June 24, 2015

Embracing the Toy Years

We have toy clutter.

A LOT of toy clutter.

This is because we have a lot of toys.

Do we have too many toys?

Probably.

Do we need to "cull the herd," as my husband is fond of saying?

Yep.

But even once we cull the herd...and do a major-league organizing overhaul, as I manage to do once or twice a year...we will still have toy clutter.

Why?

Because we have a 4 and a 6 year old.

And while I am not a fan of clutter of any kind. And I am not a fan of looking at piles of toys all the time...which aren't appealing to the eye even when they're cleaned up. I've come to a conclusion:

These are The Toy Years.

You begin life as a parent in the Baby Contraption Years. That's when your house is taken over by swings and bouncy seats and pack-n-plays and high chairs.

Then you breathe this giant sigh of relief as you pack up those monstrosities. And you think to yourself, "Finally, no more baby clutter."

And then the toys move in.

First there are the Big Toy Years, when your world is taken over by giant play kitchens and kid-sized tables and chairs and Little Tykes cars. Then come the little parts...Legos of every color, shape and size and tons of teeny-tiny Playmobil parts and Littlest Pets accessories. Not to mention art supplies EVERYWHERE.

At the moment, I sit astride both of these stages...we still have a play kitchen and we have lots of Legos. The only kind of house filled with more kid clutter than ours is one with more kids...especially if you add a baby (and all of their contraptions) into the mix.

Which we will not.

But I digress.

So we have a lot of toy clutter. Everywhere. All the time.

And sometimes it drives me nuts. And I think it drives my husband nuts pretty much all of the time. (This is illustrated by him threatening to throw all of the toys away at least twice a day.)

But the thing is...our desire for a clutter-free home is not really in keeping with our desire for happy kids and a relaxed life. And I'm not entirely sure what it's driven by...though I have a sneaking suspicion that it's a combination of the tidy homes we both grew up in and the Pottery Barn catalog.

Either way, I've decided to try and let go of my constant desire for things to be picked up and put away and nice and neat. I really don't want to have a constant "organizational/decluttering/cleaning" buzz in the back of my brain...I imagine it sounding a lot like those old blue-glowing bug zappers. (Do they still make those? I had a friend as a kid whose house backed up to the woods and they had one by their patio. I can still hear it...dtzzzz...dtzzzz...dtzzzz.)

The day will come...and it will come quicker than I would like...when there won't be any toys anymore. They won't want to build crazy flying contraptions with their Legos and they won't want to create forts from blankets and pillows and they won't want to use their beautiful imaginations to create elaborate games that involve getting out every flippin' toy in the house.

And some days that will feel great...to have a house that is once again mine. But mostly, I think I'll miss this. A lot.

So I'm going to embrace The Toy Years. And I'm going to carefully step through that minefield in my family room...because stepping on Legos hurts like hell. And I'm not going to shake my head when I walk into my daughter's room and see the fifty million things she has displayed on the top of her dresser or the ridiculous number of toys in her closet or the unkempt stack of books on the floor beside her bed.

I will still cull the herd a bit. Because there are toys they don't play with that can be donated so someone else can enjoy them. But the rest of the stuff? I'm just going to let it go and live in it.

And smile.

Because these are The Toy Years. And they're pretty great.

Until next time, spend some time enjoying the stage of life you're in right now. Whatever it is. Quit fighting against it and trying to make it something it's not. Let it go and live in it.

Embrace it.




June 10, 2015

Free Kindle Book Download Today Only (6/10/15): Romantic Mystery, Eclipse Lake by Mae Claire

Hey friends!
Just wanted to let you know that an author friend of mine, Mae Claire, is offering a free kindle download from Amazon today only (6/10/15) of her romantic mystery, Eclipse Lake, as part of a promotion for the release of her newest book, Myth and Magic. 

Here's the book blurb and the link to the free download. If you enjoy Romantic Mysteries, check it out!


Eclipse Lake

Small towns hold the darkest secrets.

Fifteen years after leaving his criminal past and estranged brother behind, widower Dane Carlisle returns to his hometown on the banks of sleepy Eclipse Lake. Now, a successful businessman, he has kept his troubled past a secret from most everyone, including his seventeen-year-old son.

But memories in small towns are bitter and long.

Ellie Sullivan, a nature photographer for a national magazine, has a habit of ping-ponging across the map. Her latest assignment leads her to Eclipse Lake where she becomes caught up in the enmity between Dane, his brother Jonah, and a vengeful town sheriff. When freshly-discovered skeletal remains are linked to an unsolved murder and Dane's past, Ellie is left questioning her growing attraction for a man who harbors long-buried secrets.


