Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Author Anne Lamott’s tips for living the life we want for our children June 1, 2010

I offer you a guest-post of sorts today in the form of excerpts from Time Lost and Found by author Anne Lamott which I just found in the always pleasing Sunset magazine.

As a mother who is a freelance writer and editor working from home, I often place my own needs (especially creative diversions) at the very bottom of my priority list. This is not say that I am a self-sacrificing martyr. If I were more proactive with my time, I could be living a more creative and prolific life–one that (fingers crossed) my children and spouse would admire, would bring greater career success, while also demonstrating to my children how to live a balanced life: one that includes focused industry INSPIRED by immersing in and savoring joyful meanders into creative expression.

Author Anne Lamott’s wise advice:

“I tell my [writing] students…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.

Needless to say, this is very distressing for my writing students. They start to explain that they have two kids at home, or five, a stable of horses or a hive of bees, and 40-hour workweeks. Or, on the other hand, sometimes they are climbing the walls with boredom, own nearly nothing, and are looking for work full-time, which is why they can’t make time now to pursue their hearts’ desires. They often add that as soon as they retire, or their last child moves out, or they move to the country, or to the city, or sell the horses, they will. They are absolutely sincere, and they are delusional.”

Lamott recommends we each take, “half an hour, a few days a week. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book. No one else really cares if anyone else finally starts to write or volunteers with marine mammals. But how can [my students] not care and let life slip away? Can’t they give up the gym once a week and buy two hours’ worth of fresh, delectable moments?

They look at me bitterly now—they don’t think I understand. But I do—I know how addictive busyness and mania are. But I ask them whether, if their children grow up to become adults who spend this one precious life in a spin of multitasking, stress, and achievement, and then work out four times a week, will they be pleased that their kids also pursued this kind of whirlwind life?

If not, if they want much more for their kids, lives well spent in hard work and savoring all that is lovely, why are they living this manic way?

I ask them, is there a eucalyptus grove at the end of their street, or a new exhibit at the art museum? An upcoming minus tide at the beach where the agates and tidepools are, or a great poet coming to the library soon? A pond where you can see so many turtles? A journal to fill?”

Half-hour time-wasters to consider giving up:

  • the treadmill at the gym–take a walk in the park, a forest, on the beach, on an undiscovered (by you) path, to a different part of town, anywhere…
  • house cleaning–honestly, what’s with all the scrubbing? Are you competing for the shiniest floors? Does anybody really care?
  • TV–Lamott says “no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor.”
  • electronic connectivity: Lamott remarks that “cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement. That multitasking can argue a wasted life.”

Lamott’s books include Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies. Her new novel, Imperfect Birds (Riverhead Books; $26), will be published this month.

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Fiction Writing Chapter Two: Character name crisis! May 6, 2010

This post chronicles the ongoing saga of one work-from-home freelance writer determined to write her first fiction novel, while raising two rambunctious preschoolers.

As I mentioned in Fiction Novel Writing: Chapter Two Begins! my second chapter’s narration springs from the mind of Mike Hayden, Treva’s father and the owner of Hayden Autos, a Southern California used-car dealership boasting mediocre success at best. A man of heart and good intentions, Mike’s hard work over the years have fallen short of his dreams, and now that his beloved wife Camille has passed, he’s becoming just a little bitter. Orange County’s rich just keep getting richer, while Hayden Autos  continues to struggle. When will it be Mike’s turn to shine?

As I dove into the chapter, I introduced Lyle Langley, Mike’s hero, nemesis and competitor. For whatever reason–writer’s intuition?–I Googled the name “Lyle Langley” and was quickly deflated to learn the name Lyle Langley belongs to one rather memorable character from the enormously popular Simpsons show. Remember Marge Vs. the Monorail (1993), when Lyle Langley, played by Phil Hartman, convinces the town of Springfield to construct a monorail? Not coincidentally, there are similarities between The Simpson’s Lyle and mine, which just goes to show how certain traits can become attached to names in our brains.

