5 New Year’s Resolutions Worth Keeping

Winding Down & Shifting Gears

The holidays are always an epic display of twinkling lights, iPhone portrait moments, gift-giving action, and a merry-making smorgasbord of delicious eats and drink. The magic of Christmas brings back childhood nostalgia, and memories in-the-making with family and friends. After a month-long cycle of feasting, I’m ready for a bit of detox and self-improvement.

New Year’s resolution – it’s that time again! This is where a pen and notepad come in handy, and I prioritize smart resolutions. Scouring the Internet, the Huffington Post quotes Amanda Stemen, a therapist and coach, who defines SMART as “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely” goals. I’ve prioritized resolutions to an achievable list of five, which may resonate with you.

1) Follow through on a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Why start out easy? I want to focus on a major goal that can have life-changing implications and take me out of my comfort zone. You probably have a BHAG that you’ve been ruminating about, and 2019 may just be the year to see it through.

2) Focus on the most important things and filter out the noise. With all the distractions that exist in this world, sometimes the hardest thing to do is to focus on what’s most important. This is where I focus on the most important things and people in my life. Happy and successful people are able to do this well.

3) Cook more and keep a bowl of fresh fruit visible at all times. It’s so easy to eat out or get take away on any given day, but I appreciate the process of cooking and creating healthier meals that contribute to longevity. I’ll have my cheat days, but overall I am committed to cooking more and being more mindful about what I eat.

4) Declutter with more of a minimalist mindset. I’ve been inspired by Marie Kondo’s book on the magic of tidying, and she makes the concept of cleaning as a life-changing revelation. I love the concept of only keeping items that have repeat utility and spark joy. Less is definitely more.

5) More family time in an analog kind of way. This is where we put technology aside and focus on activities that are fun and enriching for the family. Rediscovering classic board games, reading books, baking, exploring, and getting craft-y together.

Cheers to you and have a happy new year!

Pumpkin picking reaches mass hysteria

Blinging Pumpkins

I don’t know when pumpkin picking commanded such mass hysteria, but it has reached epidemic proportions in the latter part of October. This past weekend, we celebrated a friend’s birthday at G&M Farms in the San Francisco East Bay, and it was a glorious mob scene of parents and children. I swear the humans outnumbered the pumpkins slumbering on a vacant field. Tired zombied parents pulling their unencumbered kids and giant pumpkins collectively in dusty, red radio flyer wagons.

Bales of fun
Enjoying the corn maize labyrinth

There was no escaping the bags of sweet-smelling kettle corn, painted scarecrows, Indian corn, pony rides, and bales of hay designed into an elaborate maize labyrinth. I was half-expecting David Bowie’s Jared the Goblin King to bust out like the Kool-Aid man from the white-washed barn between us and the corn maize. But no — it was just the dads slinging kids on their shoulders while waiting in line for the next pony ride.

Activities at the pumpkin patch
Riding a wee little pony

Pumpkin season is the formal acknowledgement of fall, the precursor to the holiday madness of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every fourth quarter celebratory occasion. It is a rite of parental passage that is both a timeless classic and Instagrammable sensation. If you have a young child, pumpkin picking is nearly inescapable, unless you’re traveling out of the country during the month of October.

Pulling up my Instagram feed, I am duly inundated with photos of adorable babies and tots smiling with orange pumpkins in the background. Glamorous women guilelessly reposing against a backdrop of white-washed pumpkins, gourds, and chip proof manicures.

Pumpkins are as Americano as pumpkin pie, as this luscious squash is thought to have originated in North America with references dating centuries past. I am a big proponent of the fall tradition welcoming pumpkin spice with a vengeance – pumpkin spice coffee, pancakes, cereal, cakes, and popcorn. As with all holiday traditions, I am happy to go all out as I relive the magic of childhood.

Next up – Halloween.

