Monday, July 21, 2014

Escape the Overwhelm?

I finished the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte two weeks ago. I’ve been churning over the many ideas and thoughts I had while reading the book and trying to figure out what to write, where to focus. There is so much to the book that resonates, I don’t know where to begin:

…People like me tend to get confused over which demand is more pressing in the moment, so we don’t have clear focus on what to do. We can’t decide. So we end up doing both work and home activities in an ambivalent, halfhearted way, which produces mediocre outcomes and vague disappointment in both.
Sometimes the sheer agony of leaving the warm baby or the weeping toddler and walking out the door in the morning to go to an unforgiving workplace was enough to sap my strength for the rest of the day.
The minute I cross the threshold into the office, the chatter would start in my head: “You left your children. You’d better do something extraordinary to make up for it.” …the guilty, sluggish start tended to make my workdays longer, the churn of pollution in my brain making it harder to think. Then I’d get stuck on deadline or in traffic and guiltily slink home later than I’d hoped. 
But that ragged feeling of being neither here nor there and vaguely inadequate in both is what I remember most about being a working mother with little kids in the early twenty-first century. For years, I imagine myself sliding sideways into the day, reluctant and resentful, skulking like a crab.
I can identify with Schulte in her struggles with career and family and the book reminded that I am not alone in my frustrations as a working parent. We are all battling the ideal worker norm that glorifies face time in the office and an American culture and government that places work and achievement above family and personal well being. But I was also very frustrated as I read, wondering when I would get to the light at the end of the tunnel, the bright spot that tells us a better day is coming. Schulte tries to shine a bright spot on companies that have created flexible work places and women that have escaped the overwhelm. It is somewhat encouraging but still falls short of hopeful. Unless you have plans to move to Denmark sometime soon, the nirvana of family friendly culture.

Despite this, I'm glad I read the book. It made me want to take steps to change the system somehow. And I realized something that just might be a game changer for me. I need to banish the ambivalence. 

Banish Ambivalence. I didn't realize I'd been stewing in ambivalence until I read Schulte's book. To be ambivalent is to be preoccupied with both what is wanted and what is not. I need to banish any ambivalence I feel about my career and instead embrace it – and my life - fully. My career choice does not allow me to work from home (except occasionally) and I do not have a part-time option. I am not my own boss. And as much as I like to imagine the possibility, I am not going to quit my career and become a writer/blogger/chef/trainer/b&b owner anytime soon. What I do have is a challenging and rewarding career that offers a great deal of flexibility and autonomy. I am fortunate to have options and I need to focus on the resources I have available and stop wishing for alternatives that don’t exist. 
Embrace whatever it is you’re doing, whatever you’ve chosen, with passion and see where it leads. Then adapt as you go. 
My new mantra: Banish ambivalence. Embrace the life I've chosen.

And a few tips On time management I found helpful:
1. Choose ONE thing that’s most important to do every day. Do this first in your day when your brain is most alert.

2. CHUNK your time. Multitasking makes you stupid. Work in concentrated blocks of time with regular breaks. When it is time to work, shut off email and turn off the phone. When it is time to be with family, do the same. Fit in the 5% stuff-of-life crap (emails, calendar appointments, school forms) after you’ve made time for what’s important. Sounds simple right? But it's not. Interruptions are everywhere.

3. Take 5 minutes to pour the clutter of anxieties into a Worry Journal. This will help uncontaminate your time. I am finding that spending 5 minutes on Monday morning dumping out all the worrisome thoughts in my head allows me to then tackle projects and set priorities for the week without the drain of my own fears and doubts.

I love that this book includes simple time management skills. For as much training as I've had in my life, no one ever taught me how to prioritize life and work in an always on, answering emails at 11pm "cycle of responsiveness" that we live in today. I recommend Overwhelm to anyone struggling to find time, happiness, and success while striving to live an authentic life.

My to-do list will never get done. But I hope I can find time for what is most important and live the life I want. I’m certainly going to keep trying. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Of dogs and marathons

Can the 4th of July really be here and gone already?  The July 4th holiday always feels like the mid-point of summer to me. Time is going too fast! Roxie is a 4th of July baby and we celebrated her birthday with a special pink dog treat and a trip to the dog park for a swim on a hot morning. Roxie is now 12 years old, an old dog by any measure. I told Charlie and Izzy the other day that Roxie was my first baby. They thought that was funny. My life with just Roxie 12 years ago was so very different from what it is now. When I brought Roxie home at 8 weeks old, I had just returned from living in Italy and was settling into a new job in a new city where I knew no one. We navigated St. Louis and then Kansas City together before we expanded our world and made room for our lovely little family. I think we've done pretty well for ourselves. 

I've heard it said that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. In marathon running, you have to be physically prepared, but true success in the race depends on your mental strength and attitude. My mental approach to a marathon involved dividing the 26.2 mile race into smaller segments, usually 4 sections of 6 miles each (the last 2.2 miles you just gut out and get across the finish line however you can). The first 6 miles was always about taking stock, first of my body - checking for any early muscle aches or soreness, determining how well I timed my last ingestion of calories and fluids, assessing whether I wore the right clothes and if I took the correct precautions against chafing - and then of my surroundings – figuring out where the wind was coming from and how the weather might change in the next 4 hours, and checking my pace in that beginning crush of runners. I tried to establish a comfortable pace in those early miles, one I could sustain for the entire race. 

Lately, I've been thinking about the parenting marathon as a 21 year race.  In reality, you attach your race number for the rest of your life, but let's consider just the childhood years for now. I've decided my mental approach to the parenting marathon will be to divide the race into 4 sections of 5 years each (and gut out the last year and get across the finish line anyway I can). I’m coming to the end of my first segment of the parenting marathon right now -  the years before kindergarten starts and the outside influences really creep in. Unlike with my running, I have approached this first leg of the parenting marathon without any training. I suppose training in other aspects of my life could translate to the parenting marathon - like having amazing parents and a loving family, and experiences like marriage and teaching. But definitely not the sport-specific training (i.e. actual parenting!) I prefer. It has been at times chaotic, inspiring, discouraging, rewarding, unexpected, and not without a significant amount of chafing. 

The first segment of a marathon always made me the most apprehensive, not knowing how my body would feel or respond, and not being able to predict all the adversity that might come my way. I had no idea what to expect in my first 5 years of parenting and the not knowing caused me many sleepless nights. I wondered if they would ever sleep through the night and worried about when they would take their first steps or utter their first word. Making sure your child is on pace with major developmental milestones is a lot like monitoring your splits at each mile marker. I'm a scientist. Making it about the numbers is reassuring, calming.

I always knew when I hit the 6 mile mark in the marathon that I would be ok, that I could indeed finish the race. And it was in the second 6 mile segment of the race that I felt the confidence of my training kick in, and when I could finally realize that I was in the middle of an amazing adventure. I knew then that the race would be a test of my will that would only make me stronger. My fears faded and my goals came into view. I focused on running my best race, staying mentally tough, and enjoying the moment. In the second 6 miles I always found my groove. 

In parenting, like running, I know there will be unexpected turns and hills not clearly marked on my race map. But hopefully the first 5 years of parenting – surviving, getting my race number on and to the starting line on time -  will give me confidence going forward. Here’s to finding my groove in the next leg of my parenting marathon. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Future gymnast or rock climber

Izzy has always been a good climber. She has strong arms and good balance. I've seen her climb a playground rock wall with ease and her teachers tell me she can go all the way across these monkey bars at school by herself. I'm pretty impressed at how she gets herself onto these bars, hangs there, and then pulls her legs up. Nice skills!

Note: it was water day on the playground so she was in her swimsuit. She is in need of a new one, I'm reminded as I see these photos from school. This one is a couple sizes too small!

