5 Super Simple Changes We Made to Improve Our Families Nutrition

As a new mom, I had high hopes for how I was going to give my children the best nutrition possible.  I wanted them to have a diverse palate, eat lots of vegetables and be generally healthy due to eating high quality food.  As with most moms, reality set in rather quickly, and the older they get, the more I understand how little control I have over nutritional content.  I still, however, am a firm believer that quality nutrition can set a foundation for health.  Therefore, I have made very simple changes to our diet to subtly improve our families nutrition.  These changes are easy, and have not been met with (too) much complaining.  Trust me, we still have our fair share of not so great food too.  I try to keep a foundation of nutrition so that there isn’t too much guilt involved when these unhealthy choices present themselves.  I am definitely not a nutritionist, but I continue to research and read about best practices in this area.  With that knowledge, I have made the following simple changes to our families diet.

Sprouted Grain Bread

We have all heard of the benefits of whole grains in our diet.  For a very long time I purchased 100% whole wheat bread, thinking it was the most nutritious option.  Within the past few years, we have switched to sprouted grain bread instead.    Ezekiel Bread is the most well known brand, but I do a lot of shopping at Aldi and they have a brand as well.  According to www.healthline.com, in sprouted bread the grains and legumes have started germinating (or sprouting).  Compare this to 100% whole wheat bread, which is made of refined (processed) grains, and the nutritional content is much better quality.  It is also organic, and contains zero added sugar.  Both bonus points in our house.  

Reality is, however, it does not mean a thing if my family doesn’t eat it.  They will all tell you that it’s not their favorite bread.  I think all of us love a good slice of toasted white bread once in a while.  But, they still eat it.  From morning toast to PB&J, they eat sprouted grain bread most days without complaint.  

Frozen Fruit

 My kids love anything fruit based.  They would probably live off of it if I let them.  Many snack foods are fruit based, and super yummy.  Some family favorites are applesauce, fruit snacks and fruit leather  These types of snacks are now a special treat in my family, while whole fruits are readily accessible.  We always have apples and bananas in our house, but in addition to that our freezer is full of frozen fruit.  During the summer, it’s as local as possible.  During the colder months, it’s store bought.  We always have blueberries, and typically add mixed combinations as well. 

Having these always on hand makes for such an easy healthy snack.  Frozen fruit is absolutely delicious, and often feels like a treat.  Many nights we put a bowl on the table to add to our dinner.  My kids love to eat it plain, or mixed with yogurt.  We will sometimes warm them up to put them on pancakes or waffles.  It is such an easy thing, but reaching for whole fruits, instead of processed alternatives, dramatically improves the quality of food my kids are putting into their bodies.  And it’s delicious too!

Almond Milk

 I’m not going to lie, changing to almond milk was one of the last changes we made.  I never thought I’d be able to convince my family.  Our oldest has always had a bit of a dairy intolerance, but not enough for us to make a major switch.  Then our middle child started to struggle with dairy as well.  My husband and I never drank much milk to begin with, so it was really only our youngest drinking it.  It very quickly started to spoil before we drank it all.  I had already started buying almond milk for my coffee, so I just stopped buying regular milk.  Now, it’s just a staple in our house.  On the rare occasion that we need milk for something, almond milk it is.  

That may not seem like a big jump, but it does hold some nutritional value for us.  First and foremost, unsweetened almond milk has significantly less sugar than cow’s milk.  According to Healthline, unsweetened almond milk has 0 grams of sugar per serving, while cow’s milk typically has 12 g of sugar.  That’s a significant difference!  Unsweetened almond milk also has 40 calories per serving, vs. 80-150 for cow’s milk. Also, there have been a lot of studies showing that dairy can increase inflammation and discomfort, which makes almond milk a nice alternative.

Now, I would be remiss if I claimed that almond milk was the end all and be all in terms of nutrition.  It’s absolutely not perfect.  If we could have more dairy in our house, I would lean more towards whole milk.  Fat plays an important role in our health, specifically our brain health, and is a crucial part of our diet.  Since we felt the need to eliminate dairy, almond milk has been a great alternative for us.  Specifically, the lowered amount of sugar helps me feel confident that it is the right choice for our family.  

Real Vegetables

 Vegetables are not my kids favorite food.  In fact, they avoid them like the plague quite often.  Yet, we serve them with most meals.  Also, we ask that they take at least one bite at every meal.  This is an attempt to continue to expose them and to diversify their palates.  I could easily hide these vegetables on them, and have them increase their vegetable intake in sneaky ways.  Adding kale to smoothies, or broccoli puree to brownies would ensure they are getting the vitamins that they need.  I absolutely do this sometimes, but do not rely on it.

Why, you might ask, wouldn’t I do something so simple to ensure my children are eating their vegetables, instead of fighting with them.  Well, simply, I don’t want them to go off to college without knowing what broccoli is.  It’s entirely possible that they may get more vegetables if I’m feeding it to them via brownies.  But, as with anything, my ultimate goal is to lead them to make their own healthy decisions.  So, if once a night I force them to eat a brussel sprout, eventually brussel sprouts won’t seem so awful. Or, maybe they will (I will never like onions), but at least they know they don’t like them.  I can still put kale in their smoothies, but I believe if they eat kale by itself I’m setting them up for better success in adulthood.

Organic junk food. 

You read that right, my kids totally eat junk food.  I try to limit it, but the reality is I don’t have much control sometimes.  If I am buying junk food for any reason, I often try to purchase organic.  I will not pretend that I’m perfect at this, but it’s always a goal that I strive for.  According to Karalynn Call, certified nutritionist, our food has dramatically changed since the 90’s.  The organic processed food that we eat today, is essentially the same non-organic food we ate in the 90’s.  Since the 1990’s, some things have changed.  Specifically glysophate, a weed killer, has been sprayed on the corn used for our food.  This food has been genetically modified to withstand glyphsate.  Unfortunately, this is not just limited to corn, but also includes oats and grains.  Processed food in 2021 includes a significant amount of artificial sweeteners, which according to Karalynn, was not the case prior to the mid 90’s.  Essentially, when you buy organic today, you are saying no to all of this extra crud.  

Therefore, for the most part, if I’m buying cereal or chips or something relatively junky, I try to purchase the organic version to avoid these challenges.  It does not mean that this junk food is healthy.  Junk food is junk food, but by buying organic, I’m trying to make choices to avoid the extra crap that was not in my junk food growing up.  For more information from Karalynne Call, follow her on instagram @just.ingredients.

On the whole, I am confident that my children receive enough nutrition through food to create that healthy foundation that I strive for.  That being said, tonight both children ate two snack bags of (non organic) Doritos.  Many nights my daughter eats ketchup (but it’s organic!) for dinner.  The key, as with everything, is to let go of the idea that we can be perfect.  The more you learn, the better you do, and the better you do the more you learn.  In the end, any attempt to improve your child’s (and your own!) nutrition, is a step in the right direction for their health.  

Why Millennials Are a Lot Stronger Than You Think

Millenials have a bad reputation among other generations, specifically the Baby Boomer generation.  We are known as snowflakes, fragile and entitled.  Every generation has its stereotypes.  Are there Karen’s in the boomer generation?  Absolutely.  But, is every white woman in that generation a Karen?  Of course not.  Although there are definitely entitled members of the millennial generation, I’m here to provide a different perspective.  Millennials, specifically Xennials (those of us born between the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s), are incredibly tough, resilient and compassionate. 

Our collective trauma as a generation has created a unique perspective unlike generations before us.  Our continual tragic experiences have allowed us to become resilient, compassionate and emotionally intelligent.  When these qualities butt up against the boomer “suck it up” generation, there is inevitably conflict.  These characteristics, however, do not indicate fragility, but instead have created a unique mental awareness and toughness.  

The Challenger exploded on live television when I was three years old.  I do not know if I actually remember this event, or if it has been ingrained in my memory by seeing it replayed throughout history on tv.  Either way, it definitely had an impact on me.  I do distinctly remember sitting with my Kindergarten class in 1989 watching another space mission. I was nervous watching the rocket launch into space.  I imagine now that somehow the tragedy that occurred with the Challenger had made its way into my subconscious, and was the first traumatic event that began to define my generation’s experience.  

The next few years provided a typical white Elementary School experience.  I had a relatively safe experience in Elementary School, and little concern in the world.  This started to change as I entered pre-adolescence.  On April 19th, 1995 Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City.  This rocked my world.  I was on Spring Break at the time, and had parents and grandparents who were avid news watchers. Being old enough to understand what happened, but too young to understand why, was terrifying.  Was somebody going to bomb my school?  My parents reassured me that my small town school was not a target, but the anxiety stayed.  An anxiety that foreshadowed future events, and began to mold my existence in our society.  

