Problem solved…a form of gratitude

Sometimes when I’m feeling like there’s one setback after another, it helps to reflect on what has been repaired. I keep a little glass jar in my desk at work filled with colorful paper slips of “problems solved.”
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My students and I enjoy this poster that I replenish a few times a week. Anyone who has a need is invited to tear one off. At least once a week, I take one too, and I write the date and why I took that request on the back.
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Some of them are simple, like the day I forgot my cell phone at home and worried all day that my son would get sick at school and the nurse would try to call me and not be able to reach me. Some of them are more complicated and long-term and it’s not really clear when or how they’ll be answered. Just writing it down and releasing it to the universe eases my burden.
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I don’t have time to keep a journal, but writing helps me work through the things that weigh on my mind. My jar of patience, hope, healing, and more reminds me that even though there are always going to be new problems, many things I worried about are already in my past.

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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The little rituals that make our house a home

One of my most faithful blog followers mentioned how her grandchildren love to come to her house for after-school snacks, and it got me thinking, what are the little rituals in our household that make our house a home? Here are ours, and please comment with yours… maybe we’ll find some new ideas to add to our list!

  1. The annual viewing of the (original) Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars, and have watched the movies dozens of times (and yes, I’m so excited for the next one!). When I was in college, the trilogy always seemed to be on TV in mid-December, right when I’d be studying for my final exams. I watched them as an excellent form of procrastination, and I knew even then that my future children would be educated in the ways of the force. We sit down once a year and watch them all, not in one sitting, but over a few nights. It’s a travesty when I meet a kid who’s never seen Star Wars.
  1. Coming home from trips and saying “east or west, home is best” as we pull into the garage. Traveling is fun, but nowhere is better than home to me, and I love that my sons appreciate our house so much too. They often say how cozy it is.
  1. Sunday morning pancakes. This came from my dad, who made whole wheat pancakes every Sunday morning on a huge iron griddle. He was the most relentlessly cheerful morning person I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to say I discovered how he did it: He got up way before anyone else in the house.
  1. Saying “sweet dreams, I love you” before bed every night. I tuck the boys in (although sometimes they’re up later than I am now) and we say good night. Sometimes once is enough, but other nights I hear one or both of them call out “I love you” from down the hall, and these are the times I never want them to grow up.
  1. Getting out the door on time (or almost on time) every weekday.  Our morning routine to an observer would look like a well-rehearsed play with characters moving from room to room in synchronized fashion. One is brushing teeth while another is in the kitchen making breakfast and the third is getting dressed, then it’s time to rotate. Who knows how many times I ask “Do you have your gym clothes?” and my sons ask “Do you have your keys?” It’s good to have someone reminding you of that stuff in the morning flurry.
  1. Dinner and grocery shopping. I often shop alone out of necessity, but my favorite trips to buy our groceries include going out for dinner first (we love Panera!). We write a shopping list while we’re still at the table, and then take turns pushing the cart and selecting items in the store. It seems like less of a chore and more of a special occasion when we all go together.

These are the moments I most look forward to in our home. What are yours?

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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“Why am I so encumbered?”

My son and his friends enjoy playing online games together, and the other day I overheard him ask, “Why am I so encumbered?” What he meant was he was weighed down by the items his character was carrying, but it struck me that I’ve been encumbered too, if not by physical objects, at least by the maintenance of myself, the people in my family, and our stuff.

I have constant running to-do lists, one for work and one for home, and I realized I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment on either of them because there’s always more to do. Now that the boys have constant homework and activities, it feels like life has gotten infinitely more complicated. They are big enough to help out around the house, and they do, but there are three people’s schedules running through my head at all times and most events have to be scheduled weeks in advance to happen.

I’m working out how to enjoy my days and savor them, despite all of the parts that make me tired and sometimes weigh me down. Even though I can’t stand the idea of looking at one more list, I had to make one to remind me of all the good little routines that pull me up like helium-filled balloons. Here’s mine and I’d love your suggestions too.

  1. Every morning, I look forward to my same breakfast (coffee and raisin bread toast with peanut butter) and reading a few chapters from the Bible. That is often my only quiet time in an entire day!
  2. At least one meal where I sit down with my boys. It’s usually dinner, but even if it’s breakfast or lunch, we talk and find out what’s going on with each other.
  3. Time with my loved ones to go for walks, work on a New York Times crossword, or watch a movie. These are a few of the moments where my mind isn’t running on hyperspeed.
  4. Going to sleep at night. Usually it’s more like passing out from exhaustion, but I treasure those few minutes where I’m warm under the covers. I love my bed.
  5. Listening to RadioLab podcasts on the way to and from work. This amazing show has opened my world to so many new ideas I would have missed in my myopic little world.

