Health & Wellness

Let’s Talk Essential Oils

September 22, 2016


As a natural health enthusiast, I’ve long been interested in essential oils and have dabbled in them a bit here and there. So when Sarah Williams, a reader near Nashville, TN, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in having her share more about oils with SlowMama readers, I said sure! Sarah is a homeschooling mom of four with a penchant for natural living and she became such a huge fan of essential oils that she ended up joining a company called doTerra. I’ve heard good things about doTerra’s products, and am eager to try some, but mainly I wanted to learn a little more from Sarah about oils more generally and thought you might, too.

By the way, if you are new to essential oils, be sure to do your homework. Oils work, which means they should be taken seriously — after all, anything powerful enough to heal can also harm (says the woman who gave her husband heart palpitations by diffusing the wrong oil, which he was clearly sensitive to). So get informed about the best ways to use oils, how to determine safety, what’s advised for children, etc. Essential Oils Everyday is one book that’s been recommended to me. Here’s another that’s apparently the bible of oil safety, but expensive. There are others, I’m sure.

Okay, without further ado, here’s my interview with Sarah…

Sarah and family

What got you interested in essential oils? 

When my oldest child was born over seven years ago, I started learning about nutrition, and about other natural options to support our family’s health. When I was growing up, my mom would take me to the doctor for any little symptom, and that often resulted in antibiotics. I didn’t want to have to go to the doctor and spend that money, or use that many prescription drugs with possible side effects, if there were safer, more natural and effective options. Friends suggested essential oils so I started reading about them and finally tried them out for myself. I have found them to be an amazing tool in keeping my family healthy.

Can you give me some examples of how you use oils in your family? 

Generally, there are three ways to use an essential oil: aromatically (by inhaling directly or using a diffuser), topically (massaging into the skin), and internally (only if you’re using a high quality oil tested for purity).

I love lavender for occasional bug bites, bee stings, and burns. Just the other day, I stepped on a wasp and got stung. I hobbled inside for the lavender, and just a couple of drops completely took care of that sting. Lavender is also very relaxing and wonderful for decreasing stress at the end of the day and supporting sleep. I use tea tree oil on occasional skin irritations like rashes or pimples, as well as behind my kids’ ears (never in the ear canal!) to encourage drainage. Frankincense is one I absolutely love, as it’s very supportive of immune health and cellular health. I diffuse it, or put in on the bottom of my feet at night to support my immune function and decrease inflammation. (The bottom of your feet is the most absorbent part of your body.)

Now that it’s back-to-school season, I also rub an immunity/protective blend on my kids’ feet every night before bed, to support their immune systems as they’re getting back into close proximity with lots of kids and germs! My husband appreciates the muscle soothing blend rubbed onto his lower back after a long day at work and I love the digestion blend and rub it onto my kids’ tummies when they feel upset. One of my sons woke up in the middle of the night screaming that his stomach hurt and after an unsuccessful trip to the bathroom, I rubbed this on and he was calmly sleeping in minutes. I also love a respiratory blend for supporting kids’ breathing during the night. When they’re not waking up, I’m not waking up!

We have pets and kids and mess, but I wasn’t willing to use chemical laden air fresheners. When I started diffusing essential oils, my husband was thrilled with how wonderful the house smelled.

So what is an essential oil and how is it made?

Essential oils are compounds that occur naturally in plants — in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, or other parts. The oils inside the plant essentially act as the plant’s immune system. They protect the plant from environmental threats and keep the plant healthy. They’ve been used throughout history for their benefits for health care, beauty treatments, and cooking. They are either cold-pressed or distilled from the plants (both methods provide quality oils, it just depends on the plant itself which one works better). When done properly, the oil is removed from the plant without anything else being mixed in. So, ideally, you end up with only what comes out of the plant in your bottle of essential oil. They are antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antifungal. Plus, they smell amazing!

How can someone be sure of getting a quality oil — what should we look for when selecting one? 

One important factor is purity. You want to use an oil that does not contain any additives, fillers, pesticides, or contaminants. To be sure about the purity, you want to use an oil that has undergone rigorous scientific testing to ensure that the oil is what it claims to be and nothing else has been added. The company should be willing to share that testing information and claims about the oil’s purity.

