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Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

Why I'm Switching to Nighttime Mediation

I really love sleep. That blissful drifting to dreamland and waking up renewed… I do love it when I can get it. Yes, I blogged several months ago about how I defeated the insomnia demon. And I really thought I had! I blissfully slept reliably for 7-8 hours each night for weeks on end, after struggling and struggling with too little sleep. However, I have let the busyness of my life and my children’s school and athletic life take over. Does this sound familiar? And, of course, what is the result? For me, it’s increased stress, disorganization, and dropped routines — not my children’s routines, mind you, but my own. Sadly, the first thing I dropped was mindfulness practice. Big mistake!

The benefits of mindfulness are vast. A quick google search will bring up a whole host of articles to read, of course, and I’ve blogged about my experience here. What were the natural results of dropping the practice for weeks on end? Loss of concentration, loss of mindful control, and, most significantly, loss of sleep. It took me a while to realize what was happening. It wasn’t until my son accidentally dropped and broke my phone, and I was retrieving all of my apps for my “new” (to me) phone that I realized I hadn’t opened my Calm app in quite a while. Then it hit me: I hadn’t been practicing mindfulness.

So, a few nights ago, I had decided to switch from meditating in the afternoon, when I am just too busy either teaching, practicing, or being a mom, to meditating just before I go to bed. That small change has made such a difference in my sleep, and I love it! It has helped my mind to wind down significantly. Since I have nowhere else to go but my bed and my children are silently asleep in their beds, my thoughts don’t start to drift to where I have to be next or what I have to do later, so I have a much easier time clearing my racing head as I lay down. Just after 10-12 minutes of peaceful, quiet meditation, I am more relaxed, my breathing is slower, and I am better prepared to fall asleep. In fact, I would say it is so much more effective, for me, just before bed than in the middle of the day. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly benefits to pausing in the middle of the day to unload and rest yourself, but those benefits simply won’t present themselves for you if you forget or your phone decides not to remind you that day. So, if you are someone who does practice mindfulness during the day or even someone who is new to meditation, give it a try at night and see what you think. Clear those racing thoughts and sleep better!

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Teaching Gratitude

We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving. In my family, it’s not only a time when we celebrate being together and gathering around a giant meal that we have all helped to create, but it’s also a time when we celebrate being thankful for the blessings we have been given. As we begin eating, we go around the table one-by-one discussing the things, events, or people for which we are thankful. It’s a beautiful reminder that few things are guaranteed in life and how dependent we are on each other, even if it’s not always obvious in the busyness of life.

While Thanksgiving doesn’t happen every day, sadly, I still strive to continue this practice at home when I can. It’s one of many ways in which I work to teach gratitude to my children. When the kids are having a particularly bad day — maybe they are sad because their friends or classmates treated them unfairly, or they are jealous that a friend got a new gaming system — I find that having them list 3 or 4 things for which they are grateful (only when they are calm and not flooded with emotion) really does help to bring a smile back onto their sweet faces. This exercise also has the side benefit of teaching them how to help themselves see the bright side to things. I especially enjoy talking about things they are grateful for when they are in a particularly good mood. I tend to get a longer list that gets sillier as they go along, and it usually ends with a lot of laughter!

Another way I try to teach my children gratitude is by having them help around the house, so they can see the value what others do for them and to not take that for granted. Because of their school activities and sports schedules I have a hard time establishing a set schedule, but during the school week I do have them help put away their clean laundry and help bring up dishes from the table. I always have them clean up food or drink messes they make. On weekends I have them help in bigger ways, since we have a bit more time. Obviously, I’m not asking a lot from them, but I do want to teach them about being helpful and contributing to the work that must be done around the house. They see the value in this and, in turn, are far more grateful for when someone else comes along and helps them.

Raising grateful kids can be a journey with some bumps along the way, but it’s always worth that extra effort. Grateful people are happier people, and of course we want that for our children. If you aren’t in the habit of thinking about what you are grateful for, start today. List 3-5 things you are grateful for on your own every day, and have your kids join in when they are calm, like maybe during dinner. You can watch their little faces light up as they think about their favorite things and know that you are teaching them so much more than any textbook ever could.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Stay Ahead When Time is Short (in 3 easy ways)

Let’s face it: there is simply not enough time in a day. How many times have you said that since having children? I have probably said it or thought it 1-2 times per week every week for years. There is so much going on in our lives and in our children’s lives. And while some aspects of life do get easier once your sweet babies are in school during the day, the whirlwind rush of activities once that final bell rings more than makes up for the child-free time beforehand. I find it quite easy to let ongoing projects (mine and theirs) slip in the flurry of activity once they get home, and it doesn’t take long, then, to feel like your drowning in unfinished work. Sound familiar? Below is how I break down our duties and maximize what little time we have.

