It Can Only Get Brighter From Here

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Photo Credit: Myrialejean Flickr via Compfight cc

The shortest day of the year has passed. (At least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). It was dark and cold, and likely it will feel so for a while. But it can only get lighter from here. I love that the Winter Solstice and Christmas are celebrated around the same time. What more appropriate way to focus on the coming of the Light of the World than when things are at their darkest? For some of us, this holiday season has been on of stress and chaos and worry. Part of me feels like I never truly entered into the season. I know this is a time of celebration, of peace, but it doesn’t feel like that.

But it can only get lighter from here.

I had my first panic attack in 10 years, for no particular reason that I can track down, except the very high levels of stress I’ve been functioning under. My adrenaline level has been running high for so long I’m not sure I could bring it down even if I tried. There are a lot of unknowns headed into this new year. It’s certainly not the way I would have planned it. I like to ease into transitions intentionally, planning ahead, and better yet with a safety net. But it does seems as though our lives rarely work like that.

But it can only get lighter from here.

Around the world, the suffering can seem soul crushing and we feel powerless to make a difference. Compassion fatigue can overwhelm us and we shut down our hearts in self-preservation. But we can’t forget that Jesus, in becoming one of us, opening up his heart to the pain, and torment of all humanity. His heart broke and yet held strong and he carried the sins of all history and future to the cross. I love that the journey from the manger to the cross is one of illumination. It will only get lighter from here.

Sometimes All I Can Offer is Now: Five Minute Friday

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As a mom and a wife, I never feel like I have enough to give. Some days I get so swept up in the planning for the future in the hopes of eventually being able to relax that I find myself always working. Sometimes this is necessary. There is no avoiding the necessary aspects of my life as we’ve chosen to live it right now. But I also can’t keep waiting around for when I can offer more or what I see as a better version of myself. Because all that is guaranteed to me is this moment, this time.

I’m trying to allow myself to do what I can right now. That means if I can cuddle my son, if only for a minute, I do. If my daughter leans in for a hug, I pull her tight and kiss her cheek as I let her go. When my husband reaches for me, I reach back. I don’t always succeed at this. (Especially if my son has a dirty face or a runny nose, as he often does lately). But I’m trying to give myself permission to offer what I have.

I may not be able to spend hours reaching aloud to them and finish every book on our school list. But if I am at all able to read to them at a moments notice, put aside whatever I’m doing that isn’t essential and invest in them, that is worthwhile. I may not spend as much time playing on the floor with the baby as I wish I could, but if I can spare ten minutes to cuddle and wrestle (yes, my one year old does indeed love to wrestle) it still communicates my love to him.

Sometimes all I can offer is now. It may not be much. I may be bleary eyed from another late night packing boxes, furiously knitting Christmas presents or wrapping gifts. But I’m here. Better to offer what I have, then wait for the chance to do it better in the future. Because my children may not remember the quality of our time together but hopefully they will remember that I was there.

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Fit2B Minimal: Week 2.5 – The Chair and Coughing Edition

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I was supposed to be introducing you to Week 3 of my series Fit2B Minimal. Instead I turned my ankle stepping of the bottom landing of my stairs and spent most of the week with my feet up hoping to recover well enough to dance the following Sunday in the performance at my church that I had been choreographing, teaching and practicing for the last three to four months. (The good news is that it worked, and I was able to perform but I’m continuing to try and take it easy).

So for the last week I’ve been focusing on my Daily Minimum, which fortunately were both chair workouts. I’ve also had a cough for three weeks that I can’t seem to shake. So instead of Week 3, I present my Week 2.5. Daily Minimum reviews plus some links to important info on how to protect your core when you have a cold.

 

Daily Core: Basic Transverse and Mula Bandha

I don’t often come back to this simple workout, but it really is a great way to return to my roots. I did fast forward through some of Beth’s opening pep talk (wonderful as it is) because I have done this many times before. But if you are new to it, it’s worth the extra couple of minutes. She says some very encouraging things about learning to love our bodies and honor the journey they have taken us on.

 

Daily Stretch: Neck Routine

This routine has been absolutely essential for the last week. It has helped relieve the tension from too much time spent in front of the computer and lots of time spent with my feet up while I heal my ankle. I love trying to incorporate the stretches (favorites like Stop and Drop and Prayer on the Side) into my day at other times, especially when I notice tension in my neck or I know I’m under stress.
Regarding the nasty cough I can’t seem to get rid of, as cold and flu season have arrived here in the North East, I refer you to Beth Learn’s posts

Protecting Your Abs When You’re Coughing & Sneezing

“Stressors can make you stronger, or they can weaken you further. It depends on how you face them, prepare for them, and recover from them.”

