Unleashed by Dave Meier

One of the things I’ve realized as I’ve grown older is how some of the suffering we endure is often of our own making. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of hardship and sorrow that comes our way that we have nothing to do with —  there’s plenty of that, of course, and some of us get a heftier dose than others.

But life is complicated, and sometimes the unhappiness or pain in our lives is due, or partially due, to our own thoughts and behaviors, whether conscious or not. For example, the terrible relationship we ended up in because we never dealt with our codependency issues, or the disease we developed because of poor health choices over the years.

There are many ways we can make ourselves unhappier than we need to be and this piece in Thought Catalog does a good job pointing some of them out. Most of it comes down to our expectations, assumptions, and, well, self-centeredness. I could definitely see myself in the article. On the plus side, I don’t take things personally very often, which is helpful, and I tend to be positive and hopeful about life in general, which also helps, but I’ve got room for improvement when it comes to setting realistic expectations more often.

And how about that one about comparing ourselves with others? That’s poison, and we’re probably all guilty of it from time to time. How do we stay content with what we have, who we are, and how we’re living? It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely part of the recipe for greater well-being.

Seems like a good thing to think about at the beginning of a new year.

Did any of the points in the article resonate with you? What are the ways you make your life harder than it needs to be?

Image: Dave Meier at Picography

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Welcome 2016!

January 4, 2016

Bubbles/Pixabay

Happy new year, friends! Ready to take on 2016?

I took a semi-tech break last week. Frankly, I don’t know where the time went, but I guess it had something to do with recovering from illness, my mother-in-law heading back home mid-week, New Year’s Eve and day, and some visiting here and there, not to mention being back to work.

How’s 2016 treating you so far? Have you made any resolutions? If you’ve been reading SlowMama for some time, you know I’m a fan of making resolutions, or some variation of it. (Mags wrote about making “non-resolutions” last year.)

This time, I didn’t enter the year with a well-defined list. I think it’s going to be a full one, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed last week just thinking about it, so I decided to not put a lot of extras on my plate.

A few things are calling to me, though: First, getting better organized. I’m starting a new system of sorts and I look forward to telling you more about it soon. I also want to work on my fitness. That’s been a goal I’ve failed in miserably for the past two years because I can’t seem to prioritize it in my schedule. But I’ve got a couple new ideas to help make it happen. I’m not putting too much pressure on, but it’s nagging at me.

I’ve also got a couple spiritual practices I want to focus on, and I want to be more deliberate about some family plans I want to see happen this year. When I get it all sorted in my mind a bit more, I may write about it.

I’d also like to make some changes to this blog. I wanted to do it in 2015, but a combination of being undecided about what exactly I want to do and my life as a working home-schooling mom knocked it down on my priority list. Right now, I’m not sure if 2016 will be a big year of change for SlowMama or not, but I’ll definitely keep you posted.

How about you? Any goals or plans? Any themes you want this new year to be guided by?

I wish you and yours a healthy, peaceful, meaningful 2016!

Image: Misku at Pixabay

 

 

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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2015

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I’ve always loved Christmas, but S and H have taken it to a whole new level. They’re just so much fun. Their big gifts from us this year were guitars. H has been asking for a pink guitar since she could speak English, and S was equally interested so she got a blue one. They both love music and seem to have a gift for it. B plays so he can get them started and if their interest continues, we’ll get them some lessons.

I’m under the weather today, unfortunately, so I’m laying low and hope to be back to normal soon since my mother-in-law is here and I’m a little useless at the moment. But we’ll be trying to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for the 12 days of Christmas around here.

From our home to yours, Merry Christmas and happiest of holidays!

Oh, and also, this:

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Happy Christmas Eve!

December 24, 2015

Star Clusters/Pixabay

It’s Christmas Eve! I’m finally (mostly) recovered from a virus I came down with last week and I might just be ready for Christmas tomorrow after all. My mother-in-law landed in rainy, warm Baltimore yesterday and I even managed to clean the bathroom before she arrived. Miracles never cease!