As we writers and journalists know, resources on the web must be very carefully fact-checked. As I dug deeper, I learned from Wikipedia (not the most reliable source) that Lyle’s last name was in fact Lanley, On Phil Hartman’s IMDB page, the character’s name is listed as Lyle Lanely. TheSimpsons.com doesn’t even mention the character on its Characters page.  However, Google has the most references to Lanley, so I’m guessing that’s the real one.

Even though my character’s name is, after all, original, this event was a total turn-off and sent me back to the baby name origin sites to look for new name ideas. I created a short list of first names to go with Langley:

  • Leonard–“strong as the lion”
  • Logan–“hollow”
  • Lowell–“wolf”
  • Louis–“fame and war”

In order to avoid the same pitfall, I fact-checked all combinations and learned that Leonard Langley is a well-known boxer, and Logan Langley is a popular name for young American men who share a passion for athletics. Considering that my character is in his late 60s, the name Logan would be too youthful. But isn’t it interesting that among the Logan Langleys I found, most were mentioned in various team/sports rankings?

The winning combination and new name for Mike’s nemesis will be Lowell Langley, a name best fitting my character, and apparently the most free to use.

Now, join me in the hunt for the perfect title for my novel!

Vote for your favorite book title!

 

Writing and Blogging: “The Good Way” April 29, 2010

Today’s guest-post will inspire bloggers and writers seeking to sharpen skills, improve clarity and have more fun! It was written by Of Parchments and Inks, a blog authored by “Brown Eyed Mystic.” 

The Brown Eyed Mystic makes these observations, “You may have a reason to blog; and even if you have none, writing in a corner of your own will come to invent a reason on its own once you do it.” Personally, I think this is a true statement for all types of writers. When a first-grader writes her first story, it is this sense of achievement which plants the seed for a lifetime love of writing and story-telling.  Brown Eyed Mystic goes on to say, “You’d sure want your blog-place to be of value, even emotional value.” Maybe especially emotional value? In an effort to help us “blog the right way,” here are the suggested tips:

Ways to Blog the Good Way

  1. Become focused: This is the most said one by the better bloggers out there. Becoming focused will not only help you to write something of value and usage, but also will rejuvenate your mind when you look at your creation once you’ve finished. Seriously, nothing is more pleasurable than looking at something you wrote and getting the stings of joy. Pay respect to your blog when you are engaged with it and be involved in it like you’d do with a human.
  2. Write for the reader: When you write for the reader, you have a hit. People would come to you only if they sense that your writings have some inherent value. Say if you’re into crafts, you can put up your creations on your blog, and share how you did it with your readers. How-to’s are always great to read. Keep the reader in mind and then blog.
  3. Serve others with fresh comments: When you read someone’s blog and like something about it, make a point to leave a comment. Leaving your trail marks this way is like making the web realize you were there. As you know, links are beneficial for your own blog too; others reading your comments have an inclination to see who has actually put up the little nugget of comment. That said, don’t spam the blogger’s comment area; you may be blocked or you won’t throw a great impression on the readers and will be, at best, ignored. Ignorance is not what you want your blog to suffer from, so be courteous and intelligent while commenting. Along with this, try to keep a track of the blogs that have gone huge, and try to place a comment in the top 5-10 placeholders in their comment’s area. You get to have more visibility that way.
  4. Make commenting possible on your blog: Turn on the comments so that others can post in the area. Along with this, make sure you have a way for the readers to subscribe to new comments on your blog. This creates stickiness which allows traffic coming back to you.
  5. Link the right way: Look out for any links that are no more functional, or no more relevant to your blog. Remove links that throw the notorious 404 error. Your readers and the bots on search engines will be more than happy for this act.
  6. Read, and then read some more: Reading is a good habit, and it applies to blogging also. When you are planning to write a new post but lack an idea, just read others’ pieces. That doesn’t mean plagiarise, no. It means to get inspired and build up something else altogether on reading someone’s post. This happens to me a lot. Try it before your mind starts to hear the clunks of uncertainty and panic!
  7. Socialize virtually: Man is a social animal. Socializing online with other bloggers not only gives you exposure, but also makes you learn more about different niches out there and about other writers’ lives. Just as in the physical world you meet someone and exchange information about you, in the virtual world you give out your website or blog address which lets people know more about you.
  8. Give something away for free: Yep, an e-book is one great example. I know creating a product such as this needs time and commitment, but hey, didn’t we discuss before to keep the reader in mind? Write an e-book or make a video, give it away for free and make someone’s day
  9. Include details: Do not assume that your readers know all the basics about your niche. Now it may be tempting to assume so, with so many resources out there on so many niches, but what separates you from them in that case? Are you joining the rat race and hopping on the bandwagon too? Taking small introductory things for granted is a grave mistake and will send the innocent reader to another place thatbetter  understands their needs.
  10. Never say never!: Don’t get disheartened with your blog’s success. Know that you have a lot to do and to put in before expecting rainbow-colored results from your web’s corner. An upward moving traffic graph is what every writer wants, no doubt, but getting there takes time and effort investment. Don’t give up yet! Be committed to it. Make a relationship with it. Bond with it.
  11. If you write in English, please write in English: I get turned off on reading blogs that have “compressed” words to save on typing/time/effort or whatever. “Words” like u, plz, or wud make me cringe. No offense to anyone, but if you are targeting mature and educated public, please show them that you care by writing real words and decently correct grammar in your blog. I’d probably stop reading much further if there’s a lot of compression and bad grammar in even an otherwise content-rich post.
  12. Write in your own voice: One of Brown-eyed Mystic’s readers, Dr. Tom Bibey, commented succinctly: “About all I can add is to write in one’s own voice and not try to be anyone else. I love Mark Twain, but there was only one of him. All I can do is be the best Dr. B. I can be.” Well said.

Which one do you think is a way to blog the good way that’s missing here? Do you have a special tried and tested method to share?

 

10 Loving tips for real TLC – Do these now, and be happy April 28, 2010

Every day, we owe it to ourselves to take steps toward leading a healthier, happier existence. There are endless possibilities–and rewards!–for good self care, such as meditation, exercise and appreciation of nature. Connecting to your higher power is an excellent path to peace and love, of both yourself and others. 

Today’s amazing and inspiring guest post is from board certified internist, certified holistic physician and national radio personality, Michael Finkelstein, M.D., breaks it down into a series of simple tasks.
 
To live more skillfully, he encourages individuals to view life as a set of opportunities, and to regard every aspect of our journey as an important piece of a collective puzzle. 

Follow your own advice- While advice from others is nice, recognize that no one is in a better position to take care of you than yourself.  You have likely given friends and loved ones guidance many times in the past.  Return the favor to yourself.
Exert self control-  Resist just one urge to eat something unhealthy, crack your knuckles, or say something bad about someone.  You’ll feel better for it and will be more likely to resist the urge again at some point in the future. (See my post on how “good” behavior actually improves self control!)
Forgive yourself for a mistake- Mistakes are inevitable.  Identify one thing you’ve done that was unplanned.  Release any guilt you’ve been harboring because of it and recognize something positive that resulted from it.
Reconsider your needs- Identify something you own that isn’t expensive, and quantify it’s inherent value – a picture your child drew for you; a love note your husband scribbled on a napkin on your first date; family heirloom…finding the value in inexpensive things will help you reevaluate your need for excessive amounts of money that we have a tendency to crave.
Celebrate your age- Consider how fast the joyful times in your life seem to have passed and rejoice in the time you have ahead of you.  Commend yourself on how your experiences have enriched your character and think about how you’d be different had you never had them.
Learn something from your children- Marvel at the ease with which a child interacts with the natural world, and make an effort to release some of the fear that’s attached to our boundaries as adults.
Defy your schedule- When planning your week, make a commitment on one day to wake up when the sun comes up and go to sleep when the sun goes down.  Honoring the sun’s cycle will keep you more in tune with nature, and ultimately healthier.
Thank someone for something- Considering what a person has done for you lately will  help you realize and appreciate what you have
Commend yourself for a job well done- We are our greatest teachers, so it’s important to bestow praise upon ourselves when we deserve it.  

