New Year, Same Me: Resolutions & Other Nonsensical Goals

Cheers and welcome to 2018!

Not that long ago, we expected that by 2018, we’d have flying cars, highly integrated AI robots, and intergalactic travel. While we’re not all the way there (a shame, because flying cars would be the bomb and soon enough we’ll really need a new home planet), we do live in a time with toilet stoolssmart speakers, and too many memes to know where to begin. Lucky us?

I am grateful for GIF technology. [Source]

Strangely enough, we also live in a time where teenagers challenge each other to eat laundry detergent, millions of people receive a “my bad” text after practically crapping their pants, and our megalomaniac president’s diplomatic skills apparently start and end with the term “shithole/shithouse countries.” At least women are finally paid the same as men, right? Damnit.

All that said, there is a lot of good in the world, too. For example, it brings me great joy that we are increasingly confronting the uncomfortable truths about our society, like our collective tolerance for sexual harassment, assault, and inequality. (The Women’s March is this weekend, folks!)

Lest I get too carried away, I’d like to quickly shift gears to the main, and completely inconsequential, point of today’s post: new year’s resolutions.

According to John, resolutions are “the exact middle ground between lying to yourself and lying to other people.” Sounds about right. [Source]

We are officially 16 days into the new year, which means 99% of people have already ditched their half-hearted resolution efforts. Here’s a little-known fact: you can’t fail your resolutions by mid-January if you don’t even set them until mid-January. All your other favorite bloggers (she says humbly) may have long since shared their objectives for 2018, but here at Baby Brown Bear, I’m just getting started.

My Goals for the Year

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t normally do new year’s resolutions. In fact, I’ve been known to roll my eyes at the idea of a “new year, new me.” Why wait until January to make changes when you can start working towards self-improvement any day of the year? Truthfully, I think waiting until January often adds unnecessary pressure and ends up heightening the bar for disappointment if those goals aren’t met. No one needs that.

Me listening to other people talk about their resolutions. [Source]

Only once in my 30 years have I actually set a new year’s resolution. A few years ago, a friend and I decided we would run at least one race every month. Surprisingly, we did it. Had we not joked about and done it together, there’s no way I would have even considered creating such a challenge. I guess accountability matters.

This year, however, I’m getting behind the idea, partially because I’m in a new decade and partially because I already had goals I wanted to achieve and figured I might as well start now in the blank slate of January. It’s for the sake of accountability that I’m drawing a line in the sand and sharing these goals with you.

1. I will learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube

There’s really no rhyme or reason for this one other than that I think it would be a fun challenge. As far as I know, there’s a simple algorithm to solving the puzzle. Perhaps I’m being extremely naive and will end up throwing it across the room in tears. Only time will tell.

Status: Still need to purchase a Rubik’s Cube. I’ve gotten far with this one.

More likely what my patience will allow. [Source]

2. I will finally see a movie by myself

There are two important things to know about me that until this year have been mutually exclusive: 1. I am an extremely social person whose existence requires human interaction to survive; and 2. I love going to the movies. It is because of the former that I have not done the latter alone. That will change this year! It only took 25 years for me to go to a restaurant alone, so it seems almost fitting that five years later is when I’ll finally check off this bucket list item. (Side note: my bucket list is actually more exciting than this would suggest.)

Status: Just need to find a babysitter. Oscar noms, I’m coming for ya.

That popcorn will never have tasted so good. (I love future perfect tense.) [Source]

3. I will connect my phone to the Bluetooth in my car

I’m not technologically illiterate, but I am an all-star procrastinator. That’s why I’ve had my car for five months and have yet to connect my phone to its Bluetooth speaker.

Me with Bluetooth technology. [Source]

Instead of shouting into the phone on my lap, I’ll finally sound like a real, responsible adult who knows how to read a car manual. Woohoo!

Status: Next time I’m in my car, I swear.

At least my current setup is better than this. [Source]

4. I will commit to writing at least two blog posts a month

At one point, I was averaging a post a week. While that requires more time than I’m willing to spend right now, I do think it’s realistic to publish at least two a month. To help accomplish this, I recently acquired a 2018 planner I’ll use to sketch out a rough content calendar. If there’s anything in particular you want to hear from me, go ahead and let me know. Otherwise, I’m excited to finally have a place to organize my thoughts and plan ahead.

Status: Already started (because, yes, this totally counts).

Get enough coffee in me and this could be a reality! [Source]

5. I will start writing a book

This is, as you can tell, a much loftier goal, but it’s here nonetheless. I’ve wanted to start writing more seriously for a long time. The problem is my inspiration; I have several ideas swirling around in my head, but none that have seriously compelled me to put pen to paper. Even though this hasn’t necessarily changed, I decided that I just need to start somewhere. No, I may not end up writing the next great American novel (there’s that humility again), and whatever I do write might amount to nothing, but I’m excited and scared and nervous to try, and that seems to be what resolutions are all about.

StatusNew scratch notebooks and pens purchased. Will need a babysitter to go anywhere with this one, too.

Note: I am neither a hipster nor Tom Hanks, and will therefore not be using a typewriter. Cute GIF though, right? [Source]

Let’s Do This

I figured a healthy mix of achievable and intimidating is a good place to start for my first real list of new year’s resolutions. At least now, I intend to check in on these goals throughout the year. I may even periodically post about my journey (fully recognizing that you don’t care about the Bluetooth thing).

Readers, please join me on this path to self-discovery and, well, basic adulthood. While we’re at it, what are your 2018 goals?

