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Photo by Tammy Strobel

Today, I have a photo round-up to share with you! If you’re reading this via email or in a feed reader, visit RowdyKittens.com to view my photo gallery.

In other news:

1. To celebrate the holiday season, below are three images for you to download! Feel free to use the snapshots on your desktop, blog, refrigerator, or share them on social media.

Holiday 1.

Holiday 2.

Holiday 3.

2. New World Library—my publisher—is offering a special 50% holiday discount (plus free shipping on orders of $20 or more) on every book they publish, including mine! Enter the code “FRIENDS” at checkout on newworldlibrary.com by December 20, 2017.

Enjoy the photos!

Friends,

Christmas is approaching quickly, and a few readers asked me for ideas to keep the holidays simple. In 2015, I shared a link roundup on this topic. Read the piece here! I hope it helps you get through the holidays with less stress and more gratitude and love!

Also, my publisher, New World Library is offering a special 50% holiday discount (plus free shipping on orders of $20 or more) on every book they publish, including mine! Enter the code “FRIENDS” at checkout on newworldlibrary.com by December 20, 2017.

New World Library Book Sale

Make it a great week!

With gratitude,
Tammy

photo by tammy strobel

In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work he encouraged readers to take a break from social media for thirty days. Newport wrote, “By dropping off these services without notice, you can test the reality of your status as a content producer. For most people and most services, the news might be sobering—no one outside your closest friends and family will likely even notice you’ve signed off.”

I don’t think Newport’s opinions are “curmudgeonly.” Instead, he brings up important topics to consider; partially when I reflect on my increasingly fragmented attention span. Reading Newport’s book again motivated me to reexamine my social media habits. According to Moment—an app that tracks how much you use your iPhone each day—I was spending 2-3 hours a week on Instagram. I find value in services like Instagram, but spending 2-3 hours a week on one app is excessive. Instagram is fun, and a giant personal distraction.

Last year, I conquered my Twitter and Facebook scrolling habits. Now, I’ve turned my attention to Instagram because I’m tired of using the app as a tool to procrastinate. On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, I deleted the Instagram app from my iPhone and decided to take an extended break from social media.

I’m not the only person who struggles with the compulsive need to “check” various social media accounts. In Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia Paul Lewis writes:

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called ‘continuous partial attention’, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off.

Lewis’s article, academic studies, books, and my recent birthday led to questions about how I use social media. For example, spending 2-3 hours a week on Instagram isn’t on my list of 40 things to do before I turn 40. I love growing older, and the older I grow, I’m more aware of how I spend my time.

In Technology, peace, and sanity, Alexandra Franzen wrote:

A few years ago, I sat down and did some math.

I tallied up how many minutes I was spending on Twitter each day.

Then I multiplied that number by 75 years, because I’m hoping I’ll live that long.

Here’s what I discovered: if I continued using Twitter in the same way, by the end of my life, I would spend 1.8 million minutes of my life on Twitter. That’s 1,250 days. Or, about 3.4 years.

I kept staring at that number — 3.4 years — and I felt sick to my stomach. It didn’t seem possible. But math doesn’t lie. This was the future I was building through my daily choices.

Franzen’s words caused me to sit down and do some math. I came up with similar numbers. I could have written the same paragraph; just substitute Twitter for Instagram in the sentences. When I think about how I can use an extra 2-3 hours a week, a lot of things come to mind (like going to additional CrossFit classes, reading, learning French, napping, going on adventures with Logan, etc.).

Also, it’s worth considering the work of Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Pang is a tech forecaster, a scholar at Stanford, and author. In Bored and Brilliant Manoush Zomorodi, profiled Pang’s work and research. Zomorodi wrote:

On the Zen tech front, Pang discovered a community of Buddhist monks and nuns who are ‘avid social media users.’ They blog, tweet, update their status, and hold online meditation sessions. The mind-set of these modern monks blew him away because they don’t see a division between virtual and physical reality. For them, all realities are the same … Distraction doesn’t come from devices or people or things, they positioned. It is an internal problem.

