May 21, 2015

Multi-Tasking: The Nemesis of Mindfulness

In today's plugged-in, hurry-up culture, I'd venture to guess that multi-tasking is an epidemic. And, what makes me kind of sad, now that I really think about it, is that for many years I have actually prided myself on my ability to multi-task. Now, I'm not so proud of it...and I'm finding it a really hard habit to break.

As I've started to pay more attention to things lately, to become more aware of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it, I've noticed how often I am multi-tasking. I eat my breakfast while checking email or getting the kids' breakfast or driving the car. I unload the dishwasher while talking on the phone. I clean up the kitchen while cooking dinner. I look at my facebook feed while brushing my teeth. Heck, like most moms I can make dinner, talk on the phone, empty the dishwasher, fix a toy, help with homework, and make my grocery list all at the same time.

Impressive...or sad?

I used to think the a badge of honor. Now, I think the latter. How distracted are my conversations? How many things do I miss doing things with half- or less- of my attention. And what is it doing to me? To my brain? To my well-being?

I recently watched an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn about mindfulness, which referenced an interview with Michael Pollan I had watched a few weeks earlier when he too had talked about mindfulness. And my main take-away from that interview, the mantra I carry with me like a minfulness touchstone, is this: When you're stirring the pot, stir the pot.

Which basically means, quit multi-tasking. Don't do 5 other things while you're cooking dinner. When you're cooking dinner, just cook dinner.

When you're stirring the pot, just stir the pot.

Don't do other things. Don't think about other things. Be there, in the moment. Be aware. Pay attention to what you're doing. When you're stirring the pot, stir the pot.

This shorthand for what mindfulness is, at its essence, drives home for me how often I am living in a...what's the right word for it...state of mindlessness? And not just when I'm accomplishing tasks, but also when I'm with my kids. How often am I typing a text while listening to something my kids are telling me? Do I sometimes check email while we're playing a board game? Do I cook dinner while listening to my daughter read? Do I fold laundry while spending time with them? Do I half watch them playing at the park while I'm on my phone doing...whatever?

There is always so much to get done that multi-tasking often feels like the only option. Just like rushing.

But maybe it's not.

Maybe I can go back to doing one thing at a time. To giving everything (or at least most things) my full attention when I am doing them (or being with them). Put down the phone and look at the person talking to me. Just brush my teeth...nothing else. Eat my breakfast without distraction.

Stir the pot.

This morning I ate my yogurt while sitting quietly at the kitchen island. For the five minutes this took, I did not do anything else. No email. No book. No nothing.

It was good yogurt.

And I'm pretty sure those five minutes did not put me behind schedule on anything.

But can I expand this to the other things in my life? Can I simply play the game, listen to the book, talk on the phone...can I simplystir the pot?

I would imagine it's going to take some real effort, but I think I can. I'm certainly going to try.

So I am pledging here on MamaManagement to do my very best with this goal:

No more multi-tasking.

Instead, mindful awareness and attention (and intention) throughout my day.

Join me.

Let's go back to a time before we were all trying to accomplish five different things in any given moment. Or maybe let's go forward to a new time. A time of awareness and attention and intention. A time of mindfulness. A time of enjoying life's little pleasures and life's everyday tasks.

And let's do it together.

Until next time, just stir the pot.

May 14, 2015

A Thank You Note to Oprah

Dear Ms. Winfrey,
I cannot begin to fathom how many thank you letters you must get. Sadly, I would imagine you get your fair share of nastygrams too. But hopefully someone just tosses those in the recycle bin with nary a glance. I know that this note will never reach you, and that's okay. Because I know you, of all people, would understand the idea of simply sending the goodness out into the universe and letting it do it's own thing.

So here's some goodness...

I pretty much grew up watching The Oprah Show. I was right there with you when you started the book club. (I still remember getting Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone right after you chose the book for bookclub and devouring it on the couch in our family room in one day. I'm not entirely sure I even took breaks to eat.) You've introduced me to so many wonderful books, and for that I say thank you.

I find I'm naturally drawn to anyone who shares my love of books and reading and learning, the way that you do; so it's no surprise that I've been drawn (like millions of others) to all the things that you do...your shows, your book club, your magazine.

