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

Picking My Life Back Up One Step at a Time

Unknowns. Leaving without Goodbyes. Cancelled Work. Isolation. Empty Shelves. Rationing. Depression. Parenting. Practicing. Moving Forward.

Corona virus (COVID-19) has left its mark on my house, as it has for millions of households around the world. I attended my last live performance right before our state was to go in a quasi-isolation, schools and universities closed. Life upended. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students, one of whom this semester was our last together. We picked up and left, Skype our only means of seeing each other and teaching. I was devastated. I love my job, and I love my students. This was a tough transition for me, not only for its abruptness, but also for the lack of live human interaction, of laughing, playing together, just being. And when all my performance work was cancelled and my lost income mounting, I only too easily slipped into a world of dark cloudy days, wondering when (if?) the fog and dreariness would lift. Was I facing depression?

Parenting during this time of strain and uncertainty has also taken its toll. The strain of seeing empty grocery shelves and wondering how long food will be this scarce and having to ration food in the house is real and unnerving. The realization of lost income is scary. And when parents are stressed, kids can feel it. They get stressed too. During times like these, “cabin fever” also takes on a whole new meaning. They are even advised not to go on playgrounds! Kids act out when they are stressed. I felt like my neat little world was unraveling!

I had to take action. I had to pick up the pieces of what work was left to me, my teaching, and I had to get control over my own emotions, so I can still be the teacher and the parent that I want to be. If for no other reason, than to model how to be for my children in times of global stress. I made myself keep practicing. Knowing the positive effects of endorphins and sunshine, I forced myself to keep exercising and to get outside in my yard as much as possible. I have my kids go outside as much as possible. When they ask to play in the rain, I let them play in rain. Why not? Outside time is crucial for mental and physical well-being, and they need to get that extra energy out. The forced isolation has also given us plenty of opportunities (more than plenty!) to teach my children how to communicate effectively and politely to each other — how to best solve differences with each other. And you know what? It’s working. We have far fewer arguments as they are learning to compromise and solve problems together. The next thing we are working on pitching in a bit more around the house, since we are all always home and all contributing to the mess. We’re getting there… baby steps. As we have been through a few successful days of online teaching and gaining some control of our schedules back, I feel less uneasy and unsure, and the children are more themselves again.

I feel like I went through a kind of grief cycle. I was paying attention to the news, of course, and naturally I knew it would eventually effect us in the U.S. at some point, but the magnitude and the scope of the pandemic was overwhelming. I wanted to fight against having to leave the university, but there was no choice. I wanted to fight against home-schooling while schools are closed, but there was no choice. I wanted to believe that there would still be food on the shelves when I went to the store to pick up some regular groceries, but there was none. (Well, there was still some frozen okra.) I wanted to cry, but what would it help? By putting one foot in front other the other, so to speak, I slowly walked myself out of my slump and got on with life: keeping up with my practicing, keeping up with my exercising, keeping up with teaching to my best ability, keeping up with good parenting. Just as we all do. Just as we all have to. Baby steps.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Turned Dinnertime into a Fun World of Imagination

Big admission here: dinners at home were getting pretty dull or even frustrating. Some days we would just eat and leave. Other days the kids would talk or even begin to play, but then they would forget to eat! Mostly, it became an exasperating affair of start-and-stop chit-chat and interruptions to settle arguments, or just trying to get the kids to even stay at the table. Forget any real conversation and family time! We do have a no-phone, no-books-at-the-table rule at our house, but I kept catching my husband grabbing for his phone, and consequently because, “well, Daddy’s on his phone so I can read my book”, my daughter would immediately grab whatever reading material was nearest to her and start reading, completely ignoring everyone. Ugh! Dinner is supposed to be a respite from the day; a time to enjoy a meal together and each other’s company. But, it just wasn’t, and honestly, I was getting pretty sad and disappointed over it.

So, my daughter and I brainstormed some ways of having a more interesting and engaging dinnertime routine. Our answer? Conversation starters! Here’s what I mean. Most evenings, I would have my daughter sit down for a few minutes before dinner and write out on little bits of paper things that would be fun to talk about: What would be your favorite/ultimate dessert? What would be your perfect day? What mythological creature is your favorite and why? Favorite roller coaster? What do you like the most about [insert anything]? You get the idea. We fold the papers in half, then set them in the middle of the table. Once everyone is ready to eat, one-by-one we each take a paper, read what it says, answer it, then pass that question around for everyone else to answer.

This has proved to be a game-changer! Suddenly, we were laughing together about our ideas, or reminiscing on a perfect day. We would discuss our made-up events or just smile at the prospect of whatever crazy invention or scheme someone just laid out. We were enjoying each other! We were engaged in conversation. We were getting to know each other even better each evening. It was incredible! It has really become something that I look forward to. So, despite how challenging raising my kids can be at times, watching them open up their creativity and explore their imagination has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the day. We turned an often irksome time into some really fun memories that I can look back on and smile for years to come!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Turning Life into Teaching Moments

It happens to every parent. You work hard to raise your children with a certain set of values, to choose right over wrong and good over, well, not-so-good. So, when I found out that my child, in an attempt to seem “cool” and “tough,” had made the not-so-good choice, I was disappointed and sad. I frankly questioned everything, forcing my brain to race back in time and try to sort out what I did “wrong.” How, after all of these years of coaching and training and explaining, how did he chose the wrong way to go in this situation? He knew the right thing to do, yet he stubbornly went for the puffed-chest, tough-guy route. Ugh.

On the drive home — yes, the principal called while I was teaching and in-between lessons (perfect.) — I had time to think, which was probably a really good thing. I wanted him to understand the seriousness of his decision and to go through, AGAIN, what would have been a better response to that situation and why what he did was so wrong. My other two children found out what had happened. While I was trying to keep it just between us, it did lend me an opportunity to discuss similar situations with them and how they should handle themselves in those moments. Because it had hit so close to home, I think they took it more seriously than maybe they would have otherwise. It was just the very next week when my youngest found himself in just a situation as I had described to them. When his teacher came out at pick-up time to tell me about it, she praised him on doing the right thing, making the right decision! So, what had started out as a pretty ugly circumstance, ended up as a powerful teaching tool with predicted success.

Really, every moment can be a teaching moment. Good times can be a teaching moment: “Isn’t this fun when we compromise and work together?!” Frustrating times can be a teaching moment: “You were really frustrated by this project, but you persevered and look at this great result!” (Two nights ago’s conversation.) Sad times can be a teaching moment: “I’m sorry your toy broke. What can we do differently when you want something your friend has?” (Last night’s conversation.) Proud times can be a teaching moment: “You worked so hard during your basketball season and really improved!” I think the more we can use these kinds of motivating words and teach from all angles of life, the good times and bad, we do so much for our children.

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

The 4 Ways I Keep Myself Balanced

Between teaching at a university, playing in an orchestra, taking on freelance work, blogging, and being the mother of three active children, life gets a little hectic. And by “a little” I mean a lot. (Did I mention I am trying to continue building my French fluency, as well??) I love everything that I do, so I certainly don’t want to give anything up, but that means that I have to be on top of my time and organization. So, how DO I juggle it make it work? Here are the 4 ways I keep myself balanced and focused.

1. Prioritize. I set morning, afternoon, and evening goals for myself. My mornings that I don’t teach are almost always exclusively set aside for working out and practicing. It’s all that I do. I avoid setting appointments for this time block. It is sacred space and jealously guarded for that particular purpose. My afternoons are slated for grocery shopping (if needed), laundry, blogging, and/or cleaning. If I can arrange it the night before, I do try to use the grocery store’s pick-up service, where they will do the shopping for you. I definitely recommend this! It’s such a time-saver. If I don’t have rehearsals or a concert, my evenings are devoted to family: either taxiing kids around, making dinner, having special time, you name it. Prioritize your blocks of time, and stick to it!

2. Do your work in small chunks of time. Occasionally, life will throw you some wrenches in your plan. Your kids are home sick, or school has been cancelled due to weather, or you are called away unavoidably. Whatever the issue, stay calm and stay flexible. When I find I’m suddenly home with kids during the school day, I try to work in small chunks of time, grabbing 30-minute practice sessions here and there as I am able. It does interfere with my “block scheduling” as described above, but I find that it is much more efficacious to stay flexible and do work as I can manage it, while still being available to my children at home. Children are much more agreeable to their parents working in small batches of time, as opposed to all day, if they know their needs are going to be met sooner rather than much later. It works well for everyone.

