Friday, February 24, 2012

Free Fallin'

I have been very blessed over the last few months to have many opportunities to write about positive changes I have been making.  Today I want to share with you my regression.

I have a toddler.  Ergo, I have stress.  This is not shocking to anyone, nor to myself.  But even having a very clear understanding and anticipation that a boulder is going to fall on you doesn't make it feel any lighter when it does.  This day.....oh, this day.  This day has been a shake-your-head kind of day.  I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work longer days and be off on Fridays.  I know that this is a privilege many working moms would love to have.  And days like today make me feel completely ungrateful and wasteful of this beautiful privilege.  Because really, my most stressful days at work don't even hold a candle to what I feel when there is stress on Friday.  Work would be easy.

He is going to be three in a few months.  There has been some turnover in the teachers at his daycare.  He has been fighting eye, nose, chest cold stuff for two weeks.  I get it, he has stress too, and good reason to act the way he is today.  Every request I make floats out in the air never to be noticed.  Every question I ask to get a positive response elicits a no.  All movement at the speed of turtle.  Blank stares.  Every one of mommy's buttons pushed, pushed, and pushed again.  Is any of this behavior really that awful?  No.  But OH MY STARS does it test my patience.

Patience.  That virtue is one that I clearly have not passed the exam on, because God continues, and continues, and continues, to keep teaching me lessons.  Most of every difficult time I can think back on, when I came out on the other side of it, I was pretty sure that it was meant to be a lesson in patience.  And every time, I wonder if I finally learned it correctly that time.  So either I am the worst patience student and am going to be spending every class, every detention, and every summer school continuing to try and get this, or I am dead wrong and completely missing the point.  But, I'm pretty sure the point is patience.  And I'm not good at it.

I am pleased with myself that instead of cozying up in the corner with a party-size bag of M&Ms during nap time, I only grabbed three pieces of dark chocolate, which I am just finishing up now as I write.  Thank you, dear reader, for helping me bring my blood pressure down and hopefully step back from the ledge before nap time ends.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pretty Music

I had never met my freshman college roommate before we lived in the dorm together.  She was awesome and had so many unique views on life that I still keep with me today.  She loved music.  She played the viola (called it her fiddle), enjoyed classical music, and also had a cd collection that ranged from Tori Amos to Korn, and a lot of everything in between.  But it was all "pretty music."  "I like pretty music," she would smile, whether her ears were ringing from headbanging or putting her viola back in her case.  It makes me grin just to type it.

This past weekend I got to go see some pretty music. One of my oldest friends surprised me with tickets to see an acoustic show by members of a band we have been fans of for almost 20 years, Marty and Wayne of Freddy Jones Band.  Acoustic music is one of my favorites.  Not just music that is meant to be played acoustically, but more so those songs that you get to know in a totally different style that sound brand new and amazing when you hear them with just a guitar and a voice.

The venue was small, and the kind that I have only seen on tv.  Small tables with candles, up close and personal, wine in a glass bigger than anything I own at home.  They sounded right on.  Interesting banter, some songs I knew, some that I didn't.  It was late (by my current standards, anyway), I was out, and I loved every minute.

Getting to that point took some planning, as all things do when you're a mom.  My son got to spend the night with his Aunt and Uncle, and while he is old enough that I no longer feel stressed about someone else taking care of him, I still had the general parental stress that just comes with the job when you hand over your child and hope they don't do something crazy.  Waking up without an alarm or a stuffed animal in my face, with the sun shining brightly in the room, was very, very strange.  But good strange.  And instead of being sad that the night out was over, I was charged up from the relaxation and enjoyment of the night and excited to go and see him again.  I also was pleasantly surprised that I felt no guilt for being out and spending me time.  That is new for me.  The night out came in the midst of a full weekend of various family activities, so that probably helped.  A little me time sandwiched in between a lot of non-me time.  Further proof that it is all about balance.  Too much of anything, except maybe chocolate, is never healthy.

I like pretty music.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On a roll

If you're writing an article about how to find more "me" time, chances are good that your audience is a group of pretty busy people.  So I had to laugh when I read some "creative" tips.  The first was to set my alarm a half  hour earlier, the second was stay up later at night.  I don't know what the other ones were, because I quickly realized it was not worth my time.  If I had that kind of flexibility, I wouldn't need to read the article.  4:45 a.m. til 10-ish is plenty of hours to be awake already, thank you.  WOW am I thankful I've been able to carve out some time without the sage advice of that author.

