Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to Begin Practicing Mindfulness

I've written about mindfulness before, but I have come to a spiritual understanding recently where I have been able to practice and appreciate living in the moment more deeply. The thing about practicing mindfulness is that it takes practice. You have to be patient on yourself when you do become stressed out about getting to work on time or tired of watching your little one go up the stairs and down the slide over and over and over again. Luckily, it is often possible to enjoy or at least embrace many of these moments.

Mindfulness is essentially feeling the purpose of whatever activity you happen to be presently engaged in, such as letting the meaning of each word resonate as you read it. Knowing that my purpose when I'm walking to work is simply to walk to work allows me to focus on the crisp air, the perky bird chirping, and the fuzzy bee bumbling by. There are so many pleasant experiences I might ignore if I instead allowed myself to feel daunted by the day ahead.

When you become aware of that frustrated feeling creeping up, take a deep breath. Let that realization pause your thought process. Then, let it be. Try to relax and tell yourself to focus on whatever the moment is currently presenting you with.

Of course, it can be difficult to remember your purpose is just to drive a car when there is traffic or a crying baby in the backseat, but life allows us plenty of opportunities to just keep practicing. I don't expect to become enlightened in a few days (or perhaps ever), but I can still aim to be content.

I've found that the more I let go of that running narrative in my mind, my attitude becomes more gentle and I am able to feel more forgiving towards myself, my loved ones, and other people whom I encounter. Our own mindfulness and patience not only improves our personal experiences, but carries through our interactions to the experiences and hopefully to the attitudes of other individuals. Through practicing mindfulness, it truly is possible to create a more positive world around us!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Seasonal Science: Activities for Winter

The winter weather is still in full force here in Virginia, and I am determined to make the most of these final snow days! As tempting as it may be to just stay snuggled under blankets in front of the TV, I'm hoping to bring Babygirl out to play and learn after the wind dies down in the afternoon. Here are some Seasonal Science ideas to investigate with your little ones. If they're preschool age, you can discuss these together out loud, or have added fun by using a notebook as an Observation Journal to record notes!
  • Snow can be a great sensory development experience for children. Ask questions about how the snow feels -- cold? crunchy? soft? What do you hear when you walk on it? Can you see any grass or other plants peeking out from the white snow? And if you're confident it's clean, you might even want to test if it tastes or smells different from the water you drink.
  • Snow also captures animal tracks. Look around a park or your backyard and try to determine what animals have passed through. Even if you're in a more developed area without deer or foxes, you can still find paw prints from neighborhood dogs on the sidewalks.
  • Grab a ruler to measure icicles. See who can find and record the longest one!
  • If your family loves friendly competition, you can also try to see who can roll the biggest snowball. Use a ruler to measure the diameter (and maybe add a new word to their vocabulary!).
  • Brainstorm different ways to make snow melt. Does it turn into water faster when it's in your hand, in the microwave, or in a bowl at room temperature? Why?
  • Do you live near a lake or creek? What temperature is it outside when it freezes over? How much does it need to warm up before the surface melts again?
What other fun science activities do you do with kids when it snows? Share the fun in the comments!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All day with Dad!?

Our family has come to what I believe is going to be a remarkable turning point for our relationships and wellness. We are moving in the direction of understanding prosperity to be defined not necessarily by money, but by happiness. Although of course the shelter and comfort available in our lives is something we enjoy, I think it is important to take the time to, you know, enjoy it! Long work hours and being separated from one another for our waking hours seem to be adversarial in acheiving this connectedness. Stress from work often means sacrificing time for other meaningful pursuits.

So, with our family's best interests in mind, my husband has made the choice to become an at-home dad. Should I pause for effect here? I know that this decision has been subject to some mixed reactions from family and friends. Many who know my husband well are aware of what an amazing dad he is, and how he is naturally a playful, hands-on parent. However, there were definitely some who questioned our choice or the switched order of traditional societal roles. I recognize that this may not be the best choice for everyone, but I am confident my husband becoming an at-home dad is going to be a great move for our family.

And it turns out we're not alone! According to the most recent Shriver Report, women are the primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families in the United States. Surprisingly, 40 percent of households with children under 18 are supported either solely or primarily by a working woman! Who would have guessed this was such a phenomenon?

But at-home dads are movement; I found they even are becoming connected through organizations like the National At-Home Dad Network, which has regional chapters for meet ups and conventions. A strong majority actually make this choice not by accident but by preference, as my husband did. We knew our daughter enjoyed her daycare, but wanted to be more involved in her life and be able to individualize and enhance her daily learning experiences. Plus, Babygirl is crazy about her daddy!

I do know a handful of other families who have made the same choice. All of them are couples who are under 30 years old, which makes me wonder if this is a generational attitude of acceptance. I think it may more likely be tied to the fact that women are becoming the majority of college graduates, as well as the lack of affordable child care options. In more and more families, Mom may be the parent with more career opportunities or better benefits. This would be a really interesting shift to explore from a sociological perspective, but for now I am more excited just to live it and reap the benefits of choosing happiness! My husband is a fun, intelligent, and capable man and I can't wait to watch Babygirl soak up some of those great qualities as she grows.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Nook - Creating Wealth

There has been a lot of news and discussion lately about raising wages to a more livable standard for workers in the United States. Recent articles I've come across have highlighted that the unemployment crisis is transitioning to become a wages crisis. Politicians seem out of touch and unable to make widescale changes that are needed to ensure that essential services such as child care, health care, and housing are available to families, and it's not likely that employers will willingly begin shelling out more money to employees anytime soon. So what solutions are available for community developers and citizen advocates to initiate?

A recent read that I would strongly recommend discusses this issue from a unique perspective. Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies has been on my Need to Read list for awhile (at least a year, according to Pinterest -- yikes!). I'm so glad I finally had the time to read this book, and I hope you choose to move it to the top of your list too. Gwendolyn Hallsmith & Bernard Lietar detail exciting proposals and some recent community movements to create alternative currencies as a means of economic support. For example, some towns may make an art currency to encourage cultural development. There is also a thorough appendix at the end of the book that provides guidelines to community organizers for establishing community currencies.

Another exciting movement detailed in Creating Wealth is the creation of community time banks. For those of you who can identify with being "short on money but long on time", this can be a great method for exchanging services. I myself would love to learn more about gardening or maybe have some assistance filing taxes, but I don't know if I would really be able to provide the funds to consult with an expert. Community time banks allow me to request help with these services for an agreed-upon amount of hours, which I could earn by providing services I am more adept to (tutoring and babysitting may not be great talents, but I'm sure there are those who might be needing them!).

If you are interested in participating or learning more about local time banks, you can become a member of Reston USE (Useful Services Exchange) if you are in the northern Virginia area, or find one near you through TimeBanks USA