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.
I have suffered from poor sleep for years. Long gone are the days of a blissful 8-9 hours of sleep. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Ever. Prolonged insomnia can lead to so many health issues down the road, and it absolutely wrecks you mentally in the short-term. If you’ve ever gone even a few days of not having good sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s horrible.
My sleep problems started just before I moved to the UK for grad school. Yep, stress. Stress of getting my visa approved, stress of moving internationally, stress of being surrounded by some of the best flute students anywhere. Then, of course, there was the pressure once school started. So. Much. Stress. I think I averaged 1-3 hours of sleep total each night my first term, and I was able to up it to about 5-6 hours by my third term. I was so grateful! By the time I graduated and moved back to the States, I was sleeping better until I started having children. The cycle began again. Now, with changing hormones, it’s only getting worse! Enter another bad cycle of poor sleep. Over time, and working with my doctor, I learned some tricks to help. It’s still not perfect every single night, but I am sleeping so much better than I have in years. I’ve even managed to sleep through storms. That’s new! Now, even when I go to bed with my mind racing, I can still get to sleep. I want to share these with you, because, like I said, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this, ever. (Sorry, fellow mommas, but these methods work best when you’ve not had that glass of wine.)
1. Melatonin. First of all, ask your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplements, but I use 5mg of melatonin to help me reset my circadian rhythm. We think between grad school and waking babies, it just got out of whack. I only used it once I was finished with my pregnancies and breastfeeding. Start small, like a 3mg dose if you’ve never used it before. Again, see your health care provider first!
2. Use a weighted blanket, a heavy, large DIY rice pack that you can heat up, or anything with weight. The extra weight that you put on your body helps you to feel more secure. I absolutely cannot sleep without something extra across my chest. When it is the summer, and it’s hot out, maybe I’ll just use a pillow to hug, but having the extra weight has worked very well for me. My sister-in-law let me borrow her heated rice pack when we were staying the night at her house, and it worked brilliantly!
3. Write down your worries. If you are laying down for the night and you find yourself starting to worry about anything and everything, get right back up and write them out immediately. Usually you’ll find that either the problems don’t seem so huge when you look at them on paper, or you’ll realize that you can’t actually deal with them that second, but you can easily get to them the next day. I have found that this helps me to relax because I know I have a list of tasks to tackle, and I won’t forget about them.
4. White noise. I know that they say to have a completely silent room, but that actually doesn’t work well for me. It unnerves me to have complete silence, allowing you to hear every creak and pop your house or apartment makes. Maybe I’m odd? I think what happened was learning to fall asleep with my baby’s sleep sheep over the years, and now I have to have some noise. In any case, we have a small fan that we turn on every evening. It helps to keep the air moving, which is so nice, and it gives me the white noise I feel like I need. The other advantage to white noise is that it can give you something else to focus on as you fall asleep, instead of your racing thoughts.
5. Mindfulness and imagery. I use a few techniques here. One is to breathe in slowly while thinking of the word “in” and breathe out slowly while thinking of the word “out”. This worked for me for a long time. When I begin meditating, I’ll often use this to help me get fully relaxed. Another technique that I learned from a friend is to start at your toes and imagine that you are slowly filling up your body with sand. This has been working extremely well lately. I don’t even get past my ankles before I’m out! I imagine that my feet are hollow, and the sparkling sand is very slowly falling from my toes to my heels, filling up my feet. Once your feet are full, move up your leg, allowing your leg to feel quite heavy. I love this trick!
If you are suffering from poor sleep or full-blown insomnia, please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot! So many of us have been there, and we all wish you the best sleep. There are loads of ideas that might work for you. I also highly recommend seeing your health care provider, too. Sleep is crucial to a healthy life and for being at your best when you are caring for your children or at your job. Do try the above methods and see which work best for you. I use all of them every night, because I absolutely have to. Sweet dreams!
Why do I workout? Why do I excitedly or begrudgingly take off my comfy pajamas to squeeze into my tight workout clothes? (I do love my fabletics gear, but let’s be honest… ) Why do I turn on my HIIT workout and force my body into doing these crazy, super hard moves for nearly 30 minutes?! Well, I’ll tell you: I love it, and it improves me.
