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“Varsity-Level” Self-Care

You know that feeling you get when you’re back from a vacation and seem to have the right perspective on what’s truly important? After a weekend of cabin camping in the woods this weekend with my family – our only true “vacation” in 2020 – I’m hoping to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible.

I had a to-do list a mile long when I returned to work this morning, but today it didn’t bother me. I took it one step at a time, recognizing that it will all be sitting there waiting for me tomorrow…and the next day…and the next day. I want to prioritize being with my family and taking time for activities I enjoy.

Always the early bird, this weekend I was up before the others and able to sit outside in a rocking chair watching the sun come up between the trees with glimpses of the lake down below. It was chilly with my breath dancing in the air between sips of coffee. I enjoyed the silence as the clouds completed their metamorphosis from blue to pink to white.

As I was sitting there, I was thinking about a Reply All podcast I’d listened to recently called Happiness Calculator vs. Alex Goldman. The episode talks about a scientific attempt to measure the world’s happiness and sadness, but it ends with a discussion of self-care. The podcast hosts discuss their newly found ways to provide self-care, ranging from scented candles to baths, but they ask for “varsity-level” self-care tips.

Here’s my take. Scented candles, baths, lattes, and mani/pedis are all great, but they are not where it is at. Not for me anyway.

True “varsity-level” self-care is simple in theory but difficult in practice. It comes down to eating well, exercising, getting good sleep, and finding some daily time to unplug. It’s hard to go to bed at a decent hour when you just want some alone time. It’s hard to spend time making a healthy meal when it’s easier to call for takeout. It’s hard to work in time to exercise when you feel like you’re either working or watching children from sunup to sundown.

However, I feel better when I’ve slept at least seven and a half hours, eaten a plate full of veggies, or taken a walk with my pup.

I sometimes need to convince Present Me that Future Me would really appreciate this type of self-care. It is too easy to fall into the trap that Future Me will be strong and go to bed early, mediate, skip dessert, and take a walk. I’m not always able to convince myself to invest in Future Me, and I just skip it all to binge Netflix while snacking all night.

I have made strides though, in large part because I’ve made minor adjustments to my bad habits.

Have a hankering for an evening treat? Try drinking sparkling water first to see if that satisfies. If not, try some nuts or fruit.

Don’t feel like exercising? Walk on the treadmill while watching a favorite show or make laps through the neighborhood while walking the dog.

Want to eat better? Make one meal a week meatless. Once this becomes a habit, then add one more fruit or vegetable than you normally would for the day.

This approach takes time and discipline, but it’s certainly easier when I don’t have to think about it. When I always put some type of fruit on my morning cereal, it doesn’t become a choice or something to think about each morning. It’s just what I do, and I’m better off for it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s getting close to bedtime. I’m going to read (and hopefully FINALLY finish up Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton) before I pass out.

Take care of yourself out there.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Google Password Breach Alert

Well, I’m glad I froze my credit recently. On Monday I was notified by Google Chrome that several passwords I use for various websites were compromised in an app or company data breach. Apparently this is a new feature Google offers. So, although I’m not a fan of the data breach, my Friday Fav is definitely Google’s password breach alert.

The way I understand how it works is this. If ABC Company’s data was hacked and my online account password is now known, then Google informs me of a breach and suggests I change the password for all sites that use that same password. I don’t know where or how the data breach occurred, but Google identifies every site password I need to update.

It appears several of my passwords used across dozens of sites were compromised, so it took several hours on Monday to get all of my passwords changed. But, I’m done and feel a bit more secure again….for now.

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Work/Life Balance Will Come Another Week

Woah, this week has been crazy.

My husband has been in training. It’s virtual, so he’s still home, but he’s been totally out of commission to support the kids during virtual learning all day. I’ve gotten used to working in our prearranged two-hour shifts so I could do some level of focused work throughout the day while my husband is in charge of the kids, and that’s understandably not happening while he’s in training.

This has in turn made my days so much longer. I continue to get up before the sun to focus before people begin to stir. This remains my best chance to get any deep work done for the day.

From 8am to 5pm I’m running around like crazy feeding people and animals, guzzling more coffee, picking up, answering email, doing laundry, getting myself ready for the day, attempting to get through my work to-do list, washing dishes, helping with virtual school, and jumping on conference calls. It’s a lot, and I get frazzled easily these days.

Yeah, yeah. I hear you.

“Forget about cleaning up, leave the dishes, and let the laundry pile up. It will always be there tomorrow.”

