Mid-Summer Crisis

The months of June, July, and August offer endless possibilities for children: lessons, camps, reading programs, etc. My seven year old is not interested. Summer for him is swimming in the pool, hanging out at home, and playdates with his friends. He wants nothing to do with anything that smacks of organization, instruction, or scheduling. I am baffled by this behavior. I blame it on the fact that he has no social media account, so he cannot understand what he is missing out on via social comparison.

I even restrict his screen use. It’s something that he needs to earn via reading, personal hygiene, and household chores. Many times throughout the day, he and his sister are happy playing with their respective figurines: she with her Polly Pockets (thank you e-bay) and him with WWE wrestlers. They set up bowling games with water bottles. They turn his bunk bed into a restaurant. I should be happy. This is what is encouraged by experts, what many lament today’s children are missing: self-directed, imaginative play. However, I am still caught up by the scheduled activities and excursions that my children don’t know they should want.

Clearly, I have too much time on my hands and too much time to reflect if my greatest parenting crisis is that my children are content to stay home. When the fourth of July hit, and our plans for the fell through, I was crippled with angst, experiencing a full blown mid-summer break crisis. What have we accomplished? What have we done?

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Summer SAHM-ing

I envisioned my summer nights differently: bursts of creativity, late night typing, epiphanies, and professional growth. Instead, I find myself heavy-lidded and drained, searching for mindless entertainment. My summertime days of full-time parenting are relentless. I understand this time to be a privilege, both because I can do this and because I do not always have to do this. In a few short months, I will be back in my college office and immersed in my conversations on writing, education, and culture. But for now, I am the invisible architecture of my children’s existence, creating boundaries and direction, making the space in which they live.

However, it is difficult to shed what I have come to see as valuable and productive. I prefer enduring work, a piece of writing, a new learning experience, then the ephemeral household labors. Last night, I began reading Charles Duhigg’s new book, Better, Stronger, Faster, the Secrets of Being Productive. I completed the first chapter on motivation, which discusses how when faced with challenging circumstances, Marines-in-training were asked why they were completing a particular obstacle. If they could identify a larger goal, such as building a better future for their family, they were more motivated to keep going.

While the concept of “big picture motivation” is not new to me, I began last night to consider it in light of my summer at home. Why am I limiting screen time? Why do I need to vacuum? I am setting up standards of behavior that will shape how my children live their adulthood. This exercise was a good reminder that what I am doing is important, even though it does not require me using my Ph.D., even though it is considered ordinary and to some unambitious.

Wandering Weeks Winding Down

For the past month, I have been un-tethered. My spring class did not fill, but my children were still in their school programs. For an introvert and “creative type,” this time has been nirvana. If you call sorting drawers, creating raised garden beds, mulling Foucault’s last seminar, listening to podcasts while housecleaning, thrift shopping, working on unfinished novels, trying out Youtube exercise programs, and reading six books simultaneously nirvana. Every night I have been exhausted and exhilarated by the minor adventures of the day. I wonder why we don’t provide ourselves with more opportunities to do all the tasks we have put off because they are frivolous and not on our long to-do lists.

For example, I have long wanted to take more photographs. However, instead of running with an idea or pausing to capture a moment, I let the impulse fade. This past month I have followed my whimsy, hanging out with the apple blossoms in the moonlight and waiting for foals to raise from their bed of tall grass.

Now, though, as I enter my final week, I cannot help but feel the angst of all I could not do. My novels could be more complete, my research paper written, my house cleaner, my muscles more defined, etc. I am trying not to get caught up in endpoints and remain within the happy space of the journey. I have realized my path, whether it be double majors or child-rearing and graduate school, will always contain multiple goals and identities. Therefore, accomplishments come more slowly. Every day I will continue to do what I love and what inspires me without trying to quantify it.

The Many Virtues of Frugality

While other children grew up collecting baseball cards and stickers, I grew up collecting coupons. At the library we would sort through a virtual box of money, extracting coveted name brands and the promise of free food if we timed our purchases right. Long before I studied rhetoric as a graduate student, I was a practitioner of the ancient rhetorical concept Kairos. To employ kairos in a speech, you must be aware of the mood of your audience, the context of the situation, and any atmospheric influences. Timing is more than simply showing up and reading from an index card at an appropriate place. The same goes for shopping. In this way, frugality is a difficult concept to apply for those who like to make a grocery list and enter and exit the store as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, I spent nearly two hours scouring their aisles of Meijer and contemplating my choices. It was a moment when the discount stars were aligned in my Meijer world, total purchase mPerks and credit card discounts that could be combined, plus Mother’s Day specials. On a different day, I would not have splurged on the higher end hanging baskets. However, when all the discounts and sales combined, I felt justified in my purchase.

