Do All the “Small” Things

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It’s three weeks into the new year, and I’ve settled on my three main resolutions:

  1. Keep doing all the good things you’ve been doing.

I don’t know why resolutions seem to imply that we’re doing things wrong and need to change everything about ourselves. It always feels like the beginning of the new year isn’t the time for reflection and growth that it should be, but a time for thinking about what isn’t good enough in your life. I wholeheartedly disagree with that. I’m happy with a lot of the things I’ve been working on, from being devoted to loved ones to going to the gym regularly.

So why don’t we ever stop at the new year and say, “Hey. Well done. Keep it up!” That’s definitely how I feel in a lot of areas.

2. Get a book deal.

However, there is always room for growth. And for me, one spot with huge potential for growth is my writing career. This year, I have a very clear and conrete goal to finally, finally get a book deal. Wish me luck!

3. My third resolution is also somewhat work-related, but I’m keeping that one private 🙂

But I do have sub-resolution that I’ve been having a lot of fun with lately that I really want to share, and that is to:

Do All the “Small” Things.

You know, those things. The things we often put off because we’re too busy (but could usually find time for if we really want to, plan ahead just a bit, or are more efficient).

Andie Mitchell Eating in the Middle Recipe Michelle Chahine Sinno

For example, over the last few weeks, I finally tried out a recipe from a great cookbook that’s all about balance, Eating in the Middle by Andie Mitchell. Ever since I flipped through the book last summer, I’ve wanted to try the Baked Banana Bread Doughnuts. I finally made the effort to buy the doughnut pan (and a cooling rack!), get the ingredients, and MAKE them. I’m not exaggerating when I say the whole thing took 30 minutes. It was so easy and simple, and I enjoyed them so much. These instances really make me wonder why I put off so many things… that in my mind they require effort and “time that I don’t have.” When all it takes is 30 minutes. (And it was a rainy LA day as well. Perfect).

Inspired by baking my own healthier version of doughnuts, I tried this recipe for blueberry muffins the following week. Also so easy, yummy, and satisfying.

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What I love most about baking is that you can see the exact ingredients you’re putting into things. Can someone please explain to me why so many baked goods nowadays have “soy lecithin” in them. Since when did that become a staple of baking? Just curious.

I’m also happy to report that after four and a half years of living in Los Angeles, I finally, FINALLY, took Minjay for a long walk in Griffith Park. When I first moved here, I was looking up good places to walk dogs, and I came across this collection of good trails. I’ve been to different areas of the huge park in the middle of Los Angeles, but I never got around to taking Minjay for a nature walk there. It was definitely my loss, since the collection of trails is lined with beautiful, tall trees. I had been craving more “forest-y” walks while living in LA, and it had been accessible to me all along.

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Beautiful post-rain muddy walk. Minjay loved all the fresh nature smells. You can see the dew drops on his face 🙂

In the midst of these trails is a great coffee shop called “The Trails.” (I love this review, which describes it as the place John Muir and Julia Childs would meet for lunch).

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I’ve wanted to go to Trails literally since I moved here in 2012. But I haven’t. Why? Well it does take about 30 minutes to drive there, at the right time of day (without traffic). So it does take a little bit of effort. But there have been 53 weekends a year for the past 4 years to make it happen. Why didn’t I?

A few days after getting back to Los Angeles from Lebanon, where we spent Christmas break with family and old friends, I decided I was going to start the new year by being active: I was going to take Minjay to Trails. The whole endeavor took 2 hours total, and it was wonderful (both the freshly-made food and our walk in nature). Since then, I’ve been 2 more times, and plan to go back often.

Doesn’t it always turn out that it actually takes relatively minimal effort to open up new, great things in our life? These “small” things add so much variety and happiness to each week. And yet we put them off under the pretense of busyness and a lack of time. Really, all it takes is being more proactive about how we do want to spend our time.

Morning walks with Minjay in Griffith Park.
Morning walks with Minjay in Griffith Park.

I should note here that “doing all the small things” also does include necessary chores and errands we put off. Like changing car tires when they need to be changed. We’ve been putting this off since November, and yesterday my tire finally burst. Definitely learned my lesson to do things when they need to get done– because putting them off usually means they will take twice as long to deal with in the end.

 


P.S. I love, love the photo on the top of this blog post. I took it yesterday morning in Griffith Park, after several rainy days here in Los Angeles. The photo is unaltered in any way, and was taken on my iPhone. It really was just this beautiful yesterday morning.

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Q&A With Senior Editor for Los Angeles Review of Books, Journalist & Filmmaker Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

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Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is currently working on the feature film Lovers in Their Right Mind, the documentary film …But Can She Play? Blowin’ the Roof off Women Horn Players and Jazz (about contemporary women horn players in jazz that arose from work she did as a USC graduate student inspired by an unsung female jazz trumpeter in the 1940s), and is a senior editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books. She’s the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed, is a former columnist for the Associated Press, and has been a journalist for over 30 years covering entertainment.

I met her this past summer when we were both on a panel about avoiding burnout in a mobile-connected world. I wanted to hear more about her thoughts on work-life balance, especially since she is a writer working on so many different projects. We met at Cafe Brazil in Culver City to chat over fresh passionfruit juice and herbal tea.