  1. Make Lists. I love lists! They are simple, you can look quickly at them and know what is next, and best of all, you can cross lines out when you finish with the item. It’s a great feeling! I have always been a list-maker. Recently, I’ve started applying that skill to help keep my middle-school daughter on track with her three projects she has due at the end of this month. We broke down each project into manageable “bites” or tasks that she can accomplish each week leading up to the due date. By doing this, each of the tasks feel less overwhelming and allows her to stay organized and on top of the workload. We keep the list on the fridge, so it’s kept safe, and we can refer to it quickly and easily when we need to. You can easily apply this technique to your own work or responsibilities. Perhaps your own tasks change from day to day like mine often do. I keep a small dry-erase board in my kitchen so I can list my daily or even weekly responsibilities and stay on track.
  2. Use Calendars. Seems obvious, right? Of course most people keep a calendar at home and work. Perhaps you keep another one on your mobile device. Use these to help you stay organized, not just to jot down your doctor visits or upcoming appointments. Yes, I use the calendar on my phone for the aforementioned visits and appointments, etc., but I also use it to remind me of my daily tasks when I’m not at home. I actually find my Google calendar so much more effective at reminders than the reminder app itself! For my children, I put together a separate calendar (simply printed a blank one off the web), and I use that to list when homework and projects are due and when they have quizzes and tests. I stuck it on the fridge, so they can easily see in advance when these items are coming up. I love that I can quickly refer to it and remind them what books to bring home to study that afternoon and what they can expect at school each day. It has completely taken away that feeling of stumbling around in the dark and surprises when it comes to their upcoming events.
  3. Start Early. Finally, look ahead at what may need to be done in the coming month or two months, create a reasonable timetable for accomplishing it week-by-week, and begin working on it as soon as it is possible. For example, since I am a performing musician, I can look at my upcoming performance schedule and begin to work on the most demanding or technical music very early on. So, by the time the concert approaches, I’m a lot less stressed about learning the music. Of course, you can adapt this example to your own working lifestyle or career. Deadlines come sooner than you think, we all know that. By being prepared and ready early, you can avoid the hectic and frantic feeling that often accompanies those deadlines.

Yes, time is really short, and there never seems to be enough of it. We live busy lives and need every second we can get. By using basic organizational tools and a little forethought, we can stay on top of our tasks and help our children stay on top of their responsibilities, too. Not only do these 3 simple ways above save time in the end, they can teach our children about the benefits of organization, as well. It’s a win-win for the whole family and allows us a bit more time at the end of the day for snuggles!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Every Parent is a Working Parent

Here is a typical day for me, and probably for most of us parents: I get up after not nearly enough sleep. I stumble into the kitchen to pour myself that treasured first cup of coffee and begin the process of getting breakfast started for my children. I go wake them, and after several attempts, they begrudgingly trod into the kitchen and sit down at the table, where I finish laying breakfast. After they have taken way too long to eat, because they started playing, having animated conversations, or they took a long time waking up, then it’s a mad dash to try to finish getting ready for school. I quickly grab their things, making sure they’ve hurried out the door with their backpacks, computer bags, and lunches. Then my own work begins. I quickly workout or run, I practice my music, get ready for teaching (or travel to do the teaching), do the shopping, cleaning, and when I have a minute blogging(!), and then it’s off to the races again once school lets out. We have after school activities to drive them to nearly every day, homework to do, dinner to make, play time, reading, and bed. Unless I’m meditating or blogging, I don’t even take time to sit during the day, including breakfast, because there’s hardly a point. It’s enough to wear anyone out just thinking about it!

