Goodbye, Ladies.

It’s been 13 months since I discovered I have a significant biological family history of breast cancer. It’s been 7 months since I found out I had a genetic mutation that puts me at a very high risk for breast and ovarian cancers. It’s been 6 months since I had a cancer scare and a (thankfully, negative) biopsy. And in those 6 months, I have been in and out of doctors’ offices, talking with friends, researching, praying, talking with my husband and family, and doing some major soul-searching. I’ve gotten a breast MRI (negative!). I’ve met with an OB-GYN, a gynecological oncologist, and two breast surgeons. I’ve had pictures of my breasts taken by strangers. I’ve worn more of those awkward front-opening mammogram shirts than I ever expected. And all of that has led up to next Tuesday.

Next Tuesday, January 14, 2020, I am having a prophylactic double mastectomy.

The breast surgeon will remove all of my breast tissue and will replace it with either spacers or implants, depending on how things go. My tissue will be sent off to pathology to be combed through to look for any sneaky cancer. I will be sewn up, have drains inserted, and will spend a night or two in the hospital. I will then have a 5 to 6 week recovery period during which I will not be able to lift anything, including my daughter. According to some women who’ve undergone this surgery, lifting a fork feels like lifting a barbell.

This surgery will reduce my risk of breast cancer from 79-86% to <1%, which is lower than the average woman’s risk (12%).

Deciding to have this surgery was both a difficult decision and an easy one. I don’t want to have my breasts removed. I think that’s a pretty normal feeling. I’d prefer to not have to do this surgery. But for me, the idea of increased monitoring instead of surgery wasn’t a good fit for me. The overwhelming fear and crippling anxiety I experienced in July when various imaging revealed a mass in my left breast is something that I possibly would have to endure every 6-12 months. To me and my family, it felt like we’d be waiting for a ticking time bomb to explode. Because 79-86% risk is not something I’d want to bet against. The odds are stacked against me.

Until very recently, I didn’t do much research into the after-effects of the surgery. I had gathered enough information to know what I was getting into and enough to make a very informed decision. I knew this surgery, and the preparation leading up to it, would be very taxing, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And spiritually. There have been times during the past 7 months when I’ve been mad at God. I have refused to open my Bible at my husband’s and my set daily quiet time. I’ve refused to pray. I’ve refused to go to church a few times. I’ve given God the silent treatment. And yet, He’s been here with me all along, loving me through my tantrums. He’s been showing me what it means to trust in and abide in Him as I read through women’s stories of their experiences, as I’ve thrown out my old bras, and as I’ve held my daughter close, knowing I won’t be able to feel her hugs against my torso for a very long time.

This past month has been a time of grieving for me. Especially this week. I’m grieving the upcoming loss of my breasts, the sensation of them, the significance they brought to me when they served as nourishment for my baby, and a way I identify as a woman. I’m grieving my body shape, because it will likely look alien to me after surgery. I’m processing through my anger and shock and sadness of having to make this decision at all, even though at the same time, I’m so grateful to have this information that so many people in the past haven’t had access to. I feel guilty. And thankful. And angry. And really, really scared. And it’s okay.

And I feel brave and strong and loved. And I know I am making the best choice for me and my family. So, as next Tuesday approaches, I will probably cry every day until then, and I will hold my sweet girl close and lift her high in the sky as many times as she asks me to, and I will hug my wonderful husband and squeeze his hand when I need some strength, and I will trust that God’s got this. Because He does.