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Hope for the discouraged

FullSizeRender (3)I will admit that I’ve been kind of discouraged with myself lately. Why can’t I have more energy, more patience, more gratefulness for all of the blessings in my life? Picking on yourself never leads to anything good, nor does comparing yourself to others. I look in the mirror and say “You could do better.”

You know what? It’s true. I could do better, but instead of putting it like that, I’d like to say “I am better today.” Not better like a competition that I have to work at, but better because I’ve lived and learned for one more day.

Before I say anything to myself, I ask whether it’s something I’d say to someone I love. I certainly wouldn’t tell a friend,

“You can’t balance everything.”

“Why are you so lazy?”

“Other people can do this; why can’t you?”

Those are the kinds of things I would never even think about someone else, so why was it okay to talk to myself that way? I’m learning to think of myself as a kind and supportive friend to a younger woman who needs my help. She needs encouragement and a pep talk and sometimes a little time off from all of her responsibilities. I let her know she is strong and she can keep going, even when she thinks it’s impossible, and that she is better today, just for being herself.

What do you need to hear from yourself today?

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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The top 5 Momisms in our house

It’s that time of year… school has been in session a few weeks and we’re back in the daily grind: Get up, make breakfast and lunches, rush out the door for school, eat dinner, do homework, take showers, go to bed. The kids are exhausted already and so am I, and it’s only September. I’ve been wondering how I’m going to make it through the rest of this year. How are we going to make it through the next fifteen years?!

I find myself reaching for all of the “momisms” of my youth – those sayings that were repeated often in our house and became the backdrop of our daily life. In honor of my mom’s birthday today, I’m going to share a few gems from our house.

“Lord, give me the strength to raise four children.” This was not so much directed at us, the four darling children, but muttered as a plea to get through whatever we happened to be doing to exhaust our dear mother. I’m only raising two and I have the same feeling. I pray for strength on a regular basis.

“A family is a warm, safe, loving environment.” My mother said this whenever one of us was picking on a sibling. My brothers drove me to the point of tears at times and I remember often telling my parents that I wished I were an only child, but now that we’re grown, I don’t know what I’d do without my brothers. We are scattered over three states and don’t see each other all that often, but I know they have my back and I can call them anytime. When my boys are arguing, I remind them that they’re going to be friends someday, believe it or not. If my mom wanted to embarrass us and drive us out of the room, she’d amp it up by talking about “the bosom of the family.” Yuck!

“Only boring people get bored.” I hated to hear this. It didn’t make me stop feeling bored. All it did was irritate me. And wouldn’t you know it, now I say it regularly to my kids. I never have time to feel bored anymore, so I can see why my mom wasn’t too sympathetic to my plight.

“Fight sweetly, children.” This one came from my soft-spoken, genteel grandmother. My dad said he and his brother got along great, so I wonder why their mother ever had to say this? Hmmm….

“Go play in traffic.” This was technically from my dad, but I had to include it because we heard it quite often. My dad didn’t join in often with the trite sayings, but we heard this whenever our parents practiced that vile technique of ganging up on us. They were still outnumbered four to two, but it was much harder to get away with anything when they were both alert and paying attention to our misbehavior at the same time.

These tried-and-true phrases are very familiar in my own household because when I get tired, they just pop right out, no matter how much I vowed as a kid that I would never say such lame things to my children.

I’d like to leave you with this very funny video of a mom who’s managed to say everything that every mom has ever said to her kids. What are the momisms you grew up with?

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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The personalities of my houseplants

Life’s been a little too heavy lately, so I decided to lighten things up with some fluffy psychoanalysis of a few of my many houseplants.

Let’s start with SULKY.

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This is the one that plays dead if it doesn’t get watered a few times a week. Even though I feel guilty anytime I come home from work to see the leaves drooped down to the table, this plant is the canary in the coal mine that reminds me to water everything else because it’s the first to complain.

 

Next, we have THE PHOENIX.

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If ever a plant arose from the ashes, it’s this one. I rescued it at work from an empty office where it had been sitting abandoned for months without any water. It was down to ONE living leaf. A few years later, this super plant is so voluminous that I can’t even move it because it has many trailing stems of leaves.

 

Here’s my friend METHUSELAH.

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Okay, he’s not 969, but this African violet is fifteen or more years old. I saved this one from my mom (she’s a houseplant killer) when she received it from a friend as a condolence gift after my father died. It survived a family move and has been repotted (only because it fell on the floor and the pot smashed). I don’t even bother to fertilize plants, so I have to give this guy credit for blooming multiple times a year for weeks at a stretch. He’s got good genes.

