Today I am Grateful For… Date Night

Last night, I laughed harder than I have in a long time. I laughed more often than I have in a long time. I felt closer to my husband than I have in a long time. I felt more like myself than I have in a long time. All thanks to date night.

I know I am probably not breaking any news when I mention that new parents often get busy and don’t have as much time to themselves. Between planning meals, budgeting, talking about how much our baby ate, slept, pooped (color, amount, frequency – the romance of it all), walking the dog, and trying to catch up with family and friends, it’s more difficult than before to connect one-on-one.

Spending time alone together is something couples have to be intentional about before they go down the very slippery slope of ignoring their relationship for 18 years, coming out the other side with an empty nest and living with someone who is essentially a stranger. According to Time Magazine’s recent special edition on The Science of Marriage, divorce rates spike around the age that couples go back to just the two of them. Time alone with your spouse/partner is important, just as important as spending time with your kids. So you have to make time for both. It’s easier said than done, and sacrifices have to be made.

Last night, we made one such sacrifice. My mom (saint and goddess) watches our baby while we work… yes, we get free daycare by an amazing caretaker and family member. With both sets of parents here, we also have the back-up help of my in-laws, which makes us extra-super-double lucky. On Thursdays, my mom keeps the baby late so we can go to the gym together. Fitness is very important. But last night, we made the wonderful call of not going to the gym, and using the time to go to dinner instead.

We got home on a rare 75-degree day in February, walked our dog, held hands and chatted before we got ready for dinner. I put on make-up. He did his hair. We put in some effort for each other. My husband found a new sushi place for us to try, so we loaded just ourselves (no car seat or diaper bag) into the car and toodled on our merry way.

Arriving at Cherry Hills Sushi Co. (name drop because it was delicious) we bellied up to the counter and watched the friendly staff hand-roll our sushi. We tried flights of sake, which the staff educated us about in great deatil. We looked at each other and talked… without being interrupted. Best of all, we laughed. A lot. We both felt invigorated, youthful, and happy to be with each other in that moment. We had agreed not to talk about the weekend plans, the budget, or anything else on our adulting checklist. This freed us up and forced us to live right there in the present. Every aspect of our meal was fulfilling.

With the taste of ginger on our tongues, the smell of nori on our fingers, and the feeling of the love that brought us together in our hearts, we paraded back to my parents’ house to pick up our darling girl. Not before stopping for giant ice cream cones. Walking into my parents’ house and telling them about our evening, I could feel in my face the genuine happiness I was exuding.

We were still giggling when we woke up this morning.

Posted in Happiness

On Body Image and Anti-Body Shaming “Light”

Charged with finding a picture of my elementary self for our school’s yearbook (yep, I am a teacher) I spent some time last night digging through a bucket of pictures. A pleasure I am sad to say digital photography is doing away with (but that’s for another post.) Looking through some photos of younger years, high school, college, my 20s… I caught myself wishing I still looked that way. That my body were that lean, my hair that blond, my face so nicely kissed by the sun. Thinking back on who I was at each of those moments in time, I realized that at each of those stages I was insecure. I’d be in a bathing suit around my friends and be constantly comparing myself to them. They always seemed to be in better shape, or have better hair, or know more about fashion. I always had something, let’s be honest, many things to criticize myself for… um, hello! I wasn’t fat. At all. I wasn’t ever ugly. Fashionable? Never. I live in Colorado. I can wear flip-flops to a five-star restaurant. But, I digress.

The point is I was never the hefty, wobbly, scaly-skinned, acne-ridden monster that I’d made myself out to be. If I can be so bold, I was actually pretty damn hot in some of the photos I uncovered (albeit awkward in high school as all budding youth are.) The crux of it is – I never appreciated any of it in the moment. At any given time, I was (am) comparing myself to someone who seemed hotter, who seemed to fit into their clothes better, whose tummy seemed more deserving of a bikini than my belly. Now, post-baby and 50 pounds later, I find myself once again thinking – What was my problem? I’d give anything to look like that again.

Always wishing I looked like the me of yesteryear is no way to go through life. Nor is comparing myself to other women, no matter how beautiful they are. Especially now when I really am at my largest. With a belly that hangs over my jeans for the first time in my life, skin loose and stretched from carrying a child. Brow furrowed from adulting. Hair less blond for being inside too much… Shall I go on? No, of course not. This blog post isn’t about self-deprecating  and certainly isn’t to body shame. It’s to get some perspective.

