Moms, Let’s Help Ourselves

We often forget that moms are individuals with a past and identity before having children. That moment when she finds out she’s pregnant, the focus immediately shifts from “me” to “we”, and that feeling only intensifies the older the child becomes. Therefore, in order to truly give something back to the moms in our lives, one must simply let her figure out how best she can renew herself. Everyone is different, the needs of one mom vary from one to another. One mom might need a night out with girlfriends, another a long hot bath and a good novel. The cure for what ails is bio-individual, but the need is undeniably there.

When I first became a mother, I was overwhelmed by the realization of that responsibility. Breastfeeding, tummy time, around the clock feedings and diaper changes all contributed to a culture shock I had mentally prepared for but not emotionally connected to yet. I felt extremely tired and the weight of responsibility was leveling. I had always been strong, but this new life as a mom required a higher, more intense level of resiliency I hadn’t acquired yet. I had to adapt, and I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was a fighting a losing battle against the tide, and I felt myself being pulled under.

It wasn’t until I had healed enough from giving birth and could workout, that I saw my first respite from the pull of the metaphorical undertow. The road became a lifeline to my former self to pull out of the constant drudgery of mundane daily tasks that motherhood requires. In the 30-60 minutes I was out on the pavement I felt lighter and lighter. Each step was a reclamation of my former self, and I breathed in the freedom I felt had escaped me. When I returned home, tired and exhilarated at the same time, I was at peace with my life again, and happy to dive into diaper changes, cuddling and even teething meltdowns.

Running and eventually yoga, weight lifting, and meditation, were the outlets I needed to be whole again–another mother may have a completely different set of requirements. I use myself as an example because it’s what I know for sure. What I also know without doubt is that as women, we are intrinsically selfless creatures. Sometimes we give so much of ourselves that the cup becomes empty, and that is where it becomes a matter of health.

Health is more than what is on our plates. It’s found in our relationships, our career, our connection with a higher power, and of course nutrition and exercise. It takes going inward to find out how we as mothers are doing in each of these categories, and then making the appropriate changes to make ourselves healthy and happy.

It may sound extreme at first for her to take 30-60 minutes for herself every single day, but if you think of the mother as the center of the home, it makes perfect sense to nurture her. The health and happiness of a home is almost always directly related to the sense of wellbeing of the mother. But no one can help a mother, she has to do the work and find what she needs to help herself. So mothers, do the internal work, and families support her. The result is a scenario where everyone wins, and the potential of every family member can be fully realized

A Month of Total Body Workouts

As part of my passion for holistic health and living a balanced life, I have unintentionally over the years, developed a sustainable workout routine that safely challenges and trains the entire body. My routine incorporates elements of weight-lifting, running, yoga, swimming, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the result is a strong and capable body that will serve you well into old age.

Below is my recipe for success for those of you who need some extra guidance and support, or others who are simply bored with their current routine and looking to add some fun dimension.

Please Note:

  • If you have health concerns, do not start this program before consulting a doctor.
  • Push through discomfort, but listen to your body to avoid injury.
  • 5×5 translates to 5 repetitions of 5.
  • Donkey Kicks and Fire Hydrants should be performed with a dumbbell tucked behind the knee.

The Breakdown

Every morning I wake before everyone else in my house, quietly sneak downstairs and complete 15-30 minutes of yoga and 5-10 minutes of meditation. I finish my practice with a few minutes of intention setting– focusing on how I want the day to flow, what I am grateful for, and what I’d like to manifest. This simple morning routine has drastically improved every aspect of my life.

Week 1:

Monday:  Run or Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Mountain Climbers, 60 Russian Twists, 100 Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run; Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Dumbbell Curls (5×5); Tricep Dips (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kettlebell workout (30-60 mins–YouTube) or Run; Abs (30 V-Ups, 30 Bicycles, 30 Russian Twists, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 2:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 30 Flutter Kicks, Planks), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5), 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Thursday: Weighted squats (5×5); Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: HIIT Class or Run; Pull-Ups (3 sets); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Abs (100 crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 3:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 50 Flutter Kicks, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Abs (30 Plank dips, 100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Bicycles), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press; Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 crunches, V-Up w/ Rotation, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Circuit Training Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)

Week 4:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 Flutter Kicks, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pistol Squats (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Side Plank Dips, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kickboxing Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups, Plank)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)
Lastly, remember to have fun with your workouts–don’t view it as a punishment for what you ate the night before, rather as a celebration of what your body can do!

