The Middle

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In January, I committed to my health in two important ways. The first, registering for yoga teacher training and training for a half-marathon.

The two journeys started on their own path but like many things in life, they are starting to support and combat one another.

Somewhere deep down (very, very deep down) I have missed running. I didn’t miss training indoors on the dreadmill or repetitive loops around the track. I didn’t miss battling Mother Nature’s elements either, but I did miss the routine and the build running programs offers. One week you’re absolutely certain there is no physical way your body can run more than six miles and a month later you’re running ten miles. I’m still in the “Ten miles, no way!” camp of training but I can see a small light at the end of the tunnel.

Yoga teacher training is a completely different discipline and I’ve embraced my role as a student. I’ve completed four of the ten weekends of teacher training and my thoughts and emotions are all over the place. I’m energized, humbled and intimated. Some weeks I’m more committed than others. New yoga pants have been purchased but a solid daily meditation practice? Not so much.

You know that feeling when you’re on a long road trip? You’ve burned through the trail-mix, looking forward to the next state but you’re not sure how and when you’ll ever reach your final destination? Is the final destination the best part or is it the trip itself? Does it matter?

Too literal of an analogy?

Even so, that’s where I am. The trail-mix will do but, didn’t we just eat that an hour ago? Each state is better than the last and how did I not know that Idaho was this beautiful? Where are we going again? Will I even know when we’ve arrived? I’m in the middle and by definition, the middle is the messiest. If not the messiest, it certainly feels the most confined.

This type of nonsensical question-asking is just the sort of the thing The Middle loves, I assume.

What does The Middle feel like?

A little yoga 101, there are eight limbs of yoga (we’re familiar with the third limb asanas, postures). The second limb are the Niyamas which are moral codes that guide us toward positive behavior. They are principles that help us live our yoga practice on and off of the mat. The third Niyama is tapas meaning, discipline and “burning enthusiasm.” Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away “impurities” physically, mentally and emotionally, and paves the way to our true greatness. It’s the fieriness that gets our heart pumping, heightens our desire for personal growth.

Pretty intense, right? And that’s where I am right now.

For me, yoga has also become the “insulation to my live wire.”

Another tool in my toolbox to pull out when my thoughts get the best of me. The practice helps me pause and ask “Is this situation worthy of an emotional, intense, dramatic reaction?” The discipline has helped me stay present and recognize that emotions are not something to push through, but rather embrace and honor.

It is not a magic bullet, an easy pill or the means to an end. It’s intense to see real physical change and recognize the path to personal growth. I’m constantly worried I’ll slip back into bad habits or behavior patterns. Or that I’m a fraud or undeserving. I’m worried state of vulnerability is fleeting and over time, my shell will build back up.

We tend to be comfortable with the end result. We love the before and after. We love to know about the process to transformation but please, just give me an overview and a path to follow. Boxes to check until I can check the biggest box, the end result! Rarely do we pause and reflect on the true discipline personal transformation requires. Or, at least I rarely paused.

Since this reflection is truly about the middle and the transformation might only be significant to me, there’s really no ending. Only comfort in knowing we can make small incremental changes. They matter to our physical and mental health, our families, friends and community. Or maybe they don’t, maybe they’ll just matter to you and to me and that’s alright too.

Our deepest fear

dyaa-eldin-103.jpgToday I packed up my little office cube, as my company prepares to move from the suburbs to a downtown office. I filed a little piece of paper with my favorite quote and wanted to share it with you all (all = mom and friends).

This little quote was given to me by an old co-worker. It has been a daily reminder, always pinned up near my phone or monitor for five years. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me want to do more and push myself past that slightly uncomfortable feeling to get to the other side.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates other. – Marianne Williamson

I think this quote might be slightly altered from the original but this version has been starting at me for five years and I wanted to share it with you. Because we need a reminder every now and again a reminder that our playing small does not serve the world.

Here’s to playing big!

Five Tuesday Reads

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Happy Tuesday!

What’s your email style? I like to keep my inbox to a few hundred messages and marvel at co-workers that can sift through a few thousand. I organized my space today, re-read saved articles and wanted to share the best with you:

  1. Have you ever created a stop-doing list? I love the idea.
  2. The bittersweet space in motherhood of wanting to press the pause and fast-forward buttons.
  3. Eight ways to bring more joy into your home. Why am I so scared of #5?
  4. I’ll gladly accept this definition of supermom.
  5. The sweetest little book! I ordered one for Louie and can’t wait to see his eyes light up at the familiar faces and photos.

Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the last few days before the holidays!