That’s true. However, chores are about the only thing I can do well while being repeatedly interrupted by children in virtual school. Plus, you know, they have to get done at some point.

I’ve also heard the advice to “just pick one to three work tasks to complete a day, get them done, and call yourself accomplished for meeting your goal. Don’t overdo it right now and coast.”

Well, do you even know me?!

My largest hang up with this advice is that as a consultant I’m billing my time to clients. I’m not sending an invoice requesting payment for an hour of my time if in that time period I’ve had to stop seven times for multiple minutes each time. So it ends up taking me all day to get a justifiable number of measurable and meaningful work hours in each day. And I’m already working a reduced schedule of 30 hours a week!

I’m spent and tired. I’m finally getting a few minutes to write a blog post now because it’s Wednesday and it’s “my night off.” I’ve banished myself to the basement to watch a shirtless Kevin Pearson on the big screen since I missed last night’s episode of This Is Us.

Lesson learned for the week: Duel parenting during a pandemic and virtual school > single parenting during a pandemic and virtual school

But, I already knew that before this week started, so I feel like I should have been allowed to skip this lesson.

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

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Friday Fav: Schitt’s Creek

I’m late to this trending comedy show that recently ended its six season run on CBC Television. However, I binged it all this Fall on Netflix. Schitt’s Creek is an amazingly well done, funny series about a family who falls from riches and finds themselves living in the small town of Schitt’s Creek.

The show has real heart, showing how a quirky family comes together during this difficult time in their lives and accepts each other for exactly who they are inside. Every character takes turns being oblivious or over the top, but there’s always at least one other character who is grounded in reality.

The cast includes Eugene Levy (Johnny Rose) and Catherine O’Hara (Moria Rose), who are parents to two older kids (played by Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy). I love that Daniel Levy created this show with his father (Eugene Levy) and gets to star along side him and occasionally with his sister Sarah Levy (Twyla Sands).

If you are looking for a new show that is sure to produce belly laughs, tears, and smiles, check it out! Happy Friday!

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Visiting Shenandoah National Park

One of the items on our family’s Fall bucket list was to view Fall foliage. The best place I know of in our area is to travel to Shenandoah National Park and travel down Skyline Drive along the Appalachian mountains. Alone the 35 mph road, there are multiple scenic overlooks and stopping points to look at the views, take a hike, or go camping. It is a busy place, especially during Fall weekends.

Before we went, of course, I had to scope things out. For my future reference and others who may consider a similar trip, here’s what worked for us.

  1. If you have the luxury of being flexible with the date you go, check the weather in advance. We wanted to work in a hike, so I didn’t want to be doing that in the pouring rain.
  2. Go early to avoid lines. Since we were going on a weekend, we got up EARLY and ended up at the park before 9am. We entered right away without waiting. As a bonus, we approached the mountains as the sun was ascending, which cast a beautiful glow among the yellow and golden leaves. We even caught sight of a vibrant rainbow in the early morning light as the fog was burning off.
  3. Buy a park pass in advance. You can shorten your time in line even further by buying a park pass in advance. Don’t forget that 4th graders get free admission to all National Parks! And, because of the pandemic, 5th graders can also get the pass that lasts until Aug 2021.
  4. Have snacks available. There are four entrances to Skyline Drive, and we came in from the North most entrance at Front Royal, VA. A few miles from the entrance is The Apple House, a restaurant famous for its apple butter donuts. These donuts are now a new family favorite (and we obtained another check on our Fall bucket list by trying a new food). These were a well-earned snack after our trail hike.
  5. Plan your must-see stops along the way. There are a number of great overlooks or places to stop and hike. The National Park Service website has a great list of hiking trails sorted by location that provides an easy-to-read key on important information about each hike. You’ll notice when you’re on Skyline Drive that there are mileposts along the road that note the location, so it will be easy to spot when your planned location is coming up. Front Royal, where we entered, is mile marker 0 and it continues South to mile marker 105. We hiked to the Fort Windham Rocks because we wanted an easy, short hike that didn’t have a high elevation. We had a great time, and now we can say we’ve hiked part of the Application Trail!
  6. Decide what you want to do for lunch or dinner. We knew we wanted to stop for food, but because of the pandemic, we didn’t want a sit-down restaurant. I scouted a few options that we ended up skipping this time around because the kids fell asleep, but I would certainly try Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen or Burgers N Things (currently closed Sundays).

One of these years, I’ll book a weekend away for us in the mountains to enjoy the sites for more than a couple of hours. But, this year, it was just what we needed. We had a great time out together and everyone seemed to enjoy the long-ish car ride, since it’s such a novelty these days to be out on the roads.