 

 

A Letter to My Husband on Father’s Day

Dear Husband,

We met eight years ago in the most unlikely of places–Las Vegas. I observed this tall, dark, and handsome man talking to my friend, and something happened internally to me. Your face seemed familiar, your Southern accent drew me in, and the way you looked at me slowed down the constant chatter in my mind. You shook my soul in mere minutes, and I hadn’t even spoken a word to you yet. After I found the courage to approach you, we talked and didn’t stop talking until…

Read the rest where it’s been published on Red Tricycle.

 

The Unexpected Brain Benefits of Travel

One of the most exciting places in the world is the Atlanta airport. Sounds a little strange right? Not if you saw it like I do: a place of endless possibilities and a gateway to the rest of the world. Travel is something so dear to my heart, I consider it a friend. It’s a concept that has allowed me to eat strange foods, witness incredible sights firsthand, both ancient and new, and meet people with completely different cultural and social paradigms that have changed and shaped me for the better. I’ve learned more about history through my travels than I ever did in school, and have felt energy in places that produced a profound impact on how I understand that part of the world and how it relates to everything else. When I was visiting Normandy, our guide took us into one of the German bunkers on the beach and at once I was transported to D-Day. I felt an eerie, unsettling energy that I would have never experienced through films or reading. Travel did that, and it’s why I advocate for it so strongly–not as a future event to be undertaken after much planning and saving, but now, right now while you’re still hungrily curious about the world and physically able to meet the demands in fully seeing it.

I don’t think my affinity for travel is unique, but I have witnessed so many friends and family members postponing that next trip for various reasons, thereby missing out on so much that life and the often not talked about health benefits it has to offer. And while the reasons they proffer are absolutely logical and valid, I can’t help feeling sad about the missed opportunity of discovery, connection to others, and personal growth by foregoing the trip. So my humble advice is to go, just go. There is no better time than now to explore this amazing planet and get out of the ordinary flow of everyday life. Your bank account might take a temporary hit, but the law of reciprocity dictates that the little you give will produce so much richness of experience in return. There is never a time in traveling where you wont learn something from getting out of your routine and embarking on a journey. What you also will find, is that beyond all of the clichés of travel expanding your horizons, there are unexpected health benefits that make it imperative that you take that next trip sooner rather than later.

First, your build a better brain. Psychologists found that when you step outside of your comfort zone, you literally stretch and grow your brain. Learning anything new challenges and activates your brain in a way that following a routine simply cannot. When you travel you may not know the language,  how to navigate a new transit system, or how to order a coffee just the way you like it–you are forced to learn, and by doing so you become smarter. When the brain is on autopilot too often, it actually becomes weaker and less efficient. The novelty brought on by travel zaps your brain into active learning mode, and the amazing memories generated are just the icing on the cake to a fitter, younger brain.

Second, travel deepens your empathy for others. Empathy grows best under specific conditions often correlated with travel: being in the present moment, listening, speaking to and relying on strangers, recognizing commonality in others, and cultivating an interest in others.  Empathy, like anything, takes work, but its a skill that is beneficial to all parties. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to prevent and resolve conflicts, be understood yourself, and promote healthy relationships. Travel is a powerful tool in strengthening your empathetic muscles, and often it doesn’t even feel like work.

Third, travel makes you happier. A 2016 study by the U.S. Travel Association and Project found that the more time taken off for travel correlated to more happiness at home. The more vacation days used, the lower the stress. The study also showed that over the past 15 years, Americans are taking nearly a week less of vacation. The case for travel could never be more important, especially when your well-being is at stake.

Life-changing travel doesn’t mean taking a trip thousands of miles away: simply going outside of your usual track of work, life, and play can have an impact. Not far from our house is a magical place called the Atlanta Chinatown Mall. Inside you will find a cornucopia of Asian food from different regions in China. When you first approach you’re greeted by a calming zen garden and a crimson bridge crossing a koi pond. The food court is definitely not fancy, but the food is unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted. I have never sampled more authentic Chinese food anywhere else–I generally point to what looks good as everything is written in Chinese, and try something new every time. Recently, my husband and I took our two young boys there, and our four-year old made fast friends with a Chinese boy around his same age. The boys were from very different backgrounds, but bonded over an iPad game and a love for fried rice. It was so interesting to watch them connect, and when the boys parents–who didn’t speak English, came over to retrieve him, there was that mutual understanding that all parents share when it comes to raising kids. We were able to communicate though our facial expressions and share an authentic moment together despite the cultural and language barrier. It made the experience of going out for good food so much richer.

The Chinatown Mall experience reminded me of one of my first travel memories: running through the San Diego airport away from my screaming mother. Our family of six was on its way to Okinawa, Japan for a two-year stint courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. I didn’t really understand where we were going or why, but I knew it was going to be completely different from anything I had experienced before, and I was excited. When we finally arrived after an uneventful 18 hour flight, I was introduced to an unfamiliar landscape, heavy humid air, and the smell of sea and salt from the ocean. My mother was understandably unnerved when a crowd of other passengers gathered around us while we waited in Customs, and started touching our hair. We were oddities with our bleach blond hair and pale blue eyes and they investigated us with open curiosity–looking back now, it was a fantastic introduction to Japan. The Customs clerk was equally as curious about this strange ragtag group of six, and made each of the kids a different origami figure to take with us, just because he was kind and knew we would like it.

We lived in an area called “The Ville” off base. My younger sister and I had a Japanese nanny, and she would sing us songs that I still remember today and sing to my boys. Because our nanny was Okinawan, we ate how the locals did, and our seemingly mundane errands turned quickly into an education on Japanese, and more specifically, Okinawan culture. We’d walk with our nanny or our mother to the Oki-Mart grocery store down the street and pass the different shops with various goods hanging in the window, usually some kind of poultry in its full form. The air in Okinawa was thick with the tantalizing smells of strange foods, the ocean, and mildew, creating a strange, yet comforting aroma unique to that part of the world. It seemed so stifling at first, but we all quickly adjusted and by the time we left, we didn’t even notice it. We didn’t speak the language of our neighbors, yet there was a bounty of learning and communication happening–as children this was invaluable to our development and growth in understanding, connecting, and empathizing with others.

I have no intention of bringing my boys on an 18 hour flight anywhere, at least not yet, but I know the extraordinary impact that travel had on me at an early age, and I want the same for them. I want them to converse with different kinds of kids like the boy at the Chinatown Mall, to taste food local to our destination, and to see landscapes they’ve never seen before. I look at it as my duty to show them the world, and spark the same curiosity about places and people who I still have today, so that they develop into smarter, more empathetic, and happier adults.

Whenever I travel, I am more awake, present, and alive then any other time. On my deathbed, I’m not going to remember those cool shoes I bought, or the purse I just had to have. Instead, I will remember that amazing meal I had in Nashville with my sister and brother-in-law, or the funny conversation I had with a Moroccan boy in a laundromat in Montpellier, or how unsettled I felt standing in a German bunker looking out on the beaches of Normandy. Travel offers you the unique opportunity to experience new places, food, and people firsthand, but its true gift is discovering who you really are and how truly connected we all are on this beautiful planet.

 

 

 

Red Tricycle Articles

Guys I am so excited to share that Red Tricycle (basically my bible for all things motherhood), has published TWO of my articles on the realities of momlife. You can check them out here:

The Mommy Wars

Want to Try for a Water Birth? Here’s My Story and How I Did It.

Thanks for reading, and please share if they speak to you!