Really it’s to beg the question – why are girls that start so naturally unashamed raised to be women who are uncomfortable in their own skin? That’s something I am going to have to research and think about as I start to raise a daughter. I am not into the notion that self-love means allowing yourself to maintain an unhealthy weight as a lot of the anti-body shaming camp will have. I am anti-body shaming light perhaps. Of course you should develop self-love at any size, but also, shouldn’t the most important thing be health? If you’re healthy, you feel good. If you feel good, you look good and vice versa. All sizes are not healthy, extremes on either end of the spectrum are unhealthy.

With this in mind, I am trying to find some sort of balance between urging myself to shed some pounds and get to a healthier weight, and also a weight at which I feel more beautiful; while also not totally body shaming myself. To embrace my flaws while still bettering myself. What a pull it is in two separate directions. Sometimes I just tell myself what my mom once told me… “We’re fat. At least we’re not ugly.” I usually chuckle at that and try to remind myself of my positive physical qualities.

Oh I know some of you are thinking “but beauty comes from within.” Sure it does, but that doesn’t mean outer beauty accounts for nothing. Just ask the peacock or the mallard. First impressions matter, physical attraction matters. Personality can enhance or remove people’s overall likability and therefore their attractiveness can go up or down. However, we come across so many people in our lives, we cannot engage with each of them to determine their true value… we make assessments based on what we see most of the time. So, it’s OK to want to be prettier, or thinner. It’s not OK to hate yourself in the interim.

Find the balance. Love yourself. Increase your health. Have fun along the way.

Posted in Happiness, WTF?!

Finding the Positive in the Chaos

Sitting on my couch, phone in hand, devouring post after post about Trump’s Muslim Ban I realize that I am doing the exact opposite of the goal I set for myself for 2017 – to find joy.

Part of achieving my goal of finding joy is to unplug. Considering that according to Simon Sinek, Facebook and other social media increase depression, it’s probably likely that unplugging from time to time is a good thing. I think there should be a period of time EVERY DAY set aside to unplug and experience life in real time. But, with all that’s going on, I find myself more plugged in than ever.

This is good and bad. Obviously being informed and involved is good… but I’m being drawn very far down into the rabbit hole, and it is causing me a lot of anxiety and unhappiness. It’s even effecting my marriage to a small extent. My husband has made comments about how I’m on my phone a lot. I’ve found myself (I’m ashamed to admit,) looking at my phone while we are watching our favorite sitcoms together. This is a treasured time, our favorite day of the week is Wednesday when our shows are on and we can sit and relax and have a laugh together… but I’m mired down and obsessing because there’s so much going on that I cannot control and it’s scary!

As sat here, I caught myself floating in the abyss. I thought I’d take a few minutes to re-focus on the reality of my own life. (That’s not to say I won’t work to help the reality of those less fortunate, but give myself some perspective on my own life.) Some life-affirming statements may be in order. I can’t go spiraling into depression, depleted of any gumption I may have had. That won’t help anyone.

I have a lovely home.

I have a lovely home where I live with a loving husband.

I live with a loving husband and a beautiful baby.

My loving husband takes care of our sweet, sweet dog.

We have jobs. We have everything we need. We have a good life.

It is OK to enjoy my life. It is OK to enjoy these things that not everyone has.

I took a step today that I never would have before. I drafted and sent an email to our Senator to encourage him to stand up against the Muslim Ban and all of Trump’s knee-jerk orders. I’ve sent post cards about education. I’ve rallied. I have been empowered to effect change and I will continue to use that power… but I will also enjoy my life, or what am I fighting for?

The sun will rise tomorrow. I will go teach children. I will go have coffee with my mom. I will cook my family dinner. I will read for Book Club. I will write my blog. I will thrive and rise up and live and burst with love. I will not let the man keep me down.

