Wednesday, January 31, 2018

See ya January...and thoughts from data mining my gratitude journal

Something about a blank new month page in my planner fills me with glee. A whole blank month to plan and fill with hour in, of course, most days were filled in with already planned and scheduled events (clinic sessions, appointments) but I do have some blank days to work with so I texted the sitter for date nights, booked some barre classes, and sent various messages and emails to friends to schedule outings.

I've been fairly consistent with my "3 good things" journal lately. Every night I write down a minimum of 3 things that made me happy that day. Some days its a struggle. But I dig deep. Its actually one of those "line a day" 5 year journals, and I got it in 2013, so if I had done this consistently, I would have a really nice record of the past 5 years, but alas. I started and stopped many times over the past few years (I think I missed 2014-2015 altogether).

I was looking over my entries from January 2018 and 2016 (the last year I actually filled out January) and patterns started to emerge. Looking over what MADE me happy gave me insight into what will MAKE me happy! (duh). There were certain things that came up over and over which I assume are my "secret to a happy life"

Meaningful work: feeling like I really helped someone, or had an insight into a research question. Not necessarily being super-productive and getting things done, but those flashes you sometimes get that make you feel lucky to be doing this. This is a great reminder to "Find the Why" in what I do with most of my waking hours

Creating things: mostly food. But I had a short lived stint a couple years ago of learning to sew. Gardening. I need to do these things more often (but probably not with food, because...I want my clothes to fit).

Challenging exercise: Gives me  a high and ups my confidence. If I accomplish nothing else, the morning workout is still an achievement

Engrossing Stories: books, mostly, but also some really good shows we've watched. If I'm still thinking and feeling the story after I've closed the book or finished the episode, it often makes the list.

Noticing beauty: A beautiful sunrise, freshly fallen snow, L's dimples, really really good food

Connecting: with friends, my kids, husband

Calm: I'm always working on doing better with keeping my cool and my patience, and I specifically wrote down challenging episodes at home in which I managed my emotions and turned things around

As I fill up February, I'm making a point to block out time for all of this.

Monday, January 29, 2018


Things seem to going a bit better (crosses fingers, throws salt, knocks wood...). B really seems to be working hard at turning his mood around instead of getting stuck deeper and deeper into perpetual despair. L is still a wildcard, but he has his moments of being fun & curious & snuggly, and then there are the moments of demon-child that are so so ridiculously bad they are almost, sometimes, funny.

We actually had a good weekend. Another nice weather day on Saturday and I took B for errands and both kids to the park. Sunday rained but turned out...not terrible. We did watch a movie. I got my workouts in, cooked yummy stuff (African peanut stew from OhSheGlows, so so so good), had social time (playdate, talked to other mom), and overall felt like it was too short and not ready for Monday!

I finished one of my favorite books in a long time: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. I actually listened to this---my first audiobook---and it was still completely engrossing and I was sad for it to end. I will definitely consider autdiobooks more often.  I don't have another amazing book lined up. I gave up on "What Happened", and I'm sort of making my way through "One in a Million Boy" which I bought at some point for a dollar, but its not at all what I expected and I'm finding it hard to follow for some reason, and its impossible to go back and "remind yourself" on an ebook.

G is taking B to social skills, so I will get L and read with him and maybe play a bit before making our Plated meal (shrimp tacos..yum!). Its my turn to read stories and we are more than halfway through "A Wrinkle in Time". The kids are loving it, and we are all looking forward to the movie which seems badass (at least the casting). Weekday evenings are mostly a grind, I'm trying to convince myself this will all be fun! And not exhausting and involve me counting down every minute until I can go to sleep.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Weekend Update

The weekend was great. The much warmer weather certainly helped. We basically did do most of the things I had planned with the addition of the Women's March on Saturday and a long park play date with friends on Sunday.

I ended up making this soup and it was amazing

The screen time stuff was nbd. I think because we were just going back to how things were before this recent free-for-all?

The kids on the other hand? Still jerks. Oh well.

I finished "Year of Yes". The beginning was so awful I was about to give up, but it got better and while I don't necessarily think it was worth reading (was for my book club, which is tomorrow, so I wanted to finish), and I'm sort of annoyed I spent $1.99 on it because I almost never buy books, she did make some good points. I've never watched even a single minute of any of her shows so a lot of the references were lost on me, but she seems like a smart, funny, and kind woman. Much  more relatable than, for example, Gretchen Rubin in "Better than Before" which I also read recently.

It was rainy and gross this morning but the sun just came out! I better get cracking so I can leave work before its dark again. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Winter Weekends

I mentioned this weekend would be challenging in terms of trying to keep the kids off screens, so I wanted to set at least a very loose plan to make sure we got done what we needed to and also had time to spend together.

Friday pm: pizza + wine. kids play on own or board games. Kids need baths. My turn for stories. G and I may watch one episode of Black Mirror.

Saturday AM: I go to gym, do back PT, and shower. G makes waffles with kids.
Saturday PM: I take boys to library while G starts cleaning/decluttering in basement (contractor coming back Monday to put in new floors and we have to move everything). Park after if weather OK otherwise home to read books. Facetime with  both sets grandparents. Indoor activity that I would be in charge of: either baking or "science kit". G goes to grocery store and makes dinner.

Sunday AM: I go to gym, shower. G may go to gym after me.
Sunday PM: I make soup (my turn to cook for our neighborhood "soup group") while G figures out what to do with the kids. Chores: lunches, laundry, more basement decluttering, etc... we will split up depending on who feels like chores and who wants to wrangle kids.  Late afternoon I need to go get my eyebrows done and return something to a store (and get out of the house!) Need to be home by 5 for soup pick up. Simple dinner. Showers and books for boys.

Reminders: put phone AWAY
get out of house even if I don't feel like it when I can
keep trying to set up a play date for Sat or Sun afternoon.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Scream Time

For the longest time, we did an excellent job minimizing our kids' screen time. Then the grandparents came and fucked it up.

Until this fall, our kids basically had the privilege of a movie on Sundays. If they really did not behave well during the weekend, we would take it away. It was a nice chance for us to get stuff done and/or get a break for about 90 minutes. We've been having these "Sunday afternoon movies" for years. We started with the 90 minute Disney/Pixar films we owned, and then transitioned to 3-4 episodes of shows they liked on Netflix. 

A couple of years ago we first got an iPad, and we then started occasionally letting them have 15-20 minutes of games on the weekend. More recently I had tied the iPad time to chores. When they put their laundry away, they could have the iPad. They had to take turns, and when the timer went off, the time was up, no negotiations. 

Sure they asked for more. They were always asking for our phones, tried to wheedle us into more iPad time or to have a movie on Saturday AND Sunday, or to watch one more show. But the rules were set. There was never TV or games on weekdays and they never even asked.

We don't have a television set, and movies/shows. are generally watched in the basement on our screen, or on a laptop or iPad upstairs. 

Then my parents bought the boys Kindle Fires. They bought them a couple years ago for my sister's kids but I told them we didn't want them. Then B & L realized that their cousins had them, and started their attack on grandma and grandpa. Finally I relented.  Now they got 1 hour of kindle time on each weekend day when/if they finished chores and nothing else was planned. They could play games, read books, or listen to music.

In preparation for our trip, I changed the settings to allow them to access videos to download for the flight. And I turned off the time restrictions. And for 3 weeks they basically had unlimited screen time every single day. Even when they went back to school, MIL gave them the kindles as soon as they came home & finished homework and they played until we got home and made them put it away. On the 2 snow days, they  probably were on those damn things for 13 hours straight. 

Additionally, since our basement is being fixed, we had the laptop set up hooked up to speakers in the living room and MIL would frequently watch her shows on it when the kids were awake so they would crowd around to watch, and then demand their own shows which she always gave in to. 

I took the Kindles away on Monday and told them they were not getting them back until January, and then only if they showed some improvement in behavior between now and then. I also made G put the speakers and laptop away.

I don't in any way think the screen time caused the bad behavior, because it started well before. But I do know that it is impossible to connect with them when they are absorbed in their screens, and I am coming around to the "Peaceful Parenting" mantra that connection is necessary for teaching and modeling good behavior and values. 