Could be a fun summer read! Check it out or free on Amazon today:

http://www.amazon.com/Eclipse-Lake-Mae-Clair-ebook/dp/B00L78GM60/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433941823&sr=8-1&keywords=eclipse+lake

Until next time, happy reading!



June 9, 2015

Making Peace With It


Make peace with it.

For me, these words always conjured up the idea of some major grievance. You were seriously wronged or hurt by another person. You're holding a major grudge. You're holding onto hatred or blame or guilt. Something horrible happened to you, or you did something awful in the past.

These were the things that you made peace with.

Or so I thought, until the other day, when a friend used these words with me when we were talking about something I was struggling with internally. She asked me if I could just make peace with it. Could I accept that it just is and that is okay? Could I let go of the black and white/right and wrong thinking that was forcing me to pick a side in my internal debate? Could I give a little on both sides? Could I just make peace with it?

I this case, "Making peace with it" had nothing to do with another person. No one had done anything to me. I hadn't made some horrible mistake. It had to do with two dueling parts of my psyche. It had to do with me trying desperately to come to a conclusion before moving forward. And since I couldn't find a way to reconcile these to opposing forces in my mind, I remained stuck. I was asking her advice on how to resolve this debate.

But instead of helping me resolve it, she asked if I could just accept it. Accept that there were two sides to this coin that couldn't be reconciled. Accept that maybe both things are true. Decide that that's okay. And move on.

Make peace with it, she said.

I just stared at her. Blankly. Frozen by the idea.

I am a debater. I like to hash things out until I come to a conclusion. Talk through it, and then decide. Believing not so much that there is an absolute right and wrong in most cases, but that there is a right and wrong for me...or at least a right and wrong for me right now.

Instead, she was asking me to hold both sides-- both of these beliefs, these realities that seemed contrary-- and allow them to coexist. In me.

That is so weird.

I looked at her dumbly. "I'll have to think on that," was all I could say. She seemed okay with that.

But I've been turning it over and over in my brain ever since we talked.

How could I make this work?

It's true that I had been stuck. The internal debate had kept me from being able to move forward. I wasn't making progress one way or the other, which was hugely frustrating. And maybe my inertia was, in fact, due to my inability to reconcile these opposing forces: a belief and a feeling, both true, both real, and both completely at odds with one another.

Make peace with it, she had said.

So I decided to give it a try.

When I had thoughts on one side of the coin, I acknowledged them, accepted them, and tried to do something to support them. And when I had thoughts on the other side of the coin, I did the same thing: acknowledge, accept and act.

I don't really know how it's working yet in terms of unsticking me. It's still too early to tell. But I have discovered one thing. Despite the fact that the beliefs behind them are contrary, the actions I have been taking to support these ideas have not been in opposition. Which is kind of cool. And I feel a little bit lighter without the weight of the ongoing argument inside of me.

So, this begs the question: What else could I benefit from making peace with?

I'll have to think on that.

Until next time, look inside yourself and see if there's anything you can make peace with...and then give it try. You might feel a bit lighter too.




May 31, 2015

The Lost Art of Puttering


You know what you don't hear of a lot of people doing anymore?

Puttering.

You hear of rushing and running and going and doing. But you don't hear a lot of puttering. As in:

"What are you up to today?"
"Oh just puttering around the house."
or
"Thought I'd putter in the garden this morning."

I think we need more puttering.

putter [puht-er] verb (used without object) 1. to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden. 2. to move or go in a specified manner with ineffective action or little energy or purpose: to putter about the house on a rainy day.

We're always doing something these days. Always being productive. Or we're checked out in front of some electronic devise. But I bet if you had asked my grandma on just about any given day, at some point during that day she would have described herself as puttering.

That's not to say that my grandma wasn't busy or productive. She was. But it seemed, somehow, different. A part of life, but not all of life.

Puttering, for adults, is the equivalent of being bored, for kids. And research is telling us that kids today don't have enough of that...that downtime, that time to do nothing and be nowhere. And I'd venture to guess that we adults need more of that too. Time to do nothing and be nowhere.

Time to putter.

So, I'm bringing it back. Puttering, that is. In honor of my grandma. And my wellbeing.

Until next time, go occupy yourself in a leisurely and ineffective manner. It's good for you.





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 former...like 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.

Sincerely,
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.