On April 20th, 1999 I was a sophomore in High School.  On this day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed many of their fellow Columbine High School students.  Now it was painfully clear that my parent’s argument of “that can’t happen here” was no longer valid.  There were not that many differences between my High School and Columbine High School. If it could happen in Columbine it could happen in my school.  It was terrifying.  For the first time in my school career, I did not feel inherently safe.

The reaction of our school, along with many schools across the nation, was to increase safety measures . Of course that was their reaction, but as High School students we knew exactly why this was happening.  Dreams would haunt me about streaming out of my High School with my arms up, just as I had seen Columbine students had done.  High School students around the world had experienced a collective trauma. Though clearly not as traumatic as those attending Columbine, we did not have the resources to properly deal with this trauma.  Our parents and teachers did not  have a great understanding of trauma, and therefore did not have great resources for supporting us.  This became another event, in a long line of events, that would create feelings of anxiety, insecurity and fear within our generation.  Going to school was genuinely fear inducing.  

Life goes on, and in 2001 I graduated from High School.  I went to a local community college and on September 11, 2001 I was watching the Today Show while getting ready for class.  A report came on that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings.  I yelled downstairs to my mom, thinking this must be some crazy accident.  Very shortly after it was clear that this was not an accident.  Sitting there watching the television as a second plane crashed into the second tower, I was numb.  It was clear that this was an intentional act.

I got ready, and listened to the radio on my way to class.  My Anatomy and Physiology professor very clearly did not understand the gravity of the moment, and held class as usual.  He let us know that it probably was not as serious as it seemed, and it was important that we get our material for the day done.  For the first time in my life, I had a trauma response to an event.  My brain was foggy, I could not concentrate, and had a lot of anger towards my professor at that point.  Shortly after this class ended, the college shut down classes for the day.  I remember feeling the need to “do something” and immediately donated blood.

September 11th changed our society as a whole that day, but for my generation it was another event in a long line of events that taught us of the insecurity of the world around us.  We continued to experience significant traumatic events, without living in a society that knew how to support us through these events.  Many of us pushedr emotions down, “sucking it up” and moved forward.  Looking back, as a generation we were developing anxiety at an alarming rate, but as young adults did not yet know how to support ourselves.  

Throughout my 4.5 years of undergraduate school it felt as though tragedy and violence in our society continued to grow.  More school shootings, other violent events, and Hurricane Katrina. I entered graduate school  knowing much more about staying safe than I thought I would, but much less than I do today.  

As I entered graduate school I, naively, felt as though college campuses were an exception to the rule.  We were inherently safe, and why would we be a target anyway?  Despite the traumatic events my generation had lived through up until this point, I had developed a sense that I was still in a safe space.  That all changed on April 6, 2007.  

On April 6, 2007, students and staff at Virginia Tech were injured and killed in another mass shooting.  Yet again, my world was shaken.  Just as with Columbine, I now understood that my perceived safe haven was not that.  As a graduate student at a major US University, I was keenly aware that I could have been a Virginia Tech student.  I was paying close attention to my classrooms, coming up with escape plans, and strategizing how I would stay alive in the event of a mass shooting.  

Between the shooting at Virginia Tech and 2012 mass shootings and other violent events became more and more the norm.  As an adult in my twenties I this was extremely traumatizing, but I was also feeling a bit of invincibility common to young adults.  These events were scary and traumatizing, but surely they wouldn’t happen to me.  

That mindset changed significantly with three major events for me.  The Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 was significant given that it involved Elementary School students, and I was a High School Counselor.  When the Aurora Movie theatre shooting happened, it proved to be incredibly anxiety provoking. Movie theaters were an important part of my social life, and I was scared.

I made the transition from my twenties to my thirties, and violent mass shootings were becoming normal. School shootings, such as the one at Stoneman Douglas High School were happening regularly, and I knew my vulnerability while working in a public school.  The shooting at the Pulse NightClub in Orlando, FL, and the shooting at a Music Festival in Las Vegas secured in my mindset that literally no location was safe.  As a new mom, I was now incredibly aware of my surroundings, and consistently aware of escape routes in places like Wal-Mart (especially after the shooting there in 2016).  

Looking back, my childhood and early adulthood were marked by national tragedies.  My twenties and early thirties were marked by these tragedies becoming common place. We have grown into adults and parents in a world marred by insecurity and trauma, without the resources to support us.  This led to significant rates of anxiety, but it also created a unique perspective on the importance of mental health support and compassion.  

Many of my peers are now parents to young children.  Just as our childhood and young adulthood had been marked by unprecedented tragedy, so has our journey into parenthood.  At the time of this writing, I’m a mom of a six year old and three year old,. I am now parenting in the midst of a pandemic, incredible racial tensions and political tensions like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  This past year has been exhausting, traumatic and overwhelming.  As a mom, it is my job to keep my children safe.  The pressure of keeping them mentally and physical safe during this pandemic is incredibly anxiety provoking. Working from home, keeping afloat financially and educating our children from home sometimes puts us over the edge.

As a Millenial (and Xennial) every developmental stage has shown us tragedy and/or violence. It is naive to thinks this does not have an impact.  These tragedies molded who we are, and are part of our collective existence.  They have set the foundation for anxiety, which some see as fragility.  Being aware of how these have shaped us, and the anxiety they have created, however, is not fragility.  It is the epitome of strength.  

Two days ago I watched a breach and attack on our Capitol Building. I watched this event occur live, and I was more than aware of the fact that I was yet again living through a national tragedy and a terrible historical moment.  Fortunately, I have yet to become numb to these events, and am saddened and outraged each and every time a terrible event happens.  Unfortunately, for a generation raised in national trauma, it is another contributor to our collective anxiety.  

All of these events have led to a unique identity for our generation.  To others, we may appear fragile, but in reality we are incredibly strong.  We are a generation raised through tragedy and trauma.  Yes, this has created challenges, but it has also created compassion, leadership, and a priority on mental health.  You may see us as snowflakes, but it’s actually self-advocacy. Maybe you think we are entitled, but many of us are keenly aware of the needs of others.  All others.  This means recognizing the impact our own trauma has had on us, and taking that information to support others in trauma.  

I sincerely hope that as a generation we have an opportunity to live in a world free of trauma and tragedy.  I have a lot of faith in my peers, and have seen incredible activism, compassion and support as we approach our 40’s.  I’ve seen us break stigmas, talk about mental health, stand up against the status quo and work on our own personal growth.  For those reasons, I challenge you to take a good long hard look at how you perceive us.  We are the next generation of “old people”, and we are prepared to take our collective experience and use it to continue to challenge the status quo.  We have the opportunity to change our story, and are more than prepared to do so.  

Ten Ways 2020 Was Not a Total Poop Show for My Family

The year 2020 was a butt kicker for me.  I have, however, already covered that.  If you need a good read on how this year was super challenging for me, I encourage you to read my previous post.  To counteract that post, though, I think it’s only fair to recognize all that went right for me in 2020.  I teach social emotional lessons to middle school students on a weekly basis.  The summary of many of my lessons is how we have to intentionally find the achievements and positivity, as it’s very easy to get swallowed up by the negativity.  This is my opportunity to do just that, to recognize that 2020 was not an entire poop show, and did have some positive outcomes.  By recognizing those positive outcomes, I hope to center myself, and not live in the poop show.  

So, this is a bit of a brag post.  Brace yourself, it’s a long one, but that’s a good thing, right? It’s not to brag about my accomplishments to you the reader, though.  It’s more of a brag post to myself.  If, amidst all of the craziness, I can stop to notice my accomplishments it helps me to remain centered.    I hope by reading this, you can stop and do the same thing.  2020 may have been a royal poop show for you, but were there accomplishments that have been drowned out by the negativity?  Take a minute, and do the same.  I can almost guarantee it will help you feel more centered as well.  

As I did in my last post, I want to recognize the privilege involved in this post.  Especially with the frivolous nature of some of it, I am aware that some of this frivolity is a direct result of the privilege I have in my life, and I want to honor that.  I have a lot of privilege that others do not have, and I want to honor that.

So, below is a list of ten accomplishments that occurred in 2020, and that I am proud of. Listing it first, for those who do not have the stamina for the entire post.  I appreciate those of you who are supporting my journey, and read along wifth me as I go.  

  1. Self-Care
  2. Finances
  3. Self-Love
  4. Marriage
  5. Our Home
  6. Living Creatures
  7. Recreation
  8.  Travel
  9. Business
  10. Flexibility

Self-Care

This summer I took a course on marriage, which I’ll reference later.  One key to this course was focusing on self-care.  You can not be a good wife, mother, employee, etc., if you are not taking care of yourself.  I always knew that this was the case, but never really knew how to make it a priority in my life.  

This course encouraged making a list of twenty things that you consider self-care.  Some of these things may be hard things that make you feel good.  This might include working out or catching up on the budget.  Others might include things that are simply for pleasure.  For me this includes taking a walk, taking a bath, listening to a podcast or watching a show on Netflix.  The point is, when your bucket is full, you feel better.  When you feel better, it’s easier to cope with life’s challenges.  

My goal every day is to accomplish three things from the self-care category.  This may sound daunting, but self-care does not need to be large earth shattering activities.  Self-care can mean taking five minutes to breath before turning your computer on in the morning.  One simple example for me is walking to pick up my son every day from his after school program.  It takes about 10 minutes to get there, which provides time to clear my head, get some fresh air and move my legs.  When I’m working from home, I still try to accomplish a quick walk.  It fills my bucket, which is something I have learned to appreciate in 2020.  

Finances

This is one category that I am incredibly proud of.  Since 2014 we have been on a debt free journey.  With the help of a good friend, the budgeting program You Need a Budget (http://www.youneedabudget.com) and Dave Ramsey (http://www.daveramsey.com), we have slowly made progress.  When I say slow, I mean slooooowww, and at times it has felt like we were crawling towards being debt free.  Many times I wanted to give up, but we kept at it.  

With all of the hardships that 2020 brought, we were also fortunate enough to have some financial windfalls.  I know how fortunate this is, as many people have lost work and have been hit hard financially.  With some of these windfalls we were able to make significant progress in our debt free journey.  

In addition to the typical debt that we pay in a year, we were also able to pay off both vehicles, and my husband’s student loan.  This progress feels absolutely amazing, and allows us more money to work towards other debts.  At the time of writing this we only have our mortgage, my massive student loans, and some credit card debt.  The credit card debt is next to go, and I’m so proud of the journey we have made towards financial freedom.  The fact that a good chunk of our progress happened during 2020 matters to me, as it is a big deal for us, and something positive to remember about this year.  

Self-Love

This is by far the most frivolous part of this post.  It’s all about vanity and beauty, so if that bores the heck out of you, feel free to move on.  Since August of 2019 I have made conscious decisions to take care of aspects of my life that I previously had not.  These areas were 100% due to vanity, and I’m not ashamed of it.  

Hair

In August of 2019 I was beyond frustrated with my hair.  It was brittle and breaking, no matter how I styled it, it looked dry and damaged. I could literally use a half of a bottle of conditioner, and it was still incredibly dry.  I have naturally wavy hair, but in the 36 years of styling it, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it.  Therefore, I either straightened it or wore it in a pony tail every single day. 

This led to incredibly dry and damaged hair.  Add to that, I was coloring it monthly.  My hair was rebelling, and for good reason!!  I recognized that I needed to break up with my straightener, but had never figured out how to embrace my waves.  I somehow stumbled upon the Curly Girl Method (more info here) of hair care, and it changed my relationship with my hair almost over night.  From that day forward I started embracing my curls, and only partaking in styling that was beneficial to them.  

To say it was a long haul, was an understatement.  I almost gave up regularly, and transitioning damaged hair back to wavy hair can be quite ugly.  Finally in February of 2020 I made the big chop, and cut it some what short.  This was a game changer, and my natural waves started flourishing.  Then, I did not color it for 8 months, allowing the gray to sneak in.  My hair has never been healthier, and I am so confident rocking my wave.  The single best part for me is how little effort it takes for me to do my hair in the mornings.  My routine has been cut from about 20-30 minutes, to less than two minutes.  If you have naturally curly or wavy hair, I implore you to invest time in this method, it is a life saver!!  

Skin

On the point of vanity, let’s talk skin care.  In February of 2020 my baby brother got married.  It was an awesome day, amid an awesome week of travel through Georgia and Florida.  The one downfall for me was that I could not believe how old I looked in the pictures I was taking.  Yes, I was tired.  I was vacationing with my family of five, and my two youngest had just gotten over the flu.  However, I looked way older that I felt, and knew that I must be able to do something about it.  

After some research, I put serious effort into changing my skin care routine.  At 37 years old, I knew that things were not going to get any better if I didn’t really make some major changes.  So, I did.  I started slow, and then each month or two added another product to the arsenal.  I thought it would be overwhelming and time consuming, but it’s not.  It’s also a daily form of self-care that I make a priority as often as possible.  

Ten months later, I can not believe the difference in my skin.  I have always had uneven toned, acne prone skin.  The only way I knew how to manage it was to cake on the foundation, and would not even go to the store without it.  I have not worn foundation since April.  In fact, I hardly wear any make up at all, and my skin looks way better than it did when I was wearing it regularly.  

My make up routine now consists of brow filler and mascara.  That is it.  Bonus points, it literally takes me two minutes to “put my face on”.  To look in the mirror and see beautiful skin that I have worked hard to achieve does not make me feel vain, it instead makes me feel proud that I have taken the time and effort to take care of myself.   

My current skin care routine can be found here.

Marriage

I have been pretty honest about the fact that our marriage has had its ups and downs.  What I haven’t opened up about is the work that has been involved in getting us to a place of peace.  Early 2020, things were going better, but it still did not feel like we were at our best.  The book The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle was recommended to me.  I was extremely skeptical, as I am the last thing from “surrendered”.  Laura Doyle wrote another book called the Empowered Wife, and that is a much better name.  This book took me to another level in my marriage.  

This book teaches six skills that tremendously improve relationships, specifically marriage.  The gist is to let go of control, become the best version of yourself through self-care, and be thankful for the gifts you have in your life.  I listened to this book on repeat for weeks in a row, and then signed up to take the adjoining course.  The adjoining course helped to make the hopes of the book into a reality.  It provided me with a step by step guide on how to integrate the six skills into my life, and maintain stamina with it.  

Due to the skills I learned through this program, my marriage has hit the next level.  The self-care alone has made me a happier person, and easier to be around.  Combine that with no longer feeling “in charge” 24/7, and letting go of control, my mental health has improved.  My husband loves this new version of me, and we are now the happiest we have ever been.  I can’t believe this all happened through me reading one book, but it did, and I couldn’t be more thankful.  For more information on these skills visit Laura Doyle’s website at www.lauradoyle.org.

Our Home

In 2019 we started renovations on our oldest daughter’s bedroom.  This was long overdue, as her room was incredibly dated and worn out.  The process took longer than we expected, but turned out absolutely beautiful.  We finished in July of 2020, and I’m proud that we were able to stick with it despite the uncertainty of the pandemic.  

For Mother’s Day this year, my husband built me the back deck that I have always wanted.  It was a simple floating deck, as the costs of lumber rose, but it has added to an already great back yard experience.  I can sit under the shade of our canopy and watch my kids play, or drink coffee admiring the beautiful view.  My favorite activity is dinner out on the deck, allowing the kids to run and play when we are done.  It’s been a great addition to our home, and I’m incredibly thankful for it.  

Living Creatures

For a few years now, we have considered adding chickens to our family.   In March we became the proud owner of 6 pullets (essentially preteen chickens).  Unfortunately, we lost two to coyotes, but have proudly kept four alive ever since.  Our chickens started laying eggs in August, and they have brought nothing but joy to our lives.  Our children love to feed them and take care of them.  I love having fresh eggs every day, and the process of caring for them and keeping them healthy.  They have been an amazing distraction to the ever present ominous nature of 2020,  and for that I am extremely grateful.  

I have also always had a huge desire for plants in my home.  I’ve been drawn to them, but had no idea how to care for them.  Our stay at home orders in March gave me the opportunity to dive into becoming a plant mama.  I asked around trying to discover the easiest plants to keep, and became the proud mama to a few aloe and spider plants.  

This led to more and more plants, and at the time of writing this my house is full of greenery.  This makes me so incredibly happy and proud.  To go from having a black thumb, to have a house full of greens is incredibly fulfilling to me.  I still do not know the in’s and out’s of plant care, but I’m proud of keeping my plant babies alive, and continue to be obsessed with growing more and more. 

Recreation

We have been wanting to buy a pool for our children since our oldest was 7 years old.  She is now 14.  All three of our children have summer birthdays, so we decided to go all out and buy them a pool for their birthdays.  The problem was, everybody else had the same idea!  We could not find a pool anywhere as it was a highly sought after pandemic item.  

We finally found one from a friend who had bought it and was planning on returning it. We purchased it from her, and set it up in early July.  This proved to be one of the best things we could have done for our family, and provided many moments of family bonding throughout the summer.  It is only four feet deep, which is perfect for our two youngest children.  They were hesitant swimmers at the beginning of the summer, and became extremely confident by the end.  In a year that provided many challenges for both the adults and children in our family, this gift brought a great deal of joy as well.  