But I've watched you grow and evolve over the years, as I too have grown and evolved. And I could easily get lost in all of the various ways in which you've impacted me and my life, both little and big, (like introducing me to the work of Elizabeth Gilbert or that damn Oprah Chai...OMG that stuff is good!). Or I could wax poetic about how amazing it is that you have impacted, and will continue to impact, so many people that you will never even meet. What a gift.

But that's not why I'm writing this note.

Though there are many things I could thank you for, I am writing to say thank you for your program Super Soul Sunday.

My husband teases me about my love for this show, which I hoard on my DVR and then binge watch when he travels for work (or, like recently, when I am sick). I am tough though, so I can take the teasing. But here's what I need to say to you...

Thank you for giving me a church. I've never been one for organized religion. While I love the idea of the community and I would love a place to talk about all things spiritual and universal, I have never found a church doctrine that I could wholly adopt. And while Super Soul Sunday does not give me a local community to be a part of (I wish it did!), it does give me the fodder for thinking and discourse and text to learn from. It is a virtual church...and school.

I am continually amazed by the things that I learn and the ah-ha moments that I have when watching your show; and the kismet-like way in which your topics or guests often perfectly align with what I need to hear, or think about, or learn about at that given moment in my life.

This past weekend I binge watched four episodes of the show while laying in bed enjoying Mother's Day.

It was bliss.

On one of those episodes you interviewed Jon Kabat-Zinn (whose name I've always thought sounds like a delicious wine) and you talked about mindfulness.

The concept of mindfulness has been dancing around in my head for a few weeks now. Ever since I had the thought, following a vacation, that I would like to bring the vacation mindset into my day-to-day, not-on-vacation life. And it occurred to me, after a conversation with a friend, that being mindful is really what the vacation mindset is all about. It's living in the moment. It's being aware and present. It's not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow or what's on the to-do list because you are right here, right now. This is it. This is life. Right now.

So I dug out Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You Go, There You Are from my bookshelves stuffed with past-reads and decided to (re)learn a little more about being mindful in my daily life. And even before reading the book, I'm already becoming more aware throughout my day of where I am...someplace else in my head, or right here, right now, in this moment. Thanks to you and Super Soul Sunday.

I also watched your interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup about her work and her newest book Goddesses Never Age. I was not familiar with Dr. Northrup's work and found it fascinating. Because, guess what? I've been struggling with aging since turning 40. It's been on my mind a lot lately. And your conversation with Dr. Northrup got me thinking differently about a few things when it comes to getting older. See what I mean? Kismet. It's kind of freaky, really. So, thank you.

I have similar thoughts and feelings after watching most of the episodes of Super Soul Sunday. My eyes open to something new. My soul sending out little waves of gratitude toward you and the person you've interviewed.

So, long-story-longer, I want to thank you.

Thank you for your show. And thank you for all you do.

You do good.

Amy Lorbach

April 30, 2015

The Importance of Listening to Yourself

Take the time to stop, get quiet, and listen to yourself. What do you really want? What's best for you?

I've always been a big believer in research. For a fair number of years, research was actually my day job. But, 9-to-5 business aside, when it came to making decisions, especially big decisions, I have long been someone who researched the heck out of things before deciding. I look at all of the options, learn all of the pertinent information, narrow the field, gather additional input, and then make a decision. Generally speaking, I think this is a good thing, this data-gathering.

To a point, that is.

When I bought my first car on my own, I knew the specs backward and forward before I went into the dealer. I think I startled the salesman when I started asking really detailed questions about the inner-workings of the car I was interested in. (He really didn't expect to hear that come out of the mouth of a woman in her early twenties. Which, of course, I loved. I've always loved surprising people who have made assumptions about me based on my age or gender or both. Yes, I can drive a stick shift. Yes, I know what I'm talking about in those business meetings. But that's another blog post.)

But two things about that have changed as I've gotten older.

