Sunday, December 9, 2012

Two naps to one: Surviving the transition and getting things done

A friend's Facebook post reminded me of a dark and woeful time when Evan stopped taking two naps a day. Suddenly I was forced to do the things I had barely been able to accomplish during two naps in the space of about an hour. On top of taking care of the house, making important phone calls uninterrupted, showering and getting ready, and catching up on my freelance work, nap time is the only time to find a moment to relax during the crazy toddler day. When more than half of that time is suddenly gone, it turns even the most orderly mom into a depressed, anxious shell of a woman.

At least that's what it did to me. But after a week or two of moping, I had to face the reality that the second nap was never going to come back — and some day soon, naps will be a thing of the past altogether. I realized I had to adapt and change the way I do things in order to keep up with the new world order.

Keep in mind that the first few months of this transition will not be easy. Few if any children will magically switch to taking one long nap consistently. Finding the right nap time takes a lot of trial and error, and even then, it's still a bit different for us every day. It took several months for Evan to become a solid one-a-day, two-hour sleeper — and still we have some days where his nap is three hours and others one. The point is, just know that this period sucks no matter what, and that flexibility is the key to surviving this whole thing.

Here are some tips for making a the transition from two naps to one a smooth one.

Watch for your child's sleep cues. The signs may be different, but every child has them. Some kids start to space out, others get hyper, but most start to yawn and rub their eyes and get a little cranky. It's important to watch for this at all times, because there may be a point where your child will suddenly need an early-morning nap or late-afternoon nap to compensate for the fewer hours of sleep. This may happen consistently (my son, for example, went back to taking two naps after a few months of one, but it only lasted a few blissful weeks) or it may be every once in a while when the previous day's sleep just didn't cut it. Be sure to get right to sleep when you see these cues, however. If you go too far past the sleep window, your child may be too revved to sleep at all.

Substitute quiet time for nap #2. Until you can push the start time of the first nap later in the day, you may still need that second nap. As mentioned above, some days your child will fall asleep, but resistance is a more typical response. For children who are content to play in their crib or bedroom, this won't be as much of an issue. For children who need help being settled, use this time frame for quiet, soothing activities. Turn the lights down, close the curtains, and read a few books, sing songs, or listen to quiet music. Having this down-time will help your child feel rejuvenated and help you both relax.

Put some structure in your child's day. If you don't already have a schedule or routine, now might be a good time to implement one. It can be as rigid or flexible as suits you both, but the important thing is to let your child know what's going to happen before it's going to happen. This will not only help him or her transition from one activity to the next, but if they know when to expect nap time and quiet time, it lessens the chance of resistance when the time comes.

Put some structure in your day. Finding ways to streamline your life now that your alone time is so drastically shortened is crucial. Planning ahead and dividing up your important tasks will go a long way to ensuring that they actually happen in a timely manner. If housework is a priority, set up a cleaning schedule to spread the chores out throughout the week. Do the same with errands so you're not trying to cram too much into a tired toddler's day. Get up early to shower and get ready before your child wakes, or take a relaxing bath at the end of the day. The point is to spread your to-do list items and your me-time wants so that they no longer depend on those nap time windows.

Get help. It's true that there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all that you need to do. Luckily, you don't have to go it alone. Enlist your husband's help and do chores together at night, or have him take your child for an outing while you tackle a big project on a Saturday afternoon. Send your child to the babysitter a few hours a week or organize a kid swap with a friend to be able to relax and cross some things off your to-do list. Chances are, if you have people in your life who care about you and your child, they'll be willing to help if you just ask.

Do more with your child. When you only have an hour or two alone during the day, you're going to have to decide which of those things you normally accomplished during nap time can be done with your child around. For some tasks, you'll have to get clever to figure out how to do this with a toddler underfoot. As they say, cleaning the house with a toddler in it is as useless as brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. Look for an engaging activity (not just plunking her in front of the TV) to keep your child entertained while you pay the bills, give her her own pretend "makeup" to put on while you do yours, let him play on an old computer keyboard while you catch up on e-mails, and find ways for your child to do household chores with you (much more on this to come!). At this age they love doing whatever you're doing, so capitalize on this to get everything you can finished during awake time — without compromising your connection with your child — to save the really important alone-time tasks for naps.

Compromise. This transition is seldom a smooth one, for your child or you. While you may have the perfect plan in place, understand that chances are it's not going to happen, at least at one time or another. But remember, this isn't just about making your day easier — it's about doing what's best for your child's physical and emotional health. Keeping this in mind will help you keep some perspective when things don't go so well. You will also have to compromise some of your needs in order to smooth this transition along. Some of these sacrifices may be permanent, others just temporary. It may be tough to accept this, but that's what motherhood is all about: sacrificing for the greater good of your child and your family. In the long run, paying attention to your child's cues and addressing his needs are crucial to fostering trust and love and, ultimately, ensuring cooperation. And that makes everyone happy.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

DIY Christmas ornament wreath

About four years ago I saw this little beauty online:

A stunning ornament wreath from Eddie Ross that I drooled over for years. I was lucky to come across such a find — mind you, I wasn't in the habit of trolling craft sites, and these were the days before Pinterest and before the explosion of Mommy Blogs, the days where if you didn't already have creativity flowing you had a much harder time finding simple yet beautiful DIY projects such as this.


This wreath has been in my mind every Christmas since then, and I FINALLY got my act together and made my very own:

Ta da!!!

And, because everything looks better on Instagram:

The instructions from Mr. Ross are simple and few, but I have some "been there, done that" lessons from the field I'd like to add. So, below I will give the instructions in bold with my advice to follow...

1. Start with a wire hanger, then untwist it and bend it into a circle. If you have puny muscles, like mine, this is harder than it sounds. Nevertheless, it can be done in a snap.

2. Gather ornaments for your wreath. This requires a LOT. I have about 35-40 on here, but it still didn't fill the length of the entire wire hanger. That's because, as you can see, they all have to fit together like a puzzle to make it look filled out.

3. Glue the metal caps to each ornament. I didn't do this step, but I sure wish I had. Two ornaments popped off and one broke because I was lazy. So please, glue the metal caps to each ornament. Also: If you have ornaments that are precious or sentimental, may I recommend you save those for other purposes. You wouldn't want them to be casualties of crafting gone wrong.

4. Slide the ornaments onto the wire. I started putting mine on willy-nilly, figuring the random configuration would add to the charm. I think it does, but because I used ornaments of different sizes, some of the proportions are a bit off. So, my advice is to plan ahead or at least have a good idea of which order the ornaments should be strung so that everything comes out consistently and evenly.

5. Twist the ends of the wire together to form a wreath. Again, easier said than done. It took a bit of muscle (or maybe I just used ridiculously a strong hanger — yeah, let's go with that) and, since I didn't have enough ornaments, I had to pull the wire closer together than it wanted to go. This was the part of the project where three of the ornaments popped off, so use your muscles but be careful.

6. Hang with a ribbon and enjoy. No advice here. This is one step I could handle with ease.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to patch a ripped inseam

Nothing makes a woman feel fatter than splitting a seam in her pants. I know this because I do it over and over again.

Yep, it's kind of embarrassing to admit this. But the thing I try to remember is, when you split your inseam, it's not about being large. It's about friction. I know this is true because I've been every size from a 2 to a 12, and it's happened at all of them.

Like a lot of women, I carry most of my weight on my thighs. On top of that, since I don't have very wide hips, my thighs touch. Always, even at my smallest. Thanks to the friction this contact causes, the inseam of my jeans is bound to take a beating.

I can't tell you how many jeans I've had to throw out that were in excellent shape everywhere else. Whether they were less than $20 or a ridiculous splurge over $100, this has happened in equal share to more than a few of my pants.

But no more.

I've figured out how to patch these inseam rips and salvage my favorite jeans for just a few dollars and in just a few minutes. Here's how:

First, it's a good idea to tackle this problem when the rip is minor, like this.

