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I hit a point this summer where I was starting to pick myself and surroundings apart, only looking at the negative things around me and within me.  If anyone had needed me to, I could list out all the things bothering me in a heartbeat.  In fact, Josh often got to hear all the negative things I thought about myself and various situations in list form.  I couldn’t really do the same for things I felt good about.

That all changed last week.  Nothing set the change in motion; it was just an internal decision that I wanted to start bettering things that were wrong vs. feeling like crap about them.


I stopped doing daily yoga and running last fall, and while I haven’t put back on the weight I originally lost, I have felt sluggish and soft.  My back and shoulders have started hurting again on and off, something that had stopped happening while I did yoga.  And moreover, I felt less productive, my mind jumping from thought to thought like a monkey, leaving me feeling frantic after work time because I hadn’t gotten enough done.

I decided to return to the yoga app last week.  Every single morning.  I now spend a half hour with Lily before I shower and start working.  It pushes back my morning coffee (which I was becoming way too dependent upon) and yogurt too.  It’s helping me focus and sort of reducing my anxiety. (My anxiety may be too large to expect yoga to really make a dent in it.)  It’s making me feel focused and grounded when I sit down to work.  And it’s helping my back.  So yoga for the win.

Very soon, I’ll probably start adding in running twice a week.  But I want to make sure I’ve established practices that are sustainable before I start stressing out those practices by overloading them.


I decided I needed a mental challenge, so I went with learning programming.  I like that Steve Jobs quote, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”  And writers need to think in a very calculated, precise way, piecing together a story much in the same way that a computer program is constructed.  Frayed storylines and loose threads of plot are just as problematic as coding missing a character.  Plus, it’s something I can learn that is very important to the twins.  There’s a nice hum between all of us as we work.

I wrote about how the kids are learning coding.  I’m tagging along for the ride, using the same books since they speak to someone on my level.  Right now, I’m trying to learn Python.  The Wolvog is faster than I am at picking it up, but I know a lot more mathematical theory so it balances out, especially when I slow us down by droning on about tuples.  He loves that.  So as long as my programming partner doesn’t ditch me or refuse to answer my endless questions, expect a really cool game that the ChickieNob is helping me design uploaded to my blog some time this year.


I rarely say no.  My thought is that if I can say yes, then I should say yes.  What I didn’t realize was how often I couldn’t really say yes, but was saying yes anyway.  So this year, I’m saying no.  I’m not over-committing and then feeling frantic in the process.  I’m offering things once, and if the person wants to take me up on the favour, the ball is now in their court.  I’m not going to chase them down in order to provide them with a favour (something I often did in the past that left me feeling resentful afterward).

I am saying yes to things I enjoy, things I think are important, things I can do to be helpful that don’t detract from my own sense of well-being.  And all other things, I am apologetically saying no and not obsessing about the opportunities I’m turning down.  It leaves me more time to enjoy or do a good job on the things I am saying yes to.


We started home improvements this past spring.  There are A LOT of necessary home improvements, and most of them feel fairly urgent, at least from an aesthetic standpoint.  We took care of replacing the windows first.  Window replacement sucks because it’s one of those things that cost a lot of money but doesn’t change the look of the house.  So, for the most part, our house is EXACTLY the same as it was before they came with the exception that we can now open the windows.  Which will soon become more helpful than I realized at the time.

After we finished the windows, we realized that they had cost a lot more than we had budgeted, and we would need to wait a while to make cosmetic changes to our house.  It filled me with dread to live in this ugly space and it filled me with dread to think about a time when we’d be spending a shit-ton of money and have workpeople in and out of our home.  You’ve probably also picked up over the years that I’m a little overexcited when it comes to things such as evenness and symmetry.  Neatness.  I am the woman who bleaches the inside of my dishwasher.  So I spent a lot of nights lying awake, worried that the painters would  — let’s say — leave a tiny sliver of extra paint in some unnoticeable corner of the wall, and it would drive me crazy forever.

The only person I trust to deal with my neuroses is me.  And maybe Josh.  But mostly me.

Over the last few months, we’ve gotten estimates for the work we need done, and whenever they tell me the price tag and the length of time (remember, I work out of the house, so it also means a loss of work time for me when we have people in here), I would spend the rest of the day curled up in a little ball emotionally.  I didn’t see how we were going to do this in a way that didn’t demolish our savings and retain my sanity.