I started teaching both kids how to hang from their knees at the playground. With help, they can both do a forward flip around the bar and a penny drop - sis, remember those from gymnastics? Good times.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

All about the Juice

It’s been 2 months since I discovered Juice (with a capital J) and it’s time I write about it here. I am in love with juice, completely and totally hooked. Here’s why.

I discovered the idea of juicing when Ryan and I watched the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The documentary follows the story of one overweight and disease-plagued Australian in his quest to lose weight and get healthy once and for all. He travels around the United States for two months and talks with people about what they eat and why. During this time he goes on a juice fast, drinking only green juice for the entire 60 days. He loses a lot of weight, his health is drastically improved and he is a changed man. The most incredible story in the movie is actually about a truck driver he meets along the way and inspires to change his entire life. Drinking only green juice for months on end is drastic and not recommended without doctor supervision, but what I like about this approach was that it included real food and no diet gimmicks. The juice was made from fruits and vegetables purchased at grocery stores, Walmarts and Farmer’s Markets. He lost the weight through juicing and then established a healthy lifestyle around whole foods and home cooked, healthy meals. 

Ryan bought me a juicer for Mother’s Day (he knows just what makes my heart go pitter patter) and my love affair began. I like switching up my diet now and then to give my body a jolt, so I did a three day juice reboot (I’ve done a 21 day cleanse in the past as well) to really understand what juicing is all about. I lost about 5 lbs and have kept it off – not just because of the three day juice but as a result of changes I’ve made to my diet since then.

We bought the Breville juicer, the same one used in the Fat, Sick movie. The kids really liked the boxes it came in!

The three day reboot is no joke. This is only some of the fruits and veggies I prepped to get me through the three days. But just imagine putting all that healthy food in your body and nothing else. It's like rocket fuel for your body!

This picture above shows all the ingredients that would go into one (mostly) green juice. How can that not make you feel healthy?! Some of the nutrients are lost through juicing, and most of the healthy fiber. This is why you wouldn't want to juice always and forever. But on average 70% of the nutrients are present in the juice and considering how much you are taking in, it adds up.

The three day reboot taught me I could eat less and not feel hungry, and reminded me of how good it feels to feel less full (I learned this from the 21 day cleanse, but it is easy to forget). Since the three day juice reboot, I’ve been having juice at least once a day for breakfast and several days a week for lunch. I feel fantastic! Like I said, I’ve kept the weight off (a total of about 8 lbs since last January which is also due to my new dedicated and consistent exercise routine, details in another post) and I feel invigorated. I drink only one cup of coffee in the morning, don’t experience a crash in the afternoons, and over all have a much higher energy level than before. My skin looks brighter and better (at least to me) and I really do feel refreshed inside and out.

Ryan and I always try to eat healthy. For the past two years our weekday breakfast routine has been a shake, usually including frozen fruit, kale, avocado and almond milk. The juices feel like a slightly healthier and more nutrient packed version of this routine. And they taste really, really good! (Except the ones with beets. We’ve decided we just really don’t care for the beets.) When my schedule is tight, a juice lunch is an easy way to stay fueled in a hurry. A snack of almonds, maybe a piece of fruit in the afternoon gets me through the day.

We try to keep most of our juices about 70-80% vegetables, this cuts down on the sugar and calories. But I don’t feel the need to calorie count with the juices – I really don’t think you could drink enough to gain weight on juice. They leave you feeling pretty full.

I bought this cookbook recently to give us more juicing ideas and I like how the sections are divided into different types of juices. 

The Fuel juices are best for meal replacement and have some added fat or fiber in the form of nut milk, avocado or coconut oil.

Ryan is the world's best sport - always willing to fully support these new things I try. How many husbands would drink only juice for days on end because their wives think it's a good idea? He may be a little hungry, but he is healthy! The kids also love the juices, though Charlie prefers ones with mostly fruit. They don't drink only juice for breakfast like we do, but I will give them a glass of juice when they ask for it. With none of the additives of the store bought versions, it is truly healthy for them. 

