Have yourself an anxious little Christmas

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. . .theoretically.

In actuality, it’s making me feel kind of sick. Lately, whenever I start to think about what I have still to do—-all the posts I still need to write for work, the holiday activities I’ve promised to do with the kids, the Christmas cards, the gift shopping, the cookie making, the “making merry and bright” . . .I feel like I’m about to spiral out of control. Or just lie on the ground and weep.

Even the little Christmas Countdown app I have on my iPhone makes my hands break out in a cold sweat. Two weeks?????

I need more time. More. Time.

Though, I’m sure that’s not the only problem. Part of it is the overload of a to-do list that will not quit. Part of it is some weird expectations I have on myself for what the holidays “should” be like and what we “should” do. Even though some of those things aren’t even things the kids care about doing. (Seeing Santa? They could care less. I want the photo.)

But, I’m trying to de-stress in ways that don’t involve eating a jar of Nutella, guzzling wine, or yelling at the kids. How?

* Getting outside. Honestly? I’d probably never do this if I didn’t have a big dog with soft eyes who looks at me as if she’s saying, “PLEASE take me for a walk” And, while it’s One. More. Thing I have to do a few times a day, once I start walking down the street with her, I feel the burdens of the day lifting from my shoulders. I always try to walk at least a half a mile (or so—I don’t measure it!), and breathe really deeply while I walk. I’ve had a few freezing walks the past few days, and while I sometimes wish I didn’t have to go outside (especially at 10pm!), I never regret it afterward.

* Zzzzzzzzz. 15 minutes on the couch and—wow—so much better. Reminds me of when I was in college and would arrive at the library at 7pm most nights, put my books down, my head on the desk, and fall promptly asleep for a short while. Just like then, I wake up ready to handle the next bunch of tasks. (don’t tell my former bosses, but I did the same thing when I worked in an office.)

* Magnesium. I started taking a magnesium supplement a few months ago on the suggestion of my doctor who said it might help me with those mood swings that come up every month. (YOU know what I mean) I’m supposed to vary the dosage based on where I am on my “cycle” but I’m lazy and just take 250mg every night. I can’t say that this is good for everyone (and you should always talk to your doctor before you take any supplements!), but I swear I’ve been a little more even-keeled this fall and winter.

* Just stop and go to bed. I’m a morning person and though I’d love to be productive at 10pm, I’m really just staring at my computer screen, getting nowhere. I don’t expect to get “enough” sleep this month, but I’m trying to get as much as possible.

* Lowered expectations. I will never have a house neighbors wants to visit for my decorating tips. I don’t make 10 different kinds of Christmas cookies or write a note on each Christmas card. And if we don’t see Santa this year, we’ll be okay. I think.

I’m doing okay and trying to remember why I love this holiday so much, though there is always room for improvement. How are you doing? Any other things I could be doing?

ScreenShot2012-09-27at74056AMThis is my last of three sponsored posts with Harvard Pilgrim (here are links to the first one and second one.) All the thoughts, opinions, and advice expressed are my very own. Want to find even more ways to be well? Check out HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn. 

Stop and give me 15 — easy self-care in fifteen minutes (or less)

Holding down a part time job, while homeschooling three kids, keeping house, and taking care of a dog doesn’t leave me with loads of time to sit back and think about me, me, me. But, when things start to get really stressful, I need to set aside even the smallest bit of time for me, or I start to feel like that lady in the Calgon commercials of yesteryear. And while a nice, long luxurious bubble bath sounds nice, I know I’d spend the entire time up to my neck in bubbles, thinking about everything I need to do.

Instead, I have a few quick tricks up my sleeve that take less than 15 minutes but leave me feeling like I did something good for myself. And I tell myself that someday, maybe when the kids are all at college, I’ll be able to take that bath.

Go out for a walk
I’ve always loved walking places when I lived in more urban areas, though I’ve grown more sedentary in suburbia where nothing is really “within walking distance”. This is where having a big black lab is a plus: She definitely needs to work off her doggie energy, and I can cover quite a bit of ground in 15 minutes. Since my kids are old enough to watch themselves (and I’m not going too far in such a short amount of time), I get to spend that time alone with my thoughts in the fresh air. For those of you without dogs, lace up your shoes anyway and hit the pavement for a little power walk—with or without the kids in a stroller. It really does feel great, even when the weather isn’t ideal.

