Biking is Easier

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Two weeks ago my family made a huge leap: we moved from rapidly sprawling Denver to a small town in Michigan.  We moved 1,200 miles with a confused dog, vomiting toddler, pregnant mama, coughing daddy, 2 cars, and 4 storage crates packed to the brim…one might say for fun.  It was a total quality of life move. Not easy, but in the grand scheme, a relatively smooth process (maybe minus the family illness and anxious dog) that has already opened doors in directions we have been wanting our life to move.

One example of this is that our new home backs up to a trail, something I really hoped we could find close proximity to since we love to hike and jog.  Let’s just be clear, I am not your skinny, super-fit, ultra productive type-A (i.e. seems to rock EVERYTHING) kind of woman. However, amazingly to me, this pregnancy has been far more comfortable than my first and my joints have felt pretty good jogging (something my soul strangely has always loved and longed for) in moderately small doses.  

So….

On a recent afternoon I found myself jogging uphill, in the midday sun, pushing a stroller (containing previously mentioned, adorable almost 2 yr old), leash in tow attached to my 50 lb meandering shepherd mix and I’m nearly 6 months pregnant.  A tall, lean, gentleman with white hair peeking out from under his helmet rolled by me in the opposite direction on his bike, smiled and said: 

“Biking is easier.”

Yes, he is right.  100%. Biking downhill, solo, is easier than jogging uphill while lugging your young family along.  But what’s the payoff?

I used to justify my overstressed life with thinking that essentially the harder I worked (at a miserable marriage, very low-paying career, volunteering to the point of having virtually nothing left for self-care) was well worth it.  True I learned a lot, grew to love many wonderful people, and had plenty of great experiences. But when I took a few huge steps to trade it all in, with each stride my life became tremendously happier and new wonderful opportunities, people and experiences took the place of a life that was too ponderous to allow the fruition of my dreams.

So sometimes…by all means, I’m a big fan of hopping on a bicycle and going for a relaxing ride.  There are absolutely times in life we need to do a little lighter work (I’ve been to spin class and mountain biking…cyclists, I am not down playing by any means what kind of workout you can get on a bike- this type of riding is a different metaphor).  But when I hear the internal beckoning to challenge myself and circumstances allow it, be it a move to a new home/place, a shift in career, or jogging uphill while very pregnant, I always find it rewarding when I accept the challenge.

So take a moment or a few to notice if you are speeding downhill, at a moderate flatline, or jogging uphill in various aspects of your life.  Does it feel like you belong where you are or is it time for something to change? Find where your heart calls you and just see if you don’t experience the joy of Being in the Flow.

 

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Finding Common Ground

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On a recent trip to Michigan -where everyone dreams of vacationing mid-winter- my family found ourselves in a hotel pool joined only by another family with a few rambunctious little pollywogs of their own.  We quickly struck up a conversation and as we discussed new awakenings, somehow the father of the other family turned the conversation to the pro life-pro choice debate. He had strong feelings about the issue, as many people understandably do. It is literally a matter of life or death…at times for the mother-to-be, always for the growing little one inside her.  

Historically, I tend to stay quiet (or a long time ago, hotly debate) when people communicate strongly in a direction in which I lean differently.  But as I watch the political divide ever-increase in the United States, people literally choosing to rub shoulders as much as possible and even live in neighborhoods with predominantly those of like-minded views, I see dischord, fear, and even a lack of our leaders being able to reach across the aisle and find compromise.  As Brené Brown points out in Braving the Wilderness, the current culture is full of dehumanization based on ideological differences…when we still have so much in common.  So on this occasion, I spoke up.

I didn’t attack my fellow swimmer nor pretend to agree with him. I focused on how I love that we can see things entirely differently, but both of our reasonings were based on compassion.  One was looking with compassion focused on the right of any human to get every chance to live. The other was looking with compassion centered on quality of life for both parents and children.

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There are so many ways to look at every issue.

No one formed an opinion with the intent to hurt others.  Both formed their opinions with a deep sense of compassion and care.