We’re just scratching the surface but I’m really loving this health habit. I take a break from juicing on the weekends and I find myself craving that Monday morning pick me up. A juicer is not cheap, but we consider it is an investment in our health, our future. If you live in the KC area, there is a really great juice bar called T. Loft with two locations, one dangerously close to our house. The juices aren’t cheap but they are the real deal (their sugar free baked goods are also really good!).

This is a picture of my birthday breakfast this year, enjoyed on the back deck. I may have added another year to the calendar, but I feel like I've taken several off in the last 6 months through a healthy diet and exercise. Here's to getting older! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

In the moment

Summer days are going by fast and I'm doing all I can to live in the moment. Because it is summer, I let her put on three more coats of face stick and wear her fuzzy slippers to swim lessons. Summer is not about the small stuff.

Summer is about late afternoons at the pool and eating dinner on the deck. It's about baseball with family and a first spin in a kayak. Summer is learning to play tennis and getting underdogs on the swings, and bedtimes that get later and later every night. The sun doesn't want to set and neither do we.

Summer is biking to dinner and drinking our morning coffee while the kids play in the yard. Our summer memories will include playing in the sprinkler, our first garage sale, and evening walks through the neighborhood. We'll remember blueberry and mint Popsicles and lemon bars that left us with sticky fingers.

Charlie went to his first summer camp at our church and had a blast. When I asked him what he liked best about camp he told me "no naps and taking my lunch." It was good practice for me to start packing his lunch for kindergarten.

We have things on our summer to do list - a Royals game, movies in the park, a trip to the zoo. But what I want to do most is enjoy the long hours of daylight and say "yes" when the kids ask to go to the pool. I want to look past the toys scattered on the floor and the dishes in the sink in favor of a game of freeze tag and catching lightning bugs at dusk.

This is our last summer before Charlie starts school, before we're booked solid with games and camps. This is the summer of ages 5 and 3, and kids too big for strollers but just right for laps and shoulders. We'll wear out our swimsuits, go through gallons of sunscreen and track dirt all over the house. We will swim, run, jump and climb without a care in the world. Life is good. Summer is here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


One word pretty much sums up how I've been feeling lately. I'm reviewing grants right now for a meeting at NIH next week and this process always throws my world upside down. I drop everything for two weeks to get the grants read and reviewed (not to mention a three day trip to the east coast and back) and the rest of my life spirals on without me. I'm going to be reviewing grants three times a year for the next three years (!!) so I have to find a way to get through the process with my sanity intact, my family and my lab only slightly neglected, and with the wheels securely on the bus. 

I'm reading the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte to find some answers. The descriptions of her overwhelmed days are eerily just like mine. I'm hoping there are some nuggets of wisdom and inspiration in these pages. I'll report back and let you know.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th

I'm not especially superstitious. I've always liked when my birthday falls on a Friday. 13 is my lucky number, no matter the day.

Last year was a big birthday for me. But turning 41 is like turning 22. It doesn't register. It is unremarkable by comparison, by its unlucky order in the birthday queue. But it's fine by me. I like a mellow birthday.

Birthdays are strange once you become a parent. In parenting, everything is about the kids. Days and nights revolve around them. Even my thoughts, constantly invaded by worry or daily needs, are not truly my own any more.  Kids' birthdays are a big deal - and it is your job to make sure they are. It feels strange to shift the focus to your own boring adult birthday. You are a million years old (way older than 12 anyway) and you don't want toys, so what is the point?

I used to dread my birthdays because I didn't want to get older before I checked off my big life list regarding family and career. Now all the major boxes are checked, blissfully so, and I dread my birthday because I don't want to get old before I can enjoy it all. Dread is a strong word. Greet apprehensively, perhaps. I'm in the middle of it, this life of mine, and it's grand. I want to soak it all in and it is moving way too fast. We've moved beyond diapers and are starting kindergarten, and before I know it we'll be learning to drive and filling out college applications. Slow down, life. Birthdays, please stop coming so quickly.

