Monday, August 22, 2016

Be Too Busy to Be Busy

So I pull up to the preschool drop off line this morning and the little one, all of four years old now, starts squirming. She remembers this moment from last year......this is the moment Mama drops the charade and allows her baby girl to do what every young kid was designed to do and craves to do with every fiber of her little being.... amok in a moving vehicle without a seat belt on.

This careless, reckless behavior is our little tradition. We pull up, I unbuckle her, she jumps out of her seat, and she wanders around the truck free from restraints and dictatorship and discipline as we crawl closer and closer to the front of the line. Sometimes I'll tap the breaks and she'll giggle her butt off as she slides back and forth on the seat. Sometimes she'll sit on my lap and steer. Sometimes I let her play with the radio and she'll always end up on a song she knows and she'll look at me with wide, happy eyes and start shakin her little tush. This is her wild child time, guaranteed, every morning before preschool.

Today was particularly exciting because it was the first day of preschool. She was peering out the back window and waving at all of her friends, almost unhinged at the idea that yes, Rosie really still does exist after all this time. Once her buddies got bored and stopped waving back, my little one occupied herself by waving at everyone and anyone who passed by. Some parents. A pastor. The gardener guy. And one man carrying a folder and moving at a purposeful speed.

"Mama," my baby said. "Mama, that man didn't wave at me."

I just looked at her, wanting to see what her reaction would be. Would she cry? Would she smile anyways? Had she become so emotionally developed that her feelings were now capable of being hurt by strangers? I held my commentary, waiting.

Her big blue eyes follow him into the building and she pressed her little lips together. "He's just too busy," she said with a frustrating sigh.

She immediately began hopping up and down on one foot and asking me for chapstick, unfazed, the man already forgotten...but I fixated on her comment. I looked toward the door the man had disappeared into and couldn't help but wonder how many waves I'd missed in my years and years of being busy.

I think all too often we tell ourselves, "Smell the roses? I'll get to it." We let our responsibilities rule our lives and our obligations take up our free time. I still behave as if I'm invincible, walking around with all the time in the world, decades away from my deathbed and that pivotal moment when it's all gonna come down to how many roses I actually stopped to smell.

The balancing act of me time and free time and her time and his time and work time and play time is so exhausting and overwhelming I end up dedicating myself to the most pressing need at the moment...and more often than not, that's making money. I can't tell you how many times this summer I've told my beautiful babies I cannot lay down with them, or read more books, or talk, or play, because Mommy has to work. Or clean. Or cook. Sometimes I feel validated. We all need money, right? My job allows them to have a good, stable, secure life. They need a clean home. They deserve fresh, healthy meals. But I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you I sometimes get horribly stuck on the question, "If this was the last day of my life, would I be happy with how I chose to live it?"

Now, I get it. It's not realistic to live every day like I'm dying because if I did it would be liquor-laced ice cream, dolphin rides, and living out of a van while driving cross-country and singing along to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

But I do believe there are ways to improve our current mentality of being "too busy" to be happy. Being busy doing things you don't enjoy is quite literally the definition of busywork. Busywork isn't as productive as we think it is and at the end we're left feeling like we've wasted so much precious time. I am fairly certain we'd all rather be smelling pretty flowers and waving at children than working and washing clothes and being submerged in the mundane and impossibly trivial parts of our lives...but how do we make that happen? How do we reverse the dynamic? How can we become too busy doing the things we love to be busy doing the things we hate?

Like any good procrastinator and/or slacker, I have to schedule new habits into existence. That's right. If I want to start a new physical fitness program, or write more, or even, yes, spend time with my kids and chickens, I have to place it on my calendar. That's what makes it official, you see. Not my deep desire to make those things happen. Not some otherworldly support or push in the right direction. Nope. For me, new habits only truly begin to take shape when they've got their own little color-coded square on my Google calendar.

You might not like calendars. You might like journaling. You might like refrigerator poetry magnets. You might like affirmations. You might like phone apps. You might be one of those insane highly-regarded internal thinkers who can just make their mind up about something and then whammo, it's your new reality. Whatever your flavor, reversing a habit and creating a new way of interacting with your life requires reminders. Lots and lots of reminders. So get your Tumbler feed ready and your motivational pictures printed and on your'll need them.

Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean every single time) I try and change everything too quickly. Instead of delicately maneuvering myself into a better future, I cannonball into it from 3,000 feet above. I want to spend more time with my kids? No problem. I'll just plan 10 to 50 activities for us to do over Christmas Break and volunteer for every single position available at their schools and spend hours yelling at myself when I don't hit every item on the kid-friendly summertime bucket list. That's the way to do it, Jen. Be a better mom by lighting yourself on fire.

The better way? Think big-picture, act small scale. Realize that the little things, even something as simple as a three-minute conversation with your pre-pre-teen before she goes to bed, can drastically change how connected you feel. You don't need to go crazy making all the changes for all the things all the time....start slowly, with small things, little by little. Take five minutes away from work to make yourself tea or eat a banana without looking at a screen. Actually sit down and focus on your food instead of trying to schedule appointments and check email and check Facebook. Leave your phone in your purse while you pump gas. Let yourself do one thing at a time every now and then. Give yourself permission to let your mind wander. Give yourself permission to become completely engrossed in one simple thing at a time...and let that thing be the thought, person, or activity that means the most to you at that moment. Get busy being simple.

Of course, old habits die hard. I can't even tell you how many times I've revamped my goals and tried to be a better mom, a better gardener, a better friend. I am constantly needing to bring myself back to the roots of who I am and reevaluate what it is that makes me happy. I kinda feel like this is normal....I mean, as we change, we grow, right? And as we grow, our needs evolve....I no longer need to marry Leonardo DiCaprio to die a happy woman, for example. Things change. Things change, Leo. 

Don't stress if you fall back into old habits. When you find yourself again tied down for all the wrong reasons, take it as a sign that it's time to check in with yourself and identify what makes you happy. Maybe you're falling back into old habits because you're sad, or bored, or simply not paying attention. Whatever the reason, forgive yourself, get back on the Busy Living wagon, and roll on.

This little dance called Work-Life Balance is a tough one to learn and an even harder one to practice. We're surrounded by compromised ideals and a slew of propaganda specifically tailored to make us feel bad for not doing it all, all the time. The result? We fight to do it all, all the time, and we miss the important know. Like blue-eyed kid waves. And hott boys at traffic lights. And roses that need sniffing. But hope is not lost. We simply need to teach ourselves how to dance in a world designed for dying. We need to be too busy living to be busy wasting time on things we can't extract joy from. We need to fill our lives with moments where we just take our seat belts off and dance.

What about you, dear readers? How do you find balance? What areas are you trying to work on? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)


Sunday, August 14, 2016

How to Deal with Painful People

She talked you down after your first heartbreak. He made you smile in the kitchen that one Christmas when you were so stressed out and sick all you wanted to do was cry. She gave you her cucumbers each and every time because she knew you loved them so much. He listened to your worst, darkest confessions and kissed you anyways. She gently ran her nails up and down your arm for hours and gave you the very best goosebumps. He held your hand and whispered praise while you birthed his children.

And then these people, these moments you once cherished and can still recall with such clarity, they become bathed in red and confusion. The metamorphosis of someone you love becoming someone you do not recognize, someone who would so easily tear at your happiness in a way only they would know to do, that reality tosses you into a place you don't recognize. Sometimes the change is instant, jarring, like a stab wound, deep and wide and open. Sometimes the change is slow, gradual, like an infection that started with something small and seemingly insignificant but then spreads and eats its way through your flesh. Either way, the pain is indescribable. Such betrayal leaves you breathless. Such hate leaves you searching for answers. Such insanity leaves you questioning your judgement.

But you're not crazy. I promise. The presence of painful people in your life does not render you incapable, or weak, or worthless, or disgusting, or stupid, or any of the things you might say to yourself, or the painful people in your life might say with their actions and words.

Painful people, I am realizing, are simply a part of life. They will find you no matter what you do. They could be a stranger. They could be a sibling. They could be someone you married. The random, terrifying ability of someone to change on a dime and become capable of inflicting inexplicable harm is not something we can predict, I don't care how fancy your tarot deck is.