I'm happy to report that exercise has finally found an audience in our house again.  Luckily my husband accepted my challenge to eat better and exercise more with me, because I think we're both better off when the other is involved.  The trade-off is that our days have been extended, and the relaxing part of the evening has gotten much shorter.  After our family dinner, one of us takes on bath and toddler tv time, and the other heads off to do whatever the exercise is for that evening.  Then we switch, and one puts our son to bed while the other is off.  Though if I'm doing bath time, I normally don't exercise those nights, because by the time it is my turn I've already been awake for 15 hours and am starting to shut down.  So once the parenting, chores, and exercise is done, it's almost 9:00 and that's that.  Imagining this schedule for the rest of my life is pretty daunting, but I realize I won't always work the schedule that I do, and I won't always have a child that is completely dependent on me, and this won't be the only way to fit in exercise.  I've accepted this craziness for now.  Also, if I can do this when it's cold and dark outside, lighter and warmer days will only help.

I don't have a set routine or plan, I just want to make sure I'm spending 30-45 minutes a few days a week doing something exercise-related.  Anything more specific, more targeted, and I will probably fail.  At earlier times in my life, this would have been unacceptable.  There were strategic attacks, well-calculated, with a specific end goal.  I'm proud of myself that I am just trying to be healthy, and that's enough.  It's hard enough to accomplish that without sacrificing the family time that is so important, so I'm completely comfortable leaving it at that.

That doesn't mean the competitive beast in me isn't still hanging around.  I still pay attention to how I'm doing and if I'm raising the bar each time.  I use the CardioTrainer App on my phone to keep track of time, distance, calories, etc., and it really is a motivating tool for me.  I also post the work-out updates to Facebook, which I'm sure is annoying to most and nobody cares, but it keeps me accountable to myself.  Just the illusion that the collective "someone" knows when I do and don't exercise gets me up and moving when the couch and my slippers are much more inviting.  I've kept this up for about two months now, which has broken all kinds of wimpy records set in the past three years.  Combined with some major diet changes, (more on that another time), results are obvious and exciting.  Want to help?  Hold me accountable.  Ask me how it's going.  Mention it when you haven't seen any work-out blogs or posts lately.  Join me so I can do the same for you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If you build it...

Remember when I said I started feeding the birds again?  This weekend is the first time I refilled one of the three feeders, the one that hangs in front of our living room window.  The two in the backyard are still full from a month ago.  It has been slow going.  But, they come occasionally, and I think once spring comes around, the birds will too.  Every evening after work I look to see if the level of seed has gone done, and any day that I am home I can't walk walk past a window without peeking to see if they're there.  We get very excited when we spot a bird actually using the feeders.

Today, however, brought a whole new level of HOLY COW to the bird feeding experience.

The feeder that I just refilled is literally right on the other side of the living room window, about a foot away from the window.  It hangs just above our evergreen bushes, in which the sparrows like to hang about and lounge in between feedings. In fact, when I filled the feeder yesterday, I dropped the bag of seed with a loud thud, and then jumped out of my skin as 6-8 sparrows took off to another tree that wasn't so close to me.  We even have an occasional chipmunk that crawls up and gets its head stuck inside the feeder once it fills its cheeks, and then plummets into the bushes once it finally figures out how to pull its head out.  So there is quite a bit of movement and life around there, even when the feeding is slow going.

I was talking to my husband in the living room while my son took a nap today.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see over his shoulder and out the window to the feeder.  Mid-sentence I froze, and I think I repeated OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH a handful of times before I figured out that I should probably tell my husband to turn around.  A red-tail hawk swooped in and just sat on top of the evergreen next to the feeder, eyes fixed down to the ground, probably searching for a bird or chipmunk.  It jumped around to different parts of the bushes, flew over to the front porch, and then flew away.  I saw it later soaring over the houses behind us, still hunting.

I didn't have my phone on me to be able to take a picture, and there is no way I was going to step away to get it, because I knew this wouldn't last long.  So this picture is something similar to the one we saw today.  It was huge and impressive and I can't believe it was sitting right outside my window. I'm also glad my dog is 30 pounds, because that hawk looked awfully hungry, and I would feel a little anxious about letting him out in the yard for a few days.

So, I guess I don't quite have the bustling hot-spot of bird-feeding yards quite yet, but the cool factor of the hawk will last me a while.  Perhaps that's why I don't have a bustling hot-spot, maybe the little birds have been enduring close encounters with this hawk and are choosing to stay hidden.  We'll see what the spring brings.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I think it is safe to say I have never had any experience cooking Polish dishes.  But, my husband has Polish heritage, so I've eaten my share from my Mother-in-law's kitchen.  Thanks to her for sending me this totally unique recipe for Polish Dill Pickle Soup. Watching the snow fall and the wind whipping around the neighborhood, tonight was a perfect night to try it out.

