self-care

The Apple Break

I wanted to start good habits when I began to work full-time.  I freelanced for many years working outside of my home, and I knew this new position would keep me more tethered to a desk.  We are supposed to get two 15-minute breaks along with our lunch break.  I noticed coworkers going outside for their cigarette break.  But I craved to move my body and breathe fresh air.  I wanted get out of my work mindset a bit, take a real break to renew and recharge myself for the rest of the workday.  So I invented the apple break.

I love working in downtown Providence, RI, because it’s so walkable with many options to choose from. There’s historic Benefit Street.  I can stroll along the Providence River, or go downtown to window shop and people watch.  Even the Roger Williams National Memorial is a convenient destination.

I would get outside rain or shine and start to walk in one direction, eating my apple. Sometimes I’d pick up the pace and walk quickly, sometimes it was a more leisurely stroll.  And as soon as I finished eating the apple, I’d change direction to turn around and head back.  Then I always slowed down my pace to walk mindfully.  I’d take deep breaths and take a moment to notice my surroundings.  I would observe the ivy climbing up a tree trunk, the fragrant blooming flowers, the breeze, or simply marvel at the changing color of the maple leaves.

And I found it was easy to spend one of my 15-minute breaks outside.

Now that I’ve been working full-time for a year, I can reflect on this new habit and how I’ve incorporated it into my daily work schedule.  It’s definitely easier to get outside when I’m in Providence as opposed to the other courthouses around the state.  I prefer fresh, local apples that are in season.  And when I couldn’t get apples, I’ve been able to enjoy smoothies on my walks as well.

Now that autumn is around the corner and it is officially apple season in New England, I’m ready to restart my apple break habit.  I can’t wait to visit the farmer’s market and stock up on crispy, fresh apples.  My 15-minute break will be more pleasurable.  It is a true break in the literal sense.  I’m away from my desk, moving my body, and invigorating my senses while eating delicious fruit.  Then I’m ready to tackle whatever challenges may come my way.

self-care

The Placeholder

A week ago my favorite radio channel was sold. I had listened to WBRU since I was a teenager.  Every car I ever owned had 95.5 as a preset.  Now I didn’t dare to press it for fear of hearing the contemporary Christian station that bought it.

Yesterday I was tuning my radio to see what other channels are out there. I had become accustomed to my six presets that it had been many years since I last checked.  I found a station playing Bob Marley.  I immediately set the preset.  As I continued on my commute to work, my newfound station seemed to fade.  There was no static, just silence.

Today I realized that I don’t have to fill the void WBRU left immediately. That silent channel can be a placeholder while I wait to find a new radio station that resonates with me.  And if I press it accidentally, I no longer have to worry about feeling sad or angry that my favorite 95.5 WBRU is no longer there.  In the meantime, I can continue to listen around and expand my listening repertoire.

Sometimes we get complacent or we feel stuck in a rut. And an outside force removes us from our comfort zone.  Today I’m going to keep an open mind and use this placeholder as an opportunity to expand my listening horizon and see what else is out there.

self-care

I’m tired of living in fear

We are all connected.  And the speed of information has advanced our society into a global community.  You want to learn about X?  What does Google say?  Information is literally at your fingertips if you happen to own a smartphone.  And knowledge is power.

Even though my family got rid of cable years ago, we still have access to the news from our phones and apps on our TV console. I love that we can choose what to watch when we want to.  But we do channel surf through YouTube and you can’t escape the collective fear that is ever present.  The recent tragic events and acts of violence have pulled at my heart.

I love working in Providence. It’s a city rich in history and I’m proud to be a native Rhode Islander.  It’s a beautiful city to walk around:  the Brown University campus, the financial and downtown districts, and historic Benefit Street.  But I’m tired of living in fear.  If a car comes racing by or a strange box truck is around, I tense up and anxiety takes control.  My leisurely walk is interrupted and I’m terrified for a moment, especially if I’m around city hall or a federal building.  It never used to be this way.  Fear never played such a prominent role.  I started working full-time a little over a year ago.  And I loved the city.  I drank in the architecture, the people on their way to work, students walking to class, and the waterfront.  It was a welcome sight.