The first is that options have become seemingly infinite in our current world. I mean, seriously, have you walked down the cereal aisle in a grocery store in recent years? Or the shampoo aisle at Target? Or tried to buy a new hairdryer on Amazon? The options feel limitless when you try to assess everything that's available. So, considering everything out there when making decisions, big and small, is pretty close to impossible. And it's most definitely exhausting.

For me, this has meant narrowing the consideration set faster. For example, I only consider the more natural haircare brands, and I only look at their volumizing and scalp health lines. This narrows the field considerably before I even start reading labels and product reviews.

It also means that I'm more likely to listen to trusted recommendations. For example, I asked my hairstylist what hairdryer she recommended. I then looked on Amazon at the one she suggested, saw it got really good reviews and was available at a reasonable price, and ordered it. No further research.

And, I'm more likely to stick with something that works. I have bought the exact same four cereal brands each time we run out for quite some time now. They are the cereals that make my family happy and meet my requirements. So, until they stop working, I will keep buying them. And I will walk right by the 500 other options available in my grocery store. (I shop with a 3 year old. I don't have time to peruse.)

But most importantly, I have gotten more comfortable with these ideas:

- Nothing is perfect.
- The grass isn't as green as it looks over the fence.
- Nobody really cares about the 20, just get the 80 and get on with it.

Super extensive research is really about security. It's a way of making ourselves feel comfortable with decisions we fear getting wrong. I don't want to be the dumbass who buys the junky car or who pays way too much for it. I just don't. So I research the heck out of it to make sure I'm making a good decision. Not only do I read up on the cars, but I also ask other people for their opinions on those cars.

Which brings me to the second thing that has changed as I've gotten older: I now recognize the importance of listening to myself.

That does not mean that I don't ask other people's opinions when I'm making decisions. I do. A lot. But I don't always take their advice. This, of course, drives my husband nuts. He hates it when I ask his opinion on something and then proceed to do the exact opposite.

Me: "Do you like these shorts in the blue or the black?"
Husband: "The black."
Me: "Yeah, I think I'll get the blue."
Husband: Sighs, shakes head, and walks away.
Me: Checks out butt in mirror one last time.

That's because I've learned that, though I really want my husband to like how I look in the outfits I choose to wear, he'll never actually see me in those outfits unless I feel good in them. So I value his opinion, but I have to trust my own feelings. If the blue shorts make me feel better, then the blue shorts I shall get. If both things are truly equal for me, then I'll choose the one he likes...he's a great tie-breaker, my husband.

This approach was never more apparent than in our recent car buying decision.

My husband and I recently decided it was time to trade in my current car (a small SUV) for something a bit bigger. After some initial research (led by my dad, actually...thanks for the help, Dad!) we narrowed it down to one mid-size SUV and one minivan. I, of course, was soliciting advice on this decision left and right.

And, almost without fail, everyone told me to get a minivan.

I hemmed and hawed over this decision. I listed pros and cons of each. But I was torn. Because here were all of these smart people, whose opinions I trust, telling me to get the minivan...but when I stopped and really listened to myself, I believed the SUV was the right choice for me.

Guess what I got?

Yep. The SUV. I take delivery on it next week.

Lucky for me my husband actually felt the same way I did about the decision. (Whew!) So that helped a lot. But ultimately it will be my car, so it was up to me.

You know what did it? A conversation with my dear, dear friend, Wendy. She reminded me that I was getting all caught up in listening to other people and I was forgetting to listen to myself. After my talk with her, and a side-by-side, look-at-every-feature-and-sit-in-every-seat comparison, it took me all of 30 seconds to make the decision.

It doesn't mean that all those people didn't give me great advice. They did. But ultimately I needed to listen to myself and make what felt like the right decision for me.

And I think that's a lesson that applies to everything in life.

If going back to work after having kids feels right to you, even if all of your friends are staying home, get to work. If being less busy in an over-committed world is right for you, drop the commitments. If cutting your hair short feels like what you need to do, even though all of your friends have long locks, chop it.

If your soul needs quiet time alone, or a night out with your friends, or volunteer work, or creative expression, or a date night, or a pedicure, or time to journal, or coffee with a friend, or a thriving career, or playtime with the kids... Whatever it is that your soul is telling you it needs...listen. Listen to it. Listen to you. And give yourself what you need.

