4 Ways to be a Happy Mama

In my experience, these 4 things have made the most positive and lasting contribution to my happiness. They take time and consistent effort, but without them, I become irritable, exhausted, and impatient.  With them, I am a source of energy, compassion, and creativity.  Even though I often have to talk myself into making these things a priority, I am always, always, so glad I did!

We seem to be in a new age of consciousness when it comes to raising our kids.  We read books on parenting.  We obsess over what they’re eating. We schedule activities. We put aside money in RESPs. We endlessly discuss choices, ideas, and ways to improve the lives of our children. And then, after all that work, we keep ourselves up at night wondering if we’re doing a good enough job.

When you think about it, our children are really lucky! This might be the best time in the history of humankind to be a child. But let’s not forget, that as parents, and people, we need that same care.  And no one else can do it for us.

Self-care is a gift that you have to give to yourself over and over, in order to be the best possible version of that incomparable you.

In my experience, these 4 things have made the most positive and lasting contribution to my happiness. They take time and consistent effort, but without them, I become irritable, exhausted, and impatient.  With them, I am a source of energy, compassion, and creativity.  Even though I often have to talk myself into making these things a priority, I am always, always, so glad I did!

1) MEDITATION: Did you know the average person has approximately 40,000 thoughts per day? Our minds are constantly racing; attempting to arrange the pieces of this never-ending puzzle of life. We need relief from this deluge.

Meditation can be as simple as reading a book intently, weeding your garden, or repeating a Sanskrit phrase for 3 minutes. Whatever form you choose, allow yourself a small space each day where you are more than just a series of thoughts in your brain.

If you’re unsure where to start, I found  The Chopra Center’s 21 Day Meditation challenge to be a great introduction to meditation. After a few days, I began to crave that time where I could be free from my meandering, repetitive thoughts, and feel profoundly grounded.

2) SLEEP: You know that terrible saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead?” Well, ahem, you can’t. But if you don’t get adequate sleep now, you are shortening your life span!(1) A chronic lack of sufficient sleep has been associated with: high blood pressure, diabetes, decrease in sex drive, decrease in long-term memory, increase in obesity, increase in depression and anxiety, and much, much more. (2)

We may not be able to get our perfect 8 hours a night every night, because let’s face it,  our children sometimes need us during those hours. But, we can avoid staying up late trying to catch up on things we think we should do. Laundry. Dishes. Your latest netflix binge. It’s okay to do those things once in a while, but not night after night at the expense of your health.

3) PERSONAL CARE: I rarely wear makeup or dress up, but I very much admire a well-put together woman. I read once that you should wash your hair the day before you really need to, and that has seriously (and sadly) stuck with me. I always feel kind of amazing after I put in the effort to wash and style my hair. But, the prospect of doing so always makes me put it off for another day when I have more time.

But time, my friends, is very elusive.  So, I urge you to seize the day and take that extra time to do whatever it is that makes you feel kind of amazing. Isn’t it so much nicer to look in the mirror and say “Wow!” instead of “Whoa!”  Think about it.

4) EXERCISE:This one is a win-win. When you exercise, you, a) feel more energetic and b) are healthier, and therefore, c) look and feel better!

I know the list of reasons why you don’t have time to work out is long,but the benefits are so extraordinary that you’ve got to dismiss the list. The list will be there literally every day of your life, so put yourself on the list too.

A recent study has proposed that exercising for as little as 15 minutes a day can increase your life expectancy by three years! (3)  Exercising can improve your mood, sex drive, and sleep, as well as prevent and manage a vast range of health problems.(4)

As parents, we need our energy levels to be at maximum, and the ONLY way to do that is to be active (and of course, sleep remember?). My cousin once said, “the hardest part of working out is putting on your shoes.” And it’s true. Once you get those shoes on and commit to your workout, it’s all downhill! The energy you receive is its own reward.

You may have to experiment a little to find out what kind of a schedule and practice work for you. But just start with something that feels good. Maybe you like to sweat it out on the treadmill or shake your butt in Zumba. Whatever works for you is what works! I know I often get too caught up in what the RIGHT form of exercise is when really any type of movement will do just fine. It has to fit into your regular life or you won’t do it.  And you must do it!

If you read all of this and still feel like you don’t have time, either you’re not being honest with yourself or you’re expectations are way too high. Meditation can be as simple as 3 slow breaths before you get out of bed. Exercise can be  a 15 minute walk around your neighbourhood. If it’s a priority for you, you will find the time. It’s a lot easier to give to your family when you have a reserve to draw from. So make sure your inner well is always full. Your children will thank you for it!

