June’s challenge: Calm

I think I mentioned this in passing, but I have challenged myself to meditate each day for a month. I’ve decided that month should be June. I’ve got a lot going on right now (seriously, just more than I can wrap my mind around, this week alone), and that’s usually a recipe for disaster where I’m concerned.

For instance, I shout a lot when I’m stressed. And now so do the kids. I know this doesn’t make me a bad parent, or even necessarily a unique one, but I can’t help but feel I’m letting them down when they yell like that. I would like to yell less — not at all would be ideal. But first I have to lower my stress levels.

I can’t change my circumstances. No matter how things pan out in the next few weeks, life’s going to be stressful for a while. If I am to attain any chill, I’m going to have to do so despite the events in my life at present. A month of meditation would do me a world of good.

It helps Anya, too. So I’m shooting for bedtime, mother-daughter meditation sessions. A bonding activity, a sleep aid, and a coping mechanism all rolled into one. Yes, please.

Ultimately, I’m hoping to ingrain this behavior into our daily routine, so that we would no more skip meditation than we would teeth brushing. But to create a habit, first you have to start it. Consider today the first step.

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Five posts in five days

Yeah, I’m kind of proud of that.

But also busy, and I promised my kids I’d take the afternoon off, so I thought I’d resurrect my Friday goal update post. Except my goals have shifted since I last wrote one of these, and I have a whole bunch of goals at the moment, so I can’t possibly write updates on each. Here’s the highlights.

Goals

Daily meditation. Though I have not started my meditation challenge, I’ve meditated every day this week. It’s helping. It also appears to be helping Anya. Still hoping I can turn this into our thing. 

Family game night. We’ve actually had a few of these. Kai has shown increasing interest in playing games. And then loses interest, because games are long and he is 2. But I am encouraged; perhaps he will be the push we need to game as a family.

Eating. Nobody is into it right now. I’m still in stressy not-eating mode. The rest of my household would rather snack. So I’m just trying to make sure we have healthy snacks for them. Meals will come later…but it may be fall.

Bedtime routine. I’m trying to steer us toward a better bedtime routine: Medicine, teeth, shower, story time, meditation, then TV. Because by the time we get to the meditation part, Anya’s falling asleep. (Kai is still napping erratically; we probably won’t get him into a regular bedtime til we fix that.) It’s a work in progress, but progress is being made.

Exercise 30 minutes per day. Not every day, but more this week than I have been. The weather’s been beautiful, though, so that’s been easy. June-August will likely be another story entirely.

Work with the kids on their letters/numbers/sounds. Anya got a wonderful report card yesterday! She went from only having mastered about half of what she was expected to know to knowing nearly all of it. This after having missed literally half the school year. I’m amazed at her resilience, and how quickly she’s learned.

She’s still struggling with speech, and her IEP report card wasn’t as wonderful as her pre-K one, but she’s doing a great job considering how many speech classes she missed. Practice is really helping. I’m also making sure some of the books we read are short and repetitive, so she becomes familiar with the look of the words, because that helps her figure out what sounds she’s missing.

Kai, too, is picking up what I’m putting down. We practice letters and numbers (which I’ve written on the shower wall in bath crayon, for visual reference), body parts (joints are hard, but he’s got the main pieces down), and I’m starting to throw some colors in there. The trick with both kids is short sessions every day. Neither of them have the patience for long lessons, but five minutes here and there makes a huge difference.

Blog regularly. Five posts in five days is serious improvement over my recent posting (non)schedule.

I am doing 43 things

Two posts in two days. Imagine that.

Actually, I’m cross-posting this from 43t; I don’t have that much free time today. And I wanted to get this stuff down so I can think about it, and write about it, and hopefully even do it.

As I think I mentioned somewhere, I want to do 43 things in my 43rd year. I’m adding the caveat that they can’t be boring things, like “spring clean my house!” or “purge my closet!” that I’ve done time and again and simply feel like I should do them to be a good person or whatever. These are things I want to do to say I’ve done them (projects), or because doing them will help me progress in other goals (challenges), or because establishing that routine will have a lasting impact on my life (habits), or simply because I want to do something nice for myself once in a while.

Some of these list items require explanation, and I’ll provide that in later posts. Which means I have plenty of fodder to help me achieve #31.

My overall goal with this list is not just to do 43 things for the sake of doing them, but to look back over this year next May and see that I’ve made progress instead of simply keeping the plates spinning. I have no illusions that this is going to be hard; as much as the kids have been sick this past year, at times everything has fallen apart, and I have had zero time and energy left over for extras. But I don’t want to look back on my life and see that I spent my time cleaning and shopping and watching TV. I want to do as much as I can with the time I’ve been given, and nurture the blessings in my life rather than squander them.

In that spirit, here’s my list of 43 things.

Challenges
1 Complete an ab month
2 Complete a meditation month
3 Complete 43 things in my 43rd year

Health
4 Be able to run a mile
5 Meditate every day
6 Exercise 30 minutes per day
7 Cook a meal using ingredients I grew myself
8 Have family dinners 4+ nights a week
9 Discover 10 healthy meal recipes the kids will eat

Family
10 Read to the kids for 20 minutes each day
11 Help Anya with her speech 5 minutes each day
12 Work with Kai on letters, numbers, and word sounds 5 minutes a day
13 Have art time with the kids once a week
14 Introduce my kids to the library
15 Start a family heirloom collection
16 Have a weekly family game night
17 Make time for R (a monthly date night would be ideal)
18 Resume monthly family outings
19 Get married
20 Have an awesome familymoon

Projects
21 Improve my home’s curb appeal
22 Clean out the garage
23 Tidy up the deck (and nag the landlord about getting it replaced)
24 Complete my 2017 scrapbook
25 Rip my CD collection and reclaim that shelf
26 Finish Anya’s blanket
27 Complete a Duolingo course
28 Put together photos for photo books

New Habits
29 Fine-tune our morning and bedtime routines
30 Refine and expand our recycling routine

Create
31 Blog regularly
32 Finish my NaNoWriMo book
33 Create 10 drawings I’m proud of

Career/Money
34 Brush up on my ID/PS/IL skills
35 Identify and take classes that will help with my career
36 Piece together sufficient freelance work/obtain full-time employment
37 Stabilize my finances
38 Put the same name on all of my credit cards
39 Put together a portfolio website

Foster Joy
40 Read one book a month
41 Grow flowers
42 Make time for friends
43 Have one do-nothing day per month

Walking meditation

I tried Calm’s new walking meditation today. Rather than my usual drum-driven music, or the soothing indie list I put together when I was walking at 4 a.m. and found the drums too jarring, I listened to a meditation prompt with ethereal ambient music in the background. And it was…nice. I was able to maintain a pace of 3.5 mph for the full 30 minutes; apparently I don’t need drums for that. And I liked having the prompts to bring me back to the meditation when my mind wandered.

I’ve been doing pretty much this exact meditation as I walk. Focusing on the sensations in my body, and to a lesser extent the park around me. But the prompts help me concentrate on my surroundings, which I desperately need to do. I need to shift my mindfulness focus outside my body at least part of the time, because when I focus on my body I become my pain. My attention is drawn to my aching knee, the stiff tendon in the ankle I sprained, my tight hip, the adhesions surrounding my cesarean scar. It’s fascinating to me how the pain is often connected. My tight hip pulls on my lower back and my knee, but it also tugs on my abdominal scar. My ankle injury, which was localized around the ankle bone, causes pain from the tips of my toes and the arch of my foot all the way up to just below my knee. As I move, as I focus on each area of discomfort, I see just how interconnected the human body is. How one weakness affects so many areas.

In a way, this mindfulness helps me give extra care to these problem areas, so that they reap full therapeutic benefits from the exercise. But psychologically, there’s not much benefit in wallowing in physical pain for half an hour. So I extend my focus to the sky, to the trees, the birds, the leaves on the ground. It was a beautiful misty morning. I’m glad I got to experience it.

The best part? I came home calm, peaceful, and full of energy. Not exhausted and wrung out and stressed.

I still want to curate a walking playlist of uplifting energetic songs. Because some days I need a kick in the butt. But for now, walking meditation works for me. And it kills two birds with one stone — meditation and exercise — which always wins points with me.

The school day routine

Each school night, we follow the same routine:

7:00 Vitamins/medicine for everybody. I start prep work for the next day:

  • Set out clothes for Anya and myself (Kai will wear jammies until after breakfast)
  • Pack Anya’s lunch, setting the refrigerated items in their designated place in the fridge
  • Verify that all homework is done, all forms signed, etc. I almost always take care of this stuff immediately after school, but I feel better if I double-check.

7:30 Tidy up kitchen and prepare for bedtime.

  • Get our bedside water (Anya and Kai) and ginger tea (me) ready
  • Set out jammies, plus a diaper for Kai

8:00 Brush teeth (mine and the kids) and shower. Usually the kids shower with me (which is all sorts of fun when I’m shaving); sometimes R takes one and I take the other, and occasionally they opt to take a bath and I shower all. by. myself. (Which is, at this point, a very strange, slightly lonely feeling.)

  • Jammie up and get into bed
  • Read a story or 5

9:00 Lights out; watch cooking show and nurse Kai until the kids are asleep (which usually takes less than 15 minutes).

  • Catch up on email, social media; maybe play a game
  • Drink a cup or two of tea
  • Listen to my deep sleep meditation

In the mornings, I also have a routine:

6:00 Get up. (Or, as has been the case during our recent spate of late nights, hit snooze until 6:15.)

  • Put in contacts, wash face, fix hair, put on sunscreen if I’m walking/makeup if I’m not walking
  • Get dressed
  • Fix a cup of tea
  • Make Anya’s breakfast

6:30 Wake Anya.

  • While she’s eating, brush her hair
  • Administer our morning medications (allergy medicine, and recently a probiotic for her poor tummy)
  • Finish my tea
  • Help her dress
  • Finish packing her lunch
  • Ensure she has everything she needs for school

7:00 Drop her at school; go for a walk if time/weather allows

A bit rigid for pre-K? Perhaps. But you have to understand what mornings were like when I was a kid. Lots of fussing. There were usually tears. It was a stressful way to start the day.

I like that our mornings are stress-free zones. Yes, she occasionally fights me. She does not want to wake up and go to school; who does? But our mornings are nowhere near as frustrating as mornings were when I was a child.

So I will continue my overscheduling, even if it interferes with spontaneity and weeknight play time. Because all days should start — and end — well.

 

 

The return of the muse

The other day, I noticed Kai looking intently out the living room window, and peeked outside to see what he was looking at. Not two feet from the window hovered a hummingbird, trying to figure out if the tassels on Anya’s old tricycle offered any nectar.

My muse has returned.

 

Female green-crowned brilliant hummingbird
Not my photo — I am not that cool.

Each fall for the past several years, I’ve answered the 10Q questions. One year, a hummingbird featured heavily in my answers. I’d seen this hummingbird off and on for weeks, and it had become somewhat of a mascot.

At the time, I was crushed by financial stress. I’d given up my full-time job for a part-time one, and was struggling to build a freelance side business to make up the slack. R was working, too, but we were still drowning. All along, I’d held firm to my faith that I was stubborn enough to make things work, but I was starting to waver. The what-ifs were winning.

One morning, as I sat on the front porch smoking and stressing, a hummingbird darted up and hovered, inches from my face. We looked into each other’s eyes a long, long moment, and then it darted away again, taking my breath with it.

At once, my worries were forgotten. All I could see was the bright fall morning. How the light fell on the trees, making them glow. The tattered clouds gleaming in the eye-wateringly blue sky. And the emerald green of the visitor who had just rocked my mental boat.

2012-09-11_10-01-02_673.jpg
This is more the type of photos my cell phone was capable of.

The hummingbird visited me several times that fall, and each time I was transported from my dark valley of rumination into the present moment. Which was never as bad as my mind insisted it was.

When I look back on that fall now, what I remember are the bright points — the gorgeous fall weather, my adorable daughter, the warmth and security I felt in our little home. And green, green, glowing green. I was quite unhappy at times, I know, but that’s not what I feel when I recall those times.

I see, now, that the hummingbird is my pretty pony.

I’ve learned a lot about mindfulness from that bird. And the transience of trouble. I’ve learned that the mind sifts through the moments of your life, and hangs on to the very best ones. So, too, am I learning to let the darker ones go.

I haven’t seen a hummingbird in several years. Probably because I quit smoking, and thus no longer spend a great deal of time on my porch. But part of me chooses to think that the hummingbird returned because I needed it. I know that’s not the case — not actually possible, really — but it appeals to the poet in me.

Some day, when I am an old woman, I will look back on all of this and wonder what I was so bent out of shape over. Because in my mind’s eye, it will all be glowing green.

Shiny!

Our theme for the July PopClogs bootcamp is “Shine Bright Like a Diamond.” So I’m working on sparkling.

Part of my approach to this bout of unemployment is to think of it as an opportunity for a fresh start. I’m thinking big-picture here. What would make me shiny? What, ultimately, do I want?

  • I want to be healthy.
  • I want to be present in the moment, and fully appreciative of the moment.
  • I want to feel more grateful.
  • I want to feel more in control of my day-to-day life.
  • I want to do work that I find interesting, and that pays well enough that we can afford the things we need – and some of the things we want.
  • I want to spend more time with my family.
  • I want to create a support network of friends and colleagues.
  • I want to fill my free time with fun, interesting experiences and activities.
  • I want to continue to improve our financial picture, so that we can afford the big expenses we’ve been saving towards and so that our future is more secure than our past has been.
  • I want to live somewhere that fits us better than our current location does.

So…that’s kind of a tall order. This month, I’m starting small.

Focus on fitness
For so long, my body has been taking a back seat to my bank account. From here on out, fitness is a priority.

Practice mindfulness
I’ve been allowing Anya to beg off of meditation, and getting frustrated with her when she doesn’t participate in the sessions I insist upon. I don’t want meditation to be a chore, nor do I want it to be a point of stress. I want it to be a special time together for us. And I want us to both learn how to better manage our negative feelings and be more in the moment as a result of our practice.

Streamline household systems
Declutter and clean, so that it will be easier to maintain that clean. Automate/schedule routine tasks so that nothing gets overlooked. I’ve already started on this, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

Master mealtimes
This is the perfect opportunity to wean us off the boxed crap and start eating better, more healthful food. Menu planning. Strategic shopping. Established meal times and meal routines. These things need to happen.

Continue to pursue balance
It would be easy for me to fill my days with low-paying freelance gigs and ignore my needs and my family’s needs. Instead, I will strive to establish a balance. Work some and play some and exercise some and clean some, learn some and read some and sing some and dance some. Talk, and sit quietly. Spend time with each child and spend time with my partner. And when it’s all done, rest some.

Once I get those things down, I will work on the rest.