 

Today I am Grateful For…

I am grateful that I remember a time before cell phones. A time when you had to wait for someone to call. You had to make plans and stick to them and trust that your friends would show up at a decided location at a predetermined time. Guys had to ask you out to your face. You had to blush and say yes or no. I am so glad I got through adolescence awkwardly making real connections with real people, learning how to make eye contact; rather than worrying about whether or not I should add another girl on Snapchat so I can see what her life is like and debating whether adding her the day after meeting her would be too weird. (I actually overheard this conversation between three 19 year olds in the gym locker room yesterday.) I am glad the social norms of my day were based on actual interpersonal interaction. If we wanted to be friends with someone, we just talked to them and became friends; perhaps we positioned ourselves favorably in history class so we could have a reason to speak to them. But we spoke to them. Directly. Like human beings. We experienced things in real-time instead of spending so much time documenting it all. I hope someday we as a society will learn to balance our use of social media and be normal people again. Let’s bring back the Art of Conversation.

Posted in Attitude of Gratitude, Happiness

Why Daily Gratitude?

I want to be more happy! I’ve noticed a breakdown in my happiness level as I’ve become a full fledged adult, despite the fact that my life (while not easy) is full of blessings. I have decided to cultivate my happiness. I have had some helpful (by no means comprehensive) training on brain science, growth mindset, and the way our brains learn which will help me do this.

Background Information

When we learn something we create neural pathways, small connections in our brain. As we practice the skill, the neural pathway becomes stronger and stronger. When we learn something for the first time, it creates a connection, but if we never try the same skill again, we will never become expert at it, or we may lose it altogether. When we practice the same skill over and over again, our brains become wired to do that skill more easily, until at some point we no longer have to think so hard to do it.

Think of riding a bike. The first time you tried it, it was difficult, but as you practiced you built muscle memory. The neural pathways in your brain became stronger and stronger until you got to a point where even if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, you’d probably still be able to ride a bike. I assume the idiom “it’s just like riding a bike” comes from this concept.

Our brains don’t only build pathways of information and skills, they build pathways that make up our default thinking. The more you pick out and talk about the negatives of a situation, the more hard-wired your brain becomes to do that, until your brain is trained to see the world through a negative lens. The same applies with positive thoughts. The more you practice finding the positives in everyday situations, the more you build those neural pathways, until eventually, your mind tends toward positive thinking. Pessimism and optimism, based on this information, I believe are not inherent traits, or maybe they are, but they can be trained away.

How Brain Research is Helping My Happiness Levels

I was always a positive person, an optimist enthusiastic about life. However, after some negative experiences, and being in a workplace that was conducive to complaining and sarcasm, my optimism slowly broke down until I was genuinely unhappy. I didn’t even notice this was happening! It was a slow breakdown over several years of constant negativity. Even after five years out of that job, I find I am generally pessimistic or anxious about the bad things that could happen. Now that I have noticed my negative tendencies and have some tools and brain research to show that this can change, I am actively working to be more happy.

For instance, when my team at work gets into a pattern of complaining, I try to reposition the conversation. We all need to vent, but if I feel it is affecting my mood, then I assume it is affecting their moods as well and I try to be the driver of positive thinking. Or when I find myself playing out some horrific scenario of possibility in my head, I stop myself before I let it create fear and take over my mood (more about this will come in a later post), and I force myself to think of the most likely scenario, which is usually positive. If I am thinking of a car accident, I immediately remind myself that I get home safely every day and most likely I will get home safe again today. This doesn’t mean I am not cautious, but that I need to be more realistic about the positive outcomes of everyday situations.

On Gratitude

In my quest to be more happy, I came across the Self Journal which includes some of these findings. The Self Journal is a daily planner meant to help you establish and maintain goals. One key component is morning and evening gratitude. To reflect, even if for only a minute each morning and evening on things we are grateful for helps to build those neural pathways to positive thinking. I’ve heard and read this concept in a number of other places, so the concept was not new to me… but I’d never held myself accountable for it. Now that I am being intentional I find that it does help to create a subtle shift in my thinking for the day. It helps me start and end on a positive note, which will surely help me to reawaken the optimist inside.

I’ll be posting my gratitude often to help me realize my happiness potential. Hopefully it will help you to shift your thinking as well. Be grateful for the gifts in your life. They are there, big and small, should you choose to find them.

Today I am Grateful for…

I am grateful to see my baby’s growth. At 8 months she is learning so many new things. This makes it easier to accept her sleep regression. She was sleeping through the night for months, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been up three times a night. I’m a zombie. But… I’m a zombie that gets to see her healthy baby learning to crawl, trying new foods, attempting new consonants in that sweet baby babble. I am tired but I am grateful.