How can we be sure essential oils are safe, especially for kids?

Essential oils are generally safe and effective. Of course, different people have different levels of sensitivity and children especially, may be more sensitive than adults. I recommend diluting any oil you use on a child with a carrier oil. So, for young children, you could use about a teaspoon of a carrier oil for every drop of essential oil, then you can decrease the amount of carrier oil for older children. It doesn’t sound like much, but essential oils are super concentrated. The carrier oil can be pretty much any kind of oil. Some popular options include: fractionated coconut oil (because it is liquid at room temperature), olive oil, almond oil, argon oil, avocado oil … there are so many choices. You can start by applying just a small amount on a child or adult to test for any sensitivity, then increase the amount if desired once there is no adverse reaction.

If you could recommend a few oils every household should have, what would they be? 

I think this depends somewhat on the particular issues that you deal with in your own family. Oils can be targeted to support any area of health. That said, some of the most versatile and easiest to start with may be lemon, lavender, and peppermint. Those are generally considered “starter” oils. However, there are many great uses for oils when it comes to taking care of a family; it’s hard to narrow it down! The “top ten” oils are often considered to be: lemon, lavender, peppermint, tea tree, frankincense, oregano, a respiratory blend, a muscle soothing blend, a digestion blend, and an immunity/protective blend.


Many thanks to Sarah for sharing some basics about oils with SlowMama. If you want to find out more, she has two free live web classes coming right up this month that you can check out. Each has a slightly different focus, but Sarah says attendees will get a good foundation in oils with either one. (After registering through the forms below, she’ll send you a link for the class.)

Essential Oils 101 –  Sunday, Sept 25 at 4pm Eastern / 3pm Central

Family Health Essentials – Tuesday, Sept 27 at 8pm Eastern / 7pm Central

Friends, do you use essential oils? If so, which are your favorites and what do you use them for?


Images: 1 – Pixabay, 2 – Sarah Williams




Let Your Kids Get Dirty

September 20, 2016

NS Beach

It seems that all those years growing up in the country pulling carrots from the ground and eating them with the dirt still on had its merits: Here’s yet another article — this time in the Wall Street Journal — about how important it is to let our kids get dirty how microbes are essential to good health and help us avoid a range of diseases:

From the moment we are born, we begin getting colonized by bacteria, which kick-start a series of fundamental biological processes, including the development of our immune system. Before birth, the lining of our gut is full of immature immune cells. When bacteria move in, the immune cells react to them, changing and multiplying. They even move to other parts of the body to train other cells with the information they have acquired from these intruders. If deprived of this interaction, the immune system remains sloppy and immature, unable to fight off diseases properly.


Inflammatory diseases (such as asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease) and metabolic diseases (such as obesity and diabetes) are characterized by alterations in our immune system and our metabolic regulation. Knowing what we do now about the role of the microbiota, it is not surprising that these diseases are being diagnosed in more children. They are, to a great extent, a consequence of relatively recent changes in our lifestyle—modern diet, oversanitization, excessive use of antibiotics—that have altered the specific microbes that affect our metabolism early on. We urgently need to find ways to modify our behavior so that our microbes can function properly.

So what’s a parent to do?

Let your kids play in the dirt and mud and don’t be so anal about keeping them clean. Give babies and children a wider variety of foods. Cut out processed foods from the family diet. Be more restrictive about giving antibiotics to kids (and give probiotics supplements when you do). And stay away from anti-bacterial soaps. There’s more, but that’s what this article focuses on.

Does it freak you out to imagine your baby sucking on something she found on the ground? Or letting your kids go without a bath for a week?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul


H and S

The photo above pretty much sums up how S and H felt on our 8 day trip to Nova Scotia last week. They are generally happy girls, but I don’t know that I’ver ever seen them having more fun — endless playing with cousins, swimming and beach time, and running around outside without supervision. They didn’t want to come back and proposed we stay so that “all the cousins can live together.”