So that's the first step in dealing with painful people: Know that the harm they cause is not your fault. You do not deserve to feel pain. You do not deserve hate. And most importantly, there is nothing you could've done to prevent the painful people in your life from causing harm.

Do you remember when Nancy Kerrigan got whammied by that stupid blonde chick's hitman or whatever? I was a little girl when I watched her on tv screaming again and again, "why, why..." I've done a fantastic impression of that very moment, real-time, way more than I care to admit. It's human nature to want to know why. I want to know why. I want answers.

But there are no answers. Step two: Accept that there are no answers. The painful people in your life made up their mind to act exactly how they are acting and you'll get no help from playing the why and what if game. And if you're anything like me what I just wrote won't stop you from asking those questions anyways so here you go - here are the only answers to be had:

Why are people painful? Because they are miserable.

Why are they miserable? Because they allow themselves to be.

These painful people are not reflections of your abilities. They are not reflections of your judgement. They are not reflections of you. 

Every broken relationship was once whole. And the shattered pieces of every relationship, if you look closely, are speckled with the remnants and hopes and dreams that take us so high, make us think we are invincible, lead us to believe real, lasting destruction is impossible and love will always overcome. And there's only one truth in all of will always overcome. Just very likely not in the way you expect it to.

This is the time to keep your eyes wide open and search for the love. Remember that juxtaposition I talked about a few weeks ago? Every time there's dark, there's light. Find the light. Step three: Seek out the light. Before you even start to think about how you're going to deal with the painful people in your life, hold fast to your light. Find your confidence. Seriously, reread that confidence post. Get back to standing on your own two sexy feet. You're going to need it.

Painful people thrive on inflicting pain. Sometimes they are outwardly proud of it, sometimes they are in denial, sometimes they don't even realize how much they enjoy repeating behaviors that suffocate, stifle, and strangle those around them. Sometimes they are otherwise good people that truly just for whatever reason want to harm you. Whatever their modus operandi, you've gotta realize the results, regardless of the reasons, are always the same: you are in pain, they are thriving off it. Excuses cannot work here. Step four is to cast out your excuses for that person. He may be great at math. She may donate regularly to your favorite charity. You may love his parents. She may be a good person, deep, deep down. Irrelevant. What matters right now is that he is harming you and consequently, is no better than a common criminal (who, in all fairness, would at least outwardly admit he wants to cause you pain).

That's one of the hardest parts, I think....setting fire to those memories and moving past what once was so you can fully accept what actually is. What's actually happening is someone is trying to tear you apart. What's actually happening is you are being threatened and will be eaten alive unless you act defensively. And, dear readers, painful people do not play fair. The more they know you, the deeper they will cut you. The more vulnerable you allowed yourself to be with them, the more open and exposed and trusting you were of them, the quicker they are capable of gutting you. This is a dirty, dirty game that often results in simply cutting the infected person out of your life forever. In some cases, however, cutting the painful people out of your life isn't possible. Game plans are key.

There's a stack of bricks waiting within each of us, piled up in the corners of our heart, patiently holding out for the day we need them for protection. Slowly, surely, these bricks become our internal fortress against those who seek to harm us, tear us down, make us feel like we are nothing. Slowly, surely, one by one, we need to slam these bricks down and knock the dust off our self-worth. The wall doesn't need to exist all the time, or be impenetrable to everybody, but to the painful people in your life, the wall needs to become a reality. No more letting the painful people in and out of your life at their whim. No more answering their cries of change and commitment with love and understanding. Step five is to build your wall. It's a sad step but it needs to be done, lovely readers. You are not this person's friend. They are purposely harming you. Write down your boundaries. Write down topics you will and will not share. Write down what they are and are not allowed to know about you. Create your boundaries and be prepared to defend them. If there's one thing a painful person doesn't like, it's learning they actually really did lose access to you in every way imaginable. It will be game on once they realize what they lost.

And this is where the best step comes into play. What is the most beautiful, serene way to communicate with another person? It's your smile, gorgeous. Your smile lights up the room. It stops hearts. It forces people to pause and wonder. Your smile conveys your strength, your ability to see beyond this trivial, momentary blip on the radar of life. Your smile communicates that these painful people cannot defeat you. You are unstoppable. You are unbreakable. And this person, this person who wishes to see you cry, who wishes to see you fall, will only see you smile as you rise. Step six is to smile. Smile at the painful people in your life and know that despite them and the pain they choose to inflict, you are protected and you are loved and they will never conquer you.

Now, I'm no fool. I know what it means to cry into my pillow and I know that need to call someone you love just to take a few deep breaths. I know what it's like to lose countless hours of sleep and I know what it's like to despise yourself for all the wrong reasons. I know what it's like to smile even though you are literally breaking inside.

But the point is they'll never know one way or another. The painful people in your life don't get that power anymore...the ability to control when you're happy and when you're sad. They don't get to see the results of their efforts; whether executed out of tenderness or spite, their actions will always end with the same reaction - indifference. They cannot phase you. They cannot beat you. Cuz let's face've already won. 

Do you have painful people in your life, dear readers? How do you deal with them? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading :)


Monday, August 1, 2016

Best Ever Homemade Blueberry Muffins

It's blueberry season. This is a good thing because it is also back-to-school season, aka the mysterious and unavoidable Month of Target Shopping Rage. Everyone needs the same crayons, people. Let's be friends. Blueberry season helps to counterbalance the horror of deciphering supply lists...the little blue orbs are adorable and deliciously healthy. They are great in smoothies, on pancakes, or as I'm about to show you, in these muffins.

Now when I tell you this is the best ever homemade blueberry muffin recipe, I mean this is quite literally the best homemade muffin recipe ever recorded, ever. I've tried many, many recipes, dear readers, and this one takes the cupcake (meheh heh). Bonus - these muffins are very easy, require very little time to make, and store so well. The storage factor is important because I'm no saint in the breakfast department; I rarely make my kids a special breakfast because I am typically wanting to jump off my roof pretty sleepy in the morning. I shouldn't be operating things like skillets and gas stovetops before I've had my tea. These muffins allow me to give my kiddos something special without actually cooking anything. I can practically feel the Mom of the Year award in my hands!

***Quick note about blueberries***
I have some lovely, young blueberry bushes in my backyard. We ate all the berries right right off the bush long before we could gather enough for this recipe. I could buy fresh berries from the grocery store but those buggers are super expensive, especially the organic ones I insist on I buy frozen. The tricky thing about frozen blueberries is that they are all wet and juicy - so I use a little less than 1 cup of them for this recipe. If I used fresh berries I could use up to 1 1/2 cups of them if I wanted, it just depends on berry size and wetness factor (giggity). You don't want your batter too wet or it won't bake right.

(makes 12)

6 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-ish cup blueberries

How to Make 'Em

1. Grease your muffin tins or pop those paper babies in there.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust your oven racks so you have one kinda high up - bake higher in the oven to get a more even bake on your stuff. I swear it works. 

3. Melt the butter in a small pan until it is barely melted, then remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a little teeny bit.

4. Combine your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) and whisk until fully blended.

5. Add melted butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla and mix gently until combined. This stuff gets stuck to my whisk so sometimes I use a fork or a spoon. Don't overmix or else!

6. Gently fold in blueberries. Stop and admire your blue fingers for a minute, then continue. 

7. Spoon into muffin tins and wipe off any spills. I fill 'em up until they're almost full because I don't like doing half batches with leftover batter because I am lazy. Also, purple batter rules. 

8. This is prime lick time, so if that's as much your thing as it is mine, go to town. 

9. Bake for 18-20 minutes until brown. If you have purple batter like me just poke em a little and pay close attention to the edges, they will show the nice brown color you're looking for. 

10. You can try not to eat them all at once or you can accept that this is heaven in muffin form and just allow yourself to fall into the deliciousness. Feeling competitive? My record is 12 in 2 hours. Bring it. 

Pin this recipe for later:
Recipe adapted from Santa's North Pole Cookbook by Jeff Guinn

I would love to hear your favorite blueberry recipes in the comments down below, dear readers, and as always, thank you so much for reading :)