The new “B words” in my life: BRCA1, Breast Cancer, Biopsy…

I’ve been praying about whether to post this or not, and I feel led to share my story. I’ll explain why later on in this post.
Back in December, I found my maternal birth family, which has been an exciting adventure. While getting to know them, I learned that I have a strong family history of breast cancer. I spoke with my OB-GYN, who encouraged me to get genetic testing, which I did.  The nurse walked me down to the lab, who put me on a phone with a genetic counselor. She explained her concerns about my risk factors and explained what genetic testing involved. I then signed the papers, spit in a tube, and they mailed it off to the genetics lab. A few weeks later, I received a call from the nurse who told me I was positive for the BRCA1 mutation, which puts me at about an 86% risk of having breast cancer and about a 44% chance of ovarian cancer by the age of 70. There is a small study that says my particular mutation may put me at a significantly lower risk, but there are some confounding factors that make me hesitant to cling to those lower numbers.
*PSA: A few nights ago, I paid for the Health section of my 23 & Me report to see if I showed up as positive for BRCA1. I did not. 23 & Me only tests for 3 variants asssociated with the BRCA1 mutation, although there are many variants. This is a very good reminder to proceed cautiously with those commercially available DNA testing products. If you pursue genetic testing due to a strong family history, please talk with your doctor about the most reliable source to get tested, instead of going through a commercial DNA testing site.*
So, I have been faced with a lot of scary information about where to go from here. Salpingo-oophorectomy (removing my Fallopian tubes and ovaries, which will cause early menopause) by age 40 (screening for ovarian cancer is not very reliable), increased frequency of breast cancer screening (alternating mammograms and breast MRI’s every 6 months), possible preventive double mastectomy which would decrease my risk of breast cancer by 90%… Big stuff.
One foot in front of the other.
The first step was a mammogram, which I had last Monday. I expected to receive an “all clear” letter in the mail the following week, but instead, the very next day I received a telephone call from the nurse. (I’ve developed a stress response when I see my GYN’s office number pop up on my phone.) The nurse told me there was a “focal asymmetry” on my left breast that required further testing. *Cue panic.* After a week of waiting and praying and crying and breathing and lots of chocolate and yoga, I had a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound yesterday morning. Donald came back with me after the ultrasound, and as the radiologist told me, “There is a solid mass that I’m concerned about.  However, if it’s cancer, you should do well, since it’s very small,” I grabbed Donald’s hands and let my tears flow. They quickly got me in to meet with the breast surgeon about the next steps immediately and in the near future. We talked about the biopsy, MRI’s, a double mastectomy, and meeting with a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction options. It was a lot of information. I had a biopsy yesterday afternoon. It sounded like it could have been a cyst, but the surgeon was tentative given my family history and high genetic risk. I should find out the results by Monday.
In the meantime, I am left waiting, clinging to God and his peace that surpasses all understanding. Yesterday, as I waited for my ultrasound, I talked with an elderly woman named Gracie. She was visibly anxious and was praying aloud that our ultrasounds would be negative. I asked her if she’d like me to hold her hand. She nodded. I got up and moved to sit next to her. We spent the next several minutes clasping each other’s hands, huddled together, saying The Lord’s Prayer. She told me about her life, her 9 children, some challenges she has been through. She is a survivor and strong woman, I told her. The ultrasound tech called her back. And after Gracie left, I heard God tell me quietly in my heart, “See? I had a reason for you being here today.” And I felt this inexplicable peace wash over me. It has been stronger at times and has faded to the background at other times, but it has not gone away.
During this whole process, I have prayed that God would make it very clear what I need to do. I told him I need the equivalent of a flashing neon sign telling me, “Do this!” After going through the emotional toll-taking of yesterday and the past few weeks, I am very  certain about what my next steps are. I am going to move forward with a double mastectomy. The choice is a very personal one, and everybody in my position handles the news about being BRCA1 positive differently. For me, the high risk combined with the anxiety and uncertainty make it clear that for my best quality of life, I need to have my breast tissue removed. I know it will be a painful and emotional road to pursue. But to me, it brings me more peace than having to potentially go through this cancer scare every 6 months with my alternating mammograms and MRIs. If the mass is malignant, there may be other things I need to do as well (chemo, radiation, I don’t know…), but I will also choose a double mastectomy over a lumpectomy.
I am sharing this very personal story at a time when things are unresolved for a few reasons:
1) If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, I urge you to talk with your doctor about genetic testing.
2) I wanted to share my story while I am waiting for my biopsy results to show that this new journey of being positive for a genetic mutation is not an easy road. If you choose to get tested, be prepared. I was not. Finding out I had the mutation was scary. I didn’t expect it to be positive, let alone the mammogram or ultrasound to show a mass. I don’t know what tomorrow (or Monday) will bring. I am scared, and I am very thankful that I found out about my high risk of breast cancer. I can be proactive, look breast cancer in the eye, and take control.
3) I crave prayer. So, mighty Prayer Warriors, please pray that God’s will be done in my life, that God continues to give me and my family peace as we go through this process, and that God uses me for His glory no matter what the biopsy says.
Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to talk further about genetic testing, this journey, or anything else.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”- Philippians 4:6-7