But over these last few months, the anxiety has been building. Yesterday as I was walking to the parking garage, a box truck stopped right in the middle of the street and began to back up.  Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue.  There’s construction everywhere and the street was a one-way.  But the truck seemed to be backing up and keeping  in pace with me as I walked.  Cars behind the truck began to honk, and it seemed like the truck was going to back up regardless of traffic.  This odd behavior made my anxiety soar.  I started to run, and all I could hear was the incessant “beep, beep, beep” as it continued to reverse.  I had the worst panic attack.  I feared it was going to blow up right then and there next to the financial district.  I had visions of me getting into the garage on the fifth floor and being toppled over by the above floors during the explosion.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that garage.

Once I got behind the wheel and started to exit, I shouted, “I’m tired of being afraid! I’m tired of living in fear!  I’m tired of freaking out over a truck!  I just want to be able to walk in peace without feeling terrorized!”

I don’t have an answer during these crippling moments. I just try to deepen my breath.  I remind myself that meditation helps ground me and I should meditate more and journal more.  Events will happen that are beyond my control.  And one thing I can control is my breath.

How do you bring calm when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed?

self-care

For the love of library books

I love to borrow books from the library: ones that inspire me to keep on learning; that expose me to new authors, and I love to try new recipes from the many vegan cookbooks available to borrow.  There’s a recommendation bookshelf at our local library that I like to check out.  That’s where I found Gabriel Bernstein’s “May Cause Miracles,” Austin Kleon’s “How to Steal Like an Artist,” and Carrie Bloomston’s “The Little Spark.”  Now I follow Gabriel Bernstein’s work and have bought most of her books.  I even attended a workshop she led earlier this year.

Last week I found “We: A Manifesto For Women Everywhere” by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel. The inside jacket read, “How much more effective and powerful would we all be if we replaced comparison with collaboration, cooperation and compassion?”  I was intrigued.  There are four essential practices that lay as a foundation for the nine principles in the book.

I am starting to incorporate the essential practices into my daily life: gratitude, gentleness, responsibility, and meditation.  I acknowledge that I’m just starting.  Doing the practices with perfection is not possible or attainable.  Perfectionism has been a roadblock of resistance for me.   I get so enthusiastic when I find a new book and gung-ho to follow the program.   And then I get sidetracked and that energy fizzles.  Or I absolutely love the library book, but once I actually purchase it, the interest has waned.  I believe there’s magic in holding a hard-cover book.  If I buy the soft-cover version, I instinctively know that there’s something missing.  Maybe it’s the texture of the pages or the weight of the book.  For example, in Dani Shapiro’s “Still Writing,” the book had thick paper with rough edges.  It had an earthy feel to it.  When I bought the paperback, it felt neutered and too perfectly smooth.  I was disappointed and couldn’t continue where I left off from the library one.  I seriously want to replace it with the original hard cover.

But I don’t feel that “We” is a program with concrete steps and rules. A manifesto is a declaration.  And the principles are the guideposts.  Although the nine principles should be done in order, it feels fluid and organic.  I can approach each one on my own terms.  There’s no set deadline or sense of urgency.

To help me incorporate the practices, I created a summary for ease of reference, so I don’t have to flip through the book for the main points. Although it seems like a lot to tackle, and I’m feeling a sense of overwhelm, I equally feel the desire, the necessity, and power and potential for change that is needed in today’s world.  To start, I have decided to focus on one essential practice a week, while incorporating the ones before it.  Then I feel I can move through the principles authentically.

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This week I’m focusing on gratitude.  I pasted the summary I created from the book below:

“When we focus on gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.” Kristin Armstrong, Olympic gold medal cyclist

Daily:

(Keep a small notebook or space in your journal for your gratitude list. Use it as a spiritual remedy to either kick-start your day or get a restful night’s sleep.  And you can always refer to it halfway through your day if you need an instant hit of positivity)

  1. Write down ten things in your life right now that you’re grateful for (find at least one thing you’re grateful to your body for)
  2. Read it back to yourself aloud and say, “Thank you for …..” to each item on the list.

