Tag Archives: Simple Living

Metta Mom: Learning self-care, compassion, and loving-kindness

meditatingIn Buddhism, there is a meditation practice called metta or loving-kindness. According to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, “Metta bhavana, or loving-kindness meditation, is a method of developing compassion. It comes from the Buddhist tradition, but it can be adapted and practiced by anyone, regardless of religious affiliation; loving-kindness meditation is essentially about cultivating love.”

Since I began practicing mindfulness and meditation and learning more about the philosophies surrounding its practice, metta has resonated with me particularly. It is my favorite meditation practice, and I think it can be particularly useful for women — especially moms.

Compassion comes naturally to most of us. We care for our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends, our co-workers, our nieces and nephews, our neighbors, even strangers. Metta is not a difficult concept for women. But when you spend a lot of time with women — as most women do — you will hear a common complaint: we spend all this time taking care of other people, but we all wish we were better at taking care of ourselves.

Self-care can mean a lot of things. It can be as simple as taking a minute in a chaotic day to just slow down and breathe. It can mean eating well, exercising more, getting enough sleep. It can mean making time for the things that make you feel happy and calm and centered.

In metta practice, we first focus all of our love and kindness and compassion on ourselves. We must learn to be gentle, kind, and accepting of ourselves before we can learn to generate those feelings for others. It’s like adjusting your own oxygen mask before helping others. I think most women could benefit from a reminder to love ourselves as much as we love others.

For the next few weeks, I will be posting here about some of the things I’ve been learning in my own metta practice. I will be writing about self-care, kindness, and compassionate living. How can we be kinder to ourselves, each other, our kids, our spouses, and the world? How can we be more mindful of the present moment, and help our kids learn to do the same? How can we be happier, calmer, and more fulfilled through these practices?

I am testing these ideas here in the hopes of starting a new project, but I know many of my frugal living readers can benefit from these concepts, too. I hope that you will follow along and chime in!

Photo by Take Back Your Health Conference courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Why I’m done with New Year’s resolutions

Every year on New Year’s Day I feel anxious for a fresh start. “This is the year,” I tell myself. And I really mean it. I really believe that opening a fresh new calendar will give me the motivation I need to make all the changes I failed to make the previous year.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever followed through with a single resolution. The closest I came was the year after Judah was born when I resolved to take at least one photo a day. I made it to July before I stopped making an effort to use my camera each day. Let’s be honest, though, my success was probably more likely due to the new baby who stayed relatively still looking cute. Once he started moving, I was done playing photographer.

This year is no different. I have a whole list of things I’d like to change about myself — get in shape, be more organized, finally get to the home improvement projects we’ve been putting off, be more creative, make more time for the things I enjoy doing.

When I really started thinking about it, I started to feel really bad about myself. That’s the thing about New Year’s resolutions — most of them are pretty focused on what’s not good enough about us. As I ticked off the huge list of possible New Year’s resolutions in my head, all I could think was, “Man, I’m doing a lot of things so wrong.”

I think most of us get enough of that kind of negative self talk as it is without focusing an entire yearly tradition on what’s not good enough about us, what we need to change.

I’m not bashing self-improvement. It’s important to be healthy, take care of ourselves, and banish bad habits. However, instead of making a resolution and setting myself up for disappointment if I fail, I’m changing my perspective this year. I’m focusing on the positive. Instead of thinking about all the things I need to change about myself, I’m surrounding myself with people, things, and ideas that motivate and inspire me to take care of myself and my family in the way that we deserve.

The problem with “New Year’s resolutions” is that when we tie our motivation to a time of the year, the motivation inevitably wears off. Anyone who regularly works out at a gym is familiar with this phenomenon. Every January 1, there is a flood of new faces in the cardio room and the classes. Suddenly you’re waiting in line for a treadmill when just before Christmas 90% of the machines were empty. By Valentine’s Day, the crowds are gone. All of those people who rushed to the gym after the holiday gluttony and resolved to finally get in shape have gotten back to their busy lives.