If my tendency toward distraction and procrastination is an internal issue, then the solution lies within me, too. Pang’s approach to “contemplative computing” inspired me to take a break from social media. Until 2018, I won’t be on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. I haven’t taken an extended break from social media since I wrote my first print book (and that was in 2010)! I’m curious to see how the break will impact me. I won’t be totally offline because I’ll be blogging regularly and sharing updates with patrons.

And last but not least, I’m still taking a daily photo of My Morning View, but I’m not sharing the photo on social media. I’m also pondering whether or not I want to continue my photography project. The five year anniversary of the project is on January 1, 2018, and five years feels like a nice number to end on.

***

Complement this essay with the following books & articles:

{This month: Technology, small steps, documenting your life, and more.}

Photo by Tammy Strobel

Hi all,

A few days ago, I finished writing my December Creative Tool Box. It’s about creative rhythms and Paris! I can’t wait to send it out on December 1st! If you enjoy my writing and photography, consider supporting my work.

With that, below are ten happy links that inspired me this month. Have a good day!

1. ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia by Paul Lewis made me reconsider how I engage in social media (yet again).

2. So good: Technology, peace, and sanity.

3. The smallest thing—a great piece on the power of small steps.

4. Excellent advice via Melissa Hartwig on setting boundaries: “I share what is personal, not what is intimate. This distinction has helped me connect honestly and authentically with you, while keeping my private life private.”

5. One second every day—an interesting TED Talk on capturing tiny beautiful moments.

6. Perfection is the enemy—thanks to this essay I started an Excel document where I track my daily word count.

7. When Your Shitty Health Insurance Doubles in Price—a fantastic essay on health insurance.

8. “Do the good that’s in front of you.” –Sharon Salzberg

9. Books I enjoyed reading this month: Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin and A Writer’s Paris by Eric Maisel.

10. Girls Inc. launched a beautiful new website! Check it out and consider donating.

With gratitude,
Tammy

Photo by Tammy Strobel

To celebrate my 39th birthday, I made a list of 40 things I want to do before I turn 40 years old on November 6, 2018. I want to end my thirties with a bang, and continue to learn, grow, and experiment along the way!

You can read my list below (it’s in no particular order). Also, I’ll blog about my adventures this year, so stay tuned for essays and photographs!

1. More adventures with Logan (local and abroad)

2. Learn French (continue weekly lessons)

3. Attend the Creative Writing Workshop at The Paris Writing Academy in July 2018. Friends, this is happening! I was accepted, and I paid my tuition!

4. Connect, grow and learn about writing at the Academy

5. When in Paris, walk, walk and walk.

6. Try all the things in Paris (see the sights, eat bread, cheese, chocolate, drink coffee & more)

7. Hang out with Katie in Paris & the Alps

8. A sunset picnic in Paris (find a bench with a view)

9. Travel on a high-speed train

10. Participate in the Reindeer Games (Did it! F*ck yeah!)

11. Stop tracking unnecessary data

12. Go to CrossFit 4-5 days a week (continue to build strength, learn about the movements, and have fun)

13. Get a damn pull-up

14. More push-ups in a row

15. String double-unders together

16. More toes-to-bar in a row

17. Sell the tiny house

18. Go through personal belongings

19. Make time for friends who live locally (more coffee dates, dinners, hikes, etc.)

20. Visit Dee

21. Vist Priti

22. Visit Majean

23. Visit Shanna

24. Visit Courtney

25. Visit Cait

26. Visit Aubs

27. Visit friends who I forgot to include on my list

28. Do something special for my mom

29. Take photos with my Nikon D5000

30. What’s next for my daily photography series?

31. Learn about intuitive eating

32. Buy a small bookshelf

33. Take frequent social media sabbaticals

34. Consolidate online communication channels

35. Be a better friend (write weekly letters, send care-packages, listen more & talk less)

36. Get a professional headshot for my website

37. Create a new photography & writing course

38. Write for Flow Magazine

39. Grow my base of patrons

40. Stay in my lane (e.g., stop worrying about things that are outside my sphere of control)

With gratitude,
Tammy

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.”
–Marcus Aurelius

Important Note: The following essay is based on my story and is not medical advice. If you deal with chronic back pain, please see a medical professional. If you’ve got questions, please ask in the comments section. Onward.