Prior to developing his celebrated Skillful Living concept, Dr. Finkelstein was the Medical Director of Northern Westchester Hospital in Bedford NY and the Assistant Director to the Department of Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC.

 

Easy, low-cost tips for improving your tween or teen’s health April 26, 2010

It wasn’t too long ago when health concerns such high blood pressure leading to heart problems were issues only middle-aged or elderly Americans faced. Increasingly, tweens and teens are struggling with health problems that, left unchecked, will only worsen as they age. Here are three tips garnered from the study. It is important to note that in every case, success was highest when the adoloscent was open to the techniques, and the family/parents offered a positive or supportive environment. However, the techniques would benefit all family members, especially busy parents, so total family participation would be ideal.

  • Meditation
  • Walking with a pedometer
  • Life skills coaching/ learning better problem-solving skills

Dr. Vernon Barnes, who has studied the impact of meditation on cardiovascular health for more than a decade at the Medical College of Georgia’s Georgia Prevention Institute has documented the improved stress reactivity in adolescents with high and normal blood pressures as well as lower blood pressures in inner-city adolescents who meditate twice daily. He adds that a positive attitude and family environment increases the effectiveness.

Meditation also sharpens the mind for education. “When you come to school with a stressed mind, you can’t do as well,” Dr. Barnes said. “The benefit of calming your mind is preparing it to learn.” A review of school records showed meditating adolescents miss fewer days and generally behave better, he added.

Another study showed that the blood pressure of students in a high school-based walking program decreased after just 16 weeks compared with non-participating peers. Dr. Barnes said an inexpensive pedometer is an incentive to move.

“It all works together, which makes sense,” he said, looking at the impact of the techniques over just a few months. “If you could maintain that decrease into your adult years, it may decrease cardiovascular disease risk,” Dr. Barnes said.

Researchers also reported reductions in anger and anxiety after a dozen, 50-minute Williams LifeSkills workshops helped adolescents learn to analyze a situation before responding, to listen and empathize or even stand firm when necessary. Psychosocial factors such as anger are known to contribute to a wide range of health problems including elevated blood pressures and heart disease in adulthood.

What does your family do to alleviate stress?

 

Healing gallstones naturally, a closer look April 16, 2010

Yesterday I posted my story of an emergency laparoscopic appendectomy that left me reeling with the news that I have large stones in my gallbladder. I saw them on my CT scan film, and of course my surgeon didn’t help when she said, “it could rupture tomorrow, or you may not feel symtoms for some time. Either way, it needs to come out.”

As I stated yesterday, I simply don’t accept this as the solution and I’m certain there are other ways to treat it. I announced immediately that I would undergo a gallstone flush using a fast, which clearly alarmed my husband. He called and had an earful for me about how there are dangers involved with such flushes, and that my gallstones have a lot of traveling to do before they are evacuated and there is a risk of pancreatitis–something that occurred to one of his employees’ relatives when she tried a similar measure.

All drama aside, I do need to approach my health rationally and thoughtfully. I’m still shocked that this could even happen to me. I have finally found an MD who shares my ideals for food as medicine, alternative natural treatments before pharmaceuticals and surgery. She is as surprised as I am to hear of my condition, and when we meet next week for the first time, we’ll be discussing other causes of gallstones, besides the usual suspects: high cholestral/high fat diets, multilple pregnancies, being over the age of sixty, being obese, etc. I am entirely atypical. There is a possibility I have too much estrogen? We’ll look into it.