Titus may not be the best role model, but he is role model. [Source]

 

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

 

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7 Easy Ways to Help Save Our Planet

Happy Earth Week!* Let’s all take a second to reflect on and give thanks to this wondrous planet we call home.

hawaii earth

This picture was taken along the Village Walking Trail at Kapalua on Maui in November 2016. The trail you see here was the cart path along the old Village Golf Course, closed in 2007. When they built the new course, they decided to let nature reclaim this one, meaning that the vegetation you see here, already so full, lush, and overall jungly, was actually a fairway not that long ago. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend stopping by; there are many different levels of difficulty available. The one we did was equally hilly and rewarding. Side note: read The World Without Us.

 

As I age and continue to read the horrifying stats about the shape of the planet, I find myself becoming increasingly concerned with my personal carbon footprint. Consequently, I’ve taken great strides to become a more conscious citizen of Earth in the last few years. I have also come to feel strongly that this needs to be a regular topic of conversation between friends and neighbors; sharing, educating, and spreading knowledge of how we can better care for our planet is the only way we will continue to make permanent positive changes.

Now, I recognize that this level of focus on the Earth’s health and well-being comes with a certain level of privilege. When you’re worried about meeting basic human needs, stopping to read a recycling label is certainly not going to be a priority. But for many of us, immediate personal convenience often trumps potential long-term ecological impact. Helping to save the Earth doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plant trees or contact your local legislator (although those things are important too!). Sometimes it’s rather simple. I’d encourage you to think really hard about the little things you do every day that may have bigger implications than you realize.

Don’t be like Titus.

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While I’m no behavior change psychologist, I’ve personally been most successful in making permanent changes when I start small. My goal in sharing the below list is that you may find something new to incorporate into your routine. Remember, every baby step you take is still a step forward.

*This isn’t really a thing, but since I dropped the ball by not getting this out on Sunday, I hereby proclaim the week following Earth Day to be Earth Week! Even better, let’s just go ahead and treat every week like Earth Week.

7 Simple, Eco-Friendly House Rules

1. Get yourself a reusable water bottle.

For real, this is 2017. There is no reason why you should still be using plastic water bottles. For one, they are expensive. Happily, in many cases, reducing your carbon footprint also means reducing your cash outflow. Secondly, multiple studies have proven that there is no real difference in quality between tap water and bottled water (most Americans have access to clean drinking water). In many cases, bottled water is actually just purified tap water. If you’re afraid to use the tap, just get a water filter for your fridge. Lastly, and very importantly, bottled water bottles produce a helluva lot of waste. According to Ban the Bottle, Americans recycle only 23% of plastic water bottles used, meaning 38.5 billion bottles flood our dumps each year.

kleen kanteen

I really like my Klean Kanteen because it’s a good product and because of the company’s mission to help people kick single-use habits.

2. Turn off your lights when they’re not in use.

This isn’t just a cool little Mormon trick!

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Just like the tip above, this one is not only good for the environment, but it saves money, too. My grandfather used to admonish me when I’d leave a trail of lights behind me, “Are you the one paying the electricity bill?” Now that I am, it sure feels good to keep the bill as low as possible. Especially since doing so means I’m helping to reduce wasted energy as well. While the amount of energy saved really depends on the type of bulb in question, suffice it to say it’s best practice to turn off any light that’s not needed.

That said, consider getting rid of your incandescent bulbs altogether. Of the energy they use, 90% is given off as heat and only 10% produces light. That is pretty horrible in terms of energy waste and it can also result in potential fire hazards, especially if the lights are left on for prolonged periods. You’re better off with compact fluorescent bulbs which, while more expensive upfront, will last longer, more efficiently consume energy, and save you more money in the long run. Learn more here or here.

3. Similarly, turn off and unplug appliances and electronics.

Simply put, if you’re not actively using an appliance, you don’t need to have it turned on (obviously the refrigerator and freezer are different). Mom, Dad, this is when I tell you again that Nestle does not need to watch TV while you’re gone. She just doesn’t.

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Also important to note, however, is that many appliances consume energy even when they are not turned on. While this “standby power” is sometimes helpful because it allows certain appliances to show a clock display, use a timer, etc., in many cases it’s wasted energy, consumed for no other reason than because that appliance is plugged in. According to the Three Actions Project and Energy Star, “the average household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for […] more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

There are a couple of easy ways to improve this. One, try to only plug in certain, more single-use items when you actually use them, like your toaster, coffee maker, phone or toothbrush charger. Two, group some appliances together with a power strip so they can all be unplugged at once, like your TV, cable box, and game console. Realistically you don’t need these things plugged in for more than a few hours at a time, and that way you don’t have to go through the hassle of re-plugging them individually.

4. Remember to stash your reusable shopping bags everywhere.

Even though I do reuse the ones I have as garbage bags for my bathrooms, plastic bags make me so anxious. They’re terrible for the environment, take thousands of years to break down, and are difficult and costly to recycle. (I like this list of reasons why they should be banned.) Thankfully, many cities are wising up and straight-up banning these flimsy atrocities altogether.

Also thankfully, there is a very easy alternative to the plastic bag and that is the increasingly present reusable shopping bag. They can be found at almost any retailer nowadays, and some stores are actually sending you away with their own branded version in lieu of any other type of bag. It’s not hard to accumulate quite the stash (in fact, I recently had to unload a bunch for the sake of storage space). What’s more difficult is actually remembering to bring them with you when you go shopping, especially for those unavoidable impromptu stops.

To combat this problem, I like to keep a few in the car and at least one in the stroller (since we walk so many places). I recommend you do the same!

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I used to have this exact bag!

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5. Recycle, recycle, recycle (but do so responsibly).

