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.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Spending Your Time at Home in the Right Way

I was reading through a story from a stay-at-home parent, which I really like. (Read it here). The premise is that you don’t have to have a perfectly clean house to prove that you are doing your job as a stay-at-home parent. I needed that reassurance today, but I wish I had read this years ago!

When I had my first baby, her needs absolutely came first, of course. I would strive to get a shower by 1pm, or not, and hope get at least one household item completed, and maybe 45 minutes practice on my flute. By the time baby number 2 arrived just 16 months later, I still got in a tiny bit of practice, but I gave up trying to get that one household job finished. Dishes piled up. The house smelled of the poopy diapers in the trash. The floors were a mess. Then the guilt started. Dinner was even difficult to get on the table. I felt like I was failing. Yes, I was teaching my daughter to love books, learn her letters, colors, numbers, and to count. Yes, I was breast-feeding my (then) baby and singing and reading to him. But my silly sense of accomplishment was instead wrapped up in keeping an orderly house. I felt like I wasn’t doing my “job.” I felt guilty and felt judged. How I was so wrong! I was absolutely doing my job. I was raising and teaching my kids well.

I have three children now and they are all in school. While that does give me a bit more time for my work — inside and outside the home — because of fear of judgement, I still struggle at times to keep my focus where it belongs: raising good children, not having a perfectly tidy house. My kids do well in school, they come to me with issues, they talk openly with me, they play well with others, they are happy. I would take those good qualities over having a perfectly clean home any day. It means I’m spending my time in the right way. I’m grateful to have been reminded of that!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Calm: The Meditation App

I absolutely love the Calm app, and I am not getting paid to write about it — the makers have no idea that I’m writing this! I have recommended it to my students at Indiana Wesleyan University, and basically anyone who will listen to me. Haha! I love it.

As I have blogged before, I try to practice meditation / mindfulness several times per week. Not only do I find it relaxing, it gives me a chance to change my thought patterns, put some space between my mind and the outside world, and allows my body to reset. I find it easier to maintain some inner peace, to relax and soften my muscles at will, and to fall sleep. I can recharge and continue on with my busy day.

I love several things about the Calm app. The app uses meditation to help with several aspects of life that can cause anxiety and stress. There is really something for everyone. In each of the different sections within the app, the speaker helps to deconstruct what causes each specific source of anxiety, from performance anxiety, to reactivity and even flight anxiety. There is even an entire section devoted to kids! There are stress management tools and self care, all using meditation. The best part about this, for me, is that the speaker is in control of walking you through your 15 minutes of meditation. This relieves the burden of doing it yourself, freeing your mind to fully relax, thus deepening the meditation experience. As a result of working through this app over the course of the last several weeks, I have improved my meditation experience — I almost feel as if I am in a trance in most cases. It has really has improved most aspects of my life.

The only downside to the app is the cost. The Premium edition is $70 every year (I would consider a one-time fee, but $70/year feels like a lot for me right now). You can get a lot out of just using the free version, and I still absolutely recommend it. I have gotten so much out of it! I’m definitely going to keep using it. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

When Stress Puts Cracks in Your Foundation

Parenting is not easy. Even when things are going fairly well, it’s not always a breeze. Add pressure from work or the stress your child may feel at school, and the difficulty just multiplies. Parenting asks a lot from us humans. The role of mom, dad, grandparent, foster parent is multifaceted and demanding. You are the bedrock, the snuggle-buddy, taxi driver, cook, laundress, nurse/ first aid, maid, role model, cheerleader. 24/7. It doesn’t stop. It’s demanding, and we have to smoothly flow from one role to the next effortlessly, and with patience and loving kindness. Our children want that from us, and we need to provide that for them. I, for one, am no saint — I am as imperfect as any other person, so sometimes I fail at this. It’s an extremely high expectation of us, and who can possibly do it without fault? When you have an especially rotten week where nothing seems to go right, and the stress builds, we start to see fractures in our strong family foundation we have worked so hard to build. For me, I find that heart-breaking, but also, I see it as a demand for action.

I’ve blogged about this before, but one of the best things you can do to build your relationship with your child is dedicated special time with each kid. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite times of the day. I love to play with my kids!! Between my work, kids sports, the homework demands of our school, and extra-curricular activities and clubs, this week has taken special time away. What’s the obvious result? A little breakdown in our relationship, because when kids don’t get the positive attention they crave, they will get it in other ways. My kids resort to tantrums or picking arguments with their siblings or with us, their parents. The stress of everything brings us down and affects our relationship. I had to take action to avoid the downward spiral I suddenly found myself in.