While I always like to come home to my own life, I can’t say I was entirely opposed to the idea. If you want to get away from a hot and humid city, work deadlines, stressful news stories, American politics, and anything that makes you weary, the north shore of Nova Scotia is a pretty great place for that. We happened to choose a week of perfect weather — high 70s and 80s with little humidity and lots of sun. One small thunder storm came through which filled the sky with amazing clouds and light and produced a fantastic fully-arched rainbow over the woods.

We also had more sugar, dairy, and refined flour in one week than we did all year. But it was vacation time and we were in the land of delicious homemade baked goods so how could we resist? Not only that, many of my siblings are great cooks so we were the happy recipients of many delicious meals, including an authentic outdoor-made Spanish paella and the best smoked fish chowder I’ve ever tasted. And then there’s just all those crazy Canadian potato chip flavors like ketchup, smokey bacon, “all-dressed,” etc. — and cookouts with smores. I’m more motivated than ever to start a new exercise routine, I tell you.

Mostly, it was just so good to be with family, by the ocean, away from everything for a little while. Towards the end of the trip I found myself thinking up new projects and feeling inspired to do things I’d lost motivation for — all because I had a break from my daily deadlines and commitments. Each of us needs such breaks — they’re so important to our well-being.

Re-entry is proving hard, but while I make attempts, here are a few photos from our trip. (Check out more on Instagram: @slowzoe):

Baked goods My mother’s cinnamon rolls and my sisters chocolate-filled croissants.

See, you wouldn’t have been able to resist either!


Paella Spanish paella in the making

Honestly, I think my brother’s paella was better than the one I had in Spain! He had all the authentic ingredients thanks to my Spanish sister-in-law and did it right.

On the sandbar Sandbar races

These cousins like to run and they’re fast!

Roasting marshmallows Roasting marshmallows

A few smores may have been had right before bedtime…

Sunset One of many gorgeous evening skies

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul


Stefan Kunze for unsplash

Spring weather in the mid-Atlantic is hiking weather. Not too cold, not too hot and humid, no mosquitoes or gnats yet — it’s the perfect time to get out on the trails. It took becoming parents to turn B and me into hikers. Whenever someone would rave about hiking, I thought it was just a fancy way of saying they went for a long walk. Anyway, now we’re big fans. And now there’s a bunch of research that can make every hiker out there like us feel even better about their fancy walking…

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that hiking in nature decreases obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin:

[The researchers] compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

Not good news for city dwellers like us, but no surprise. Urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Another study by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer concluded that “technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions.” That same study found that disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature drastically improves creative problem solving.

Hiking typically burns between 400–700 calories every hour, depending on the difficulty of the hike and your size. And (according to research out of the University of British Columbia) aerobic exercise such as hiking increases hippocampal volume — which is the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — preventing memory loss. It also reduces stress and anxiety, boosts self esteem, and releases endorphins.

Hiking helps kids, too. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that “exposing children with ADHD to ‘green outdoor activities’ reduces symptoms significantly.”

My kids have not been diagnosed with ADHD, but a good hike seems to balance their moods and behaviors out. And I always experience a calming effect myself, as well a mood-enhancing effect — If I’m down or grumpy, even a short hike can really brighten my outlook.

Are you a hiker? Where’s your favorite place to hike? Do you notice tangible benefits from this kind of exercise?


Image: Stefan Kunze at unsplash

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A New Kind of Ultrasound

April 20, 2016

When I saw the cover of John Grisham’s new novel the other day entitled The Tumor I thought it was a joke. The Tumor? But a further look revealed it’s quite serious. Grisham wrote a novel to tell the story of a medical treatment he wants to draw attention to — and if this video is any indication of its promise, I can see why.

Focused ultrasound, also known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) (or sometimes MRgFUS, for magnetic resonance guided focused ultrasound) is an early stage medical technology  — in various stages of development worldwide — being used to treat a range of diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, fibroids, and pain. It uses ultrasonic energy to target tissue deep in the body without needing to make incisions or use radiation.

Essentially it’s a sound therapy and the fundamental principle is like using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on a specific spot to generate burning heat. Each individual beam passes through tissue with no effect, but “at the focal point, where the beams converge, the energy can have useful thermal or mechanical effects.” This treatment can be used by itself or enhance other conventional treatments.

HIFU has already been used in other parts of the world like Israel, Canada, and parts of Europe and Asia, but it’s relatively new in the United States. I’m always amazed when I hear stories like that of the woman in this video. I love thinking about how medicine may be different 10, 20, 50 years from now. I bet we’ll be doing a lot more with light and sound.

Have you heard of focused ultrasound? Does this intrigue you?





It’s been a while since I’ve published an installment of “Parenting Against the Grain” and I’ve missed it! I launched this series to highlight interesting choices that parents are making to live a little differently with their children. Today, we’re going Down Under to talk to a lovely woman named Carley Morgan. I’ve been wanting to talk to Carley ever since she wrote to tell me that SlowMama had played a role in the decision she and her husband made to take two years off work, mid-career, to slow things down, spend time with their growing son, recalibrate, enjoy life, and build an off-grid house. They started a blog called 1 Million Minutes to detail their adventures, which they are well into now. I’m so glad to finally be able to share some of Carley’s story with you and hope you find it as inspiring as I do!

Carley and Family

Zoe Saint-Paul: Welcome, Carley! Tell us a little about you and your family.

Carley Morgan: Our little family consists of my husband (40), myself (35) and our soon to be 5 year-old son. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta (Canada), and my husband and son were both born in Perth, Australia, where we currently live. In the past 8 years we have lived in the U.S., Nigeria, and Singapore. We love travel, adventure, and living less conventionally. Both of our careers were in the Oil and Gas Industry. I stopped working before my son was born, however my husband continued to work until our “1 Million Minutes” adventure began, just over a year ago. While I tend to be more right-brain dominant and am interested in yoga, meditation, and the more spiritual aspects of life, my husband is very much the left-brain rational and logical one. Our son is a nice mix of the two of us — I say he’s got my heart and his dad’s brain, but really, he’s a typical little boy who loves learning, playing, running, and anything remotely gross or related to potty humor.

ZSP: What motivated you and your husband to take a two year break away from work and regular life?

CM: We decided to take a year off in 2011, and later it morphed into two years. We were living in Nigeria at the time when a colleague of my husband’s passed away suddenly. It dawned on my husband — who really loves the work he does — that he could easily see himself working into to his 70’s, if not longer. So we thought, why not take some time now, while we’re still young, to do something crazy and enjoy life? Why not spend time with our growing son while we have the energy and physical ability, and then work a little longer later on, when climbing mountains and building a house might be too physically demanding? We also realized that if we took time now we’d have greater ability to spend time and influence our son and create memories with him while he still wants to spend time with us. We were also becoming concerned that he never saw his dad actually doing work. My husband was very influenced by watching and learning from his dad, which he believes is the foundation for his strong work ethic, and he resolved to make sure that our son appreciates that work is more than trips to the office and email. In this way, we see our time as an investment in our son’s future disposition.

It would take a few years from that point before everything fell into place.

Off grid House in Perth

ZSP: What steps did you have to take to make it happen?

CM: Before we had even spoken about taking time off, my husband had been conceptualizing a house for years  one that could be flat-packed and modular built, flexible, sustainable, beautiful, and cost-effective. We just weren’t sure when we would build it and like many people, had casually slotted it in as a project for retirement. So the house was already in the back of our minds.

Before we even knew when 1MillionMinutes would start, we put the intention out there to buy a beautiful piece of land near Perth and we made the purchase in January 2012. While we could have started 1MillionMinutes shortly thereafter, an exciting two-year job opportunity came up for my husband in Singapore, which fit nicely into our plans as it gave us some more time to plan and save and also had us physically located closer to Perth to facilitate logistics and to spend more time with my husband’s family.

Although we had been talking about it for a few years, I think our decision still surprised most of our family, friends, and colleagues. Official discussions with my husband’s employer were initiated in July 2014 and we received confirmation on his leave of absence around October 2014. That really set the wheels in motion. Through all of this, my husband continued to work on the house plans and I started making arrangements for the move and transitioning our son to our new life. I also started a two-year diploma program. So while March 1, 2015, is the official start date of 1MillionMinutes, it truly began two or three years prior to that.

Carley and Son

ZSP: What exactly were your goals, and where are you in the process of achieving them?