Posted in Blog

October 2020 Book Recs

A large portion of October has been spent working through Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, but I’m not even close to finished yet. Hopefully I can share my review of that book in November.

This month I finished five books, and I highly recommend them all!

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done – This is another book from Laura Vanderkam. I have read several of her books and often listen to her Best of Both Worlds podcast. This book is one of my favorites of hers because is embraces my reflect, plan, live philosophy. Vanderkam tracks her time more diligently than I do with the same focus of trying to make the most out of her life and her time.

My favorite takeaway from this book is the notion that you have three selfs: past, present, and future. She presented these various versions of yourself in a way to advocate for taking actions today as your present self that past and future self will appreciate. For instance, my past self likes to look back on happy memories we’ve made as a family and my future self likes to have plans to look forward to and enjoy. As a result, I should focus my present self on creating memories and being in the moment with them as they are happening.

Sex and Vanity – This is Kevin Kwan’s newest book. He is the author of the Crazy Rich Asian series that I loved. This book is in the same vein and was a pleasure to read. It’s about Lucie Churchill, a young woman who feels trapped between her father’s English upbringing and her mother’s Chinese heritage, and how she comes to accept herself and find love along the way.

The Hate U Give – This is a book by Angie Thomas. Actually, it has a bit of a similar theme to Sex and Vanity, with a more obvious focus on the protagonist’s situation of being trapped between two worlds. Starr Carter is a high school girl from a poor neighborhood who is going to school in suburban, upper-middle class neighborhood. Her friend is shot and killed by a police officer and she’s the only witness. The novel focuses on how Starr reactions to this situation and determines what to do next while attempting to fit in at home and at school. It’s a powerful, eyeopening story that is extremely well written.

U.S. Presidents – Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy winner, has written a number of children’s books. I figure what better way to get more history in an easily digestible format. I picked up his book U.S. Presidents and devoured it in a couple of hours. Sure, there was certainly some material in there that I already knew, but there was plenty more that I learned about our various presidents. Did you know that Lincoln signed a bill to start the Secret Service on the day of his assassination? Or that Teddy Roosevelt road a horse for 100 miles in one day to stop army soldiers from complaining about riding 10-15 miles per day? I even read sections to the boys, which they seemed to enjoy. Double win!

I Was Told It Would Get Easier – This is Abbi Waxman’s newest novel, which I enjoyed more than her 2019 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I Was Told It Would Get Easier is about a mother daughter pair taking a tour of colleges together with a number of adventures that occur along the way. I like how the story is told, jumping between the perspective of the daughter and mother where you see they are more alike they either one likely knows.

I think I’m going to start weaving classics into my “to be read” list in 2021. Any recommendations?

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Amazon Wish Lists

Have you been in the situation as the holidays approach that grandparents, aunts, and uncles start reaching out and asking what the kids want or need as presents? In the past, I’ve given different ideas to different people, which I then need to keep mental track of so that I don’t tell multiple people the same item.

Today’s Friday Fav is my solution: Amazon wish lists. If you have an Amazon account, you can create a list. To start, log in, select Accounts and Lists from the top right-hand corner, then find the Create a List option.

We do so much shopping on Amazon that it’s easy to add something to the list at any time. When you’re shopping and on an item’s page, there’s a hyperlink under the Add to Cart button that will instead allow you to add the item to a list.

You can even add ideas to your list, so it’s easy to add items to your list you can’t buy on Amazon. For instance, I’ve added various gift card ideas for local shops for the boys to their lists.

Additionally, you can add comments, like what size or color to purchase or what other stores carry the item (and may have a cheaper price).

You can even add multiple people as editors to the list, allowing multiple parents to contribute.

Once the list is put together, you can opt to share the list with whomever you’d like. If someone buys an item off the list, then it is automatically removed so there are no accidental double purchases. Gift givers can even elect to have the item shipped right to your home, which is a popular choice for us this year since we won’t be seeing a bunch of people in person this year.

If you use Amazon’s wish lists or something similar and have any tips or tricks, please share them in the comments.

Happy Friday!

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

How Is One Working Mom’s Time Being Spent Differently in 2020 vs. 2019?

My husband thinks I’m nuts, probably for several reasons, but this week’s justification is my detailed time tracking exercise. I’ve talked about this practice before. I tracked about three months of my time in 2019, and it gave me a great perspective about where my time was going throughout the day. And, bonus, it convinced me I really did have time to start blogging.

I view time tracking as no different from budget tracking. There’s only so much money to play with in my budget, and there’s only so many hours in my day. Time and money are both limited resources. I want to use them in the best way possible.