Travel

To have the opportunity to write about travel in the midst of a pandemic makes me feel incredibly blessed.  We had two opportunities to travel this year, and are incredibly grateful to have made them work.  

In February of 2020 my brother and sister-in-law got married in Georgia.  At the same time, my parents were on their annual vacation to Florida.  We were able to attend the wedding, and then spend the following week with my parents in Florida.  The community that they stay in is extremely relaxed and family friendly, making it the perfect vacation.  We enjoyed lots of beach time, relaxing on the porch and swimming in the pool.  Looking back, it was an amazing last hoorah before the world shut down, and we feel incredibly blessed. 

In July we were also able to make a family camping trip work.  We spent a few days at Fair Haven State Park, just outside of Oswego, NY. This park is right on Lake Ontario and offers an amazing beach, playgrounds and views.  We were able to take advantage of all of these things while social distancing, and it helped bring a sense of normalcy to our summer. 

Business 

We currently are in the process of growing two small businesses.  Our first business was in year three at the beginning of the pandemic.  We have been renting our tear drop camper as an investment to building and renting larger custom built campers.  Although the rental side of our business was slower than typical this year, we were able to generate enough revenue to finish our first custom camper build.  Both of these campers will be available to rent in the summer of 2021, with the hopes of generating enough revenue to complete the third.  

In late summer, I also decided to take the leap and turn one of my hobbies into a small business.  I have played around with my Cricut machine for a few years now, and felt confident enough with my skills to start making products to sell.  I started with custom face masks, and quickly moved on to more clothing and home decor options. 

I had absolutely no idea how this would be received in the midst of the pandemic.  I was blown away by the amount of support I received, and am starting 2021 with the confidence that I can grow even more.  I’m thankful for those who supported me and helped make this dream a reality.  

Flexibility

Flexibility is probably my biggest accomplishment of 2020.  I have always been somebody who needs a plan, thinks years in advance, and gets rattled when the plan changes.  Due to all of the uncertainty of 2020, I have done a complete 180.  My work life changes quickly and regularly.  More than once I have found out that I will be working from home within 24 hours.  I have learned how to pivot quickly, and not get wrapped up in planning ahead.  There is no point in planning ahead, as there is no way to tell what the future holds.  For somebody who is used to planning years, months and weeks in advance, this has become quite the accomplishment.  

I am proud of all of these accomplishments, big and small.  In a year that felt like one disaster after another, I can honestly say that I have also had a lot of joy and fun.  2020 has definitely changed my perspective on life a lot, and I’m proud to say that many of the positive changes are definitely going to stick.  I have a newfound appreciation for a lot of things in my life, including many of the small things that I have detailed here.  I’m proud of the life my family and I have, even if it has been flipped on its head due to COVID.  I know that we will be on the other end of COVID at some point, but I truly hope that we all are able to take some of these positive points with us as we move on.  

5 Ways 2020 Seriously Kicked My Butt

If you are looking for a sappy “look at all I accomplished and all the growth I made” end of the year post, this is not that.  I will post one, as positive reflection is important.  This, however, is a tribute to the pure struggle that was 2020.  2020 kicked my butt, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.  It may go down as the year that kicked my butt the most in the last 38.  I hope that it’s the biggest butt kicker of all time, but that remains to be seen.  In the meantime, let’s honor all of the butt kicking ridiculousness that was 2020. 

Before doing that however, I want do a quick privilege check.  My life has continued to be devoid of many challenges.  I know many who have lost loved ones this year, and not just due to COVID.  I’m fortunate enough to not have that happen.  We continue to be blessed financially, I continue to have a loving supportive family, and of all the challenges that I have had, the color of my skin did not provide additional challenges.  It is important to me to keep all of that in check while I write, and I encourage readers to do the same.  There was definitely some butt kicking going on though, and I think many readers can relate. 

Fear

Fear took over in March.  I am not somebody that makes decisions through fear.  Keeping it in it’s place has always been a strength of mine. March 2020 took fear to a whole different level though.  With so much unknown about COVID, I took it pretty seriously.  Schools (which means work for me) were closed, the youngest didn’t go to daycare, and we barely left the house.  In fact, my children didn’t leave the house for two months.  My husband was essential, which meant I was terrified that he would bring germs home.  I cleaned like I had never cleaned before, while experiencing a fear like I had never experienced before.  As the mom of the family, I felt an immense pressure to keep my family safe, and at times that felt debilitating.  

At the time of this post, 9 months into the pandemic, the fear still exists, but it’s different.  I believe that’s for two reasons.  First being, I felt like we got a break from it during the summer.  Our numbers were pretty low, and that combined with good weather, allowed for a modified version of normal.  I was able to see some friends, and my parents, and we were able to get out. That, combined with decreased work expectations for me, was good for our mental health.  It felt like a bit of a reset.  

Second, we have adapted.  We have learned how to live with COVID, and to find a sense of normalcy within it.  Even though, at this time, the numbers are high, it feels more like I know how this works.  So, even though it’s still exhausting, it’s not quite as scary for me because it is less unknown.  

Parenting

Holy crap has this been a hard year to parent.  Never in my life had I imagined my son going to school at home, especially while I was working from home. When we first stayed home, I also didn’t dare send my daughter to daycare.  So, there I was, working from home with a 5 year old and 2 year old under toe.  To say that it was impossible is an understatement. 

From March to June I cried at least once a day.  This happened while I was putting serious effort into self care.  I felt like I needed to focus on work, but could not because my children needed me.  Then, I would say screw work and try to focus on my children.  Which inevitably left me feeling behind at work. Many nights I would be up too late trying to catch up on work.  It was like trying to run a marathon through quick sand. Hence, the tears. 

Again, things felt better during the summer, and again into fall as we returned to in person learning. As we transitioned back and forth between in person and remote, I changed my approach a bit.  Right now, my now 3 year old is consistently staying in daycare, whether I’m working at home or in person.  I’m also sending my 6 year old 2-3 days a week.  On the days that he goes, school work gets put on the back burner.  We do what we can to get it all done, and sometimes that means it gets turned in late.  I can only do so much, and them going to a safe regularly sanitized daycare helps me stay a little more sane.  It’s still so darn hard, but I have found little things to help me keep it together just a little bit better. 

Health

I jumped right on that “I’m going to better myself” quarantine train in March.  I was going to train for a 5K.  Losing weight was going to happen!  After all, I was stuck at home, what did I have to lose?   In my defense, I did start strong.  Running became a priority again, for about two weeks.  After that, I walked daily.  It was a great form of self care after a long day home with the kids.  I did not initially gain any quarantine weight.  I didn’t lose any either, though.  

When I thought the quarantine was going to last 4-6 weeks, I totally thought I could use it as an opportunity to better my health.  Things weren’t terrible healthwise, but one can always do better.  What I didn’t anticipate was the mental load that COVID would place on me, and the lack of room available for making significant health changes.  I just could not take on one more thing, so I let go of paying attention to my weight.  

To be honest, it really wasn’t that bad for awhile.  Yes, my drinking increased.  My coffee intake did as well.  But overall, we tend to eat healthy.  We didn’t eat out, and I was cooking most nights.  I  was able to maintain this throughout the summer.  

When fall came, and the next round of staying at home followed, I found myself having a harder time maintaining any healthy choices.  We started eating out more, as I didn’t have the energy to make dinner.  I was not doing a great job of packing lunches when we were in school, which meant I was snacking all day long.  It all boiled down to complete and utter exhaustion, which led to a lack of caring.  

At the time of writing this, I do not know my weight.  By feel, I’d say I’m at my heaviest, which I’ve been at before.  At 38, though, this is much less of a concern as it has been to me in the past.  It does not help that my husband likes this version of me, and prefers some meat on my bones.  All of that being said, I do take my health seriously.  It is much more important to me to be healthy than how I look, so I do want to refocus.  I am hoping to recommit to some healthy habits in 2021.  That definitely sounds  like a New Year’s cliche, but I have set some small measurable goals to make baby steps.  Time will tell if this is a change that I can manage right now, and I will update readers as time goes on.  

Politics and Marriage

What an insane year politically.  It has definitely been brewing for a while, and many things came to a head this year.  This was incredibly stressful for me, as I have become quite passionate about several things wrapped up in this election cycle.  The most stressful part, however, is the toll it has taken on my marriage.  I am going to, intentionally, write in generalities regarding politics.  With the divisive nature of politics right now, it’s easy for the message to get lost when one becomes aware of political beliefs.  The important part is the message right now, not the belief system.  

When my husband I met, we both held somewhat moderate political beliefs, leaning either way depending on the issue.  Neither of us were too politically inclined, and it honestly did not enter our conversations regularly.  When it did, we were fairly close in agreement on almost everything.  