(1) http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health

(2) http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-results-sleep-loss

(3) /lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2960749-6/abstract

(4)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676

Sources:

When Things are not Going Well

We all have days when things are not going well. You’re grouchy. You’re tired. You have no cream for you coffee. Whatever the reason, you find yourself spiraling and you know an explosion is imminent.  So what do you do? In my humble opinion, you have two options..

Option One ~

We all have days when things are not going well. You’re grouchy. You’re tired. You have no cream for your coffee. Maybe, like me, you spilled an entire bag of coffee over your kitchen floor, and you can’t really remember the last time you cleaned it.Whatever the reason, you find yourself spiraling and you know an explosion is imminent.  So what do you do? In my humble opinion, you have two options..

One ~

You can dig deep. Fill that empty well with all the self-care you have in your repertoire; meditation, a nature walk, a long bubble bath, a workout, or whatever wonderful thing you can do for yourself that you know will lift you back up.

Two ~

You can utterly surrender to your emotions. Surrender does not mean give up. It means give in. Accept your emotional state. Do you feel tears welling in your eyes? Let them fall. Crying is shown to release stress hormones after all. Put on your favourite sad song and belt it out.

Maybe you’re angry? Go for a drive and yell your loudest! Whatever is trapped inside, get it out.  Then give yourself a little down time. Watch your favourite feel good movie or break out your hidden stash of good quality chocolate and slowly savour each bite. Don’t just shove it in your mouth quickly so you’re children don’t know you’re eating chocolate in the bathroom again (who me?) Own it. Treat yourself like the tired, weary soul that you are and gently bring yourself back to equilibrium.

This is the way we regulate our emotions. This is how we model that very important work to our children so they know what to do when they come across those tough days. Because tough days come to all of us.

Let’s not lash out, stomp around the house, or slam doors. Let’s get to the heart of the matter by asking ourselves, “What do I NEED right now?”

Maybe you want to elevate, maybe you want to indulge. If you pause for long enough, you’ll know what choice to make, and soon enough, things just might be looking good again.

My Life without a Cellphone

Prepare yourself for some shocking information. I do not have a cell phone and neither does my husband. What?!! I know. It’s hard to believe, but this is a conscious choice we’ve made, checking in every now and then to see if it’s still the right thing for  us.

I fully admit that there are great benefits to having a cell-phone; instant communication, a multitude of incredible apps (that I am totally jealous of), the internet at your constant fingertips, GPS, etc, etc. I do think those things have tremendous value.  But, I also think a home phone, face-to-face communication, a computer, a camera, and even maps have value too. And I already have those things.

It isn’t so much the benefits of technology that have me wondering. And I’m not talking about people who use technology appropriately and responsibly, because I know MANY of those people. What worries me is the flip-side, the “risks” of  having a cell-phone, that I want nothing to do with right now.

It’s texting while driving. It’s taking hundreds of photos of inconsequential or staged moments that don’t reflect the true reality of our day. It’s the way we feel the need to force our experiences to be Instagramable or Pinterest Worthy. It’s the way those photos make other people feel badly about their own unraveling, imperfect lives. It’s the way we’ve come to rely on our phones for everything, even basic knowledge. But I think the scariest part is the addictive nature of this technology and the negative impact it actually has on our relationships with ourselves and others.  It’s the way it quietly steals the precious, fleeting moments of our life away by offering us a distraction from the sometimes tedious, but mostly beautiful, real world.

Studies are pouring out linking heavy smartphone use to a host of negative effects.  One in four cell-phone users polled said their partner was too distracted by their cell phone. Excessive use is tied to materialism, impulsiveness, impaired self-esteem, anxiety, irritability, headaches, eyestrain and more.

Are there ways to manage these issues? Of course! But as a woman, a mother, and a wife, I already feel like I have enough to manage. My plate (like yours) is so full of what I need to manage in any given day that the thought of putting ANYTHING else on there makes me want to run screaming into the wild.  So, for now,  I choose not to participate.

And this is what my life looks like without a cellphone:

I email or call my husband at work if I really need to tell him something. I take turns with everyone in my family when I want to use the computer. I have a super awesome camera (that I’m still learning how to work!). I use my home phone to call people. We even bust out maps (fold-out style) on our road trips, or sometimes we stop and ask for directions.

It isn’t always easy. The convenience of a cell phone is phenomenal. Not having one has forced me to try and be where I say I’m going to be, when I say I’m going to be there. But I think it’s also made me tap in to real moments and experience them fully, by bypassing the option of selfies and the like.  My moments belong to me and me alone. I bear witness to them, and I kind of like that.

Because my camera is in a case, it makes me think twice about taking it out for a photo. I ask myself (partially out of laziness, partially out of honesty) if I really need a picture of this moment.

Of course, I do NOT think everyone should throw their cell-phone out the window, nor am I saying that I will never own one. Each of our lives look so different and we all have extremely different needs and desires. What I am saying, is that sometimes we think that what we have will make us happier, when often, what we don’t have can produce equally great results.

Wake Up and Smell the Eco Coffee

I know I’m getting my coffee beans from across the world, so I have no illusion of being eco friendly on this point. But. There is a but.  There are ways to make your coffee habits friendlier to this earth and to you too!

First, if you can, buy organic coffee beans:

This has a threefold benefit. It protects the farmers, the environment and the people who drink it, from exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, which studies show to be cancer causing, as well as damaging to reproductive and nervous systems.

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Second, switch up the way you make coffee:

Unless you spend a lot on a quality coffee maker, you’re likely going to have to replace it every couple of years. I know that in my time as a coffee drinker, I’ve already sent 3 coffee makers to the landfill 😦 An alternative method is using a ceramic coffee dripper. Ceramic is a better choice than a plastic dripper because when plastic is heated, it leaches toxins and hormone disrupters into your body (not the best way to start the day).  A ceramic coffee dripper produces a great cup of coffee, and, because you can only make one cup at a time, you will drink LESS coffee, which is, we must admit, probably better for us anyway.043.jpg

Third, try using reusable coffee filters:

Coffee Sock in particular has an organic cotton filter that is made in the USA. Reusable filters help us produce less waste and are more economical because one purchase lasts a really long time! They are very low maintenance and only need to be rinsed after each use, and boiled in fresh water for 10 minutes every 6-8 weeks.

Fourth, bring your own coffee cup when you get takeout coffee:

I know that personally, I can step it up and make an effort to bring my reusable coffee cup when I do go out for coffee. Just thinking about those piles and piles of take-out coffee cups that can NOT be recycled is pretty sickening.

For so many people, coffee is part of our daily ritual, it’s the delightful, warm way we say we are ready for the day! With these tips, I think you’ll feel even better when you take that first sip of coffee in the morning!

Why BabyWearing is your New Best Friend

When a baby is held in a caregiver’s arms, she is experiencing the world at the same physical level of adults; she sees more, touches more, feels more, and hears more than babies who are carried at knee level in a stroller or car seat.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise to hear that babies like (and need) to be close to their mothers or fathers. It’s kind of their thing. The feeling is mutual (most of the time!) My children were quite content to sit on the floor and amuse themselves, but only for a little while. Then, they wanted uppie (as it’s referred to around here).

I can sympathize. Being on the floor or in a high chair probably gets boring. Life is happening all around and a baby who sits on the floor is missing out on a lot of exciting sights, sounds, tastes, and sensations.

Having said that, babies are heavy. And, they just keep getting heavier. That’s where babywearing comes in!  Wearing your baby means using a sling, wrap, or carrier to keep your baby close while relieving your aching arms and impending carpal-tunnel syndrome.

Best of all, you’re hands free! Meaning you can get other things accomplished while you give your baby all of the love, stimulation, and support that he needs.

What the Research says about Babywearing:

Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller at Harvard University, found that infants who are given more physical contact are more likely to develop a secure attachment to their caregiver, and, they will also be more likely to develop secure relationships as adults.

The ever popular North American “let them cry” approach may actually foster more anxiety and stress than independence and security. “I think there’s a real resistance in this culture to caring for children,” Commons says, adding that, “But punishment and abandonment has never been a good way to get warm, caring, independent people.”

Dr. Maria Blois, author of Babywearing (Pharmasoft Publishing, 2005), confirms that babies who are worn are also exposed to more stimuli and thus, tend to learn faster and achieve more brain development than babies who are not carried. When a baby is held in a caregiver’s arms, she is experiencing the world at the same physical level of adults; she sees more, touches more, feels more, and hears more than babies who are carried at knee level in a stroller or car seat.

Finding the Right Baby Carrier:

There are many baby carrier companies out there, and each parent will have his or her own preference. Most caregivers have a wrap and sling in their baby care collection and use each one for different purposes.

For instance, I tended to use a sling when I was baking because I didn’t want my baby to be able to stick his hands in batter (tested that theory). Instead I would wear him on my back or a side sling.When walking or hiking, I used my soft carrier, for even body weight distribution.

There are so many great carriers out there, my favourite happened to be Beco Gemini. I used it for over 3 years! Yes, even 3 year-olds want to be carried -especially on long hikes 🙂 Make sure to read reviews for the ones you’re interested in and then start your process of elimination till you find the right one for you! Definitely get one for your husband or partner because some carriers have sizing differences.