So I decided — no New Year’s resolutions this year. If I choose to eat better, exercise more, organize more efficiently, or start a new home project, I’ll do it because I’m feeling motivated and inspired to do so in the moment — not because of the date on the calendar. I’m not going to spend the beginning of the year feeling bad about myself because of all the things I need to change.

Do New Year’s resolutions work for you? How do you motivate yourself to make positive changes?

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Confessions of a work-at-home mama

One of the biggest misconceptions that I find myself correcting since Judah was born is the idea that life without a full-time office job is a 24/7 party/nap/pajama fest. While I continue to feel blessed that I’m able to be at home with Judah during the day and earn an income at the same time, it’s much more challenging than working in an office 9 to 5 (for me, anyway).

I know my fellow moms (and dads) will agree that no matter what your work situation — whether you work in an office, earn income from home, or work your butt off as a stay-at-home parent — time is a precious commodity. I’ll admit, Judah was such a content baby, I spent the entire first year of his life thinking this gig was going to be easy. Then he started walking, and it was all over. Now it feels like I’m always running behind, I’m never as productive as I used to be, and I’ve even turned into a bit of an airhead.

But time management, like money management, is about priorities. Between teaching three classes, taking care of Judah all day and managing his activities, and taking on the most freelance work I’ve ever tackled, this summer has been bonkers for us. I’ve recently found myself lamenting my lack of time for pretty much anything, which means it’s time for me to step back and reprioritize.

So I made a list — a road map of which things on my to-do list are non-negotiable and which things I need to rethink to be more efficient.

Non-negotiables

Play time with Judah – Spending time with him is the whole reason I made the decision to forgo full-time work, so he remains my top priority. Now that he’s a full-fledged toddler he’s more interactive than ever, and it’s not fair to keep him cooped in the house while I work all day. I already squeeze most of my work into his short naptime and after he’s in bed, but I’ll admit that this schedule sometimes leaves me so exhausted that I’m not the most energetic playmate for him. This is something that I’m working on.

I’ve also decided to make time for activities he enjoys like his gymnastics class, a swim class later this summer, and other fun things that can be a pain to fit into my schedule, but worth it for him.

Exercise – I’m still working on dropping about 20 pounds of cheeseburger weight (I lost the privilege of calling it baby weight when Judah turned 1, so now it’s best if I admit it’s the cheeseburgers, not the baby, that are the problem). Exercise is also the best way to control the symptoms of my anxiety disorder, and it certainly ups my energy level. The good news is that Judah has adapted fantastically to the wonderful people at the YMCA daycare, and that hour a day is a great way for him to burn some energy and meet some playmates, so this keeps us both happy.

My Teaching Job – I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this job, and it’s too perfect schedule-wise to give up. They schedule my courses around my husband’s, so he’s home when I’m not, and I enjoy it more than any other paid position I’ve ever had. So I want to do everything I can to continue doing it as long as they’ll have me.

Things to Rethink

Freelance Work – I have this problem. When someone contacts me with an opportunity to earn some money, I can’t say no. No matter how swamped I am or how uninterested I am in the work, I have the hardest time turning it down. This does absolutely not good for me or my schedule. Now that I’m teaching, I can let go of this “feast or famine” attitude. I have steady paychecks. I have enough on my plate already. I don’t want to give up freelancing, but I need to be much pickier in what I’m willing to take on.

Household chores – I can be a little Type A when it comes to keeping the house clean. I don’t want to give up on a clean house — keeping things tidy reduces my overall stress. But I do need to work on accepting help in this area, and lowering my expectations. It’s not that my husband doesn’t clean well; it’s just that I’m a psycho with ridiculous requirements when it comes to a clean house. Letting go of some of my control issues in this area will be good for me and for our marriage.

Extra organization and home improvement tasks – As if I have time for stuff like this right now. But my to-do list around the house just keeps getting longer as the closets and piles of hidden paper get taller. My solution is to get serious about organizing since this will hopefully help my feel more productive and less stressed, and let go of decorating tasks for the time being. I don’t have time for them at the moment, and obsessing about when they’re going to get finished just adds stress. We’re most productive on breaks from school, so I’ll try not to worry about this stuff until we get a vacation.