Within the last four years, I found myself leaning more and more one way.  At the time of the election cycle, I was firmly planted somewhat far away from moderate, and was more interested and passionate in politics than I had ever been.  My husband was the exact same way.  The problem, however, was that we had made our way to opposite ends of the political spectrum.  We had some common ground, specifically human rights, but had very different ideas as to how those ideals should be addressed by our government.  

Our marriage had already gone through it’s share of trials and tribulations.  After years of hard work, we were finally in a place of peace and  mutual love and respect.  Things were going great, but then politics started to creep in.  We were debating daily, and both of us thought we could convince the other they were wrong if they would just listen to us.  The daily debates turned to regular fights, and hurt feelings.  It was hard, stressful and heartbreaking. 

Enter our 6 year old.  One day in the car, he was in tears.  When I asked him what was wrong he told me he, “Couldn’t decide if he should like Joe Biden or Donald Trump.”  That stopped me right in my tracks.  After explaining to him that this was not something he needed to worry about, I immediately decided to stop talking politics with my husband.  After I told him what had happened, we agreed to call a truce.

The amount of pressure that was removed from our marriage when we did this was palpable.  At this point, politics will still enter the conversation occasionally.  When I notice it drifting that way, I will do a quick check in with myself.  If I don’t have the mental energy for it, I stop the conversation immediately.  On the other hand, if I think I can have an adult conversation, I do.  I listen to my husband, and try to play devil’s advocate where I can. 

Although I disagree with his political leanings, I understand why he believes what he believes.  When I can find facts to show my point, I do.  If I can not, I listen and try to help us both think critically whenever possible.  It’s not easy, and sometimes it still feels like it might bring me to my knees.  But, my marriage is more important to me than political debates.  I will not alone change his political beliefs.  If I am able to engage in adult conversation, I may be able to plant some seeds on topics that are important to me, but that is all.  Therefore, in an attempt to preserve my marriage, politics is much more taboo in my house than I ever thought it would be.  

Mental Health

I have alluded to this in other areas, but my mental health took a direct hit from the changes that COVID brought to our lives.  COVID hasn’t directly impacted my mental health, but indirectly impacted me with all of the changes that took effect.  So much happened that made it hard for me to keep my mental health at the forefront.  

I always have had underpinnings of mental health struggles, specifically anxiety, ADD and depression.  These have all been things that I have managed to work through on my own without medication for the majority of my life.  Although I knew they existed, they never caused challenges that I couldn’t overcome by myself.  

This changed after my youngest child was born.  I struggled hard with Postpartum anxiety, but was unaware that it was a thing.  I had no idea what was going on with me, nor how to manage it.  After some research, I discovered that I had symptoms of PPA.  Just knowing what was going on, helped me to manage it.   I was able to get things under control on my own, but still had an increased baseline of anxiety as my daughter was approaching 3 years old.  

For that reason, I started seeing a counselor.  We were just getting to know each other when life shut down due to COVID.  At that point, she was only offering tele visits.  I could not manage tele visits in my life at that point.  Therefore, after only a few sessions, we stopped.  Then the anxiety increased and increased and increased.  To the point where I felt like I was right back where I was when I had PPA.  

The difference was that I did not have the mental energy to put into tackling this beast.  My mental load was so high that I could not even verbalize that I needed help, or how people could help me.  My husband knew that I wasn’t doing well, and was a great support, but I was not great at accepting and asking for support.  I was in full on survival mode, and was going through the motions on everything.  I felt completely numb, and dead inside.  

After many days of being awful to be around, and yelling way too much at my kids, I recognized that I needed help.  With the full support of my husband, I made an appointment with my midwife, who I trust implicitly.  When I described what was happening, she let me know that I was not alone.  The feelings that I was feeling are feelings that mom’s often feel, and that more mom’s were feeling due to the weight of the pandemic.  As I was in tears, desperately wanting help, she said three words that I will never forget, “Jennie, it’s time.”  

What she meant was, it was time to accept that this was a battle that I could not fight on my own.  With that, she prescribed me a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine.  I had been so resistant to this for so long, but it felt like I had to take drastic measures to improve my mental health.  I let her take the lead, and that is the best decision I have ever made in my life.  

Three months in, I feel so much better.  Life is still incredibly hard, and I do lose it sometimes, but my ability to manage has increased dramatically.  I feel like myself, just a less stressed out version of myself.  I am happy, and truly a much better mom and wife.  I do not know if I would have gotten to this point had it not been for COVID.  What I do know, however, is that I am incredibly grateful to have resources available to help me cope with the stress of COVID that can be suffocating at times.  

If you are struggling with your mental health, I encourage you to find support. It has changed my life, and it can change yours as well. Your physician or another trusted health care provider can be a great place to start. If you aren’t sure where to turn, you can also find a licensed mental health provider in your area at www.psychologytoday.com.

So, yes, 2020 kicked my butt in many ways.  I know that I am not alone, and I hope by reading this you know that you are also not alone.  I so wish that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021, this would all be put behind us.  I think many of us are fantasizing of that, but the reality is that it’s not that easy.  The struggles that we are experiencing on December 31st, will still be there on January 1st. I do, however, have hope that we are starting to be closer to the end of this than the beginning. 

With that, I am going to continue to take baby steps to help myself.  I am not the same person that I was in early March 2020, and my expectations of myself have lowered significantly.  I’m one hundred percent okay with that, and if anything, that is something that I have learned from 2020.  I can not tackle all of these challenges overnight, but I can take small steps every day towards betterment.  2020 has been a magnifying glass on issues that were already there, and now that they have been magnified I have been forced to meet them head on.  I have certainly not solved any of these challenges yet, but step one is identifying them, and I can honestly say that I have done that..  

Peace to all in 2021 and beyond.  My positive thoughts are with all of you, especially those who have been even deeper impacted by the challenges that 2020 brought with it. 

5 Things You Can Do Today to Help in Giving Yourself Grace

Times are tough right now.  2020 has impacted so many people in so many different ways.  Moms in particular have been asked to take on a huge load this year.  Many of us are not doing well, and in not doing well we often make decisions that come with a lot of mom guilt.  I have heard over and over again in the last few month, “Give yourself some grace, you are parenting in a pandemic.”  Well, that sounds good in theory, but grace is not something that moms are particularly skilled at.  Mom guilt is real, and the pressure to raise tiny humans is intense.  But, our mental health is important too.  If we don’t practice giving ourselves grace, then we aren’t the best versions of ourselves for our families.  It takes  practice, but there are simple things you can do every day to set yourself up for grace. 

Say No

I know, you hear this all of the time.  You know what else I hear all of the time, though? I’m stressed or I’m burned out.  Maybe it’s, why in the world don’t my kids/partner/ co-workers pull their fair share? I hear that consistently, mostly from women. 

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  They don’t pull their weight, because they don’t have to.  They know that you will be there to do whatever it is that needs to get done.  Then they will be relaxed and stress free, because they didn’t over work themselves, and you will continue to be burned out.  

So, by saying no, you start creating your own mental space.  When somebody makes a request, actually take a minute to think about it.  Will this request set you over the edge? Will it take away from your ability to enjoy yourself? If the answer is yes, then say no.  If no is hard, start with I can’t.  Trust me, it might be a shock at first, but they will get used to it. And low and behold, they will start doing more for themselves, and requesting less from you. Leaving you in a place where you can focus on you, and have less guilt or things you need to give yourself grace for. 

Make Yourself a Priority

This one is hard, especially for the ladies.  But, if you are married (especially to a man), does it seem as hard for your partner? Does he get to the gym on a regular basis? Does he get to shower when he wants, or spend time with his friends?  Does he ever feel guilty for any of this? Probably not. 

Then why do you? You are just as important and valuable.  Your relationships and me time is as well.  Don’t get mad at your partner for making their needs a priority.  Instead, do the same for you.  Go to the gym.  Your partner can handle the kids.  Make that lunch date.  If he can’t be available, then he can also help find a baby sitter.  You are not the sacrificial lamb.  You deserve your time as much as the next person, but you have to take it by the horns and make it happen.  

And guess what? When you are taking care of your needs, you are more likely to go easy on yourself, thus making it easier to give yourself grace when appropriate. The link below from Psychokogy Today provides some insight on simple ways to incorporate more self care into your life.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201812/self-care-12-ways-take-better-care-yourself

Practice Gratitude

As human beings, we tend to lean toward the negative.  You can get ten compliments in a day, but one criticism will stick with you.  Add that to our own self criticisms, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in criticism and negativity.  

If you pay attention, though, you will notice that there is typically much more positivity in a day than negativity.  We often don’t even notice it. That means we need to intentionally look for it. 