My solution this week has been two-fold: (1) seek help from the school, so they can help my middle guy get himself organized and on-task, to alleviate some of the stress he is feeling from the demands of his school work, and (2) be more diligent about finding some modicum of play time with them, even if that means they stay up just a few minutes past bedtime (not too long, though!) to squeeze in some games, like we did last night. I also added an extra dose of loving words and encouragement to each child separately as I tucked them in, so they went to sleep feeling really loved. It was great way to end the evening, and tonight, we are going to have some extra special time and have a picnic at the soccer fields before my youngest son’s soccer game, since we don’t have much time for dinner. Despite the stress of this week, I am determined to find the fun wherever we can, as well as finding solutions to what is causing the stress so we can deal with it more effectively.

Whenever you find yourself caught in a whirlwind of activity and work, and the stress begins to crumble your day or week, make sure you can still find sources of fun together each day. Maybe, like us, it will be a picnic just before a game. Maybe, a trip to the movies is in order, or go out for a quick ice cream cone together. Maybe a game night after homework and dinner is finished. Whatever you can do to maintain the fun in parenting each day and reduce the amount of stress, it goes a long, long way to building your relationship with your children and repairing any cracks you’ve discovered in your foundation.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Practicing, Working Parent

Working from Home: Is it easier or actually harder?

On the days I’m not teaching at Indiana Wesleyan University, I love working from home! I can be here to help get the kids out the door for school. I can workout. And, best of all, I can wear what I want, be comfortable, and not have to worry about make-up and my unruly, crazy hair. I love it! I leisurely begin my practicing with long tones and get my creative juices going by thinking about tone color and all of the different shading possibilities. After that, maybe I move on to my orchestral work or etudes, pieces, or whatever I wish. I take my time, and I feel relaxed.

The problem with being home while I’m working, is that I get almost “too relaxed” or unfocused, and I let the distractions of being in the house enter my mind. I suddenly notice that the kids’s toothpaste is all over their sink. Gross. I remember that my daughter will have no clean uniform skirts if I don’t do laundry today. The carpet needs attention. Ewwww, why is the kitchen floor sticky?! Yeah, you get me. It’s not exactly a distraction-free environment, is it? I almost let it get to me today, too. So, that’s the paradox of working from home, right? I find it easier to concentrate and focus at school or in a concert hall, but every other aspect of working is so much easier and relaxed at home.

So, how do I deal with all of these distractions and not let them blow my focus and energy? I put them off entirely … until the time is right. I try to maintain a daily schedule at home, and that does help a lot. I usually do not allow myself to do housework until my practicing is finished. Yes, the toothpaste is still all over the children’s sink. Yes, the carpet still desperately needs a visit with the vacuum cleaner. However, I know that these things can wait until it is in my schedule to take care of them, and knowing that can allow me to set those distractions aside and focus on my work. I’m not saying it’s always easy for me: like today, I caved in and started laundry early, which ate into my practice time a tiny bit. Some days it actually helps me to swap blocks of my schedule. So, if there’s something that is going to nag at me relentlessly until I get it taken care of, I’ll just deal with it first, and then carry on with my work. The trick for me is to make sure that during my work time, that’s what I’m focused on, and during my blogging or cleaning time, that’s what I’m focused on. I have to shut the door on everything else until it’s the right time. It takes will power some days, for sure, but I always thank myself in the end.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

My 4 Steps to Achieving a Healthy Work / Life Balance

Life can come at us like a fastball, and from all different directions, too, especially when trying to juggle being a working parent. In my case, I am a musician, a mother of three children, and a wife, not to mention all of the responsibilities that come with those roles. We love every aspect of our lives, and being high-achieving, active working parents, we want to be able to do it all! But how do we juggle or balance this thing called life? Achieving a healthy work / life balance requires us to set reasonable goals, take care of ourselves, and nourish our personal relationships while we advance our careers. Here are the 4 ways I achieve a sense of balance.

1.Prioritize projects. One way to create work / life balance is to prioritize activities or projects, and set long- and short-term goals. You may have 20 different projects going on at the same time. Remember, they don’t all have to be completed immediately. Prioritize your projects. Some projects need to take a backseat and wait for a little bit. That’s OK! You’ll get to it when the time is right. Long-term goals or larger projects can be completed when you get big enough gaps in your schedule. For your short-term or smaller-sized goals, try to get the quickest or easiest jobs done during the week as much as possible. Don’t let them sit! The more you can keep up with the day-to-day bits the less stressed you will feel and the more time you will have in the end. As an example of how I help myself manage my projects, I use a small whiteboard in my kitchen to set a daily schedule for the smaller daily or weekly jobs, and on my monthly wall calendar I track when I may have time to work on my larger projects.