All about the decor
Halloween decorating

Afternoon Tea with a toddler. Think twice

Try not to sweat the small stuff

I love creating memorable experiences for my kids and finding special occasions to bring us closer together. Whether that’s a weekend adventure, a trip to a museum, or creative projects at home. With two young kids, I almost always feel exhausted at the end of any project or endeavor. My son is also at an age where he is over-the-top inquisitive. Parents, you know what I’m talking about.

My son, on the subject of Margherita pizza

Why is the pizza called Margherita? What are these green things? Do I have to eat them? What’s basil? Does basil grow in the ground or on trees? Did God make them? Does God eat basil? Can we get a pizza without basil? Actually, I just want pizza with no sauce, no cheese, no basil, and no tomatoes.

Me: No, because it’s no longer a pizza.

Fast forward: The basil and the tomato slices (on his side of the pizza) have been surgically removed.

Half and half
You can tell which side is his side of the pizza.

I love that my son is curious. He has an existentialist mindset, questioning absolutely everything and defining his own sense of the world. Something we should always encourage as parents…to question things.

My daughter, when it comes to tea time

My youngest is a toddler with a bold personality. She can be a hurricane force of nature, and I can see the machinations behind her cherubic mien. In many ways, she and I are most alike. My mom says she is a mirror copy of what I was like at that age. Personality to boot. Embracing her English side, my daughter loves playing make-believe with tea sets and sipping from tiny cups.

Make-believe tea time
Playtime with tea and cakes

My son was an easy toddler in comparison. He has a breezy, sunny personality and in my eyes, a total charmer. My daughter is far more intense in comparison, a roller coaster of fun and ebullience.

Afternoon tea with fine china

I had made an appointment to take my parents and the kids out for afternoon tea. It would be a first-time treat for my daughter and son. I thought “how cute” if I could dress up my girl in a frilly outfit and adorn her hair with a fascinator hat from her Auntie D. She was so good with her toy tea set. Surely this was an excellent idea.

Reality: Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The English Rose Team Room in San Francisco’s East Bay is a gorgeous place with fine bone china and tables covered in pretty tablecloth. Every inch of the place is covered in floral patterns. Very English I thought. But as soon as I walked in, I had a feeling of dread. Everything was in close quarters and the fine china looked incredibly delicate as I saw my toddler stomping her little feet.

Beads of sweat formed on my brow and on my upper lip. As we sat in chairs with little seat cushions, the server appeared and patiently walked us through the tea service.

Tea service
Server was warm and friendly

Delicate teapots in the shape of chimneyed houses, cups with delicate handles, clattering saucers, gilded plates, and a 3-tier tray of finger foods appeared. Every inch of the table was covered with dangerously breakable items. Did I want hibiscus tea or mint tea? Cucumber sandwich or egg sandwich? Scone with clotted cream and jam, or carrot cake? Sugar cookie or apple pie? Everything was sumptuous, but I was too busy hovering around my little girl to have much of an appetite. Making sure she didn’t touch this or that, or worse actually drink anything from a tea cup.

I looked over at my son. He was enjoying himself and was quite happy with his special meal and apple juice in a tea cup. Bonus, he found a tiny dish of M&Ms next to his flower shaped PB&J sandwich. Talk about finger food!

Afternoon tea with the family
Happy with his kid-friendly meal

My son was a perfect little gentleman and made his momma proud. My daughter, on the other hand, was building herself into a quite a state. Of course she wanted to interact with the fine ladies sitting at adjacent tables. An elderly pair were having a polite conversation to our right, while the table to our left had the most well-behaved pair of young sisters, bows and all. This was not going to be my day.

My daughter bellowed that she wanted to get down from her chair. Nana and I promptly escorted my mini-me outside where they had pretty tables and tea sets displayed in a garden party setting. Phew, disaster averted. We had escaped outside.

Garden party setting
My girl running around in the garden party setting

Pretty soon a stuffed bunny with long floppy ears caught my daughter’s eye. She managed to decapitate it with one quick swoop of her energetic arms. The bunny’s head was fortunately affixed to a wooden stick, so I was able to easily re-attach the head to its floating body.  Another potential crisis averted.