I omit my opinion on this topic today because this isn’t about me.  This is about us as humans finding common ground: with our neighbors, our relatives, our leaders, and those of different customs, religions, cultures and countries.  It is about seeing what we do have in common, what we share. This is a hope and plea that we see the light in everyone and remember as Mem Fox writes so aptly in Whoever You Are , we all smile, laugh, hurt and cry, share joys, love and pain.

handshake of the generations

I hope you find common ground in an unlikely place today.

Halloween Treats

So typically I utilize this platform to try to provide soul food with a deep message and provocative questions.  Admittedly, I love holidays though. One of my most treasured pieces of advice that I ever received came from a woman in her 90’s who I met one winter morning.  I asked her advice for a long happy life. She paused for a moment to ponder, then said:

“Celebrate Everything.”

So I do.  I find it makes life a lot more fun.  

Today, in honor of Halloween, I want to share my playful attempt to celebrate by participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie Challenge   of writing a 100 word Halloween story.  It is a tribute to one of my favorite childhood activities of making popcorn balls with my mom.  Back then, we used corn syrup and orange food coloring. My recipe is ever morphing, the current one is a little more like the contents of this story.  Happy reading and Halloweening in whatever ways make you smile!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Halloween Treat

By Dawn Shea

 

Halloween winds howled, leaves danced, Trina shivered.  “Time for something toasty!” She knew what must be done.

“Witches! Fetch the cauldron!” A pot was placed on the stove.

“Light the fire!” The stove was ignited.

“Pour in toads’ toes!” Soon popcorn kernels began to pop.

“Add werewolf mucous and crocodile bile!” Honey and peanut butter were cooked and combined.

“Mix the poison.  Shape it into rocks.”

“Now simmer goblin gruel.”

Smoke billowed. “Ahhh! Simmer, don’t scald!”

The pot was cleaned, gruel added again. The sweet scent of chocolate wafted.

“Dribble gruel over the rocks!”

“Witches!  Grab a stone!”

“Delicious!” 

Embrace the Closeness

This morning I awoke before dawn to my dog yelping in her sleep.  Sometimes she gets excited in her dreams. Inevitably, however, my nearly 9 month old daughter awoke as well. “Mamama” she called as she rustled in her crib.  I slid out of bed and walked the 3 feet to her crib. I picked her up, gently bounced and rocked her. She made playful airy noises through her lips, flipped her head back and forth trying to find the right position on my shoulder, looked up at me, then started to settle back into rest.

I returned her to her crib.

Immediately she rolled around.  “Mama” she called out again. I picked her up, told her it was “sleepy time” and this time offered to nurse.  She gladly latched on as we made our way to bed. She tried to convince me it was time to rise and make sweet googly eyes at each other.  I again encouraged “sleepy time” as I closed my eyes and eventually she dozed off again, unlatched and started to flail in a way that indicates “give me some space.”

Once again I returned her to her crib.  Once again she flipped over to her tummy, inch wormed forward to the edge of her crib, pulled up to stand and called out: “Muuuuuu.”20180614_063106(9)

Again I slid out of bed, picked up my precious baby girl and began to snuggle and swing her.  Her eyes closed, her body went sleepily soft, and as far as she was concerned, all was right in the world again.

One could say “that baby has got you wrapped around her fingers” and to some extent that is true.  But usually she does sleep well on her own. And on the sweet occasion when she just wants to be held, I turn to gratitude: for a child who trusts me, for someone who feels safe in my arms, and a loved one who requests a warm embrace.  In the grand scheme, these tender moments of closeness are rare.

20180307_074621I embrace the closeness and just smile.

Be Happy As You Are

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As a teenager I encountered a comic of a skinny girl looking in the mirror and seeing her reflexion looking rather walrus-like.  I could relate. I wasn’t skinny, but people’s feedback let me know I had some element of lacking self-perception. It was the best description of body dysmorphia I’ve encountered and something I have long struggled with.  Not to say I’m a twig like the woman we all kind of loathe on “This Is Us” who goes to Kate and Toby’s support group for people struggling with being overweight.