Until next time, get quiet for a moment or two and listen to what your heart is saying. And give yourself some of that.

Or buy your heart a mid-size SUV. Whatever works.

P.S. Please don't leave a comment telling me why I should get a minivan. It's too late.

P.P.S. And by the way, I love my new hairdryer. Super lightweight and still quite powerful. It's a Babyliss Pro TT 3000. In case you're in the market.

April 14, 2015

What Vacation Taught Me

I learned two lessons while on vacation last week.

1. I need to take more vacations.
2. I need to be more vacation-y everyday. (It is not a word. But it should be.)

One morning in the middle of my vacation week I went out for a run. It was my first run outside in probably 5 or 6 months. I ran for 45 minutes on a beautiful, sunny day, surrounded by blooming trees and flowers and bright blue skies. It was just wonderful. It was wonderful to be outside and not be cold. It was wonderful to run. It was wonderful to be surrounded by beauty. It was wonderful to be alone and listen to my own music. But most of all it was wonderful to be running along with the vacation attitude.

I feel lighter, on vacation. I feel like I've left something behind at home. To-Do Lists. Responsibilities. Routines. Grief. Cold. Heaviness. A Rut.

Running feels easier. Everything feels easier.

I got in four rounds of golf while I was there. And I had a few awesome shots. One pretty good round. But I mostly I played pretty awful. And I loved it. Because I was on vacation. Where there really are no rules and everything is easy going.

Which begs two questions: Why do I wait so long to go on vacation? and Why can't I translate this attitude and feeling to my everyday life?

Right now, we have a long span of time with no vacations...pretty much from Thanksgiving (our last trip of the year home to visit family) until an Easter-time Spring Break at the end of March. That's four months with no change of scenery. And it's the four worst months of the year...the winter months. When it's cold and snowy and we're mostly stuck inside and oftentimes sick. And I end up a bit depressed. Maybe more than a bit.

It's really quite awful.

Now, between April and November, we're all over the place. This year we'll take at least 6 trips in those 8 months. That's pretty darn good. But that wintertime vacation drought is just no good. I think I need to add a couple of trips in there. Everyone should have a break from January and February if they live in the north. Even just a little overnight somewhere relatively close. Though somewhere warm and sunny would be the best.

Those vacations are important. The break in routine. The change of scenery. It's important.

But what's probably more important is figuring out how to translate that vacation attitude to day-to-day life at home. Why can't most days feel like vacation days?

They should.


I am so sick of feeling like I'm slogging through the muck and mire of to-dos and should-dos and get-it-dones. I'm sick of feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff there is to do. I'm sick of letting those time-sensitive "must-dos" get in the way of the stuff I really want to be doing...reading, writing, being creative, going for a walk, playing with my kids, hanging out with my husband, chatting with friends. There is always more laundry to do, more errands to run, more meals to cook, more phone calls to make, more emails to read...

I'm suddenly having a bit of blog-deja-vu. I just realized that I wrote about a similar idea around this same time last year. (You can see it here: Maybe it's seasonal for me. Maybe it's the difference between sweet sunny skies and cold rainy clouds.

Maybe I simply need more vacation attitude at home. Maybe I need to wake up and not worry about getting the carpets cleaned and finding a landscaper and getting the kids to school on time and squeezing in a trip to the grocery store. Maybe I need to wake up and smile and enjoy my cup of coffee and then head out onto the golf course for a quick 9 holes.

Oh, wait. Right. That's the part I can't translate to my regular home life.


But maybe I can still ignore all the other stuff that I'm "supposed to be doing" and instead play a game of Go Fish. Color some pictures. Read a book. Write a book.

And if the rain and clouds and cold ever go away, I can go for a run outside.

Maybe I need to cut things down to just what is truly essential, and let the other stuff go. Maybe then things won't get overwhelming. And maybe I won't become Debbie Downer.


Until next time, let a little vacation attitude into your everyday life. Let the dishes wait. Sit back and put your feet up. Relax. And when that sunshine peaks out from behind the clouds, soak it in, my friend. Soak it all in.


