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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lately

My dad keeps bugging me to write, so here I am.  
I have a lot of little posts that I want to put up, but this one is the one I’ve been meaning to put here for a while.
This August, I experienced a significant transition.
I returned to work full time for the first time in over two years and Eleanor went to preschool. 
Being home part time with her was my great luxury.  I couldn't treat myself to nice new clothes when I wanted them, or splurge on gifts for the people I loved. Heck, there were times when just meeting our day-to-day bills was a challenge. But as soon as she was in my arms, I knew that I didn't want Eleanor's early years to be spent with someone else. I wanted the majority of her hours, not just for ideological reasons, but because being separated from her was, for me, physically and emotionally painful.
I should be clear that my mind about this topic has not changed. While I've come to a point of acceptance, and can see that there are immense benefits to me nourishing my career and her thriving in an excellent preschool, I still deeply believe that the best place for her to be is at home with her mother. As I march firmly down the path we've chosen of Working Mom and Preschooler, I still hold a very clear ideal in my mind of a homestead and homeschooling.  (My fantasy is complete with a hefty retirement fund and a book deal or two, naturally.) 
I remember the phone call that started the transition.  I was offered a full time position with a significant raise plus generous benefits to teach one more course in addition to the two I was already teaching.  I was walking the aisles of the grocery store pushing Ellie in a cart and as soon as I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, overwhelmed by all the things that were about to change, even though the contract wouldn’t start for months.   
The first three weeks back were perhaps the hardest of my life. I have never experienced anything like it before, but I think it should be called simply depression.  I have never experienced real depression before, so it’s still strange to me to label this thing that happened to me. (I recently started getting migraines and it took me a long time to recognize what was actually happening to me. It’s funny how things change when you have a name for them, isn’t it?)
I had anticipated that the return would be difficult, so I dedicated a significant amount of time to self-care. I took baths and ran as much as I could. I cut my hair, losing a full 10", in an attempt to shed my old self and mark the big change, and bought a few new things to wear to work.  I kept the house tidy because it makes me feel better, and spent as much time as I could taking care of myself in all the ways I know how.  I let myself play with Eleanor without worrying about chores, but I also went out by myself, for no good reason, so that I could just be alone.  These things usually fill up my cup and I can draw on them when I feel stretched thin, but nothing helped.  I don't need to add to the sea of writers who have talked about depression, but for me, it was like being lost at sea.  I watched myself struggle with the new schedule, ticking off all the requirements of packed lunches and morning coffee and fresh sheets, but I barely felt like I was keeping my head above water. I’d come up long enough to get air to survive, but most of the time I struggled.  
I cried. I cried so often. I cried at my desk at 12:30, the time when I'd normally leave to get her. I cried at 4:00 when I left, feeling all the hours in between.  I cried when I heard the tiny voices of toddlers around town and when I watched a new mother open the door to the pumping room.   I cried after she went to bed because I felt so guilty for snapping at her and my partner because I was feeling so frustrated, helpless, and lost. 
When I wasn't crying or angry, I felt sort of numb.  It was this insipid underlying nothingness that pervaded everything, and I’d never experienced anything like it. I had moments where I felt happy, but that numbness never left. I would recognize that something good was happening to me or that I was enjoying something, but I only felt my face smiling from the outside. 
I could sit at this keyboard forever and never adequately describe what it was like. (And to all my friends, loved ones, and fellow humans who continue to struggle with this every day, I am here, sitting next to you quietly and supporting you, humbled.)
I threw everything I had at this thing and it wasn’t getting better. 
Then a few things changed. The first few weeks of each semester are testing, when I have to enforce a lot of rules and meet an endless stream of students whom I will never work with.  But eventually my classes started.  I had real names and faces to take in and see again each morning.  
My period came. (I’m sorry if that’s too much information for you, but its significance cannot be understated.)
Things were still very difficult, but I no longer felt unmoored.  
In early September, I had the opportunity to take an intensive class on mindfulness meditation and I jumped at it.  For eight weeks, I meditated daily for 30-45 minutes and attended a weekly class.  I practiced a variety of types of meditation, all completely secular, and experimented with giving my awareness to different aspects of my emotional life, from how I recognized positive emotions to how I responded to stress.  I spoke with a group of thoughtful and hard working people every week about what it’s like to live in a world where everything (and everyone) moves so fast, and sitting, just being, doesn’t seem to have a place.  The course is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. If you want to read more about it, you can look here  If you’re interested in taking the course but it isn’t offered where you live or you can’t afford it, a free online option is available here.
Meditation is sort of a strange concept for some people, and it can evoke a lot of negativity.  To be clear, mindfulness meditation is simply the practice of intentionally becoming aware. 
I still meditate daily. I may miss a day here or there, but for the most part I’ve been consistent since I started the program, thanks to my supportive family.  
Mindfulness has taught me about four simple things:
1)  Seeing things for what they are.  Like most people, I spend most of my time thinking about the past or worrying about the future Mindfulness has helped train me to recognize when I’m seeing things as they actually are and when I’m caught up in the story I’m telling myself.  
2) Recognizing my reactions to things as they are.  All events elicit some reaction: positive, negative, or neutral. We want good things to stay, bad things to go, and boring things to be over.  Meditation has helped me recognize that I have automatic reactions and that these reactions, in themselves, are a sort of story. Everything changes with time. My depression passed. My back pain, which can be incredibly intense on some days, is often completely gone. Migraines end. Job situations change. Children grow and move on to new phases of life.  Everything moves along, with or without me, and my reactions to these events do nothing to change them. 
3)  Being with my emotions. Having these emotional responses is natural, and meditation has made it easier for me to sit with my emotions as I have them, that is, to see them as passing objects, rather than getting caught up in them.  (Please understand, I’m not able to do this all of the time. I still struggle with letting my emotions dictate my behavior, and wanting negative emotions to go away.)  
4)  Being accepting and playful with my life, even when things are difficult.  Being a careful parent has taught me a greater understanding of empathy, but it has always been difficult for me to direct empathy and compassion to myself. I didn't realize it growing up, but i have perfectionistic tendencies and get frustrated with myself when things don't go the way I want them to.  Mindfulness has helped me be more accepting to the things that happen to me and to my reactions to them, and it has given me tools to be more playful with the difficult parts of life.  Being playful and kind to myself takes so much of the sting from things that otherwise could cut deep into me.  There are some excellent free guided meditations on self-compassion available here.

