Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Parenting Advice … from my sticky notes!

Parenting advice from sticky notes? Yes! Here’s what I mean: I have several books and related online articles that I have read over the last several years, which is a lot of information to take in. I have my books full of tabs and notes on information that I found particularly valuable or helpful. And as much as I try to flip through my books periodically to refresh my memory on my favorite ideas, I can’t always get to them, which leads to some forgetfulness on my part. I hate that! I’ve taken a great idea and lost it in the busyness of being a working parent of three kids. Gone — at least until I have a chance to pick up my books and refresh myself again.

My solution to this? Carefully placed sticky notes. I find an area of the house that I will see everyday (every morning and evening, actually) and stick my best, most helpful piece of advice up on that area. This reminds me everyday to work on whatever it is I want to work on. For just one example, in Rebecca Eanes book, Positive Parenting: Connecting from the Heart, she challenges the reader to give your child four statements of encouragement or positivity for every correction. The thought is that children are mostly told what they are doing wrong, and to avoid feeling like they can’t do anything right, you fill them up with positive attention. (It’s really great advice!! Do try it.) However, I was forgetting to actively try to get in four statements. What’s worse is that on my busiest, most hectic days, I may not get in very many encouraging words at all — maybe a quick “thank you” here are there — and the corrections just pile up. You can imagine where that leads! So, I have a sticky note on the mirror in my bedroom — something I see a few times a day — to remind me to work on at least four positive, encouraging statements in between each correction.

The sticky note reminders have started to drift into other parts of the house, as well, to help remind my children of some rules. I have a sticky note on our computer monitor to remind my children that online gaming is not allowed and what the consequence will be for breaking the rule (no computer privileges for one week) — we’ve talked about it many times, so they understand why, which is very important. I also have a sticky note to remind my daughter to work on 30 minutes of math games Monday through Thursday to help build her confidence in her weaker area. Therefore, not much has to be said on the subject. They see the notes, I see the notes, and we are all on the same page. No need for arguments, it’s all spelled out after discussing it.

So, in a manner of speaking, I get some of my best parenting advice from my sticky notes. I see them every day and am reminded every day to improve upon an area of my parenting. We all want to be the best parents we can be. We love our children, after all! There is no shame in getting help and finding clever solutions to help remind ourselves of what works, especially on our busiest days. So, here’s my challenge to you: find two or three of your best or favorite pieces of advice from positive parenting websites or books, stick them to your bathroom mirror or your bedroom mirror, and see what you gain from it. I’ve gained a fantastic way to fill my children up with positive attention and happy hearts!

Posted in Health and Fitness

Why I Finally Got a Mammogram Today

I don’t usually open up like this. In fact, I am seriously considering backing out of writing about it right now. These things are usually quite private for me, but this is important. I’m talking about women’s health. I’m talking specifically about mammograms.

I am sure that a lot of women are scared to get a mammogram. I certainly was today, even though it was my second one! In my case, I knew about how horribly uncomfortable it is. What if something is indeed wrong? What if they find something? What if I have to go back and get more imaging? These are absolutely valid questions and fears among women, and for some, like me, it stopped me right there. I’m not getting another one until I’m much older, I decided. 50 at least. Maybe 55. (I’m not even near 50, by the way.)

11 years ago, I had to get a mammogram because of a painful lump near my armpit. I was nursing my first newborn at the time. I was told to get imaging done right away. “Great.” I thought. I didn’t want to do it, but there wasn’t much of a choice. My other concern: I’m nursing my daughter. How is that supposed to work?? I was so worried about lactating on their machine that I warned the assistant that I was nursing, and she seemed not too concerned about it. I was. I apologized ahead of time, even. I was sure I would make a mess all over their equipment and completely embarrass myself. I was right. Yep. Milk went everywhere. I was so embarrassed. But, you know what? They have seen everything. Was it super uncomfortable? Yes (for me). Did I regret doing it? No. It turned out that the lump was a milk duct that formed in an unusual place. Nothing to worry about.

Fast-forward 11 years to today, and I was faced with the prospect of another exam. I kind of knew it was coming. And, indeed, my doctor was gently but strongly encouraging me to get one. “They do walk-ins downstairs. Just go downstairs and get one.” Remembering what felt like a fiasco last time, I didn’t want to. In fact, I didn’t do it last year when he had asked me again. I just left. I couldn’t make myself do it. This year was the same. I wanted to just walk out after my appointment was over and not worry about it for another year, but I didn’t. I decided that maintaining my health and catching anything early was best for me and my family. What good does it do save 30 minutes of my Friday if there is something hiding? What good does it do to save myself from 5-10 minutes of discomfort? It’s never a bad decision to make sure everything is OK.