First, become acquainted with what you can recycle, especially as it can vary by city (here’s Chicago’s guide or find your city’s here). Recycling can be surprisingly complicated, and unfortunately many of us (I’m definitely guilty of some of the no-nos) are aspirational yet misinformed recyclers, leading to increased contamination and, sadly, more trash. Some general tips?

  • Don’t bag your recycling. Doing so often results in the entire bin going to the landfill instead. This also includes leaving the recyclables in brown paper bags. Shake them out first, then throw the bag in.
  • Don’t recycle some of these common contamination culprits:
    • Styrofoam
    • Electronics
    • Coffee cups
    • Toys
    • Plastic bags (some grocery stores recycle them, but home recyclers do not)
    • Pizza boxes (unless you’ve removed the greasy parts)
    • Anything stringy (like hoses or lights)
  • Do rinse out your food containers before recycling. Again, anything greasy or filled with food could cause the whole bin to be thrown in the trash. Anytime you feel annoyed by the 30 seconds it will take to clean a container, think of how sad it would be to clog up the landfills instead. Yes, I even mean the damn peanut butter container. Think of the planet!

Well, maybe not that last one.

[Source]

6. If it’s yellow…

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This one is going to be more controversial, but I think that’s more because of baseless societal norms than logic itself. In fact, it’s a policy that can result in major water conservation.

According to Conserve H20, the average modern toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (older toilets can use up to four times more while high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 or less). Let’s say you have an up-to-par, modern toilet and pee at home six times a day (conservative by my standards). That means you’re flushing 9.6 gallons a day. If you only flush once every three pees, or twice in that same time period, that means you’re saving roughly 4.8 gallons a day, 33.6 gallons a week, 144 gallons a month, 1,752 gallons a year! Because there is “not an infinite supply of water,” it’s important to acknowledge what a huge impact we’d have on one of our most precious resources if more people started to save this much water each day with such a simple change.

And if you’re worried about cleanliness, don’t be. Assuming you have no sort of infection, are properly hydrated, and regularly clean your toilet, holding back on flushes for a couple of hours will have no impact on the cleanliness of your home. In fact, it might even increase it because the amount of toilet particles flying into the air upon flushing will be reduced. (Real talk. Can we make it a RULE that people have to close their toilet lids before flushing? If you think I’m gross for not flushing my pee each time, just know that I’m judging you for your poo splatter.)

7. Switch to all-natural cleaning supplies.

Despite what you think of me now after having read that above suggestion, I am a clean freak.

Please. Disorderly is different than dirty, okay?

 

[Source]

I love to clean. Strangely enough, cleaning bathrooms is one of my preferred chores. But since I’ve become more focused on greener living, I’ve had a hard time justifying the use of potentially dangerous chemicals to so. Instead, I’ve started to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: plain old water and vinegar. Now my go-to, all-purpose cleaner, I use it almost everywhere in our apartment (sigh, I still prefer Windex for glass). I use it on our floors (for the hardwood, I add a little olive oil), in our bathrooms, on our counters, on the door handles, to dust, even to help rinse off our fruits and veggies. Everywhere.

Aside from its ridiculously low cost (so incredibly cheap; out-of-the-ballpark cheaper than any solution found in stores), I rest much easier knowing that I’m not “cleaning” my apartment with chemicals that come with warning labels, or releasing said chemicals into our air or water supply. I’m not afraid my toddler, who has been known to lick random surfaces on occasion, is going to come across the bottle, and I’m not afraid to breathe the air when I clean. Win-win-win-win-win.

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Here’s my set-up. It’s about 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 water with a few drops of lemon oil (or lemon juice if I have a fresh lemon). I bought the nozzle from a gardening spritz bottle at the dollar store and just screwed it straight onto the vinegar bottle. I keep another vinegar bottle for refills.

 

A Few Other Simple Tricks

These don’t need much explanation, but are always worth mentioning.

  • Turn off the water as you brush your teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Walk more and/or take public transportation if it’s available.
  • Buy locally sourced produce and meat. Better yet, try eating less meat overall.
  • Wash your clothes with cold water.
  • Pay your bills online and unsubscribe from paper notices.
  • Use your blinds accordingly to help regulate your home’s temperature (open during the winter and closed during the summer).
  • Buy second-hand toys or toys made from recycled plastic (I love Green Toys).

Educate Yourself

All of these tips help make a difference in terms of eco-friendliness, but overall I want to stress the importance of mindfulness as it relates to energy consumption (something I continue to work toward every day). In general, I think we do a poor job of thinking where energy comes from when we’re going about our daily lives. Yet much of what we do requires some level of power and has some level of impact on the Earth.

consumption-by-source-and-sector-2015

[Source]

Remember, right now, most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, gas). Fossil fuels are high in carbon, so burning them produces a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming. Plus, while they are naturally formed, we consider them to be non-renewable resources because the process by which they are formed takes millions of years and, no surprise, we are going through them much faster than that.

The bad news is that we simply don’t have time to waste on the climate change denial crisis going on. But…

neil degrasse tyson

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The good news is that there is a concerted effort taking place by many of the world’s top scientists to increase the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and prevalence of renewable resources, and it led to record high wind and solar production in 2015.

Long story short, there are things we can all be doing better to help improve the quality of our planet. The only way it will get better is if we all start to think outside of ourselves a little more and do the best we can, now.

What’s Next?

First, I will take a deep breath. If I already felt a little panicky about the state of our environment, doing research for this article sure as hell did not help the matter.

Not me.

[Source]

Okay.

Now, I must remind myself that becoming greener is an ongoing process. Even the above tips, which I already practice regularly, can be improved and refined. For example, I’m terrible about unplugging my phone charger each time I’m done with it. I also just now learned some of the important rules of proper recycling.