Bottom line: if it isn’t comfortable, you won’t wear it. And you really need to wear one because babies want to be carried a lot. If you can, spend the extra money to get the one that gets the best reviews, it is so worth it!

Make sure to read the instructions and safety tips that come with your carrier. Even though some things seem like common sense, it’s best to double check when it comes to your precious cargo.

No matter which one you choose, your baby will experience a secure, safe, and nurturing environment that will ultimately liberate both you and your child.

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Reference:Powell, Alvin. “Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say”. The Harvard University Gazette. April 1998.

Pink Icing without Food Colouring

But what do you do when your child wants pink cupcakes? Well, I’m happy to report that I have an answer you will love. Beets my friend. Beets.

While food colouring does make icing look spectacular, it’s not so spectacular for us or the earth.  Artificial colours have been linked to behavioural problems and even certain kinds of cancer, according to the Environmental Working Group.

But what do you do when your child wants pink cupcakes? Well, I’m happy to report that I have an answer you will love. Beets my friend. Beets.

All you have to do is make a regular batch of icing, and simply add the juice from one small beet (about 1-2 Tbsp) using a juicer. And when you do, this is what happens!

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How PINK is that! Pretty impressive I think, for a beet (which is not even pink to begin with).

These cupcakes helped us celebrate Eily’s 4th Birthday over the weekend and I’d say, judging by her little grin, that the amount of pinkness was to her liking.

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How to Cook with your Kids

There are so many things we want our kids to learn; Sports, languages, dance, gymnastics, pottery, karate, swimming, piano. The list is pretty much endless. All of those things are great and have their place, but cooking is one thing that gets overlooked a lot.

There are so many things we want our kids to learn; Sports, languages, dance, gymnastics, pottery, karate, swimming, piano. The list is pretty much endless. All of those things are great and have their place, but cooking is one thing that gets overlooked a lot.

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If you already read kids belong in the kitchen, then you know all of the research and reasoning behind the importance of teaching our kids kitchen skills. It is a really important life skill and one that can directly benefit you and your family (that’s right YOU!) Sharing kitchen responsibilities is very helpful and liberating in a family.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are getting started:

  1. Go over the Kitchen Rules: Since it’s your kitchen, you get to make the rules, but make sure everyone feels comfortable and informed NOT terrified of all the potential danger.  In our house we have a gas stove, so one of our rules is that hair is always tied back.
  2. Respect Age and Ability: We have to have reasonable expectations for our children. Choose age appropriate jobs and be encouraging if things are tricky for them at first. If your child is doing really well, don’t be afraid to challenge them even more by having them create a recipe or learn a new skill (like handling a real chef’s knife!)
  3. Timing is EVERYTHING: Make sure that you pick opportunities where you have a nice reserve of time and patience. If you are feeling rushed or irritable, or your kids are cranky or tired, that’s not the best time to work together. If you set yourself up for failure, you might get discouraged (and your kids will too).  Sometimes my kids want to lend a hand but I’m not in the mood for help. I let them know I appreciate their offer, but this time I’d like to work alone. There will ALWAYS be another meal to help with.
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  4. Start Small and Simple: When your children are first learning, they don’t need to be involved in EVERY step. They can begin with something as simple as stirring the pasta as it boils, or pouring in liquid ingredients. It’s better to let them do just one job at first so that they feel successful and build from there.
  5. Divide Jobs: If you’re working with multiple children, give separate jobs so there is no bickering (Yes kids can even argue about who is going to help you!) If I am baking, my son will get the dry ingredients bowl and my daughter will get the wet ingredients bowl. I once made the terrible mistake of asking “Who wants to beat the eggs?” And both children answered, “ME!!” That did not go too well 😦DSC_0019
  6. Encourage them to touch “yucky” stuff like meat and fish and poultry: Cooking isn’t all cupcakes and chocolate chips (but those things are pretty great). If you want your kids to one day cook you a chicken dinner, you better show them how! I know adults  who STILL won’t touch raw meat, but they will eat it once it’s cooked (how fair is that!) Exposure to these kinds of experiences quickly eliminates all fear or squeamishness.  In no time at all, you’ll have your kids happily rubbing butter and salt and pepper over a whole chicken.

Last but not least, have fun! You will be surprised how quickly children become an asset in the kitchen, once they learn safety, patience, and a few basic skills like cutting vegetables!  For me, a recent triumph was when my son learned to turn off the gas stove when the kettle was boiling. Now if I hear the kettle whistling I don’t have to tear down the hallway because Fynn will say “I can get it!”