Finding balance

In my semester recap post back in December, I wrote about some changes I planned to make to bring create some space and balance: reducing my hours at my paid job and resuming a regular mindfulness meditation practice.

Mindfulness first!  With the exception of three or four days, I have made time for formal practice every day for over a month now!  I try for 15 minutes a day, but if five or ten minutes is what I have, I go with it.  Gifting myself this time is a struggle some days, but it is SO important!  It feels good to be back in the saddle.

As planned, I reduced my [paid] work hours from about 15 hours/week to 8-10 hours/week.  Eight hours a week seems rather ideal, and it seems to be helping with the balance I was seeking, even though I have somewhat negated the reduction by adding an [unpaid] internship (≤5 hours/week).

My classes are going well, though none of them was quite what I expected. The Experimental Foods course doesn’t involve all that much time actually cooking.  Instead, we have a team project that involves making one modification to one recipe over the course of the semester.  Our instructor works at Bissenger’s [Chocolates], so our recipe had to somehow include chocolate.  My team is making chocolate waffles.

My Advocacy in Family and Consumer Sciences course has some nice tie-ins with my Business Management course.  We’ve picked a broad topic to focus on for advocacy, and mine is diabetes (likely drilling down to the issue of insurance coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy for people who are pre-diabetic).  The management course is all online, with very little interaction, so it’s a bit of a slog, but I’ll get through it!

In terms of workload, Advocacy and Experimental are both starting slow, with the bulk of the work during the middle and last half of the semester, so I may be in the calm before the storm right now.

I suppose I should mindfully enjoy the space/balance I have right now and not worry that times may get a bit hectic.  That will happen (or not) regardless (though there is some foundational work I can do now to ease my workload later).

Breathing in . . .


. . . and breathing out.

Spring mindfulness

This past weekend marked my first weekend-long mindfulness retreat!  My mom and I spent Friday evening, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday at a non-residential retreat hosted by Mid America Dharma.

I went into it thinking that the weekend’s beautiful weather would be lost on us, but that was not the case.  The retreat alternated sitting meditation with walking meditation, so we were able to get quite a bit of fresh air while enjoying the just-opening daffodils, the sounds of tree frogs and birds, and the view overlooking the Mississippi River.

The retreat was both rewarding and challenging.  Friday night and the first 2/3 or so of Saturday went down quite easily; it felt like a port in a storm after a rather challenging week.  A period of mindful movement followed Saturday’s lunch hour (mindful eating), and after that, I hit a wall.  Both my body and mind wanted to curl up in a ball and take a nap, but that was not on the schedule.

The next sitting meditation was agony, both mentally and physically (my neck hurt a lot); it wasn’t pretty, but I kept returning to the breath, and I made it through.  I regrouped during the walking meditation that followed, and then, for the final sitting of the day, I was kind to myself, and used a side-lying meditation posture.

Sunday was a little challenging, but it helped knowing that I only had to make it to 3pm.  While there were times I struggled throughout the weekend, on the whole I’m thankful that I was able to make the time to deepen my mindfulness practice in this way.

I’m not sure whether or not it will happen this year, but I would like to experience a similar-length (not yet ready for a week-long!) residential retreat, which will be a very different experience than going home to “normal” life in the evening and morning.  While a residential retreat is, in some ways, my top priority, I may first have the opportunity to take part in another non-residential retreat.  There is one coming up in June which focuses on “Awakening Joy” — that might be too good to miss!

While I was engaged in formal mindfulness meditation practice, Matthew spent the weekend engaging in his form of meditation — gardening!

The cold and wet of the past few weeks meant this was his first opportunity to get his hands dirty.  He took full advantage of the cooperative weather, spending all day Saturday AND Sunday at the garden . . . IMG_7124

. . . with a helper, of course!

Along with my MIL, my garden boys planted all of our onion & leek starts, lots of seedlings (cruciferous and fennel), and potatoes.  New in the garden this year is the Earthway Seeder — Matthew estimated that this saved him four hours of work, just this weekend!