Grappling with Comparison

Hey y’all! Happy Sunday! It’s been absolutely GORGEOUS here (weather in the high 60’s to 80’s… yep. 80’s!). I wore shorts today. In February. I’m definitely not in Missouri any more. Missouri friends, I miss y’all! But I don’t miss that weather.

This weekend, I went on a women’s retreat titled, “Worthy.” I have often struggled with feeling unworthy- unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness, unworthy of my husband’s love, unworthy of the blessings God has given me. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have struggled even more with feelings of not being worth much. I often mentally beat myself up by referring to myself as “just a stay-at-home mom” or “just a dishwasher and diaper changer.” My husband goes to work every day and helps people and uses his brain, while I stay at home and take care of my daughter and change poopy diapers and clean the house. While intrinsically I know that I am doing an important job by raising my daughter, keeping her safe, teaching her important skills, and spending one-on-one time with her, I often compare myself to what my husband or others are doing. When I compare myself to them, I tend to view what I’m doing as unimportant compared to what they’re doing.

Compared. Did you notice that word in the last sentence of the previous paragraph? Compared. I am comparing the important job that I am doing to someone who has a completely different, also important, job. As the saying goes, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Or Reba McIntyre and Celine Dion. Both great performers. Both TOTALLY different: different voice types, different music genre, different audiences, different hair.

I compare myself (an apple) to oranges all the time. And as I compare myself to others , I start to believe that they have perfect lives, are better humans, have greener grass in their yard, and so on. And when I believe these thoughts, I become less satisfied and content with all the blessings God has given me. Comparison robs us of joy. It robs us of contentment.

Social media has been the root of a lot of my comparison and discontentment. We only post pretty/filtered/edited things on social media. Social medi posts only show a teeny tiny part of the whole picture. Even if the post is of something unpleasant, we still a) have a motive and b) are only showing part of the picture. I have talked with a lot of women recently who have similar feelings as me. I recently took a hiatus from Facebook, and I think I’m going to return to it, because I enjoyed communicating with many different friends who live all over the place. While I’ve been off Facebook, I’ve spent more time on Instagram. I had made my account public in an attempt to possibly advertise this blog. However, God has been telling me to forgo that endeavor. It was eating away at me.  I felt like I had to filter my life, and I was also worried about who was following me, especially sicne there are pictures of my family on my account.

Soooo… I just made my Instagram account private again. I’m not going to worry about become “Instagram famous” for this blog or whatever it’s called. And wow, do I have an incredible peace about that decision. Trying to keep up with other bloggers was slowly destroying me. I went through and removed followers who I do not know personally. I plan to go through and unfollow any accounts that do not feed my soul. If I find that I wish my life looked like theirs, or if they are posting things that are not uplifting, I will unfollow them. I have realized I need to start making sure I surround myself with realistic expectations and uplifting messages. Yes, I will come across people and social media accounts that seem perfect and I will undoubtedly compare myself to them. I get that there is no escaping it completely. But for now, I’m removing extra temptations so I can work on becoming content with my life and with who I am.

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15 ESV

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV

What are some things you have found help you focus on your blessings?