I would put dill on ice cream if I could, as it is one of my favorite tastes, so this soup intrigued me.  I want to try it again in the summer when our garden dill is in full bloom.  Today I pretty much stuck to the recipe, with a few minor changes.  First, we had leftover pork roast from earlier in the week, so I didn't cook it from raw.  I don't think I used quite as many pickles as it calls for.  I also added carrots to get a vegetable in there.  There is nothing hard about this recipe, basically chop, simmer, eat.  Perfect type of recipe for me.

There was something strangely satisfying about two steps of the prep process.  The amount of dill pickles and ketchup that the recipe called for offered a unique opportunity to use a LOT more of those ingredients than I ever do.  So I actually opened a new jar of pickles and used the entire thing at one time.  Usually those jars sit in our fridge for several seasons.  And I got to squeeze a whole cup of ketchup out of the bottle at once.  When else do you ever have the chance to squeeze a ketchup bottle for longer than half a second?  I know, I know, the little things in life amuse me.

The flavor is one I've never tasted, and very good.  It's a hearty soup, you'll be full very quickly.  It's not bad on the healthy scale, a lot of vitamins and minerals, but also pretty high on sodium.  I think the next time I make it I will opt for water instead of pickle juice, and will use a little less pickle and add lots of fresh dill.  I did a search for pickle soup recipes, and it is interesting to see all the different ingredients people put in it.  I really enjoyed this basic recipe though, and besides those few changes I just mentioned, I'll stick with this one.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Check, check, and check

I read an article today about the positive effects of artistic expression, specifically art, music, and writing.  It mentioned a few different studies that have been done, but didn't cite any directly, so I unfortunately can't share more details for anyone who is interested. I certainly don't have to be convinced that these effects are real; I have long been a proponent and benefactor of being involved in the arts.  But in this article, the piece about writing caught my attention.

"Writing seems to curtail symptoms associated with chronic disease, promote immune response, and lower stress, according to various studies.....Not only does it de-clutter thoughts, it can relieve tension, inspire problem solving, and offer insight into psychological and emotional burdens that stifle wellness."

If I step back and look at my blogging experience so far, I can see all of those things happening.  Well, I can't really speak to curtailing symptoms associated with chronic disease, talk to me in 20 years and I'll let you know how that is working out for me.  Also, I don't have any objective evidence to support a strengthened immune response, because I haven't really been doing this long enough for any point of comparison.  But for all that other stuff, there is no doubt.

My first blog rattled off a list of things I wanted to do.  At the time, that list seemed massive and unattainable.  But I have accomplished at least a start to quite a few of those things.  And really, really, enjoying them.  Writing about what I want to do and then writing about doing it is both a motivational tool and positive reinforcement to keep doing more.  I was really bothered by the lack of all those wants/needs being absent in my life, and writing has provided a path to change that.  

I have even noticed the negatively-overachieving part of my personality starting to creep back and poke questions into my happy little hobby nirvana.  Meals are being cooked, chores are being completed, errands are being run, parenting and fun is ongoing, exercise is slowly increasing, bills are being paid, to-do lists are being worked on, and I'm still finding time to enjoy hobbies I haven't paid attention to in a long time.  Yet I am still always wondering if there is something I am forgetting, some task, some project, something that is going to fall apart or explode. Then that little overachieving gnome is going to crawl out of the shadows and smugly say, while waggling a pointy finger at me, "See?!  SEE?!  I told you so.  You can't possibly have time for you, LOOK at what happened!"  I recognize now that sending that gnome back to the shadows every now and again is a good thing.  Until recently, he constantly sat on my shoulder whispering endless checklists as the soundtrack of my day.  So if that's not "insight into psychological and emotional burdens that stifle wellness," I don't know what is.

So I write.  Sometimes I'll have no choice but to abandon ship and go back to the check-lists and the stress.  Somebody just make sure to keep the gnome patrol on speed-dial.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sometimes it's just that easy

I'm amazed at my obliviousness sometimes.  Here I am, going about trying to come up with just the right plan/time/process to spend more time reading the Bible.  And the answer that swings in and hits me on the side of my head?  My two-year-old.  Nine times out of ten when he wants to read a book, he goes to his Bible.  His was a gift from the church at his baptism.  We've never told him he should read it every day, he knows nothing of the rest of us grown-ups adding "read more Bible" to countless to-do lists, he just loves that book.  He can flip through the whole thing, point to a picture and tell me the story.  Could I point to a chapter in the Bible and do that?  Not many of them.  So tonight as we were rocking in his chair before bed, reading about Jesus and Mary, I almost stopped and laughed when I realized that I, in fact, have been reading the Bible every day.  So it's got pictures, and the stories are paraphrased and a bit happier than my tiny text version, but does that matter?  Certainly not.  Sometimes it's just that easy.