April 9, 2015

Book Love: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I read this book on vacation last week and kind of fell in love with it. It's different from a lot of the books I've read of late. And I liked that departure. The book is sweet and honest and real.

And I miss the characters now that I'm done. That's always, for me, a sign that I loved a book.

So here is where you'd likely expect me to give you a brief overview of the book. A blurb of some sort that might get you interested in reading it and tell you what it's about. But I've been thinking about that. And I realized that I, as a reader, am less interested in a synopsis, in knowing what the book is about, than I am in knowing how it made a reader feel.

Did you love it? Did it make you cry? Did it make you laugh? Did it bring back memories of your childhood? Did it leave you awed? Was it fun? Was it beautifully written?

That's what I want to know.

I am not often reading book jackets before choosing a book these days. I'm reading reviews from people who loved the book. Then I get it. And I read it. And I am often super surprised by what it's about.

All I knew about this book before I started it was that it was Young Adult and that a blogger I trust highly recommended it. That's it.

I guess I like the surprise.

And surprised I was. A few chapters into the book I thought I knew what what going on between the main characters. But by halfway through I was certain that I'd been wrong. Then, at the end, we circled back much closer to where I'd started. But that's no matter, really.

What you need to know about this book is this: Saenz so beautifully and accurately captures this snapshot of his characters' lives that it makes my heart hurt (but in a good way). They are all, even the more secondary characters, so wonderfully drawn. Like an artistic rendering of emotions and life on a page. I said it before and I'll say it again: This book is sweet and honest and real. It is beautiful and true. It is heart-wrenching and uplifting. It is a portrait of love and friendship and family, and the sweet, aching beauty of adolescence.

I recommend it. In case you hadn't picked up on that yet.

Seriously. Go check out Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Until next time, happy reading!

April 1, 2015

Binge Reading: The Testing Trilogy

Last year I read Joelle Charbonneau's book The Testing and really enjoyed it. It's a little Hunger Games, a little Divergent, but with it's own unique twist. I just love the strong female characters we're finding in the YA dystopian future realm these days. It makes me happy to see literary role models out there in popular, main stream fiction that personify strong women: strength of character, physical, mental and emotional strength, intelligence, common sense, caring and humanity (no mention of beauty, thank you very much)...all the characteristics of good people and good leaders...all in young women. It's a beautiful thing.

Plus they're fun, fast-paced, enjoyable reads. Bonus!

Anyway, I finally tracked down the remaining books in Charbonneau's trilogy at a local library and promptly binge read books 2 and 3 (Independent Study and Graduation Day, respectively) in the course of one week (and I wasn't even on vacation...I was trying to escape my own life, though, so...and I do love a good binge reading episode).

And they delivered.

Some of the ever-popular trilogies really flop on book 2 (like The Maze 1 was good, but book 2...flop!...I didn't even make it to book 3), but I thought Charbonneau did a good job. She kept the story moving forward at a good clip through all of the books, and kept my interest throughout--as evidenced by how quickly I devoured these books. Book 1 was still the best (as it almost always is), but the entire trilogy is worth the read.

Here's a blurb about the trilogy from Charbonneau's website:


Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say?
But how close is too close when they may be one in the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it.  But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies – trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

So, if you like YA dystopian future novels...if you enjoyed The Hunger Games and Divergent...if you like a good, fast-paced, fun read...then I recommend reading The Testing Trilogy. Check it out.

Until next time, happy reading!

P.S. Booklist says it's for Grade 7 and up.

March 26, 2015

Life Lessons (a journal entry)

Do you ever have that feeling, when you're in the middle of some crummy life "thing," that you've been there before? Emotional deja vu. It may not be the same place or even the same people, but it's the same experience and the same feeling.

Have you ever taken a step back and realized, I've been through this before. And I hated it the first time around...and the fourth and the fifth. Why am I here again? Why does this keep happening to me?

Do you then have a moment where you think, maybe there's something I'm supposed to learn from this that I haven't yet learned. One of those connect-the-dots epiphanies where something that wasn't at all clear to you before suddenly is.