There are also countless ways I can continue to build on and enhance my personal eco initiative. I shamefully admit my dependence on paper towels and napkins. In the coming months, I’d really like to work on this, especially because we already have some of these adorable “unpaper towels.”

For more ideas of how you can reduce your carbon footprint, check out some of these lists.

Do you feel jazzed about the environment now? Because I do! Let’s do this people!

Raymond Holt is hands down one of the best characters on television. If you don’t watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you aren’t doing it right. I also firmly believe he’d do everything in his power to reduce his carbon footprint.

[Source]

What are your favorite eco-friendly tips?

 

Baby Bear Goes Camping

I love to camp. Though it’s not something I grew up doing, Papa Bear and I have enjoyed several camping trips during our time together and knew that we wanted to introduce it to our kid as soon as possible.

What I love most about camping is that it allows me to disconnect from everyday stressors  and reconnect with nature and, more importantly, myself. Camping reminds me to appreciate the serenity of nature in a way that I simply cannot do from the comfort of my home. Sure, sleeping on the ground isn’t exactly like spending a night at the Ritz, but it sure as hell is a lot cheaper and literally keeps me grounded (and I don’t use the term “literally” lightly).

I love that camping lends itself to physical activity; being able to hike all day is my idea of a great time, though I certainly appreciate that others may prefer to lounge around the campfire with hot dog skewers and fully reserve the right to elect this option any time I wish. Plus, who doesn’t love roasting marshmallows? I’m not crazy about them in real life, but I’ll go down swinging if anyone says my crispy black ones aren’t the very definition of perfection.

Long story short, Papa Bear and I knew that the lessons learned at a campsite were ones we wanted to teach our children: self-sufficiency, resilience, and the need to be able to go with the flow. Which is why we booked Baby Bear’s first camping trip when he was 11 months old. It is also why we brushed it off when the first attempt blew up in our faces by way of massive storms and 95-degree weather.

Now, at 15 months, Baby Bear can proudly say he’s successfully camped twice. While I don’t want to put words in his mouth–though, who am I kidding? I do this on the reg–I will say that if the amount of dirt under his fingernails and all over his body were any indication, Baby Bear friggin’ loves the outdoors.

That said, here are the lessons had to learn when taking him camping.

The Dos & Don’ts of Camping with a Baby

The Dos

  • Do be flexible. This is so cliché, but it’s worth repeating because nothing will go precisely as you plan or anticipate. Try to see the positive and not sweat the small stuff.
  • Do go car camping. I would love to say we hiked to our campsite with all our baby gear, but until he can carry it himself we will have to settle for parking at our site. That easy access is extremely valuable.
  • Do choose somewhere within easy driving distance from home (at least initially). Just in case the camping trip blows up in your face as our first did to us, it’s nice to be somewhat close to home. Many of the pictures below were taken at Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit in Wisconsin, about two hours north of Chicago. It was the perfect distance away and provided us with stellar, dog-friendly hiking trails and private, family friendly campsites. Plus, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail goes through the park, so we were able to hike part of that as well.
  • Do unplug. Try turning off your phone and leaving it in the car. Yes, the sheer number of pictures in this post is evidence that I did have my phone around, but I promise it was also off for a large portion of the time. And it felt really good.
  • Do pack simple and easy-to-eat foods. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor when you go camping. The following suggestions can be made with the help of a cooler, your hands, tin foil, the campfire, and/or a propane camping grill. They all received the Baby Brown Bear Stamp of Approval, too.
    • Breakfast
    • Lunch
      • Simple sandwich materials like bread, lunch meat, cheese, and mustard (other toppings optional).
    • Snacks and supplements
      • A large water jug with a spigot. While not necessary, it’s really nice to have a small stash of water already at your site when you have a baby.
      • Fruit such as oranges, bananas, and apples.
      • Pre-chopped veggies like cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
      • Organic baby pouches (for the babe or you, in a pinch).
      • Junky snacks like chips and cookies (per Papa Bear’s recommendation, of course).
    • Dinner
      • Foil packs, like the (delicious) ones we did below:
        • Locally grown green beans with butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic powder.
        • Ground beef with pre-chopped onions, celery, butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
        • Potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Do bring the following baby stuff:
    • A carrier for hikes (Ergo 360 pictured, but Deuter Kid Comfort II Child Carrier even more highly recommended).
    • A stroller for when you need to strap your kid in so you can set up the campsite.
    • A kid’s camping chair for when you want to take adorable pictures and relax together around the campfire (Melissa and Doug Giddy Buggy Chair pictured).
    • An easy-to-use pack ‘n play (I am obsessed with the 4moms Breeze). Co-sleeping would likely be easier for the babe, but having him in this meant I was able to put him to bed at his normal time and return to the campfire without worrying about him rolling all over the tent. While he ended up coming to sleep with us in the middle of the night on some of the nights we camped, at least I had a few hours of good sleep before he was jammed in my armpit. Our tent is an older version of the REI Base Camp and comfortably fits the Breeze, two adults, an overnight bag, and a dog.
    • Sunscreen and bug spray (Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34 highly recommended).
    • A mix of clothing options, including shorts, t-shirts, pants, long-sleeved shirts, short/t-shirt jammies, full-length sleepers, socks, a hoodie, and shoes. Temperatures fluctuate quite a bit from the heat of the day to overnight, so layers really come in handy.
    • A sunhat (i play. Baby & Toddler Flap Sun Protection Swim Hat recommended).
    • Refillable water bottles for you and baby (Baby Bear loves this CamelBak Kid one).
    • Diapers, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Oh, and a couple big garbage bags. Enough said.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t go camping with your baby when the weather is out of control. We learned this lesson when we stubbornly insisted on driving for two hours to the site, setting up camp, and trying to put Baby Bear down before admitting that it’s probably not a good idea to leave a baby in a tent that’s a stifling 90-plus degrees. Especially when a massive storm is headed your way. Just don’t even bother; you can always go back.
  • Don’t waste your time bringing a picnic blanket. Unless your baby isn’t moving much yet, this will be completely useless.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your little one roll around, dig, and/or lather himself in dirt. Part of the appeal is getting closer to nature! Let him learn about bugs and rocks. Have a (one-sided) conversation about how plants grow. You can wash up when you get back home. Speaking of which…
  • Don’t shower. Most car campsites have working showers, but I suggest you try to resist. Let yourself get dirty, too. Enjoy living simply for a weekend. But, do brush your teeth. Bad breath and gingivitis are hard and fast don’ts.
  • Don’t forget to hike and explore. Like I said, I absolutely love to hike and be active when I camp. Get out there and get (safely) lost on a trail. Leave your phone and your worries behind.
Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit in Wisconsin.
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This baby loves to sleep in carriers.