None of us parents are alone in this hectic day. It’s typical of daily parenting life, regardless if you work inside or outside the home. So, when I’m having a conversation with someone, and they state something like, “oh, you stay home, so what do you do all day?” or “oh, so you’re not really doing anything all day.” it kind of makes my head spin. Parents work. We work hard. We work around the clock. Whether you are blessed with easy going kids or kids who require more special attention and have special needs, you are working. Whether you are working inside of your own home or outside your home, you are working. Constantly. You’re not just the captain of your ship, you’re the cook, the navigator, the boatswain, the quartermaster, the nurse, the carpenter, everything. We wouldn’t expect only one or two people to run an entire ship, but we expect it of parents.

I think it’s crucial that we change the perception that stay-at-home parents aren’t really working parents. This attitude diminishes the value of the work we do at home and for our children. In many cases, we have sacrificed promising careers for which we have spent significant time in college, not to mention tuition money, in order to raise healthy children in our homes. All parents are working parents, and I will not let others tell me or hint at otherwise.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Sharing Candy, Teaching a Life Lesson, Doing Good

Our kids get inundated with candy. Between the holidays, birthday parties, and festival parades, it’s an endless supply of sweets. After Halloween yesterday, I decided to do something good with it and teach a life lesson at the same time. This morning, I talked to my children about sharing their load of goods.

Earlier this month, after staring googly-eyed at the sheer mass of parade candy they had hauled in from our town’s festival parade, I decided to look up what to do with that excess candy. I quickly found that there were a load of options for candy donations (this is just one quick list of many available). I was happy to see that there are many operations around the country for helping send candy to our troops overseas. Bingo! A lesson in sharing is staring me in the face, and we can bring some extra smiles along the way. Bring on Halloween. I’m ready!

So, this morning, the day after Halloween, I told the children about the opportunity to share their candy with our troops. I intentionally did not use the word “donate” but the word “share,” because that’s exactly what we are doing: We are sharing what we have for others. I also told them to imagine the look on the soldiers faces when they open their care packages and see a bunch of their favorite candy from the States. That put instant smiles on their little faces as the scene played out in their minds. They were excited to participate! They were excited to share their candy!! I got extra help from my daughter who had to stay home (too much junk food the night before — more on that later), and it was wonderful to see her joyfully piling most of the parade candy and some of their Halloween candy into the box to ship out. Not only did I rid the house of an unnecessary excess of confectionery, I gave a sweet lesson on sharing and will eventually bring some joy to our men and women serving our country overseas. I call that a win-win-win. Simply google “donate candy“, talk about sharing and bringing joy to others, and you can win-win-win too!

Posted in Health and Fitness

How I am Making a Greener Home, Little by Little

By now, most of us are at least minimally aware of the need to reduce chemicals and pollutants in our home and environment to keep us safe and healthy. Any easy Google search can provide a host of information about the dangers of constant interactions and exposure with pesticides, contaminants, even preservatives and artificial additives in our food. They do real harm to our bodies and to the environment. Thankfully, there are easy steps we can take to avoid keeping harmful products, both edibles and non-edibles, in our home, giving us a cleaner, greener place to live. Below are just a few of the relatively easy measures I have taken to work to get my home more environmentally friendly.

  1. Buy Local and Organic (when I can). One of the easiest first steps I took was to stay up-to-date on the “dirty dozen” list of the most contaminated produce, and to buy these foods organic as much as possible. Yes, they are a bit pricier, but any reduction in pesticide exposure goes a long way towards keeping your body healthier. I also try to buy most of my produce locally at the farmer’s market. Many of these vendors use organic methods anyway, because not only are they selling what they grow, they are eating what they grow. They know exactly what they are putting on their crops, and typically, they want it to be as clean as possible for their own families. You can always ask what they use on their crops before you buy, so that way you know exactly what has been used on your food. You can’t necessarily do that in a grocery store!
  2. Buy Plant-Based Cleaners or Use Natural Cleaners. Another painless step is to try some plant-based, perfume-free cleaners. These usually come with mixed results, to be sure, but there are natural ways you can boost their cleaning power. Personally, I like most Seventh Generation products. I boost the laundry detergent with Borax (natural based) and dish cleaner with lemon oil. Using white vinegar to clean my kitchen and bathrooms is by far the most inexpensive and natural way to kill germs that I’ve come across (I mix vinegar with a few drops of 7th Generation dish soap and put in a spray bottle). I’ve also recently purchased a steam mop to sanitize the floors using steam heat from distilled water. Again, you can Google search the best plant-based and natural cleaners and find what works best for your needs.
  3. Use Silicone Reusable Bags. I have finally purchased a decent-sized set of reusable Ziploc-style storage bags, and I am so excited about them! I was appalled when seeing news stories describing the billions of microplastic particles in our oceans. I was even more upset by studies indicating that we are consuming nearly the weight of a credit card worth of plastic every week! I absolutely wanted to stop contributing to this senseless waste, and I finally took the first step in doing just that.
  4. Recycle. I am really excited to be at a point where we recycle more than we throw away! We are lucky to have a system where our recycling gets picked up at the curb, but it didn’t always used to be this way. I completely understand the hassle it can be to have to drop it off. If you find yourself in a community that does not offer curbside pick-up, please do try to make the effort to collect it and take it to a facility. That extra effort saves so much waste! Also, please be aware that most grocery stores and Wal-Mart have bins to place your plastic bags in for recycling. Those plastic bags that wind up in our oceans look like jellyfish (read: food!) to most sea creatures.
  5. Educate your Children. We talk to our children about why we do the above for our home and the environment. By teaching our children the importance of protecting and preserving our planet, we instill a powerful value that will ensure they continue the effort. It’s the quality of their future that we are working so hard to protect, and education is key to achieving that end.

Are there more steps I can take to have a cleaner, greener home? Absolutely. I’m certainly not perfect at it. For example, I would like to have less paper towel waste and use less water and use it more efficiently, though we do have all energy-efficient appliances. We do own a great Prius, and we hope to trade in our other vehicle for an all-electric version in the next few years. So, eventually I will get to where I think we need to be. Every little reduction in waste, chemical exposure, and additive exposure goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy body and a healthier home. Why not just try one step at a time? Your future self will thank you!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting

How I Get My Kids Out of the Spiral of Negative Thinking

It happened again last night. My little guy had a few disappointing events happen to him in a row, and then it started: the downward spiral of negative thoughts. “This always happens to me.” “Nothing goes right.” “I hate today.” “Nothing’s fun.”

We’ve all been there. A bunch of things don’t go the way we’ve hoped or planned, and it seems to wreck an entire day or even week, it feels like. As adults, we’ve experienced a lot, and we mostly ride the ups and downs. We know that some good or some luck comes our way, and that there may be disappointments in our future, too. But, we need to keep in mind that our mature brains can process these waves in ways that a child’s brain cannot.

A child’s brain develops incrementally. In fact, some evidence suggests that the brain doesn’t fully reach maturation until well into our 20’s! So, when something doesn’t go as planned for our little ones, they are typically 100% upset by it. Their whole being is upset by the event and their brain can flood with emotion. Enter the tantrum, or in my little guy’s case, the negative thought patterns.

Here is what I’ve done for my children to help break the cycle, once they have calmed down a bit and after I’ve acknowledged their feelings:

  1. List, verbally or in writing, their favorite things or activities. This switches their thinking immediately to what they love, which generally brings a smile to their face. It also helps them to realize that things do go “right” for them, as well. You can even have a conversation about this balance of ups and downs.
  2. List 3-5 things they are grateful for. Again, this works to switch their thinking, and it has the side benefit of realizing that there are things for which they are truly grateful.
  3. Share with them an experience. This can come in any form. You can share with them something that made you happy or sad or how you handled a similar situation.
  4. Brainstorm solutions. Once they have truly calmed down, you can brainstorm solutions together. This encourages them to think about solving problems and how to work around disappointments. The more you help them realize that their are solutions to most problems, in time this will help them manage problem-solving/troubleshooting on their own.
  5. Mindfulness. With my daughter who is oldest, I’ve let her participate in some of my meditations with me. It has allowed her to rest her mind and body, and she has come out of it reset and feeling relaxed.

I do work hard to not allow negativity to invade and take over my thoughts. Just as it’s important to ensure that I don’t “hardwire” my brain to go down that negative route, it is vital that I teach my children to break that cycle, as well. I want to acknowledge their disappointment, but I also want them to understand that that disappointment doesn’t have to rule their day or mindset. The ideas above have often helped me to break that cycle, once they’ve calmed down and their brains are receptive to it. These values will then go a long way towards teaching them how to handle frustrations in a healthy manner as they get older.