Blogging – I miss you guys. I miss this space. I need to make more time for it, even if I feel like my brain is fried completely at the end of the day.

So what about you guys? Have any of you found the magic key to work/life balance? Or least found a method of managing it all that works for you? I’m all ears.

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The end of No Social Media month

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was all, “I don’t even think about Facebook anymore!” That was true for a couple of weeks in the middle of the month. I experienced some withdrawal for the first week or so, and then for about two weeks, it was almost like social media didn’t exist. I was fine with out it.

As I get closer to the end of the month, though, I’m starting to feel the withdrawal symptoms creeping back. You know what’s funny, though? It’s not Facebook that I miss the most this week; it’s Pinterest. I can’t wait to look at all the pretty pictures of crafts and food and clothes. All of the sudden I’m finding things all over the Internet that I’m dying to share, and I have nowhere to post them. I can hardly wait until tomorrow.

I’m not entirely certain what will happen now. I’d like to say I’ve learned some life-changing lesson about balancing the real world with the Internet. I’d like to say I’ve made a vow to get off the computer and spend more time outside. It’s true that I want those things (maybe not outside if it’s 90 degrees, but I at least want to get out of the house), and I’m sure for the next few weeks I’ll be pretty good about sticking to it. I’ll probably use social media less for a while. But I’m a realist, and I know it won’t be long before I start feeling like I’m wasting time again.

Honestly, though, as I’ve said before: the benefits outweigh the cost. I may lose some time, but what I’m gaining is invaluable information and a support network which I depend on too much to give up.

Based on the experience, though, I do have a few small goals I’ve set for myself to help me find a little balance.

Limit screen time before bed.

These days, the only time I can read is right before I fall asleep. Before this experiment, I hated that I’d get into bed, log in to check Facebook “one more time,” and end up killing an hour playing with my phone. I sleep better when I read, and I like making time to read anyway, so I’d like to leave the Internet behind when it’s time for bed.

Get out of the house.

If I have a lot planned during the day that keeps us running around, Judah and I both stay more active and I don’t find myself wasting as much time. I’m teaching three classes this summer, Judah and I have been spending an hour a day at the YMCA where I work out, and Judah is enrolled in a weekly baby gym class. With all of these activities, staying busy shouldn’t be a problem.

Set limits.

This is my toughest goal, because I’ve tried to do this in the past, and failed miserably. There is never a time when I’m sitting on Facebook and there’s absolutely nothing else I should be doing. Sometimes it’s work that I’m avoiding, but other times it’s something I want to do — reading a book, quilting, spending time with my husband — but I get so caught up in the Internets that suddenly I look at the clock and an hour has passed.

I strive to live my life mindfully, though — mindful eating, mindful spending, and eventually, mindful time management. So I’m going to make my best effort to set hard limits and stick to them. In other words, if I’m wasting time on the Internet, I will tell myself, “You have 15 more minutes, and then it’s time to move on to something more productive.” Setting the limits won’t be hard at all — I do that all the time. The hard part is watching the clock, and actually sticking to the limits I’ve set.

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No Social Media Month: Two weeks down, two to go

I just finished my second week without social media, and I’ve decided Facebook is a lot like fast food — when I consume less, I crave less. I’m only halfway through the month, and I already don’t even think about social media. I no longer feel the urge to jump onto a social network to vent or catch up on acquaintances’ lives. Despite the fact that Facebook has been a daily part of my life for over 5 years now, after only two weeks, life feels totally normal without it.

I’ve noticed an interesting and unexpected side effect this week, though. I hoped that logging out of social networks for a month would give me more time for blogging and other more creative Internet pastimes. It has actually had the opposite effect. Without social networks, I find myself putting down my computer and phone for longer stretches of time. Without an excuse to use them throughout the day, I’m not easily reminded that I should be blogging or working. I don’t feel creatively inspired. My computer actually sat in the same spot, unopened, from Thursday night until Sunday afternoon this past weekend. I suppose that was the point of the experiment, partly — to disconnect and find more balance. But the truth is, I miss the creative outlet.