This lengthy foray into the world of bargain shopping would not have been possible before my winter semester of teaching ended. In work intensive times, the variable of convenience reins, which is part of the problem with American life. When we are wrapped up in the hectic life of work, children, and activities, we become less mindful at the stores. We grab our grocery carts and rush around the stores, our minds engaged on what else we have on our agenda. A few weeks later we are presented with a credit card bill for $2,000 and wonder how it is possible that we spent so much money over the course of a month.

Being raised pinching pennies, I am mindful of every dollar I spent. I can recall every item that I spent too much money on by rushing my purchase, as I have constantly rehashed it (which isn’t really healthy either, but that is a reflection for another time). Because of this, I have never had issues with my credit card, paid off my student loans six months after graduation for both of my degrees, and have a healthy savings.

This success has bled into other areas of my life as well, a phenomenon that is well explained by the Marshmallow Test. In the Marshmallow Test, Walter Mischel led a study where children were given a marshmallow. They were told if they did not eat the marshmallow before the researchers returned that they would get an additional marshmallow. One third did not eat the initial marshmallow, practicing the willpower skill of delaying gratification. This ability to delay gratification was a predictor of future success. Frugality is essentially going through the marshmallow test every time you go to the grocery store. You have a choice, you can either get an item that is not on sale and end up with less groceries for your budget, or you can wait until an item is on sale, so that you can buy more food for the same amount of money.

I write this to remember these lessons and how they shaped me, as since I have had children, I have begun to prioritize convenience over saving money. This is not always wrong, as some weeks, you need what you need when you need it. It is being mindful of when you are making a necessary purchase and when you are making one just because you are in a hurry and your willpower is depleted. It is also about creating financial literacy for my children and teaching them the value of waiting.

Moving on, but still moving

Over the weekend I took a stumble down the stairs. What would have potentially laid me up or sent me to the emergency room a month ago only left me with a small scrape on my elbow. Why? Because due to some new core muscles and a daily focus on balance, agility, and strength, I can now take a fall like a stunt woman. Hollywood here I come.

Joking aside, I would classify my 30-day P90x challenge as a success. While I may not be ready to send in my before and after shots, I am seeing new muscles and shapes when I look in the mirror. I almost understand the celebrity trend to take a post-gym selfie. Almost. Maybe after a few more months of training, I will be ready to break the Internet.

The biggest benefit for me, though, is not aesthetic appeal. It is the promise of a more active future. My father has already had two back surgeries, and my mother is scheduled to have her second knee replacement later this year. I fully understand the high cost of not taking care of one’s body. Since I have begun working out sensibly, I have not wrenched my back or had issues with my hip. My left hip has a tendency to roll up due to past injuries and smooth ball joints. On a bad day, one leg will be an inch shorter than the other. This does not happen if I have strong muscles keeping all my parts properly aligned. I no longer fear walking on uneven terrain or hopping on the trampoline with my children.

Though my free 30-day Beachbody on Demand trial has ended, I will not stop working out. I will just be exploring cheaper options (i.e. free) through Youtube. Today, I completed level one of Jillian Michael’s 30-day shred program. I thought it was a well put together 30-minute workout, which contained a better variety of cardio and strength training than I found in most of the P90X3 workouts. It was like a less insane version of Insanity. I highly recommend it.

You can’t have your cake and burn it too

Today’s morning P90X workout was the full body equivalent of an ugly cry. Yesterday was a day of excess, more specifically daughter’s fifth birthday. One of my jobs as a parent is to orchestrate celebrations and participate in them. I do not want to be the person to turn down cake and ice cream. When one person refuses to ingest forkfuls of frosting, it diminishes the joy of others’ gluttony by reminding them that frosting is an unhealthy addictive substance made with animal fat and cups of powdered sugar. Quit ruining the party with your health nut rhetoric and practices!

Now, I am no stranger to the joys of junk food. However, I have been making more healthy choices since I began my own version of the Beachbody challenge. My chocolate chips have been replaced with cocoa nibs. I have replaced one of my cups of coffee with green tea. What is of endless fascination to me is how quickly the body adjusts to a new dietary reality. Yesterday’s cake tasted like heaven on the tongue, as the dissolving sugar sent a glowing beacon of bliss to my brain. Later though, as the cake and restaurant fare churned in my stomach, it was all I could do not to vomit. Apparently, I can now get food hangovers.

Today the party continues at my mother’s house. There were be more cake, ice cream, and plenty of Easter treats. Do I say no and experience the negative backlash? Why is there so much social pressure to ingest items that are bad for us?

Hell’s Kettlebells

The seed for my latest experiment began when I read Tim Ferris’ book, the 4-Hour Body. In this tome, Kettlebell swings are touted as the penultimate bang-for-your-buck workout. Ferris claims that these one movement will sculpt your body in small amount of time (10-20 minutes a week). This past semester, one of my 30-day challengers gave this workout rave reviews, saying how (much like Ferris) minute for minute it was the most efficient and effective workout she had tried. Enter New Year’s.

As I have learned in my research on willpower, motivation, and habits, how you frame an activity is key. In order to make this fun, I have been comparing different Youtube videos to try out Kettlebells this past week. Always practical, I began first with a ten-minute workout by a hot young, thing named Amy (you know the trainer types, all ponytail, teeth, and abs). It was not easy, but I made it through. My main complaint was the lack of a warm up and cool down. I Youtubed stretching exercises in an effort to stave off muscle tightness. Instead, I injured neck, as I am the type of person who can do a “halo swing” around their head with a large weight and then pull a muscle turning my head to the side.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiC0zylTB0w

Despite my cool down efforts, my leg muscles intensely felt the aftereffects. I have never before experienced pain going down steps, up yes, but never down. It impressed me. Running or using the elliptical machine did not leave such lingering effects.

Three days later, I tackled the 25-minute version by the same instructor. This included a minute warm up and cool down plus some cardio and floor exercises. The only turn off – burpees. Remember how I said how important it is frame activities positively? This is not possible for me when it comes to burpees. Sorry, no. I’ll drink some water and march in place until they are over.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-NUXOn1H1o

What really appears to deliver the pain from Amy is the many lunge moves she incorporates. When I was in physical therapy to stave off sciatic pain, one of the main exercises I received was lunges. So in addition to the kettlebell swing, which is always a key part of these workouts, I am getting the additionally muscle work necessary to maintain healthy hip alignment.

Three days appears to be my recovery time so far. Today I tackled my third workout by Fitness Blender. In terms of entertainment value, Fitness Blender lacks the upbeat trainer. Instead, you have a voice over while a robotic-like woman goes through the moves. I had to turn on some music in order to keep myself motivated throughout the sequence. Their kettlebell workout is eight moves that you repeat over the course of three rounds. While it shared some of the same moves as the previous workout, I felt it emphasized arm strength and squatting a bit more. I also did more swinging with this video, completing a total of 60 full two-handed swings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pDMOIlPLFE

 

So far, the only noticeable physical difference (aside from muscle aches) is a spike in my appetite. Me make muscle, me hungry. Yes, somewhere deep inside me lives Cookie Monster. I fear I will lose nothing but gain much density.

A Week of Photo Gratitude to Kick Off 2016

One constant tenet in positive psychology is gratitude. I have tried gratitude journals and the more enjoyable practice of having my family share their favorite moments of the day. This new year I have been approaching gratitude through my lens (thanks in part to a new DSLR from Santa). I stumbled upon this practice accidentally, as I tried to enjoy an endless game of hide and seek with my children. Children are by nature attention seekers, which can be emotionally draining, especially on what feels like day 100 of Christmas break. It’s easy to try to push back and isolate yourself in housework, a good book, or whatever it is you feel you “need to get done.” To appreciate the time, I pulled out my camera and began taking pictures. Immediately, I found myself smiling at their comically bad hiding places, at their antics upon discovery, and how they were getting along so well.

Today’s favorite picture: my hide and seek superstar.

A photo posted by Jen (@owlsandolives) on Jan 1, 2016 at 4:30pm PST

 

Once I began looking for new photo opportunities, I fell more in love with my environment. As an introvert, home is my recharge station. Like Batman, I have my own cave filled with gadgets of knowledge (i.e. books). One of my favorite book titles is for the prequel to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Little Altars Everywhere. This is how I feel about my house, like it is filled with little altars and nests. In fact, I may like it all too much, as the winter break bred in me a deep contentment that has diminished my desire to socialize and explore. Next week, I am hoping the fresh snowfall will give a new canvas of inspiration.

Day 6 of Meditation

30-day Instructor

So far, for me, meditation has become a way to re-center myself and re-awaken as I move towards my evening work time. The hardest steps I take every day are the steps upstairs to my office after I put my children go to sleep, especially since the time change. I have worked a full day, went to the gym, helped my son do his second grade math and took him to piano lessons, read books to my children, washed a kitchen full of pots and pans, on and on. I let these obligations create a ball of resentment inside me, and I begin to rebel against all the unmet needs that await in my inbox.

Meditation has helped me push through those negative feelings. I identify the stressors and then dissolve them in my mind. When you meditate, you are not allowed to dwell. You identify the thought and then…

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