Photo by Tammy Strobel

I am continually amazed at how fast life can change without warning. When I injured my back in January 2016, I was surprised because I’d been feeling strong and healthy. I was also frightened because the pain was intense. I had a hard time walking around the house, showering, sleeping, and it was difficult to concentrate on work. I was concerned because this flare-up was prolonged and more intense than past episodes.

Since my flare-up lasted longer than normal, I made an appointment with my doctor. After a few exams and x-rays, she diagnosed me with mild arthritis in my lower back and degenerative disc disease.

I remember thinking: If this is mild, I don’t want to know what severe feels like!

After the diagnosis, I was angry, worried, and I felt betrayed by my body. I also felt grateful for a diagnosis because I’d dealt with chronic back pain for decades; having a diagnosis made me feel less crazy.

Furthermore, I was happy to have a comfortable place to convalesce. A few months before my injury, we moved out of our tiny house and into a small apartment. Our apartment has a bathtub, a washer and dryer, and I don’t have to climb a ladder to get into my bed. Our tiny house is cozy, but it’s not comfortable being sick or injured in the little house because it lacks lovely amenities (like a bathtub).

Micro-actions …

After spending way too much time Googling potential healing modalities for my back, I decided to break up with Google. Instead, I started listening to my body and to the professionals that were trying to help me. I also began taking micro-actions. That’s a fancy way of saying, I took small steps toward a large goal—decreasing pain and managing my back issues over the long-run.

First, I took my doctor’s advice seriously. She referred me to a local physical therapist, and I followed up and made my first appointment (of many). He was so helpful and knowledgeable! I listened to his advice and did my prescribed back exercises consistently.

I knew that I had to keep moving—and that the flare-up would subside eventually. In the meantime, I tried to stay active. I moved like a turtle, but at least I was moving.

Other micro-actions I took included:

  • Experimenting with my diet.
  • Joining a swim team in Ashland, Oregon.
  • Working less (which meant making less money) so that I could focus on my health. Without my partner’s support, this choice wouldn’t have been possible.
  • Buying a standing desk for work.
  • Relying on friends and family for support and encouragement.

Interestingly, most of the steps followed a logical progression, and they didn’t happen all at once. Each micro-action took time, planning, and effort.

Continuing to build strength …

Two people introduced me to CrossFit—my cousin Aubrey and my friend Heather (who is an amazing athlete and a coach at CrossFit Northern Limits). Aubrey and Heather shared their CrossFit experiences online, which peaked my interest in the sport. Also, both ladies encouraged me to get my butt into the local gym.

If it weren’t for Heather and Aubrey, I wouldn’t have tried CrossFit because I wrongly assumed I’d hurt myself doing the sport. Thankfully, Aubrey offered me a balanced perspective of CrossFit.

She said, “As long as you find a good coach, and there are plenty, you’ll excel at the sport and learn a lot about yourself. Besides, every movement in CrossFit is scalable.”

As a side note, I’m drawn to stories of older athletes because I strive to emulate them as I age (think: movement, mobility, grit, and the desire to keep learning). People like Liz (72), George (94), and Betty and Ann (75 & 92) are hugely inspiring to me!

One year later …

On September 16, 2017, I celebrated my one-year anniversary at CrossFit Northern Limits. Going to the gym every day isn’t sexy, and sometimes it feels like a slog. Some workouts are better than others, and working hard at the gym is hard work. There’s no getting around that fact.