Practicing gratitude means noticing and intentionally paying attention to the positive things in your life.  Finding a time every day to appreciate and be grateful. 

I have started doing this right when I wake up in the morning.  I was in the habit of reaching straight for my phone, often getting sucked into a negative loop.  I still reach for my phone,  but before I do I take a minute to think about what I’m grateful for. It sets the tone for the day. 

Finding a time to incorporate it into your routine will help it stick.  Remember, research shows that people who practice gratitude are happier than those who don’t. The benefit for practicing grace? It’s harder to participate in self criticism when you are intentionally paying attention to the positive. 

The following article from Mindful.org offers more information on the benefits of practicing gratitude, abd tips to get started.

https://www.mindful.org/an-introduction-to-mindful-gratitude/

Be Selfish

Nobody is going to make you a priority if you are not going to make yourself a priority.  Read that again.  You have to teach others how to treat you, and you do so by showing them how you treat you. 

I’m not saying it’s easy.  I imagine it’s probably even harder if circumstances mean you are parenting by yourself.  But, you have to be selfish and take care of your needs.  Nobody else is going to do it for you.  

What do you need? How do you get it? Is it a half hour by yourself? Maybe that means leaving the kids at daycare, without guilt.  Is it a regular gym time? Maybe that means your partner is responsible for the morning routine.  Guilt has no place here, you need to speak up do what you need, or you are going to burn out.  

Also, it’s not your job to figure everything out. It’s okay to say, “I’m going to start going to the gym at 6:00.”  Period. End of sentence.  Obviously, you are a decent human and would pick a time that doesn’t cause a major problems. But, it’s not your job to figure out all of the nitty gritty details for them. 

That being said, if you have a partner, the only way this will work is if you allow them to parent.  Sometimes we get caught up in micromanaging everything.  Your partner may not do everything exactly the way you do it, but there is good in that.  Our children can learn from different styles of parenting. So, let it go and go to the gym.  Taking care of your needs, makes you less irritable and cranky, meaning you’ll find less reasons to beat yourself up.  Aka, less reasons to give yourself grace. 

Cry

When all else fails, cry it out.  Life right now is hard. Many of the hard things are completely out of our control. As parents, we often have to hold things and and compartmentalize for our children.  The problem is, if we don’t address our emotions, they build up like a poison. If we aren’t paying attention to the build, it can be very challenging to regulate our emotions.  This makes us cranky, and therefore taking things out on the people we love.  When we do that, it’s hard to feel good and give ourselves grace.  

So, if all else fails, let those emotions out, and cry.  Let it flow.  There is plenty to cry about, and it’s a great way to get the emotions out.  Once they are out, it’s much easy to self regulate.  

As you can see, giving yourself grace actually is more about setting a foundation of good vibes.  If you feel good, and your needs are met, you are less likely to put yourself in situations where grace is needed.  Also, when your tank is full, it’s easier to forgive yourself when you screw up.  You are less likely to beat yourself up when you are feeling good. 

It’s been a really challenging year to be a parent.  Take care of yourself, ask for help when you need it, and remember to give yourself grace. 

3 Ways to Make the Pandemic Holiday Season Not Suck

Wow, it’s been awhile my friends. In fact, it’s been eight months and three days since my last blog post. That’s nuts, but it’s also a pandemic folks. Writing has always been super therapeutic for me, but the last eight months have needed more than therapy. For much of it, I was trying to work from home, teach my five year old, and parent him and my two year old. By myself, as my husband is essential. It was full on survival mode.

Summer hit, and things felt a little better, but still not normal. In September we returned to in person school, but that was different too. At the time of writing this, we are remote again. Funny enough, for the first time in eight months, I have a weird sense of normalcy. Things are far from normal, but it feels like a new normal. Not an amazing new normal, as there is still a lot of craziness out there, but normal enough for me to find my writing voice again. With that voice, I’m bringing more normalcy by writing about one of my favorite times of the year. It’s holiday time!! And even though the holidays may look different than any holiday we’ve done before, I’m going to share three ways we plan to make them totally not suck.

Sticking With Old Traditions

I’m huge on family traditions. I’m also a wannabe minimalist, so I find ways to make them inexpensive, and experience based. A few of my favorites, that are definitely pandemic friendly, are below.

1.) Acts of Kindness

Every December 1st we put out jars with each of my kids names on them. I put slips of paper in each jar with acts of kindness on them, and they each draw one slip a night until Christmas.

Some acts are really simple. Examples might be, tell a family member that you love them, or read a book to a younger sibling. Some may be more complicated. Our favorites in the past have been to fill carts at Aldi with quarters, or bringing cookies to the fire department or police department. This year we will probably use some clorox wipes on the quarters, and deliver store bought cookies. The intent is still the same, but with some safety precautions in place. The best part is, that you can do whatever works for your family! The link below shows some other great examples.

http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/100-acts-kindness-kids

2.) Christmas Eve Box

Each year on Christmas Eve our three children open up a special box. Inside, they find matching pajamas, a new Christmas movie, candy, hot chocolate, popcorn and an ornament. Each of them receives a personal ornament, highlighting something special from their year. Previous ornaments have highlighted trips to Disney, favorite characters or favorite activities. We hang the ornaments on the tree, get a great picture in the matching pj’s, and finish the night with the Christmas movie. The matching pajamas also make great pictures for Christmas morning. Etsy is a great place to find unique ornaments, while supporting individuals instead of large corporations.

http://www.etsy.com

3.) Picking Out the Perfect Tree

For some unknown reason, when we moved into our home, we started the tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree. We go to a fairly secluded farm nearby, hike out to the trees and find the perfect one. It’s always a fun little game, and our oldest always seems to find the perfect tree. The kids take turns cutting, and ride back on the tarp that drags the tree. It’s silly, fun and definitely a wonderful tradition. With masks added this year, we intend to keep it up.

4.) Tree Trimming and Christmas Music

When we get the tree home, we set it up in the living room, warm up the hot chocolate and start the Christmas music. My husband has some vintage Christmas records that he adores, and we play them while we decorate. Each family member has ornaments from years past that they hang, and then we have a pile of family ornaments that we do together. Ornaments are our go to souvenir when we travel, so it’s the perfect way to bring back old memories. We often finish up with a Christmas movie, and at least half of us fall asleep.

Starting New Traditions

Yes, some of our old traditions are still feasible, 2020 is definitely not going to allow for all of our family traditions. What better opportunity, though, to make new traditions? 2020 provides the perfect excuse to reinvent the holidays.

1.) Personalized Santa Snacks Placemat

I can’t believe I have never seen these before, but this year I discovered Santa mats. They are so darn cute, and can be used year after year. They bring a certain charm to your milk and cookies, and can definitely become a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. I’m so excited to start this tradition with my kiddos, so excited in fact that I made my own for them. A link to my Etsy store for the one I made is below. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, there are many variations out there to get this fun tradition started.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/counselingmommashop

2.) Watching As Many Christmas Movies As Humanly Possible

Okay, in reality, I kind of started this tradition last year. But now I’m all in. A Christmas movie every night? Why not? Three on a Saturday? Who cares?

I’m usually fairly strict about screens with my kids. I want them playing outside or using their imagination. Honestly, though, what could be better when you are snowed in during a pandemic than snuggling in front of a Christmas movie? Plus, there is always a happy ending! It sounds like the perfect recipe for a pandemic Christmas. The more Christmas movies the better this year!

Shop Local

I’m not going to pretend to be a saint here and act like every single gift I am buying this year is local. I am trying to be more intentional about supporting people over corporations, though. When I think of shopping local, I include Etsy in my thought process. The majority of people with Etsy shops are small business owners trying to stay afloat. Amazon, Walmart and Target have enough money. Small businesses have been hit hard this year, and need your money more than ever. I have highlighted some Etsy shops below that I’ve either recently bought some great items from.

We Are Earth Goods

This shop specializes in Natural Home Products. Their products are super reasonably priced, great quality, and ship really fast. I recently bought some linen bags to store face masks in, and I absolutely love them.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/WellEarthGoods

Easy Elderberry

This shop sells pre-made packets with everything that you need to make Elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup is a great addition to your wellness regime. It has great immune booster properties, and I plan to add some wellness baskets as gifts this holiday season.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/EasyElderberry

Kyle and Ivy Shop

I just bought the CUTEST hooded blankets from this shop for my youngest two children. I was looking for throw blankets just for them, and found these great ones with hoods. I just know that they will be snuggled up with them all winter. As I was browsing their shop I also noticed some great t-shirts, and unicorn wear for the young ones.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/KyleAndIvyShop

So, yes, this holiday season will be different. Many people have suffered, especially financially or with effects from COVID-19. But, our kids can still have a holiday. They will react to your reactions, and it can be okay because you will make it okay. That is what we do as parents, after all. Happy holidays all!