The Perks of Hibernation

I have finally awoken from my (metaphorical) hibernation. The sun is shining, the squirrels are scampering, and I’m finally feeling well-rested and ready to go catch some salmon (and by “catch” I mean go buy some at Publix). December and January ended up being rather overwhelming for me. My daughter was sick a lot, we visited and hosted family, we celebrated Christmas, there were some exciting and stressful events in my family, I hurt my back, and my family bought a house (!). Stress is not always bad stress. Good stress is real (the technical term is “eustress” #psychologynerd), but the body doesn’t really know how to differentiate good stress from bad stress. My body and mind got very overwhelmed by all the different stressors and general exhaustion that comes with the holidays. Soooo… I grudgingly decided to give myself some grace and shifted into “survival mode.” I cut out all the unnecessary things in my life. I stopped blogging, I took a break from Facebook, I limited my commitments to play dates and such, and I just focused on my family and myself. I’ve been secretly telling myself it was hibernation.

Bears know what they’re doing with the whole hibernation thing. They stock up on food, find a cozy, secluded cave somewhere, and they rest for months while the winter rages outside. When they wake up, the flowers are beginning to bloom, there are plenty of things to eat, and the bears are full of energy. They are restored to their optimal performance.

After taking a break from all the “extras” in my life, I am ready to pick them back up. I feel rested, rejuvenated, and healthy. I rarely give myself enough grace (hence, why I decided to start a blog all about that exact topic), but these past couple of months I actually did give myself some grace, and I’m now seeing the benefits of being kind to myself. You cannot pour from an empty vessel. Take care of you.

“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit. -Banksy.

Affordable Gift Ideas for The Ones You Love (and the Ones You Tolerate)

Ah, the holidays. A time of laughter. A time of cheer. A time when pouring a little somethin’-somethin’ into your eggnog/cider/coffee is totally acceptable. It’s also a time of generosity and giving gifts to all kinds of folks.

I love to shop for gifts. I love to make gifts. I love wrapping gifts (although, they usually look like they’ve been thrown around the house by my baby… I’m not the most skilled wrapper). I love watching people open gifts. But goodness gracious, I get a little anxious when I have to think about what each person might like. I love to look at gift idea lists. They can be really helpful. And sometimes, I find an item I think would be perfect for someone, then I realize the thing costs more than I’d be willing to sell my kidney for.

So… I present to you a list of gift ideas comprised of items that you can buy without having to sell your kidney. As I put this list together, it was important to me that I put items on their that I have used myself or given to others or at least that are from companies I trust and like. This list is organized into gifts for different kinds of people and interests. Each of these gifts is no more than $25, because, you know, kidneys are important.

*None of these links are affiliate links. I do not make a profit or get any rewards if you click and/or purchase any of these items via the links I’ve given. I just really like these products. I have either used each product or given one to someone.)

For the Cook/Baker/Foodie in Your life:

  1. OXO Good Grips Little Dustpan and Brush Set: This cute little mini broom and dustpan are great for sweeping crumbs, flour, formula, whatever off your counters. My husband used to make fun of me for buying one of these things. Last night, he finally tried it out, and said, “Okay, this thing is awesome.” Uh, yeah. I hate trying to clean flour off the counter because it either gets on the floor if I try to brush it into a towel with my hand or it becomes a thick, gloppy mess that sticks the the counter if I try to use water or cleaning spray. So, this little powerhouse duo is the answer!
  2. Crescent 10oz. Double Old Fashioned Glass(es): These glasses are perfect for cocktails, juice, ice water, whatever. We use these as our daily glasses, however, I think they are better suited for cocktails and such. They are pretty delicate, and we have lost a few due to chipping. But it’s taken years for them to get chipped. They are machine washable (score!) and just feel fancy.
  3. Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff: This cookbook is chock full of recipes and guidelines for making some delicious and downright gorgeous cakes. The author does a great job of breaking down the instructions into easy-to-follow steps, and the pictures are fabulous. This book would be a great gift for anyone who likes to bake cakes or is considering doing so.

For the Person Who Could Use Some Stress Relief:

1. “This Annoying Life” Coloring Book : This brilliant coloring book by Oslo Davis is filled with pictures of obnoxious situations. Instead of stressing over them, though, feel free to scrawl through them, color them meticulously to help you feel in control, or rip that page right out of the book and burn it.

