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A Mindful New Year

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” – Neil Gaiman

Happy New Year, everyone! I like the idea of using a new year to take stock of what’s working and what needs to change. But what’s really been on my mind over the last few months is adjusting my life in ways that make me feel calmer and more open to the world around me.

I think when we make changes, even tiny ones, that honor what our body and our minds need, that opens the door for the creativity and connections and magic that we long for. And we can do that at any time, not just at the start of a new year.

I don’t really make resolutions, but here’s what I’m making time for this year.

Living with less stuff: Oh. My. Lord. I have so much stuff. Seriously, it’s a problem.

I love beautiful things. I’m a sucker for a good deal. I enjoy the experience of shopping and arranging things into lovely tableaus. And I know a ton of artists and makers and shop owners, so I’m especially at risk for an artful form of collecting that boarders on hoarding.

So…this is gonna be hard. But whatever doesn’t currently function or add beauty to my life is going to be gone by March. I want to clear room, mentally and physically, for whatever comes next.

I want more travel, more experiences, more connections, more time to write and more daydreams in 2016. And more stuff just gets in the way.

Reading as much as possible: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  – Stephen King

I love this quote. And I’ve found it to be really true in my own writing life. Reading (and strolling and napping and cooking and taking bubble baths) allows me to turn my own thoughts off and get lost in another world for a while. It almost always makes me come back to what I was working on with a whole new perspective.

When my own ideas don’t have traction, it’s wild how easily I can be inspired by another author. And experiencing what another author does with words and ideas can only help my own process, since I make my living and my art with those some tools.

I’ve been reading more of my fellow travel writers this year and it’s fascinating to see how we can have similar experiences but such radically different perspectives and writing styles. My friends send me articles they think I’d like and we make time in our busy days to discuss everything from public health and immigration to art and space travel

And I’ve been devouring fiction just for the joy of it, just picking up anything that seems interesting and diving in. I discovered Sarah Waters this way and I’ve read my way through everything she’s written. Now, since every interesting quote I’ve found this week seems to come from Neil Gaiman (including the one at the top of this post), I’m moving him to the top of my list.

What else should I read? I’d love your recommendations!

Staying active outdoors: I despite counting reps. I rebel against training regimens. My idea of a good workout is dancing until I’m exhausted, hiking in a new place and swimming until I can’t feel my arms and legs and then floating on my back in the middle of a lake and staring up at the clouds.

But when the weather gets colder, being active outdoors takes a little more planning. And as the winter gets darker and deeper, I’ve decided to quit fighting it and get outside and enjoy it.

I asked for snowpants for me and a sled for Eli this Christmas so we can conquer our neighborhood’s sledding hill. I’ve decided that this is the year I’m (finally) taking my friend Frode up on his offer to teach me how to cross country ski. I might even try ice skating again, even though I have the world’s most stretchy and ridiculous ankle ligaments and will probably sprain both ankles in about ten seconds.

Will I be any good at any of this? Nah, probably not. But I’ll be out in the crisp winter sunshine. I’ll be active and busy and laughing when everybody else is complaining about the cold and killing time until April. And I’ll take that over feeling restless and cooped up any day.

If you like the idea of being more active this winter too, you’ll love this Sunday’s post. It’s all about beating cabin fever and getting outdoors in the winter and it features tips from readers like you.

Creating community: When my mom was little, Sundays were set aside for visiting. My grandma remembers regular church suppers (yep, that’s what you call the evening meal in the country) and town dances every Friday night. The world seemed smaller then, but was also more well connected. And while I wouldn’t trade my busy life for a sleepy little town, I do think we all could use a little more community in our lives.

So instead of waiting for it to happen (seriously, how often do we all say “We should do something sometime” and then promptly forget about it?) I put it on the calendar and made it happen.

There’s now a monthly Wednesday night gathering at our house. (You’re all invited, by the way. Get in touch and I’ll get you the details.) It’s not fancy, but the house is open all night and everybody is welcome. And every single time we do it, somebody tells me how nice it is to have plans, to be invited, to meet new people.

If you want to do the same thing, it’s actually pretty easy. Quit waiting for the perfect dinner party set up, the big table, the perfect china — just invite people over. They don’t care what you cook. You can order take-out or put out coffee and cookies or a few bottles of wine. Or pull out a few board games or order pizza. It doesn’t have to be difficult.

If entertaining isn’t your style, there are dozens of smaller gestures you can make to foster connections every day. Call the friend you’ve been wanting to talk to. Write a letter to the family member you lost touch with. When you’re in town for a business trip, email that colleague or college buddy and ask them to join you for a beer after work. Sign up for a class, go to a museum or go for an evening stroll and invite a friend to come along. They might not always be able to join you, but they’ll appreciate being asked.

Going abroad: I’m a hyperlocal writer by design. I love covering what’s new and beautiful in the Upper Midwest. And I think traveling locally and exploring your own city and state is incredibly important and can be transformative. But I’m a bit of a wanderer at heart and I’m craving a few new passport stamps.

This year, Derrick (finally!) gets a little vacation time, so we’ll be able to go a little further from home. There are so many countries on our hit list that the list could (and probably will) get its own post. But since he’s the new guy at a union gig, he has to be super flexible and won’t know when he can go until it’s almost time to pack up and leave. This drives his travel writer wife crazy (it’s torture watching cheap fares disappear because we literally can’t pick a date yet) but these limitations have encouraged us to check out new options.

My friend Jo’s uncle moved to Colombia and has a place open for all us to crash whenever it works out. My friend Haikuhi is in Lebanon and would love to show us around. And it’s totally our turn to visit my friend English friend Simon in Coventry. So there are at least three places we could go with very little advance notice or planning required, if we can make plane tickets work within our budget.

Or we might just pick a cheap flight to a place where our money will go a long way, rent an apartment for a week or so and just experience life in a city we know nothing about. There’s something lovely about approaching a place with no expectations, just experiencing it at street level and living like the locals do. It’s the perfect mix of adventure and mindfulness, a balance I try to strike at home too.

How about you? What do you want more of (or less of) in 2016? What are you excited about? What changes will you make to make this your best year ever?

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Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File. Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved.

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