Five Things You Can Do To Help Your Family During a Coronavirus Related School/Work Closing

Coronavirus has officially struck the US. Schools are closing, people who can are moving to work from home.  There are so many big emotions involved in this, and I recognize how challenging this can be in so many ways.  There are so many things to talk about, but I’d like share things that you can do and implement in your family to help this time run smoothly. 

1.) Answer Their Questions, But No More than That

Kids listen.  More than you know.  They pick up on our anxieties, and they hear conversations even if we think they aren’t listening.  If they are asking questions, answer them succinctly and in a developmentally appropriate way.  As grown ups we tend to over talk when we are anxious.  Be mindful of simply answering the questions they are asking, and don’t give them more information than what they are asking for.  This is exactly how we handle sex talks in our house.  When you ask me a question, I answer it.  If you ask another, I answer that one too. If you don’t, then I take it as a sign that you have gotten all of the information that you are ready for.  This works with all kinds of hard conversations. 

Kids want to know that you will be open and honest with them, but they also want to have a place with you that can be free of worry and anxiety.  Intentionally keep conversations about what’s going on in the world until after bedtime, or when they aren’t around. This allows them to still have the space to be kids.  

2.) Keep Up With Structure and Routine 

Kids crave structure and routine.  When things feel different and uncertain, it helps them feel comfortable and safe.  Make a routine and structure for your family while you are home together.  It’s completely okay if this routine is a little more lax than their typical school day, it’s impossible to keep up with something like that.  It should, however, still include a bedtime and time to work on academics.  We often have a loose schedule that we follow during the summer, so I have modified that idea for our family and will be including the following:

Independent Play-screens okay 

I make it clear when they have independent time if it will be screens on or off

Independent Play-screens off

Academic Work Time

Sometimes this will be working on the stuff that was sent home from school, and sometimes this will mean fun science experiments, baking or exploring virtual places online.  It also might mean art, music or fun reading lessons.  I’m hoping to find a balance between the work sent home, and fun projects.  We are lucky to have awesome teachers who I know have/will provide us with some guidance. 

Daily Chores/Picking Up

If we are all stuck in the house together, things are going to get messy pretty quickly.  Each kid will have a chore that they are expected to complete daily, and their will be a dedicated time to complete this and to help pick up. 

Outdoor Time

I’m hoping that the weather cooperates and this gets to be the bulk of our schedule.  This is a great opportunity for us to take a step back and reconnect with each other and the world around us.  We are fortunate enough to have four acres of land to explore.  Even if you are not that lucky, get outside.  Go for a walk, blow bubbles, use sidewalk chalk.  Get connected to the world, as it’s a powerful tool for self care.  

Self-Care Time

We talk about self care a lot in our family, and I want to intentionally schedule it into our day.  Time to just relax and do things that make us happy.  Sometimes that might mean doing Cosmic Kids Yoga, or playing on the swing set.  Sometimes that might mean doing our favorite things separate from each other.  Whatever we need to do to stay centered.

Meals and Bedtime

Kids love to help, and during the summer each kid is in charge of dinner once a week.  Obviously the level of “in charge” varies by age, but this is a rule I plan to implement as well.  We will have to get creative, as I hope to avoid the grocery stores right now, but any way I can get them involved, I will.  

Also, I very much recommend sticking to a bedtime.  Kids need a lot of sleep, and will be much easier to have around if they continue to get a good night sleep.  I don’t think anybody needs to be waking up to an alarm clock right now, but it will be helpful to stick to a semi normal sleep schedule.  This will also make the transition back to school a little easier as well. 

On that note, please strongly consider removing devices from kids room at night.  Charge them in your room, so that they temptation to sneak them is lower.  Kids do not have the ability to put the screen away and go to sleep.  They do not have the ability to not check the new messages or their social media if they wake up at 2 am.  Many adults struggle with this, and adolescent brains are not fully developed.  Do them a favor and take the screens away at night, so they can sleep peacefully without the distraction.  

3.) Take a Break

Let’s be real.  This is going to be challenging.  Especially if you are also trying to work from home.  Make sure you get a break.  Maybe it’s tag teaming with your partner so you aren’t the one who is “on” all of the time.  Maybe it’s a nightly walk by yourself, or a half hour scheduled in of “you” time.  Not only will you need this for your own sanity, it is a wonderful model to your kids on how to take care of yourself. 

4.) It’s Okay if There is More Screen Time, but Limits are Good

Listen folks, the screen time is going to increase.  There are going to be days where it saves you from losing it.  That’s okay.  But be mindful that it doesn’t become your baby-sitter all day.  Too much time on screens creates cranky, snarky, miserable kids.  Nobody wants to be stuck at home with that.  So be mindful of creating other opportunities for them, or even better watch as they create their own, but don’t beat yourself up too much if you need to lower your standards a smidge on this one. 

By the way.  It is completely okay to set limits on ANY device that comes into your home, whether it was purchased by you or issued by somebody else. 

5.) Stay Connected

We are so lucky to live in an era that allows us to socially distance ourselves, but still stay connected to our friends and family.  Encourage FaceTiming and connecting with friends and family.  Encourage virtual conversations (although always helpful if they are monitored!) so that your kids still feel connected to their friends. Do the same for yourself.  Reach out to your friends and family regularly, and stay connected.  This will help us all stay grounded and connected as we progress through this new and scary time.  

I fully recognize that many of these suggestions assume that there is a level of financial stability and support within your home.  This “social distancing” is going to be devastating financially and emotionally for members of our communities.  If you have the means to support members of your community in any way, this is the time to do it.  Buy gift cards online to local businesses, continue to pay daycare providers or other helpers and ask people in the service industry how you can help them.  If you don’t have the means, and need to stick to a strict budget, then do that.  Reach out to people instead, and see if they have a need that you can fulfill.  Even if we need to stick to our own homes, we still have the ability to come together and support each other through this challenging time. 

Renaming and Embracing January

image

If you work in the world of education you dread the month of March. It is the longest, darkest, hardest month. Every year. Any one in education knows this. The month of January, however, can be equally has challenging, but it is not typically as expected as March. If we can learn to expect the challenges, and embrace January, we can learn to thrive in it instead of surviving it.

It has taken me 5 years to figure out that each and every January is pure and utter chaos. I’m not sure what it is. We think students are all hyped up for the holidays. We returned refreshed and rejuvenated, and then it starts.

I can’t put my finger on what happens. Last year I thought it was the weather. This year, however, it has been beautiful. It’s not just the students though. It’s all of us. Life seems to kick me in the ass each January. It’s probably kicking the students asses too, and we just can’t see past out own stuff to see it.

It’s probably a combination of things. There is something to be said about the post holiday let down. For me it’s about dealing with all of the stuff I put off until after break. Sometimes it can be really hard balancing real life and work life. Before the holidays I think real life tends to infringe on work life. There is only so much time in the day and as many times that work infringes on real life, the opposite is true as well.

So I put things off until I can refocus my brain, thinking January will provide peace, time and energy. Unfortunately, that never seems to be the case. When January comes along, the honeymoon is over. Students are sick of each other. Staff is sick of the same issues same issues day in and day out. And the days are dark….really dark. And cold.

It’s hard, and it sneaks up on all of us. We are used to the Christmas highs and lows, but January is supposed to be about starting anew. Well I’m just going to say it…it’s a farce. January sucks and we all know it. So let’s rename it.

Maybe Darkvember? Or Colduary? How about Countingthedaystospringuary? Okay maybe that’s too much. But in all reality, I think we need to pay attention to the misery that can happen, and embrace January for what it is, and look forward to brighter days.

February is also dark and cold, but it holds some promise. The days are getting longer, and I start seeing daylight when I get out of practice. This February has been an anomaly and the weather has been beautiful, which is helpful. In the education world, it often means a break, which is very much welcomed and needed. It also means it’s almost March, which means it’s almost spring!

So here’s to renaming and embracing January. In other words, recognizing it for what it is and looking forward to February and beyond. Thank you for existing February, if only because you are closer to March.

Mindfulness Strategies for Kids Everyday Lives

Mindfulness is definitely one of those trending words right now. If you only have a small connection to education or parenting you have probably heard this term, and are potentially wondering why it’s such a big word right now. Often times these trending words hit their high point, and then fall away as quickly as they came. Only to be replaced by the next new hot topic in parenting or education.

At the surface level mindfulness has the potential of being another gone by the wayside idea. I would argue, however, that it actually has more staying power than one may think. Reason being, it has already survived for thousands of years. It has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, and has a deep history in these two religions. It is deeply grounded in Eastern culture, and the Western world seems to be just recently catching up.