2. Set aside some “me time.” Making time to devote to just you is a another great step towards achieving a sense of balance. This can be difficult at times, but it’s so important and worth it! I notice a huge difference in my energy and concentration level when I find even just 10 minutes to meditate, or practice mindfulness. I also dedicate 15-20 minutes most mornings to working out or to go for a run. These practices significantly elevate my performing ability. Workouts give me energy, stamina, and strength, and meditation allows me to keep my head clear during performances and to stay relaxed during the day. Another special “me time” is heading to the Farmer’s Market most Saturdays. There are several enjoyable activities out there for your special “me time.” Think about what the most relaxing or fun way would be to spend part of a Saturday morning that’s just for you, and make it a ritual that you really look forward to each week!

3. Maintain your relationships. The one aspect of a working parent’s life that is very easy to crumble, if not well supported and maintained in a healthy way, is relationships. Continue to date your spouse or significant other, and spend time with your friends. Some couples find it best to set aside one time each week or every other week as a guaranteed date day or date night. You can even mark it in your calendar like an important appointment that you can’t miss. Whether it is a long walk on a trail or the river-walk downtown, having game night with our close friends, a relaxed dinner nearby, or a movie, as long as you can get a few hours to yourselves, it counts, and it makes a positive difference towards the relationship! This can require thinking ahead and having babysitters and even back-up babysitters lined up. Communication is also a big part of cultivating and nourishing any relationship. When things are going well, talk about it! When things are not going so well, talk about that, too. It is healthier to get your feelings, thoughts, and emotions out in the open. Socialization, dating, and communication are easy to overlook, but it is an essential part of the work/life balance. Make sure you are working it into your busy schedule from time to time!

4. Play with your children. Finally, spend quality time with your children every day. Play with them, help them with homework, read to them, and talk with them. They need to know that they are important in your life, too. It’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in your day, but by giving them your undivided attention every day, you can avoid many behavioral problems that can arise from them craving your attention. Depending on the age and temperament of the children, even 10 minutes of fun here, and another 10 minutes there can go a long way toward helping them feel secure and appreciated. Also, give yourselves a fun weekend. Being a big part of their lives enriches your relationship with them and nourishes your own sense of fulfillment.

Preserving a good work/life balance is crucial to keeping us healthy and at our peak mentally and physically. It’s easy to let ourselves fall into a workaholic rut while other important aspects of our lives fall by the wayside. With just a little adjustment to our schedules like the ones above, however, we can sustain all facets of our busy life, giving it a more structured, flourishing, and harmonious feel. Ask yourself if you can delegate any of your responsibilities, if there is a way of making one part of your day run more efficiently, if you can hire household help, or maybe you can train yourself to wake up just 20 minutes earlier for that workout. Find what works with your own life structure, and stick to it! We are creative, imaginative people with a lot to juggle. We can apply this ingenuity to balancing our work with our busy lives, and live the enriching life we crave!

(Disclaimer: A version of this article has been submitted to Ezine articles, and another version appeared in the Chicago Flute Club’s Pipeline newsletter in the summer of 2018)

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

How I Work at Home When the Kids are Home

Working at home while the children are in the house can be a monumental challenge. I’m not gonna lie: they are my hardest days, and any parent that has tried this knows exactly what I’m talking about. The kids are off school today for Labor Day, so it’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s a [literal] mess — I had 2 sets of blanket tents and empty fruit and cereal bowls covering my dining area just one hour ago, and laundry is piling up! The blanket tents and loud zombie playing are super fun, but with concerts starting back up, I still have to practice. And of course, then there are the inevitable arguments breaking out and all the other small “fires” (so to speak) to put out. Put it all together, and it’s very difficult to work and can leave you frazzled. It’s so easy to want to give up.

Lately, I have found the best way to handle this is to do the work in chunks: work a bit, then play, work a bit, then play. I definitely allow screen time during my work time, which does help immensely, but since I limit them to 2 hours per day it’s not enough time to get my practicing finished. So, we’ve had to experiment a lot to find a workable solution for everyone, or something that the children will at least tolerate for me. For some parents, working quite early in the morning and after the kids have gone to bed is a good solution for them. Since I’m a musician, I can’t exactly get away with that on my flute, but I have left my quieter work for when they are in bed. In the past, I have tried to do all of my practicing in the morning, leaving my afternoons free to play with my kids, but I still found myself drifting towards working in chunks anyway. Another thing that has worked well is when I’m lucky enough to have my husband home at the same time (sadly, not today), one of us can be with the children while the other one works, and then we’ll switch off. I have tried many different ways of squeezing in work while they are home.

I don’t believe that there is a solution that works perfectly well every single time. Something that may work one day doesn’t work at all the next. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something goes wrong. I get it. I think the key is being flexible enough to allow change to happen without disrupting our work entirely. Yes, this takes quite a bit patience and ingenuity to work around major disruptions, but developing this fluidity can save you a lot of frustration and may make you more productive overall. (Just for the record, it took me 3 chunks of time to get this blog written!)

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.