I do love Christmas Eve and this year is a little different because we’re celebrating it Spanish-style with my brother and his family. My sister-in-law hails from southern Spain and Christmas Eve is a big deal there — most families eat their main Christmas meal with relatives on Christmas Eve before attending Midnight Mass. Depending on the region you’re from, dinner may be seafood or even turkey stuffed with truffles (not the chocolate kind), or some kind of pork. In our case, my sister-in-law is roasting lamb, and she’s a fabulous cook so I know it will be delicious. We’ll start with tapas, of course, and Spanish wine. I’m taking one liberty — I’m bringing a dessert from our side of the family — a traditional gingerbread cake with lemon sauce that my French grandmother used to make for Christmas every year. (In fact, posted in last year on SlowMama so be sure to check it out — a gift that keeps on giving.)

Enjoy your day and evening, friends.

Image: Pixabay

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The Best Laid Plans

December 18, 2015

Flower

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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Endings and Beginnings

December 14, 2015

Bridge at Night

This past Saturday was my birthday. It isn’t the best time to celebrate a birthday — I’m always preoccupied with end of school semester stuff and Christmas prep, plus everyone is so busy — but it also comes at a good time because it’s the natural end of a year and the beginning of another. It’s the time of year I pause and think about what the past year has been, noting the significant events, the struggles, the accomplishments. And I look ahead and survey what’s on the horizon, and what I’d like the next year to be about.

2015 passed lighting-quick. Looking back, what stands out were our trips — to the mountains of North Carolina for the TV show we filmed, our time in Maine, and then bringing S and H to Nova Scotia for the first time (which was the highlight of their year, for sure). B made a big change in his work schedule, which changed our family routine, and I continued to learn how to juggle working from home, homeschooling, and parenting in a house the size of a shoe box.

Which brings me to one big hope for 2016: a new house. It’s overdue. We have many details to work out, but I’m hopeful that by March or April we’ll know whether we can really make it happen and where exactly we’re going. Moving feels overwhelming, but it’s got to happen.

I have numerous personal and professional hopes and goals for the new year, too, some of which I’m still thinking through. How about you — are you thinking about the past year yet, or the year ahead?

Image: Dave Meier at Picography

 

 

 

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Koala Mother & Baby

How’s this for a provocative title:

Why Parenting May Not Matter And Why Most Social Science Research is Probably Wrong.”

I can’t say I read the article without skepticism, since I happen to believe that parenting matters a whole lot, but I like to challenge myself.  You can cut through a lot of the beginning and start with this:

Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think. Regarding the cross-validation that I mentioned, studies examining identical twins separated at birth and reared apart have repeatedly revealed (in shocking ways) the same thing: these individuals are remarkably similar when in fact they should be utterly different (they have completely different environments, but the same genes). Alternatively, non-biologically related adopted children (who have no genetic commonalities) raised together are utterly dissimilar to each other—despite in many cases having decades of exposure to the same parents and home environments.

One logical explanation for this is a lack of parenting influence for psychological development. Judith Rich Harris made this point forcefully in her book The Nurture Assumption (an absolute must read). 6 As Harris notes, parents are not to blame for their children’s neuroses (beyond the genes they contribute to the manufacturing of that child), nor can they take much credit for their successful psychological adjustment. To put a finer point on what Harris argued, children do not transport the effects of parenting (whatever they might be) outside the home.

First, the twin thing: Have you seen the documentary Twinsters? It’s worth watching. It’s about identical twins who were separated in Korea as infants when they were relinquished for adoption and don’t discover each other until they’re young adults — through social media.  One was raised as an only child in Paris, and the other with two brothers by an American couple in the midwest. The sisters do have a great deal in common even though they’ve grown up in different cultures half way across the world from each other, but there are also significant differences. Their personalities are not the same, and the way they’ve experienced their adoptions, their family life, and their childhood, is not the same either.

This doesn’t negate any of the twin research showing the power of genetics in shaping who we become, but it does show that many forces work together to determine how we turn out — and parenting is one of them.

The article goes on to say that the socialization of children matters, but that it’s not parents who primary socialize children, but a child’s peer group. That’s because children spend most of their waking time with peers. But what if they’re homeschooled? Does that make a difference? It does, as the authors of the book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Matter More than Peers point out. (A book worth reading if you haven’t already.)

One point the article makes is that social science studies on parenting are not reliable because they don’t control for genetics. Fair point. In some ways, knowing the role genetics plays can take some weight off parents, but to say parenting doesn’t matter is silly. Parenting can mess up a child, and parenting can provide the unconditional love, belonging, encouragement, and environment in which a child can thrive and reach his or her potential.

Image: Pixabay

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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?

Image:Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

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Pull Up A Chair

December 4, 2015

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I don’t know about you, but I’m dragging my chair into the circle today…  Another mass shooting? I can’t say much here that isn’t being said elsewhere, but whenever these things happen, something usually stands out to reflect upon.

This week, as I watched the San Bernardino tragedy unfold in the news, in addition to being perplexed as to what was going on and why, I realized something: how vigilant I’ve become in public places, especially since 9-11.

Last month I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles (where I need to be again next week to renew my license) and found myself identifying the exits, scanning individuals, and paying extra attention to my surroundings. I didn’t feel overly anxious, but I was on alert. I’m the same way in the post office, and even when I’m walking around my downtown neighborhood. I don’t stare down at my phone, I know what’s going on around me, and I follow my hunches. It’s so second nature by now, I barely notice I’m doing it.

I saw this article on Facebook the other day called “What to Do in an Active Shooter Situation,” which I thought was very thorough, and, well, I’m pretty much already doing what’s suggested there. Not sure what that says about me — maybe I’m a good candidate for surviving something so awful? Who knows. It’s just terribly sad that anyone has to even think about this, but we do, and we should know what to do, just in case.

For those of us not directly affected by these tragedies, life still carries on… B’s holiday work party is this evening, and we’re off to a friends’ son’s birthday tomorrow afternoon. Some friends of mine are getting together tomorrow night for an early birthday celebration for yours truly, and our precious nephew’s 3rd birthday is Sunday. I’ll do my best to enjoy all this celebrating because the truth is, we only have the moment we’re in, with no guarantees of tomorrow.

What’s on your mind today? Do you find yourself more cautious than you used to be? Are you the type who likes to be prepared for anything, or not think about it at all until you have to?

Have a lovely — and safe — December weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Pixabay

 

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Poinsettia at Pixabay

Advent began yesterday and I find that observing it changes this time of year. For a lot of people, as soon as Thanksgiving is over (and I’m taking about the US here), the Christmas festivities begin and all of it culminates on Christmas day. Then it’s all over the next day — the trees come down and life starts to go back to normal.

But Advent is meant to be its own season, with its own themes: darkness and light, waiting and anticipation, patience and preparation.  There are also many different traditions or celebrations that make it special. We place an Advent wreath on our table, which we light at dinner time, and we also have an Advent calendar that the girls use to count down the days until Christmas. And S and H will also get treats in their shoes on St. Nicholas Day (December 6), even although we tend to cut back on treats in Advent until Christmas arrives (except for birthdays or special days).

This year, as a family, we came up with a number of Advent activities we’re going to do that center on thinking about others. Here are some of them:

  • Bake something special for a shy neighbor who finds second hand books for the girls and drops them through our mail slot. He knows how to pick them, too — they’re always winners.
  • Bake something for our terrific car mechanic and his staff who’ve gone the extra mile for us this year.
  • Drop off a treat to the local firehouse to thank them for their important service.
  • Create small gift bags for the homeless and street people we encounter downtown and give them out the week before and the week after Christmas. We’re still deciding what to put in the bags, but it will be things like: healthy snack bars, chocolate, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, lip balm, and a little note.
  • Get one dollar bills, put sticky notes on them with little messages of kindness, and leave them in random places for people to find.
  • “Be kind to each other” at home: We’ll cut up small strips of paper (pretend straw) and each time someone does a special act of kindness or thoughtfulness, you put a strip in a little “manger” (a box or little container) for them.  (That’s where the baby Jesus will be placed on Christmas morning.)

I’m excited about doing these with the girls. As they get older, we’ll do other things, like maybe visiting long-term care patients in a hospital, singing carols at a nursing home, or volunteering to serve meals to the homeless.

Of course, no matter what, there are still gifts to buy and mail in the next couple of weeks, a tree to get and decorate, guest to prepare for, menus to plan, B’s office party to attend, and some birthdays to celebrate in the middle of it all (including mine). But a meaningful Advent often makes for a more joyful Christmas, which is all its own season, too.

Do you observe Advent? Any special traditions you have between now and Christmas or Hanukkah?

Image: Pixabay

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