I do have a hard time seeing reality though.

An example: this weekend I was (needlessly) eyeing with dissatisfaction my slightly wrinkly belly, softened with stretch marks from my earth shatteringly wonderful new gift: the chance to be a mother.  I was harping on myself and hoping for change and feeling a bit on the -as I judged myself- “bigger than I am happy with” side.

Then I tried on a pair of capris I haven’t worn in nearly 2 years.  Pants that rarely fit around my derier before I had a baby and here they were saggy and oversized around my back side and legs.  They are size 0.

Now they aren’t loose around my waist, and it may be a larger than average size 0, but I fit into a tiny pair of pants and somehow still struggled to feel thin.

More importantly, I struggled to feel happy with myself.  

Houston, we have a problem.

So now the work…the ongoing process I have been working on for over 20 years.  It is not to self-condemn for being shallow and out of touch with reality (clearly there is some of that going on).  The work is to keep learning to love who I am.  I am healthy, strong, kind, a caring friend, mother to a wonderful little girl, married to my best friend (who happens to be one AWESOME guy), a lifelong learner, and I happen to have a soft tummy.  So what? It’s still strong and healthy. I have plenty of other features I love- inside and out.

Comparison can be a hard enemy to fight.  It can also be a helpful tool. The fact that clothes which were once too tight are now too loose gives me a point of reference and shows me what I don’t recognize without the comparison.  It reminds me my body is in about the best shape it ever has been, so my work of consistent exercise and ever-improving eating habits are paying off (don’t worry, I eat three full meals, plus little snacks on a daily basis).

I may never look in the mirror and see my physique as most people do, but there is so much more to each human than what meets the eye.

I don’t need to be perfect to be happy.

I can love myself and others…as the exquisitely beautiful, imperfect beings we all are.

This Too Shall Pass

On a recent evening, as I was 4 minutes from finishing a choir rehearsal, I peeked down at my phone and noticed a text had come from my husband: “Please come home soon.  Thank u.”  I knew that meant something was awry with our baby girl.  So I scooped up my belongings and ran out, calling home the moment I left the building.

In a soft, near-whisper, my husband explained that our daughter had wailed at a volume, pitch and length he’d never heard.  Of course, just before I called, she finally fell asleep in his arms.  After a long day of work, he had spent his evening trying to soothe our daughter.  Dinner had been ordered, but when it arrived, he was concerned that if he moved the baby might wake and return to her previous state of distress, so he never answered the door.  I returned to my sweet, exhausted, hungry husband.

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It got me thinking of countless times in life when I felt worn to my wits end when relief finally arrived.  Sometimes I brought on the shift myself, sometimes I had no control over the situation, but the ancient Sufi wisdom seems pertinent in life so often: “this too shall pass away.” 

This weekend the 2nd Women’s March takes place all over the United States and the world.  After countless years of women being treated as second class citizens, a giant wave is rising that has united people to feel empowered to finally bring a new shift.  Voting rights were a start.  Laws about equal employment opportunities brought another new start.  #MeToo and the culture shift coming from it is not just visible, but tangible.  Even those with intellectual disabilities are getting to  tell their stories and finally be heard and believed.  All the world’s ills are not going to be fixed in one big sweep, but on a huge scale, it seems long-held cultural norms are  changing. womens-marcha-2018

With this in mind, I look down at my precious baby every day and feel optimistic about the world she will grow up in.  I remind myself to not worry about a hundred other good things I could, but choose to not do right now.  There have been and in the future will be plenty of opportunities to focus more heavily on my career and have a cleaner house.  The stage to nourish my baby from my own body, snuggle her for hours and cover her in hundreds of kisses is short lived, so I am taking full advantage.

I remind myself the time for countless hugs and kisses is limited, so too is the length of every melt down and other trying stage we encounter.  Each moment passes, the painful and the precious.  So I embrace the joy and take deep breaths with a mind focused on movement when times seem harder than I have the strength to get through.  And life goes on.

