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

How I Have Beaten the Insomnia Demon

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!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity

Making Me the Best Me

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.

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

Mindfulness – It’s not just the latest buzzword!

pexels-photo-588561

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!

Posted in Health and Fitness

Working Out and Body Awareness

Working Out and Body Awareness

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.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Busy, busy!

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!