Am I more productive? Eh, not really. It’s true that we’ve been more productive around the house than normal the past couple weeks (pictures to come!), but that has more to do with my husband being home and both of us on summer vacation than my social media break. I’m still finding ways to distract myself.

The big question I wanted to answer, though: is my life better without social media? And the answer is not really. I expected this break to have much broader effects on my life, but the truth is, I really don’t think logging out of Facebook for the past two weeks has made me a better mother, wife, or friend. It hasn’t made me particularly happier, smarter, more creative or more productive. Everything feels pretty much the same only now I’m not spending part of my day connecting with people I wouldn’t otherwise see in daily life.

I do miss my Facebook friends. I sometimes wonder what some of them are up to. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel like I have the time to pick up the phone and call them. It’s something that I need to work on — with or without social media. I hoped without Facebook I would be more motivated to try, but that hasn’t been the case. Now I just feel out of the loop and even guiltier for being too busy to take the time to catch up. At least with social media, I knew what was going on with them. I could congratulate their successes, and even make a call if something they posted alerted me that they needed me. Without Facebook, I don’t have time to call, and I don’t even have a reminder that I should.

It’s been an interesting experiment, and I’m sticking with it for the rest of the month. It has been nice not spending so much time attached to a screen, and I certainly think I’ll take some of the balance I’ve found with me when the month is over. So far the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I have no reason to feel guilty about the time I spend connecting with people on social networks. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and at least social networks are more engaging, helpful, educational, and, well, social than television. If I had to choose one vice over the other, I think I’ll stick with Facebook.

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Life without social media: Week 1

It’s the start of day three in my month without social media, but it was the morning of day one that I realized just how much I’ve come to depend on my connections with Internet friends for daily life.

I expected to experience withdrawal from the connection that social media provides, and I definitely did. I can’t prove that it’s related, but I was feeling on edge and extra crabby all day on the first day. Whether it was caused by social media withdrawal or just a bad day, I can definitely say I missed being able to log into Facebook, fire off a status update venting my frustrations, and wait for the commiseration to pour in. It’s not that I don’t have friends to vent to in real life, but when your network is over 200 people, you’re more likely to find someone who can relate to what you’re feeling at any given moment than you are if you just text, email, or call a friend.

It’s not just the connections that I missed, though. I sat down to plan our menu for the week on Tuesday, and I realized I don’t even remember how I came up with meal ideas without Pinterest. It’s only been a year since I started using Pinterest. It’s amazing to me how quickly we adapt to technology and begin to depend on it.

The unfortunate realization? I’m not less distracted without Facebook. I’ve just replaced Facebook with other distractions. I’ve been texting and emailing more with friends (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — reconnecting with real world friends is one of the reasons I wanted to step away from social media). The bad news is that I’m using texting and emailing to distract me from work and household chores and going outside the same way I used social media.

I thought I would be less attached to my phone and the Internet, but I’m just finding new things to distract myself. I’m not brave enough or strong enough for a month without Internet (though after typing it, I am intrigued at the thought), but I wonder if that would be the only way to get the “break” that I set out to take.

Another unexpected problem? Without Facebook and Twitter, all that inspiration that I hoped to channel into the blog has nowhere to go. All day little thoughts and quips about parenting and life pop into my head. I used to post them immediately, and I often turned those thoughts into whole blog posts eventually. Now? The thoughts pop into my head, and without a place to put them, poof. They’re gone. I decided to start carrying a notebook with me and get into the habit of writing things down instead of posting them online. Hopefully I’ll be able to do something with those thoughts instead of just forgetting them.

I guess my point is that so far the benefits of social media seem to outweigh its pitfalls. Granted, it’s only day 3, but so far I’m not getting more done or feeling less stressed or feeling much of a difference at all aside from the fact that I’m missing a lot of conveniences and feeling a little more lonely.

What do you guys think? Have you ever taken a break from social media? What did you miss most?

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Incommunicado

For the past few weeks, I’ve had an idea floating around in my head. After much deliberation, I’ve decided to act on it. For the entire month of May, I will be logging off all social media accounts.

I will continue to check my email and post on this blog (hopefully more frequently that I have been posting for the past few months). Rest assured, I am not one of those Facebook/Twitter haters. It’s quite the contrary actually. I love social media a little too much.

I fully intend to come back at the end of the month, but I hope to come back refreshed and better able to strike a balance between the real world and the Internet world. Here are just a few reasons I’ve decided to try the experiment:

  • Since beginning my teaching job, I feel like my screen time has grown exponentially. Now in addition to social media, I’m staring at my computer writing lectures, researching, grading, and communicating with students. This summer I’ll be teaching an online class, which will increase my screen time even more. I feel like my eyes need a break, and my baby needs to look at my face a little more instead of the tiny Apple icon.
  • Screen time encourages me to sit on my butt more than I should. The weather is warming up. It’s time to get outside and get active.
  • Sometimes I feel like social media — Facebook especially — allows me to be creatively lazy. What I mean by that is that it’s too easy for me to fire up my iPhone and post a status message every time a thought I want to share or a question I want answered pops into my head. I’ve been struggling with blog inspiration for several months now, and my hope is that taking a step back from other outlets will inspire me to share more thoughts and ideas here in this space.
  • I value the connections that I’ve developed and maintained through social media, but sometimes I feel like the hundreds of people I communicate with online take away a portion of the time and energy that rightfully belongs to my family and real-world friends.
  • My husband and I are both on vacation for most of the month of May. This year we will celebrate four years of marriage and a whole year in a home of our own. We have lots of family activities, visitors, and travel planned as well as home improvement tasks to tackle. I need to avoid the distraction of frequent Facebook updates.
  • My to-read list is a mile long, and I spend too many nights “checking one more thing” on the Internet without picking up my Kindle or cracking a book.
  • I still owe my parents a quilt that I promised them for Christmas, and I also want to learn to crochet and knit.

In short, I’m hoping the month of May will be busy enough that I won’t miss social media.

I am not naive, though. I am a full-on, hands-shaking, cold-sweating, fiending for a fix addict. The first few days of this experiment aren’t going to be pretty. In fact, I’m actually going as far as asking my husband to change all of my passwords so I can’t access the websites. I’m removing the apps from my phone, too. I know this may seem extreme, but there’s no telling what an addict will do when she needs a fix.

I’ve tried similar experiments in the past (never longer than a week, though), and even if I can make it that long without posting anything myself, I still obsessively check everyone else’s posts and often can’t help but respond to a few.

I’m hoping to keep you guys updated on the experience and share the good and the bad. I get so many positive things from social media and the Internet, but it’s like anything else — it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. My hypothesis is that absence from the Internet really will make my heart grow fonder, not just of the Internet, but the people I’ve gotten to know there. I guess we’ll see, though.

Have you ever taken a break from the Internet? What did you learn?

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Itching to move? Try this first

Tony and I are spending spring break painting, reorganizing, and assembling IKEA furniture (yikes!). I can’t wait to share our progress with you. In the meantime, I’m sharing a post from the archives that was originally published in July 2009. If you’re feeling the itch to move, try these tips to make your old place feel new again.

redecorate

Maybe it’s a side effect from my college years when I moved into a new apartment every year, but I still get the urge to pick up and move every August. I hate moving, but I love the feeling of starting fresh — decorating, organizing, and waking up in a completely new place.

But moving tops my list for biggest hassles. On top of packing and physically lugging your belongings to a new place, moving is expensive, time consuming, and jarring.

This August is our third in the same apartment. Every year I’ve battled my urge to find a new place with these tricks:

Clean. I mean, really clean.

One of my favorite parts about moving into a new place is that all of those nooks and crannies are freshly dusted and cleaned. This month, instead of cleaning just what you can see, invest some time and elbow grease into cleaning your place as if you’re moving. Vacuum under furniture, remove everything from the shelves and closets to dust, and scrub the walls and baseboards.