Moral of the Story

At the end of the day, you’re going camping and it’s supposed to be relaxing. The above suggestions are just my opinion; you don’t need a lot of stuff, and even this is probably overkill. What matters is that you get outta Dodge and into Mother Nature. Take your baby, clear your mind, and you’ll figure it out as you go. If all else fails, you’ll add to your growing pile of parenting failure memories.

Let me hear from you. What are your suggestions for camping with kids?

 

 

 

Mindfulness & the Great No Phone Zone Experiment

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According to a 2010 Harvard study, we humans spend almost half our time letting our minds wander (46.9% to be exact). Whether we’re thinking about the past, the future, or an entirely fabricated alternate reality, we are not thinking about what we are currently doing. Researchers also found that “mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness” in that a “wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

I personally find this to be true. Hell, even in the ten minutes that I’ve had my computer open to write this post, I’ve felt distracted for at least eight of those and subsequently feel both anxious and frustrated.

Mindfulness has been a buzzword for the past few years, so it’s likely you’ve heard of it. Though I’m sure there are varying definitions of the term, to me, mindfulness means being present–in the now, not focused on past or future. Or basically the exact opposite of the mind-wandering described above.

In my extremely unqualified opinion, it makes sense that we’re hardwired to have wandering minds. In some ways, it’s likely helped us survive. We need to think about past mistakes so we don’t make them again just as much as we need to identify future potential pitfalls so we don’t fall into them. With so much to think about, it’s no wonder some of those anxieties and preoccupations seep into our present consciousness. And while mind-wandering occurs regardless of activity, it also seems like a great coping mechanism for life’s more difficult times; if you’re not focused on what you currently face, it probably seems less real, enabling you to endure more easily.

I also fully believe that today’s technology contributes to our mind-wandering. It certainly contributes to our shortening attention spans. Having the entire world at our fingertips at all times is simultaneously a wonder and a burden. It allows us to capture some of life’s most precious moments, call for help in an emergency, and connect with friends around the globe. At the same time, however, it can feel suffocating, like we must be available and responsive at all times of day and night.

I’m reluctant to admit that my phone spends more time with me than anything, including any person. It’s hard to argue against having it on hand entirely, but as time goes on and I find myself turning to check my phone in less than five-minute intervals, I’m forced to concede that my behavior has become obsessive and unhealthy. I never used to be quite so connected. At work, my phone would sit on my desk all day, but I’d only check it randomly (having the computer at my disposal instead, which is arguably not any better). However, once Baby Bear was born and I was breastfeeding an uncommunicative and sleeping infant for hours on end, my phone became my lifeline to the outside world. I turned to it to help me connect to other mothers, catch up with friends and family, browse social media, read, or choose my next Netflix binge (Jane the Virgin, for the win). Well, with enough time and practice, my brain rewired itself to form a new neural pathway and I was left with a bad habit.

Try as I might, I have not been able to break it. After just mentioning the title of this post to my mom and husband, I received an incredulous stare and a snide “Wow, you’d fail that challenge.”

This is the opposite of the reputation I want! Please don’t let me be that person! We all know the one who checks her phone all the time, ignoring life going on right in front her. I resent that person for not wanting to engage and feel hurt that she values her phone more than she values my company. But, to my absolute horror, I have become this person too.

I cherish my friends and don’t want them to think I don’t care about what they have to say. I love my family and don’t want them to feel like they are unimportant to me. I cannot even describe the depth of my feelings for my baby and fear that he will grow up feeling that I don’t care. It wrings my heart to think that I’ve missed some of his cute and beseeching expressions as I’ve blankly stared at my little rectangular screen.

I justify it by saying that I’m reading (I’m often using my Kindle app), or that I want it nearby in case of an emergency or to take pictures, but in reality I think it just makes me feel anxious to be without it. I’ve grown addicted to my phone. I couldn’t care less about Facebook or Instagram, but I check them both probably 15 times a day. I swipe my phone to look at the time and couldn’t even tell you what it is just seconds later. I worry every day that this addiction makes Baby Bear feel that he is less valuable to me than some inconsequential device.

And all this time I’m spending on my phone? It means I’m not focused on the present. I’m not focused on the moment–what I’m doing, what Baby Bear is doing, or what’s happening around me. For example, I finished a book on my phone this weekend while on a walk through a beautiful park with the babe. It was a gorgeous, end-of-summer day; the birds were chirping, the sun felt warm against my skin, and I took it for granted by focusing on something as unimportant as a subpar romance novel.

