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 LDS.org. 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!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Surviving the Terrible Twos

*&@#^%@!!!

That's about how I've felt for the past week and a half, and likely how I will feel for the next year — at 18 months old, Evan is now firmly entrenched in the Terrible Twos.

We went on a family trip to California a few weeks ago and he brought back a little souvenir from Disneyland: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease. My heart broke for little Evan as he stood and screamed to exhaustion. There wasn't a lot we could do, and it was agonizing to know he was so tormented. But luckily the illness passed relatively quickly, and life soon returned to normal. 

... or so we thought.

Apparently he found his voice, and the shrieks are here to stay. So are the fits, the kicking, the wailing, the dropping limply in protest.

Needless to say, it's been a rough time for all of us. Not only is it hard just getting through each tantrum, but the knowledge that this is going to be our lives for an indeterminable amount of time is agony. Most days now I wake up just dreading the hours ahead.

While some days are easier than others, and I know we will gradually learn to navigate through this awful stage, I still am at such a loss.

We have a unique child on our hands. As our pediatrician put it, he has the intellect of a 3-year-old but the emotions of an 18-month-old. So when it comes to dealing with meltdowns, the tactics you would use to work with a 3-year-old are beyond his emotional abilities, but the tactics for an 18-month-old are ineffective.

At this point, we are literally going down the list of advice and ideas for getting through his four-a-day (at least) tantrums. We have gotten excellent advice and there are wonderful theories out there, but one thing still baffles me:
How do you teach a child the "appropriate way" to express anger when, in the grown-up world, there really is no socially-acceptable, appropriate way to express anger?
It's an emotion that is highly frowned upon, and when you express it you are judged and/or feared — and yet we all feel it, and those who repress it are no better off than those who blow their stacks. Do we have him let loose on a punching bag, or do we do the count-to-10 thing and try to dissolve the anger? Is the duke-it-out method encouraging anger, or is the other sweeping his concerns under the rug? Or neither?

Am I just over-thinking it? Are there any of you who have pondered this same issue? How have you dealt with it? What advice do you have?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blog hoppin'

I'm trying something new today: a blog hop, to find some new awesome blogs and to welcome some more friends back here. Here's how it works:



1. Follow the hostess, Haute Mom and the guest hostesses, Utah Mom Blog and others. Be sure to leave a comment so that I can follow you back.
2. Follow one other blog.
3. Link up your blog for all of us to love.
4. Make an attempt to check out at least two new blogs. Don’t know where to start? How about the two blogs above you? If you love the blog, become a follower and leave them a comment letting them know.
So c'mon, what are you waiting for? Hop aboard! (hahaha I kill me)


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Our 5 favorite non-toy toys

I am realizing things are entirely too serious around here. While motherhood is, of course, serious business, it should also be serious fun. Despite appearances, I do try to make every day fun for Evan. The best way to do that, of course, is to play.

Every Sunday, in addition to meal planning and scheduling outings and such, I come up with a list of games and activities to do with Evan for the coming week (I'm a nerd, I know). The goal is to try one new(ish) thing every day. In coming up with these activities I have the help of some great websites (like productiveparenting.com and playathomemom3.blogspot.com) and of course Pinterest, but more often than not I turn to everyday items for inspiration.

By and large, Evan prefers these everyday items to his toys. Therefore, so do I. Not only is it inexpensive (usually, it's free), but it opens the door to so many possibilities. I've read that the less a toy does, the better it is for children because they can fill in the blanks and use their curiosity and creativity to come up with ways to play with that item. It not only keeps their attention longer (bonus for mom!), it literally builds creative pathways in their minds and teaches them to think and explore their world without just taking things at face value.

Evan is still young (he's 18 months), so he's still fascinated by the things in our home, no matter how mundane they seem to me. Here are the top 5 non-toy toys he loves best, plus ideas for ways to explore these items with small children.

Pots and pans

I first pulled out the pots about six months ago with the idea that we'd throw balls into them. At the time, Evan wasn't coordinated enough for that, so we down-shifted to simply banging them together and then with a wooden spoon and metal whisk.

video

As you can see, it was a hit! We soon found enough ways to play with the pots that they ended up staying out in the living room for two months. He loves to stack them, fill them with toys and carry them around, sit and climb on top, stick magnets to them, and eventually he learned to throw and roll balls into the pots.

On a smaller scale, we've amassed a collection of tin cans he loves to stack, sort, fill, and make noise with. One of these days I'm having my husband help me make a little kid drum kit out of the cans and old pots. Stay tuned for that fun project...

Straws

Straws aren't just for drinking — there are plenty of ways for little fingers to practice fine motor skills and for little minds to get creative with plastic straws. I first made a cheap-o toy for Evan out of an old cottage cheese container by cutting holes in the lid and showing him how to poke straws of various sizes through the holes.


I was surprised at just how much he loved playing with this. It was by far his favorite toy. The play evolved, from finding other things to put in the holes (like toothpicks and suckers) and other objects to put straws in (like a colander and empty spice bottle). He also loves using pipe cleaners for the same purpose, but it's more of a challenge:


(And as a side note, buying those little fuzzy craft balls was the best dollar spent that month. He LOVES 'em, and we spend lots of time scooping them into bowls and trays with measuring spoons, and sorting colors and throwing them like confetti.)

Containers 

This is really a no-brainer. It's like that old joke: You spend $50 on a toy for Christmas and all the kid wants to do is play with the box. With little kids, any container will do. From learning to stack them to building a fort, let 'em go nuts and you'll be quite amused by what they come up with.


One thing that always keeps Evan busy is my drawer of hair products. He loves twisting the lids on and off the empty ones, and finding the right little plastic lid for each bottle takes a lot of concentration. He also loves rifling through the Tupperware, as most kids do, and I help him find the right lids and we stack them like blocks.

As he's gotten older, we've found novel uses for other containers. I have a circular chip-and-dip bowl with an inner cup. It's the perfect size for putting in his squishy baseball and twirling it around until the ball picks up speed and goes flying across the room. That gets him laughing every time. It was also a great container for his older cousins to play ski-ball with. Evan also loves a multi-tiered dessert tray that I got at the thrift store for $2. He puts his little toy animals on the trays and spins them around until they fall off, then he starts again.

And of course, what you put into containers is just as fun as what they do with them. Last summer we'd go into the yard with a bunch of different bowls, cups, and spoons. I'd fill them with water and let him splash away. He loves this so much he tries replicating it whenever my husband leaves the toilet seat up (yikes).

Any radio

My little boy has always been fascinated with how things work. Even as an infant, he was more interested in the mechanical arm of his swing than he was with the mobile. So we go with it and look for mechanical, electrical non-toys that are safe for curious little ones. That's why I was stoked to win an antenna TV/radio/CD player at a white elephant party last Christmas. It is one of Evan's favorite toys, and I don't have to worry about him breaking it because it's just for him.

Thanks to this non-toy, our budding electrical engineer has now figured out how to work the other radios in our home, including my CD alarm clock, the iPod dock speakers, a portable AM/FM radio, and the TV receiver (if we leave the cabinet open). I love the way his eyes light up and he gets a proud look on his face as he turns the radio on, twists the dials and makes music come out. It's worth the aggravation of having the occasional alarm go off in the middle of the night after he's messed with my clock.

Daddy

While moms are fun, daddies are the best at playing — and boy, is Evan lucky. He has a very hands-on dad who starts play time the minute he walks in the door, every day. Evan just can't get enough wrestling, chasing, building, investigating, and yes, even couch potato-ing, watching "The Simpsons" side by side. As much as Evan loves mommy, his daddy is the fun one who always gets him laughing.

video


A child could have all the toys in the world, but what he'd want most is a parent who makes the time to play.