I was definitely nervous this time. I can’t even tell you why, because I had done it before. Yes, it was quite uncomfortable, but it wasn’t painful. I think that’s the key to remember. Honestly, what made it easier for me was putting aside my nerves and just getting it done. (Holding on to the machine helped, too, for whatever reason!) I will admit that there is a part of me that wants to wait and not do it again next year, but, for the reasons above, I will do it. Remember, it’s only temporary. 10 minutes or fewer on the machine. That’s it. 10 minutes for an “all clear” or 10 minutes for “we caught it early.” Ladies, take care of your health, so you can take care of your children. Go get your mammogram.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Practicing, Working Parent

Working from Home: Is it easier or actually harder?

On the days I’m not teaching at Indiana Wesleyan University, I love working from home! I can be here to help get the kids out the door for school. I can workout. And, best of all, I can wear what I want, be comfortable, and not have to worry about make-up and my unruly, crazy hair. I love it! I leisurely begin my practicing with long tones and get my creative juices going by thinking about tone color and all of the different shading possibilities. After that, maybe I move on to my orchestral work or etudes, pieces, or whatever I wish. I take my time, and I feel relaxed.

The problem with being home while I’m working, is that I get almost “too relaxed” or unfocused, and I let the distractions of being in the house enter my mind. I suddenly notice that the kids’s toothpaste is all over their sink. Gross. I remember that my daughter will have no clean uniform skirts if I don’t do laundry today. The carpet needs attention. Ewwww, why is the kitchen floor sticky?! Yeah, you get me. It’s not exactly a distraction-free environment, is it? I almost let it get to me today, too. So, that’s the paradox of working from home, right? I find it easier to concentrate and focus at school or in a concert hall, but every other aspect of working is so much easier and relaxed at home.

So, how do I deal with all of these distractions and not let them blow my focus and energy? I put them off entirely … until the time is right. I try to maintain a daily schedule at home, and that does help a lot. I usually do not allow myself to do housework until my practicing is finished. Yes, the toothpaste is still all over the children’s sink. Yes, the carpet still desperately needs a visit with the vacuum cleaner. However, I know that these things can wait until it is in my schedule to take care of them, and knowing that can allow me to set those distractions aside and focus on my work. I’m not saying it’s always easy for me: like today, I caved in and started laundry early, which ate into my practice time a tiny bit. Some days it actually helps me to swap blocks of my schedule. So, if there’s something that is going to nag at me relentlessly until I get it taken care of, I’ll just deal with it first, and then carry on with my work. The trick for me is to make sure that during my work time, that’s what I’m focused on, and during my blogging or cleaning time, that’s what I’m focused on. I have to shut the door on everything else until it’s the right time. It takes will power some days, for sure, but I always thank myself in the end.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

My 4 Steps to Achieving a Healthy Work / Life Balance

Life can come at us like a fastball, and from all different directions, too, especially when trying to juggle being a working parent. In my case, I am a musician, a mother of three children, and a wife, not to mention all of the responsibilities that come with those roles. We love every aspect of our lives, and being high-achieving, active working parents, we want to be able to do it all! But how do we juggle or balance this thing called life? Achieving a healthy work / life balance requires us to set reasonable goals, take care of ourselves, and nourish our personal relationships while we advance our careers. Here are the 4 ways I achieve a sense of balance.

1.Prioritize projects. One way to create work / life balance is to prioritize activities or projects, and set long- and short-term goals. You may have 20 different projects going on at the same time. Remember, they don’t all have to be completed immediately. Prioritize your projects. Some projects need to take a backseat and wait for a little bit. That’s OK! You’ll get to it when the time is right. Long-term goals or larger projects can be completed when you get big enough gaps in your schedule. For your short-term or smaller-sized goals, try to get the quickest or easiest jobs done during the week as much as possible. Don’t let them sit! The more you can keep up with the day-to-day bits the less stressed you will feel and the more time you will have in the end. As an example of how I help myself manage my projects, I use a small whiteboard in my kitchen to set a daily schedule for the smaller daily or weekly jobs, and on my monthly wall calendar I track when I may have time to work on my larger projects.

2. Set aside some “me time.” Making time to devote to just you is a another great step towards achieving a sense of balance. This can be difficult at times, but it’s so important and worth it! I notice a huge difference in my energy and concentration level when I find even just 10 minutes to meditate, or practice mindfulness. I also dedicate 15-20 minutes most mornings to working out or to go for a run. These practices significantly elevate my performing ability. Workouts give me energy, stamina, and strength, and meditation allows me to keep my head clear during performances and to stay relaxed during the day. Another special “me time” is heading to the Farmer’s Market most Saturdays. There are several enjoyable activities out there for your special “me time.” Think about what the most relaxing or fun way would be to spend part of a Saturday morning that’s just for you, and make it a ritual that you really look forward to each week!