If I want to make the best use of my hours, then I need to know where my time is going. I’m not completing this exercise to maximize my productivity but rather to maximize my happiness. It is a helpful reflective exercise for me. Am I spending my time on activities that are shaping my life’s narrative in the way I want it to be written?

I track my time in a simple Excel file with the first column dedicated to every 30 minutes of the day. Then, each remaining column is a day of the week. For each 30-minute cell, I note what I was doing at that day and time.

I also shaded each cell based on how I perceive that time in the moment. Some activities are always coded the same way. Naps and sleeping are always blue for “sleep.” Any time I’m doing activities for my job, it is “work.” Other activities vary from day to day. For instance, when I make dinner while my husband is playing with the kids outside and I can listen to music or a podcast, then it is “leisure.” If I’m making dinner while kids are complaining they are hungry, my husband is watching TV, and the dog is under my feet, it’s an “obligation.” If the kids help me, then it’s “family time.”

I was really curious on how my weeks look now in 2020 with virtual school while working from home. I feel so much more drained, but why is that? So I set out to explore what’s going on. I tracked the week of October 19 both in 2019 and 2020.

When I compared this one week in 2020 to how my time was spent on average in 2019, it’s not strikingly different. I’m getting the same amount of sleep and spending the same amount of time on planning activities. For the most part, my time spent working and with family is largely unchanged. At first, that was a bit surprising because I feel like I can’t separate from my family right now with us home all of the time.

There are a few notable differences. First, I get a bit more leisure time, up an additional 36 minutes per day. Second, my daily obligations dropped some, which appears to be because I’m not driving people to school or activities every day. That’s saved me about 24 minutes per day. There’s a correlation here that suggests perhaps that fewer obligations means more leisure time for this mom. I’ll take it! I’m speculating that because my children are getting older, I can use that free time for leisure while they are home because I’m not constantly on top of them supervising every move.

For a more detailed look, here is the week of October 19, 2019 and 2020 side by side (with the color coding only so my life is still a bit of a mystery).

During this week in 2019, I took a day off of work on Thursday to join my younger son for a school field trip. (Remember those?!?) Our nights were filled with watching the World Series, and the weekend included birthday parties, shopping trips, and soccer games. A different world.

In 2020, my work is largely broken into two-hour shifts with exceptions and flexibilities along the way. There’s a family trip to Skyline Drive within the Shenandoah National Park and some outdoor events with friends and family included to break up the week.

When I dove into the narratives for each week, I saw that I spent 2.5 more hours reading and 4 fewer hours watching TV this one week in October 2020 than I did this same time last year. That wasn’t too surprising to me because I’ve already doubled the number of books I’ve read this year compared to 2019. Reading and watching TV are both leisure time activities (most of the time), so if one goes up, the other likely goes down.

What really surprised me (though it probably shouldn’t have) is how much LESS time I have by myself in this pandemic world. The week of October 19, 2020 provided me with 20.5 hours of alone time (that’s 18% of my awake hours); whereas the same week in 2019 gave me 45 hours of alone time (a whopping 40% of my awake time). That’s a HUGE difference to this introvert.

Now, logically, this is not surprising. I used to work from home all week while my husband was typically commuting 1.5 hours away and my kids were in school. I was still home a lot, but there was silence. There was focus and a time for deep work. Today’s required multi-tasking and division of my attention is what is eating away at my energy. (Exhibit A: I have spent almost two hours writing this blog post and have been interrupted by virtual schooling kids approximately 50 times to help brainstorm writing assignments, see what shade of black a crayon makes, let the dog out, see another student’s “cool” selfie icon, let the dog in the house, etc., etc., I’m tired. It’s surprising this post makes any sense at all.)

So what are my takeaways?

I’m going to plan more “off duty” time and actually take it! My husband and I already give each other a night off a week, but maybe we need to do something more like that?

I also need to lower my standards during school and work hours. (Shocker, my standards are too high!) I’m finding it extremely frustrating to try and write and focus on something while being interrupted constantly, so I need to reframe my perspective on these shifts with the kids. My goal is to help the kids. It is a bonus if I get anything else done. I better move my writing time to another part of the week.

I’ll probably conduct this exercise again in the future when I fill particularly balanced or overwhelmed to see how life has changed. Here’s to more balanced days ahead!