Of course, it goes both ways. I have my own obsession with my Kindle (or more accurately, the app on my phone) and I know that putting my phone and books away is also part of this solution. I know my kids behave better when I give them my full attention. Its just a vicious cycle---they act badly, I retreat to my phone, they act worse...Then I lose my shit and let them watch a show so that I can have a break. 

Screen time was our biggest bribing tactic...but it also didn't really work. I just kept giving them second and third chances to "earn" the time back because I needed them glued to their screens so I didn't have to deal with their behavior and wants and needs for a while. 

We may still do family movie night on Friday, because I think sitting together and watching the same thing is a whole different situation then each kid watching their own thing on their own device, and even the two kids watching together and G and I using the time to talk is somewhat better. 

The rest of the weekend will be challenging. We have no set plans and its winter. I know they will ask a million times, and I will have to say "no" each time. We will have to be engaged and creative in keeping them occupied. I am going to make G sit down to plan the weekend at least loosely tonight so that we don't lose our shit and cave. Library, indoor swimming, baking something, board games, books, legos. We will have to find a way to get through the days...and thankfully there is always wine.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Those Kids

You know the ones. The ones you see and wonder "where are the parents? Why can't they control their kids? Aren't they too old to be acting like that?"

You guys. My kids? They are assholes. I sort of suspected it for a few months but during our trip when we really spent all day every day with them, we saw it quite clearly. They are rude, disrespectful, don't follow directions or listen to us, are not appreciative, and whine constantly. I am embarrassed at their behavior when we are out in public, and mortified at the way they treat others.

For B, I am fairly certain that he just does not consider other's feelings. He is very rigid and black and white in his thinking and everything that isn't exactly what he wants at that particular moment is bad and awful and he will say so, loudly and inventively. He also cannot pick up on the fact that he has hurt someone's feelings or is being annoying. We have to be very concrete and explicit with him about cause and effect of his words and actions.

I don't know what L's problem is, though. He is very impulsive and loves to push boundaries and buttons. The more we tell him not to do something he will do it. This includes calling my MIL an idiot to her face, hitting us, screaming at the top of his lungs. He is extremely sensitive and KNOWS he is hurting our feelings or being annoying, and then feels shame about it, which drives him to act even worse. It is very  hard to break the cycle and requires more patience then any of us usually have, but eventually, he will break down in tears and let you hug him, and be cheerful again.

The worst part was having their awfulness confirmed by MIL who previously acted like they were perfect angels. She lost HER SHIT with them more than a few times, and I could feel the silent judging of our parenting choices. In a culture where respect to elders is taught and valued highly, I cannot get over my shame and mortification at the way they would sometimes talk to her. That she takes EVERYTHING so damn personally doesn't help, but honestly, as much as I have many many issues with that woman, I agree with her that "we have to train them better".

As usual, after a period of being depressed and despondent and needing to check out a bit, I am now being proactive and optimistic about how to change things. We are back to social skills therapy after a month off for holidays/snow and have made a plan to reinforce the weekly lessons at home. G and I have talked about how we need to "coach" B to behave in socially acceptable ways, rather than scolding and admonishing, we need to model and work through how to talk to others, how to respond to questions, how to effectively voice complaints and dissents.

To combat B's constant negativity, we are all listing "3 good things" before bed each day. I am looking into a meditation for kids that we can also do before bed. I payed for Headspace so I can explore all the options. I have taken away screen time indefinitely. We had a long talk about kindness and how much we value that in our family and that we are ALL going to work on that this year. That means no yelling and rough handling on our end, too.  My plan is to have check in "meetings" about how things are going every weekend.

I know that checking out and trying to ignore and pretend it isn't happening only makes me feel better in the moment. I need to put away my phone or my book or whatever is swirling through my mind and really be present for the boys. With no screen time and no end of winter in sight, we will have to fill our weekends creatively. I also want to plan for one on one time with each kid weekly.