Love in Marriage When You Have Littles

 


When my husband, Sam, and I first got together our love was easy. We’d go to dinner, get drinks, or jump in the car on a whim and go camping for the weekend. We knew that when we had kids, things would change, but didn’t really dwell on it. I had co-workers tell me to wait at least five years after we married before having kids, so that we’d have our own time to enjoy each other and our freedom. Of course, me being me, I did the exact opposite and…

Read the rest of the article and more awesome mom-life related content where it’s been published on Red Tricycle.

 

DC’s Water Birth Story

When I was a child, my mother would tell me the story of my birth on my birthday. Even though by the time I was six, I knew it by heart, she always indulged me because she knew it made me feel special. As one of four kids, we constantly fought for attention (and the best cereal), and so she knew by telling me the details of that day, I was made to feel important on my birthday. I wanted to carry on the tradition while the memories are still relatively fresh, and detail my experience of bringing DC into the world so that he will always have it, and feel special too.

My youngest son, DC, (i.e. Douglas Clifford after his grandfathers) turns two years old on Sunday. If you’ve ever met DC you know that he is someone that plays by his own rules, and no manner of chiding, begging, or bribing will make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. There is a great deal of academic debate on the topic of nature vs nurture in determining the character and personality of an individual, but I have the opinion that most of who we are, and how we behave is derivative of nature. DC is so diametrically different in demeanor from his more timid and acquiescent brother, that sometimes I wonder how they can be related. Personalities aside, his birth, as is often the case, was indicative of his determined and independent personality.

Days before my due date (January 30th), my parents drove from Florida to help with soon-to-be older brother Nash for when the time came for me to leave for the hospital. Life was fairly unchanged, my pregnancy had been easy, and I was able to run, work, and sleep normally. On January 28th, my husband, Sam, left for an overnight work conference. Thankfully it was in Atlanta where we live. I spent the evening with my parents re-watching old episodes of Game of Thrones as they caught up on Jon Snow’s influence over the Wildlings, and then went to bed. I remember feeling extremely alert and having trouble falling asleep, but around 11 pm, I finally did. Around 1 am, I woke up with strong cramps, and I knew DC had decided to make his appearance while his father was away for the night at a conference. I was beginning to know DC.

Nash’s birth had taken exactly eight hours, so I knew I had time. I called Sam and he, in his quintessential, easy-going manner, said “Ok, tell me when your water breaks and I’ll leave.” (We naively thought this birth would go exactly as Nash’s had, where the water breaking with him had signaled us to leave.) I went downstairs and turned on the t.v. which woke up my concerned parents. I told them to go back to bed and rest because labor had just started and we wouldn’t need to leave the house for a few more hours. Adorably, both of them got out of bed and stayed with me, and so we decided the best course of action was to finish the Game of Thrones marathon. Finally, the contractions had become powerful enough to warrant a drive to the hospital, even though my water still hadn’t broken like it had with Nash. Since Sam was staying overnight at the conference hotel, my dad took me, and luckily we had just skirted the infamous Atlanta morning traffic.

There were a lot of vehicles on the road despite the early hour, and the winter sky was still dark. When we arrived at the hospital, my dad ran towards the Labor and Delivery entrance to see if we could enter there, or be forced to go through the main ER entrance because it was so early. While I waited for him, I texted my sisters, who both immediately texted me back with words of encouragement, solidarity, and love. I felt as if they were in the car with me, comforting and guiding me along. Soon my dad was running back to the car and leading me out of the cold and into Labor and Delivery.

At 6:30 am we checked-in at the hospital, and I was given a comfortable room, fitted with a large birthing pool. The midwife asked if I wanted to wait to fill the pool, warning that warm water will sometimes delay the progress of the labor. I smiled, and politely asked her to fill it up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad more miserable, and even though I wasn’t making any noise, he told me that just knowing I was in pain was torture for him as a parent. I told him to go to get some coffee, and I labored alone for a few more hours as women have done since the beginning of time.

My reliance on meditation carried me through the continuous waves of pain. I focused only on my breath, and imagined the safe delivery of my baby. I trusted in my body and the process, and knew that I would be fine. I never allowed fearful thoughts to take over, even when it was hard for me to catch my breath. I treated the pain like riding a wave, trusting that I wouldn’t drown. I let go completely and let my body guide me. The warm birthing pool was essential for keeping me comfortable and allowed me to easily change positions  as needed. The hours flew by and soon the sun was shining through the cracks of the closed blinds.