I consistently attend class because:

  • I aim to build physical and mental strength as I age.
  • The learning opportunities are endless; especially when it comes to CrossFit movements, mobility, nutrition, etc.
  • Small victories—like doing seven toes to bar in a row—motivates me to continue doing the work.
  • Being surrounded by supportive coaches and fellow CrossFitters is inspiring and fun!

Building strength takes time, and it doesn’t happen overnight. For example, my first back squat was with a 5 pound plastic pipe. Nine months later my one rep max was 140 pounds! This slow and steady progress reminds me of my experience with downsizing. Whether I’m simplifying my life or trying to build physical strength, taking tiny actionable steps over the long run is a winning strategy.

I know my health status could change in an instant—it’s happened previously—and I don’t take my strength or mobility for granted. I also know that taking care of my body and mind is essential to cultivating joy in my daily life. Regular exercise is one way I do that.

Interestingly, studies have shown that exercise can lower your risk of dementia, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, and more. BUT risk reduction isn’t a guarantee that I’ll avoid cancer, dementia, a stroke, or debilitating back pain. Physical fitness is essential to living my best life, but it isn’t a cure-all.

And last but not least, I turned 39-years-old on Monday, November 6, 2017. I love growing older, and I’m grateful for each day on planet Earth. Also, I feel stronger at 39 than I did at 29. I attribute my emotional and physical strength to simplifying my life, my gratitude practice, and to prioritizing my health. The last decade has been good to me, and I’m looking forward to ending it with a bang! I’m coming for you 40!

Resources:

Rather than linking to articles and books in my essay, I made a list of resources for you to explore. Enjoy!

Articles

Blogs

Books

Organizations

a simple year

PS: Early registration for A Simple Year 2018 closes on November 14th! For the last four years, I’ve contributed to the course, and I’m thrilled to be teaching the digital simplicity module again! Currently, the cost of the course is $199 (less than $17/month) and will go up to $249 in January.

If you want to learn more about the program, check out this Q & A Webinar recording: audio or video.

Photo by Tammy Strobel

Today, I have a photo round-up to share with you! If you’re reading this via email or in a feed reader, click here to view my photo gallery. In other news, I started taking photos with my Nikon D5000 again! In my photo roundup, you’ll find a mixture of iPhone and Nikon snapshots that feature my favorite tiny pleasures (cats, coffee, flowers, fall colors, and more).

Also, early registration for A Simple Year 2018 closes on November 14th! For the last four years, I’ve contributed to the course, and I’m thrilled to be teaching the digital simplicity module again! Currently, the cost of the course is $199 (less than $17/month) and will go up to $249 in January.

If you want to learn more about the program, check out this Q & A Webinar recording: audio or video.

Enjoy the photos!

Photo by Tammy Strobel

Last weekend, I flew to Arlington, Texas to give a talk at The Tiny House & Simple Living Jamboree. During October, I devoted a large chunk of my time to organizing and practicing my talk—Life in 128 Square Feet & Beyond. The advice Chris Anderson gave in his book—TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking—made my presentation better, and more concise. If you’re preparing for a speaking event, I highly recommend reading Chris’s book.

Overall, the presentation went okay. I felt like I talked too fast and skipped over some important points. Without a video of my presentation, it’s hard to for me to evaluate how the talk flowed. I tend to be hard on myself, so I’m choosing to believe the positive feedback I received from attendees and my friends. For example, my buddy Dee said my talk was the best I’ve given, and that I made her laugh and cry. Her kind words mean a lot to me because public speaking—especially speaking in front of large groups—freaks me out.

I’m glad I said yes to the speaking opportunity because it was a fun weekend. Some of my favorite moments from the weekend included:

1. I reconnected with my friend Dee Williams. Dee inspired our tiny house adventures, designed our tiny house, and I’m honored to call her a friend. Also, her book—The Big Tiny—is touching and beautiful!

2. I spent time with my girlfriends Cait Flanders and Courtney Carver. Courtney and I were speakers at the Jamboree, and Cait was in Dallas for a conference. The timing was serendipitous! I can’t believe we were all in Texas at the same time!