7 Cues for Protecting Your Core When You’re Fighting A Cold

“The list I’m about to give you reflects my notes on cues {because I’m a body nerd like that} that I tested on myself when I was in the thick of a head cold after a hard round of jumping on a trampoline. The specific situation we’re discussing here is how we deal with coughing, sneezing, and blowing our noses when our PF and TA are already a bit tired.”

Also, if you are out of commission for a bit, like I was with my ankle, check out the Sit and Get Fit pathway which features workouts which can be done seated or on the floor. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with my full review of the workouts from Week 3. Until the, take care of yourselves.

 

You can use the coupon code laundryblog to get 30% off of your annual membership. Check it out here.

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Our First Family Amusement Park Trip: Edaville

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My children have never been to an amusement park. Due to the combination of high cost of tickets and difficulty going much of anywhere with my now four year old, we’ve never attempted this sort of outing. But at the end of September, we were going to be just outside Boston for my cousin’s wedding. When Edaville railroad first opened their Thomas Land exhibit two years ago, I was dying to take the kids. My older two have been huge train and Thomas the Train fans for the last three to four years. We took them to a Day Out with Thomas event about two hours from us as a Christmas gift two years ago and they both had a great time. This was going to be even more expensive and a bigger deal. Would they even ride the rides, would my four year old have a meltdown? Would it be worth it?

We ended up having a fantastic time. We decided to go to the park on a Friday during the day. We arrived very close to opening (around 10:30 AM). There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot. I kept expecting it to fill up as the day went along, but mostly it was like having the park half to ourselves.

Edaville is divided into a couple different areas. There is the original Edaville section. This has the feel of an old fashioned amusement park. Then there is Thomas Land, which was obviously of the biggest draw for us. There is also a Dinoland section with both stationary and animatronic dinosaurs.

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My kids loved Edaville proper. Their favorite rides were the simple old fashioned ones, like a ferris wheel, balloons that go up and down, things that go round and round. At the end of the day when we said they could have one last ride each, this is where they wanted to go.

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The Thomas train ride goes all the way around the Edaville property. It was a perfect day weather wise, not too hot and not too cold, so the open cars were wonderful. Even the baby loved this part.

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(There weren’t many rides I could take him on, but fortunately he was a trooper and mostly just happy to watch the spectacle from his stroller and even took a nap while we walked around for a while. But he did enjoy the indoor play area for a while.)

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While the weather wasn’t too hot, it was still nice to stop in the indoor play area, to get a break during the hottest part of the day. I can’t imagine this place (or any other amusement park for that matter) in the heat of summer. I think if we do this kind of thing again, it will always be in the fall.

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Thomas Land is wonderful. I loved to see so many different engines and other characters incorporated into the rides. Bertie, Toby, several of the Diesels (Mavis, Salty, Diesel and possibly others), Cranky the Crane, Bulstrode and so many others.

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Fiery Flynn had his own unique ride where the children get to ride up and down on a lift and use stationary water nozzles to put out pretend fires. Very innovative and a big hit with my kids.

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I also loved the Cranberry Express ride featuring a bunch of the narrow gauge engines. (I really appreciated the inclusion of Millie to better incorporate the female engines). Winston’s Skyride was also great because we were able to bring the baby with us.

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The big moment was meeting the engines and Sir Topham Hatt. My kids, being as observant as they are realized of course that Sir Topham Hatt was a man in a costume. I personally think it would have been better to hire an actor who looks and is built like Sir Topham Hatt. Instead he looked more like a cartoon character.

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The engines were great, it was nice to see some besides Thomas for a change. I do wish more than just Percy was very three dimensional. (You could climb up on and in Percy, but the other engines were just facades. ) Also, the kids were hoping the trains would talk, but they didn’t. But it was still fun.

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Again, I appreciated the inclusion of Emily as one of the few girl engines. I think that the Thomas franchise has yet to fully realize the untapped interest of little girls and trains. Not that they have to have to have girl trains to interest girls, I’ve just found that my daughter creates more long term interest when she becomes invested in the characters. Having more female trains has helped her to maintain interest in the Thomas franchise and trains in general, when she might have given it up in favor of something else.

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There were a few things I would have liked to see improved about Edaville. The restrooms weren’t marked on the map! There were several of them, but it would have been helpful to see at a glance so we could decide when or if we needed to stop and avoid unnecessary backtracking.