 

Say hello to the ever-ugly PERSNICKETY.

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This tree was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law, who have a beautiful, graceful version of the same plant. It’s supposed to be “low maintenance,” and at first it was. I put it in a corner, watered it about twice a month, and generally forgot it was there because it didn’t grow AT ALL. One nice spring day, I thought it would enjoy a little outdoor time. Apparently not. I brought it inside after a day of frolicking in the sun, and the leaves were already starting to turn black. Sunburn? Since then, it’s never been the same. It drops leaves until I think it’s about to die, but I swear it knows when I’m about to throw it in the garbage and has the good sense to sprout a few new leaves to keep me in a state of false hope. This tree is my teacher; I consider myself “above average” in houseplant husbandry, and this is my only failure to date. Oh well; you can’t reach them all, they say.

 

And finally, I SWEAR IT’S REAL, EVEN THOUGH IT LOOKS FAKE.

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I have had this plant for more than two years now, and in that time, it has never gotten larger, dropped a leaf, or showed signs of distress during periods of drought (i.e., me forgetting it was there and not watering it for a month).

I’d love to see a picture of your favorite (or ugliest) houseplant!

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Healthy things to do when you’re stressed

walking-349991_1280I spend a lot of time berating myself for not doing things better: not being more patient, efficient, and especially for how I tend to fall apart when I get stressed. Too much stress makes me feel like I am stuck in mud – all of a sudden, I’m tired all day, I can’t make decisions, and I start procrastinating big time. Not to mention the days I lie around and eat too much, which only increases my feelings of being bogged down.

It’s easy when I’m feeling good to think of all the ways I should handle stress; not so easy when I’m in the midst of it. So I decided I’d make a little list of positive (healthy – not drowning my troubles in margaritas) ways I can start to feel better right away. Instead of making decisions about how to handle things, I just take a quick inventory of whether I’m more mentally or physically tired and pick one from the list below. What’s on your stress relief list?

  1. Go out for a walk. This is the one that feels hardest to do sometimes, yet it has the most instantaneous effect because I’m getting away from what’s bothering me and getting my endorphins flowing. Sometimes I have to force myself to look around me rather than continue to stew over whatever’s on my mind while I walk, but walking makes everything better.
  1. Clean up the house. If I can’t go for a walk, the next best help is cleaning, which is usually the last thing I feel like doing when I’m stressed out, but again, it burns off some tension and the end result makes me feel better too.
  1. Take a nap. When I’m not productive, I layer the guilt trips onto myself like blankets on a cold winter night. But there are days I am really, really tired and truly can’t make good decisions or get anything done, and then I know it’s time for a break. Paying more attention to my body’s needs has headed off many a meltdown.
  1. Read a good book/do needlepoint/solve a puzzle. Sometimes I’m physically tired but mentally running a hundred miles an hour. These activities take my mind off things. Notice I didn’t add watching TV or movies. I’ve noticed that I tend to feel worse when I lie around watching Netflix or cruising Facebook when I’m down. Something about screen time pulls me deeper into the abyss.
  1. Consult with my higher power. To borrow from Alcoholics Anonymous, it helps to “let go and let God.” The times I feel most stressed are when I think I have to do it all myself, know it all myself, take care of it all myself. Sometimes huge stress is the reset button I need to remind me that I can’t handle everything on my own.

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Sending positive intentions to others (aka prayers)

praying-614374_1280My older son often has difficulty falling asleep.  I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had those nights where rumination and worry interrupt a good night’s rest. My advice to him? “Think of every person you’ve ever met and say a prayer for them.” That should take a while. It was a more intellectual version of counting sheep, and hopefully, a way to help others.

He said it helped him, and for me it sparked a new habit. Every night before I go to sleep I take a few minutes to pray for whoever is on my mind. That almost always includes my family and loved ones, but sometimes people I haven’t seen in years pop into my head too, even people I don’t even know.

For example, one time a man in his early twenties outside a movie theater approached me to ask for money. He was clearly a drug addict and looked so defeated and unhealthy. I was afraid, but I gave him a few dollars. He said thank you and walked away. I prayed for him then, knowing the money would probably go toward drugs rather than food. This was years ago, and yet I still pray for him regularly. I wonder what happened to him and I’ll never know, but I wanted so badly for him to feel loved. I could see he didn’t love himself and probably believed no one else did either.

I’ve dabbled with the idea of creating a prayer list because I’m an organized sort of person who loves to write things down (like everything I eat, every day). There are many prayer list apps our there if you’re interested. I thought about using one of them, but something about an app that reminds you to pray takes away the mystery for me. I am afraid it would become rote instead of the heartfelt spontaneous prayers I make now.