And that’s when I decided to do it myself.  Like almost all of it myself.  Like watching YouTube tutorials and then doing the whole ding-dong home improvement project mostly on my own.  When I tell people who know me well that this is what I’m doing, there are long pauses of silence.  But everyone eventually comes around to the idea.  And for the first time in many many years, I feel calm about it.  I feel in control.  I feel like I own this renovation; that it will be done my way with all lines very very very evenly measured.

Redoing every room in my house on my own feels very Riot Grrl.  I have a feeling it may also look a little Riot Grrl when I’m done, hence why I’m starting with low-stakes rooms such as my bathroom and building up to redoing my own kitchen.  I’ll need to hire out for some of the plumbing and electrical tasks, but anything carpentry?  I taught woodworking.  I mean, sure, it was one summer and our projects ranged from wooden napkin rings to alphabet blocks.  But it was woodworking nonetheless.  And painting the walls: I have an MFA and six of those credits had to be in a different medium.  Sure, my visual arts course work was in printmaking and my background is general illustration.  But how different can painting on a wall be from painting on a canvas?  Not that I ever really painted on a canvas but we can overlook that for a moment.

I am probably not going to post before pictures because they’re too embarrassing.  But I will post after pictures.  I’ve given myself a long window of time to complete this, and I’m going to do it in small pieces at a time.  All the better to obsess over every rotation of the paint roller.


So that’s where I am.  Not working toward perfection (except in terms of evenness of the distribution of paint) or anything silly like that.  Just bettering.  Making myself and the space around me better than where it is right now.

Anyone want to join along with their own personal bettering over the course of the year?  It’s pretty laid back.  Not too much stress (unless you count the fact that I am planning to lie on my side on the floor so I can be eye-level with the baseboard when I paint it).  Just tiny, sustainable change.  No, I’m serious: tiny, sustainable change.


1 Pepper { 09.17.13 at 7:58 am }

I, too, had all but given up my running. And I noticed it in my mood and general attitude – poor and overly anxious and emotional. Between moving (and moving to a hilly town at that) and the heat of summer, I had a lot of excuses for not getting back into it and have only really gone out a handful of times in the past year. So 3 weeks ago I committed to start again. We reassembled our treadmill and found some dvds I could watch while running to pass the time. I am sleeping better and feeling more positive in general. This weekend we went away for 3 days and the night we came back, I jumped on the treadmill because my knees were so stiff from all the car time. I felt awesome after and slept better than ever. Here’s to small changes that make a big difference!

2 jodifur { 09.17.13 at 8:19 am }

ME! I need to get back to running too. I spin pretty regularly, but it is not enough, and I can’t seem to get myself OFF OF THE COUCH. And the home improvements, yes to that too. But we simply can’t afford them.

3 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 09.17.13 at 8:23 am }

I need this. I need this in so many ways. I had started, this summer, when I had TIME, bettering myself. I took the No-Yelling Challenge (and did really well for a month!). I focused on marathon training. I kept track of my calories and felt, well, in control.

Right now – this month is a shitshow. Between work and the mileage I need to hit for my marathon and parenting; I have zero time and am completely overwhelmed. Which means bettering is the LAST thing I can do – overwhelmed = negative for me. Curled up in an emotional ball is exactly the way I feel right now.

Sigh. I am hoping I’ll be done with the work craziness by the end of the month. Maybe focusing on Bettering will help; even just in little ways like focusing on the positives.

Thanks for the inspiration.


4 a { 09.17.13 at 8:39 am }

There’s a lot of complaining around our house about back pain, so (although I’m not the main offender) I have started trying to do more core exercises a few times a week. It’s sort of difficult to fit stuff in, because I’m working overtime at work, but if it makes me sleep better overall, it’s worth getting up an extra 15 minutes earlier.

Unless you have 2 story walls, I don’t really understand why anyone would hire out painting. Sure, it’s a pain to do the edges, but the rest of the wall is easy. All I can say is, if you can’t take off the trim, it’s worth the expense to invest in a really good paint brush to paint around it. So, read up on the paint brushes, because your tools are important. (I recommend the Purdy brand – they have many different varieties. Some people like sponges, but those don’t work well for me. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not precise enough, so I leave the edges to my super-neurotic husband!) Good luck with your other home improvement projects – I hate them with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns, but I know some people enjoy it. I don’t mind painting though.

5 Shanna { 09.17.13 at 8:40 am }

Painting is pretty easy. Just go slow, I have to do everything at high speed and then have to go back a week or two later and do touch ups. 😉 Get lots of drop cloths and good brushes and rollers. For edging I have had lots of success with the paint pads plus you can wash them out and reuse them. During the process it will feel like it will never end but once you are done you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Good luck and take it easy on yourself. It will all work out.

6 KeAnne { 09.17.13 at 8:55 am }

We tackled some much-needed yard work a few weeks ago and while it was exhausting, it felt great to see our progress afterwards.

I like your comparison of coding to writing. I worked as a web developer for 13 years until only recently and found my background in English and knowledge of grammar to be an asset. After all, what is coding but language? It has vocabulary, syntax, grammar. Some lines of code are functional but not elegant and like writers, programmers often search for the most elegant way of writing. I told people that coding helped me paint pictures with words.

7 Melanie { 09.17.13 at 9:31 am }

You can definitely paint! I have zero artistic ability and zero home improvement experience. I’m also very neurotic about symmetry, details, etc. I was terrified to paint my own walls in our first house, thinking it would be a disaster, and left them white for years. (I also didn’t want to pay a pro) My husband and I finally started painting the walls and it was easy. And sometimes fun and therapeutic. It transformed our house. Our new house had wall issues that required a pro to fix before painting. I went ahead and let them paint as well since they were there and we had so much else to do. We did a better job than they did. 2 years later, I’m still seeing spots that I have to touch up myself. DIY all the way!

8 Kasey { 09.17.13 at 11:50 am }

I love that Yoga app! Thanks for sharing!!

9 Ana { 09.17.13 at 12:45 pm }

We have a TON of painting to get done, and we are going to do it ourselves (when? no idea…can’t do it with curious toddlers around…). My husband is also replacing some drywall himself. We don’t have the $$ to get it done, but it needs to happen, so we’ll do it ourselves.
I’ve been doing WAY better with the body part this summer but working on the “mind/soul” this fall. Therapy—for me and for both of us together, reading more parenting books to deal with my “highly spirited/sensitive/challenging” child…just trying to get to a place where I feel mentally right in the world and in my marriage and family.

10 Tiara { 09.17.13 at 12:52 pm }

I think it is so cool that you will be doing most of your renovations yourself. Very impressive, you rock!

I have also been in a bettering mood of late. I joined a gym, something I said I’d never do again. My goal isn’t weight loss, tho I carry, ahem, a few extra pounds, I am comfortable in my skin but know exercise & being fit is important for my well being. I also want to be a good role model for E in the fitness area. I have also resolved to me more attentive during my time with E. I found myself lamenting how little time I had with her yet would catch myself checking email or reading a blog (or 2) while she was trying to get my attention. So I now put my phone away when I walk in the door after work & don’t pick it up again until she is in bed. This has been amazing for us as I feel as tho our short time together each evening is more quality. Small things, I know but having a positive impact on us for sure.

11 amy { 09.17.13 at 1:05 pm }

i will totally join! I stopped biking and doing pilates when we did a transfer in June, and I am feeling it. My attitude shows it too!

12 Turia { 09.17.13 at 2:25 pm }

I am beyond impressed that you are doing your house renovations yourself. Major kudos.

13 Liz { 09.17.13 at 3:51 pm }

Love love love the paragraph about personality and saying no. I struggle so much with over giving. I keep trying to remember this saying (not sure where I found it): “Saying no to one thing is saying yes to something else.” Often the “yes” I need to say is to myself, which means a “no” to others, and I wonder if I just value other people more than myself, and if so, why. Such a struggle. Thanks for sharing your coda!

14 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.17.13 at 3:58 pm }

I am excited for you and inspired by you. I think I’ll better myself by being more present with the kids. Steady changes, sustainably so.

15 persnickety { 09.17.13 at 6:44 pm }

We are slowly decluttering (really hard for a couple of packrats)- my goal is to scan all of my craft magazines (so many patterns) and then get rid of them (ebay prob) something i have put off for a while.

Can’t do much on the exercise front- i have to be off my feet for a while, and i suspect swimming will also be a no go area. I am hoping to pull out the stationary bike and get going on that in a week or two – 40 minutes fly by when you are playing Plants v Zombies

16 Another Dreamer { 09.17.13 at 9:07 pm }

Kudos to you 🙂

I decided I needed more of a mental challenge… since V came along I can’t seem to put coherent sentences together anymore and forget things all the time. So, I signed up for a free course on Coursera for October. It’s a sci-fi literature course, and while I’ve taken one at my university before (I was an English major) it still sounds interesting and should provide the mental exercise I need! I just hope I can keep up.