I love the feeling I get when I’m finally finished. That I’m-going-to-die, I-can’t-catch-my-breath, kinda-ouchy I’m-going-to-feel-this-in-the-morning feeling. I love it! If nothing else gets me through my workout, focusing on the positive feelings I’m going to get later, definitely gets me there. I love that it’s improving my phrasing and endurance with practicing and performing. I love that it takes me to my limit, so I know how hard I can push myself. Maybe I can push myself even harder the next day. I love that I have energy to play with my children at the end of the day. I love that little bit of time I can focus on ME and improving myself. (And let’s be honest here, I like to wear little sundresses, so I had better workout!)
Whatever pushes you or encourages you, find it! Use what you learn about your body and your endurance while you workout or run, for example, and apply it to other parts of your life. What I’ve learned from working out is to focus on the end and those endorphins you get when you’re finished, that “runner’s high,” right? It gets me through my 3-mile runs, and it gets me through my crazy-hard HIIT workouts, and I apply this to other tasks that have to be done but that I would rather not do. Focus on the end game and what you are trying to achieve, and allow it to push you to your goal. This is what makes me a better “me” and doing what I want to do. Try it.
A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!
My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.
After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.
As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!
I know what you might be thinking: Work Out? How am I supposed to fit yet another *thing* into my already crazy schedule?? Trust me. I get it. I now have two jobs – Second Flute with an orchestra and university teaching – along with my 3 growing children, commitment to whole foods (read: slow-food) cooking, and everything that goes along with being a committed wife, mother, and owning a house. It’s insane. But it’s important. Healthy living impacts everything from how you feel to how you play and how you live.
Working out, either at a gym or at home with free weights (which is what I do), and maintaining a healthy body has a whole host of benefits to musicians. I doubt I even get close to listing everything. There’s, of course, the benefit of increasing stamina, lung power, improving and maintaining body structure, and balance, thus helping reduce injury and prolong productivity. Working out also maintains and can improve overall mental function (super important!). You also increase cardiovascular health, reduce stress, and help your bones stay strong all by working your body and your heart.
Another exciting benefit that I have personally found is that my workouts have helped increase my own body awareness. By focusing on certain areas of my body during workouts I have found areas of tension that I can release, and I have applied this to my flute playing, as well. For example, while holding a plank I notice that my neck, specifically the back of my neck where the vertebrae are located, likes to become very tense. By feeling like I am elongating my neck throughout the 2-4 minutes of my plank, I can keep it much more relaxed and hold the plank for longer periods of time. My shoulders are another area that hold a lot of tension. Being more aware of what extreme muscle tension feels like while working out, I have found that while practicing I more easily notice areas of tension and can release them.
Yes, taking 20-40 minutes five days a week can seem like a lot, and maybe even impossible, but with a little creative schedule flexibility, it can be attainable. One positive thing to remember is that the time you work-out adds up over the day. So, say you just have 10 minutes in the morning, then you can maybe find another 10-20 minutes later in the day. It all counts. Maybe just getting up 10 minutes earlier for some early morning yoga would make the difference, then it’s just a matter of finding another 10 minutes later for some stair running/walking or walking/jogging with the dog, a bike ride through your favorite part of town, etc. Just keep in mind to get lots of protein, some healthy fats, and load up on colorful vegetables. You’ll love how you feel and how much you’ll impact your performing in a very positive way!
Honestly, I started working out just so I could keep up with my children! I no longer struggle to pick them up, chase after them, and otherwise be the mother that I want to be to them. I have the mental and physical capacity to do what I need to for them and for my playing. It all ties together.
The last few months have brought so much work for me that I’ve neglected my site for a bit. Apologies! It’s been exciting, though! I served as the Chair of the 2015 Indianapolis Flute Fest, where we hosted the fabulous Jasmine Choi (www.jasminechoi.com). I even played for her the week before Flute Fest!!! She’s such a wonderful coach! Then, I had the honor of playing in the Hilbert Circle Theatre for a wonderful woman, Susan Kitterman, who is retiring in May as the director of the New World Youth Symphony Orchestra, where I played piccolo in 1995-1996. I also got the opportunity to be a part of the Butler University Arts Fest, playing the music of Rogers and Hammerstein and sharing the stage with the Butler Ballet (second only to Julliard!). Of course, I had my regular orchestral work in-and-amongst the other work. It was hard work and a little overwhelming at times, while juggling three small children, but it was worth every effort!
My toddler decided just before the Flute Fest that he was ready to potty-train. Yikes! I wasn’t ready, but if he was ready, then I had to be. It was a little frustrating at times, but once I took a breath and got comfortable with stopping every 20 minutes or so to put him on the toilet, it got easier. Once he developed awareness of actually urinating, then it got significantly easier. I think that that is a large part of the process: creating awareness. Toddlers are busy and want to go, go, go. They are so busy playing that they likely don’t even realize that they are urinating (pooping is another story — they are quite aware of that!). Once we both could recognize the signs of needing to go, then it’s just a matter of making it to the toilet. Sometimes he would fight it quite a bit. In the early stages of potty training, you really can’t push it too much, or you’ll turn your child off of it. However, once they are quite accustomed to using the toilet, you really do need to insist that they go and use it. As my husband, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, likes to tell me, “potty-training is not a linear progression,” meaning, it’s often two steps forward and one step back. Keeping that in mind helps significantly, too.
I learned so much about self-discipline, patience, and the importance of exercise and relaxation techniques during this incredible time. Because I had 3-to-4 shows worth of music at any given time, I really did have to pace myself and stagger learning each show. I had to trust myself that I could still play successfully without playing every single note every day, which is completely impossible when children are involved. I learned to be patient with the learning process of my own work and with a potty-training toddler. This is where the exercise and relaxation techniques really come into play and help out. (see previous posts). It has been a learning process for me on so many levels, and that is what makes being a musician and a mommy so rewarding and enriching for me! Now I’m on to preparing for another possible recital. The excitement just never stops!
This post is really a supplement to two previous posts, and I’m excited to share some more discoveries!
I tried my experiment, again, of running then practicing to give myself another go at learning from it. I ran 1.5 miles (2.4km) — not a lot, but enough — then picked my flute up. I didn’t get quite the massive sound that I remember from the first time (or maybe it has grown in my imagination!), but I learned something a little new: while the intake of air did improve from my everyday practice, it was the out-breath that was affected the most by the running. It was fluid, uninhibited, uninterrupted, everything that an out-breath should be. You get your lungs working hard, yet efficiently with running, then blowing through a flute is much easier work because your lungs are really working for you. They take in more air deeply and fluidly as your body is desperate for the oxygen, they then release that air in the same manner. Perfect. Obviously, we probably can’t do this exercise every single time we practice, but even just learning from the experience once or twice can have huge implications for how we proceed with our practicing thereafter.
Yesterday I felt miserable. I woke up feeling bad and had little energy. Having a recital coming up, however, I had to practice. My practice was unfocused and hardly goal-driven. I took several tiny breaks to pop online and view Facebook and the News, which didn’t help my lack of concentration. And while I scored nearly 4 hours of practice, it was practically unproductive (except for a few shining moments), and I ended up injuring my right hand in two places: my thumb and pinky. What a dumb thing. That night it was clear that I had succumbed to my children’s cold they so graciously shared with me and the rest of their school. Yuck.