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My major issues were with Dinoland. It’s premise is cool. The displays were interesting, quite realistic and educational. The problem was that we came at the end of September and they had heavily decorated Dinoland for Halloween. By decorated I don’t mean cute smiling pumpkins and scarecrows. We are talking gruesome skeletons and bleeding corpses. My kids are 4 and 7, and admittedly a little sensitive. (We actually don’t celebrate Halloween at all for religious reasons.) They were rather terrified of the spooky atmosphere. The mist surrounding the dinosaurs seemed far more creepy than primal when you added all the other Halloween gore. If we came again this time of year, I think I’d give Dinoland a miss.

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Our other minor disappointment was the size of clothing offered in the gift shop. I realize that Thomas is typically a favorite of the younger crowd. But my kids are still young. My daughter is 7 but the Thomas shirts featuring the girl engines (which is what she wanted most) didn’t come in her size. Even the boys clothes only go up to 6x/7, so she selected one of those. I think since this is a Thomas theme park after all, it would be nice if there was more availability of Thomas themed apparel rather than less. But that is a minor complaint.

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So, yes it is expensive, as all amusement parks are these days. But there were a few things to make it easier. Parking is free. (I kind of think this should be  given, but not so at many amusement parks now). If you purchase your tickets online in advance, that will save you a little bit of money. I also liked the Edaville Facebook page to keep an eye out for the latest deals. They ended up offering a coupon to purchase tickets just days before we left which ended up saving us $10 a ticket.

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We appreciated the ability to pack our own food. With a picky child, a child with food allergies and a baby, this was essential to making this work. Plus, again, it helped to save a bit of money. The picnic tables were in a shady area of trees just off the path between the rides. Nearby were water misters (though it wasn’t so hot that we needed them) and a bubble machine which the baby loved.

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If you can manage to go on a non-peak day, (not a weekend or school holiday) Edaville is totally worth it. Not sure if I would have the felt the same way if the park had been very crowded. This was by far one of the best days we’ve ever had as a family of five and I’m glad that Edaville was such a hit with our little kids.

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Pursuing Peace, Expecting Joy: Five Minute Friday

I was sorting through pictures this year to find some for our family photo books that I make for grandparents this time of year. I came across this picture.

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For some reason it moved me. I remember when it was taken. I was smiling so much my face hurt. It was probably the best day we’d ever had as a family of five. (I’m hoping to talk more about that special day next week).

 

I love this picture of myself. Because it’s one of the first times in the last year that I remember feeling happy. I know I was happy other times. But I never looked happy in pictures. I looked tired, worried, stressed, irritated. But never happy. Because being a mom of three isn’t always a happy time. I deal with lots of screaming, arguing, enforcing of chores and school work, breaking up of sibling fights, butt and nose wiping. In fact there are days when I hardly remember genuine smiles. You know the kind I’m talking about, the ones that you don’t have to think about or remind yourself to do.

 

I have a few very distinct memories of times when my face hurt from smiling so much. One was my wedding (and that was before we even got to the formal wedding photos). Another was in my parent’s dining room playing board games and laughing until we cried. After my daughter was born. My 30th birthday girls game night. Then our Edaville trip. I know there have been others, those are just the ones that stick out in my mind.

 

When I was starting my memoir in college I wrote a chapter that I shared at our final public project reading. Pursuing Peace, Expecting Joy. I’m just realizing now what a perfect description of the Advent season that is. Because for us joy is not a surprise. The Messiah was born! We are no longer the shepherd’s shocked by the appearance of the angels; we can be Simeon. He knew he would see the Messiah and in his lifetime, he believed God when he said it. So he looked for it, watched for it and anticipated the Incarnation.

 

We don’t have to just wait to feel peace this holiday season. Very little about the traditional way this holiday is celebrated in the United States lends itself to peace naturally. But we can pursue peace, seek the Prince of Peace in fact. We can expect joy because we know He already came. We can look for times to feel joy, remember the times that happiness overcame us and we couldn’t stop smiling. We may not be able to force it to happen, but remembering it can and will happen, is half the battle. We can nurture joy in our hearts by drawing close to the Savior Born to us and reveling in all he has done for us, both in the past, now and in the time to come.

 

As you review your year, (as many of us are prone to do during the year end holiday season) whether through pictures or just in your mind; remind yourself of the joy that came, even at times that didn’t appear on the outside to be joyful and the peace that descended into the most chaotic of situations.

 
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

 

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Fit2B Minimal: Week 2

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This past week, my Daily Minimum really helped me. Some days the there was no way I was going to get through all of my workouts. But doing this, even if it was right before bed, helped to relax me before bed.
Daily Core: Vertical Core

This is a nice short core workout. Similar to Core Wake Up. Easy to squeeze in anywhere.
Daily Stretch: Shoulder Stretches

I’m really loving this new routine. Since I carry so much of my stress in my neck and shoulders, this is perfect for me right now.
Kelly’s Core Cardio

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like this. About 2/3 of the way through I was so pleased that I was barely breathing heavily, but by the end I definitely felt like I got a good workout. Plus it’s always a treat to rotate anything with Kelly Dean into the mix, just for variety.