CM: Our main goal was to spend time together, make memories, enjoy our family, and influence our son as much as possible. Reconnecting with friends and family was also important and is now a beautiful part of life.

Building the house was another big goal for us. Although it doesn’t look like a whole lot from the pictures, we are well on our way. The hardest part is the design phase since it’s never been done before and a lot of work has gone into getting ready to build. Moving through the process has been my lovely engineer of a husband’s greatest source of frustration and achievement. Now that the design is nearly complete and the construction phase has begun it should be fairly smooth going.

Personally, I wanted to challenge myself, to learn something new, meet new people, add value beyond our family, and to find new ways to share myself with the world. I decided to do this by completing a 2-year diploma in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy. Now that I’ve graduated, I’ll put some effort into building up a private practice.

We were extremely conscious of the impacts that stress and a transient lifestyle had on our bodies and minds so we wanted to focus on learning more about ourselves and being healthy. We did the best we could prior to 1MillionMinutes, but we both agree that we’re currently at our physical, mental, and emotional bests and really enjoy preparing healthy food, engaging in physical activities, and having the energy to work hard while still enjoying life.

Each day we realize that we’re accomplishing things that we hadn’t even intended to do; that’s what seems to happen when you have time and space and good health. Life begins to flow and opens up to amazing things.

Carley with Diploma

ZSP: What have been the most rewarding parts of this decision so far?

CM: By far, spending time with our son and our family and friends. Memories and relationships are very important to us and truly the only thing that can never be taken away. We are also really pleased with our health and fitness now, being able to volunteer in my son’s classroom, having the time to contemplate life and really think about things, explore them and make them a reality. I really enjoy working with my clients and seeing their commitment to health and healing and witnessing their progress. There really isn’t any part of this decision that isn’t a reward for us.

ZSP: What have been the greatest challenges?

CM: The single greatest challenge we had to overcome was the fear of actually going ahead with 1MillionMinutes and leaving behind a very comfortable lifestyle. This fear now seems ridiculous, but was overwhelming at times before we made the decision. I went through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster when we finally arrived in Perth as there were many logistics that were unfolding and the stress of the past few years ,and the move, finally caught up with me. But we were well-positioned as a family to take some time to relax, heal, and regroup so while it was a bit challenging, it has been a blessing for us all. My husband has had a few intense engineering issues with the house, but we have grown to work with and support each other through anything and really, challenges aren’t really bad, but simply part of the process.

ZSP: How has this two-years-off plan affected your marriage and your parenting? And what has been the reaction of extended family and friends?

CM: As far as affecting our marriage, it has strengthened and reinforced the love, respect, and commitment we have towards each other. The mutual level of trust has deepened and our desire to be the best we can be for each other and our son has grown exponentially. We truly enjoy spending time together and this 1MillionMinutes has been such a gift.

Our parenting hasn’t changed much as far as philosophies go — we’re very much attachment-based parents. However, given that we no longer have the stresses of a hectic work life, we’re both able to be more present, mindful, creative, and patient in our parenting. We are very purposeful in our interactions with him and really look for opportunities to help him understand what it means to appreciate nature, work hard, be thoughtful and creative when problem solving, be mindful, enjoy life, and be a compassionate human being.

When we first started talking about 1MillionMinutes most people humored us with the discussion, but didn’t expect anything to come of it so there was a lot of surprise at the beginning when we actually did it. Our close family and friends have been incredibly supportive and we’ve met may new friends who are very interested and excited to see what happens. We’ve also let go of some friends and others have let go of us. It’s really been an amazing journey so far.

Smoking Ceremony

ZSP: Can you tell me a bit about the Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony you held prior to building your new home?

CM: We are well aware that there’s more to this universe than meets the eye and we’re also very aware that we’re only caretakers of the beautiful property that we purchased; it will go on to exist far longer than we walk the earth. For thousands of years, others have cared for and communed with this land. It was important for us to build our home on in the most respectful and sustainable way and that meant learning about its past and honoring those who have come before us. Having Uncle Ben Taylor (a respected Noongar Elder and Order of Australia recipient) and his family share their history, their culture, their passion, and their spiritual ceremony with us was one of the most profound experiences we’ve been privileged to participate in. We respect Aboriginal Peoples and feel that the results of poorly implemented government and church programs, and their devastating impacts on Aboriginal Peoples throughout the world, is a tragedy. We recognize the importance of these types of ceremonies not only for our own benefit, but also for the role that they play in the healing process of Aboriginal communities. We are now connected to the land’s past and responsible for its future in both the physical and spiritual sense.

Carley and Family

ZSP: What lessons have you learned so far and how do you think you have changed from this experience? 

CM: Time is precious. Living in the present moment is far easier if you’re not stressed out and tired from work. While I still have to remind myself to be present sometimes, it’s far easier to do these days.

ZSP: If someone out there has a similar dream — to take a sabbatical from their life or to build an off-grid home — what steps would you advise them to take and what do you think they should know?

CM: Here’s what I would advise:

Start planning as early as possible so you can get your finances in order and be debt-free (or have enough money saved to cover ongoing expenses like a mortgage).

Simplify your life well before you get started. Sell or donate physical items you don’t use/need, dial back your social calendar, take steps to improve your health.

Spend time thinking about what you want to do with your time off.  How can you be productive? Set some goals and plan ways to achieve them. It’s not a vacation!

Evaluate the relationships you have in your life and know who your supporters are and how they can help you.

Work through the fear and entire range of emotions that come along with this type of life change.  They are there for a reason and understanding them ahead of time will put you in good standing to be conscious and grounded.

In summary, be clear with your goals. Know what’s important to you and why, and then make the time to make it happen.


I love Carley’s point that this kind of sabbatical is not a vacation. I think another message that comes through loud and clear is: Why wait? Sometimes we need to in order to plan and prepare, of course, but who says reaching important goals and enjoying our families is only for retirement? It’s not easy to make such decisions, but I like how  Carley and her husband overcame their fears and made the leap. I sense that when their 1 million minutes is over, things will never quite be the same. Many thanks to Carley for sharing some of her amazing adventure with SlowMama! 

Friends, does the idea of taking time out to accomplish certain goals and dreams appeal to you? What would it take to make that happen?

Also, be sure to check out previous installments of Parenting Against the Grain:

Elimination Communication

Taking A Family Sabbatical

Going Furniture Free

The Modern Nomads


Images from Carley Morgan

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It’s Holy Week so I’m doing my best to be a little more reflective, a little more focused on the “lasting” things. The L’Arche community, for which I volunteered years ago, always reminds me of this. In a world of many tragedies and great sufferings, it helps to remember that while hardship inevitably comes our way, love surpasses it all.

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The Best Laid Plans

December 18, 2015


So you know when you have plans to get a lot accomplished because Christmas is next week and you still have so much to do like shopping and baking and wrapping and getting packages in the mail, and finishing your cards, and making the house half-way presentable for your mother-in-law, and decorating the tree… and then you get slammed with a cold virus that zaps you of every ounce of energy and creative impulse?

Welcome to my world this week. It’s like God had a laugh when I said to my husband on Monday, “There’s so much to do before Christmas; I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed!” And then the next day, I was pretty much a walking zombie.

I really do try to keep things simple, but have somehow managed to leave certain tasks later than I’d wanted, so here I am.

In happier news, I have a new niece — a beautiful baby girl named Felicity Rose, born on Wednesday night. What a great Christmas present!

In honor of her, I should offer a drink, but it needs to be something that will also kill a few germs, so how about a straight shot of whiskey? I don’t like whiskey, but since I can’t taste or smell much at the moment, why not?

And how has your week been? What’s on your calendar this weekend? If I’m better, I’ll have a lot of catch up to do, and hopefully dinner with a friend who will be in town. Hope it’s a good one and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Death to the Stock Photo




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Woman on Screen

My husband is a techie. Me? Not so much. New tech gadgets intimidate and irritate me: Just when I’ve learned how to use my smart phone or computer proficiently, it’s more or less obsolete. I lament the cultural trend of being glued to screens and how much time is spent on social media. And I’m super careful about how much time I let my girls spend on computers and iPads.

So it came as a surprise to me when I realized I had some unhealthy habits when it comes to the internet. Ironically, it was my husband who pointed it out to me. At first I totally denied it (a classic sign of addiction, of course), and then I had to admit that I sort of did have a problem. (Maybe the reason I get so down on the digital world is my own subconscious cry for help?)