I recognize that I won’t get that time back, but I have decided to be proactive about changing the behavior to come back to the present.

Mindfulness Exercises

When I find myself focused on my phone, or just generally overwhelmed with anxiety and thereby not focused on the present (since anxiety really lives in the future), here’s how I plan to reel it back in.

Step 1: Focus on my breathing

Simply put, I will stop what I am doing and take a few deep breaths, treating them like a simple reset button.

Step 2: Ground myself

I will put my feet on the floor and feel the ground beneath my heels and toes. Literally grounding myself will allow me to start focusing on my current surroundings.

Step 3: Take in all five senses

I will become consciously aware of what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. If my anxiety is high enough, I will do the five-to-one countdown; that is, I will list five things I see, four things I hear, etc. Including detailed descriptions of the things around me will help me stay even more focused on the present.

Step 4: Repeat a simple mantra

If needed, I will slowly repeat a simple and relaxing phrase, like “I am calm and relaxed.” An abbreviated version of autogenic training, this technique has been proven to help practitioners start to feel what they repeat. If I’m still feeling anxious after steps one, two, and three, this will continue to help me relax and focus on the present.

No Phone Zone

The above exercises will help me feel re-centered and more in tune to what is going on around me, but I don’t want to stop there. Without beating myself up too much about it if I “fail,” I’d like to start enacting a no phone zone policy during certain times of the day when I am most ashamed of my phone addiction. My hope is that starting small will be the first step to a successful phone addiction recovery.

Meals

Embarrassingly, I have started to read on my phone during meals. I typically read the news over breakfast and a book at lunch. Luckily Papa Bear calls me out if I do this at dinner, but I hate feeling like I have to hide my phone from a child. No more!

Afternoons with Baby Bear

As referenced above, I’m not proud that I look at my phone as much as I do when I’m alone with the baby. It’s not like I’m not watching or interacting with him at all, but I still hate to look down and see him looking for my reaction. From now on, I will leave my phone in the other room when we’re playing at home.

Accountability

Like any journey, I’m sure there will be bumps along the way. Stepping back from my phone will not happen overnight, especially because it is an incredibly useful tool much of the time. However, my hope is that by sharing this here and being more mindful, I will eventually come to depend on it, and other anxiety coping mechanisms, less. In turn, I hope that my wandering mind will be more easily focused and I will feel more positive and engaged overall.

I ask that you help me on this path and (gently) remind me when I stray. Plus, who couldn’t benefit from being more aware of what is in front of us. Take the challenge with me!

 

BBB Positivity Challenge

You, dear reader, are hereby invited to join me in a little challenge this week.

Ready?

Try giving a genuine compliment to everyone you encounter over the next five days.

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That’s it. It’s incredibly simple and yet by the end of the week, you’ll feel reinvigorated. By noticing and voicing something positive about the people around you, you’d be amazed how positive you’ll end up feeling yourself. It’s kind of like how smiling improves your mood, even if it’s forced at first. The more compliments you dole out, the more freely they will start to flow. Positivity begets positivity, at least in my experience.

Plus, who doesn’t love making someone else’s day? You never know what people have going on in their lives, and your simple gesture may be a ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy sky.

Furthermore, it’s just plain fun to see someone’s face blossom into a smile after they receive a compliment, especially if it’s unexpected. As the complimenter, you can’t help but smile back. As cheesy as it sounds, smiling is contagious.

This week, let’s all try to focus on the good in ourselves and in others.

Go forth and compliment!

(And report back! I want to know if this makes you as happy as it makes me.)

Postpartum Periods, And I’m Not Talking About the “Fourth Trimester”

Consider this your official warning. If you don’t want to hear about periods–and just to clarify if you didn’t get the hint in the title, I’m talking about menstruation here–you should probably stop reading this post.

It is partly a motherhood blog, after all, and if you learned anything from your elementary school “birds and the bees” conversation, you should know that a period is a part of the whole deal.

Dad, I’m giving you a fair warning.

Are they gone? Okay. Let’s get started.

Postpartum Periods: Revenge of the Menses

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At this point, I should probably dedicate my blog to The Shining. It’s so diverse in its relevancy!
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My first post-baby period came when Baby Brown Bear was eight months old. Even though I had been wondering when it would happen, even (stupidly) wanting it to come back, it was still a bit of a shock when it actually did. And at eight months, I recognize that I’m pretty lucky! Some moms get theirs back within weeks (and subsequently flip Mother Nature the biggest bird they can muster). As if you don’t have enough bleeding and trauma down there already. I mean, come on.

I have enough friends with babies that I knew that my period might be a little different or that it would suck having it again after nearly 18 months, but I just wasn’t prepared. Why is it that, you might ask? Well…

I’d Forgotten Some Things

Like buying supplies

When you don’t have a period for 17 months, it’s easy to lose track of buying things like tampons. When my period first started, and it came back roaring, I had to desperately rummage through all of our bathroom cabinets. After searching to the point of sweating, I finally discovered a lone, half-empty box of regular absorbency tampons and a handful of postpartum hospital pads. You know, the kind that are basically little pillow-sized adult diapers. I first tried the tampon, but let’s be real, it was like trying to plug a tailpipe with a toothpick. I suppose I’m lucky I had those diapers, because they really work. Pro tip: ask for a bunch of extras when you leave the hospital because you may need them when you forget to buy supplies several months down the road.

Like how hungry I get

Right after baby came, and while my hormonal body was adjusting to milk production, I was ravenous. I must have craved a burger and shake every two hours. That hunger eventually tapered off, though I still feel like I go from zero to 1,000 on the hunger scale if I wait too long between meals, and I returned to eating just slightly more than the average person. Well, lo and behold, when that first period came back, it’s like I morphed into a lumberjack coming home after chopping 65 logs. For a girl who genuinely loves vegetables, all I wanted was cake and chocolate and butterscotch and ice cream and salt and vinegar chips and pickles. And a burger for good measure.

Like how emotional I am

Another throwback to the hormonal shifts immediately following birth, I just wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster that comes with a period.

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I’m sure my husband would have preferred I be locked up in a glass case.
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My sister-in-law said she knows she’s about to be on her period when she feels rage. It’s an appropriate description, really, because I seem to turn from a lovable but slightly irritable woman into a violent, prehistoric sea monster awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation. Otherwise known as Godzilla.

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This totally would have been me if I still had a job. Instead I had to resort to yelling at the dog. Baby Bear’s first words are destined to be, “No, Kaiser!” At full volume, nonetheless.
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Like the gas

Like many other bodily issues, I had to wonder at first if this was a result of pregnancy or if it was just a period symptom I had long forgotten. When Google told me I must have a life threatening illness, I turned to friends who put my mind at ease and kindly reminded me that being a woman can suck.

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Some Things Have Straight Up Changed

Like the fact that I’m feeding a human being

Baby Bear continues to eat more and more solids, but his primary food source is still breast milk. That means he’s attached to me for a good portion of the day. It also means that my body knows how much milk he typically needs in that day. Well, little did I know that period hormones can decrease milk production. I started to feel like I was starving my baby because I couldn’t rebound fast enough each time he wanted to eat. It frustrated him and it scared me. Plus, the taste can apparently change a little bit, which is yet another thing I didn’t realize could happen. Not only did I fear I wasn’t making enough, but half the time he would refuse me by dramatically gagging anytime I got near him. Thanks, Baby Bear. As if I didn’t feel bad enough already.

Like the unpredictability in its duration

Period, period, how it blows. When it stops, nobody knows.

I think I’ve made my point on this one.

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Like the flow

Oh God, the flow. Having a baby turned my babbling brook of a period into a flood of damn near biblical proportions. Honestly it feels like I’m being punished for giving birth by having my body experience 17 months’ worth of periods all at once. Maybe time has helped me forget, but I seriously don’t remember ever being able to feel my period happen. On the positive side, I now know what I’d look like in a murder scene.

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Is It Just Me?

If that’s the case, then man that sucks. However I have a feeling some of you may know what I’m talking about here. I suppose we should all be grateful that our bodies are functioning as they are supposed to–and I really am OVER THE MOON that my body allowed me to carry, birth, and care for my baby–but I think it’s okay to bitch every now and again.

What am I missing? Were you taken aback when it came for you?

 

 

 

Mama Bear’s Labor & Delivery Resource Guide

Though Baby Bear is still only 10 months old, his first birthday is looming. Every time I see a pregnant woman, I feel like she and I are compatriots, both starting our motherhood journeys. Then I realize that baby months are like dog years and 10 months are practically a lifetime. I mentioned it in greater length already, but it really does feel like it’s just been a blink of an eye since he was born.

In starting to mentally prepare myself for what I know will be an emotional day (mostly for me, no doubt), I’ve been thinking a lot about my labor and delivery. Now that my hormones have regulated and I can reflect on those days with more clarity, I decided to put together a list of recommendations based on what helped me feel most prepared for the big day.

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Birth Wishes Disclaimer

I’d like to preface this guide by saying that this is a judge-free zone; this mama is supportive of whatever kind of birth is best for you. In fact, my motherhood mantra is “whatever works.”

Regardless of how you want to bring your baby into this world, I hope you feel supported and empowered. At the end of the day, what we all want is a healthy baby and a healthy mom.

That said, I do think it’s helpful to do a little research so you know what options are available to you, especially should any complications arise. If nothing else, this preparation helps you understand the various and acronym-heavy labor and delivery terminology. It also helps you and your partner think about what you value most in terms of your birth experience. Trust me, you won’t want to discuss your plans in throes of contractions.

I also think it’s helpful for you and your partner to document your birth wishes and discuss them with your provider and support team. The more educated and vocal you are about your wishes, the more prepared you will feel.

Understanding that I had to be flexible, it was my goal from the start to have a natural, un-medicated childbirth. While that is somewhat reflected below, I fully believe that the following suggestions are valuable to any expectant mom (and her partner).

Okay, disclaimer done. Let’s continue.

Labor & Delivery Prep Recommendations

Here are my suggestions for how you can achieve a positive birth experience.

1. Hire a doula

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A doula is a trained childbirth expert who provides emotional and physical support before, during, and after a baby’s arrival. I loved my midwives, as mentioned below, but I knew they probably wouldn’t be in the room with us the entire time. As first-time parents, both Papa Bear and I felt we could benefit from having someone with experience on hand throughout the entire labor to help guide me through contractions, advocate for us if we needed help understanding potential issues, and provide reinforcement for Papa Bear.

In addition to day-of support, our doula, Audrey, met with us during a few prenatal visits to discuss our birth wishes and go over exercises to help baby get into position, pain management techniques, breastfeeding, and what to expect with a newborn. These visits were also an opportunity for us to learn more about each other so we would feel more comfortable during labor (I knew she would see me naked, after all). She also visited us a few times after Baby Bear arrived to help with belly binding and breastfeeding.

Most importantly, Audrey was incredible during my labor. She played an integral role in helping me achieve a positive birth experience. Over the course of those 36 hours, Audrey traded back and hip press responsibilities with Papa Bear and took many turns pouring water over my belly in the tub. She also helped me find my voice when I was having complications delivering the placenta and everything turned into a fog. She was an incredible asset and I can’t recommend her enough.

