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 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 Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Uncategorized

International Travel with Kids

When my husband and I moved back to the United States from living in England, we vowed that we would be back one day. That “one day” turned out to take a lot longer than we had anticipated. (Funny how having 3 babies within 46 months will do that!) But, we finally made it back just over a year ago, with all three kids in-tow. Never thought about taking kids overseas? If your children are in elementary school or older, it’s easier than you might think, and the educational value of the trip (not to mention all the eye-popping wonder and excitement) makes it so worth it. I’ll break down how we made it all work.

1. Flight miles. The very first step is to get a good flight miles card — one that earns at least 1.5x miles, but preferably 2x miles. The best flight-miles cards will come with annual fees, but your first free flight more than pays for that instantly. Don’t forget to pay in-full every month, so you don’t incur interest charges! We took our time collecting our miles, so we were able to fly our family of 5 out for not much out-of-pocket.

Backpack it. Yes, you read that correctly: backpack it. Why? Portability. We travelled all throughout England, from the southern coast up to the north using trains. There is a lot of walking involved, too, and there is nothing worse than lugging huge suitcases on and off trains and down old streets with uneven brick or pavement. Each person was responsible for his or her own backpack, and it was simple. We had each child bring their school backpacks, and we packed them with 3 changes of clothes only. Don’t fret, we had a way to wash our clothes (more on that below). The front pocket of each backpack held some mechanical pencils and their journal. Bringing journals was a great way to have them chronicle their experience while we were on a train or back at the flat, plus they liked to use them to draw in or play games. The grown-up backpacks carried our own clothes, of course, but they also carried our documents (only when we needed them) and a portable phone charger. The portable charger was essential, since I was using Google Maps and other GPS apps on my phone, along with my camera, all of which ate my battery. I kept my phone plugged into my charger in my backpack, which has a USB port, so I was never low on battery; I recharged the portable charger at night. Save buying your toiletries for when you get to your destination, and carry them in your shopping bag back to where you are staying. Just like at home!

3. Airbnb. If you want to keep costs down, I highly recommend using Airbnb, or another similar site. (We actually used HomeAway for most of our stay, which was a mistake, so I can’t recommend them for international travel.) I totally understand if you are skittish, and want to stay at hotels: they are predictable, offer loads of services, and you can always talk to a live person. But, if you want to keep costs down, I have to recommend arranging your lodging in a flat online. You usually can get the entire flat or apartment to yourself, so there is more privacy, you can feel like a local, you can cook your meals (saves a lot of money!), it can give you and your kids a feeling of having a home-away-from-home, and you can do your laundry at night. That last one was key for us! We specifically booked places that had en-suite laundry facilities, so we just did our laundry when we were in for the night. That helped to keep our packing light and portable.

4. Do your research at home, and try to buy as many of your experiences and train tickets online as possible before you leave. For example, we knew that while we were in London, we wanted to visit certain sites and take a ride on the London Eye. It is a giant time-saver to just sort out your trip itinerary and then book your experiences online before you leave. This helps you avoid long lines and frustration once you are there, and saves your kids from getting too cranky and frustrated themselves. Another thing to remember is that many museums are free or free-with-donation, so definitely seek those out, and be sure to plan for museums designed specifically for kids, which are great fun and educational! Also, if you are moving from city to city or country to country using trains, many offer ticket sales online. I would highly recommend you take advantage of this and order your tickets before you leave. Once you have your itinerary set, complete with your transportation and experiences details, save those on all of the devices you are taking with you (as a backup), and save all of your sales confirmation emails, and back those up as well. Finally, don’t forget to purchase a SIM card for your phone, if needed, so you can make local calls.

5. Locate playgrounds and take time for breaks. This was another biggie for us! I dubbed our trip to the UK a “Tour of Her Majesty’s Playgrounds.” Kids are kids no matter the circumstances, and they want to play. They need unstructured play to help them unwind and be themselves. So, you will do everyone a giant favor by using a maps app or Siri or Google to help you locate playgrounds near where you are. Even just 10-15 minutes of play will go a long way towards keeping your kids happy during your trip and less fussy. Another helpful tip is to make sure you take some breaks, too. We usually stopped for afternoon tea in a café and let them have juice and a snack. This gave everyone a chance to slow down, take in the experience, and recharge. Honestly, trying out all of the different cafés became one of the highlights of the trip for our kids!

Taking kids with you on international trips can be an amazing adventure and a sure way to create special moments they will never forget. By taking your time with saving flight miles, doing careful research, and doing a lot of planning ahead of time, you can have a great trip that is packed with fun, and have some restful moments, too! We already have another international trip in the works, and I can’t wait! What kind of exciting travel adventures would you love to give to your children?

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

Why I'm Switching to Nighttime Meditation

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!

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 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 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.