Time well spent

How do you spend most of your time? Before I retired, my time priorities were geared toward work. If you asked me to describe my identity in one word, I would have said, “teacher”. I wish my first word had been mother or wife, but my major energy was going into my job.

When I retired, I suddenly realized how much my family needs my time. (I am very grateful for this fact). My oldest has a baby and I go several days a week to help with him. Not only do I have time with my grandson, but I have also grown closer with my daughter. My youngest daughter is in college and needs to talk through her career options, what classes are like, and use me as a sounding board. When I was working, I was too busy to listen fully. She asks me to go to lunch or go do something with her and I say yes as often as possible because I now see how important my time with my family is.

I know it is easier for me to give my family more time because I am retired, but there are ways to put family first even if you work full-time. It means you have to create boundaries and make more of an effort to put family first. When the end of your career comes, you will be replaced, but hopefully, your family will still be there. They deserve your time.

I have always thought that time resting or doing nothing was also time well spent. We need time to recharge. If we are exhausted and stressed, we are not at our best, while if we do what we love and relax, we will have more energy for everyone.

We complain about never having enough time, but we can make time for what matters.

The emotional support of a dog

The emotional support of a dog

When we first brought home our dog Bandit, emotional support was not the first thing that came to mind. He was a four-month-old puppy with manic energy. I used to look at my husband and say, “Where is the off button?” During the first week, he chewed two pairs of Under Armor tights and my favorite pajama pants. If you have seen the commercial where the woman keeps apologizing because her dog keeps getting into trouble, that was us for the first few months. Stress and the thought of how do I make this work was a constant, but little by little, we started to form a bond until now, I could not imagine life without him. The love he shows us is amazing to see, and it has improved my emotional health. Here is why I think animals offer us emotional support.

Unconditional love

Animals offer us unconditional love. They attach themselves to us emotionally just as we do to them. They aren’t going to let us down or betray us. They need love as much as we do. I love the way Bandit bolts out the door in the morning, but then stops and waits for me as if he needs to wait for his buddy to start the adventures for the day. Of course, if he sees a squirrel, I’m on my own. I also love when he runs over and leans up against me in hopes of a belly rub. He is a true blessing.

Something to care for

Even if we have some heavy issues, caring for a dog that relies on us can take our minds off of our troubles.

Our conversations

I talk to Bandit constantly. I tell him stories, my opinions, and what my day has been like. He is the best listener in the house. Releasing your thoughts is emotionally healing.

No judgments

Bandit doesn’t care if I made a fool of myself in front of 20 people, or if I failed in some way. As long as I fill his dish and pet him, everything is fine.

touch

Touch is healing and it’s something we all need. Being able to rub a belly or scratch a head makes you feel calmer.

Laughter

Bandit will run into the woods, find the largest stick, and then begin his attempt at subduing it. This includes growling at the stick, and twisting, pulling, and biting until the stick is a mere twig. I can’t stop laughing when he does it, and laughter is great medicine.

Bandit will always keep me on my toes, but he heals my emotions like nothing else can.

Giving advice to new moms

I was speaking to a woman yesterday whose son and daughter-in-law are having their first baby. She told me her daughter-in-law thought birth and taking care of a baby was going to be easy and although she wanted to help her with some advice, she wasn’t sure how to offer it and how much to give. I told her that I decided not to provide any advice to my daughter unless she had asked me for it. I thought that was a great plan, but she told me later that she wished I had told her more. So how much advice should you give a new mom? Here are what my daughter Jess and I came up with for the essential advice to give any new mom.

If you want to help prepare a new mom, tell her that birth and taking care of a baby is messy. Of course, there is the actual messy part of changing diapers, and cleaning up spit-up, but I mean that life rarely goes according to plan when a baby enters your life. There are nights when the baby won’t stop crying, and when he does, you think you will do the same thing next time, but the next time, it doesn’t work. It’s a time when a sense of humor and support from family and friends can save your sanity. There isn’t a definitive guidebook that works for every baby, and schedules will have to be flexible.

You might want to tell her not to worry about trying to be perfect. Don’t compare yourself to other moms as long as your baby is healthy and happy, you are rocking it. The house might not be clean, the baby might have a dirty, two-day-old shirt on, and you have spit up on your shoulder, but it’s o.k.