3. Maintain your relationships. The one aspect of a working parent’s life that is very easy to crumble, if not well supported and maintained in a healthy way, is relationships. Continue to date your spouse or significant other, and spend time with your friends. Some couples find it best to set aside one time each week or every other week as a guaranteed date day or date night. You can even mark it in your calendar like an important appointment that you can’t miss. Whether it is a long walk on a trail or the river-walk downtown, having game night with our close friends, a relaxed dinner nearby, or a movie, as long as you can get a few hours to yourselves, it counts, and it makes a positive difference towards the relationship! This can require thinking ahead and having babysitters and even back-up babysitters lined up. Communication is also a big part of cultivating and nourishing any relationship. When things are going well, talk about it! When things are not going so well, talk about that, too. It is healthier to get your feelings, thoughts, and emotions out in the open. Socialization, dating, and communication are easy to overlook, but it is an essential part of the work/life balance. Make sure you are working it into your busy schedule from time to time!

4. Play with your children. Finally, spend quality time with your children every day. Play with them, help them with homework, read to them, and talk with them. They need to know that they are important in your life, too. It’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in your day, but by giving them your undivided attention every day, you can avoid many behavioral problems that can arise from them craving your attention. Depending on the age and temperament of the children, even 10 minutes of fun here, and another 10 minutes there can go a long way toward helping them feel secure and appreciated. Also, give yourselves a fun weekend. Being a big part of their lives enriches your relationship with them and nourishes your own sense of fulfillment.

Preserving a good work/life balance is crucial to keeping us healthy and at our peak mentally and physically. It’s easy to let ourselves fall into a workaholic rut while other important aspects of our lives fall by the wayside. With just a little adjustment to our schedules like the ones above, however, we can sustain all facets of our busy life, giving it a more structured, flourishing, and harmonious feel. Ask yourself if you can delegate any of your responsibilities, if there is a way of making one part of your day run more efficiently, if you can hire household help, or maybe you can train yourself to wake up just 20 minutes earlier for that workout. Find what works with your own life structure, and stick to it! We are creative, imaginative people with a lot to juggle. We can apply this ingenuity to balancing our work with our busy lives, and live the enriching life we crave!

(Disclaimer: A version of this article has been submitted to Ezine articles, and another version appeared in the Chicago Flute Club’s Pipeline newsletter in the summer of 2018)

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

No Soda Zone

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/09/04/it-doesnt-matter-if-its-sugary-or-diet-new-study-links-all-soda-an-early-death/

This can be controversial, but I’m going to take it straight on. We have always had a soda-free house since we were married. I kicked soda out of my life in 2001, and I have never, ever looked back. I’m in my best shape, I have a great amount of energy, I look younger, I drink a lot of water, and I feel terrific about my health and outlook! I knew early on that there was no way a drink loaded in corn syrup and trade secret mystery ingredients (?? hmmm….) could possibly do no harm, and I wanted it out of my life. More importantly, I didn’t want my children getting hooked either. So, the solution was simple: don’t ever buy it. Yes, my children drink only water, milk, and a small amount of juice, mornings only, while at home, and they are surviving just fine.

Of course, there are a few things that get in the way of our no soda policy: birthday parties outside the home, hanging out with friends, school functions. Yes, kids are surrounded by it. It’s everywhere. Do they partake when mom’s not around to say no? Of course they do! They’re children! Here’s the thing they are starting to understand: they don’t like how it makes them feel, and for good reason. So, when they invariably come home complaining of a stomach ache or slight nausea, and they’ve fessed up to drinking a bunch of soda, I don’t give them an “I told you so.” I tell them I’m sorry that they feel this way, and ask them to think if they feel like they had “too much” or if something they ate or drank could have caused them to feel this way. By asking them to think about what their actions were and how it is causing their bodies to react, they can make the connection themselves, which is far more effective than me telling them what NOT to do.

We are a soda-free house because I want my children to learn to drink healthier alternatives. This is made a lot easier by never purchasing it or bringing it into the house. I do the same thing with other “junk foods.” I don’t have them in the house, so my kids don’t learn to eat them. They grab fruit, natural popcorn, or whole-grain options after school or when they need a snack on the weekends. When they are thirsty, they go for water. I am so proud that they practice making these healthy choices now, so when they get older, it’s just natural for them.

Posted in Parenting

Want to Really Motivate Your Kids? Encouragement

Did you know?? There is a big difference between praise (good job!) and encouragement  (I really like the progress I’m seeing!). Say those phrases to yourself a few times. One of them really makes you feel a lot more satisfied and warm inside, right?! It turns out that there is a reason for it.

I stumbled upon my first article online about using encouragement over praise a few years ago, right before I made the smart switch to positive parenting. I liked what I read, but I kept forgetting to employ it consistently. I nearly forgot about it all together until I started reading my positive parenting books and made a conscious effort to really go for it. There are several articles to read about why to use encouragement over praise — and you should read them — but what I want to write about is how I got the ideas to stick the second time and the results that I noticed in my kids. 