They returned with a lovely harvest of kale and arugula from under the low tunnel, plus some more goodies from last year’s harvest — the last of the potatoes (we still have quite a few to eat!), plus frozen green beans, broccoli, and sweet peppers.  Time to eat up!

March Mindfulness

I’m overdue on a mindfulness practice update, and March is shaping up to be a big month for mindfulness: goals met, an anniversary, and TWO retreats!

Achieving goals and next steps
In this post, I wrote about the short- and long-term goals I set during the final class of the MBSR program.  By the end of January, I had more or less achieved the first part of my long-term goal (engaging in formal mindfulness practice for 25 minutes/day, 5 days/week).  There were a few hiccups in the second half of January, what with taking care of a sick kiddo and being a bit under the weather myself.

My general rule of thumb is, if I feel tired, but have to choose between mindfulness practice or a nap, I go with mindfulness.  Most times, a 25-minute meditation leaves me feeling as rested and re-energized as napping, if not more so!  The only exception is when I am really and truly sick — then, sometimes, the nap is better.

Despite the January hiccups, I’ve continued my practice, though I’ve gotten a bit more flexible.  Some days, I break my formal practice into two 10- or 15-minute chunks.  I like to make sure I’m getting a continuous 25-30 minutes a few times a week, but flexibility is good, especially for making this work long-term.

I’m not sure whether I actually wrote it down or not, but my second long-term goal was to build on my half-day mindfulness retreat experience by attending a 2-day mindfulness retreat sometime in 2015.  I started checking out the retreat options available through Mid-America Dharma back in November, and I penciled in a local, non-residential, weekend-long retreat in March as a good option.

I’m especially excited to share this retreat experience with my mom, who got me into mindfulness practice in the first place.  I’m also a little nervous, but I think it will fine.  My check is in the mail, so no going back now!

In case one retreat is not enough, tomorrow I’ll be repeating my half-day mindfulness retreat experience with Masterpeace Studio.  All previous students in their MBSR program are invited to attend future half-day retreats at no cost, and I’ve had this on my [tentative] calendar since the fall.

Six-month mindfulness anniversary
On Monday, March 9, I will celebrate six months of my mindfulness practice.  It’s just a drop in the bucket, but I feel like I have a great foundation, and the results help me stay committed to continuing both a formal practice and to integrating mindfulness more and more into my daily life.

Three days ago, I received a letter addressed to me, in my handwriting. My first thought was that there was some mistake.  I’d forgotten that at our last MBSR class, we wrote letters to ourselves, to be mailed by our instructor at some time in the future, letters to encourage and inspire our growing practice.  The letter arrived just in time for the half-year anniversary and this month of retreats, which seems appropriate.  Happy Mindful March!

Someone like you

I started writing this post back in December of 2011.  By “started writing,” I mean there was a title (inspired by Adele’s eponymous song) and a bunch of white space.

So, December 2011.  I was five months postpartum.  I’d been seeing a counselor, which was helping, but I was still well-stuck in the snares of postpartum depression.

Adele’s hit song, “Someone Like You,” was released in 2011, and from the beginning, it was a tear-jerker for me (apparently I’m not the only one, see this interesting WSJ piece on the use of appoggiatura in music).  In the months after G’s birth, it became deeply personal.   And I don’t mean I got a little bit teary, I mean sobbing, to the point that when it came on in the car, I probably should have pulled over.

For me, the words weren’t about finding another lover, but about finding myself again, and not the sad, depressed, wanting to go back in time self.  I couldn’t go back to my pre-C-section, child-free self, I had to figure out how to move forward.  Slowly and surely, with help from a lot of people (and with a few bumps, like the winter of 2012), that has happened.

For me, 2014 felt like a real turning point.