So much for finding respite outdoors, the garden party setting was rife with adorable breakables. With defeated looks, we marched right back inside.

Back inside for tea
With nana by her side, she dips her pirouette smack dab in a frosted cupcake

We finally got my little one to take a few bites of her meal. She managed to dip her pirouette straight into the frosting of a pink cupcake, and made a little mess of things. Bits of her beautiful floral PB&J sandwich ended up on her lap, and she slingshot launched the fascinator hat, nearly hitting me in the face. Her idea of sitting in a chair was to stand, so she was at eye-level with all of us. Did she think she was the Queen of England?

Our afternoon tea outing turned to be an abbreviated visit, and we left with a generous doggie bag filled with all the sumptuous food we had not been able to enjoy.

We’ll come back in a couple years

Fine time
Afternoon tea in the future

In summary, I loved the ‘idea’ of experiencing afternoon tea with the kids. My son happily nibbled on all the finger foods and loved the whimsy of the tea settings. It was too much to expect my toddler daughter to sit still for even a few minutes. Would I go back? Absolutely! But I’ll wait a while until my daughter is a bit older. At the moment, we’re better off taking her to the local pumpkin patch.

Relationships are work (in a good way)

Marriage, a journey in progress

Whoever said marriage is easy has not been married. It’s hard work. Just like you work to excel in your career, parenting, sport, or other pursuit. Marriages are not Netflix Originals where someone realizes the error of their ways, and decides to whisk you away in romcom fashion for a happily ever after.

It’s also not a dating app scenario where you get to swipe right if something doesn’t work in your favor. Don’t like the way he picks food from his teeth. Too bad. You’re committed. Unfortunately, we live in a challenging time in which a “disposable” mindset is so pervasive. Fragmented families, experience with unhealthy family and romantic relationships, and an instant gratification culture where you’re just an app, tap, and swipe away — can make commitment that much harder. Everyone comes from a different place, and everyone comes with their unique set of baggage.

So, let’s talk sustainability.

Great relationships take work because it’s worth the investment.

We are products of our childhood, upbringing, and cultural norms. Statistically speaking, children of divorced parents are more likely to jump ship. And, if your parents married others after divorcing, you’re 91% more likely to get divorced. (Source: Nicholas Wolfinger, Cambridge University Press 2005). 

But statistics are just numbers at the end of the day. Like Ben Stiller’s risk manager character in Along Came Polly, it’s best to throw the risk assessment out the window and commit to doing the work. And be your own best judge.

After reading key publications and articles on the subject (the work required is consistent), I’ve distilled the summary down to five points.

1) Be a good listener and ask questions

As a busy mom I am engrossed in work, caring for the kids, running errands, and juggling multiple projects. Being a good listener is one of the most important aspects of being a great partner. You can visibly see your partner’s reactions and emotions. We each have our own idiosyncrasies, and it’s important to be present for those we love.

2) Have high standards for each other

Having high standards for each other is crucial. There was a reason you got together in the first place and exchanged ‘I do’s.’ If something bothers you, address it immediately. Don’t tolerate negative or hurtful behavior on either side. Talk it out, and work on nipping the problem in the bud.

3) Learn to argue constructively

Sometimes you agree to disagree. It’s inevitable. I can have strong opinions as does the hubs. Arguing constructively means respecting the others’ opinion and exiting the argument gracefully. That may involve humor, a time-out from conversation, and sometimes just an acknowledgement that both views hold merit. Agree to disagree.

4) Show you care

I grew up in a household where “acts” (i.e. making a favorite meal, planning a special trip) spoke volumes when it came to love and commitment. For others, those acts aren’t enough. Some require more tactile or verbal demonstrations of care and love. Talk about and understand what your partner needs from you (and vice versa).

5) Plan regular date nights

Life gets in the way, and you find yourself frequently exhausted and drained. Having kids are an absolute delight, but it’s hard to schedule regular date nights. This is an area that can provide a great opportunity to re-connect, and just have fun.