Suggest to a new mom to set boundaries. When the baby first comes home, everyone wants to come to visit, but the mom is exhausted and trying to figure everything out. Don’t feel bad about telling people you need some rest.

Let new moms know they are not expected to know everything. Encourage them to ask questions. Suggest that they join a mom’s group. It can be helpful to hear those other mothers are experiencing the same struggles and joys.

I think you need to be careful to not overwhelm a new mom with too much at once. Let her know you are there when she needs you.

A boy and his dog

When our dog Bandit first came to us, I noticed on his paperwork that he was born a week before my grandson. I was so glad that Bandit and Parker would grow up together. I think every child needs a dog in his life to explore, go on adventures, play with, and at the end of a long day, curl up to rest together.

I wanted this for my grandson because that was my experience growing up. My parents brought home a beautiful collie named Queenie the day after I was born. Queenie was my best friend for thirteen years. She could read your emotions as Bandit can, and when I was sad she would lean against me and lick my face. She was always with me wandering around the neighborhood, or curling up with a book. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without her.

Now, it is Parker’s turn to have this experience. He and Bandit already enjoy each other. Both are 11 months old, and Bandit knows he has to calm down his energy a little around the baby, and he is very gentle with him. Parker doesn’t pull on his fur, and he loves watching Bandit sail into the air to catch the frisbee.

Bandit loves when someone throws him a tennis ball. Today, we laughed as Parker picked up the tennis ball and threw it to Bandit. It only went a few feet, but Bandit didn’t care. He grabbed it and dropped it off near Parker. They played like this for ten minutes. I think this is only the beginning of the fun they will have together.

The importance of showing up

Have you ever asked friends to get together and a large group of people said they would be there, but then at least a few backed out and did not come? How did that make you feel? It’s easy to say you felt as if the guest didn’t want to spend time with you, or he had found something better to do. It doesn’t feel good when someone you care about doesn’t show up.

I remember when I played sports in school. If my parents showed up to watch my game, I played twice as hard. I didn’t even mind the time my mom tried to have me taken out of the lacrosse game (she had never seen lacrosse before) because she didn’t want to see me hurt. My coach responded, “Look at her! She’s having the time of her life.”

Why should it matter if someone shows up for us or not? Woody Allen said, showing up

Showing up is a sign of caring. It’s so easy to back out of an activity, but someone wanted you to be there, and the fact you took the time to show up shows you care.

Showing up is the first step toward doing something new. That first step is often the hardest, but you can make such a difference by showing up. It can take courage to step out of your comfort zone and do something that makes you uncomfortable or time-consuming, but the rewards are usually worth it.

Start showing up for the people in your life to support them, and do it for yourself to reap the many possibilities waiting for you.

The health benefits of forgiveness

When someone betrays, hurts, manipulates, or in any other way maligns us, forgiveness can be hard. We may need to consider though that carrying around all the negative feelings might affect us worse than the person who hurt us.

The article, Forgiveness: your health depends on it from www.hopkinsmedicine.org says, “Unresolved conflict can go deeper than you may realize-it may be affecting your physical health. Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack, improving cholesterol levels and sleep, and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.”

Being hurt, disappointed, and angry is an emotional burden. Forgiveness can calm stress levels and let you feel as if a burden has been lifted. Don’t worry about whether the person deserves your forgiveness or not, if you continue to carry negative feelings, you are the one who will continue to suffer.

Forgiving does not necessarily mean you are going to continue a relationship that is toxic for you, it only means you are going to let go of feelings that are not helpful in any way. If there are possibilities to forge a better relationship after forgiveness, then of course do it, but if not, move on and don’t allow that situation to weigh you down.

Forgiveness is sometimes something we have to work at. Dr. Randy Carmen writes, “Forgiveness is a teachable and learnable skill that can dramatically improve with practice over time.” You can work on being more comfortable with forgiveness by showing compassion in certain simple situations.

It often takes some time to heal before you can forgive, but there is a feeling of freedom when you can release the bondage of negative feelings.

8 lessons exercise can teach us

I learn life lessons all the time through exercise. I see inspiration, courage, fear, and everything else that has to deal with the human condition. Many people use exercise as a weapon to prove they are strong enough, some use it as a therapy to deal with emotional pain, some want to push to be stronger, and some see it as a healthy social event. Either way, exercise can teach us life lessons.

Exercise is stronger than medication

Exercise is the healthiest drug, and it is free to use. Whatever you choose as your exercise, moving your body makes you feel better. It also offers a chance to leave troubles or a bad day behind. I do my best problem-solving and thinking while I am running. Exercise allows you to set goals and chart your improvements. It feels good to be doing something positive for yourself and to see the healthy changes.

Being strong physically requires mental strength

If you want to do well at any physical activity, you have to also work on your mental strength. Confidence in your ability or just sheer determination will push you to become stronger. Force yourself to not give up and to do some things that might be out of your comfort zone.

Consistency and practice are the keys to almost everything.

Being committed to something is the key to success. Build physical activity into your daily routine the same way you would brush your teeth every day. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be with the activity and the better results you will see.

Perception is different for everyone

Everyone has the bar set at a different level. I hear conversations at races all the time to convince me of this. One person is depressed because his 5k time was 29 minutes, while someone else is ecstatic that she came in under forty minutes. Our expectations for ourselves and others are different according to our circumstances, so set your own goals without comparing yourself to anyone else.

Excuses and fear hold you back

Excuses are holding you back from a better life. Stop finding all the reasons why you cannot do something and figure out a solution for how you can. There is always a way to make something work whether you need to find childcare or time. I see plenty of people who show up at races refusing to make excuses. They want to live their best life instead of being a prisoner in the recliner. The first step is the hardest and each one after that will be a little easier.

Being healthy affects everything else in your life

When you are healthy you are in a better mood, you sleep better, you can focus more, and you generally enjoy life more.

Do what works for you.

It doesn’t matter what you do for exercise as long as you are active. Pick an activity you will enjoy doing and that way you will look forward to doing it and stick to a program.

You can help others by helping yourself

You never know who might be motivated by what you are doing. Someone else might begin an exercise program that could save his life because of you. When you are healthy, the effects ripple down to your friends and family. You can enjoy time with them more and better health means lower health care costs.

Be proud of your efforts and accomplishments, whatever they are.

If you are exercising regularly, you are an athlete and you need to think of yourself that way. I will never forget one day when I was out for a run and a lady who was running too was coming the other way. I said hello and she said, “Don’t laugh at me because I’m trying to run. I know I’m not a real runner.” I was so surprised at that statement that it took me a minute to react. I turned around and caught up with her and told her that she was just as much a runner as I was.

Exercise is a way to deal with demons while making yourself stronger and happier. It can help you turn so many negatives into positives. Start living your best life and learn the lessons that exercise will teach you.

The road not taken

Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets and I love his poem, The road not taken. He comes to two divergent paths in the woods, and he has to decide which path to take, just as we have to make decisions about which path in life to take. What if we had chosen a different path in life? Would the outcome be different, and what decisions would have been responsible for those changes? I’ll tell you a few decisions that would have changed my life, and I hope they help you to reflect on some of the things that have influenced your life.

I grew up in an area where the public schools were not very good. My parents had been disappointed with the experiences that my two sisters and brother had, so they decided to put me in private school. I didn’t realize it until college, but private school gave me an education and opportunities I might not have had in our town’s schools. My biology class was a child’s dream. There were three monkeys, a snake, a raccoon that would groom anyone’s hair that sat near the cage, and there was an assortment of other creatures. While none of my siblings went to college, I was surrounded by people who thought that was a basic expectation, so I just assumed I would go too.

In college, I had a chance to spend a year in France. If I had not done that, I doubt I would have become a French teacher and traveled as much as I have.

My dad owned the local gas station and car repair shop. When he was going to retire, he asked if I wanted to take over the business. I said no, and I’m sure my life would have been very different if I had said yes.

My last example is my desire to have a third child at 43. It was the best decision because she slowed me down, helped me adjust my priorities, and she amazes me every day as she shines her light.

There are so many more decisions that could have led to drastic changes. What are some of yours?

Another part of Robert Frost’s poem says, “I chose the path less traveled.” Have you done anything in your life that was different or perhaps not approved by those around you? My daughter graduated with a biology degree and was working in a research lab. I knew something was wrong when she told me she had to start taking anxiety medicine because of the job. One day, she called and told us she had quit and was going to do at-home sales. We were skeptical at first, but she has been very successful. Sometimes you should follow your heart if it leads down the path less traveled.