The midwife and nurses came in periodically to check the unborn baby’s vitals, acknowledging that all was well. Sam arrived at the hospital around 9:30 am, after not escaping the aforementioned traffic. DC was born an hour later in the birthing pool, and as soon as the cold air touched him, he cried out loud and strong. I know that I was waiting for Sam to arrive in order to give birth, and I still jokingly rebuke him for extending what would have been a perfectly fast and easy labor because he had work obligations.

DC came into the world happy and healthy, and we knew that our family was complete. Later in the day, my parents brought Nash in to visit us, and upon seeing them, I burst into tears. I broke down, not from exhaustion or the hormonal crash (which is very real) but because some of the most important people in my life, individuals whom I love the most, were all in the same room–every one of them feeling this intense, palpable love for this newest member of the family. It was a perfect moment that I will never forget.

We left the hospital the next day, and life ever since has been one chaotic but beautiful wild ride, thanks in great part, to the unbelievably cute and indefatigably rebellious DC.


Chocolate Strawberry Banana Protein Smoothies

One of my favorite shows, Chopped, challenges competitors to make delicious meals out of seemingly random ingredients. I am no chef, but I enjoy pretending I’m on the show when faced with a surplus of leftovers or fruit that’s a tad too ripe. 

Such is the case today when I opened the fridge and found a full container of strawberries that were not long for this world. I decided to whip up healthy protein smoothies for me and the boys and they turned out delicious!

Ingredients:

2 cups of strawberries 

1 banana 

1 package of GoGo Squeeze Organic Strawberry Banana Applesauce 

1 scoop of chocolate protein powder

1/2 cup of chocolate milk

Ice (optional) 

To Be Happy Means to Be Creative

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Since starting a blog I have been asked countless times why I was doing it, and the question honestly caught me off-guard. For me, writing is a facet of expression, a way I can share who I am with those who know me, or think they do. Most people have an idea of who they think someone is, I’m equally as guilty–but unless you spend substantial time with a person, you never really know who they are, what they have experienced, or what they might be going through. When we leave the house we are ever ready with a smiling face and shiny exterior, even though it is not always the case.

Through writing, I am able to share an honest picture of who I am, and perhaps inspire someone else in the process to take down the mask and revel in the freedom that an authentic existence can bring. What could be more fulfilling? I have always loved and admired artists- they are fearless, and they unabashedly share their souls with the world through their chosen art form. Though writing, I wanted to embody that freedom and truth too.

And it’s not just me who senses the benefits of living a more creative life. A recent psych study showed that daily engagement in creative activities (i.e. journaling, painting, doodling, cooking, etc) positively activated emotional states and lowered stress and anxiety. Participants in the study reported an immediate increase of feelings of well-being, and “an upward spiral” of positive emotions.

I can attest to the truth of this study. Since starting the blog a short while ago, I have experienced an overwhelming response from friends and strangers on how they have been inspired by what I’ve written, and that confirmation means everything. Each time someone reached out, that ephemeral connection we are all constantly searching for was there, and I was grateful in that moment with that person.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Choose an art form that interests you. It could be anything from cooking, to drawing, or even creating boards on Pinterest with images that spark your imagination. The point is that you are engaging in an activity where your mind is activated in creative way.
  2. Try to do at least 10 minutes of your chosen art form a day. Start small, and then go from there. If you can incorporate at least 10 minutes every single day, you will start to receive the brain benefits, and it’s a goal that is small enough that you minimize the probability of failure.
  3. Ritualize your art by making this activity a regular part of your day. Pick a time of day that works best for your schedule, thereby increasing the chance that you’ll actually do it. I know that I have a half hour when I get home to cook, it’s scheduled.
  4. Track your progress. How did you mentally feel week 1? Week 2? How have you improved, and what have you learned? Write down wins so you can remember them. A great journal might work for you.
  5. Continue your practice each day. Make it a habit until it becomes second nature, the reward is a better brain and genuine happiness.