As a blogger, writer, and editor who mostly works on the web, it’s silly to expect the internet to go away or to not be a big part of my life. I might as well completely change my line of work if I don’t want to accept this. But then how does someone whose livelihood depends on the internet (or anyone, really) make sure the internet doesn’t swallow her up?

Here‘s one woman’s story of how she realized (and is trying to manage) her internet addiction. I completely stand by her recommendation of taking at least one — preferably more — tech-free breaks every year. I do this when I go to Nova Scotia in the summers. Even one week of not looking at my computer, checking email, and posting on social media, really refreshes me and helps me find balance when I come back to my everyday life.

I used to take a break between Christmas and New Year’s, too (although that won’t be possible this year) and I try to take Sundays (until evening time) away from digital devices (but some Sundays are harder to do this than others). I try to make sure I read paper books and magazines, especially before bedtime, and I try to be conscious about how I use my smart phone in public, like not staring at my phone while in conversation, at a restaurant, or even sitting in a waiting room.

My worst habit might be getting sucked-down the rabbit hole of email. Ann Waterman, a past contributor to SlowMama, swears by the habit of not checking email first thing in the morning. She inspired me to no longer check email on my phone from bed when I wake up, and now I manage to get a few things done in my household before I open up my laptop.

I still have more progress to make, though, when it comes to managing my email and online time. I feel overwhelmed a lot, mainly because personal organization — especially of data and paperwork — is not my strength.

As the author of NYT article above states, the internet is designed to overload us with info and distract us — there’s no getting away from that. Since we live in a digital tech world now we can make sure we’re doing certain things to counterbalance its negative effects.

Do you take tech breaks? What online traps do you get sucked into? (Surely, it’s not reading too much SlowMama!) What parameters do you set around your internet time? And if you work online, how do prevent your gadgets from taking over your life?







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Puppy Friends

I’ve been thinking about this article in The Atlantic ever since I read it, which is about how friendships change over time, into adulthood. It’s kind of a no-brainer… we all know friendships change. Some all but disappear. I can think of two people I was very close to at one time who I haven’t heard from for many years despite my numerous attempts. Their lives are busy, they live far away, and they don’t seem to prioritize long-distance relationships. I get that. Still, if the communication were there, I sense we’d still be close today.

I also have long-time friends I stay in touch with, and spend time with when I can. They’re important to me — we’ve known and supported each other through many phases of life and we’ve made a lot of memories together. I invest in these friendships to various degrees and each brings something special to my life.

I also have newer friends who reflect who and where I am today. These relationships are satisfying because they’re so intentional. Our lives are very full, yet we make time for each other because we find something life-giving in the relationship. I’m much more aware of what I need and want from a friend now than I used to be.

When’s the last time you mulled over the quality of your friendships and how they’ve changed? And how you’ve changed? I know I sometimes feel conflicted about the time and energy I have to invest, when I should let go, and whether and how to find mutually supportive new friends.

One of the interesting things the article discusses is the “double-edged sword” nature of adult friendships. They take a back seat to our spouses/significant others, children, work, and other commitments, so they can suffer. But because each of us silently acknowledges this fact, there’s a flexibility and freedom to friendship that makes it so valuable. The “voluntary” nature of it makes it great, but can also present challenges because it’s a less-defined relationship. If one friend’s expectations or desires are different than the other friend’s, then hurt and resentment can build up and strain the relationship.

One of the best things about friends, especially close ones, is that they’re not just great in their own right, they’re cheerleaders and supporters for our primary commitments — marriage, parenting, work, etc. Friends also remind us of who we are as individuals so we don’t get lost in our many roles and responsibilities.

Of course, in order to keep a mutually supportive friendship going you do need to invest something of yourself, and that’s where it gets tough when there are only 24 hours in a day. A lot of it does come down to expectations — if two friends have similar expectations of each other, they’re likely to maintain a harmonious and mutually satisfying relationship.

What are your greatest challenges when it comes to friendship at this point in your life, and what is most important to you in a friend?

Image: Picjumbo 

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