I’m not a meditating kind of person, but after reading Mommy Niri and Lisa Johnson’s posts about their experiences with meditation, I’ve given it a shot. Just sitting quietly for a few minutes with my breath, telling my brain to s-l-o-w down feels really good. This is best done when the kids are still asleep in the morning, or when they are engrossed in a project downstairs, since angrily yelling, “Leave me alone! I’m meditating!” kind of defeats the purpose.

Spa Lite
I can’t ask the kids to sit tight while I run off for a massage at the local spa, but I can leave them downstairs while I spend 15 minutes taking care of my skin with a yummy smelling face mask and some heavy-duty, wrinkle-avoiding cream. Or, another trick I’ve done for years is to rub gobs of hand moisturizer on my hands and then plunge them into little disposable rubber gloves. Sure, I get really weird looks if the UPS guy comes to the front door, and–boy–do my hands get hot, but the reward is super-soft hands, especially if I can stand to wear them for a good long time (bedtime is good too).

Ten-minute tidy
Housecleaning isn’t often mentioned in pampering lists, but, since a messy house ruins my mood like nothing else, I swear by this trick: I set the oven timer for ten minutes, put on some great music, and the kids and I run around the house, putting away toys, clothes, papers, dishes. . .No I can’t clean my house in ten minutes (I wish!) but when the timer goes off, we all can see a big difference—and, if I’m lucky, the kids ask if they can “keep cleaning a little longer“—-er, OK kids. . .go crazy! I’m going to lie on the couch.

Pump Iron
In the perfect world, I’d have a gym membership and, after a nice long run or aerobics class, I’d have another hour to work on my chiseled arms and six-pack abs. In reality, I know any gym membership will go unused, as will big complicated home programs that require expensive equipment or an hour of time. But since gravity doesn’t seem to be giving me a break, I’ve decided to fight back. I grab the little 5-pound hands weights I keep in the family room, and do arm exercises for 10-15 minutes. Bicep curls, triceps push, deltoid squeezes, upright rows. . .It’s pretty amazing how many I can do in those few short minutes. I won’t have “Madonna-arms” doing this, but at least I can help tone things up a wee bit.

When all else fails. . .
I hide in my walk-in closet with a really, really good piece of dark chocolate and eat it v-e-r-y slowly.

Do you have any quick tricks for taking care of yourself during the day?

ScreenShot2012-09-27at74056AMThis is my second of three sponsored posts with Harvard Pilgrim (the first one is here!) All the thoughts, opinions, and advice expressed are my very own. Want to find even more ways to be well? Check out HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn. 

5 lessons homeschooling has taught me about exercise

A couple of weeks ago, I started exercising again. I hate even typing that sentence because it means that, even after getting into relatively good shape and running a 10k for the first time, it should be clear that I must have quit exercising if I had to “start up” again. And while I didn’t really “quit”—-I had a lingering, mystery virus that derailed me—-it sure felt like I was starting from the bottom when I finally laced up my running shoes again and hit the road.


Another time I had “started running” (again).


I’ve lived this pattern most of my adult life: 1. Get motivated. 2. Exercise like crazy (and tell everyone I know all about it until they are ready to scream or unfriend me). 3. Get hurt/sick/busy enough to get derailed for  a week/month/year. 4. Feel bad about myself until I circle around to #1 again.

But one thing that hit me as I was again circling around to  #1 in my “Stages of Fitness”, was how much my experience homeschooling has helped me deal with these relatively small setbacks. Yes, this teacher has been schooled.  Keep reading if you want to know what lessons I’ve learned to take to heart.

1. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

This is an often-shared piece of advice in homeschooling circles. It helps those of us who start panicking over the progress (or lack thereof) our kids are making in any given subject by reminding us to step back and look at the big picture. I daresay that most homeschooling parents would say that they are more interested in raising curious, intelligent, and literate children, and not just trying to have kids who are on lesson 45 of their grammar book by February 1st.