I have no authority to teach meditation or mindfulness, but I have a little tool that you might find helpful.

When something challenging happens to you, use the acronym RAIN.
R: recognize Take a moment to see what is actually happening to you and label your reaction. Sometimes emotions can sneak up on us and we need to take a moment to step outside our reactionary selves and see what’s really going on.
A: accept Instead of spending time wishing you weren’t angry, or getting frustrated that you’re wasting time by being sad, accept your emotions as they are.  
I: investigate Be curious about your emotions, especially how they are in the body.  If you’re sad, where in your body do you feel it? What does it feel like?  Don't get caught up in thinking about why you're sad, or what you should do to make it stop.  Focus on the feeling of sadness in the body in the present moment.
Nnon-identify  Your emotions aren’t you. The things that are happening aren’t you.  Negative emotions aren’t as powerful when we refuse to let them threaten our sense of self.

I don't mean to sound like sitting in meditation has made all my problems go away, but it has made me feel like I can truly handle anything that happens. It has dulled the sense of helpless urgency that used to populate my everyday thoughts, and has freed me to enjoy the good things in my life more fully.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take the course and couldn't have done it without the support of my family.

Other things that have been going on here recently:
I've been using instagram a lot.  It is so easy to share quick snaps of our days. If you want to follow me, you can here. (You can look at that link even if you don't have instagram!)
Here we are on the Culinary Walk. It's funny to look back and think about years past, before her existence and during my pregnancy, going on this walk.  This year I'm on the executive board of Field to Family, the organization that runs the Culinary Walk, and it has been a pleasure to watch it all come together so beautifully.
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We raised some tadpoles! It was so much fun to watch them go from tiny little eggs into bright green frogs. 

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We've also been making a lot of things. 
I made my first quilt for E's nap time at preschool.  
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We made a leaf mobile by dipping the leaves in beeswax and hanging them from a painted stick.
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Knits.
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Biscuits.
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The nephew turned 10 and wanted a minecraft cake.
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And this one turned THREE!
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I'll be back with more updates soon. Thank you as always for sticking with me. xo


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

10 Simple Products to Foster Independence in Toddlers and Some Updates

HI! HOW ARE YOU?!
I'm sorry I have been gone for so long. Every time I sat down to write, I didn't know what to say. I looked at this blank white space and didn't know what to fill it with. 
I have been mulling over the idea for this post for a while and it just came together, so here I am. I don't know what blogging will look like for me in the future, but I hope you'll stick around. 
I'm going to share 10 products that I think will actually improve your toddler's life and share just a few recent photos.  As always, you can keep up with me on instagram, too. 

New parents are bombarded with messages from the media and even well-meaning family and friends that children are very expensive and require a lot of stuff. We've made a conscious effort to limit the stuff we acquire for a variety of reasons. I expected that having a child would make this more difficult, but surprisingly it has made it easier. Having a growing little person encourages me to constantly reevaluate my possessions and eliminate/rotate as necessary.  I want her to be satisfied with simplicity, so I have to model it myself.