3. Manage your time well. This seems an obvious one, right? Let me explain. On the days I am home (not teaching at the university) I decide what I am better able to accomplish while the children are at school, and what items are still manageable when they are home. For example, if I need to run errands, be on the computer for a while, practice, — work that needs my attention to be absolutely on the task at-hand — I work hard to finish those while the children are at school. Other tasks like laundry, dishes, a quick check at email, and the like, where I can have my attention diverted for a bit to help with the children if needed, those I save for after the children return home from school. I want to make sure they know that I am always available, and they can have my attention immediately if necessary, but I am realistic enough to know that they don’t want me hovering over them constantly and can continue with whatever I was doing previously.

4. Meditate. I can’t stress this one enough. Find time to meditate. Lately I have switched to meditating at night, which has greatly helped my sleep (I have blogged about it earlier), but there are definitely merits to meditating during the day. Meditating greatly reduces stress and anxiety, as it helps to put space between your mind and your day-to-day worries. It helps you to focus on the here-and-now and puts your body at ease. This is great for helping you to stay balanced and focused during your day. The more you practice mediation, the easier it gets to calm your mind and ease your body, so you can continue on with your day in a more relaxed and focused way.

This is just a small snapshot of how I stay balanced and focused as a busy working mom. Yes, my house may not always be perfectly tidy. Quite the contrary at times!! There is no hiding the fact that I have three busy and active kids running around. But, to me, an overly tidy house is not what is always important. Maintaining my professional level of playing, raising good kids in a loving and nurturing way, and keeping my relationship with my family and work healthy are important to me. I hope I have given you, my lovely readers, some good ideas to help you find that balance that works for you. What are some things you do to stay balanced? I want to hear about it!

Posted in Parenting

Laughter is The Best Medicine

My little guy has been getting a bit bored lately. We live in a cold-winter climate, so going outdoors isn’t always an option, and it’s cloudy and wet more days than not. Also, he’s not as involved as my other two children are in after-school activities, and his favorite spring sport hasn’t started back up yet. He does entertain himself well with Minecraft and Geometry Dash online, but as soon as his allotted screen time is up, well, you know the drill: Mom! There’s nothing to do!! Of course, I give the usual list-making of all the games we can play and toys he can build with, but as I am saying this, I can see that he is crossing his arms and plopping himself moodily on the couch (read: gearing up for a “power struggle”). Uh oh. Here we go.

That day, I decided to try something different than my usual tactics to avoid or work around these kinds of power struggles — that dogged, “I’m going to say no to everything you suggest” attitude. I had just read earlier that laughing helps increase oxytocin (bonding hormone) and reduce anxiety and stress (Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham). I wanted to put some of what I had read into practice and see if it actually worked — to see if laughter could make a child go from being grumpy about his screen time ending to his normal happy, relatively compliant self. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous that he would just tell me to stop and then his mood would be worse. I do love our special time, which I have blogged about before, but when these kinds of moods strike — and we all know what I’m talking about! — it just feels rather forced. Still, I wanted to give it a try.

He looked up at me while sitting on the couch with his sweet but pouty face, and his arms crossed and eyes narrowed, and I looked back at him. But then I smiled, and I said, “look at this new bump on the couch [meaning him]! I’m going to sit on it and see if it’s soft!” As I turned to “sit” on him (gently, of course), he immediately started laughing and pushing me away, during which I said, “Oh wow! This couch grew legs and arms!” And we started laughing hysterically from then on! He immediately started suggesting other things we could do, like riding horses (I was the horse), and flying, with him on my feet in the air. We had so much fun. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time! It was one of our best special times together, and all of his previous grumpiness and defiance melted away.

I am looking forward to using this trick a lot more often. It does come with a caveat: if the child isn’t having it, if he isn’t playing along or the situation starts to deteriorate, then you’ll obviously need to turn to another tool in your parenting toolbox. But, I am going to use this as much as I can. What a fun way to turn a mood around! Next time you see that little rain cloud start to follow your little ones around, try some silliness and laughter to chase away the clouds. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Practicing

How Meditation Helped Me To Chase Out the Demons Today

I’ve written a few blogs on why I meditate, as well as a great meditation app that I use. I appreciate the practice of meditation more and more each time I end my session and head to bed (read here about why I switched to meditating at night). With a clear head and a fully relaxed, tranquil body, I get to sleep faster and sleep more soundly than I have for years, and I’m so grateful for it!

