on.

2.     Let your superiors know when you will not be available. This should be in a form similar to “I’m going to be out of town the week XYZ is due, but I will get it done before I leave.”  Sometimes it’s flat out not possible, but if in any way you can swing it, set your deadlines for BEFORE you leave.  This will mean that the week or two before vacay will SUCK, but it’s better to work your backside off and then take a break than to return to the office from a vacation and then go through a whole fire drill of scrambling to get things done.  Plus, you come across as more responsible (for good reason) if you get your work done before leaving.

3.     Have your secretary scan and email your mail to you every. single. day.  Read the mail she has scanned and emailed to you every. single. day.  If you are able to resolve the tasks you DO know about before you leave for vacation, all you’ll have to do during vacation is damage control for any surprises that come in. Surprises usually come in through the mail. Make sure that mail gets to you.

4.      Check your email at least once or twice a day. The inconvenience of an hour or so of emailing each day is far easier to bear than sorting through the overwhelming pile of communications if you let them build up when you’re gone. If I feel like I’m generally keeping up with things, I can resolve most of the anxiety of the possibility of returning to a total cluster in my office at vacation’s end.

5.      Get a back up.  This one’s not easy, but it’s such a stress relief if you can swing it.  This year has been my first year that I have actually had someone junior than me who I can ask to generally keep an eye on things for me (and look up a couple research issues that unexpectedly popped up). Sure, your secretary will keep an eye on things, but also having another associate available to keep an eye on things (and maybe even present motions, shuttle boxes, etc. that there’s no way you can reschedule) is so unbelievably helpful. And remember to repay that favor.

6.      Give up the bitterness.  In most previous years, in the days leading up to vacation, I got so frustrated with the mountain of work to resolve before leaving that taking vacation seemed to cause more stress than it resolved, and I very seriously considered just calling it off.  This year I tried a different attitude. I accepted that the last few days before vacation would be mad mad mad, but if I worked hard then, I could do less work during vacation.  And I accepted that I’ve picked a profession where a week entirely free of work doesn’t exist. I would have to do some work during vacation. It’s an inevitability. And the more anger I harbored over that, the less satisfied I would be by my vacation.  I breathed deep and accepted that vacation would involve some work. That’s how it is. And I felt a lot better over it.

What are your techniques for carving out some vacation time?