I'm still figuring out what my 40s are going to be about. My 20s were about travel and learning. My 30s were about starting my career and my family. My 40s....? Not sure. But I know I don't want to just maintain the current path and coast through this decade. I want my 40s to be memorable, remarkable, noteworthy. Guess I'd better get busy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Celebration at the Station - 5

I still have a few more St. Louis pics to post, but I don't want to forget to post pictures from Memorial Day. This is a yearly tradition for us, and both kids have been going since they were just babies. We love it and the weather seems to cooperate while the crowds get bigger each year.

Temperatures were just right - not too hot, not too cool, and the threatening rain held off until after we were safely back home.

Many of our friends and family were out of town this year, but we had some friends of Charlie and Izzy's with us (and their parents, who are also our friends) for something new. There were 7 kids under 5 on our combined blankets. It was chaotic. And so we drank. A lot.

Ryan's parents were with us again and the kids are always glad to have a selection of laps to rotate through during the course of the picnic.

Here is a collection of pictures of the kids from each of their prior Memorial Day celebrations...

Year 1 at Celebration at the Station for Charlie, at about 3 months old. He loved it!

Year 2, the food and drinks kept him entertained.

Year 3, the fireworks were a big hit!

For Izzy's first Celebration at the Station, she was just shy of 2 months old.

Year 4, starting to understand the meaning of the day.

Izzy's second celebration was all about drinks from special cups and cute hats. Amazingly, both Charlie and Izzy could sleep during the noise and chaos as babies. 

I can't say I miss lugging all the baby gear up and down that big hill. This year felt surprisingly simple - no diapers, no strollers, no bottles, no breast pump. I did bring an extra set of clothes for both of them, and I might take that precaution until they are teenagers. I really don't want to repeat the events of Year 3 that ended with Charlie like this...

This photo was from last year - we were living in the loft just across from Union Station and Izzy looks so young!

The kids have never been afraid of the fireworks, even as babies. Now they really look forward to them every year, just like us!

You can find all the previous Celebration at the Station posts here

Monday, June 9, 2014

Moms who coach

This article has me thinking. At this point, I don't know that Izzy will have any interest in sports. But I was a late bloomer myself, preferring dance and gymnastics to all sports prior to junior high. Maybe she just needs time and encouragement. I agree with this author's point that more women are needed on the sidelines -  at all levels. I guess I'd better be ready to coach when the time comes!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

When I started reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green a few weeks ago, I immediately regretted the decision for two reasons. The first reason being that it is a book about teen cancer patients falling in love. I should know better. Why read something so assuredly sad? And the second reason being that I knew after a couple chapters that I was going to lose sleep over this book. I wouldn't be able to put it down. 

Throughout most of the book, I waited defensively for the sadness to kick in. But to my surprise, this book about two teens who meet at a cancer support group is not a classic sob story. The book is more teen angst and young love than courageous cancer battle.  The main characters are sarcastic and real, their moods up and down with the highs and lows of teenage strife. There are sad moments to be sure, but they didn't make me regret reading the story. 

"You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice."

The book has a cult teen following and it is easy to see why. The main characters are smart and funny without being mean, and they don't feel a need to fit in and be cool. It reminds me of the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I also loved. The teens in Stars and Wallflower are not scary and horrifying to this future parent of teens. These are nice kids that navigate a difficult time in their lives with grace, humor and a sense of self that is rare even in adults. It gives me hope that my kids will somehow, someday, get through their teenage years intact.

"I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

I wonder how Gus and Hazel would have fared if not for the cancer, if they'd met in another place and time, under different circumstances. Haven't we all wondered that at one time or another? You meet someone special when you are too young, while going through a life crisis, while still figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. I think relationships happen in our lives for a reason and at just the right time. But it takes years and perspective to see the impact, feel the lasting significance.    

"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world...but you do have some say in who hurts you." 

I've always been a sucker for a good romance. First loves may end, but they stay with us forever. 

The movie version of the book comes out today. Will you see it?