2. Piper & Leaf Tea: Y’all. Y’all. This tea is SOOOOOOO good. Piper & Leaf is based in my hometown, and it has grown into a brilliant Southern-based company. I went on a tour of their facilities about a year ago. They really take blending tea seriously, and they are good people. They were so friendly and passionate about what they do. Some of my favorite flavors are Cherry Christmas, Mistletoe Grove (caffeine free/herbal),

3. Natural Life Whale Folk Art Mug: I love drinking out of this mug. It’s a large-ish mug, so, you know, it holds lots of caffeine. And it says “go with the flow” on the inside near the top, which is a nice reminder for me to chill out. And can we talk about how darn cute that little whale is? She’s just so happy.

For Your Favorite Book Nerd:

1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl: For the intellectual in your life who loves a good mystery. This is one of those books that really makes you slow down and think. Pessl uses witty prose to weave a truly fascinating tale. The book is separated into chapters named for different Great Books, and the book ends with a multiple choice Final Exam. It is my favorite book.

2. Library Candles by Paddywax: These candles’ scent are named after different authors. Each candle also has a quote from that author. And the candles themselves are aesthetically pleasing. Perfect for your favorite bibliophile.

3. Moleskine Book Journal: I love Moleskine journals. The paper is high quality, they are durable, and they are really minimal in their appearance (which I love). How awesome is this book journal? It looks like a great way to keep track of books you’ve read, books you want to read, and maybe even books you’ve read and would like to buy.

What about you? What are your favorite gifts to give?

Three Things to Do at the Beginning of the Month to Help You Feel More Organized

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I love beginnings. Anticipation, excitement, the chance for a fresh start. There’s a lot to like about beginnings. I know it’s weird, but I kind of like Mondays. Mondays provide chances to start off on a good foot, to try new things, to give myself some grace from the chaos that was last week and to try again. I do usually require a double triple dose of coffee on Mondays, but I like them, nevertheless.

Like Mondays, I also (generally) enjoy the first day of the month. You know, new beginnings, etc., etc. And the first day, and week, of the month has become a reminder for me to do certain things. My mom brain is a real struggle. Like, sometimes I forget what I’m talking about mid-sentence.  And today, I tried to put the coffee pot in the microwave instead of back on the coffee pot burner-thingy. So, having a routine to do certain things, such as change my contacts, on the first day of the month is helpful. And it helps me from having contacts glued to my cornea or whatever happens when you don’t change your contacts for a year.

Tomorrow is the first day of December. (Yay! A new month! Christmas! Santa! Jesus’ birthday!) The following three things are routines I have found that help me feel a little more organized. I sometimes forget to do them or, to be honest, choose not to do them. Some months, I just want to take a breather and live in sweatpants for the next thirty days. Anyone else? Bueller…Bueller…

  1. Brain dump every single to-do task that comes to your mind. I put my family’s Master To-Do list on this super cute navy chalkboard. You could also use a notebook, a piece of scrap paper, your bullet journal, your forehead, whatever floats your boat. Throughout the week, as you think of additional things you need or want to get done, add them to the list. That way, they don’t take up room in that smart, busy noggin of yours. Then put an asterisk by the first 3 things you want to get done. Yes, three. Not twelve (I’m looking at you, fellow overachievers). Start with those. Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks is an easy way to achieve goals. If you want to eat an entire chocolate cake by yourself, you have to start with one bite, right?
  2. Use the first week of the month as an easy way to remember to do monthly tasks. I use the first week of the month to change my contacts and change the cat’s litter (We use the Tidy Cats Breeze System. It’s amazing!). I also try to pay most of our non-auto-debit bills during the first week, too.
  3. Update and look over your calendar. Check with your spouse/family/roommate to see if you’re missing anything.

Do any of y’all like Mondays? Am I alone in this? What kinds of things do you do at the beginning of the month (or week!) to get a solid start on the month?

*There are no affiliate links in this post- just links to items I like and recommend.*

Flying with a Baby: How to Pack

 

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Baby C is a great travel buddy. She traveled 1500 miles with me by car when she was maybe 3 months old. Since then, she has been on 12 airplanes and a bunch of road trips in her 9 months as a tiny human. D and I are blessed to have such an easy-going, happy baby. She is curious and loves to observe the world around her.

She is also a baby, which means she poops, spits up, pees, throws oatmeal, and slobbers like a Saint Bernard. I have learned (the hard way) some ways to make traveling with my messy little munchkin easier, and now, I will share my hard won knowledge with you.

CHECKED LUGGAGE*

  1. Remember: Poop happens. Unless you are going to have access to laundry facilities, pack outfits for 1.5 times the number of days you are travelling (i.e., if you are traveling for 6 days, pack 9 outfits).
  2. Trying to dig through a suitcase to find a clean onesie and coordinating (ish) pair of pants for your squirmy child is not easy. So, give yourself a head start and put each outfit in a separate Ziploc bag. Make sure to include the shirt/onesie, pants/skirt, and socks/tights. I don’t usually put pj’s in the zippered bags, as Baby C wears footed pajamas (They’re just so stinkin’ cute).
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  3. Put anything with cords (such as a monitor) in a zippered bag to avoid the cords getting tangled with clothes and other items.
  4. If you have a large suitcase, use plastic shoe boxes to separate different categories of items, such as feeding supplies, bathing supplies, and toys/books. Once you arrive at your destination, you can then use the boxes as a way to stay organized.
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  5. If you can, plan to buy diapers at a store once you get to your destination. That choice will save you a lot of room in your suitcase.*I have not figured out how to pack my stuff and Baby C’s stuff in a single carry on. If you can pack all of your child’s things plus your things in a carry-on, I am in awe of you. Teach me your ways.

    CARRY-ON LUGGAGE/DIAPER BAG

  6. Make sure to bring several diapers and wipes and enough formula and snacks in your carry-on bag for the airport hangout time, the flights, and in case your checked luggage is lost. If you use formula, the premixed liquid bottles are easier to use and less messy than using the powder from the normal formula tubs. However, they are pricey and heavy. Also, if your baby is young and doesn’t drink much formula, the 2oz. tubes of powder are also really great. Also, don’t forget a bib and spoons (if needed)!
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  7. Put some hand sanitizer in your clear, plastic zipper bag. It’s difficult to wash your hands while holding a baby after you’ve just changed her diaper. Also, airports are gross.
  8. Bring diaper disposal bags/grocery bags. You never know when you’ll have to change a dirty diaper somewhere random, such as the floor of an airplane (WHY DO SOME LARGE AIRPLANES NOT HAVE CHANGING TABLES???). Trust me, your neighbors on the plane will thank you for hiding the unsightly mess that is your child’s dirty diaper. You can also use the bags to put any wet/dirty clothes in. Just make sure not to let the baby have access to the plastic bags, of course. You know, use common sense.
  9.  Pack 1, maybe 2, changes of clothes in the diaper bag/carry-on. Because, again, poop happens.  And it happens in the most inopportune places at the most inopportune times (i.e., 7,000 feet in the air on a tiny commuter plane during turbulence). Depending on the time of the flight/arrival, you may want to pack some pj’s for baby.
  10. Bring a small container of dish soap (preferably that can go in your clear, zippered bag in your carry-on) in case you need to wash bottles at the airport or in a hotel room.
  11. Bring a couple of small, QUIET toys for baby to play with at the airport and on the airplane. Pack the obnoxious toys in your checked baggage. Trust me, you want the flight attendants to like you. They bring you cookies and coffee.
  12. Onesies are adorable, but they are not practical when traveling with a baby. A t-shirt and pants or a dress make diaper changes a whole lot easier. And when traveling with a baby, you want to make things as easy as possible.

Okay, that’s all the traveling-on-a-plane-with-a-tiny-human knowledge I’ve got for now. I will post about road tripping with a baby soon. What nuggets of wisdom have you gleaned from traveling via airplane with your little one? Any hilarious stories? Please share!