Because even though it may not look like much from the outside, the inside of the pants tells a different story:

Here's what you need for this quick fix:
  • A glue gun
  • An iron
  • Iron-on denim patches, like these:

Why a glue gun, you ask? When an inseam rips it usually happens underneath the serged seam, which folds down to cover the rip. This not only makes it difficult to reach but nearly impossible to sew together again without taking in the entire pant leg. By lightly gluing the ripped seam together and more thoroughly gluing the serged seam down on top of it, you're essentially "plugging the hole" and preventing the rip from growing. Also, you need the serged seam flat for the next step.

So, turn your pants inside out and get to work.

Next, it's time to use the patches. They are used to fortify the fabric, so to speak, to keep it strong, to bolster the glued seam, and to lessen the chance of further ripping.

The patches are quite large for this project, but you can cut them to fit. I cut one in half (and rounded the edges, as per the product instructions). Keeping the pants inside-out, I laid the patch across the serged seam, long enough to go a few inches past either side of the rip.

Then I busted out the ol' iron, heated on the 'Cotton' setting. I pressed for about 30-45 seconds, then checked the edges to be sure all was secure.

And there you have it: a $2, 5-minute solution to an aggravating problem.

Mind you, the final result isn't picture perfect; after all, your jeans have experienced quite a bit of wear and tear, you know. But remember, this fix is all about containment: The rip will be stopped in its tracks and the denim given extra reinforcements to keep your favorite jeans in your wardrobe and out of the trash.

Good luck!

Friday, October 5, 2012

And now for something completey different

I've mentioned before that I write for, which has a regular feature called "Have You Seen This?" It's all about the weird and wacky things found on the web, and it's an awesome diversion from the doom and gloom too often found in the news. Recently I wrote a "HYST?" feature (my first in over a year) and was anxiously awaiting publication — only to find that the video I had written about was already featured a year ago.


But instead of bemoaning the fact that my oh-so-humorous story (I flatter myself) would never see the light of day, I decided to switch things up on the ol' blog today and post it here, in all its glory.

Without further ado...

Have you seen this? Being American sounds awesome

Say what you will about pop culture; singers, musicians, fashion designers and filmmakers in countries around the world have been trying to replicate American entertainment and style for decades — some even quite literally.

Take this 1970’s music video from Italy, aptly titled on YouTube “What American English sounds like to non-English speakers.” According to the video description, it actually has a much more complicated title: “Prisecolinensinenciousol.” What that means is anyone’s guess because the language spoken in the video is not Italian or English — it’s gibberish designed to sound like American English.

Italian singer, songwriter, comedian, actor, director and TV host (so says Wikipedia) Adrian Celentano performed — and, presumably, wrote and created — the aforementioned “Prisecolinensinenciousol” on the Italian TV show “Milleluci” sometime in the ‘70s, judging by the dancers’ penchant for bell bottoms and feathered hair.

How to describe this video? It kind of has a "Saturday-Night-Fever"-meets-"Welcome-Back-Kotter" vibe. Or, it's a glimpse into an alternate reality where Bob Dylan does funk, or Bob Fosse does funk, or both do funk together.

However you describe it, what follows is pure entertainment that, quite frankly, makes me proud to be an American — because by these standards, Americans look and sound awesome.

This video almost leaves me speechless (mostly because every time I watch it I’m a little out of breath from both laughing and trying to dance along, high kicks and all), but it does inspire me to leave a few brief parting words, a rallying cry, if you will:


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


A miracle has happened at our house.

Evan has decided for the first time in his almost 2 years of life that it's OK to leave my side and be by himself.

For those of you who have not been aware of this ongoing dependency saga, just take my word that this is nothing less than a monumental event. Seriously. You see, every moment of every day has been spent not only with Evan practically glued to me, but with him erupting into hysterics if I leave the room he's in. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration; there have been brief phases where he would play on his own for a few minutes, but every time I'd think we turned a corner he would go right back to his desperately clingy ways. The false hope is even worse than the event itself — but it kept getting worse. In recent weeks it's escalated to him throwing himself on the floor in kicking, screaming, wailing pandemonium if I so much as told him I was going upstairs.

Then just when I had reached the very end of my rope, when I truly thought I could take it no more, it all ended. Evan just woke up last Monday and decided that he would not only venture into other rooms alone, he would happily play with his toys for 10, 20, 30 minutes or more. Yesterday I got to vacuum our entire house while he played in the front room for almost an hour. That has NEVER HAPPENED. Ever.

But it gets better. Just today, I slipped out while Evan was playing in his room and sat at the computer. About 10 minutes later I heard him go downstairs and say, "Evan play all by himself for Mommy working." Honestly, no sweeter words could that boy have uttered. Hugs and kisses could not bring me as much joy as that little moment did, knowing that he's not only OK to leave me for a while, but he may even have some altruistic motive for doing so. What a sweet boy I am lucky to have.

Take my word: You seriously have no idea what this means to me. I cannot adequately describe the stress his clinginess has caused. Not only has it been completely emotionally draining to be so in demand, but to know that all your attempts at encouraging independence, or plans to actually perform a task unhindered, or wishes of going to the bathroom alone would be met with such vehemence is utterly exhausting. Compounding the stress is the fact that I work from home, and my ability to make money to support our struggling family is only as good as the time I have to devote to my work. On top of that, I've faced the daily guilt that this tug-of-war inevitably causes in a mother determined to develop patience and understanding and fulfill her child's deepest need to be loved. I have been truly conflicted in a way I've never felt.

But now we're here. We made it. We've had one week and two days of this heavenly bliss, so now I feel safe in trusting that this is here to stay.

How it all came about, on the other hand, I have no idea.

Truly, I am baffled. I'm overjoyed, but perplexed. I have no idea what brought about this change — and believe me, I have been trying in earnest to crack the case, because if Evan should go back to his old ways I want to know the trick that snaps him back into this glorious phase of independence.

Alas, I have no answer. All I can think is that my prayers have at last been answered, or I've learned some important lesson this situation set out to teach me, or Evan has simply outgrown a particularly trying phase, or all of the above.

I guess the moral of the story is this: Whatever struggle you're facing, as a mother or otherwise, hang on. There may be no way to pull yourself out of a difficulty other than to wait as patiently as you can for it to pass. You never know when the end of the road will be, so take heart. It could be just around the corner, so don't give up.

And when you make it out, don't forget to celebrate! Huzzah! Hooray! Hallelujah!

I'm off to treat us to some fries and Coke.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Scattered but strong

Wow, I can't believe it's been a month since I've written — and it has been a strange kind of month around here. I didn't mean to go on a blogging hiatus, and in fact, I wish I had been writing. That would mean I wouldn't have been living in this brain fog that's been my companion the past few weeks.

Nothing too life-altering has happened; I am simply feeling scattered and spread in too many directions. It's a natural product of my being a bipolar Gemini — always shifting moods, always catching onto big ideas — and sadly, I get to this place all too often. But at least now, as opposed to in my younger years, I hunker down and try to make sense of my world instead of running away from the madness.

One of the things I've been putting a lot of focus on lately is my latest professional endeavor. I've never mentioned this officially here, but those of you who know me in real life know I have a "Pinterest Test Kitchen" column on, which recently made the jump to TV. So now in addition to writing weekly, I am featured every Thursday at 12:45 on KSL-TV News at Noon. When this opportunity finally came to fruition I felt like I had won the lottery. How awesome that I not only get to keep writing for a living, but I get to be inspired by and play around on Pinterest — legitimately! — and get paid for it?

Here are a few of my columns and TV appearances:

DIY dishwasher detergent recipes put to the test

Popular Pinterest recipes for easy, healthy, make-at-home snacks

Pinterest goes camping: Do-it-yourself ways to keep the bugs at bay

Anyway, I am so lucky to have this opportunity, but lately I've been getting really stressed about it. I have a grand vision and I have high hopes for this segment — not to mention the incredibly high standards I've always held myself to. Despite the success of the column, I'm still struggling to get my vision to translate to TV. This has led to an ongoing internal struggle, with me wondering daily if I need to try something else, or just suck it up and work harder, or if my energies would be better spent elsewhere and I'm just wasting my time. I can't figure out the answer to that one, so I am pressing on, ever pushing toward that mythical vision of success.

In the end, it doesn't matter what project I'm stressing over. This is what I do. My sister and husband continually chide me about this, because it's becoming a set-in-stone pattern: I start a new project and am completely gung-ho, proclaiming it the coolest thing EVER. A few months go by and my energy naturally wanes. Then, one hangup or another slows my progress, and I find myself in a cycle of self-doubt and frustration that takes another few months to power through. Then, I either find a way to work it out and circumvent the problem, coming out even strong than before — or I deem the effort a doomed failure and move on to find a new project.

And thus the cycle begins again.

It must be exhausting to live with me. If it's any fraction of what it's like to BE me, then yes, I can say with 100 percent certainty that it IS exhausting to live with me. And yet, I like to think my loved ones wouldn't have me any other way. OK, I may be totally making that up. It may be the thing that pushes my husband to his last straw one day, or the habit that drives me into eventual ruin. Or maybe the truth is this: that underneath the crazy-making self-doubt and frustration are the enthusiasm, drive, determination, and bold confidence that push me to succeed. Because yes, success (of varying degrees) is always a phase in that cycle, every time.

I didn't sit down to write anything in particular tonight; I mostly wanted to just push myself out of a writing rut. But as is so frequently the case, when I let myself follow where my writing leads I always find something redeemable about myself or my situation. I see a bigger picture and I see a moral to the story. Today, the bigger picture is that I am blessed with some pretty unique and exciting opportunities in life, and despite what roadblocks I come across, this is the bare-bones truth: I am at the heart of every failure and every success. It all depends on where I choose to stop in the cycle.

So, my message to you, friends: Don't give up. Take a step or two back if you have to, re-assess, and take a hard look at your life, but don't throw everything away in a time of worry and sadness. Don't believe your self-doubt; only believe the enthusiasm that pulls you toward all the good things in your life. It is what will take you to where your heart truly lies and where your success will take shape.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I support traditional marriage

As all this craziness swirls around Chick-fil-A and marriage equality, I wanted to go on the record as saying that I support traditional marriage. I do not, however, support discrimination — but I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. Here's why.

When I was in elementary school, a student and her family sued the Boy Scouts of America for discrimination. That's because this student was a girl. I remember even as fourth graders we all thought it was so ridiculous. Why fight an entire organization just because you don't like the rules? We called it a "crybaby" thing to do. I kept wondering, if you don't like the way a club works, why don't you find another organization whose rules and activities you do like, or better yet, why don't you start a new one instead?

Now, 20 years later, my views are much the same. Some may see many flaws with this rationale, but I stand by it. While I do believe that there are many injustices that are in need of fighting, I believe we should pick our fights wisely. That's because if we tear apart every organization or belief that someone finds fault with, we won't be left with anything. Everything will be brought down to the lowest common denominator. When that happens, everything loses its identity, its value, and its ability to enrich our lives.

When the issue of marriage equality first came to focus several years ago, I understood the battle to be largely about same-sex couples fighting to claim legal rights for things like health insurance and benefits and the like. I think there's a lot of merit to that, but here's the thing: Instead of attacking marriage and trying to re-shape it to fit these desired parameters, why don't we lobby insurance companies or employers, for example, to change their policies regarding next of kin?

I realize this is oversimplifying the issue, but I think this example shines a light on how the battle has been blown to astronomical proportions when the solution seems a lot simpler and much more fair. My point is, why is the entire institution of marriage under fire instead of the narrow policies that are directly responsible for the claims of discrimination?

I could end the post there, because I think my point has been made, but I would like to explain a few of the reasons why I believe in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. There are too many to get into great detail, and most of them deal with things of a spiritual nature. The short of it is, I believe we as humans are made to join as husband and wife, plain and simple. I believe in a divine being with a divine plan, and families with a father, mother and children are crucial to this plan of human progression. I believe that men and women have unique talents and natures that make them divinely suited to fill their roles as either mothers or fathers, husbands or wives. I believe that when individuals work to achieve their own divine potential and strive to fill these roles to the best of their abilities, that's when our destinies are realized and we as individuals and families are fulfilled. I believe this to be true because I have felt its impact in my own life countless times, and when I do my best to fulfill my duties as a wife and mother, I am more happy, proud and fulfilled than I ever have been.

I realize that many traditional families are falling apart. Parents are not upholding their responsibilities, and families are suffering because of it. I agree that a same-sex couple raising a child with love is doing that child a far greater service than a mother and father who neglect or abuse their own children; however, I don't see this as enough reason to tear apart the institution of marriage. Instead, I believe that when someone or something is struggling or falling apart, everyone benefits more from working together to build that person or entity up rather than fighting about its future and tearing it apart.

In 1995 the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote a document called "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." We have two beautiful framed copies of this proclamation in our home, and I have read it often and pondered its message. I believe it to be very wise counsel and a reminder of our true purpose here on earth. It fully encompasses my beliefs on this issue, so I hope you will take the time to read it before judging my statements and opinions.

At the end of the day, no matter what the issue to be debated, this is what I truly believe: that we are all entitled to our opinions and beliefs, and true discrimination lies in changing someone's deepest-felt beliefs just because someone else doesn't like them. Either way, what I believe will not change, no matter how loud the other side may be screaming in my ear. This is what I believe, and I am at peace with it and proud to proclaim it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Opportunities for learning abound

I've bragged before that my son is a smart cookie, and to set the stage for this post I'm going to brag some more. By 16 months Evan knew all his letters, could count to 10, had a vocabulary of literally hundreds of words, could apply abstract concepts to real-lilfe objects, and has a memory like a steel trap. I'd like to say that he is this way because I'm a super-mega-awesome mom and I fill his little brain with all this knowledge and deserve a big ol' pat on the back — but that's not true. He was born with some very special gifts, and nothing I do or don't do can take away from that. I am just really a proud mama and am in awe of the amazing things he does and learns so quickly.

Now, having said that, it's still not the whole truth. Because I know my son has a natural aptitude for learning and understanding complex things at a young age, I work very hard at building on that. I consider it a great honor to have an intelligent child, and I also feel a great responsibility to nurture that intellect.

But still, I don't take it to an extreme. I don't have lesson plans or flash cards, and truth be told I probably don't challenge him as much as I should. Instead, I've realized that the opportunities for teaching and learning are everywhere. That's what we focus on.

Like so many kids his age, Evan is a sponge, absorbing anything and everything around him. There's really no need for flash cards with toddlers, because practically everything in their world is new and exciting and sparks their curiosity. Instead of stressing about structured learning, take the time to explain things as you're doing them, or encourage your children to explore and try new things. You will be delighted by the connections they make and the things they come up with, and you will be inspired to find more ways to light up their little minds.

One of Evan's favorite games: Does it sink or does it float?

Here are some great ways to get your child learning without cracking a book. They may not be able to recite their alphabet or identify hexagons now, but these lessons are being filed away and not forgotten.

ABC's and 123's:

Counting: Although learning to count is a somewhat by-rote experience, children will understand that numbers have values when they see objects being counted instead of just hearing numbers recited. Count out loud when you're divvying up snacks, climbing steps, sorting the dishes, or stacking blocks.

Colors: Identify colors wherever you see them. For example, attach a color (and adjectives) to the name of common objects: big blue truck, yellow block, soft, brown monkey. Give your child a chance to identify colors in the choices they make, like, "Do you want to wear the blue shoes or the brown shoes?"

Letters: In addition to reading to your children (often!), draw attention to letters when you're out and about. Focus on one letter at a time ("Look, that sign has an 'S' on it!") or when something big catches their eye. This is also a great way to distract kids in the car or the store when they're getting cranky: "Can you find me a letter B?" This also works with colors and shapes.