I'd like to share 10 simple products that will help your home become more accessible for your toddler and thus foster their independence.  (please note that I've included some affiliate links in this post. If you click and then buy, I get the teeniest of commissions.  Most of what I've shown here was purchased used locally, but I do deeply appreciate your support!)


1) Low Cube Shelf
Low shelves allow kiddos to easily access their toys, and a cube shelf reinforces the idea that every item has a place. It also naturally allows parents to easily limit the number of toys a child has out at a time. This cube shelf isn't perfect (you can see that longer items like our knobbed cylinders don't fit) but it works for a surprising number of toys.
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2)Hooks
We love hooks around here, especially Command hooks which are completely removable. They make it easy for kids to return their items to a proper place and reach them whenever they need them. It's so much easier for me to ask Eleanor to get her apron or put it away than to do both of these things myself.
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3) Small Play Kitchen
Eleanor's kitchen is filled with her dishes, cleaning supplies, and her fruit bowl.  Kitchen areas give toddlers the chance to practice mealtime routines at their own level and pace, and reinforces ownership of their things. Look for something with lots of storage space and a simple design.
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4) Shower Mirror
These mirrors are made of plastic, making them safe for little ones, and affix just about anywhere. They make it easy to reinforce daily routines like brushing teeth and hair, and general self care like wiping faces/noses. It's empowering for children to be able to see themselves and much easier to use a small mirror than to try to reach the adult-level one.
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5)Collapsible Step Stool
I don't know what we'd do without this thing. We have a small home and can't keep a full-sized footstool out all the time. This makes it easy for E to grab things that would otherwise be out of her reach, like the sink for washing hands or brushing teeth, and she can set it up and tear it down herself.
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6) Baskets
We have tons of little baskets and bins that we use to collect small items, especially toys. They keep things out of the way and organized, and make it easy to move toys around the house without losing any pieces.
Here are a few in her bedroom:
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and in the living room:
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7)Mats
This is a basic carpet sample, but it does the job. Mats are an easy way to control mess and limit space. When she selects something from her shelf, Eleanor is supposed to use a mat, though I don't always enforce this habit.  The mat limits the work space and keeps items from being lost. Here I use the mat to organize her shoes and socks. This mat, combined with her two hooks, is her landing space for coming in and out of the house. Her lunch bag hangs here, as do any sweaters or coats that she's using for the season. It has been essential for us to limit the number of items here and the mat makes it easy.
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Kids need to learn to use shampoo and bubble bath and mini-sized bottles are an easy way to give them some independent practice without waste.  We use this shampooand this bubble bath.
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9)KidSwitch
This simple tool extends light switches so kids can reach them, and it glows in the dark. We only have one, in her bedroom, and she loves to use it.  We've been encouraging her to play in her room independently when she decides to wake up earlier than usual and this switch helps make that happen.
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I used to set out two outfits for Eleanor to choose from (as you can see at the bottom of this post) but now she picks out all her own clothes. I try to only set out weather appropriate options and keep the number down. This rod hangs from the normal closet rod and is perfectly at her level. More bins in use for underwear and pants/shorts/skirts.
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Speaking of picking out her own clothes, a few recent favorites:
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Other recent things:

I've been trying to get her outside every day and observe nature. I've started a very informal nature journal by fumbling with watercolors. It's fun for me and she is already asking to join in.

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We saw Ladysmith Black Mombazo!!! It was wonderful, especially since my parents surprised us with tickets and an evening of babysitting. I am the luckiest. 
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The incredible Courtney organized a busy bag swap and we got a ton of wonderful activities for Eleanor to try. She loves this shape-matching work. I'm still holding on to a few activities for a rainy day. 
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I took a trip to Portland!! Boy that city gets me.
Beautiful plants were everywhere. Raspberries along the highway
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and I don't know what these are but I don't think that they are roses. Iowa was still very cold and dreary when I left and Oregon was buzzing with spring.
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I ate at Pok Pok and it was so good.
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My beautiful friend Phillip taught me about whiskey (seriously, he teaches a whiskey class. GO!)
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and I had a few too many of these:
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Being away was difficult but coming home to this buddy was so sweet. She's still my kitchen helper. Here we're making meatballs. That cheese is jack with morels and leeks. 
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I've been knitting a lot, including these baby gifts 
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AND A SOCK! Obviously sock #2 is still in the works. 
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And finally, we've been shopping for one of these, but nothing yet:
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Thank you, thank you again for coming back here and sticking with me. 
I hope all is well where you are. Are your plants starting to come up? Or is it still too cool? We have had tons of chilly rain which keeps it from feeling too much like spring, but I know warmer weather will be here soon enough.  
xo
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