Matthew and I acknowledged the many ways that my depression had affected our relationship (in addition to the normal affects of having a child), and we sought help.  We had already started working with John Gottman’s book Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work, and we found a local therapist who had trained in Gottman’s methods.  Turns out that staying married, especially staying happily married, takes work, ya’ll.

Individually, I completed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course and integrated mindfulness practice into my daily life.  This, too, is work.  It’s not a cure-all, and it requires real commitment, but I’ve seen real changes.

Back to the title of this post — in late October, I was driving home from the final MBSR course.  I often enjoyed driving in silence after class, but at some point that night, I turned on the radio.  When I was within two blocks of home, “Someone Like You” came on, and it felt like a sign.  I parked and the tears flowed.  But it felt different this time, mostly happy tears.

Sitting there, I felt like I had finally found the “someone like me” that I’d been searching for — someone scarred, but stronger.  Someone who wasn’t wishing for a different, long-gone life.  Someone living in the present.

Mindful holidays

Well, another holiday season has come and gone.  I’ve seen some people use the term “holi-daze” to describe this time of year, and it can be all too easy for stress to trump peace and joy.  Thanks in part to conscious decisions to keep things simple, and to my mindfulness practice, I was able to minimize the stress this year, making room to enjoy the meaningful parts of the season.


On Christmas Eve, Gabriel fell in love with Rudolph, the Mylar balloon that was accompanying the family Santa on his rounds.  Santa let Gabriel adopt Rudolph for a week, after which time the little reindeer was looking a bit droopy around the antlers.  Hopefully he’ll be back again next year.


After Gabriel was snug in his bed, Matthew and I stuffed stockings and set up the doll house (another advantage of buying used: no assembly required; I just had to arrange the furniture).


Doll house verdict: Gabriel seems to like it, though I’m having a bit of buyer’s remorse (or is it gifter’s remorse?).  My initial excitement has given way to the reality that it’s just a thing, and a rather large thing that now needs space in our apartment, at that.  Also, as I’m reminded again and again, all of the things in the world are not nearly as important of having someone to play with.

Receiving blanket gift wrap for the win.

We spent Christmas day in St. Louis, and then headed to Iowa on the day after (a slight change in our original travel plans that made things a little bit crazy, but it allowed us to spend a few hours with my grandpa before he went back home).

In Iowa, the “lack of playmate” issue was resolved, at least for a few days.


Going home (i.e., to my parents’ house) has been a bit stressful ever since Gabriel entered into the equation.  This trip was by far the nicest, least stressful visit we’ve had in over three years.  While some other variables have changed (e.g., the boys are a bit older), I attribute a lot of this to my improved mental and emotional state.

In addition to the family time, we also enjoyed some nice gatherings with friends.

As expected, maintaining my mindfulness practice during the holidays, when our regular routine was AWOL, was challenging, but more important than ever.  I had to make myself carve out the time and recruit Matthew to Gabriel duty to make it happen.  The second week (December 29 – January 4) was the trickiest, but I still managed to meet my formal practice goal (25 minutes/day, five days per week).

I’d be lying if I said things were perfect.  Two weeks of no preschool was trying, especially since Gabriel is at a stage where the littlest, most ridiculous things lead to meltdowns (e.g., I didn’t use his favorite knife for the peanut butter; I gave him a spoon when there was already a spoon on the table).  Even with my mindfulness practice, there is only so much of this I can take in a day before I am on the verge of a meltdown.

But that’s life, right?  All-in-all, we enjoyed our time together and did a pretty good job focusing on the important things, i.e., people and relationships, rather than stuff or some unattainable “ideal” Christmas.  (We haven’t quite reached the minimal gifting level of one family we know, but we’ll just call that inspiration for the future.)

With three weeks of our aerial silks class left, our experiential gift keeps on giving (fun, exercise, and couples’ bonding time).  My in-laws also gifted me with money to use for a mindfulness retreat (I’m looking at a local, weekend-long retreat in March).  With it’s impact on so many areas of my life (and on others’ lives, through my relationships), my mindfulness practice is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving!