On the passing of Spock, the Betta Fish

I wrote this poem a few years ago, after the passing of a beloved Betta Fish. 

On the passing of Spock, the Betta fish

Four years, you swam on my desk.
An oasis of logic in a sea of paper.
You read my junk mail;
You reminded me to be logical
As you swam around your ceramic Buddha
And attacked your own reflection –
A testament to how often
we are our own worst enemy.

You made no comment when I rearranged the office furniture
To make room for a baby
And refrained from saying “I told you so” when I moved it back.
You just swam a little more smugly.

These last few months,
You’ve mostly kept to yourself
At the bottom of your bowl.

I thought I’d lost you a dozen times,
But you would resume your slow patrol,
After a firm shake roused you from your rest.

I wish you well on your journey to
Wherever fish go.
But before your bowl is dry,
Or Bones, Chekov or Uhura swim in your place
In your rocks,
Around your Buddha,
And battle a new reflection,
A new enemy,
A new arrangement of furniture,
I wanted to note your passing
And thank you
For your company.

So you wouldn’t be just another fish
Bought for a few dollars at the pet store,
Enthusiastic about lunch,
And your reflection
Who lived, died and was buried
“At sea.”

You were a constant companion,
An ever available
If unresponsive
Listening ear.

I will miss our talks,
Your silent advice,
Your battles with yourself
As I continue mine.

Farewell, my friend
And thank you for sharing the journey with me
As friends do.

I take my positive attitude very seriously

One of the things I found over and over again when I’m feeling blue is that I’ve let my practice of gratitude fall by the wayside.

I find that when I’m in a downward spiral, the last thing I want to do is practice gratitude. It’s almost easier to fall to the bottom of the pit of despair than to try to stop yourself before you get to the bottom. But, bit by bit, day by day, this practice has helped me feel more empowered to dig myself up one day at a time.

The Three Thirty Project

A few weeks ago, we were talking about self-esteem in one of my taekwondo classes. A little girl, about 7, raised her hand and said, “You can have a positive attitude in school, or you can be serious.”

I responded, “I take my positive attitude very seriously.”

I think my student has unconsciously learned something that most of us believe – we can either have fun or we can get stuff done.

But why is that?

Why can’t we have fun while we get stuff done?

I went on to say to my student that I think being silly and being positive are very different things.

I’m going to be really hokey here – but I take my positive attitude very seriously. I make a choice every day to be grateful, to remind myself of the things I love, and practice joy.

I know there a plenty of reasons to…

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Searching for Preschool

I have a four year old daughter. This fall, she will be old enough to go to Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK). A program, which I’ve discovered, is free to me in the state of Florida.

I’m so excited to begin my daughter’s school age years. I’m excited for the friends she’ll make. I’m excited for the things she’ll learn. I’m excited that she’ll get to learn that the world is bigger than our family and our taekwondo school. I’m excited that she’ll meet other adults that she can admire and trust. I’m excited that there will be other people who can fill in the gaps in my parenting – because I’m certain that there are things I’m missing.

I began calling around to programs a few months ago (thinking I was way ahead of the curve), I realized that VPK is very popular and that all the “good” parents enrolled their kids in Fall VPK in January of last year.

So. We’re on a couple of waiting lists. I’ve visited a few classrooms full of toys, puzzles, and educational games. I’ve heard about “thinking chairs,” reinforcements, educational strategies, and apps that teachers can use to keep in touch with parents.

And it all sounds great, but it doesn’t answer my burning question about these programs:

Will you treat my daughter with respect? Will you honor her feelings? Will you let her know that you value you her no matter how she performs on whatever evaluation system you use? Will you help her learn to value herself as a human being and to value her little classmates as human beings, too? 

I may be a terrible parent for admitting this, but I’m not worried about whether or not my daughter will learn to count to 10, identify capital and lowercase letters, or name the continents before she’s 5. I feel completely confident that in the long arc of her life, she will learn the facts and skills she needs to function in her life. And, if push comes to shove, I know I can help her with these things.

But, I’m worried about the things that are harder to unlearn. Can I ask her teacher to avoid words like bossy and try words like leader? Can I ask how they stop kids from teasing and teach them to be kind to those who are smaller and weaker than themselves? Can I ask them to encourage her when she wants to read comic books? Can they let her know that it’s okay to have ninja turtles and barbies playing together? Can they make it safe for her to be friends with a boy without calling him a boyfriend?

I know I can’t shield my daughter from the parts of the world, the parts of our society, the parts of childhood, or the parts of girlhood that I don’t like. But I wish I could. I wish we lived in a world where we were more focused on nurturing our children’s souls than filling their minds.

I don’t know where I’ll ultimately send my daughter to school next year. But…I hope that she takes the values she’s learned in our home with her. I hope our values are strong enough to protect her sweet spirit

Travels with Toddlers

Last week, I went on my first solo road trip with my two children. We have a pretty busy work schedule planned for this summer, and I thought it would be a good idea to go visit family and change my routine for the week before all that started!

One of my goals with my kids is to limit their screen time as much as possible (I’ll write more about that later), so I was not eager to charge up an iPad with videos and let them veg out for 7 hours while we drove to visit family.

I’m sure I’m not the only parent who wants to have a fun road trip with their family this summer, and may feel mildly ambivalent about having them watch 20 hours of television to make that happen.

Note: this post includes affiliate links to amazon. I receive a small commission if you decide to purchase something I’ve linked to or an item from my amazon store, which includes more affordable items that might help you have a a screen free (or screen less) summer road trip, too!

Here’s my “travels with toddlers” survival plan:

      1. Pack healthy snacks
        The last thing I wanted on my road trip was for my kids to be on a sugar high. I packed apple slices, hard boiled eggs, grapes, carrot slices and water. That was enough for my 7 hour trip. We still had to stop for lunch (could’ve packed a sandwich, but it was nice to get out and stretch our legs. See below).
      2. Books on CD
        Before we left, we bought a Moana read-along book with CD. I wouldn’t let my four-year-old listen or read the book until we got on the road. It was a special treat and kept her entertained for 30 minutes at a time. And she liked it so much, we listened to it several times.

        Be warned: After about the 3rd time through, my 20 month old was not impressed by the book on tape, so we saved it for her nap time.
      3. Make an Awesome playlist for your kids!
        Before we left, I helped my four year old create a playlist of her favorite songs from Frozen, Moana, Trolls, Zootopia and more. I put a few songs I liked (and vetoed a couple of her picks that make my skin crawl), and both kids LOVED listening to “their” music.
      4. Travel while they sleep, but not when you’re too tired.
        When my first daughter was born, we tried leaving for a few road trips right at bedtime, so we could drive while the baby slept. I don’t like that strategy anymore because unlike most people, I don’t think I’m an above average driver. I’d rather travel when I’m rested because…I want to arrive at my destination in one piece, and no one is a good enough driver to drive when they’re exhausted (and I’m traveling with precious cargo!).
        The solution? Now, I start early. I started my trip at 6:00 am. My girls usually sleep pretty late, and the sound of the road has always been pretty soothing to them. They slept for the first 3 hours of the drive, which meant that I only had to keep them entertained in the car for 4 hours. Win!

        Also, in the spirit of tip #3, I made myself a playlist of my favorite podcasts, so I could listen to something I enjoyed while we drove!

      5. Make their toys easy to access
        I packed a bin of toys (like the one below) that they could reach between their car seats and put groups of toys in a ziplock bag so they could reach certain toys rather than have too many choices.

    1.      6. What did I put in the ziplock bags?

Crayola Classic Color Pack Crayons 16 ea
Melissa & Doug Jumbo Triangular Crayons
Disney Moana Spirit of Adventure (Color It)
Melissa & Doug Jumbo Coloring Pad – Animals
Lamaze Flip Flap Dragon

and a few other things I’ve shared in my amazon store!

     7. Invest in some comforts to make your trip easier. 

I generally hate buying anything, but I found that a couple of organizers made our trip a lot more fun! These car organizers are great for helping your kids play and access their things independently while you drive.

     8. Use GPS.

The last thing you need is to be trying to read a map while you’re rocking out to “Let it Go.” My GPS took me around a huge interstate traffic jam and the audio cues helped me keep my eyes on the road!

9. Allow Plenty of Time.

My children do not know the meaning of the word haste. I had a very flexible schedule for my trip. I rely on my husband for a lot of co-parenting and moral support, so I kept my expectations low and my plans simple. I visited family; I had a lot of free time built in; we stopped at parks whenever we could, and my husband came up for the end of our trip, so we could all drive home together (just in case things weren’t going well). I felt like I was able to enjoy my trip more when I wasn’t trying to execute a lot of plans.

Are you planning a road trip this summer? What are your tips for surviving a road trip with your kids? I’d love to hear more ideas!!

You shouldn’t always do the opposite of a bad thing

Happy Monday!

The Three Thirty Project

There are some people in my life, and I’m sure you have them too, that I refer to as “reverse barometers.” These are people – whether it’s a manager at work, government official, distant relative, etc. – with whom you want to share nothing in common.

It’s tempting to think to yourself, “if so-and-so does this, then the best course of action is to do the exact opposite.”

Unfortunately, that is usually not the case.

What I have found over and over again is that the “reverse barometers” in my life are not doing everything wrong. Sometimes they have a tone, an attitude, an approach that is ineffective, but doing the opposite does not guarantee a good result.

I took a driving class once, and we had the opportunity to practice driving on a course that simulated hydroplaning, obstacles on the road, and other dangers you might see on the road. And one of…

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5 Tips for Overcoming Insurmountable 1st Steps

I often find myself overwhelmed by getting started on an important or new task.

For example, I recently got a new pair of glasses, which I’ve needed for about a year. I kept getting held up at the first step – calling to make an appointment – because my former eye doctor had closed her office.

These are some tips for over coming those “insurmountable” first steps!

The Three Thirty Project

Many weeks, my Mondays start with me thinking:

“It’s 9:00 AM! Why haven’t I had breakfast, responded to all my email, played with my kids for an hour, exercised for 45 minutes, meditated, showered, shared a dynamic conversation over coffee with my husband, and planned my whole week? I’m such a failure!”

My expectations are a teensy-weency bit unrealistic.

The only reason that this is a problem is that once I’ve started getting down on myself, I tend to have a hard time getting started on the things I want and need to do. For my business, I frequently need to process memberships, order merchandise, and take care of routine accounting tasks, but when I sit down at my desk, I’m so overwhelmed by all I have to do that sometimes I don’t get any of it done!

These are some strategies I use to help myself overcome the weight…

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10 Things You Simply Must Know Before Becoming a Parent

A dear friend of mine is having her first baby this year. We collaborate on our shared blog, The 3:30 Project, and a few weeks ago we each shared our thoughts on her birthday and becoming a parent. I really enjoyed making this list and thought I’d share it here as a fun Friday pick-me-up!

10 Things You Simply Must Know Before Becoming a Parent

  1. People will give you unsolicited advice on parenting in an inverse relationship to how well they know you. You are not obligated to listen.
  2.  There is no perfect method that will help your baby to sleep through the night.
  3. Your child WILL have a temper tantrum in a public place. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.
  4. You will forget to take your diaper bag with you exactly once. When that one time happens, your baby will have a super blow out poop. If you’re lucky, this will happen at a place that sells diapers and baby wipes. You will live through this experience, but it’s okay to cry.
  5. People will judge you for how you feed your baby and whether or not you use a pacifier. But as long as your baby is fed, it’s probably going to be okay.
  6. You are under no obligation to breast feed in public.
  7. I know that strange things always happen to you, but nothing will be stranger than human coming out of your body.
  8. But right up there with a human growing in your body and then exiting, milk coming out of your breasts is also pretty weird. Depending on how things go and what you decide to do, that’s going to take a while to get under control. I know it’s natural, and despite our smart phones and climate control, we are still mammals, but it is messy and disconcerting to feel like a cow.
  9. There’s nothing wrong with naptime being your favorite part of the day.
    • There’s nothing wrong with also taking a nap during naptime.
    • There’s no reason that you should obligated to “be productive” while your baby sleeps.
  10. One of the things I try to do when I’m arguing with my daughter about whether or not she should wear underwear or when she’s upset that I’ve opened her yogurt incorrectly, is I try to remember the feeling I had when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. The hope, the terror, the excitement, the love, the joy – all of that. When I remember how much I wanted this little person to be in my life, it makes it a little easier to get through those moments.

Welcome to parenthood!

When you start to realize something is wrong…`

I have mixed feelings about depression as a medical diagnosis. Obviously, I think it’s vitally important for people who have debilitating depression to get the psychological treatment they need. But, I also think that it’s normal to have seasons of sadness in our lives. I think that feeling sad, angry, lonely, grief and depressed are just as much a part of the human experience as joy, happiness, laughter, determination and other more pleasant emotions.

I feel very fortunate that when I have experienced a bout of depression, it usually has resolved itself in a matter of months. That being said, what I have found bizarre about my experience with depression is that by the time I recognized that there was something wrong, it was almost over.

I love to cook. I love trying new ingredients, recipes and cookbooks. I love cooking with my daughters. I love meal planning. I love eating. But for about a month, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to make a meal plan. I’ve had to force myself to go to the grocery store, and I’ve lazed around at meal time until my husband made dinner or I begrudgingly put something together to eat.

Was it over? Had I spent the last ten years saving recipes on Pinterest, figuring out what blanching was, figuring out the difference between a parsnip and parsley, and experimenting with different kinds of flour, fat, egg substitutes and chocolate in a never ending quest to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for nothing?

Then I realized I wasn’t doing or enjoying anything. I wasn’t doing laundry; I wasn’t enjoying playing with my kids; I wasn’t reading; I wasn’t working on my blog. I started fantasizing about moving, changing careers, quitting work all together, and spent WAY too much time scrolling through my social media accounts.

I was going through the motions every day.

I don’t want to pretend that my experience with depression was as severe as some people’s. I never considered harming myself or anyone I love. I didn’t even feel like something was wrong. I just didn’t feel anything.

Until one day, I realized that this isn’t normal.

I know I like to cook, but I’m not cooking. I know I love reading, but I haven’t finished a book in a month. I know I love my work, but I haven’t enjoyed doing my work in a month. Something is wrong.

I wish I could say that realizing this broke the spell and everything was magically better right away.

Different people experience depression for different reasons. For me, this time, depression was the result of the fact that I have challenges in my life that don’t have easy solutions.

Oddly, acknowledging that my problems don’t have easy solutions makes me feel better. There is no quick fix, but I know that in the long run, it will probably be okay.

I think that’s the first step. And I think it’s okay to take baby steps. Today, this is my baby step. I know I enjoy writing on a blog, so even though I don’t really feel like it. I’m going to write. I know that I enjoy cooking, so I’m going to go home and make dinner.

I’m just going to have faith that if I keep doing these things that I know I enjoy enough, I will start to experience the enjoyment.

Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness

Sometimes I feel like an idea like this is “in the air.” I heard about it in sparring, then a podcast I listen to. What do you think? Do your greatest strengths also hold the seeds of your greatest weaknesses?

The Three Thirty Project

In my Martial Arts academy, we teach sparring. It’s usually considered an advantage in our style to be tall – taller people have long legs, so they have more reach and can oftenkicktheir opponent before their opponent reaches them. But, if you can get around their legs, their height becomes a weakness. Taller people tend to be easy to get off balance and if you get “inside” you can hit them with a punch or hand technique, and their legs are too long to kick you away.

In business, large companies have a lot of power – they have large advertising budgets, nationwide distribution networks, bargaining power, research teams and analysts at their disposal. But their strength is also their weakness. By necessity they have bureaucracies to manage day-to-day operations. If they want to make a change, they have to spend a lot of time and money re-training everyone in…

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Muddling through

One of my “Secrets of Adulthood” (and idea I adopted from Gretchen Rubin) – is:

There are some seasons in life that you just have to muddle through.

This has been one of those seasons for me.

For the past month, my 4 year old has largely refused to wear underwear. My 2 year old has been getting her last few teeth, which means that she has gone from being basically weaned to using my breast as a pacifier for about 5 hours a night. And I had a rather disappointing tax return.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been really cranky about these issues. It finally got to the point where I started joking (but only half-joking) with my husband, that I’m going through a midlife crisis.

I know it’s melodramatic.

But, on the other hand, on one of the afternoons where I had to leave work early because my daughters (who come to work with me) were fighting, fussing and yelling, and I was so frustrated that I thought: I could just drive away and start a new life somewhere else…I remembered: No, Maggie, you’re just having a midlife crises, this will pass.

Instead of going wherever the road and my maxed out credit card would take me, I went home and made myself my favorite comfort food (cheese quesadillas in the toaster oven and chocolate chip cookies) instead.

I certainly hope that I’m not halfway through my life, but I did just have a birthday with a zero at the end. And I think this is a fair time to take stock, look around and see if I’m living the life I want to live.

If my older daughter continues to wear underwear and my younger daughter’s teeth finally come through, I hope I’ll be able share some other thoughts on this.

But for now, I’m just accepting that I’m going to have to muddle through this season. Somehow accepting that I have to ride this wave to the bottom has freed me from the sense of hopelessness that was starting to take over my life. I know that approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but for me…I know I can muddle through for awhile. And I’ll muddle a lot better if I don’t have to pretend that everything is sunshine and rainbows.