Experiencing the Roses: Mindfulness for Your Daily Life

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in the past few years. Scientists are studying it, therapists are incorporating it in treatment sessions, schools are using it, and people are trying to practice it in their day to day lives. Ok, that’s cool and all, but what is it?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the foremost leaders in mindfulness practice, provides this definition: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” One of my college professors described mindfulness as “Not only stopping to smell the roses, but stopping to experience them.”billy-cox-449511-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Billy Cox on Unsplash

The nonjudgmental part  of Kabat-Zinn’s definition is really what makes mindfulness stand out to me from other practices, such as relaxation techniques. Have you ever tried to clear your mind? It’s ridiculously impossible, right? I try to focus on my breathing, then I start to think about all the things I need to do, or about how my child has a propensity for trying to eat the dog’s food, or about how I really want a milkshake. Then, I get upset at myself, because I’m supposed to be relaxing and only focusing on my breath. Then I get anxious and tense and the whole exercise is a wash.

That’s where mindfulness comes in. Let’s take the breathing example. If I’m trying to be mindful while I’m concentrating on my breathing, I will pay attention to my breathing on purpose, while focusing on the current breath (not the previous one or the next one).  If my mind wanders off somewhere else (i.e., milkshakes), instead of berating myself for losing focus, I will notice where my thoughts wandered off to without tensing up and then gently redirect my focus back to my breathing. My thoughts pulling my focus away from my breathing are part of the present moment, so I simply notice them as they pass by (kind of like clouds or butterflies… or farts), then return my thoughts to my intended point of focus. Mindfulness is a wonderful way to practice how to be kind to yourself.

Keep in mind that mindfulness is not the same as relaxation techniques. It can have a relaxing, calming effect, but the goal of mindfulness is to become aware of and center yourself in the present moment. Humans tend to focus on the past or the future. Mindfulness helps us learn how to live in the present.

Below is a list of mindfulness practices that you can do during your day. Most of these take about a minute or less. The next time you find yourself feeling stressed as you worry about all the things you need to do in the next 24 hours (the future), try one of these things out. Maybe it will help you center yourself in the present (and maybe help you feel a little calmer, too).

  1. Take two deep breaths (Note: Deep breaths, not shallow, gonna-make-you-hyperventilate breaths.) Next, take notice of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell (be prepared), and 1 thing you can taste. You’ll likely need to slow down to notice these things. You may not enjoy what you notice, but that’s not the point. The point is to take the time and focus to notice them.
  2. Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing for 5 (slow) breaths. See if you can feel your breath as it enters your nose, fills your lungs, and exits through your nose or mouth.
  3. Sit comfortably. Close your eyes and take a few calming breaths. Notice how the ground feels on your feet, how your chair feels on your seat and back, or how your clothes feel on your body. Notice any sounds that maybe you hadn’t paid attention to earlier. Take a quick inventory of how you feel physically and emotionally.  Maybe you hear the A/C unit. Maybe your stomach is singing the song of its people and letting you know it’s time for lunch. Take a few more deep, calming breaths, then open your eyes.
  4. Tap your toes. Focus on the tapping for a few seconds. Feel free to break into a tap dance if that floats your boat.
  5. Use a glitter jar. HeartMindKids has great, easy-to-follow instructions for how to make one here. Shake the jar, then focus on the glitter as it falls and settles. Notice its speed, how it moves in the liquid, how it shimmers, its highlights and shadows. Resume whatever task you were doing after all the glitter settles. I had one of these at a former job in which I was often faced with stressful situations and crises. The glitter jar was a great way to center myself in the midst of stressful situation.
  6. Try to take an entire minute to eat a piece of chocolate (such as Dove). Notice the texture, the taste, the feeling of it dissolving and changing, the aftertaste, etc. If you get tired and eat that one before the minute’s up, don’t beat yourself. Just remind yourself that means you get to try again. Mmmmm. Chocolate. ♥♥
  7. Try a mindfulness/relaxation app. I really like Stop, Breathe & Think and Calm.

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have about mindfulness in the comments section! Do you regularly practice mindfulness? What are your favorite mindfulness exercises and/or apps?

 

Reframing the Messy Bun

The beginning of this post is not for the faint of stomach. Just so ya know.

This week, I have been covered in baby snot. And poop. And spit up. Oh, and I’ve been peed on. It’s been one of those weeks. Baby C has a cold, so she’s a fountain of mucus. We’ve been doing a lot of laundry around here. Look how pitiful and cuddly she is.