Before I dive in, I want to tell you that the book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time by Amy McCready, really helped me to get going on the encouragement front. This book is fantastic because she lists what phrases to use instead of the generic, “good job.” First off, there is nothing wrong with the occasional praise. I use it sparingly too. But that added emphasis on the action makes all of the difference. A quick Google search will help you find some encouragement phrases, too. Again, I definitely recommend reading the articles that explain why encouragement works. Here is how I implemented the strategy and got it to stick:

  1. Write down encouraging phrases or starts of phrases on a piece of paper and leave it in a place you can easily glance at them. Like most moms, I spend most of my time in the kitchen/dining area when my kids are home. I’m cleaning up, fetching snacks, helping with homework, you name it! I spend the bulk of my afternoons to early evenings in that one spot in my house. So, I have my piece of paper tucked near the back corner of my counter and wall, where I can easily see it to quickly get ideas, but it’s out of the way so the kids don’t really notice it. That was the biggest help for me.
  2. Practice those encouraging phrases with yourself, spouse, and friends. Practice makes perfect, right? Yep, I found that the more I used the phrases, the easier it got to make the switch. Plus, encouraging words can always brighten someone’s day, including your own day. So, get practicing right away and watch those faces light up!
  3. Read, re-read, and refresh yourself often. Remember how I read that online article about encouragement, and it didn’t really stick that first time? Out of sight, out of mind, for sure. So, if it helps to keep your book handy or to print out or bookmark your article(s), do it to keep those ideas fresh in your mind. I keep my books, which are covered in post-it notes and tabs marking important pages, on my dresser in my bedroom, and that way I can just pull them out and get right to whatever page I need right away.

When I consistently employ encouragement-over-praise, I do see an improvement in my children’s behavior. I see that they are more willing to finish the task. I see the glow on their faces when they know how proud I am of them and how proud they are of themselves — they feel accomplished and more positive about themselves! I also notice a difference in how they respond to me. With a quick shot of praise, maybe I get a “thanks” sometimes, but with encouraging words, I’ve got their full attention. Their little antennas perk-up (so to speak) because they want to hear what it is that I like seeing in what they’ve done. Finally, when they know exactly what they’ve done that was so good, they are more apt to repeat it. They are motivated!

I’m not saying that I am perfect at utilizing encouragement every single time. Sometimes life moves so fast that a quick “good job” or “well done” is all that you can get in. And that’s okay, too! Sometimes we even relapse. I can tell you from experience that you will notice a difference in that direction, too, as you’ll have more breakdowns in behavior and motivation. But, every time I go back to being more consistent about encouragement, things always seem to improve, even if it’s by a little bit. Hey, that every bit is always worth it! Take note on their reaction as you begin to implement the change to encouragement. That is usually motivation enough to keep me going!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

How I Work at Home When the Kids are Home

Working at home while the children are in the house can be a monumental challenge. I’m not gonna lie: they are my hardest days, and any parent that has tried this knows exactly what I’m talking about. The kids are off school today for Labor Day, so it’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s a [literal] mess — I had 2 sets of blanket tents and empty fruit and cereal bowls covering my dining area just one hour ago, and laundry is piling up! The blanket tents and loud zombie playing are super fun, but with concerts starting back up, I still have to practice. And of course, then there are the inevitable arguments breaking out and all the other small “fires” (so to speak) to put out. Put it all together, and it’s very difficult to work and can leave you frazzled. It’s so easy to want to give up.

Lately, I have found the best way to handle this is to do the work in chunks: work a bit, then play, work a bit, then play. I definitely allow screen time during my work time, which does help immensely, but since I limit them to 2 hours per day it’s not enough time to get my practicing finished. So, we’ve had to experiment a lot to find a workable solution for everyone, or something that the children will at least tolerate for me. For some parents, working quite early in the morning and after the kids have gone to bed is a good solution for them. Since I’m a musician, I can’t exactly get away with that on my flute, but I have left my quieter work for when they are in bed. In the past, I have tried to do all of my practicing in the morning, leaving my afternoons free to play with my kids, but I still found myself drifting towards working in chunks anyway. Another thing that has worked well is when I’m lucky enough to have my husband home at the same time (sadly, not today), one of us can be with the children while the other one works, and then we’ll switch off. I have tried many different ways of squeezing in work while they are home.

I don’t believe that there is a solution that works perfectly well every single time. Something that may work one day doesn’t work at all the next. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something goes wrong. I get it. I think the key is being flexible enough to allow change to happen without disrupting our work entirely. Yes, this takes quite a bit patience and ingenuity to work around major disruptions, but developing this fluidity can save you a lot of frustration and may make you more productive overall. (Just for the record, it took me 3 chunks of time to get this blog written!)