Traits I admire

I was interviewing a local business owner and I was impressed by what a great listener she was. She was completely focused on our conversation without checking her phone, her e-mail, or looking around at what others were doing. I knew she heard me completely. Can you say that about most of the conversations you have during the day? We are so distracted by the many facets of our life that many times we don’t really hear what someone is saying to us. Good communication can solve problems, and poor communication can cause them. I am going to try harder to be a better listener.

My interactions with the business owner made me wonder what other traits make a big difference in the way we live our lives. Here is a shortlist that matters to me.

Kindness

Everyone struggles in some way and a little kindness can go a long way. I actively look for ways to be kind. Simple gestures like smiling at someone or opening a door can help. If you can pay for someone’s coffee, do it. Whatever you think will lift someone up is a good idea. Be kind when it is hard to be. We were at a restaurant and the service was terrible. I have learned to find the reason before reacting. The waitress told us that only one cook showed up to work, and they were also missing two servers. The signs that say thank the people who showed up are perfect. Don’t allow frustration to get the better of you.

Transparency

I heard on the news today that many people act completely differently when they are at work and home. I think the mask of trying to be something I’m not would be too heavy to carry. Wouldn’t you always be afraid that someone will figure out you are not who you are pretending to be? Be your authentic self and people can choose to accept that or not.

Keep an open mind

Is it hard for you to accept that someone else’s opinion might be the correct one, or do you like to hear others share their ideas? I like to discuss topics with people who can talk about an issue calmly. I can learn more in that situation.

Non-judgmental

I think judgmental comments are hateful, but it is something I struggle with myself. I can hear myself saying, “What was she thinking?” or, “Why did he say that?” I always feel awful when I realize I have judged someone, and I swear I will do better tomorrow. I’m going to keep trying because I don’t have any right to decide how someone else should act.

Positive

I would like to think I am a positive person, but the negative thoughts slip in now and then. Thoughts, like I’m not good enough or can’t do something well enough, are defeating. We need to work on keeping our thoughts positive and productive. Every time you hear a negative thought creeping in, turn it into a positive.

Loyal

We all need a few people in our lives who are fiercely loyal. These are the people who don’t talk behind your back, and always have something good to say about you.

What are the top qualities on your list of essential traits?

Be an overcomer

Overcomers are faced with huge obstacles, but instead of letting the obstacles crush them, overcomers bust through them and come out stronger, all the while inspiring us.

We don’t always have the power to control what happens to us, or what challenges rise up in our paths, but we do usually have a choice about how to react to the situation. Overcomers respond with grace and strength. They see complaining as a waste of time in a search for a solution. They will state the facts, but it is merely to describe the situation.

Overcomers see hope when we think a situation might be hopeless. They do not see giving up as an option. Their questions are about doing better and moving forward instead of asking why they are dealing with a challenge.

Overcomers teach us about strength and resilience. They show us that there are things worth fighting for, and we should not settle for less than a joy-filled life.

Here are a few examples of overcomers I know.

Our neighbor’s granddaughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis shortly after she was born. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. Mucus becomes thicker and stickier than it’s supposed to be and blocks passageways that carry air into and out of the lungs. The abnormal mucus can plug channels that carry enzymes produced by the pancreas to the small intestine. Without these digestive enzymes, the intestine cannot absorb the necessary nutrients from food. I watched this young lady grow up and lead a life like any other young girl except that she had to go into the hospital frequently to receive antibiotics, breathing treatments, and vitamins. She missed school frequently, but always maintained good grades. She sees her disease as something she needs to manage while playing paintball, white water rafting, and horseback riding. It might slow her down sometimes, but she refuses to let it steal her joy.

I know a woman who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She has four children and one of them has special needs. She never complained and was very open about her struggles. She was focused on what she needed to do to move forward and heal. The last I heard; her treatment has been successful.

I have known too many people who have had cancer. All of them dealt with it with courage and strength. I’m not sure I would be as much of an inspiration if I was diagnosed with it. I would probably be blubbering in the corner.

Overcomers are fearless. They are the young entrepreneurs who follow their dreams, the athletes who keep pushing, those who don’t accept the negative, and the ones who overcome the odds.

What challenges have you overcome? Do you know any overcomers? Let their inspiration help you to overcome your challenges.