Shapes: Our everyday objects are all made up of simple shapes, which makes the discovery of these shapes in everyday life more exciting. In addition to playing with shape blocks, point out similar shapes when you're unloading the dishwasher ("That plate is a square"), putting away toys ("That football looks like an oval"), and heading outside ("That stop sign is an octagon. It has 8 sides to it.")

Textures: Sensory play is especially important for babies, but with toddlers' burgeoning communication skills, identifying textures by name takes it to the next level. Try naming textures in the grocery store ("That pineapple is scratchy"), when folding laundry ("Your socks are so fuzzy"), and playing outside ("That sidewalk feels hard"). Soon you'll be able to ask: "Does that slide feel smooth or scratchy?" Your toddler will get a kick out of being able to know the answer.

Life Skills:

Making decisions: Like most humans, a child's level of confidence is related to how much others respect and approve of their decisions. Even though giving a toddler the reins seems like a suicide mission, in the long run it will help them be confident in their decisions and themselves and encourage bravery and independence. Not only should you give your children limited choices ("Do you want to eat oatmeal or eggs for breakfast?" or, "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?"), you should praise your children for making decisions ("That was a good choice") so they learn to trust themselves. You can also build on this confidence by challenging your toddler to push a little out of their comfort zone, then praising them with phrases like, "I knew you could do it."

Responsibility: Teaching responsibility is a lifelong task. When it comes down to it, it's one of the most important roles of parenthood. It's never too early to start. Have routines, rules and consequences so that children learn that life has boundaries and we all play a role in making things run smoothly. When there are hard-and-fast rules, it makes it easier for us as parents to both enforce the rules and encourage good behavior, because these rules — and the consequences for breaking them — will always remain constant. Rules like, "We always pick up toys before we go to bed," "We wash hands before/after we eat," and "If you throw your book I will take it away," are easily understood and enforced.

Empathy: Empathy is a skill that is, sadly, fading away. We live in a me-first world, but that doesn't mean that your children have to follow their generation. When you show children that everyone has emotions, good and bad, and that we can be sensitive to others and help them feel better, you are not only empowering them to reach out and be kind, you just might be changing the world. Empathy is not that hard of a skill to learn when you start early. Point out emotions in others ("The baby is sad," "Mommy gets mad when you pull a tantrum"), talk your child through their own emotions ("You are mad that I took away the ball," "You were scared when you couldn't find Mommy"), and help them calm down ("Let's have a cuddle until you feel happy again," "Let's take some big breaths until the mad goes away"). Above all, practice empathy yourself ("I understand, you really want a cookie," "I know you feel mad, it makes me mad too") and model appropriate behavior for your own emotions ("I am so mad I need to stomp my feet," "I feel sad, can you give me a hug?"). Not only are they crucial emotions to teach your child, but it may help you be in touch with your own and motivate you to keep your negative emotions in check.

Enriching young minds:

Asking questions: The best way for a person to learn something is to allow them to find the answers themselves. Asking questions instead of simply explaining everything is a great way to give your child the chance to participate and be creative with their responses ("What will happen if...?" "What do horses eat?"). For young children, giving them the choice between two options can build this skill while still filling them with knowledge ("Is the sky blue or orange?").

Open-ended play: I could write an entire post on "Heuristic" play, which is defined as "offering a group of children, for a defined period of time in a controlled environment, a large number of different kinds of objects and receptacles with which they play freely without adult intervention." Since I'm no expert on the subject I'll just hope that you read up on it, but I will say this: Toys are not the only things that are toys. Children learn so much when they are given an object and their imaginations are allowed to wander, because discovery is a far better teacher than any instructor could ever be. Let your little ones rummage through the kitchen utensils, give them a bunch of empty boxes, let them play in the sand and the dirt and the rocks. This is where their neural pathways are ignited and grow, so let them.

This is, of course, far from an all-inclusive list, but hopefully it will inspire you to try something a little different. So what are your ideas? What have you done with your children that has taught them far more than any flash card?


An article on heuristic play
The Imagination Tree
Play at Home Mom
Growing Play
Kid Activities board on Pinterest

Monday, July 9, 2012

Are you a stay-at-home mom or a full-time mom?

I have so many things I've been wanting to blog about, but this one topic keeps coming back to mind. I've started and stopped posts about it several times, but I just can't seem to get it right. It is such an important issue to me, but there is just so much to be said about it that I just can't make the words come out right.

The heart of the issue is, I am happy and proud to be a stay-at-home mom. I never knew that life could be this good! I never knew I could feel so centered, calm, and happy. When I made the decision to quit the daily grind a year ago, I thought I could never be as fulfilled and challenged as I could be in a really good career position. I am so happy to report that I was wrong — dead wrong.

And yet still, the title of "stay-at-home mom" is misunderstood and the role is drastically undervalued. Even the phrase it self — stay-at-home — seems to undercut the role, suggesting the archetypal trailer park mom who lounges in a bathrobe and curlers, eating bon bons and watching soap operas all day.

To me, the phrase "stay-at-home mom" implies that mothers are locking themselves away and simply letting the world pass them by. In many ways that may be true; in fact, it sure feels like it some days. And although many may look down upon this aspect, it is where I've found my greatest sense of peace.

Frankly, I am tired of trying to keep pace with the world. There are so many mixed messages out there, especially for women. We are told that we can have it all, be it all, and do it all — and be glamorously fabulous all the while. I don't know about you, but simply reading that wears me out.

I am tired of trying to be everything to everyone. In all my years in the workforce, I always felt like I had to prove myself every single day. No matter how skilled or accomplished I was, it never felt like I was taken seriously or even really appreciated. I busted my buns all day every day, and I rarely had anything to show for it. Not only that, but by the time I finished at work, there wasn't much of me left. I was exhausted, stressed, depleted, practically demoralized. I doubt I was a great wife or a good friend, or even a great mother. I used everything good I had trying to work toward someone else's bottom line, toward some boss or manager or CEO's definition of success. At the end of the day, I had nothing left for the people in my life who matter most.

For years I thought this depletion was my fault — like I wasn't trying hard enough or working smart enough, or that I just plain didn't have the resources (emotional and mental) to cut it in the workforce. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. Either way, it all boils down to this: I was putting all my capital into an investment that never, ever paid off.

In light of this confession, it may sound like my choice to become a stay-at-home mom was one of those "by default" decisions. Let me assure you it wasn't. I still had the fight in me, and I wanted to keep at it until I found that mythical measure of success I kept chasing. But as you can see from my earlier post, "Why I became a full-time mom," eventually my good sense prevailed. I chose to quit the daily grind to focus on what's really important: My family and my son, who desperately needed me to be at my best.

I'm not going to lie: After the first few weeks of bliss, reality hit — hard. I came off that summer break feeling after about six weeks, and suddenly I was left to really face the stresses of caring for a small child day in, day out, all alone for nearly 11 hours a day. And it was ROUGH.

Some days it was all I could do not to run screaming from the house. There was a time when I cried, every day, for about a month straight. I was lonely, I felt unprepared, and I truly believed what society wanted me to believe: that the world was passing me by.

But then I got tough. I knew that I had made the absolute right decision for me, and I knew that it was the path that my Father in Heaven wanted me to take. Most of all, despite the stress and sorrow I was feeling, I could see the difference it was making in my son and my marriage. And so I got clever and started to face my new lifestyle for what it was: the career of a lifetime.

I read parenting books and magazines for techniques, I cruised blogs and Pinterest for play-at-home ideas, and — perhaps most importantly — I sought help. I sent Evan to the babysitter once a week or so, and I enlisted the help of family to ease the burden when I couldn't carry it. I'll admit I had my reservations and found myself feeling guilty for dumping my troubles on someone else, but that was proven wrong, too. The people in my life love my son, and they obviously love me enough to help me out. They want me to succeed, and they are helping me do it. This was one of the best things I have done as a full-time parent: giving myself permission to admit I can't do it all, and let others help.

I also spend more time out of the house. I devise an outing every single day, whether it's extravagant (a trip to the aquarium), exhausting (a trip to the park), or necessary (a trip to the grocery store). I also spend a lot of time hanging out at my parents' house. My dad is retired and I think we both enjoy the company as well as the break from our somewhat solitary lives, especially in the winter. And I made a good friend nearby, another stay-at-home mom who will commiserate and be just as thrilled as I am to sit in the backyard and whine while our kids run around like banshees. The point is, I don't actually stay at home. I shake it up a bit. The variety does both me and my son a world of good.

But perhaps the best thing I've done is, like I said, treat this for what it is: a job. I even call it that — I am no longer a stay-at-home mom, I am a full-time mom. This is my calling and my career, and I take it seriously. I am not just here as an empty presence, keeping my kid fed and out of mortal danger. I am his caretaker, his teacher, and his friend. I take the time first thing in the morning to sit, cuddle, and read to him every day. I not only enforce the rules but I take the time to teach him why rules are important — and I go through the agony of enforcing time-outs when he breaks those rules so that he understands that actions have consequences. I take the time to plan games and activities to spark his curiosity and build his skills. I make sure that I stop what I'm doing and look into his eyes when he is upset. I address his emotions, I talk through the problems, and I try to explain what is happening or has happened. He may not always understand, but he is learning that he is important to me and that I will always comfort him when he needs it.

These are just some of the things that take up my day, and I've been wanting to blog about each and every one of them. Soon I will, but already this post has gotten away from me. The point is, even though what I really want to do is sit on the couch and watch "What Not to Wear" all day, I don't. That's not my job. Being a mother is. And when I put forth this great effort to be patient, to nurture, to have fun and play and see the world through my child's eyes, I am more happy and fulfilled than I've ever been in my 30 years on this planet.

Yes, the world may be passing me by, but I say let it. Let the hustle and bustle consume everyone else. Let me be here, really and truly present, for all my son's discoveries and stages and even tantrums. What matters to me now is not someone else's bottom line. What matters to me is this precious soul that was entrusted to me the minute I became his mother. Being here, at home, with him and with my husband is where I am supposed to be. This is where my emotional and physical energy need to be spent. This is where I matter most, where my value truly shines through. This is the investment that will not only pay off, it will exceed my expectations every single time.

I am so blessed. I hope you feel this way too. I realize that many mothers work out of necessity, and that the thing they want more than anything in the world is to be where I am. My sympathies are truly with you, because I know how torn you feel. Just take confidence in the fact that you are doing the best you can to support your family. If you're not, then re-assess your life and decide what really matters to you. What's important is that you do the right thing for your family, and that is different for everyone.

But for all you moms in the trenches with me who are struggling with this lifestyle, take heart. You are not struggling alone, and what you do does matter. Decide right here and now to never be ashamed of your decision. It is noble, it is good, and it is so very important to the little people in your life.

So the next time you find yourself saying, apologetically, "I'm a stay-at-home mom," stop. Lift your head high, smile, and say, "I am a full-time mom, and I am damn good at my job."

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle"

I've noticed a deeply troubling trend the past few weeks: More than a handful of my friends are dealing with the sudden and unexpected suicide of a loved one.

The thing about suicide is, it's always sudden and unexpected to those of us left behind. But for the one who choses this desperate last resort, it's rarely sudden. It's the final act in a long and agonizing battle.

Why is that? How can we be so near others and seemingly never see it coming? The answers are as varied as the reasons behind the act, and unfortunately no one will ever truly understand why someone chooses to take his or her own life. Instead, the survivors are left to say, "If only she had reached out to me," or, "If only I had reached out to him."

If only... If only...

This is half the tragedy of suicide. It is not only bitter for the life lost, but for the sorrow of those wishing they would have done more.

I have not been affected by suicide in this way, but I have been on the other side of the coin. I feel I need to share my experience to hopefully shed light on the situation for those trying to understand it.

I have lived with depression for more than half of my life. In those 17 years, I have been suicidal many, many times, and each time I was surrounded by people who loved me. But I'm going to be completely honest: At my lowest points, there were so few people who, despite coming into contact with me every day, ever reached out to me. At my worst, just before falling into a nervous breakdown that took years to climb out of, I was considered very popular and in the middle of a very big social scene. I was in close-knit clubs and organizations and had two very close friends, and yet as I pulled away, the phone calls became infrequent. By the time I completely withdrew and spent my days staring at the walls, not eating, not sleeping, just crying, not one single friend checked after me. Not one.

I don't know why this is, exactly. I think for the most part it was because I focused so much of my energy pretending that I was OK, so that nobody had any idea this was going on. I also spent much of my time building walls around me, so that even though I was surrounded by friends I didn't let anyone get really close to me. I guess they thought that if I wasn't around, I didn't care about them, either.

I'm not sharing this to point any fingers. In fact, I don't blame anyone for what happened. It's hard to know what to do when the problem is kept such a secret. It was a big mess all around, but it's over now and it's time to learn from it.

Here's what I want us to learn:

If someone is truly struggling, chances are they're not going to show it. For some insane reason, we've gotten it into our heads that having these emotions is shameful, as though to feel pain is to be weak, pitiful, a disgrace. When someone is suffering a mental illness, these feelings of guilt and shame are magnified, compounding the grief and multiplying the agony. Putting up a wall and acting like things are fine is a defense mechanism.

If you are pushed away, don't go away. There are so many times where people did ask how I was, and even though in my head I was screaming, "I'm not OK! I'm not fine! I need help! Please save me!", I still put on a brave face and said everything was fine. Eventually they just stopped asking. I don't blame them; I basically pushed them right out of my life. But still, I really wish they'd have kept asking. Even though I didn't open up, it was so important to know that people cared. When they drifted out of my life, I took it as evidence that I didn't matter and that nobody would miss me when I was gone.

If you care about someone, let them know. You don't have to make grand gestures or have deep talks to let someone know they're important to you. Be kind, be friendly, be curious about their life. They may never let you know what they're going through, but they will feel your love. This is true for everyone, not just those who are struggling. We all need acceptance, friendship, kindness and forgiveness. You never know how even the smallest of actions, like giving a smile to a stranger or asking about a co-worker's weekend, can touch a person.

If you suspect someone is struggling, don't think it's someone else's problem. There seems to be the idea that if someone has a serious emotional battle, it's not just anyone's place to step in. If an acquaintance is struggling, don't assume that it's the job of someone closer to them, like family or close friends, to make it right. You are not responsible for changing their situation, but you don't have to wait to offer a kind word or hand of friendship. We are all connected in this big human family. Whether we're related by blood or joined by close friendship or none of the above, we all share in the responsibility to lift the human race. At the very least, think of it this way: Would you rather face the supposed awkwardness of approaching this person, or face the guilt after they are gone of doing nothing at all?

If you don't know what to say, then listen. I'll let you in on a secret: People don't actually want you to solve their problems. In fact, not all problems are solvable, and it's rare that outsiders can actually change what's going on inside of us. It's up to us to change our own lives and pull ourselves up, and yet, having a shoulder to cry on can be invaluable in this process. When someone comes to us with a problem it's very tempting to want to provide a solution, to help fix it (I am so guilty of this myself). It's even more tempting to think, "I can't help them, I don't know what to say," so they just avoid the person altogether. Instead, the best course of action is just to listen, to ask questions, and offer encouragement. You will not only be giving much-needed moral support, but by letting them talk through their problems, they just may find ways to solve them.

If you want to help, then help. Sometimes people feel that they are powerless to turn a situation around. While it's true that you may not be able to change things completely, nobody is without the ability to impact another for the better. No gesture is too small. You don't have to get someone into therapy or host an intervention. Simply be a friend, offer kind words, smile, ask about their day, give them a compliment, invite them to lunch. You don't even have to get into the heavy stuff, ever. Just offer your happiness to another, and let that person know that they have value.

The plain truth is, everyone is struggling. No one is free from sorrow or strife; we are all fighting the same battles in different ways. And yet, in spite of this, we all carry on alone. We put on a brave face, tell others we are fine, turn down offers of friendship, and close ourselves off to those who love us or want to be closer.

Let's make a vow never to let our friends and loved ones — even our acquaintances — drift away because of our own indifference, or worse, our negativity. We may not be able to keep others from making drastic choices, but we can do our part to lift them up. Let's vow not to be ashamed of emotions and work at supporting those who are battling their own. Let's offer kindness all along the way, to friends and strangers alike. 

The world can be a dark and lonely place, but we don't have to let the darkness surround us. Let's band together and let no one feel unloved. Let's be kinder than necessary and work to magnify our love for others. Always remember:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

30 and proud!

Today marks a very momentous occasion: It is the 30th anniversary of my birth.

Yep, that's right—I am 30.

When my husband turned 30 a year and a half ago, I didn't think crossing this threshold was as big a deal as some make it out to be. I said to him, "You're only as old as you feel, and you, sir, are so not 30." I genuinely believed it. But then, a few months ago, I started to change my mind about getting older.

It's not that I felt old, exactly; it's that I didn't know how I was supposed to feel. Facing this milestone birthday actually made me quite confused. I thought a lot about it and realized that each decade in a person's life is pretty defined. The first is your childhood, followed by the adolescent and teen years. Then your 20's are where you become an adult and get the crazy stuff out of your system before you settle down and start to build your life. The older adult years are fairly straightforward as well: In your 40's your kids are starting to leave the nest (typically) and you are established in your career (hopefully), in your 50's you start to see your children marry and have their own families, and in your 60's you retire and take full advantage of the grandparent lifestyle, if you're so blessed. It's all pretty neat and tidy.

So what, then, defines the decade of your 30's?

The answer varies from person to person. Some are still single and hoping to settle down, some are headed back to school or finishing higher degrees, some are just starting families, some have older children and teenagers, some are respected in their careers, and some are still hopping from job to job. It's still a decade of personal evolution, but this is the point where your path and the paths of your peers can diverge quite drastically, if they haven't already. In some ways, it can be more tumultuous and full of change than your 20's, the decade that's supposed to be notorious for it.

And then there's the perception aspect. What does a 30-year-old look like? With such a prevalent youth culture in America, you can look and act as young as you want, it seems, without being called out on it. And yet, I sometimes wonder if I look more like the babysitter than my child's mother with my T-shirts and Converse sneakers and ponytails. While I certainly don't mind looking young (because I feel it), I don't ever want my authority to be in question—especially as a parent. As a female I feel you almost always have to prove your authority and worth, especially when you're under 35 (and short, have you noticed that?).

Then there's the other side of the looking young coin—the side where you look like you're trying too hard to be too young, so you just end up looking ridiculous and nobody takes you seriously. To me, this is far worse than getting old itself.

This is what brings me back to the no-man's-land decade of my 30's. I've thought a lot about this, as you can tell (probably more than is good for me). And then last night I was treated to a little birthday party and it all fell into place.

My sweet husband has been working on this for some time, I believe. He began the evening by blindfolding me and taking the long way to one of my favorite restaurants, where a few close family and friends were waiting. We then went to my parents' house for a pool party, where my sister had done an awesome job decorating the place in full princess style—yep, with confetti and princess plates and everything, because I will never be too old to be silly and enjoy the fun, girly things in life. My sister-in-law even made a delicious cake (German chocolate, my favorite), complete with candles and princesses on top.

It was a lot of fun, and I definitely felt loved and appreciated. And that's when I realized, I am more than OK with turning 30. I am happy to be here.

I've had a lot of wonderful experiences in my life. I have accomplished many goals in a way I can be proud of, and I've made it to all the major milestones I had hoped to at this age: I graduated from college, I got started on a great career, I got married, I am a homeowner, and I became a mom. I have also had a lot of devastating experiences in my life and been through a lot of strife. But you know what, I am just as proud of how I made it through those times as I am of my other accomplishments—actually, even more so. I like myself, and I love who I am working hard to become. And although the next decade may not be as exciting as the last, I have no doubt that it will be infinitely more rewarding as I continue to focus on what matters most: my family and my spirit.

As for the rest of the confusion, that's all gone too. I may not have a good idea of what my 30's are supposed to look like compared with the rest of the world, but that's OK. Instead of looking for comparisons, I am going to just be me. I vow to be 30 and proud, maybe even becoming some kind of role model (if I may be so ambitious) to others trying to figure this whole thing out.

So here's to getting older, wiser, happier, and more confident. Here's to being both silly and respected, mature and beautiful, loving and playful. Here's to 30 and whatever else may come. I am ready!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All is well

This post is a bit overdue, but I have to say a big thank you to everyone who reached out to me with support after my last post. I was so moved by your kindness and concern. Thank you for reminding me that I am not an island, and that what I write has the ability to touch others.

I have to say, however, that I actually felt kind of bad after posting. I was not only sorry to alarm and upset my friends and family, but I started to feel like others were more concerned than I was at that point—not because I was nihilistic or anything, but writing it all out must have been very therapeutic: After I got it all out, I no longer worried. I had a strong feeling of peace, and I knew that no matter what happened I would be all right. I must have been feeling your prayers, and again, for that I truly thank you.

Speaking of being all right, I have good news: After nearly a week on the antibiotic, the lump seems to be going down. This means that it was likely caused by an infection and, best of all, it's not cancerous. Huzzah!! All I need to do now is go back for a follow-up appointment so I can get official permission to breathe a sigh of relief.

Again, thank you all so much for your love and concern. It's wonderful to know that I am cared about and that if my world all goes upside down, I will not be without support.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Memories and realities

"How hard it is to escape from places! However carefully one goes they hold you—you leave bits of yourself fluttering on fences, little rags and shreds of your very life." 
-Katherine Mansfield

I've been feeling very contemplative this week, and not about motherhood. I've been wanting to sit and write it all out to help unravel the things swirling around in my head. These days when I can't seem to spit the words out right, it's only in the writing that they finally make sense.

My first childhood home is up for sale. I lived there from birth until about age 10, when we moved 4 blocks west and a half a block north. Because of this close proximity I've been past my old home countless times over the years. Sometimes I drive by with the tiniest bit of longing and nostalgia, but mostly I just hurry past on my way to somewhere else.

The house is on a little dead-end street. I have driven down it, too, a number of times, always shocked at all the changes. About half of the original homes remain, and I don't know how many more have been built where fields once stood—the fields where we built forts, and explored the Crane's old tool shed, and fed Whitney's horse, and got trapped in Grandpa Crane's chicken coop while a mad turkey shrieked and pecked at the door, and crossed the stream to sell soda on the 9th hole of the golf course.

It's easy to conjure up memories when you're staring at the place they used to be. When confronted with change, it's impossible not to see the way things were instead of the way things are or will forever be.

That's why, when I drove by my childhood home yesterday, I had to stop and get out of the car. Not only is the house for sale, but it has been completely remodeled, as the sign on the front lawn says. I wanted to see for myself instead of wonder about the way things will forever be.

It was a long shot, but I knocked on the door to ask for a tour. As I stood there waiting, the strangeness of it all started to hit me. It was the first time I had stood in the yard in 20 years. I had stepped over the driveway where I learned to ride a bike, my hot pink Huffy with the white seat. It's the same driveway where I taught myself to rollerblade, going in circles one foot at a time. It's where I pushed my little sister on the scooter and she screamed because I couldn't make it reverse. Right next to the carport where my brother and I hid from a lightning storm in a giant cardboard box, where my dad parked the boat before loading it up for a week at Lake Powell.

Nobody answered the door, but as I turned to go I noticed someone working in the yard. I walked, over the ground where an enormous blue spruce once stood, across the driveway and onto the grass where a small landscaping hill used to be. He was only a neighbor boy there to mow the lawn, and he told me the homeowners were gone and I should check back on Friday when there might be an Open House. I thanked him and told him I would.

As I turned to leave I realized for the first time that the yard wasn't huge; it was really quite average, maybe even on the small side. It's not that my memories deceived me—rather, they were just from the perspective of a small child. In that child's world, everything and everyone was big.

That's what got me thinking: Does it really matter that memories and perception are different than the cold facts of reality? Is it more important to remember every detail to perfection, or are the tone and feeling of a memory what matter most?

Late at night when I can't sleep, I close my eyes and take a mental tour through the places of my past. My childhood home is a location I frequent, and along the tour I stop at the two little stairs where we waited to see what Santa brought us, the unfinished basement with the blue-green carpet scraps where I used to play library with my toy kitchen as the check-out stall, the sewing room where my mom hung my drawing of a llama, the upstairs master bedroom with the small window where we stood on chairs to watch fireworks on the 4th of July. Taking a tour of the children's bedrooms depended on the year of my memory; was I visiting the room I shared with my brother and later my little sister, or when they shared it together and I moved to the room next door, the room I chose to paint pink with a wallpaper ballerina bear border?

All these memories and more flooded into me as I turned to get into my car, and to my great surprise I found myself becoming a bit emotional. (If you know me, you know why this is a surprise. I am not sentimental and I do not cry at things like this.) That's probably because of the reason I found myself at my house in the first place.

I was on my way back from the doctor's office, which was just a bit further east of the house. I was at the doctor's to see whether or not a lump I found in my armpit is cancerous.

Unfortunately, as of right now we just don't know what this lump is. It could be one of several things, either perfectly harmless or very dangerous. So, we have to go through the process of elimination until we know exactly what is going on. I'm taking an antibiotic to see if the lump is a reaction to an infection and we'll check again in 10 days.

At a time like this, it's easy to become wrapped up in emotion and sentiment and entangled in conflicting visions of the way things were vs. the way things will forever be. I am doing my best not to jump to the worst-case scenario, which is neither likely nor unlikely. I am stuck in the middle, in the land of the way things are.

Maybe that's why I dwelled so much that day on the memory of a place. Maybe it's because I was scared that I would soon become a memory rather than a living, changing person—that I would be someone my son would have to close his eyes at night to remember, to wonder about, to cherish and to miss.

I have to stop there, because I'm getting way ahead of myself. I don't want to wander too far down that morose path. The chances of this being cancer are not enormous; it's more likely that I have a clogged sweat gland or a cyst or a lingering infection. And anyway, it seldom does much good to dwell on what may or may not be. Worrying does nothing but ruin your chances of happiness.

All I can do is to keep living life one day at a time. And the way I feel, there is never any cause for fear when you live your life to the absolute best of your abilities. Whether I die in a year or 10 or 50, if I do my best to learn from my mistakes, to uplift others, to beautify my corner of the world, and to show love to others, my life will be worthwhile—every day of it.

If I'm doing my best to live up to my potential and help others reach theirs, I won't have to worry that my present doesn't live up to the past or the future, or vice versa. There will be no discord between the memories and realities of my life—I will be a person to be loved, remembered, and cherished, and when I do finally move on, I will still be looked to with fondness.

And just like my childhood home, what happens to me in the future is really irrelevant to the memories that others have of me. They can remodel every inch of that house, tear down walls and pull up carpet and leave nothing of what used to be, but it will still live in my mind just as clearly as it ever did in the past. It will be forever treasured, a part of me that is eternally protected from the way things will forever be.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Creating a beautiful soul

I write a lot about changing perspective and vowing to try again, and I felt like I needed to expand on that. It's not just something that has helped in difficult times, it's an attitude that has changed my life.

Those who know me now probably think of me as cheerful and maybe a bit annoyingly positive—for better or worse, a real Pollyanna. But I was not born this way, nor did this attitude always come easily to me. Ten years ago I was completely the opposite. While I did my best to always project a happy demeanor, never betraying my true emotions, inside I was a mess. I've struggled with depression since I was 13 but was not properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder until 2004 when I was 22. For a while, it only got worse from there.

When you're bipolar, you live with the knowledge that your moods are fleeting and that, more often than not, they control you. You know that you can fall down to rock bottom at any moment, no matter how happy and pulled together you think you are. It's easy to feel like life isn't worth living when you go from one state of chaos to the next, and the feeling that you have no control over your own mind and body is a terror that's hard to describe.

It took me over a year and half to find the right medication and many more years of therapy—not to mention the decade filled with my own individual efforts—to get me where I am. While this may seem extreme, in actuality I'm one of the lucky ones. To even have the stable, happy life I lead seems to defy the odds. And yet here I am, a testament to the power of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and daring to change your destiny.

I share this because I want you to know that no matter who you are or what challenges you have been given, you can change your life. You don't have to be sad, angry, resentful, impatient, cold, remorseful, or any other negative quality you're holding onto. If you have the desire and the determination, YOU CAN CHANGE WHO YOU ARE. Any and all of it, if you wish.

I was thinking the other day that it's really quite ridiculous that we focus so much on outer beauty. Don't get me wrong, I am as focused on it as the next person, with a closet full of clothes and drawers full of makeup. But the thing is, there's only so much you can do to change your appearance. Even plastic surgery has its limits. With inner beauty, on the other hand, there is no end to the changes you can bring about. The potential to create a beautiful soul is infinite.

Our purpose here in this life is to become better. I believe in eternal life, and that when my body dies my soul will live forever. But I'm not going to suddenly wake up on the other side as an angelic being filled with peace and love and light if didn't have those qualities in me to begin with. I will begin the afterlife in the same state as I left this mortal life. While we will all have the ability to keep working, to learn and strive and improve after we die, if we don't start beautifying our souls while we are alive, we will have a lot more work ahead of us.

Life is far too short, and yet so much procrastination abounds. But let me assure you that it is never too late. There is never a wrong time to make amends, to forgive, to learn to be happy, to vow to start again. It is hard and it is exhausting, but I can't think of a better endeavor to devote my precious time to—can you?

Whatever challenge you're battling, there are ways to overcome it. I am a huge proponent of professional help, because even if you don't have a diagnosable mental illness, having someone outside of yourself and your situation guide you through can give you all the tools and perspective you need. But there are still countless ways to improve on your own. Here are some of the things that helped me the most:

Mourn your losses. While I choose to look for the positive in life, I was not able to see it until I truly understood all the bad things that had happened to me and took the time to mourn what I had lost. It was a gut-wrenching process, but I believe it was necessary for me to break from the pain of my past and move forward. I did my best to understand and accept the harsh realities of my illness, which not only helped me to see it clearly and find a path toward treatment, it helped me distance myself and understand that it is just an illness, it is not who I am. I mourned all the things I had lost because of my nervous breakdown, which included any former expectations of myself I thought were lost forever. In doing so, I opened myself up to an entirely new world of possibilities. While I knew I would have to live within new limitations, I was choosing to re-write my future instead of hold to an outdated, abstract ideal. In all these ways and more, this mourning period was crucial to being able to start over.

Be grateful. When you're in a pattern of sorrow and negativity, that's all you can see. It's like the quote from the movie "Pollyanna" (erroneously attributed to Abraham Lincoln): "When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Unfortunately, it can be much harder to see it if you're not used to looking for it. My first doctor suggested I start a gratitude journal and list three good things every day, so I decided to do this in my prayers. This was extremely hard for me at the time, and sometimes the only things I could come up with were like, "I'm grateful that today was sunny." I had to do this day after day, year after year, until slowly it set in. In times of stress I do still jump to the dramatic and focus on the negative, but when I calm myself down I can return right back to the positive. Now, despite having a biological disposition to get caught in sorrow, I could spend an hour on my knees just listing all the wonderful things in the world, from the simple to the grand, and I am truly grateful.

Make a plan to create your perfect self. Spend some time thinking about the qualities you want to have and those you want to get rid of. Do not rule anything out; believe that you can be the person of your choosing, and never let anyone tell you otherwise. Then, think of all the steps you'll need to take to get there. Start by figuring out all the things that turn you into your worst self, then find ways to avoid and overcome them. In the mental illness world it's called "avoiding your triggers." For example, traffic was one thing that really sent me over the edge, so I found jobs where I commuted in the opposite direction or where I wouldn't have to drive during peak hours. I listened to podcasts or classical music so I would be mentally engaged or calm when driving, and I can't tell you what a huge difference this alone made in my outlook and demeanor. Understand that you can't change everything about life, but you can work on changing how you react to stressful situations and develop strategies to help you cope.

Give yourself time. Do not expect results in a week or even a month. No matter how much we wish we could drop our negative qualities and pick up some new ones, it's a slow process that will entail as many failures as successes. However, you will be on a steady incline toward achieving your goals. Stick to the plan and pick yourself back up when you fall.

Find a purpose. This step is entirely up to you. Your purpose in life can be anything, but make sure it's something that not only matters a great deal to you and brings you joy, make sure that it makes a difference to someone else. Whether your purpose is big (to start a non-profit) or not so big (to be a patient, loving mom), if it doesn't have the power to impact others in a positive way, it's not worth devoting your time to and will only bring you emptiness and frustration.

I'll leave you with another printable. Remember this, and never lose faith with the direction you're going.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cherishing the Terrible Twos

After my recent post about "Surviving the Terrible Twos" I received a lot of feedback and support, whether here on this blog, on Facebook, or in person. The thoughts shared were all different, but they were all very much appreciated.

Along with the tips and advice, one common underlying theme emerged: Making it through this rough toddler phase is a matter of perspective and understanding. In this light, these are the perspectives I decided to focus on:

  • Evan's will of iron is what will make him impervious to peer pressure and confident in himself and his abilities.
  • His desire to do things his way will push him to find creative solutions to problems and expand his skills along the way.
  • His intense emotions will teach him to be empathetic to the feelings of others.
  • His cries and whines are his only way of communicating his deeper needs, and it's a great place to start to teach him about how to express his needs and feelings.

And, most importantly:

  • The day will quickly come when Evan will be done holding my hand, running to me, asking to be read to and wanting to hear a song. I must seize every moment to forge a close, loving bond before his independence leads him away.

A few years ago I learned from personal experience that if you want to change someone else, you have to change yourself. Apparently I keep forgetting this lesson, so my son's tantrums are providing me more chances to get this lesson—and those perspectives—into my head. One incident in particular helped me see that I myself have a lot of room to improve.

Evan and I were getting ready to go to the store and pick out a present for his cousin. He was excited and very cooperative, until I tried to change him out of his skeleton pajama pants and he kept kicking or running away. This went on for about 5 minutes, then I finally asked him, "Do you want Mommy to put on your blue pants?" He stopped screaming, looked very serious, and said, "No blue pants." I said, "Do you want to wear your skeleton jammies to the store?" He immediately answered, "Yes!" and nodded emphatically, as if to say, "I've been trying to tell you this for 5 minutes!" And so he wore the skeleton pants, and his little heart's desire was answered, and that compromise paved the way for a new understanding and respect for his tender feelings — and I do believe we went the rest of the day without a tantrum.

I'm working hard to keep this lesson at heart and to keep compassion and empathy at the core of all I do as a mother. In doing so, I am not only fostering love between myself and my child, I am encouraging his trust, building his confidence, helping him understand emotions, and telling him that he is very important.

Admittedly, it's taking a huge amount of patience on my part, but that's OK. In fact, it's more than OK. It's an opportunity, because if I have to summon the patience to make it through these little trials, it means I don't have enough patience, love and compassion in store, and I'm being given the chance to cultivate more.

I recently read a wonderful article in the Ensign, found on It's called "A Better Mother, With the Lord's Help" by Cheryl Cole Burr. I highly recommend you read it all, because it not only reminds us as mothers that we are all struggling with the same difficulties, but that we can find perfect examples to follow when we look to the divine. She writes:
"After studying the life of Jesus Christ, my goal as a mother became to have my children come to the Lord and also to me—to give them the time and attention they deserve, even when I'm not quite feeling up to it. As I have worked toward developing this kind of atmosphere in our home, I have discovered several ways to encourage my children to come to me—that is, to feel a stronger sense of understanding, peace, and comfort in my presence."

She offers several excellent ideas for "responding to the demands of motherhood," as she puts it. All of them are excellent, and I can attest that they will bring you much more success with your children than anything you will find in a parenting book.

So, I am vowing once again to keep my perspective turned toward the good. I will look for the positive in my child and in myself and strive to cultivate those admirable qualities wherever I find myself lacking. I invite you to do the same and share with us your experiences along the way.

And while we know perfection in this life is nearly impossible, it's never a wasted effort to follow in perfect footsteps and strive toward perfection in any way that we can — especially when it comes to the most precious gift we've been given, our children.

In the meantime, watch out. This kid is confident and he's ready to take on the world, cape and all.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Recipe: Tangy Shredded Cola Pork

Thanks to everyone for your ideas and support after my last post, "Surviving the Terrible Twos." Things are slowly improving, and I've really appreciated all the insight. Not only have I gotten some great ideas, it's nice to be reminded that I'm not the only one in the world struggling with this, and that sooner or later, this too shall pass. Evan still is pulling his share of tantrums but he seems to be settling some, and likewise I'm feeling happier and more at peace. I think what's changed most is my perspective and how I react to the situation, so in that respect alone I feel a LOT better about life with a toddler.

I will do a follow-up post soon, but until then, I wanted to share a recipe I came up with tonight that turned out fantastic, if I say so myself. It's a five-ingredient crock pot gem that is perfect for making in large quantities to serve at a party. It was just the three of us tonight (well, two, since Evan is a self-imposed vegetarian) so we barely made a dent in it, even though I had seconds and my husband had thirds.

I created this recipe after taking a look at several similar ones. You might say this is a "best of" combination pulled pork recipe. It was so simple and turned out so delicious I think it has now made its way into our regular rotation.

Tangy Shredded Cola Pork
-2 lbs. to 3 lbs. pork tenderloin, thawed
-1 can cola (must be regular, do NOT use diet!)
-approx. 1/2 bottle barbecue sauce
-1/2 packet dried onion soup mix
-Rolls or hamburger buns

Put the pork in a greased crock pot. Sprinkle the dried onion soup mix on top of the meat, squirt about 1/4 bottle of barbecue sauce on top, then pour the entire can of cola (I used Coke) into the crock pot. Put the lid on and cook on low for 6-7 hours.

When it's done cooking, pour all the liquid into a bowl and set aside. There will be a lot, but you will use some of it so don't throw it out.

Shred the pork using two forks. The meat should be very tender and just fall apart, so shredding it really doesn't take much time or effort.

Put the shredded pork into a serving dish (or back in the crock pot, if you're transporting the meat or serving out of the pot). Pour some of the liquid over the pork (I used about 1-1/2 cups) and stir to coat. The idea is to make the pork moist after shredding and adding some of the flavor back in, but not to saturate it.

To make the sauce: In a small bowl, mix about 1/2 cup of the liquid and about 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce, or combine at any ratio to get the desired flavor and consistency. You can either mix the sauce in with the meat or serve it on the side, or both (I served it on the side).

That's it! I served the pork with sweet dinner rolls and we made pulled pork sandwiches. We also had pineapple spears and potato wedges, but we had enough of the liquid left over I contemplated making mashed potatoes so I could use it to make gravy. Maybe next time.

We were so busy wolfing down this tasty dinner that I did not get a "finished product" picture. You'll have to use your imagination here, but just take my word that it was delicious — tender, juicy and cooked to perfection.

Bon appetit!