 

Ultimate Upper Body

Ok, so last week I said I don’t mind weights. Apparently I lied. I actually find weight lifting by itself kind of tedious. (As opposed to more integrated workout like Balanced or Weighted Warriors). But this workout isn’t too long and can ever be done sitting, if that’s what you need in order to properly engage your core.
Walking Workout

I decided to add weights to parts of this for the first time. It definitely bumped it up a notch without making it too difficult. You could definitely get your heart rate up with this one. (Mind you, I didn’t as much because I stopped four times to deal with my children fighting will emptying the dishwasher and doing a “fun” Christmas craft. Just being real here. Mom exercise involves a lot of stopping to deal with little people and their big problems).
Insane Upper Body

Every time I do this workout after long absence I find myself worrying that it will be too hard. It actually wasn’t too bad. Yes, it was challenging and I had to give my arms a couple of quick rests, but overall it was encouraging to feel the muscles of my arms working.
Transitions

This is a nice short workout. It’s fairly full body without being high intensity. It’s called transitions for a reason, it provides a perfect bridge between the Foundational Five and more traditional workouts. It reminds me a little bit of a simpler Tabata of sorts.
Restorative Poses I

After a rough weekend, I finished my night with this workout and my Daily Minimum. It felt amazing, so relaxing and I’m convinced it helped me to sleep better.
Mula Bandha

I loved coming back to this workout again. I especially love the part done in tree pose. It’s nice to be able to integrate the core work and pelvic floor work and still keep the workout to around 11 minutes long. Another one I like to keep in the rotation and cycle back to regularly.
Having some to do every day has actually been almost relaxing. I still give myself a hard time when I miss a full workout. But knowing that I can accomplish something small, at any time of the day makes it easier. Seriously, I can squeeze my Daily Minimum in while the kids are eating breakfast, which dinner bakes in the over or before bed. If you are having a stressful time of year and you feel like exercise isn’t a possibly, try starting small and consistently. It will make a bigger difference than you realize.

 

You can use the coupon code laundryblog to get 30% off of your annual membership. Check it out here.

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A Christmas Connection: Five Minute Friday

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Photo Credit: melolou Flickr via Compfight cc

December is here and the crazy is setting in. It’s getting too chilly for the kids to go outside most days and I’m attempting to keep the house ready to show at all times. This is not quite the Christmas we had planned. Last night I broke the news to the kids that we won’t be getting  Christmas tree this year. I’m probably as upset as they are. It’s  compromise I’ve agreed to make with my tired, overworked, long suffering husband. Only once in our 13 years of marriage have we not had a tree. It was not  good year.

Even as I try to keep the holiday decorating simple, I’m trying to focus on the things that really matter to me this year. What is it I really want? The treasured moments of listening to Christmas music while sitting by the fire in the light of the tree may not happen. But I can still drink hot chocolate by the fire and listen to a Pandora Christmas station. (Our favorite Christmas CD’s were packed up with everything else non-essential). I can take a few moments to cuddle my children. Today we sang Christmas carols and talked about the meaning of the words and their history as a large portion of our school day. My daughter and I were invited to a Christmas Tea on Saturday. I resisted the urge to say no to the last minute invitation, as I am saying no to so much this year, but I decided to make room for it  anyway. It’s exactly the kind of thing my daughter loves and we rarely have time to do.

If I’m honest, I’m hoping to be remembered. Not to necessarily get fancy gifts, but that in all the chaos and crazy of getting ready to move that I will feel loved, and maybe even a bit appreciated. (Yes, I realize it sounds a bit entitled and self-centered, just being real here). Because there are definitely days around here, especially lately where I feel like the abused house elf (the Harry Potter variety, not a member of Santa’s workshop team). But I also know it isn’t really about me.

As we sang those carols today I was comforted and reminded of the fact that Jesus came to earth for me. To save me. (Ok, yes all of us, but in that moment I needed a bit of a personal connection). I loved the moment explaining to my daughter the line in Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing.

Rise the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

I told her this means that Jesus came to crush Satan’s head and when he did that, he crushed in the sin in all our hearts too. She liked the sound of that.

While I do crave a bit of peace on earth (my son is launching himself off the coffee table as I type this), what I want most of all is to feel a connection with the Christmas story. That it would be more than a story, and feel as epic and earth shattering as it was, and is. Because God became man to save us from our sin and ourselves;  to lift away the veil and allow us to commune more closely with our Creator until the time when we can be together again. What better news is there than that?

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