3. My CrossFit coach gave me extra workouts, so I got up early and did them. I was tempted to hit snooze and sleep for a few more hours, but I’m glad I got out of bed and made time to sweat. The workouts eased massive pre-presentation anxiety.

4. A few hours before my talk, I got stuck in an elevator at the Arlington Sheraton and had a panic attack. It might seem weird that this is a conference highlight, but I’m scared of elevators. I’ve been trying to overcome this fear by taking more elevator rides. When I was stuck in the elevator, I thought I was going to pass out or get sick. Thankfully, neither of those things occurred. As my vision blurred, I had enough sense to sit on the floor in the elevator and take deep breaths. Once I calmed down, I hit the emergency call button. A staffer rescued me 10 minutes later. I took the stairs for the rest of the weekend and made it to my talk on time!

5. I loved seeing Courtney speak about Project 333 at the Jamboree. She rocked it!

6. Yuichi Takeuchi and Ben Matsunaga screened their documentary Simplife at the Jamboree and it was beautiful. Their film is about people living simply in tiny homes.

7. Texans are so friendly! Everyone I encountered was kind and helpful. I didn’t have time to explore Arlington, Dallas, or the surrounding area because I landed in Dallas on Friday afternoon and left on Sunday evening. Spending time at the conference was my main priority. Next time Texas! I’m coming for you!

There you have it! If you’ve got additional questions about the Jamboree, leave a comment below.

Photo by Tammy Strobel

News …

  • A Simple Year 2018 is available for early registration. Join by November 14, 2017, and save $50 off the regular registration rate. Learn more and join here.
  • If you have questions about A Simple Year, Courtney Carver is hosting a free webinar and program overview on Thursday, November 2, 2017. Sign up here.
  • My blog will always be available for free. However, if you like my essays, photos, and curated happy links, please support my work on Patreon.

Links & resources to explore . . .

  • Simplife—a film about people living simply in handcrafted houses

{This month: What Happened, The Year of Less, Vagabonding, Paris, and more.}

Photo by Tammy Strobel; Taken in The Netherlands

Hi all,

Below are ten happy links that inspired me this month. I hope you enjoy them, too!

1. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book—What Happenedis worth reading. Surprisingly, Clinton’s book was the perfect follow up to Brené Brown’s book—Braving the Wilderness. For example, both authors address topics like avoiding dehumanizing rhetoric in politics, civility, and empathy (both online and in day to day life).

For example, in reference to trolls, bots, and fake news, Clinton said:

“. . . It’s up to each one of us to say informed and make good decisions with rigorous and real deliberation. This is especially important when it comes to voting. Choose wisely and don’t fall for scams. The same way you try to be careful about where you put your money or the car you buy, be careful and informed with your vote. And we all have the ability to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who don’t agree with us politically. We can keep an open mind an be willing to change our minds from time to time. Even if our outreach is rebuffed, it’s worth it to keep trying. We’re all going to share our American future together—better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”

Cheers to that sentiment!

2. My friend and blogging buddy Cait Flanders is an awesome writer! At the beginning of October, I read a galley copy of her new book—The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store.

Cait’s book is beautiful, vulnerable, and it inspired me to be a braver in my writing and life. You can pre-order Cait’s book on Amazon or ask your local library to stock it on the shelves.

3. I read Vagabonding by Rolf Potts in 2010, and I’m reading it again. If you’re interested in living simply and traveling, I highly recommend this book.

4. A Paris All Your Own—edited by Eleanor Brown—is a delightful collection of essays.

5. Are you using social media or being used by it?

6. Honest essays about Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Where’s the Pretty Ribbon for “Shit Happens”?Skipping Over the Hard Parts | Pinkwashing.

7. Tragic and beautiful: I Have a Message for You.

8. Thanks to a new tourism video, you can see why Siskiyou County is so gorgeous!

9. Funny: That Time #Ramona Made Everyone Smile For A Few Minutes.

10. The INSPIRIT Collection by Amanda Sandlin is beautiful. Amanda describes the collection as “a product of remembering all I am capable of, finding courage again, and feeling alive. My deepest hope is that these works can bring all of this uplifting energy into your home and remind that you, too, deserve to feel inspirited, alive, and free.” Check it out.