Posted in Blog

Halloween Scavenger Hunt Printable

I got really peeved sometime in early September when I received an email from Pinterest saying it was time to inspire the spirit of Halloween. My first thought? I’m am barely surviving virtual back to school with two young children and, you know, try to keep my job, feed everyone ALL THE TIME, and maintain some minimal level of sanity. I don’t have time to put even MORE on my plate, especially with Halloween feeling like it was months away.

But, with a bit of time, my perspective shifted…a bit. I adopted the stance we parents so often take. Yes, I’m tired. However, I’m excited to bring my children joy and a bit of normalcy to their lives right now. I will look back at this time with fondness for the memories we’ve created together, and these memories so often don’t happen if momma doesn’t plan something. So, we got into the spirit of Halloween.

We picked up a new activity this year that’s pandemic friendly and may become a new annual tradition. At the suggestion of a friend, I created a Halloween scavenger hunt and sent the neighborhood kids out in small teams to find all of the items around the neighborhood.

We actually turned it into a game and timed the teams to see who could find the most items in the least amount of time. The winners earned a price. They were even sent out with a phone to take pictures to prove they found everything, which was such a novelty for my boys. I think just being allowed to carry around a phone was half the fun!

So, if you’re looking for a fun and easy way to celebrate Halloween this year, I recommend a scavenger hunt. You can download the hunt I created or you can Google for bunch of other options.

Happy hunting!

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Benefits to Staying Home During the Pandemic

It’s been an off week for me. I’m not feeling this routine anymore.

I have to admit that I’m tired.

I’m tired of being home so frequently. I’m tired of everyone else being home with me so frequently. I’m tired of only working two-hour shifts at a time so my husband and I can trade off watching the kids. I’m tired of virtual school. I’m tired of making everyone three meals a day. I’m tired of it all.

I have been trying not to complain because I fully recognize how lucky we are here. My husband and I are each able to work from home and maintain our incomes. We have access to food so I can make us three meals a day. The weather is nice, so we can get outside and do things around town and in the neighborhood. We are all healthy, and the kids actually seem to be mostly thriving in this new normal. We have it good.

The days aren’t hard, really, just the same day on repeat – a perpetual Groundhog’s Day.

My husband has kindly suggested taking some time off of work, and I see where he is coming from. Honestly, I don’t want time off of work. I want to be able to focus on my work tasks for more than 2 hours at a time. I would like to 100% focus on something for a significant chunk of time (and not have to be up at 6am to do it). I miss silence. I would like a little more separation between work and life, but that’s not in the cards for now.

So, instead, I’m going to reground myself and focus on the benefits and my favorite parts of being home so much now:

  • Our afternoons, evenings, and weekends are a lot less hectic without a ton of after-school activities.
  • I can give my kids hugs when they want them, even in the middle of a school day.
  • My husband can make dinners more frequently since he’s not commuting.
  • I always get to go shopping alone while my husband stays home with the kids.
  • I’ve far surpassed my reading goals for the year.
  • The weather has been nice since the pandemic started.
  • At least the neighborhood pool was open this summer so we had somewhere to cool off outside in the heat.
  • The kids reading levels have improved with more one-on-one attention.
  • I’ve gotten the chance to deeply explore how my children learn best, where their strengths are, and their areas for development.
  • We have been able to have more family time playing outside, watching the Great British Baking Show, and reading Harry Potter. (We’re up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which may take us a few months to finish.)
  • Mr. 7-Year-Old learned to ride his bike. Mr.-Then-4-Year-Old finally got the courage to regularly ride his big-boy bike rather than a tricycle.
  • We tackled home projects we’d been putting off because we finally had the time to focus on them together.
  • I have been on SO MANY walks.
  • Our house has been cold and illness free since March.
  • The boys are having playdates outside exploring creeks, playing on swings, and generally running around together rather than inside playing video games.
  • My house is now REEEALLY organized.
  • I haven’t felt the need to buy the boys new clothes. Jean got a hole in the knees? Oh well, we’re not going anywhere.
  • Our senior pup and my husband are closer than ever. She’s basically become his shadow.
  • But…we spend so much time at home now that the dog doesn’t sleep at the foot of our bed anymore. She stays downstairs, I presume, to get away from us for at least part of the day. I have room to stretch my feet out now, until about 5am when she strolls upstairs to join us.
  • We’ve all become a bit more resilient in times of uncertainty and change.

Just the act of writing out the upsides makes me feel a bit better. I still miss silence and being able to write without being interrupted fifteen times. But, the only thing constant is change. I will get silence again someday, and then I’m sure I’ll lament about the absence of regular commotion. It’s best to enjoy what you have and while you have it.

Photo by Chris Ross Harris on Unsplash