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I started out the week wearing cute outfits, doing my hair, and putting on makeup. That has changed as the week has progressed. Today (Friday), I felt accomplished that I brushed my teeth. I slept for maybe 5 hours and am feeling the exhaustion that comes with taking care of a sick baby. I threw my hair in a messy bun, pulled on a flannel shirt and some snot-covered jeans, and went forth to conquer the day.

The messy bun is actually a set of twins. There’s Twin #1: the Cute Messy Bun that takes approximately 22.75 minutes of teasing, twisting, and pinning to create a look that says, “I just naturally look cute when I throw my hair on the top of my head and run out the door.”

Lies. Every woman knows that  the Cute Messy Bun is a fraud. It’s cute. But it ain’t quick.

Messy Bun Twin #2 is the Truly Messy Bun. It’s what occurs when you have a dog begging to go outside, your cat is biting your foot because you forgot to feed her breakfast at precisely 6am, and your baby is taking every single clean, folded article of clothing out of the laundry basket. You grab a ponytail holder, manhandle your unbrushed, dry-shampooed hair into a ball on the top of your head that looks like an inviting home for a flock of seagulls, and you go take care of business.

The Truly Messy Bun gets a bad rap. “Oh, I look awful today. I only had time to throw my hair up.” But I would like to pose a challenge. What if we reframe how we look at this messy bun?

Ever since we started dating, my husband has called my messy bun my “Power Bun.” I’ve learned to embrace this term. When I only have time to put my hair in a bun, it’s because I need to spend my precious time getting things done. I’m taking care of business, and I don’t need my hair to get in my way. It’s much more of a Rosie the Riveter, “We can do it” kind of feel, isn’t it?

To be clear, I love to get dolled up, and yes, I sometimes spend 30 minutes creating a perfectly coiffed Cute Messy Bun. It’s usually paired with some classic red lipstick and black eyeliner (my fave go-to going-out look). I love the Cute Messy Bun. I love when I can feel girly and pretty and go have fun. And I’m also learning to love the Messy Power Bun. I’m learning to enjoy that I can focus on taking care of my family, my friends, my life. Instead of telling myself that I look awful, I’ve begun telling myself how proud I am that I’m working hard to create a great life for my family and for myself.

You’re awesome. Go rock that Power Bun, girl.

Really? Another Mom blog?

Yep. That’s right. I drank the Kool-aid. I’ve started a mommy blog. I’ve been a mom for almost nine months and I’m ready to jump into the pool of Mamas Who Blog (kind of like the Ladies Who Lunch, right?). The next logical question is, “Why, Jess? What have you got to offer the interweb that isn’t already out there and pinned a thousand times?”

Good question.

I’ve racked my brain for the past nine months trying to come up with something unique and snowflake-special. I love to make cakes, so I thought about a cake blog. Then my husband pointed out that I’d need to bake several cakes a week. While that sounds like a ton of fun, my baby’s current affinity for crawling around the house and chewing on everything (yes, everything: dog toys, the bathtub, my flip flops) has made excessive cake baking currently impractical. However, here is a picture of one of my cakes. Yes, I’m showing off.

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Moment of vanity over. My apologies. Moving on…

As I’ve been on the journey of becoming a parent, I have discovered many new things. Some of these things are practical, such as how to keep a cleaning schedule or how to go grocery shopping with a 5 month old and not want to throw a tantrum in Aisle 5. As a doctor’s spouse, I have learned how to deal with my husband’s 24 hour shifts and holiday work days. Other things I have learned am learning are more abstract. I have been learning how to give myself (and my husband) grace, how to be okay with messes, and how to truly rest.

So yes, I plan to blog about being a stay-at-home mom and a doctor’s spouse. I will likely post recipes, cleaning tips, little nuggets of parenting wisdom, and so on. AND I also want to share my experience of learning to give myself grace and embracing imperfection. I hope my experience of learning to be kind to myself can inspire others to treat themselves kindly, too.

I may also blog about cake every so often. I love cake.