With gratitude,
Tammy

PSA Simple Year begins on January 2nd. Join my colleague Courtney Carver on November 2, 2017 for a Q & A webinar and program overview. Details here.

Photo by Tammy Strobel

On January 1, 2018, I’ll start the 6th year of my daily photography project—My Morning View. I’ve been taking a snapshot of my morning view for the past five years, and I have a book by the same name.

If you haven’t followed my photography series, below is the backstory behind the project:

After my step-dad, Mahlon, died in June 2012, I decided to focus on a creative project to honor Mahlon’s memory. I began a daily photography project called My Morning View: An iPhone Photography Project about Gratitude, Grief & Good Coffee on January 1, 2013.

Since then, I’ve been taking a daily photo of my morning view with my coffee cup in the frame. My daily photography project gave meaning to the grief I experienced, and it’s fostered creative self-discipline, optimism, joy, and a sense of adventure in my everyday life.

Recently, a reader asked: “How do you shoot your daily photo? Can you share your creative process on the blog?”

When I read the question, I got excited because I love talking about this project. Taking my daily photo is one of the best parts of my morning routine because it’s fostered creative self-discipline and it’s part of my gratitude practice. In some ways, I think I’m better at expressing myself through photos rather than words.

When I started this project in 2013, I took a photo of my morning view right after my first cup of coffee. After so many years of working on this project, I’ve learned to be flexible with my schedule. Sometimes I take my photo early in the morning and sometimes I take it later in the day.

On average, I spend 15 to 30 minutes a day on my photography project. The amount of time I put into the project depends on how much time I have in the morning, the length of my caption, and the editing process.

Photo by Tammy Strobel

For example, I went to Ashland, OR a few weeks ago, and before I left the house, I decided to take my daily photo in Ashland. Here’s what my creative process looked like on that particular day:

  1. I walked into RAW—a lovely restaurant in Ashland—and ordered a late breakfast. I sat down at a table and began writing a to-do list. A few minutes later my order arrived—the PCT Oatmeal and a cappuccino with RAW’s signature nut milk.
  2. I loved the presentation of the oatmeal and cappuccino and decided to take a photo of the dish. I wanted to capture the soft morning light, the texture of the table, and the shapes of RAW’s bowls and plates.
  3. I took about ten photos of the scene, decided which photo I wanted to share online, and then deleted the rest of the images from my phone.
  4. Most of the time, I use Evernote to write the caption that I pair with the photograph.
  5. Since the caption was longer than normal, I uploaded it to Grammarly to check for grammar and spelling errors.
  6. Then, I edit my image in VSCO or Snapseed on my iPhone. I keep my edits simple. For example, I adjust the exposure and temperature of the image, and I might apply a filter to the photo.
  7. Finally, I upload the image to social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr). As a side note, Tumblr serves as my project portfolio.

Photo by Tammy Strobel

Also, I have two side notes to share. These tips keep me grounded and focused on the aim of my project because I’m easily distracted by social media.

  • Sharing images and connecting with fellow photographers and bloggers online is a gift. However, I don’t have to spend hours on social media to connect with people. Also, spending too much time on Instagram isn’t the goal of my daily photography project.
  • My project is not about the “likes” or gaining “followers.” It’s about gratitude, improving my photography skills, and honoring my dad’s memory.

There you have it! If you’ve got additional questions about my daily photography project—or general photography related questions—leave a comment on the blog.

Also, if you need help starting a daily photography project, read this essay—How to Start a 365-Day Photography Project. I wrote this piece for Flow Magazine’s blog back in 2015.

With gratitude,
Tammy

PS: A Simple Year begins on January 2nd. Join my colleague Courtney Carver on November 2, 2017 for a Q & A webinar and program overview. Details here.

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