After a great night’s sleep, surprisingly, I woke up with a sore throat, aching ears, and even less energy. Great. Well, at least I’ve been taking Zicam (zinc), so, I thought, maybe after I get the older two kids off to school and I get a nice, hot cup of coffee and another dose of Zicam, I’ll feel better. Thankfully, that was the case. I started practicing with my happy toddler watching Super Why (a fun learn-to-read 25-minute series [he’s known his alphabet for months] http://pbskids.org/video/ ), but everything felt, well, not right, like I was working too hard. I did get some productive time in, but knowing that I needed to take it easy on my right hand, I took a very long break after about 1 1/2 hours of practice. What a great decision! I had eaten a good snack, took my recital dress to get altered, had a filling, delicious lunch, and with some renewed energy (and even more Zicam), I sounded great and playing felt easy again. Then it suddenly dawned on me, I was forgetting to have fun and that practicing and the recital itself should be fun — musically satisfying, of course, but fun. With my newly enlightened mindset, practicing was once again enjoyable. I didn’t stress out about missed notes, and even though I had to stop and run an emergency second pair of eyeglasses to my husband, I could pick right up where I left off and happily continue my work. I had a great practice session. Gotta remember to have fun! What a difference!
“With every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find that fun and, snap, the job’s a game!” — Mary Poppins
I probably don’t need to go into the importance of having a specified day or time for some “me” time each week, but I’m going to do it, anyway. I didn’t use to have a set day or time set aside for just me; I let it happen when it happens. Well, after weeks of not having any time for myself I would explode and desperately cry to my husband about how I need a time-out NOW and would just take one, leaving him behind, unexpectedly, to handle the chaos that has amassed in our wake. After feeling relieved from my few hours’ break, the cycle would start all over again. Rinse, repeat. This is not only unfair to my husband and children, it’s really unfair to me, as well.
Over the last few months I have set aside Saturday mornings for myself. I run a few miles, go to the farmers market, run any other errands, and come home feeling free and light, ready to take on the next 6 1/2 days. Because we know this is going to happen each week, my husband is a little more prepared for it (at least, I don’t get that exasperated look anymore!), and I feel better about leaving and returning. I am so much more relaxed and comfortable knowing I have a time just for me, and this, of course, affects how I am as a mother: happy mommy translates to better parenting.
Date night is another type of “me” time that is equally important. I wish this was something we could do every week, personally, but we at least get one to two times per month just to ourselves. I mentioned in a previous post about how vital it is to one’s happiness to build and strengthen relationships, and this is one way of doing just that. It’s time set aside for you and your significant other to focus on your relationship and build that special bond we all need.
So, do take the time to find a relative or a friend you trust and can count on to help you with your children each week, and find some time for just yourself. I know how stressful it can be to leave your children with someone else, but it really is better for everyone for you to focus on you. It can help make you a more relaxed and focused person which in turn will make you a better parent. Take the time to do it!
I love to run. I try to run 2-3 miles at least 2-4 times per week. It helps me maintain my energy level, my optimism, my weight, and it even keeps my body’s chemistry in balance. Musically speaking, running improves my stamina, my phrase lengths, and my confidence. Running makes me a better person and a better flutist. I love it!
A few weeks ago, I took a break from practicing, tied up my running shoes, and told my husband I’ll be back in 25 minutes. I had a fantastic run! The air was just right. The temperature was just right. The birds were singing. And when I returned home, my “runner’s high” (endorphins, etc.) was about as high as it could get. After some nice stretches and a glass of water, a thought occurred to me: let’s try to practice right away. So, I ran upstairs, picked my flute back up and, BAM!, biggest sound of my life, amazing full-of-life phrases, and an almost aggressive (but still beautiful) style. I was on top of the world.
After only about a half hour, when I thought I was going to pass out, I put my flute away and starting thinking about what just happened. Well, for starters, I had all of that positive energy still surging through me from my “runner’s high” (it’s a real thing). Second, my heart was still working a little harder than normal, but my lungs were still feeling uninhibited and huge, and sucking in every last bit of air in the room with every breath. Lastly, after pounding pavement for nearly 30 minutes, I was still feeling quite athletic and applied (transferred?) that bit of power and motivation toward my flute. So, combine those three elements, and you become a pretty amazing, powerful flutist.
My goal is to remember how all of this felt and put it to work every time I put my flute to my mouth. I mean, what a sound!!! I want to play like that all the time (musically appropriate, of course). I will probably run this experiment a few more times to help remind myself. Not only did it give me unlimited confidence and a huge golden tone, but it was thrilling for me. I loved what I was doing beyond all measure. I want that every time I play!