Enjoy the journey (there will be bumps)

For my part, I am a work-in-progress and on this journey with my partner.

Yes, marriage is a lot of work. It has its ups and downs, and that’s par for the course. The down times can be incredibly tough, but it’s an opportunity for an honest relationship assessment, and a time to reboot with kindness and forgiveness.  I read a refreshing post (encourage you to read) by Winifred Reilly, a Marriage and Family Therapist, which gave her perspective on 36 years of marriage.

My parents have an amazing relationship and 40+ year marriage, which came from a shared journey with shared goals, and a belief in a happily ever after.

 

Signs you’re addicted to technology [how-to unplug]

Think you have a problem?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Check your messages, app notifications and social media? We live in a technology-saturated society that can do us harm if we don’t keep it in check.

Tech overuse permeates our society

Tech use has gotten so concerning that Congress has a $95 million proposal to study the effects of it on our children. To varying degrees, we’re all guilty of overextending ourselves with continual distractions related to smartphone use, social media, gaming and apps. Not to mention macular degeneration (leading to blindness), which can be exacerbated by blue light emitted from smartphones, laptops and tablet devices.

Unless we voluntarily unplug metaphorically and physically from time to time, we become overridden by around-the-clock angst and anxiety.

Teens and their parents admit it

The Pew Research Center just released a report this month, in which teens and their parents admit they have a problem with their own smartphone usage. 54% of US teens self-reported they spend too much time on their smartphones, and 36% of parents admitted that they themselves overuse devices. The top emotions that teens feel when without a cell phone tops the list with anxiety (42%) followed by loneliness (25%) and being upset (24%).

It’s becoming crystal clear that tech use often leads to constant distraction and lower quality interactions with people around us – family and friends.

Open-plan work myth busters

An Inc.com article published this past July summarized takeaways from a Harvard Study. In an open-plan workplace, people wear headphones and use productivity apps (Slack, Skype, Hangouts) in lieu of talking F2F. People choose to withdraw.

“Rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”

What the research also relays to me is the growing interdependence of technology. When given the choice, it’s easier to default to tech use as the medium for communication.

Stuff of science fiction & dark comedies

Why do we get creeped out watching Black Mirror? Because it plays out dystopian scenarios that can feel, well, uncomfortably real.  When one of the happiest episodes is the Emmy-winning San Junipero [*spoiler alert*], perhaps that is because it reaches into the happiness imbued when two people authentically connect, transcending technology.

Then you have Nosedive from Black Mirror’s season 3, in which Bryce Dallas Howard’s character becomes obsessed with her social media ratings to the detriment of her social standing and sanity. A similar plot theme is taken up in the dark comedy Ingrid Goes West, starring Parks & Rec alum Aubrey Plaza. While these are exaggerations at best, they serve as cautionary tales of overexposure that can impact people’s psyche.

Take a break

Of the Western countries, France is considerably ahead in their stance on work-life balance. France’s government has made it a right for employees to unplug after work — the right to disconnect.

There are many compelling reasons to create a regular habit of unplugging and detoxing. It also encourages you to really connect with people and your loved ones.

Put away the iPhones and Android smartphones, turn off Netflix, power down your PS4 / Xbox, stop checking your Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and put your Kindle to sleep.

How-to unplug

Make it a healthy habit to unplug from time to time. Weekends are the best times to do so, especially when you have family. I make it a point to “do things” in my own way.

  • Put away your phone – temporarily put it aside and find your happy place.
  • Enjoy DIY projects (solo, or with the kids) – baking, cooking, craft projects
  • Explore the local scene – farmer’s market, events, nextdoor organized groups
  • Meditate and read books – solo or with friends. Enjoy that cup of coffee or tea
  • Spend time outdoors – walk, hike, or take a run.
  • Join a club or activity – book club, renew that gym membership, and explore group activities
  • Learn something new – Because you’ve been itching to try something new
  • Slow down – don’t always rush out the door. Take pleasure in doing things slowing.