I love how this advice applies to fitness and exercise. My ultimate goal is to live a long, healthy, active life, not just fit into my “skinny jeans” or even finish another 10k, right? In the grand scheme of things, getting derailed from any exercise program for a bit of time isn’t the end of the world–just pick up and keep on going. This long-term goal keeps me from acting like a missed workout is the end of the world.


Another goal? Being fit enough to swim away from sand sharks.

2. Get the hard stuff done early.

I’ve learned that if we don’t do our hardest subject (math) first thing in the morning, it looms over our heads like a gloomy (math) cloud. And then, by the time we get to tackling it (math), we’re all tired, cranky, and that one subject (math) take about five times longer than it should.

For me, at least, the same can be said for running. It is much, MUCH better for me to get up and run out the front door before I do anything else (OK, sometimes I do need a sip of coffee first).


Getting out early also means running by this before the tourists are out.

The same goes for my 30-Day Shred days: I’d pop on that Jillian Michaels’ video before the kids were even out of bed, get it done in under a half hour, and then collapse in front of my laptop feeling a wee bit smug that I was “done” for the day.

3. Pick a curriculum that works (for you).

I will never reveal how much curriculum I’ve purchased because someone else raved about it, only to then resell the barely touched books because it just isn’t right for us. It’s just too embarrassing and makes me look a bit gullible and indecisive. But, when a friend tells me about a great curriculum they are using for spelling (a subject we’ve been pathetic at covering), it’s easy for me to overlook the fussy manipulatives, the multi-step daily instructions, and the steep learning curve in an effort to just “get something that works”. But it doesn’t work if it just sits on the bookshelf, does it?

I was reminded that I need to be wary of “hot trends” in exercise too, especially when all the warning bells should be ringing: This Isn’t Right For Me (e.g.,  Zumba). I just stopped myself from purchasing P90X (but look how pretty their bodies look!) when I realized that I’d never, ever push myself that hard for a six-pack. Never.

4. Grades are just one measure of success.

We don’t “do” formal grading, though I obviously check the kids work and, when pressed by them, will give them a letter grade. But, even if they were in school, I’m sure I’d be telling them that it isn’t only about the grade. It’s about effort, and enthusiasm, and retention.

I don’t get graded for running (thank goodness!) or situps (ditto!), though I’d say that any time I step on that cursed scale, I feel like I’m giving myself a grade. I lost 3 pounds? A+!!! Gained 5? FAIL!

I’d never let my kids feel like their intelligence is all about a letter grade. And I’m not going to let my fitness progress be defined by a number on a scale, or the size jeans I’m wearing, or even how many sit ups I can do.

5.  If everyone is crying, I’m doing something wrong.

I admit to posting Facebook updates that read something like, “If one more kid cries over their math workbook, I’m going to call the public school in the morning!” Teaching my own kids subjects like history, science, and math can be, simply, Not Fun At All.

BUT, I don’t homeschool to have sullen, miserable kids around me all day long. I want to have fun with them.  I want to see them light up when they learn something new, or we do a fun experiment or project. I want to give them breaks to play, pet the dog, or just run around the house.

That’s why I run/walk. For me, running nonstop is torture on my asthmatic lungs and my knobby knees. But running with walk breaks is just more fun for me. It gives me time to catch my breath and look around outside. It allows me to run longer and farther which feels like a victory to me. It keeps me from crying, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.


See? Smiling, because I know I’ll be walking in 3 minutes.


And it also gets me to a certain level of fitness that allows me to then go for a long bike ride with the family in Acadia National Park, or scooter down the street with my son, or even kick my girls’ butts in a Just Dance dance-off in our family room.

No pain, no gain? Yeah, I’m with this to some degree. But if that also means “no fun”, I won’t be sticking with it for long.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start homeschooling this morning. Maybe that’s another lesson I’ve learned that I can apply to exercise: Step away from the computer if you really want to get stuff done.

ScreenShot2012-09-27at74056AM I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post (and others to come!), though the thoughts, opinions, and advice expressed are my very own. Want to find even more ways to be well? Check out HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn.