Monday, March 30, 2009

Time for a "Staycation"

Do you ever find yourself saying, "I need a vacation"? I do it all the time. But for many Americans, a vacation isn't in the cards right now. We're living in some topsy-turvy, scary economic times. Our 401k's are worth half of what they were 2 years ago, the market wavers more than a moody teenage girl, and frankly, we don't know who to trust.

The other day, as I was recycling my junk mail, I fell upon the idea of a "staycation," vacationing at home. I think the idea of a vacation is more of a mindset than anything else. You don't have to be reclining under a palm tree to achieve a sense of calm (although that sounds really nice right now). A vacation is about waking up at your leisure, lollygagging about, and voluntarily shirking your responsibilities and obligations in exchange for some good old fashion family fun. Thanks, Clark W. Griswold.

In the beginning of April, my husband has a week off from school, and we've decided to go on a staycation for two days. Actually, I think it's going to be quite a challenge. Many people, myself included, actually have a hard time relaxing in their own homes. We say, "I'll relax when the _____ is done." And so, we never relax, because there is always something to be done. It's so easy to get sucked into the distractions and send that one last email. For me, this staycation will be about no rushing, no schedules, and no doing. Just being. (That's why we're called human beings, not human doings.)

Here are some ideas for a family "staycation":
  1. Turn off the TV and rent a Disney flick or go to the movies.
  2. Take a family bike ride or hike.
  3. Play a board game or a card game together.
  4. Eat out at your favorite restaurant.
  5. Go to a children's museum, aquarium, science center, or zoo.
  6. Make an ice cream sundae buffet.
  7. Unplug the phone, the computer, and the telephone.
  8. Give everybody a break from chores and responsibilities.
  9. Fly kites in an open field.
  10. Dust off the sleeping bags and have a slumber party- ghost stories included!
I haven't yet decided how my family is going to spend our two days. We're going to fly by the seat of our pants, but definitely kick back and just enjoy one another.  And hey, I can light a coconut-scented candle and put on some Banana Boat sunscreen to give it that "beach vacation" feel.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gifts with Meaning from Affirmagy

Is there a great little place where you like to shop?  You know, one of those places that you don't share with anyone else?  I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm going to share one of mine. Affirmagy is one of those best kept secrets for meaningful gifts.  There, I said it.  The cat's out of the bag.  

I was first introduced to Affirmagy when my daughter, Liza, was born.  I can remember opening the front door one evening to find a package that felt like a baby blanket.  Great, just what we needed, another blanket.  But this one was different.  The soft, pink, fleece blanket was covered in affirmations that began with "The whole world welcomes my arrival."  I was so inspired by these words that I read them over and over again.  I wanted to wrap my daughter up in this blanket, so tight that her heart could hear the message.  I wanted her to know the gifts of possibility, peace, love, and calm.  Simply stated, it said everything I wished for my child.  

A few months later, I sent an Affirmagy blanket to a former student of mine who is fighting cancer with a courage like none other.   I continue to send them to people, especially moms, who have enriched my life with their passion and strength.  I'd encourage you to do it too!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reading: A Way to Connect with Your Spouse

Prior to having a child, my husband and I usually spent our dinnertime recounting our teaching days, which were never short of funny, inspiring, aha! moments.  We poured over challenging situations and sought each other's advice in dealing with helicopter parents.  I've always viewed our shared passion for educating youth as a gift.  It connects us; it's nice to come home to someone who genuinely understands your world.  

As you might imagine, when I chose to become a stay-at-home mom, I suddenly felt dull and boring.  I didn't have stories to share at dinner, at least not ones that I believed were worthy of sharing (There's that inner critic.).  Besides, did he really want to hear about how many diapers I changed or the challenge of finding my way into the shower?  While my daughter brought me great joy, there was also a sense of loss.  Really, I think this is a natural part of the process of redefining oneself.  

That Christmas, my husband gave me Plain Truth, written by my favorite author, Jodi Picoult.  To my surprise, he suggested that we read it together; yes, men read her books too.  What I love about Jodi (we're on a first name basis in this house) is that her books are emotionally charged with multi-dimensional characters who are struggling with difficult moral issues reflective of our time, many of them controversial.  She challenges my own belief system, as her characters walk a fine line between what we consider to be right and wrong, and I love that.  So, naturally, her books sparked some fresh dinner conversation, which is exactly what my husband intended, and exactly what I needed.  

Our little "book club" turned out to be a whole lot of fun, far more than I would have anticipated. During the day, I'd email him at school: "What page are you on?"  I was secretly hoping to be ahead.  No such luck.  He always managed to sneak in a few pages here or there during the bedtime bottle-feeding.  I hate fast readers.  

As an English teacher, I've always emphasized the power of words and language to connect us as human beings.  Although my role has changed, reading together has helped me to feel connected again, not only with my husband but with that teacher-self who was craving something more stimulating than baby babble.  Our evening book talks have filled an intellectual void for me, and frankly, my brain doesn't feel quite so mushy.  Tonight we're having roast chicken with a side of good conversation.  I can't wait to dig in! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sh—Happens. The Cleanup Matters.

Last fall, my husband and I drove to a historic town about two hours from our home, hoping to spend the day strolling down quaint little streets, flanked by shops with perfect holiday finds for people who have everything. During our drive, I asked my husband, “So what’s your perfect afternoon look like?” He replied, “First we do some shopping (He always knows what to say). Then we find this little gourmet deli, like the one in Nantucket, and order sandwiches with a dill or horseradish mayonnaise. And we find a nice little park bench to sit on and eat lunch. Just me and my girls. That’s all I want.” It seemed so simple.

Well, we never did find that deli, or the park bench. After scoping out a few empty restaurants (never a good sign), we decided to leave early and head towards our favorite ice cream shop, Thomas’s Sweets. If nothing else, we would end up eating some really yummy ice cream; I could live with that.

To make a long story short, a few u-turns later, we settled on a small town pizzeria in I-don’t-know-where. I guess the ice cream wasn’t meant to be. We were both tired and hungry, trying to remain upbeat for our one-year-old daughter, who hadn’t even made a fuss; bless her soul. On our way out the door, I lifted my daughter for the ‘ol sniff test, and something wasn’t quite right. As strange as this may sound, you learn your child’s smells. In a room full of kids, I know if she’s the pooper. But this one was different. “Smell her,” I said, holding her bottom up to my husband.

That’s when I saw it. The leak. “Oh, God. Get her outside.” In the middle of downtown who-knows-where, I needed to get my daughter out of those pants fast; it would have been nice to do it without creating an all-out scene. This is no exaggeration: it was a mudslide. Clearly, a two-man operation. In the middle of the sidewalk, my daughter arched her back and giggled as I, frazzled, tried to wiggle her pants down her legs, now entirely painted in poop. And all the while, she had the audacity to laugh! We bid farewell to those brand-new pink pants, and my child went sans pants for the drive home. She was as happy as a pig in sh--.

I share this story, because as moms, we need to develop and nurture our sense of humor. It’s easy to get bogged down in the muck (not too far from the truth!) These days, I’m trying not to take myself too seriously. Sh-- happens. How you clean it up matters- with empathy, understanding, and a little bit of humor. It’s that simple.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Turn It Up, Mama! Our Top 10 Dancing Picks

It's 3:00 p.m. You're sluggish and need a little pick-me-up (other than chocolate).  Maybe Daddy won't be home for another five hours.  That's right . . .five hours.  You've exhausted all your tricks and games.  What else is there?  Time to turn up the music and dance!  Here's a list of 10 feel-good songs that get the heart pumping.  Bye bye, bleary eyes.  Hello, energize!  

  1. Respect, Aretha Franklin
  2. Let's Get It Started, Black-Eyed Peas
  3. I Got You (I Feel Good), James Brown
  4. Beautiful Day, U2
  5. Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye
  6. That's the Way I Like It, K.C. & the Sunshine Band
  7. I Can't Help Myself  (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch), the Four Tops
  8. Got My Mind Set on You, George Harrison
  9. Walking on Sunshine, Katrina & the Waves
  10. Glory Days, Bruce Springsteen

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Managing Your Life: One Thing at a Time

Every time I blink, it seems that my daughter is another half-inch taller, learning and growing and discovering the world.  Life's too short to miss out on pointing to the birds or "choo-chooing" when the train whistles through our town.  Still, it's hard to ignore that little voice in my head that's obsessing over dirty dishes, dirty toilets, and dirty laundry (Life would be so much sweeter without dirt!).  As a mom, it's hard to find that middle ground without beating yourself up over the leftover scrambled eggs, now glued to the plate, from this morning's breakfast.  

Sometimes my mental to-do lists are so long, that I do nothing.  I'm literally incapacitated by my seemingly insurmountable lists.  And so I ruminate, wishing I didn't care so darn much about the unimportant stuff.  These days, I am learning to think smaller.  I recently discovered a one-item list notepad (Yup, that's it!), and it's absolutely perfect for a mom like me, not to mention a lot less daunting.  It reads, "I will do one thing today." How liberating!  Now I can breathe.  The sun is shining.  The birds are singing.  I'm off to the park!  

Visit Pretty Bitter to order a pad for yourself.  You deserve to feel empowered!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ways to Encourage Your Young Child: What to Say

Although my daughter is only 17 months, I recently attended a seminar called STEP: The Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.  I believe that it's never too early to start consciously using a language that promotes mutual respect and positive relationships.  My wish for my daughter is that she will one day look in the mirror and see a competent, compassionate, confident woman.   I want so much for her, but above all, I want her to know that who she is will always be enough.  Below are some phrases I've used (adapted from STEP: Parenting Young Children), guaranteed to encourage your child, so that she can feel good about herself.  

  • "I can see you're working hard on that puzzle!"
  • "You look like you're having lots of fun!"
  • "Thank you for your help turning on the light."
  • "You're getting better at eating with spoon."
  • "I need your help putting the toys away."
  • "You seem to like taking a bath."
  • "Wow!  You can climb up the stairs all by yourself."
  • "You remembered to keep your bib on."  
  • "Thank you for bringing me the toilet paper.  That helped me a lot." (No joke!)  
So what's the big deal?  What strikes me about this language is a conscious shift from "I/me" to "you."  It's all about your child, her efforts, feelings, and self-esteem. The STEP philosophy makes an important distinction between encouragement and praise, and this resonated with me.  Rather than saying "I'm so proud of you," which might actually be damaging if your child is a perfectionist, you might say, "You seem so proud of your artwork!"  In the latter example, children don't grow-up believing that they need to live up to someone else's expectations.  They learn to live up to their own.  Powerful stuff, right?  I am not saying that all praise is negative, but I love the idea of using a language that encourages children, honoring their strengths and acknowledging their struggles.  And just like unconditional love, it doesn't need to be earned.  

(For more information, visit the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting)

Go Green: The Top 10 Fruits and Veggies to Buy Organic

If you're like me, and find that buying all organic puts a drain on your wallet, here is a list of produce that is mostly likely to contain high levels of pesticides:
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Imported Grapes
  • Pears
(Information developed by the Environmental Working Group)