Current Podcast Playlist

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Do you listen to podcasts? I jumped on the Serial bandwagon back and took a podcast hiatus after the first season wrapped up. Then, I stumbled upon StartUp  and loved the concept of following a new business from the start. Now, during lunch breaks and office commutes, I turn to these favorites:

  1. When you need motivation: Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert
    For anyone who loved her latest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, this series continues the “struggle is real” conversation going with real creatives. It’s easy to get in your head and stuck on the “whys and whats” of creative pursuits (as in, this one right here!). Gilbert takes the wind out of fear’s sails and reminds us the creative process is just that, a process to enjoy. Favorite episode: Season 1, Episode 4: Rob Bell on how “The Action is Right Here.” 
  2. When you need a laugh: Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me
    Dan and I saw a taping of the popular NPR radio news quiz this spring and since then, I’ve become an avid podcast listener of the show. Topical public radio humor mixed with comedians and celebrity guests – what’s not to love? Favorite recent episode: August 13 featuring Katie Couric. 
  3. When you need to hear from another mother: Coffee + Crumbs
    I started listening to the podcast first and now I’m a regular reader of Coffee + Crumbs essays because of their honesty and content. I’m drawn to motherhood stories and communities that share perspectives in efforts to provide connection and empathy. Favorite episode: Episode 03: It’s their day too with Katie Blackburn.  

For me, podcasts are sanity-savers and positive bursts in the current news climate. I’d love to know your favorite podcasts.Share in the comments below!

Pivot

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This space has gathered a fair amount of dust over the last few months. It would be easy to say that life is busy and I simply can’t find the time to write and share. Truth is, Happy by Design’s mantra hasn’t aligned with my life stage since midway through my second pregnancy. My son Louie just turned one so, yeah, that’s a lot of dust-gathering.

During intense seasons of motherhood, I essentially – and unintentionally – lean back, shut down and outsource. For me, it’s not the time to pursue passions or try something new. I attempted to get into weaving small wall hangings during pregnancy, in order to give my eyes a break from one of the multiple screens. Patience was thin, the DIY loom had issues and work always won.

Our family had to shift to make space for our son, Louie, and I unknowingly took a break maximizing, foraging ahead and trying anything new. Rather, I looked inward and focused on the essentials to keep the family afloat.

So, now what? It’s been a few months since the fog has lifted and, dare I say, it feels like there’s a regular cadence to our life.

My first pregnancy led me to create a personal blog where I tracked my daughter’s progress and confirmed that parenting cliches are indeed true. It was a space for me to share the “firsts” with family and friends and process my thoughts through writing.

Happy by Design was created because we had an itch we wanted to scratch, to explore other things that fill our hearts in addition to parenthood – our careers and health. But here’s the thing, those three topics: motherhood, career and health – they are not on the same playing field. Although training for a race, by nature, requires discipline, mental toughness and running shoes; motherhood is MOTHERHOOD and requires all of you. It’s an art, not science – and art gets messy. 

Today, Happy by Design means living an intentional life that includes big plans and mini-milestones: house projects, travel, community with a few personal and professional goals (vague enough?). What I’m getting at is this site will go on with thoughts on motherhood, wellness and DIY home improvements attempts.

Are you wondering, “What about Jamie?” We are fierce friends and our writing pursuits led us in different directions. Her space is about her thoughts and pursuits in writing, reading, career and life. I highly recommend checking it out and subscribing to her updates. I’m not just saying this because she’s one of my closest friends but her point of view is always spot-on, interesting and hilarious.

I’m thrilled to restart this little engine and refuel it regularly. However, if I need to hit the pause button and this space ends up in the repair shop, once again; thanks for understanding because, life!

Done > Perfect

Book

 

Have you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear? I was first interested as a resource for my husband’s business. He’s an artist and I’m slowly assisting with project management, production and marketing. Slow is the key word here. I thought this book would contain nuggets of wisdom for my husband but instead, every page contains an eye-opener for me. My husband already lives a creative life with minimal fear. I’m the one stuck in the hamster wheel of fear and constantly weighing risks and rewards.

Themes of overcoming resistance and fear are not new but, Gilbert’s voice resonates. Themes can be applied to your 9-5 career, side-hustle, parenthood and self-care (fitness, crafting, cooking, whatever makes you smile).

I’ve read the section Fear in High Heels, a handful of times and wanted to share an excerpt:

“Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes – but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.

The most evil trick about perfectionism, though, is that it disguises itself as a virtue. In job interviews, for instance, people will sometimes advertise their perfectionism as if it’s their greatest selling point – taking pride in the very thing that is holding them back from enjoying their fullest possible engagement with creative living.

But I see it differently. I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. In think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.” … We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism … at some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined hard. Which is the entire point. Or should be.”

For the most part, I’ve dismissed the idea of perfectionism and embraced my Type B personality characteristics. Those traits are an asset in my career, marriage, parenting-style and sanity.

I don’t apply this sound reasoning to my creative pursuits, regardless of the risk or reward. Whether I’m knitting a pair of mittens, examining a complex recipe or developing a plan for my husband’s business, I take three steps back. The, panic at the countless ways I can will fail and give up before I start.

It’s not logical, helpful or fun.

Done is greater than perfect!

Done means a warm pair of mittens, a three-tiered cake just for the hell of it.

Done is fun. Waiting around for perfect is boring as hell.

Pumping at Work: Plan vs. Reality

 

Do you believe if you fail to plan then you plan to fail?

Failure, by it’s very definition, is an all-around bummer.

Planning provides structure and alludes to the promise of change. A solid plan can help to get meals on the table, save money and achieve fitness goals. In order to reach goals, plans need action and follow through.

Even with the best intentions and planning, reaching my pumping and nursing goals has been a challenge.

I work outside of the home and my son is six months old. He currently receives a mix of formula and breast-milk. An ideal schedule.*

  • 6 am – nurse
  • 10 am – pump
  • 2 pm – pump
  • 5:30 pm – nurse
  • 10 pm – pump

Reality (based on observations from the last week):

  • Nurse anytime between 4:30 and 6:30 am
  • Pump between 10 am and noon
  • Pump by 4 pm
  • Nurse when I get home around 5:30 pm

I’m embarrassed to admit this reality because I’m in complete control of my schedule. My employer provides ample time and opportunity to pump. On paper (and in Outlook), my pumping and work schedule is manageable. In reality, it’s tough to duck out of meetings, client calls, work trips, brainstorming sessions or personal work time to pump.

Plain and simple, pumping takes a certain discipline that I have yet to truly master. I’ve essentially “leaned out” and communicated my revised goals to my managers. For me, finding a true work-life balance is harder than barreling through to-do lists and working late. This is a topic for another day!

Back to the matter at hand, pumping at work.

In order to reach my nursing goals, I’ve re-committed myself and outlined a plan:

  • Create short-term goals. Commit to a 21 day plan and re-evaluate.
  • Schedule all nursing and pumping sessions in my calendar.
  • Make all calendar times public (vs. private). A small effort to normalize breastfeeding.
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Eat whole foods that maximize milk production
  • Have fun with smoothie and cookie recipes that boost production
  • Stay motivated!

With a revised plan, renewed commitment, supportive coworkers and family members, I have confidence in my nursing and pumping goals. Breastfeeding is a grueling commitment and daily grind but I know it’s a short season. One that I’ll look back on with fondness.

Do you have any tips on maintaining a pumping schedule? Where do you turn for motivation? 

*Based on personal lactation consultant recommendations. She suggested ten sessions a day in order to increase (or, “kick-start”) supply in order to reach my goal of reducing formula feedings. The schedule outlined above made sense for my schedule and family.

Valentine’s Day

Valentin's Day Pancakes

 

With kids, each holiday is amplified and Valentine’s day is shaping up to be one of my favorites. Dan and I have been so laser-focused on getting through the day-to-day tasks, it’s nice to hit the pause button and express our appreciation for one another.

Yesterday, we visited our friend Mike’s antique and floral shop and went for a lakefront drive. Today, I had big plans to serve festive meals and take a trip to Rocket Baby Bakery but, we’re a little under the weather. Ingrid and I are spending the day watching movies and cooking shows while Dan attempts to do the laundry.

Watching cooking shows with Ingrid is one of my favorite passive activities. She loves to see how our favorite chefs (Giada and Bobby Flay) create themed menus. And if those chefs start to bake, Ingrid will ask to bake a batch of cookies or a quick bread with her favorite ingredient – chocolate. And if we start to bake, probably say: “What’s that amazing smell? CHOCOLATE!” Her chocolate-dotted hands always give away her chocolate chip-stealing secrets.

If we take naps and have the urge to get moving, we’ll whip up a batch of lactation cookies (for me, of course) and a dozen protein muffins for the family. See my favorite recipes over on Pinterest.

Have a relaxing and peaceful Sunday!

The Fog

Ingrid and Louie

 

Over the holidays, my one of my girlfriends took me and the kids out to lunch. I was attempting to eat while holding Louie and had not perfected the “Mom juggle.” Moms who can effortlessly balance their forks, cocktail and children are like narwhals to me – unreal but they somehow still exist. She offered to take him off of my hands and pay for lunch. I politely declined. She insisted, took Louie and made an off-hand comment that I was “still in the fog.”

That comment stuck with me and provided me with perspective. Much-needed perspective. I have this unrealistic expectation I should be back to my normal weight, the house should be a certain way, my meals should be a certain way, my marriage should be a certain way. Self-induced pressures and anxiety, for no real reason.

As a new mom of two, the message from family, friends and society is clear: do not worry about the house, the laundry, meals or your weight. So-and-so and this-and-that will come naturally. Take it easy, let yourself get back to normal.

Lovely idea in theory but we need clothes, meals and a functioning home. That, and, societies expectations don’t align with the messaging.

Returning to work, by definition, gets you out of that new baby mode. There are positives, it’s good for getting out of yoga pants, routines are established. Things that would have fallen into place organically. Probably when my son started sleeping through the night, which happened a few short weeks ago.

So, what’s the fog? A compounding cycle of lack of sleep, long hours at work, quick meals, repeat. It’s tough.

To say it’s tough, is tough.

We’re forced back to work while we’re still in the fog. And that, not sleepless nights, is the real challenge.

We as a nation need to have kindness for new families. Everyone in the family needs to have kindness with each other, as a new baby is stressful for all. You need time as a family to become a new unit.

Think about how you welcome a new houseguest. Make sure they have fresh sheets, pick up their favorite cereal, they visit, pack up and head home. As a new parent you’re making room in the house and having hundreds of boring, necessary conversations. Conversations about where to store the bottles and “Do we have enough bouncers?” I still don’t know. All of that stuff becomes a conversation and everyone needs time to learn how to welcome this new house guest, permanently.

When Louie was born, he needed space we didn’t immediately have. We were a unit of three and enjoyed a flexible routine. We needed time to welcome this wonderful new being into our home wholeheartedly. This process takes time. It takes time to bond, takes time to understand his quirks, and until the ripe old age of twelve weeks, he’s a unpredictable, beautiful, needy mess. Right around the time the fog lifts, moms are forced back to work – awkward black pump bag in hand – and it’s downright laughable.

The fog needs to be recognized, realized, appreciated and valued. It does not magically drift away at six weeks, eight weeks or twelve weeks. It takes effort, time, and patience. A lot of patience and kindness.

New Baby. New Discovery.

Kids

The most stressful times in one’s life include starting a new job, moving and welcoming a new baby. Collectively, Jamie and I tackled all three over the summer. Our family welcomed little Louis Lee on August 2 – all nine pounds and two ounces. Rather than explain the lack of activity on the site, let’s dive into the joys of parenting.

Last week I listened to an interview on NPR. The host with a lovely, unique name, a requirement for all NPR hosts, was interviewing a travel journalist. The topic: career changes after having kids. I always marvel at the questions women are asked and often think “Would she dare ask this of a man?”

During the interview, the host chimed in to answer her own questions – she provided personal anecdotes about her own birth experience and maternity leave. She never thought of herself as athletic or having significant physical strength yet, after having her baby, she felt invincible. She couldn’t believe what she had accomplished. That made her wonder – what else can I do? How strong am I, really? What else can I accomplish?

Then, what happens after this monumental moment of self-discovery? Your world becomes small. Daily geography shrinks to a few rooms in your house. The focus, rightfully so, is on the baby. A very important, isolating time.

I had a C-section with my daughter and a VBAC with son. Although the experiences were vastly different, I felt the same sense of amazement and pride. My body was capable of so much more than I gave it credit for. In hindsight, that’s why I became a runner. I never considered running before having kids and told myself I wanted a quick, effective form of cardio. As I type these words I realize that’s was only one little reason. The real reason is because I finally had the confidence in my body and my mental toughness. When I’m facing a tough run or steep hill, I tell myself “You made another human. You can run up this hill.” And, it’s true. Moms do run up hills.

We research doctors, create meal plans and tour daycare centers. We write out birth plans while understanding we only have so much control. We eventually recover from pregnancy and birth. We nurse our babies. We fed our babies. We work hard to craft a life that makes us happy and fulfilled. Then we wonder, if I can do ______, what else can I do?

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I love everything about you, Nespresso. Lovely little cup, shiny packaging and perfect foam. Oh, the foam. ❤️

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Thoughts about motherhood, wellness and life.

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Jamie LeRoy

Writer of things