In addition to its rich history, mindfulness is much more than a mental health trend. It is a lifestyle and a mindset. There are pieces of it that can be practiced on their own, with potential positive results, but it works best when it is adopted as a lifestyle. Embedding pieces of mindfulness can start from toddlerhood, which can lay the foundation for future practice and balance in one’s life.

It can, however, be quite intimidating for anybody to incorporate mindfulness in their life. Adults can struggle figuring out how to do this themselves, much less finding ways to make it a meaningful part of our children’s lives. My goal in writing this is to share with you simple, low stress ways, that we have found to incorporate mindfulness strategies into our children’s everyday lives.

Morning Moments

This is a new practice for us this year, and I am truly enjoying it. Mornings can be a STRUGGLE, especially during the week. I am on my own with the two youngest most mornings, and I can easily get worked into a frenzy. When thinking of ways for our morning time to improve, I immediately turned to more connection. If our time together is all about me being stressed, getting frustrated with my kids and pushing them to get ready, we are all going to feel disconnected and discombobulated. If my goal is to have my family feel loved and connected, then I needed to make it a priority.

So, with that in mind, we started a new morning practice. When wake up time comes, the three of us snuggle up on the couch. We all take a big deep breath and hug on each other. Then, I ask each kid who they want to send kind wishes to today. An important component of mindfulness is being intentional. I’m also working on empathy with them, so we take a moment to intentionally send kind thoughts to people in our life that we love. We then hug on each other one more time, and then move on with our morning.

Highs and Lows

We use dinner as an important learning opportunity. We eat together most nights, which is great for connection in and of itself. When our middle child was three (now five) we introduced our nightly routine. We would go around the table and ask each other the same questions each night. It started as follows:

What was something good that happened today?
What was something not so good?
How did you help somebody today?

As the years have gone by this has morphed a bit. Children have added suggestions, or I have wanted to add a new focus area. Right now, in addition to the three listed above, we also ask:

We will also, at times, add, “What are you thankful for?” We don’t do this one every time, as I feel as though it may lose its meaning. Therefore, we sprinkle it in every once and awhile.

In addition to mindfulness, these dinner conversations also practice listening skills, turn taking, and incorporate self-awareness, growth mindset, interpersonal interactions and empathy.

Bedtime Routine

Each night our kids follow the same routine, which ends with a song. They each get their own song, same one since birth, and we sing it together. This may not seem like a huge mindful activity at face value, but we make it into a practice moment. I model taking deep breaths, and comment on how my body feels before and after we sing. If I notice that they are having a hard time settling, we talk about noticing how their body feels, and things that we can do to settle our bodies down for the night. It’s a great time to connect, and we all look forward to it.

Managing Screen Time

There are so many debates regarding screen time, and I’ll be the first person to admit that sometimes my kids have more than I would like. We do, as a practice, have consistent limits regarding screens. One reason being is that we want our children to practice interacting with the world around them. For example, we say no to screens for car rides (unless it’s a trip) and in restaurants. This allows us and them to practice noticing the world around them. Again, I model, and then we have more conversations and interact more as a family, instead of all looking at screens.

In our mind, mindfulness starts with a solid foundation. If the foundational skills that we try to teach through these activities are an integral part of my children’s lives, then we can expand on this with more mindfulness skills as they grow. These are simple strategies, and are not the only strategies that we have embedded into our lives to help us, and our children, set the foundation for a happy centered life. So, go for it! Pick a strategy you read above, and leave me a comment letting me know how you incorporated it into your routine!

My Favorite Podcasts and Why

I’ll admit it, I am a bit of a newbie to the world of podcasts.  I can’t remember what exactly got me started being interested in them, but I know I was a bit late to the game.  I do know that I started listening about two years ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one of my favorite was the first one.  

I have always enjoyed listening to audiobooks, and in this stage of life much prefer listening to reading.  I like that I can continue to move and do things, while I “read”.  I struggle to sit down and read a book these days, and much prefer to listen while accomplishing something else.  Entering the world of podcasts felt like the world of audio listening opened up even more for me.  With podcasts, the story doesn’t end.  A new episode airs regularly, and since I pick the podcast it is most likely on a topic that I enjoy.  Once I realized how mesmerizing, and perfect for my personality podcasts are, I quickly developed a list of my favorite go-to’s.

The Mom Hour

If you are a mom and haven’t discovered this podcast yet, I strongly recommend stopping what you are doing and go subscribe right now.  Meagan and Sarah are moms to kids ranging from young school aged to grown.  They are knowledgable in all phases of mommy hood, and hilarious to boot.  They have funny stories, advice and in-depth conversation on all things mom.  They also have regular guest spots and interviews with some truly remarkable women.  

Typically you will get a couple of episodes a week, some as quick as 20 minutes, and others lasting up to an hour. If you want more than that you can always follow The Mom Hour on Instagram and join the Listener Group on Facebook. 

Big Life Kids Podcast

This one is more about my kids than me, but I absolutely love the messages my children learn from this podcast.

The Big Life Kids Podcast is designed to pair with the Big Life Kids Journal.  If you are unfamiliar with the journal, I strongly recommend checking it out for your children.  My own are still a little young for it, but I use it regularly with my students at work.  Through self-reflection students learn how to be resilient, self-aware, and to develop a growth mindset.  

The podcast can be listened to in conjunction with the journal, or as a stand-alone.  Right now we are listening to it by itself, with the idea to do it with the journal when they are a little bit older.  We travel with Leo and Zara around the world in the Believemobile and listen as they work through challenges, and learn important lessons about character.  They also do a great job of incorporating real life listener stories to reinforce the lessons that they are trying to teach. 

Didn’t I Just Feed You

I first learned about this awesome podcast through Meagan and Sarah at The Mom Hour.  In Didn’t I Just Feed You professional chefs Meghan Splawn and Stacie Billis discuss real-life food challenges and victories with their families.  

Listening to these two professionals discuss the same challenges that the rest of us have regarding meal prep, kids and cooking for a family is refreshing.  Add in learning tips and tricks of the trade to make the every day food prep easier, and this podcast has become a life saver for me in many ways.  

Meghan and Stacie deliver it all with a sense of humor, and a recognition of reality vs. being in a professional kitchen.  It has become my go to dinner time podcast, as I hope it becomes yours as well.  

NPR Lifekit

If, as a parent, you have not yet subscribed to NPR Lifekit, you need to do so immediately. I was first introduced to this podcast through a co-worker, and I am incredibly thankful.  This is the instruction manual that you have been looking for, and each topic is presented in a fun and engaging manner.  

Every episode tackles a difficult topic in parenting, and walks you through how to handle it with evidence based information and experts on the topic.  In conjunction with the experts from Sesame Street, hosts Cory Turner and Anya Kamenetz keep it light while sharing real life stories from their parenting adventures.  

Recent episodes include How to Talk to Your Children About Sex, How to Help a Child Struggling With Anxiety, Kindness Can Be Taught and What Cookie Monster Taught Us About Self-Control.  Episodes are typically released once or twice a month, and are designed to help tackle difficult issues that today’s parents are facing on a daily basis. 

One Bills Live 

Now, this podcast is a complete curveball, and is a specific niche not relatable to everybody.  I am, however, including it, as my reasoning for listening to it is an important lesson to moms and working professionals.

I am a huge Buffalo Bills fan, and hosts Steve Tasker and John Murphy keep me updated on all things Buffalo Bills, with amazing guests and a sense of humor.  Episodes are released every week day, after the show airs on it’s mother radio station WGR 550.  After each episode I feel up to date with all things Buffalo Bills, and a deeper part of the Buffalo Bills community.  

I fully recognize that this is not podcast that is an interest to most working mom’s and mental health professionals.  The lesson here is that it’s important to find something that you enjoy just for you.  This podcast has nothing to do with my life as a mom, or my professional mental health career. This podcast is just for me, and it has become an important part of my self-care routine.  

Honorable Mention-Career Mom

I would be remiss not to include this brand new podcast in my list of favorites.  At the time of this writing host Jenny Elliott has five episodes under her belt, as she takes a deep dive into the issues that Working Mom’s face.  She addresses challenges and joys face on, and hosts conversations with other working mom’s on these topics.  She is off to a great start, and I can’t wait to see where she heads next!  You can find Jenny on Instagram @careermompodcast

Listening to a podcast can become a very low key way to practice self-care.  It does not require the same commitment level as a good book, can be listened to on the go, and you can catch up on your time.  By finding topics that are interesting and engaging to you, you can continue to grow and learn, even if it’s only on your commute to work every day!  Find these podcasts wherever you listen to your podcasts. Leave a comment to let me know what your favorite podcasts are, so I can expand my listening library!!