If you choose to ignore every other item on this list, I hope you do yourself a favor and find a doula. DONA International is a great resource if you want to learn more about the benefits of birth doulas or would like to find one.

Chicago recommendation: Audrey (Thomas) Lava of Breathe Love Doula

2. Take a birth class

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There are a million varieties of birth classes available in any major city. At the suggestion of our midwives, Papa Bear and I attended a six-week course that focused on, among other topics, evidence-based practices, emotional health, and partner communication. We also took the recommended breastfeeding and bringing baby home follow-up classes.

The biggest benefit of a birth class is that it arms you with information about current protocol, including possible interventions, risks, and options, and helps you think about what you want out of your birth experience.

Another huge benefit is that it is great for your mental health. In a birth class, you are surrounded with other soon-to-be-parents who can relate to all the anxieties you feel about the huge change you are about to encounter. Plus, we ended up making two very good friends in the class, and that’s always a bonus!

Chicago recommendation: The Power of Birth class at Chicago Family Picnic

3. Use a midwifery group

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Now, there are many reasons you may want or need to see an OB for your delivery, and that’s totally cool. My previous provider, whom I loved, was an OB. Seeing as how he’s about 80 years old, though, he wasn’t in the business of delivering babies anymore so I had to seek someone new. Luckily for me, there is a highly rated midwifery group right down the street from my apartment. After taking their tour, it was an easy decision to make the switch.

The midwifery model of care takes a holistic approach to women’s health and really centers itself around a woman’s emotional, physical, and social well-being. Generally speaking, midwives handle low-risk pregnancies and are known to have fewer medical interventions (including Cesarean births). Not only were these qualities attractive to me in hopes of having a natural birth, but I was also drawn to the idea of being treated more as a partner instead of a patient throughout my pregnancy and postpartum periods.

I also loved that the midwifery group practiced the latest in evidence-based care. In fact, their standard protocol was almost a perfect match with my birth wishes. I never felt judged or worried after my prenatal appointments, even when I was gaining more weight than expected and was freaking myself out. It was a beautiful relationship, and one I would wish for any woman.

Chicago recommendation: Midwifery Group at Swedish Covenant Hospital

4. Read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

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Okay, here’s where we get a little crunchy. Ina May Gaskin is arguably the most famous midwife in the country and was a founder of The Farm Midwifery Center, which is basically an out-of-hospital birth commune (I told you it was going to be crunchy). She says childbirth is something women are built to do and is a proponent for treating birth as the spiritual experience it was meant to be. Now, a lot of what she says should be read with a grain of salt, but she emphasizes positivity and that’s why her book resonated with me so much.

I also recommend this book because more than half of it is just different women telling their (positive) birth stories. Pregnancy literature is saturated with horror stories about what might go wrong and how hard labor is. Everyone knows things could go wrong and that labor is hard. Those books made me feel discouraged and like I was facing a mountain. Ina May’s book made me feel excited about the labor and delivery. It made me focus on the connection I had with my baby and think about the beauty of labor. It made me feel strong, powerful, and, well, womanly. Every woman should feel so empowered before she gives birth.

Book recommendation: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

5. Be active & exercise

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This is a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. At the risk of sounding overly emotional, I enjoyed exercise more while pregnant than I ever have because I couldn’t help but think about the physical connection baby and I shared. Each breath I took was for both of us; each movement I made could be felt by both of us. Though I hadn’t been a yogi before pregnancy, I will say that prenatal yoga was an especially good way to focus on this relationship.

It was also helpful for me to view exercise as training for the most difficult physical challenge I would ever face. Once I was out of the exhausting first trimester, I hit the ground running (well, more elliptical riding and walking). Staying active throughout my pregnancy helped me feel ready for the physicality of labor and definitely contributed to my being able to keep going after such a long time.

Chicago recommendations: Women’s Workout World (gym), Bloom Yoga (yoga), North Shore Channel Trail (walking path)

6. Make a kickass playlist

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This is a small glimpse of my own labor playlist.

If your labor and delivery unit allows you to play music, I highly suggest grabbing a Bluetooth speaker, subscribing to Spotify (I have the Premium membership for $9.99/month), and putting together your own labor playlist.

Choose music that makes you feel inspired (“I Believe I Can Fly”), sentimental (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”), amused (“Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)”), like an badass (“I’m Shipping Up to Boston”), happy (“Could You Be Loved”), relaxed (“Aloha Oe”), and like the powerful woman you are (“Run the World (Girls)”).

As you can see from the sample in the picture and my above recommendations, my playlist included quite a random collection from across nearly every category, from opera to disco to rap. Each song was carefully chosen to make me feel as pumped up as possible. For the most part, I had some kind of special memory tied to each song, which made for a nice little distraction during contractions. As labor progressed, I started paying less attention to the world around me (including the music), but one of my favorite labor memories was being in the birthing tub, having a very zen moment, and hearing the suddenly loud and…uh…vulgar words of “Down With the Sickness.” My nurse looked at me like I had two heads, but it made me laugh when I didn’t think it was possible. The only song I ended up telling Papa Bear I “just couldn’t listen to right now!” was “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” Sorry, *NSYNC. I was in a zone.

In Short

Feel free to take or leave the above recommendations; together they helped me feel excited and ready to welcome my baby, but everyone is different.

Again, the most important thing is that you feel supported and empowered throughout your pregnancy, labor, and delivery. You are birthing a human being into this world! No matter what, surround yourself with positivity. It’s a beautiful time in your life and should be celebrated as such.

Do you have any other suggestions? Please comment!