What is hard right now?  

How can you create movement through it?

What experiences do you want to truly embrace in your life right now?

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Pregnancy’s Butterfly Effect

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“Let everything go.  Allow your worries, your thoughts, your anxieties to float away and for a few moments, just be here in this moment.”  How many times do we hear this yoga jargon in classes, especially the opening and while lying in Savasana?  I remember listening to similar cues in a class about a month ago and thinking, “I have a baby growing inside of me.  I am a mother now and no longer have the luxury of completely releasing because this little person is a part of me and my actions impact another now.

Long ago my mother started to teach me about how my actions had consequences that impacted other people, but growing a human inside and realizing -this body is not just attached on the outside of me with skin around it that attaches us, but truly growing in the center of my being- did my perspective take a huge shift in what parenting will entail.

As I began to think more and more about this idea that what I do can have significant impacts on another is certainly not a new concept, but it just brought up this idea with greater magnitude.

A few examples:

The substances I put in my body (food, drinks, and if I were to choose, other substances…you know, like gum) impacts my energy level, my moods, clarity of thought, lifespan, self-image and even health.  This can impact my productivity, relationships with others, and availability to work or engage.  How often do we think about these things as the fork covered with salad or the wonderful smelling donut is going in?  

colorful-salad

As you get dressed and prepped for your day, how often do you look in the mirror and ask: what do I want my appearance to say about the type of person I am and does this appearance communicate who I really am: be it confident, professional, warm and gentle, a lover of the earth, etc?

Do you set plans or goals for years, months, weeks, or each day that help you spend time being and becoming ever more who you really want to be in the grand scheme: whether this includes the types of relationships you invest in, service, professional, physical or educational pursuits?  Are you living in a way that truly makes you happy?

For this little window of pregnancy, I have the opportunity to be pulled into a vacuum of reminders that if I don’t eat frequently enough (or the right foods), it makes a more significant impact than  I realized – i.e. nausea, waking up in the middle of the night, random impulses to cry, etc.  This is preparation for remembering the importance of regularly feeding the little person who is about to come out and be a very significant part of my world for the rest of my life.

We don’t always have such blunt reminders in front of us that say: “Your actions directly and indirectly impact others!” But they do.  The words we speak and how we express them can be a pivot point in another’s day- and how many others can a grumpy or very cheerful person impact: from how they drive, to glances, to words they share with the people around them? dadreadtochild

Do you sit down to watch a tv show (that will inevitably suck you into at least 2 more) after work tonight or walk your dog who is already harassing you to get outside?  Do you tell your kids to go play so you can catch up on emails after dinner or spend a few minutes reading and maybe singing with them before the bedtime routine begins?  Do you check another gossip column online or call an old friend who has been on your mind lately?

We have so many choices every day and while we can’t see most of the consequences, we can remind ourselves that each choice makes a difference.  So even if your most recent decision wasn’t one of your best, you always have the next one to make more of the impact you want to share with the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Want to Be a Mother

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Did you grow up wanting to be a mother?  I used to think that deep down, every woman felt most fulfilled through motherhood, but I now realize it is some people’s callings and many of us do not feel that way.  I respect every woman who is honest with herself, and even more so, those who find joy in the journey, whether it is what you hoped for or not.

I grew up in a home with a mother who started very young- only 20 years old when she welcomed me into the world.  She was married and had a husband who tried to be supportive, but it was a constant struggle.  They did the best they could, raised our family with lots of love, laughter and tears, and yet for some reason I wanted to grow up and follow in my mother’s footsteps.

My twenties came and went with a 7+ year marriage I thought meant parenthood was joyfully imminent.  Instead it was painfully placed at bay, but looking back, I could not be more grateful.  I matured, studied child development and parenting for over a decade and had countless opportunities to help parents and children form happier, communicative, calmer homes.

As the next decade of life rolled in, I made a huge shift- let go of the marriage that wasn’t serving either of us, moved across country, switched jobs, made new friends, reconnected with family and passed up the Ph.D. path to find something equally fulfilling and hopefully less stressful.  I met my wonderful husband, we went through a lot together in only 2 years, but what gave me peace was seeing that every transition and rough patch, and we’ve been through some doozies, didn’t ruffle our feathers much.  We laugh things off, take naps when we need them, give each other space to develop uniquely, and love and make lots of time to be together.  I found and invest each day in the relationship I always dreamed of, so naturally, my long-held dream of parenting rekindled.

It seems this earth sign (Taurus) gal just needed a solid foundation for all the ducks to line up in a row.  In early December I finished yoga training, then 2 weeks later my husband and I bought a house.  Quicker than ever before, I nested into the new haven to welcome guests, host holiday parties, and bring light and love into a space one friend said felt like “a big, warm hug.”

Well, the holiday treats came- and stayed in superfluous left-overs until I had to throw out some of the pie I kept eating for breakfast and thought was making me feel less than great.  But feeling “off” continued and was accompanied by waking regularly in the middle of the night-not regular for me, emotional waves of feeling weepy for no reason, and just overall lethargy.  My husband didn’t notice the time for my period came and went, without coming.  After the roller coaster of last year, I was far from eager to take a pregnancy test.  I waited until 40 days without flowing to take it. Lo and behold-it was positive.  I had debated for weeks: do I tell my husband if it comes out positive?  When?  How?  With all the cool finesse of Anne Hathaway’s gawky Princess Diaries character, I just left the test on the bathroom sink, knowing it could be 8 hours before my hubby saw it.

30 minutes later he happened to roam in that direction. I just kept folding laundry, nervous, with no idea what he’d say.  “So this is a thing?” came wafting from the loo.  “I guess so” awkwardly replied.  We slowly, cautiously talked, celebrated, and have enjoyed the ever-changing adventure of baby-growing unfold over the past mont and a half.

After telling one of my brothers “the news”, he and I met at a local diner to catch up.  It was a heartwarming and dynamic conversation, as I always find our interactions to be, but particularly interesting on this occasion as we discussed parenting.  About a year and a half ago, he and his partner became parents- as I see it, very nobly, through first fostering, then eventually adopting a child.

Amid our many conversations topics, he asked me about a desire I’ve always to which he could not relate:

“Why do you want to have a baby?”  

I was a little surprised- having considered, but never been asked before.  My initial thought was, I just always have.  It could be engendered through strong cultural messages I’ve received since birth, or perhaps it is part of my dharma, but motherhood, including growing, birthing and raising children has always been something I’ve desired, with the support of a loving partner- found!    

I find it absolutely amazing that my body has the potential to grow another human- if you want a wonderful comedic break to get a mini lecture on the miracle of birthing, check out Jim Gaffigan’s stand up sketch on 4 kids.   As I’ve studied over the years about the significance diet, emotions, thoughts, and activity level of a mother can have in the first few months of a yet-to-be-born child’s life, I find it the ultimate, beautiful opportunity to give a human the best possible start to life.  Then raising a child- the ultimate social experiment- in challenge, learning about love and selfless giving.  I spent 15 years refining my diet, lifestyle, and even relationships to create the best possible incubator for a little one.  I’m far from perfect and my activity level since pregnancy commenced has significantly declined (I don’t have the energy, let alone feel well enough to do 10-15 hours of yoga and jog/walk 6-10 miles a week right now).  I do the best I can, even when that is just drinking water, eating crackers, and walking my dog halfway down the block daily.  I think every parent does the best they can.  So today I honor parents, mothers, and every woman – for doing your best, owning who you are, and hopefully finding the love for yourself you absolutely deserve.

And if you, like me, have a little “Snowflake” on the way, I wish you peace, comfort, and joy in the journey as well!

 

Simple Ways to Spread Love -S.O. not required

This time of year has always been special to me- whether I was a twitter-pated teen, a lonely “Single-Awareness-Day” celebrator, or deeply in love, Valentine’s Day has always called to me.  In the years of early adulthood, it finally occurred to me that it need not be a time to mourn the freedom of being single or be a day of pressure for men.  I realized, that like childhood when I spent hours creating the most beautiful box and valentines to take to school, it can be a celebration of creativity and sharing kind feelings for anyone in your life (self-included).  So whether you are 15 or 55, single or partnered, here are some ideas to get your creativity going to enjoy a day of love.

 

Bake and Share Cookies      cookies

Have you been meaning to meet your neighbors and haven’t found the right ice-breaker?  Or maybe you have a couple of kids you know would love to be reminded how sweet they are.  Give a plate of treats to someone and just let them know you are thinking of them or want to be their friend.

 

Write a Note of Appreciation

When was the last time you emailed your sister just to tell how awesome she is?  Have you recently told your dad how you appreciate something special he did with you growing up?  Take 5 minutes to send a card, email, or even hand-written letter to someone who has touched your life.

dogwalkingWalk Your Dog

This may sound like an odd one.  However, speaking from experience, for those of us pooch-loving pet owners who sometimes get so busy that by mid-week that we short-change our furry friends with extra short outdoor visits, especially in the middle of winter, this can be great.  Give your pet an extra-long walk to show him or her some love, while gifting yourself with some exercise, fresh air, and if you get out while the sun is still up, a healthy dose of immune-boosting Vitamin D.  

Take Someone a Meal or a Cup of Tea

Do you know anyone who is sick, has a new baby, or is going through a really stressful time at work?  Make an extra portion, grab an extra coffee when you order one, or hand the homeless person on the corner a $5 gift card to a nearby cafe.  

Heart Attack Someone (the paper kind)

paper_heart_attackI remember going out with friends on a few occasions to cut out paper hearts, then tape them all over someone’s door with little notes of how the person was appreciated and loved. Years later, while leaving for work one day, I saw a beautiful display of hearts attached to skewers that sprawled the lawn of my apartment complex.  I was shocked and touched when I curiously went to see who they were for and found my name written on one of the hearts.  Trust me, this one is both fun to create and touching to receive.

There are so many ways to experience and express love.  It may, but doesn’t necessarily need to be romantic.  Just showing love for humanity can be simple AND make someone’s day.  So go ahead and fill someone’s heart with joy -you may notice that a certain “someone” will end up including you!

 

Surrender Into the Flow

Recently, I sat down with a friend and her new baby to catch up.  She’s in the midst of asking some of the big career questions like: “Do I want to go back to my job?”  “Is it time to pursue the career I dream of?”  and “Do I want to stay home with my new baby?

As I sat with this thoughtful woman, wondering aloud what to do and how it will all work out, I could feel her anxiety building until she said, “And I realize I just need to surrender.”  It felt as though we both took this huge breath and exhaled out all her stress.  She wasn’t saying she would relinquish her efforts, but relax into trusting she will find the niche where her energy can propel her forward instead of fretting.

Lao Tzu calls this being ‘in the flow’ in the Tao te Ching.  You can think of it like the way a screw works.  When it is placed in a hole that is too small or comes at the wrong angle, you can push and turn for a long time without getting anywhere- which is not helpful.  On the other hand, if you place that same screw in a hole that is too big, it slides right in, but offers no real support.  When a screw catches the threads just right though, all your efforts move it forward into place.  With moderate effort, maximum progress and solid support are produced.  

screw-in-a-screw

Surrender- not giving up, is being present in the here and now.  Recognize the opportunities and options right in front of you.  Acknowledge when you feel you are “in the flow” and move with the current.  

I think life is rarely easy.  However, when we stop pushing painfully hard against our natural path and allow our process to unfold, it is in that unfolding we experience the sweet surrender to being in the flow.  Like swimming with the current, we can go so much farther than attempting to compete with the riptide.  So be present, take a breath, and work with the flow of your life’s current.