Its a lot, but I know we need to do it. I am certain there are still two sweet and loving kids in there, we need to bring them back out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Wind My Spring

I did finish Strange & Norrell (meh. skip it. boring meandering inconsistent plot and terrible characterization) and wound up starting and finishing Norwegian Wood (Murakami) on SHU's recommendation. It was so sad but beautiful. I loved it and keep thinking about parts of it. The protagonist is going through some inner turmoil but is trying to live his life and metaphorically talks about how most mornings he gets up and winds his spring so that he can get through everything he has to do until the day is done and he can sleep. On Sundays he gets a break and doesn't wind the spring.

I realized as I sat in the living room yesterday afternoon, sipping wine and reading those words that I didn't wind my spring. Read those words again: sat, afternoon, wine, reading. I wasn't doing chores, or being present with my family (they were all upstairs playing legos). I wasn't fitting in another workout or decluttering or any number of things that probably needed to get done. I just...sat. And read.

Most mornings, even especially weekends, I spend a few minutes psyching myself up for the day ahead. I think through the sequence of events I need to get through and the items on the list I have to check off. I also remind myself of all the things I shouldn't be doing: no wine, no snacks, no phone in the evenings... It takes many turns of the spring to make sure I'll keep moving all day.

Maybe because it was the third day of a loooonnnggg weekend spent in the house with whiny kids (more on that in another post) and I was limp with relief that MIL had just left. I dunno. I just needed to not be doing anything purposeful for an hour or two.

Then I got up and did laundry and made dinner and lunches and went to bed on time and woke up early this morning to go to the gym, then PT, then work and...yeah. Spring-winding time is back.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Snails pace

This week! My god! Why so slow?! Maybe because its the first 5 day week in a while AND I'm on call AND my MIL is here AND AND AND

Good things that have happened:
  • 3 workouts, including my first day back to my beloved dark-o-clock 30 minute HIIT class. I was so deliciously sore the next day! I'm planning my foray back into bodypump strength training tomorrow AM and trying some new classes our gym is offering this weekend
  • I'm at 80% of Strange & Norrell. Its gotten more interesting, but not sure its going to pay off in the end. I'm hoping to finish before the weekend.
  • Booked flights (literally 5 minutes ago) for our extended family (my parents, sister & her family) major-theme-park trip next month. I'm not sure if I'm excited or dreading this, TBH. Not sure when we will tell the kids. I want them to get used to school mode for a few weeks.
  • I have also been doing my back PT, and found a perfect incentive. One episode of a favorite podcast at 1.3 speed perfectly covers the time. I listed to BoBW and Happier so far this week.
  • Not really a "thing that happened" but I wanted to share the BEST JEANS EVER. I literally have worn them maybe 75% of all the days in the past 6 weeks since I got them. On the plane, all day through Legoland, work, around the house. They are the only stretchy jeans I have every tried that do not get baggy or need to be pulled up. Even the designer ones that cost twice as much (on major sale) are not as amazing as these. I need to get a pair in blue and maybe a back-up pair of black. I told G that "all my other pants are garbage" compared to these and I am not exaggerating.
OK, my break is over. Back to work.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Is it really only Tuesday?

Its a call week and I can't believe its only 2/5 over! Thankfully I am NOT on this weekend.

I feel bad complaining but I am kind of also over the disruptions in our schedules having MIL around. On the one hand, yes its AMAZING that we didn't have to blink at the snow days and early closures but on the other hand, its really hard to get the kids back into the groove of a regular schedule when she is still spoiling them constantly with treats & screens. We need to reinstate some consistency and discipline dammit!

I'm doing pretty well with my healthy habits. I went to a 6:15 AM gym class, meditated, drank 2 L of water, and ate vegetables, salad, and veggie soup (plus the "fun" part of my lunch, 1 oz of cheddar with 6 water crackers).

What else? I'm reading a very long book. "Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell". Its...weird. Not sure how I feel about it yet, though I'm 50% through. Its good enough to keep going at least. I have to read "The Year of Yes" for book club which seems like it'll be quick & fluffy, and I have the audiobook of "Little Fires Everywhere" to get through in the next couple of weeks, too.

Our dishwasher, which is just over a year old (and thus, just out of warranty) has started not draining consistently and making a smoking/burning smell.  Argh. We are in the middle of more basement waterproofing/fixing (the waterproofing is done but now we are getting the drywall and floors put back and painting, etc..) and we just don't have the time, energy, money for ANOTHER home repair fiasco at the moment.

It was warmer during the day today so hopefully I won't be ice skating home this evening. I saw SO MANY people totally wipe out yesterday and this morning (including my kids). Walk slowly with your feet directly under your body if its icy!!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Back to myself!

Whoa, I was in a funk last week! I guess the single digit temps & lack of sunlight on top of the letdown of something you've planned and looked forward to for 6 months finally being over really did a number on my mood. Add in some extra work stress and it was a recipe for a major bout of the blues.

On Saturday I was feeling happy and making plans again. Some extra sunshine and some talk about upcoming trips and spring activities for the kids, or just time, good sleep, good food, and some much-needed mindfulness and journaling may have helped.

I had a really good weekend. Friday we did pizza and family movie (Cars 3...not terrible). Saturday I was up bright and early to see patients in clinic (we have to do a few Saturday clinics per year). All my patients showed and I saw them, wrote my notes, and spent a couple hours revamping my grant ideas. I then crossed some tasks of my list: went to Indian store & put away Christmas decorations, laundry, and made a half batch of toffee chocolate chip cookies (G, the boys, and MIL were at the science museum all this time). When everyone got home we watched another movie together (its the thing to do when its freezing outside, I guess) and G and I braved the cold for a date night dinner & had yummy Korean food, including a truly sizzling hot pot that warmed us from the inside out (cocktails helped, too).

Sunday I went to barre and grocery shopping, and baked the chocolate chip banana bread my MIL loves (I don't eat bananas, but apparently its good). We prepped food & made lunches for the week and then G and I went on a day date! (taking good advantage of having MIL around!). We were going to watch Lady Bird but by the time we stood in the loooong (outside!) line, the movie had already started and the only seats were right up front So we stood in the long outside line AGAIN to get refunds and went to the bar across the street for cocktails and snacks before we headed back home to usual Sunday evening chores, dinner, and kids bedtime.

I'm really feeling encouraged about my back. Though the MRI did confirm herniation and some impingement (which explains my symptoms perfectly), I'm not having that much back pain and rarely do I have the radicular pain down my left leg. I have moved on from pain relief to strengthening the muscles around my back in PT FINALLY (I spent September-December in the same cycle of every single thing we tried making the pain worse and spending the entire session undoing that). I was also given the green light to try various exercise regimens again and see how I feel, with the plan to immediately stop and avoid anything that caused the leg pain. 

I have decided to focus more on habits and baby steps this quarter than on any big overarching goals. I plan to spend this cold cold winter in "Hygge" mode. I know its the trendy thing, but it struck a chord for a reason, its a really nice way to rethink winter. For me that means: movies/board games/books with the kids, baking and soups, cozy socks and sweaters, and keeping the Christmas lights up outside to brighten our homecoming until the evenings get lighter. I also want to make sure I get outside every single day in the sunshine. I get so blah when I stay home or stuck in my dim office so I'm making an effort to avoid that.

The habits I'm working are all related to physical and mental health. Specific habits I am tracking: meditation (I splurged on a Headspace subscription and I'm reworking through the intro), drinking enough water, doing my PT exercises every other day, working out 4 X a week, no after dinner snacking, and gratitude (writing "3 good things" in my journal at the end of each day).

I also deleted FB and IG from my phone, whoo hoo!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Another year, another word

I'm actually having trouble mustering up enthusiasm for goal-setting and planning for the new year. I listened to the Happier podcast about "18 for 2018" and sat down two separate times to try to come up with a list of 18 things I wanted to do this year and I just...couldn't. Everything I keep thinking of is boring and incremental, or I've already resolved to do it year after year and failed to keep it up.

I can't even think of any quarterly or seasonal goals right now. Nothing that is inspiring or new or fun. So I figured I'd at least think of my "one word" for the year. And I did! And then I changed it...about 4 times. I'll bring you along on my navel-gazing journey.

My initial word was "Presence" as a reminder to focus on mindfulness and being fully immersed in whatever I am doing at any given moment, and a reminder to recommit to mediation and limiting technology use. I know I am a better parent when I do this,  and obviously much more productive at work. But it seemed so cliche and almost too high-minded for how I am feeling these days.

The latter half of 2017 kind of, well, sucked. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels and stagnating professionally and personally. For the first time in a LONG time I cannot find my usual levels of optimism. I really need to get unstuck in my career and we also need to break out of some negative habits and routines as a family and shake things up because ugh. I've made little/backwards progress on my fitness, spending, etc...

So I picked the word "Forward" because that's where I want to be by 2019---at least one step closer to...something better. But, you know, sometimes things aren't completely under your control and the belief that you can always attain what you want just by working hard and wanting it sounds naive to me right now and the constant push to do MORE and be BETTER is exhausting. .Maybe I need to just be OK with my life as it is.

"Acceptance" seems like a good intention for anytime, right? Change what you can and accept the rest? But am I changing all that I can? Things have been pretty much status quo for years now. Maybe the right move isn't just continuing to trudge down the same old worn path, through ever increasing obstacles when you don't even know if you want to go where that road is taking you.

These are big and scary thoughts for me to even consider. This is going to take some unpacking and sorting out. I'm terrified of change. I do everything in my power to avoid thinking about it.But its time. So I'm vowing to be "OPEN" in 2018. Open to what-ifs, and maybes, and entertaining options. To having conversations about possibilities. Maybe there will be decisions, maybe not. That's not really the point.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

...On such a winter's day

Happy New Year guys! You'll have to wait for my 2018 word and goals and plans while I recap December.

I had some kind of mystery illness that had me feeling queasy and incredibly exhausted for over 2 weeks---to the point that I panicked and brought a UPT since the only other time I've felt like this, I've been pregnant. So December kind of sucked and I spent a lot of time kind of zoned out and got way behind and work and home (though G picked up ALL the slack and kept us all going).

I did manage to decorate for the holidays---including solar-powered lights outside which I think I'll keep up through January, baked and decorated gingerbread cookies, made foam kit gingerbread houses, helped organize the PTA winter-fest for the school, and planned out the Christmas (and birthday) gifts. I had to ditch some outings I was looking forward to (because sooooooooo tired).

We did Christmas presents on the 23rd. The boys even wrote Santa to ask him to come early, so he sent an elf!

And then we headed to the airport on the 24th for our long-awaited southern California trip. MIL met us there an hour after we arrived, and all 5 of us had a fantastic and warm week. I'll be honest I was kind of dreading traveling with MIL ( know...she's nuts), but is was honestly so amazing to have some kid-free time, it was worth it. We had 2 hotel rooms for 4 of the 6 nights, and she had the kids with her which was quite a nice break!

We did touristy things, swam in heated hotel pools, ate lots of good food, and did 2 days/nights at Legoland (this was B's birthday surprise). We didn't have a cake but stuck a candle in a stack of pancakes for him and called it good enough. G and I managed 2 glorious runs along the bay during the week and my back did NOT hurt after 3 gentle miles, which is encouraging!

What was even more special was what we didn't do...i.e. any work or chores! I tried to remind myself daily to be grateful for the reprieve from cooking and cleaning and laundry and errands and, of course, the work-work of grant-writing and seeing patients and charting...

What we also didn't do was freeze our butts off, but the bitter cold was waiting for us when we got home Saturday night. Good lord it was a shock to the system to go from 70+ to "feels like 5". We spent Sunday getting everything in order---buying and cooking food, cleaning clothes, unpacking. Did nothing special to ring in the new year, though we were awake watching TV.

Yesterday we took the kids to watch The Last Jedi (it was good fun, I really enjoyed it. G and I had actually gone to see it a couple weeks ago but I fell asleep and missed at least 75% of it so it was all brand new to me!). MIL stayed home and cooked, and the house smelled amazing when we returned. Today I'm back at work, breaking in my new pens and planner in between phone calls and emails and making grant-writing spreadsheets.

Back soon with new-years-type stuff because you know I can't resist an occasion for self-improvement!