Today, I was reminded why meditation can help so much with practicing (or whatever your line of work inside or outside the home may be). I started practicing my long tones like I do every morning, but it was a little rough. I had worked out using my favorite HIIT workout YouTube video and then followed that up with some upper body work (whew!), so I was pretty fatigued by the time I had my shower and started practicing. I didn’t think much of it once I took a little break and got some almond butter and some tea in me. But then while I was practicing technique work and still struggling a bit, those destructive inner thoughts started spiraling around in my head. Usually, I don’t even let those thoughts enter, but they found their way in.  It was really hard to concentrate, as you can imagine. And even while I was attempting to chase them away, it didn’t work. I was nearly in tears – oh, how those thoughts are so destructive! But, then it dawned on me: I am not in the “here and now”; I’m in a nonsense land that doesn’t even exist! After I realized what was happening, I was able to stop completely, lower my flute, take a few deep, calming breaths, and clear my head. It felt easy and wonderful – all thought leaving my head like clouds drifting away, and I was free to be me and start fresh again.

I am convinced that it gets easier and easier to clear my head the more I practice meditation. It’s absolutely vital in stressful situations (like a performance) to be able to put myself in the “here and now” and focus on what I need to do and be my best.

So, when you have days where you are fatigued or your body is tired and you inadvertently let those nasty (and probably untrue) thoughts pervade your mind, you can stop, breathe, and let them float away. Start meditating tonight, and practice clearing your mind, chase the demons away, and put yourself back into alignment with your true self.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

Carb-heavy vs. Low-carb, Plant-heavy: Does it make a difference in how I feel?

The holiday season for us is a time for family gatherings, games, fun, and food. Lots of carb-heavy food. You know what I mean: mashed potatoes, casseroles, bread stuffing, and, of course, dessert. I will admit, after Thanksgiving I tend to just throw up my hands and eat whatever I have on-hand, which is usually leftovers of the rich, heavy nosh, or whatever simply sounds good. You probably don’t have to guess what sounds good on cloudy, chilly late-autumn, early-winter days: comfort food! After all, I felt like I earned it. I spent the whole year exercising regularly, eating incredibly healthy, and maintaining my healthy weight and slim figure. So, yes, I indulged. Every day. And here’s what I learned: except for that first day, it wasn’t as much fun and liberating as I thought it would be.  Hear me out.

As the leftovers started pouring into the house after our first couple rounds of family Thanksgivings and the days were getting cold, the thought of my kale smoothies and salads stopped sounding appetizing (ok, kale smoothies don’t always sound appetizing. I get it!). I just went with the flow and ate what I wanted. But after a week or more of that, my body started feeling out-of-sorts. I felt weighed down, with less energy. Honestly, my body felt compromised. The sugar from the desserts was giving me headaches! While it was interesting, at first, to change up my diet, my body wasn’t having it. I started craving fresh, green food again, so I went out and bought lettuce and some greens from the farmers market. Since Christmas and New Year’s Eve/Day was coming, along with all of the parties and more extended family dinners that go with it, I decided to try to eat more salads on the off days. While it helped to ward off some of the extra weight I knew I was going to gain, it wasn’t enough to help me feel like myself again, especially given the heavy but delicious holiday meals I was all too happy to indulge myself with the next day.

Fast-forward to the second week of January. I am back into my regular healthy eating and working routine, I feel great again! I previously posted about my lower-carb diet (here), and now I realize why it works so well for me. I just feel light and healthy. I can really feel the nutrients from my fresh veggies and lean veggie proteins doing their work nourishing my body, and, in turn, my workouts are more effective, and I feel sharper and happier. While I am a firm believer in moderating one’s diet and “treating” yourself occasionally, I am more fully convinced that a veg-heavy, lower-carb diet is a great way to nourish the body and live healthier and happier! And, by making this a part of my lifestyle, I am showing my children healthy eating habits, as well. No, they aren’t convinced about kale yet (they’ll get there!), but they do eat their veggies now and, therefore, stand a greater chance of enjoying healthy eating into adulthood. While I didn’t set out to do a carb-heavy vs. low-carb, plant-based diet challenge intentionally, I am so glad I did! It was definitely an eye-opener. So, eat your veggies. Your body and your children will thank you for it!