Purge and reorganize.

I hate the process of getting rid of stuff before a move, but I love that when I move into my new place everything is freshly organized and I’m temporarily not overburdened with stuff. It’s hard to motivate yourself to purge and organize when a move isn’t looming, but clearing your closets and drawers and ridding yourself of the clutter will recreate that freshly organized feeling after moving into a new place.

Paint.

Painting isn’t just an easy way to breathe new life into a living space; it also goes a long way to making your place feel cleaner. Your walls may be looking dingy after years or months without fresh paint, not to mention you’re probably sick of looking at the same neutral shade. Check with your landlord if you’re renting and see if you can repaint to clean up your space and give it a new look. Consider adding color to one wall to give the room depth and an interesting focal point.

Hit the end-of-summer yard sales.

Now that you’ve gotten rid of some clutter, check out the summer yard sales near you to find some new decorative pieces or fun new furniture. Don’t overlook furniture that’s worn or hideously colored. Look at the shape and sturdiness of the piece, and remember that a bit of sanding, new paint, and knobs can turn an ugly antique into a modern, functional addition to your space.

Rearrange your furniture.

Giving your room a new layout is the quickest, easiest way to redecorate. Flip the rooms into a new configuration, move furniture you’ve been tripping over, and add that funky antique table you picked up at the yard sale. You’ll feel like you’re in a brand new place without going through the hassle and expense of moving.

Photo credit: Lynie

Spring fever

I’ve been struggling with the adjustment now that I’m a “working mom.” Aren’t we all “working moms,” though? Whether you chase your kids around all day or clock in at an office, being a mom is hard work.

My classes started at the beginning of March, so now I’m balancing my responsibilities at home with responsibilities to my students. I’m still so thankful to have the opportunity to earn income and still “stay at home” with my son for most of the day, but that means I do a lot of my work at home. Trying to work with an active toddler running around presents its own challenges. The only time I can “work” is when he’s sleeping — during his short afternoon nap, and then after bedtime.

Unfortunately, the time change pushed his bedtime back to 8:30 p.m. (Grumble, grumble.) Squeezing all of my extra class work into my busy days has taken some adjustment — which is why this blog has been a little quiet lately.

It doesn’t help that just as I’ve become busier, we’re entering the season when I feel the urge to be most productive. This time of year is when I come out of my winter haze and start noticing all the places around the house that need to be scrubbed, organized, and decluttered. Add to that the three rooms we still need to paint and all of the decorating things I want to do (we’ve been in the house almost a year, and there’s still nothing on the walls), and I’ve got a pretty unreasonable to-do list on my hands.

Right now, I’m working on taking my own advice. I’m breaking my to-do list into pieces and prioritizing. If I can take it one thing at a time, I might finish everything I want to do by the end of … the decade? The century? I’d love to finish by the end of summer, but that’s probably a pipe dream.

Since my list includes tasks in pretty much every room of the house, I’m breaking it down by room. Our plan is to work on one room at a time cleaning, organizing, decluttering, and decorating. I won’t bore you with the point-by-point breakdown of what we need to do — it’s ridiculous. I will say, however, that when I think about it one room at a time, I feel significantly less overwhelmed. I think if I can focus on just the to-do list for a room at a time, it’ll be easier for me to keep track and stay motivated. I plan to share with you what we accomplish as we work on each room.

I’m still deciding where I want to get started, but at this point, I’m leaning toward starting in Judah’s room. Before he was born, my nesting instinct was in overdrive, and everything was neat and tidy and in its place. Now? It is overrun with toys and clothing, and the bottom drawer of his dresser is so broken it’s no longer functional. I feel a knot in my stomach every time I fold his laundry, because I know I’m going to have to wrestle with that stupid drawer. The closer he gets to climbing out of his crib, the more nervous I feel about having a heavy, full-sized dresser in his room, so I’m looking for an alternative method to store his clothes.

What’s on your to-do list this spring? I’d love to hear how you’re tackling your spring cleaning and organization lists!