You cracked me up about the home improvements btw! More power to you! We’ve never really hired anyone to do ours, since I like the hands on activity and satisfaction. I tend to forget the hours of screaming and yelling coincidentally, lol. It took us 5 hours to install our ceiling fan, lots and lots of tears, but I did it 😉

17 Justine { 09.17.13 at 9:52 pm }

Mel, you are my heroine. Again. I wonder how you can be friends with me if you are so FREAKING AWESOME!! I would never have guessed your negativity. And I am astonished that a complete home renovation is “small sustainable change.”

I think my new job part two is going to wind up giving me all of the small sustainable change I can handle right now … but hopefully someday I can choose something else that’s a little more along the lines of self-improvement. I would love to join you in daily yoga … I just need to figure out how to do it without waking up at 5am! I desperately miss my weekly yoga class and my daily exercise routine. Just not sure how to fit it in right now …

BUT I am patting myself on the back for finding time to read/comment on blogs tonight. 🙂

18 Kristin { 09.17.13 at 10:28 pm }

There are so many home improvement tasks that need to be done around here…so many me improvement tasks that need to be done too. My first home improvement task is taking out the horrible sliding glass shower door and replacing it with a DIY shower curtain rod.

19 Queenie { 09.18.13 at 5:20 am }

We did our renovations ourselves (right before I got my new job and we started moving so much). Even though we aren’t living there now, it made the house feel totally”ours” in a a special way. But we subbed out the paint. We both hate to paint. Good luck with your renovations, both internal and external.

20 Chickenpig { 09.18.13 at 6:46 am }

My suggestion to you is to put the computer building on hold and take a home electrical course. Screw being able to build a computer, everyone needs to fix things around their home! This stuff is easy, and painting a wall really well is more Zen than yoga. Nothing beats the immediate gratification of painting a wall. So far in our house my husband and I installed a bathroom vanity, painted the walls in three rooms, replaced the dishwasher, put in a ceiling fan, and today my hubbie will be replacing the garbage disposal. (home electrical course, I’m telling you). We’ve tiled bathrooms, hung wallpaper, and refinished floors. When we started out we didn’t know how to do this, we taught ourselves. And it’s only paint (or wall paper or what have you) It is very forgiving, nothing that you do can’t be undone. (just practice tile cutting on the cheap stuff first 😉 This shit is EASY compared to IVF. You can totally DO this 🙂

I really want to know how one gets an MFA w/o painting anything. Surely you had to take fundamentals in undergrad, no? I was an illustration major and it seemed like I was painting all the frickin’ time.

21 It Is What It Is { 09.18.13 at 4:57 pm }

Bravo and kudos to you for tackling your own DIY projects. We are doing the same where we can and saving the big things (new roof, exterior home painting, adding a kitchen door to the backyard) for the professionals.

I am working on not being so hard on myself. My overachieving, Type-A personality necessitates that I am ALWAYS evaluating myself, wishing I was more of this, less of that, more like that mom, etc. I am consciously working to quiet my negative self-talk.

I hope to start anti-depressants for the first time in my 47 years of life in the coming weeks. Post partum and perimenopause have wreaked havoc on my brain chemistry and I NEED to feel again.

I am diligently working to lose the 40# that need to come off. I naively thought that, post partum, I would settle at my prior weight, after, you know, losing 46#. But, no, I settled at my pre-weight loss weight. This battle is NEVER ENDING for me.

22 Battynurse { 09.19.13 at 12:51 pm }

Your paragraph about saying or not saying no reminds me so much of a short story I read in one of the chicken soup for the soul books. It was a story that emphasized its ok to say no and to place importance on caring for yourself.
I know I need/want to work on bettering myself some how but right now I have no idea how. Maybe after I get some sleep.

23 Laurel (Dawn Storey) { 09.22.13 at 2:41 pm }

This post totally inspires me, and it’s right along the lines of where I’ve been heading in my own thoughts and plans for this fall/winter. Thank you for the extra nudge!

24 luna { 09.24.13 at 2:55 am }

ok first off, renovating your home by yourself is NOT tiny sustainable change. by any stretch. so there’s that. but kudos to you all the same! just don’t increase the level of anxiety with your DIY approach. as long as you enjoy it and get satisfaction from it, power to you!

as for me, I am working on my patience. deep breathing. presence. trying to be a better listener. trying to be there, really be there, for my girls, even when it’s really freaking hard and I’m being pulled in every direction and their both screaming at me and I haven’t even showered yet. patience. presence.

that and I’m really trying to carve out some small chunk of time for my own yoga or at least stretching like I used to. there is no waking up earlier and I’m so done by the end of the day. so this has been a challenge.

25 luna { 09.24.13 at 2:56 am }

they’re, as in they are, not their (tired typo)

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