Some of the apps even have boxes you can check off when prayers are answered. My children’s Sunday school teacher reminds them that ALL prayers are answered. It’s just that sometimes the answer is “not yet” or even “no.” One of the mysteries of faith is accepting that very bad things happen to good people. We can choose to believe the universe is random or that all things have meaning, but either way, we’re not yet ready to understand fully. You don’t see the result of some prayers for a long time or ever in some cases. Did all my prayers for the drug-addicted man who approached me in a parking lot help him in any way? I’d like to think so, but I’ll never be able to check off a box definitively.

Prayer has the power to bring you out of yourself and deeper into yourself at the same time. When you’re praying for others, you’re setting your ego aside. You’re pulling yourself out of “poor me” mode. Nothing snaps me out of a bad mood faster than remembering all the people who have gone through much worse than I could ever imagine. But you are also allowed (and encouraged) to ask for yourself. Just knowing it’s not all on me to fix anyone else or myself gives me a sense of peace. I am putting forth the effort, but I’m not working alone.

Whether you believe in prayer or not, I’m sure you can acknowledge that wishing someone well, even if they don’t know you are doing so, just might change their lives for the better. I’ll be praying for you.

[Image courtesy of Gadini at www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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It’s 10x easier to do it yourself (but you shouldn’t)

FullSizeRenderI decided this was the summer that my sons would learn to cut the grass. They would take over a job I’ve been doing since I was 12. It’s a task that’s half tedious and annoying, half meditative and relaxing. I’ve been looking forward for years to pass the reins.

My younger son embraced the challenge, but he’s an independent type, one who doesn’t like to be told “the best way” to do something, even if he’s never done it himself. Therefore, there are little mohawks and tufts of grass that didn’t get cut because my directive to overlap each row went unheeded. The tracks run a criss-cross haphazard path rather than the orderly farmer’s rows I create each time I go out to mow.

As I watched him work, growing impatient at times to be finished (how I know the way that last twenty minutes seems to drag out!), getting frustrated when he got into corners it was hard to get out of, and altogether missing a few areas, I thought how much easier it would be to do it myself. I could keep cutting the grass — it’s only an hour a week, and only for those few precious months of summer.

I could do it myself and look out my windows at a yard mowed by someone with years of experience, or I could put my perfectionism aside for the more important goal of seeing my son learn how to do something better with practice (there were fewer mohawks the second time). I can appreciate his pluckiness – even though his arm isn’t quite long enough yet, he wants to try to start the mower himself each time.

I don’t even remember how I learned to cut the grass. Knowing my dad, he probably just sent me out and said “figure it out,” which is how I got so good at doing a lot of different things. I can show my son that I have that same confidence in him that my parents had in me. When my sons do a cleanup job that wastes paper towels, at least they are cleaning up, and when the grass isn’t cut perfectly, it’s still getting cut, and that’s good enough for me.

Traveling way outside my comfort zone

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“East or west, home is best.” This is a phrase I grew up hearing my father say often, especially when he got back from another international business trip. It’s something I say to myself nearly every time I pull into my driveway.

Even though I’ve been a single parent for the past several years, I’ve never in that time taken my kids anywhere overnight by myself. I don’t really enjoy traveling, flying, or going to new places. This spring and summer, I decided that had to change.

My kids and I just got home from a one-night trip to western Pennsylvania (about four hours away), to places we’d never been before. My older son developed a fascination with Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. He set a picture of it as our computer desktop background and asked me every few months about going.

Wow, was it worth it! We had a great time. My older son said the tour was even better than he had expected and my younger son (the one I’ve now and then accused of taking all his blessings for granted) thanked me many times for our trip and how much fun it was.

I will confess that I naturally have a lot of anxiety and the main way I keep it at bay is through routine. Get up at the same time every day, have the same breakfast every day, follow a to-do list I wrote the night before every day… what may sound boring to you is comfort to me.

Most people would be shocked to hear that I’m anxious because I come across as easygoing and carefree a lot of the time. That’s because I happen to be fortunate enough to have a lot of control over what I do when (a major indicator of human happiness). Only those who know me well see the cracks at the seams when we eat dinner two hours later than I expected or had plans to go somewhere that get changed last minute.

I am not a go-with-the-flow type of person, so taking a last minute trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, finding a hotel online, and driving across the state with some handwritten directions scrawled on a scrap of paper were definitely pushing my boundaries. To one of my world-traveling coworkers, I equated it with her going to Russia.

It got me thinking, what else can I do to keep growing and experiencing new things? What do you do, large and small, to get out of your comfort zone and into the great big world? I’d love your ideas! (Please don’t suggest varying my breakfast, ’cause that ain’t happening.)

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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