One of my most prized possessions is a photo of me holding my daughter, flanked by both my mother and grandmother, Momsie. Four generations of strong, first-born women together for a brief time on this earth.
As we come up on what would have been her 97th birthday, I often think how fortunate I am that Momsie got to know my girls before she passed five years ago. I’m especially grateful that my older daughter still has a few nice if simple memories of her: A swimming pool with a frog in it. Hide-and-seek behind her gauzy Florida curtains. An impromptu karaoke party. Her special blackbottom cupcakes.
My younger daughter’s memories of her will be fewer, I’m sure. More likely, she’ll confuse real memories with the images in photos that she sees, or the few videos we have. (This was pre-smartphone ubiquity, and video cameras were a hugely ridiculous deal for our family for some reason.)
However there’s one more thing: In Momsie’s later years, I took a few moments every time I visited or called to interview her for a memory journal.
Momsie: She was the very best
I am the kind of person who tends to put off things like this, then smack myself in the head with 100 tons of regret when I’ve missed the chance. But in this case? I’m so pleased that I got it done.
I’m not feeling smug about it; just….happy. That small, private kind of happiness that spreads a quiet warmth through your body from time to time when it strikes you.
On the other hand, I’m sad I didn’t get the chance to do the same with my Great Aunt Bea who died long when I was far younger. She was one of those awesomely flamboyant New York City dames who was never seen without a swath of bright pink lipstick (I’m convinced she even wore it to bed) and a Virginia Slims dangling from her mouth. She had handkerchiefs with a big B monogrammed on all of them, the best ever Halloween costumes, and big, gaudy, audacious cocktail rings that probably influenced the ones I spark to today. She also had the most wonderful stories about speakeasies during the great depression, and the outrageousness of Greenwich Village in the 60’s.
Sadly, the details told to me at 18, 19, 20 are woefully faded for me now; nearly lost. The things you tell yourself that you’ll never forget, well, you forget them.
(Heck, I can’t even remember my daughters’ birth weights or times of birth without checking back on old blog entries. I think I’ve made up a new time of birth every single year on their birthdays when they ask. 10:11, 11:12…eh, whatever. )
Seeing Momsie’s memory book on my bedroom bookshelf makes me think of all the things that I should probably be doing right now. As in, now. Not like, vacuuming the refrigerator coils or cutting back on soda or joining a gym for the first time in five years. Not alphabetizing your spice rack (bless you, Dad) or checking the oil in your car.
I mean those things that we actually want to do. Those things that always seem to make our to-do lists, but never actually get done, as today’s daily emergency or this week’s last-minute obligation continually knock it down a notch or seven.
The worst part is, they can weigh on you heavily. They nag you from the back of your brain, a constant reminder of boxes unchecked and obligations unfulfilled.
The thing is, you can do them. We all can.
One at a time.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t add these to another to-do list. Don’t get paralyzed by the number 15. Just pick an item. Pick a day. Or pick right now. Then do it.
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1. Interview your parents or grandparents
There are so many memory journals, apps and other ways to make this easy. I love My Mom: Her Story, Her Words which I’ve recommended before, and given to my own mom. For Momsie, I used the Between Me and You journal which has versions each with fantastic prompts for grandparents, parents, siblings, and kids. Anyone who’s special in your family, whose stories you want preserved — this is such a smart, easy way to do it.
If you want to go the techy route, check out the Immortalia app which is a brilliantly comprehensive grandparent memory journal complete with video capabilities. (UPDATE: This app no longer exists, but you could easily use a journaling app like the excellent Day One.)
2. Make a will
Okay, so this is the one kind of serious obligation on this list, but it’s really important. I include it because I admit that I am remiss in this department; though my wishes are known to those I love, I need to get official with it, and I’d imagine some of you do too.
Don’t panic…there are really only 5 questions you have to answer to make a will and there are some helpful, easy tips on USA.gov too — including thinking about your social media accounts. For as low as $69 you can get do it online through Legal Zoom or a similar service.
You can also check out Chanel Reynolds’ book What Matters Most: The Get Your Shit Together Guide to Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s “What-ifs”
Big weight off.
3. Send a thank you note
There is someone you need to thank for something, guaranteed, and it’s weighing on you. Am I right? The hostess of a recent dinner party, someone who sent your kids a generous gift over the holidays, a neighbor who watched your kids for an hour after school.
If hand-writing a note is one more thing you’ll never do (I get it), then log onto Paperless Post this very second, register if you haven’t already, and email a note that looks as special as the traditional kind. You will feel so awesome when it’s done.
Or, go ahead and splurge on some personalized stationery from Minted or a similar shop. When you own something you love, you’re more likely to use it.
4. Change your passwords
All of them. Change! Done. Then write them all in a safe place while you’re at it, even if you use a manager like 1Password which creates pretty tough passwords for you, stores them, and makes them easy to access. You should also designated a trusted person in your life with access to your “one” overall password to give them access.
If you don’t know where to start, try Google, Facebook, other social media accounts, your financial services, online retailers where you shop frequently. These strong password tips are essential reading!
It should take like 15-20 minutes tops for your main accounts then just spend a few minutes over lunch each day doing the rest. You’ll have so much peace of mind, too.
Related: How to make strong passwords
5. Reconnect with an old friend
I have a dear friend from college who was like my attached-at-the-hip sister for many years. Cut to marriage, kids, a couple of moves, another kid and now it’s been years. I can hardly even type this without getting emotional about how much I miss her.
Each holiday season we say hi and swear we will get together and catch up…then boom. It’s April. And here I still am, thinking “I should really make that date.” And then the longer it gets, the more time that passes, the weirder it seems to just call, and the more time I think I’ll need to catch up, and…and…and…fr
Do it. Make the date.
6. Just read it.
I don’t get to read for pleasure nearly often enough and the growing collection of unread books on my shelves taunts me. You too? Then pick one.
Or get one classic book you’ve always meant to read. A best-seller that everyone in your life raves about. A biography you think will enrich your life. Whatever it is, just crack the page and start.
If it’s easier, download an ebook. Or listen to an audio book. And don’t let anyone shame you into feeling that that’s inferior to sitting down and actually reading pages. I think hearing Jacqueline Woodson or Dave Eggers’ words on my next car trip might be more enriching than whatever’s on the Sirius/XM 80’s station.
7. Just watch it
Years ago, pre-kids, I found myself with a couple of weeks between freelance gigs and nothing really pressing to do. So I walked down to the video store (I know, I’m old) and spent a week watching The Deer Hunter, Singin’ In the Rain, the Godfather, Citizen Kane …basically all those classics that make everyone yell at you, WHAT? YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THAT?
It was binge watching before we had a word for it, yet it was nourishing in a way that my fellow media and pop culture junkies can understand.
It’s so easy now with streaming video; just pick something from your “I’ll get to it at some point” queue and watch it. Start with the AFI List of the top 100 movies, or try the Academy Awards database to find something awesome. Recently I overheard two college students discussing Gone With the Wind, which they had both just seen for the first time. Their excitement was awesome.
8. Set up one automatic bank transfer. To yourself, or your kids.
When I first started working, I remember my dad’s advice: Pay yourself first.
n other words, set up an automatic transfer, however small, from your checking to your savings account each month. Then, don’t touch it.
Alternatively, what I do now is make an automatic transfer into my kids’ savings accounts each month. Or you can schedule an automatic monthly gift to your favorite charity. You do it once, and then it’s one of those things you seriously never have to think about it again and it makes you so happy.
9. Get a mammogram. Or a colonoscopy. Or a skin check. Or a dental check-up Or an annual physical.
No judgements, we all fall behind. Pick up the phone and make the appointment. You will sleep better tonight.
10. Make one phone call instead of posting on social media.
Every so often, I have an “online” friend who calls just to say hi. It’s so special because, who the heck does that anymore?
Instead of wishing me a happy birthday on Facebook, she calls. Or instead of answering my DM with another DM, she calls. She’s awesome. You can be that awesome person too.
11. Learn the thing you always wanted to learn
When my mom was in her mid-60’s, she took singing lessons for no other reason than she just always wanted to. Isn’t that so great? As busy parents, it’s not like we have time to drop everything and invest countless hours in a new hobby, but if you have time to watch the Real Housewives, you have time to take an online class.
Check out Gotham Writer’s Workshop if you’re interested in online writing courses of all kinds — I had some truly career-changing experiences with their in-person classes; I discovered their memoir class before I discovered blogging, and then when I found blogging I thought, hey look — it’s memoir writing!
Or for everything from photography to calligraphy to cooking skills as specific as meatball-making (really) Skillshare (above) is a phenomenal resource, as is MasterClass. Best of all, it’s not time-consuming at all.
Go. Look. Sign up. You will be so happy, really.
12. Clear off a single shelf
This is the simplest and maybe even the best pieces of advice I got from Gretchen Rubin’s entire Happiness Project. The premise is that life can be so chaotic, especially with kids, that there’s something visually calming and even psychologically promising about having room on at least one shelf. If you don’t have time to Konmari your whole house, you do have time to do this.
And PS if you haven’t read the book? Add it to this list too.
13. Write a check
So many people wait until December to make a charitable donation, while charities need money all year long. If you’re charitably minded (again, no pressure — only if this is something that sounds awesome to you) pick your favorite charity or choose a new one you’d love to support.
Then pledge to give up lattes for a week, and instead donate $10 or $25 or whatever you can afford. It makes a difference.
14. Thank your children’s favorite teachers
Don’t wait until Teacher Appreciation Week or the end of the school year, or any holiday at all. Just send an email, or at drop off, take a moment to poke your head in the classroom and tell your kids’ teachers that they’re doing a great job.
photo: adopt a classroom
Of course you can do this with your own beloved teachers too. Recently, Kristen received a facebook DM from a random friend and former student saying I just want to tell you you’re amazing and you inspire me. She’ll never forget it.
So: Dee O’Brien? You’re the reason I’m a writer. Thanks for the best ever 8th grade English class and bringing Shakespeare to life and wearing purple every single day and letting us call you Dee instead of Mrs. O’Brien which meant the world to a group of 13-year-olds still figuring out our places in the word.
15. “Buy the boat.”
My mother and stepfather tell a wonderful story about a friend who always wanted to buy a boat. He talked about it non-stop for years. He browsed catalogs. He ripped pages out of magazines. He planned the details of all amazing trips he would take on his boat. Then, he died.
I don’t mean this to be a downer; it’s just that ever since then, my parents have counseled me, “buy the boat.” Whatever that means to you.
Save for a dream trip five years from now, then actually take it. Or look at what you can afford now, and as Gretchen Rubin refers to it, “spend out.” Kristen’s mother wanted a Coach bag her whole life. Maybe you always wanted a vintage original printing of your favorite book. Or a lipstick that didn’t come from the drugstore. Or a bed that’s nicer than the frame that came with your mattress. Or teeth whitening. Or Broadway tickets.
Whether it’s something small or a whole boat — if you can afford it, of course — I say, get it. I guarantee it will make you happier than that money will sitting in the bank. Because we can say “one day….” for so many days that that day never comes. I guess that’s the point.
One day: That can be right now.