Yeah, me too.

So, I've moved again. (Okay, over a year ago, but clearly I haven't adjusted yet.) And I'm miserable...again. It's been a roller coaster ride for me since this started almost two years ago, varying widely from "things are fine" to "I am miserable." Maybe it's the long winter. Maybe it's a need for a change of scenery. Maybe it's the recent loss of our dog. But I am solidly in the "I am miserable" camp right now. Regardless of what is exasperating the situation right now, the foundation for my misery is clearly my lack of adjustment to our new location.

During my childhood, my family lived in 3 different states, 5 different cities, and 9 different homes. I went to 8 different schools (11 if you count colleges). Since I went off to college my parents have moved 3 more times, and since I graduated from college I have moved 4 more times. That's a fair number of moves and a whole lot of starting over. I am a tree with no roots. More of a moss-free rolling stone.

But I have never liked moving. It's always been hard for me. I've have always longed for a "home town." A place where you "come from." A place where people know you and have your back. Roots for my tree. A place to be planted. A garden to grow in. But I've never had it. And I've always been envious of people who do. I have friends who have lived in the same general area their whole lives, or most of their lives, and they have these great networks of friends and family around them. Not me.

And as I've gotten older I've found that I've become more and more of a homebody. I prefer to be home than most anywhere else. I have become less and less adventuresome. Branching out, reaching out, striking out seems harder and harder to do. I've noticed that once I find a vacation spot I like, I like to go back there every year, rather than try a new place. I like being places that I know. Places where I feel comfortable. Places that feel a bit like home. And I just realized that, without intending it, two of the three children's novels I've recently written have a main character who has recently moved and is struggling with settling into a new place. I just had to watch my oldest go through the pain of moving just like I did so many times as a kid. And I hated it.

And yet, I keep moving. Only two of those moves (the ones in my twenties, when I moved for my own job) were driven solely by me. It has mostly felt like something that keeps happening to me, not really a choice I'm making. But regardless the reason, I keep packing my bags and my boxes and my life and hitting the road.

So, I was sitting on the couch last night, half reading a book and half thinking about the funk I've been in and how to get out of it. When all of a sudden I saw the bigger picture of all of these moves.

A string of moves, a string of low points where I struggle to adjust to the new place.

Why do I keep moving when I hate it so much? Why haven't I been allowed to settle in and put down roots? Why don't I have a hometown?

And that's when I wondered this: if I keep buying a ticket to this particular show, there must be something I want to see...something I need from it. But what? What am I supposed to be learning from these moves?

I'd like to think that I started this post with an end in mind. (I bet you'd like that too.) But not unlike how I write books, I'm not a plotter. I don't always know where I'm headed when I start out. I just tend to go where the writing takes me.

So here we are. We know I move a lot. We know there's some life lesson I'm supposed to be learning from all of it. And I'd like to think that once I truly learn whatever the lesson is, I might get to stay put...or maybe moving will become easier. But what is the lesson?

Any ideas?

Seriously, if you have any ideas, please let me know.

I don't know. It's almost always a lesson in fear. So many life lessons seem to be about moving beyond fear. So likely I'm afraid of something. But what? Maybe it's a lesson in letting go. Maybe I hold on to things too tightly, afraid I'll lose them if I loosen my grip. Maybe it's fear of change. (Though that seems too obvious.) Maybe fear of being alone. Maybe the opposite, maybe fear of depending on others. The nasty side effect of becoming too independent...the "no man is an island" lesson. I could probably twist it into fear of failure if I tried...that's always a good one to go with.

Maybe I need to see a therapist. (I know, we're all thinking that.) :-)

Maybe I'll figure it out soon. Maybe I'll find the lesson ladder that will allow me to climb out of this hole I find myself in. Maybe this glorified journal entry I've posted on my blog will help me work through it. And maybe it'll help you see something in your own life that deserves examining.


Until next time, when you find yourself frustrated or struggling with something in your life, take a step back away from the trees and look at the forest. Is there a pattern there somewhere? Is there a life lesson hidden in your struggle? If so, I hope you find what you need from it and head down the path of happier times.

I'll follow you.