  • How did you identify your passions and follow your dreams?

Essentially, when I was in college, I was studying fashion merchandising in hopes of becoming the president of Nordstrom. That’s the trajectory I was on. That’s what I thought I wanted to do. About my second year in school, I realized that I hated my accounting and marketing classes, and I took a fashion writing class with the fashion editor of the LA Herald Examiner, back when we had 2 papers in this city. She was black, she was smart, she was funny, she dressed well… she was who I wanted to be.

I had always written, but I never thought of it is a field. She encouraged my writing and felt my work was viable. And she helped me get an internship at Women’s Wear Daily. That internship changed my life because they let their interns write.

I loved the work. I loved that I could tell people things and introduce them to things they didn’t know. I felt smart [laughs]. And it piqued my curiosity: I always want to know about things that are happening.

So that’s where my writing career began… When I got out of school, one of the first jobs I got was at a syndicated radio show that covered urban enternmaint news. That’s when I  started covering junkets and going to the Oscars…  I was in my 20s, and feeling very special, because there were few, if any, young black people, and no women. It was great. I got to tell people about the films and TV shows and books that were coming out. And I had won a couple of awards about reports that I had done about black voting and adoptions. I felt like I was accomplishing something and contributing to this world.

  • What does the term “work-life balance” mean to you?

I think it’s a funny term for me, because my work is my life. My brother often teases me and says, “Do you ever shut it down? Everything you look at is a story.” We’ll be having a conversation and I’ll be like, “That would make a really good story.”

I have a writing life. But I enjoy what I do. I love sitting down, fiddling with words, trying to find the best words and trying to find the right angle for a story. It’s who I am.

For me, balance is making sure I take myself out of the minutiae of the business part of that writing life, to make time for walking in the morning and getting a good night’s sleep, taking time off even if I’m not going anywhere, and being cognizant to spend time with my friends and family.

My writing life includes time for self-care: To do those things that I need to do to make the work better… I set those things in place, and I’m a very serious list person. I try to adhere to my lists and make time.

At this fall's AIDS Walk: Los Angeles with Team APLA Health where Janice serves as a board member.
At this fall’s AIDS Walk: Los Angeles with Team APLA Health where Janice serves as a board member.

Janice and I met just before election, and she discussed wanting to make time to volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which inspired me to ask her about how people being perpetually overworked affects communities and the country as a whole:

Do you feel that we’ve become as a nation overworked and overstressed, to a point that we don’t participate in our country, communities and politics like we should? Does that have a negative effect? 

I don’t know if I can answer that. I think we prioritize what’s important to us. And for some, government and activisim is only important once every few years.

I grew up in an environment of service. The church I attended growing up was all about service. I serve on several boards, because I feel that is a part of what I do. Because it’s a priority for me. It’s not a priority for everybody else. And maybe if we made it a priority and a part of our lives, things could be different.

It’s about what we prioritize…. Find what works for you. Everybody doesn’t have to do the same thing. But there is something we all can do.

What do you wish you do differently in how you manage your day and time?

Facebook is my greatest time suck, and Netflix is as well. But I do put a timer on now. I set my alarm. I give myself whatever I feel I reasonably can and stick to the time I should stop.

I think I am good at balancing because I work for myself. I learned that distractions are detrimental to my bottom line.

What do you feel you don’t have enough time for, or wish you could tackle better?

Cleaning. I mean my house isn’t dirty, but my office needs to be reorganized. I don’t even work in my office that much anymore because it’s like, “I’ll come back to this later.”

And the other thing I wish I had more time for, which is both a product of their schedule and mine, is to spend more time with my nieces and nephews.

I remember, my neice told me, “You know, we didn’t go to the beach this year.”

Awww…

That’s exactly what I thought! Because I was working on a rewrite. So I wish I had a schedule that was a bit more flexible to make it more conducive to hang out with them more.

After an hour-long yoga practice at Santa Monica Pier this summer.
After an hour-long yoga practice at Santa Monica Pier this summer.

Do you have advice for someone starting a new endeavor and grappling with issues of following their passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference, while managing their time to so they can find their “balance”?

1. Figure out who you want to be when you grow up.

I think one of the greatest thing I did in the past couple of years was to go to a goal-orienting work shop that the Journalism and Women Symposium put on. And I think beyond setting goals, it’s about getting a picture of what I want my life to look like. That includes my personal goals as much as my professional goals. I want to be the kind of person who is engaged with her community and friends and family. I want to be the kind of person who works passionately on her craft. It’s up to each person… Look at who you want to be in 5 years. Who do you want to be by the end of this year? What would you like your bio for the year to say about you, the things you have accomplished? The lives you have touched?

One of the exercises in setting goals is writing a bio. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, what do I want my bio to have said, and what from that have I accomplished?

The short answer is: Figure out who you want to be, and start working towards that and what is required for that.

2. Embrace the Shifts

The one thing that I will add is to understand that work-life balance shifts. My work-life balance is very different today than it was last year, or 5 years ago. And if we recognize that that shift may happen when we get married, when we have children, or even if it’s just year-to-year when we get a new job, we should embrace the change, and be flexible with ourselves and with it, and work within the shift.

 


Connect with Janice on Twitter and Instagram.

Edited for length and clarity.