As I recover from my appendectomy, I am resolute about this: I don’t want to have to recover from a similar surgery in the future. I am also suddenly, for the first time in my life, afraid of food. Not in the way one might be afraid after watching Food, Inc., Supersize Me, or Fast Food Nation, but genuinely afraid my gallstone might rupture if I eat the wrong thing. (My perforated appendix didn’t exactly tickle.) If you’ve read my other blog (UnassumingFoodie), you know how tragic this is for me. (As it would be for anyone.) I’ve spent half my life eating a highly nutritious, all natural diet, so I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can adopt a new eating lifestyle. The first step is going to be to learn everything I can about a gallbladder-friendly diet and begin making changes.

A good, gallbladder-friendly diet includes:

  • A lacto-vegetarian diet is best: Only non- or low-fat dairy (Thank goodness I’ll be able to hold onto my favorite 0% fat Greek yogurt and non-fat frozen yogurt!). But, that means no eggs–and no other animal products, even lean chicken or pork. (If I have trouble in this area, I’ll just have to rewatch any of the movies mentioned above. That’ll crush my craving.)
  • Daily consumption of fresh veggie juices, 100 ml each of carrots, cucumbers and beets. Hmm.
  • Plenty of apples, pears, watercress, grapes, and oranges–YUM
  • Plenty of veggies–YUM
  • Nuts, lentils, beans, etc. No problem! Love it!

Things to avoid:

  • No animal products: No meat, chicken, pork, high-cholestral seafood, eggs
  • No high-fat dairy: butter, high fat cheeses, ice cream (may lose some tears over this)
  • No refined carbohydrates: No problem! I only eat super-high-fiber/high protein breads, tortillas and cereals. And then only in moderation.
  • No sugar: I don’t eat refined carbs, so this isn’t SO much of an issue… But what about birthday cakes? Christmas treats? Is anything sacred?
  • Processed or de-natured foods: Yuck, good riddance!

On the fence/Needs more investigation:

  • Chocolate. Well, let’s be serious now. I’ll need to talk to my doctor, but this is an area of highest importance to me. I love chocolate with 70% or more cacao, and I’m not about to wave bye-bye to it forever. I’ll have to investigate how much I can get away with, and how frequently.
  • Coffee. Some of the information I’ve read say that 2-3 cups per day help patients avoid the formation of stones. Other info states that coffee causes stones. Must do more research.
  • Alcohol. Same as above. Some information claims that half a glass of red daily should help. Others say that alcohol is a big no-no. I’m wondering if the “alcohol” that causes the problem is high-sugar alcoholic beverages such as white wine or mixed drinks, hard liquor, 0r malt/carb-laden beverages. Like the health properties of chocolate, red wine offers more than a complement to a good meal.
 

Keeping Up with The Kidlets March 30, 2010

While riding in the car, we were listening to a CD my husband put together for Noah when he was yet in utero. The song Hoppipolla by Icelandic band Sigur Ros came on, and something magical came over my children. Little Noah’s eyes scrunched up in concentration and he bobbed his head to the melody, while Joseph looked dreamily out the window. At the end, he asked me to play it again, and when I did, he said so wistfully, “I could listen to this for one hundred miles…”

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Noah has a little white-washed and sage green rocking chair in his room that is a hand-me-down from his Aunt Shell. He pulled it toward his full-length mirror so he could watch himself rock back and forth, back and forth, each time with a bigger and bigger smile. He looked up at me very excitedly and announced, “Mom! I’m the King of Rock!”

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While we were playing with toys at Nana’s house, little Joseph passed some very audible wind, and rather than saying “excuse me,” broke out with: “Gooooooood morning, Modesto!”

Aside from being a quote from the movie Monsters vs. Aliens, it seemed an ironic and hilarious comment. I wonder what gave him the idea that gas and Modesto are a funny combo?