Action: Today I will notice all the nice things that happen, and I will say thank you. (Find ways to say thank you to your body through your actions)

Affirmation: I am lucky, and I am blessed.  My life is full of wonder.

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I would love to meet up and chat with other women as they are working through the book. I am going to blog my progress in a later post to check in.  My hope is to inspire other women to join me as we “replace unhealthful habits with a more positive, peaceful, and rewarding way of living.”

Will you join me on this journey?

self-care

All you need is Love and an amazing OB

(Here is proud mama and the amazing Dr. John Morton)

Whenever anyone asked me when was my baby due, I would state matter of fact, “Valentine’s Day.” I knew I was due around the 13th, but Valentine’s Day had a lovely ring to it.  I had my heart set on having a VBAC.  We were having our baby at the same birthing center and with the same OB I had with my first pregnancy because it was an incredible experience.  (See Waiting for baby girl – part 1)

I only had two ultrasounds during this pregnancy. One to confirm that yes, I was indeed pregnant and the other when I was almost due.  The birthing center was also a teaching hospital and I made an appointment for my ultrasound there.  The residents could learn and I could bring my then 3-year old too.  She even got to hold the “magic wand” around my belly.

We were having another girl and were just waiting for natural labor to begin. On Wednesday, as I was getting ready for my OB checkup, my water broke a lot.  I called my OB right away, and he said to stay at home to wait for active labor to kick in before going to the hospital.  Because I was a VBAC, I’d be constantly connected to a fetal monitor.  So I followed my doctor’s instructions.  We sent our daughter over to my sister’s to await the arrival of our newest edition.

I felt a lot of back labor and my water was continuing to break. I checked in with my OB the next day.  As long as I felt fine and didn’t have a fever, we could stay home.  It was the same scenario on Friday too.  We did go to the hospital that evening to check in.  But I didn’t feel comfortable in the tiny labor room they had available and my husband didn’t like the duty nurse.  We went home with the promise to return the next day if nothing changed.  I was grateful to sleep in my own bed that night.  But I was growing weary of the back labor and not progressing.  And my daughter was with my sister for three nights already, going on the fourth, waiting for baby.

So we went back to the hospital on Saturday. I was given a somewhat larger labor room.  They hooked me up to the fetal monitor, and the baby was strong and perfect.  I was having sporadic contractions.  Active labor never arrived.  On Sunday, Valentine’s Day, we had another gentle cesarean.  My OB was my support as I got my epidural shot.  I felt grateful and comfortable, knowing that I was in good hands.

When my pink baby arrived, she let out a snort first instead of a cry. She was here, my Valentine’s Day baby, just as I foretold.

 

self-care

Waiting for baby girl – part 1

My new niece is about to be born. As her mom, my sister-in-law, is nearing the 24-hours in labor mark, I’m reminded of my two baby’s births.  Each one was as unique as they are.  Today I will focus on my oldest.

My five-year old was a breech baby.  I tried every available technique to get her into the ideal position: acupuncture, chiropractic, even the manual version, which I don’t recommend to anyone ever.  There was a ton of pressure and painful twisting, not to mention the uncomfortable hallucinogenic medication I received.  My baby girl wouldn’t budge.  Each day I felt her hard head pressed against my ribs and little flickers of her feet near my pelvis.  Her head was close to my heart.

A home birth was ruled out and a cesarean was scheduled. But just like my little headstrong five-year old, she chose her own birthday.  On a Friday at 4:30 in the morning, my water broke.  I rested a while longer in bed.  I had a small breakfast, and then we headed to the hospital later that morning.

It was a blissful birth experience. Her fetal signs were strong and I was relaxed.  It was kind of amusing and annoying when the nursing staff kept putting the fetal monitor on backwards. They were actually putting it on the “normal” way, but she was a breech baby.  I was surrounded by my husband, doula, midwife and rockstar OB-GYN.  It was a “gentle cesarean.”  The lights in the operating room were softened.  I had my iPod playing my birthing music.  We welcomed her around 2 p.m. that afternoon.  Everyone in the operating room stopped performing their job for a moment and welcomed her.  It was heartfelt and special.  She was hungry and began to nurse immediately while they sewed me up from the operation.

When she was a young toddler, every night she would rest her head against my chest and fall asleep while I gently rocked her. It was a cozy time, and I still have fond memories of it.  She will forever be close to my heart.

self-care

I am still fragile

Like most people, I come from a dysfunctional family.  My older brother was addicted to drugs and was physically abusive toward me and my younger siblings growing up.  It was like walking on eggshells whenever he came home.  You didn’t know who was going to walk through the door.  Was he going to be in a good mood today?  Was he going to be belligerent?  Was he going to blame me for his bad day?  And boy was he mad when he didn’t have any drugs.  It was a moment of uncertainty, where you suck in and hold your breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

We were raised by a single-mom who couldn’t control her son.  She had her own physical disability and pain to deal with.  You don’t know any different growing up in that environment or that it is not okay.   My brother probably has borderline personality disorder.  He was not in treatment and he was abusing drugs.  We celebrated the day he moved out and felt anxiety whenever he would visit.

I’m amazed and grateful that my story didin’t follow a similiar destructive path.  I surrounded myself with my friends and I journalled a lot.  I worked part-time and enrolled in college as a commuting student at Johnson & Wales.  I wanted more to life than this.

During the hard times, I focused on school and had a very supportive boyfriend.  I moved out when I was 20.  I graduated summa cum laude with my bachelor in science degree in court reporting.  I found a rewarding career, and I’ve been fortunate to work in that field for the past 19 years.  I found my amazing husband at age 29, and we’ve been in domestic bliss since.

But I’m still fragile.

If I run into a hostile environment, if there’s an aggressive driver, if I encounter a very drunk person, if I’m confronted by an angry crazy maker, I’m re-traumatized all over again.  It will bother me for days.  I cry.  I feel wounded and defeated.  I hit my bottom.  Then I find my way once again.  Talking to my husband and his support has been my bedrock.  I journal.  I go out in nature.  I take deep breaths and try to meditate.  I try to play and engage with my children and their sense of wonder and joy.  I try to read something inspiring.  I start to re-emerge again.  I feel stronger.  I feel that I’ve learned the lesson from the encounter.  I vow to be better equipped next time.

But I’m still fragile.

Life will continue to be moments of bliss, love, and contentment.  Life will be a series of ups and downs.  There will be crazy makers in my path.  They can’t be avoided.  Just like housework, clutter, a roadblock, or a detour.  It’s how we cope with the setback.  It’s a reminder of my power, my grace, my stamina.  It’s my ability to bounce back and to accept the inner wisdom of each difficult encounter, to not be sucked into other people’s bad day or drama.

But I’m still fragile.  And that’s okay.

self-care

Streaming killed the radio / RIP: WBRU 95.5 FM

I was introduced to BRU by a friend in high school. I was into The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails.  Here was a radio station that played my music: alternative rock.  From then on, I tuned into BRU to listen to my favorites and be introduced to new artists that would become my faves:  Stone Temple Pilots, Poe, Cake, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Blur, Sound Garden, The Cranberries, Weezer, Tori Amos, and Beck; and new artists today like Portugal the Man, The Killers, Paramore, Lorde, and K. Flay.

I am flooded with memories of my youth and young adulthood. I attended BRU’s Birthday Bash as a senior when Belly headlined the show at The Met when it was next to Lupo’s.  Twelve Cuts Above the Rest would blast out of the radio on Fridays when I worked at Bess Eaton.  As I got older, I looked forward the The Retro Lunch, where BRU played retro music from the 80s and 90s.  In December around the holidays, there would be a whole week devoted only to 90s music.  And I took advantage of their Big F’in’ Deal where you got $50 gift cards for only $25 from local restaurants, which included my favorite Julian’s.

I’m regretting that I wasn’t able to attend all their summer concert series, birthday bashes, or even their Nothing But 90s Party this past December.  I always assumed they would be around like Del’s lemonade or Providence Water Fire.

I am filled with sadness that another RI institution is about to close its doors for good, especially because future generations like my kids won’t have BRU around to listen to.  It serves as another reminder that nothing is permanent, ever.  Everything does and will change whether we want them to or not.  I wish I could start a petition to save BRU or get BRU connected to another alternative rock radio station that shares their philosophy of community, provides a supportive venue to play new artists’ music, and teaches future radio broadcasters.  I wish I could do something more.  I don’t want a feeling of depression to set in, a sense of helplessness, or anger to seep in.  And I’m terrified that I’ll turn on my radio dial to 95.5 FM, and there will be static or worse.

I’m going to listen to BRU today and as long as I receive its broadcast signal. Tomorrow it could be gone.  I’m forever grateful that BRU served as the soundtrack and background music of my life.

http://providenceonline.com/stories/radio-silence,24147

self-care

Switch Off Sundays

Switch Off Sundays is a phrase I first heard from Leonie Dawson and it resonated with me.  A day free of social media, emails, and other technology.  A day to connect to what truly matters.  Our society used to and some religions still observe a sabbath.  A sabbatical to connect to myself.  Tune out to turn in with the intent to be present for my family and free from distraction as possible.

I know childhood is so temporary.  Children seem to be in a rush to do what big kids do.  I don’t want to miss out on my kids’ childhood for a second.  Social media and emails do not have priority over my real day-to-day life.  I am responsible for their childhood memories.  It’s a daunting task, and one I take seriously.  And the best and easiest thing I can do is ditch the technology for one day.  I know the emails will still be in my inbox come Monday morning.  And I delete more than half of them most days anyhow.

Instead of deleting emails or catching up with a latest post, I will talk to my family.  I marvel at what new words my 17-month old has discovered.  She loves books and has us read the same story over and over.  She can touch her knees and toes when I sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”  She’s learning about her face and can say “Eye” so clearly when she pokes her stuffed kitty cat’s eye.

I can take in my five-year old’s enthusiasm as she explains with energy and her whole being about an activity she’s done or looking forward to doing.  She has a zest for life.  She shares with joy in all of our family’s experiences.  Last week after a doctor’s appointment, I took her out and I said, “I love our together time, just you and me.”  And she said, “You know what I call it when it’s just me and daddy together time?  Love.”

My 13-year old stepdaughter has the most insightful conversations.  Her vocabulary and maturity leave me in awe.  And I can chat with my husband.  I love our long, uninterrupted talks about life, our home, and our future goals.  This is my real life.  I choose to focus on today.

My five-year old calls weekends “Home Days.”  And I couldn’t agree more.

self-care

We are all the same

I always seem to be carrying something in my right hand: a child, a totebag, my umbrella, my wheeled case for work.  You name it.  Yesterday I was walking back to the parking garage.  It was a very hot and humid day.  A scorcher.  Bright sun was beating down on my head with no breeze as a reprieve.  I was carrying my lunch bag in my left hand and pulling my wheeled case with my right.  I stopped and shifted.  I put my lunch bag onto my case, which freed up my left hand.

As I started to walk, my left arm naturally swayed forward and back as I took my steps. I noticed the young man in front of me.  His left hand was tucked in, close to his torso.  But his right arm was swinging, just like mine.  I looked ahead.  There was a woman walking towards me.  Her left arm also moved in a similar pattern.  Our paths crossed with our left arms silently swinging by.  The same.  Then I noticed a young child walking to keep up with his mother.  His little arm had a small sway too.

A deep feeling of connection swelled up inside of me. As human beings, we tend to walk upright.  Although we have our own unique gait, we have so much in common too.  We all have to eat food and drink water.  We all bleed when we get a cut.  Our bodies repair after an injury.  We all have the capacity for love, and we can all feel pain and suffering.

I felt powerful. The notion of what separates and categorizes us melted.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we worked together instead of focusing on what divides us?  I believe if we can take a moment to step out of our daily dramas and just notice our surroundings, real peace is possible.  If we can find peace within ourselves, we will find world peace.