Inspiration

“Feeling In” and Learning to Listen

September 2, 2015
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I’ve written for as long as I can remember. Journals, stories, blogs, unnecessarily verbose emails; whatever medium was available, I’ve taken advantage.

While writing for me was never about an audience, most of those methods involved at least one person who I could share with, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy knowing someone was reading the words I wrote.*

Technology has made it way more accessible for everyone to not only get the words out, but get them in front of others.

Everyone has a way to be heard.

The desire for this seems to be a common one. The affirmation that what we have to say somehow matters, whether it’s to entertain or educate, feels great.

But it seems in the rush to be heard, we haven’t really become any better at listening.

Getting caught up in our own words, I’d venture to say that we may actually be worse at it.

And that can make us pretty lousy friends, companions, and human beings in general.

Maybe it’s a product of our captive audiences in front of their screens.

In typing up a blog post, I can fully complete a thought (well, when my brain is cooperating) and express myself without interruption. A Facebook status, an Instagram pic, or a Tweet, while shorter, accomplishes the same.

My thoughts. Complete. Out there to be consumed.

I don’t worry about the audience “interrupting” or completing my thoughts for me.

But do I afford those I interact with the same courtesy? Or am I still in performance mode, quick to offer up my thoughts, quips, anecdotes, and advice?

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Do you ever find yourself listening to someone else’s story and finishing their sentences?

Or thinking about what you are going to say in response?

What sage advice will you offer? What deeply personal story will you share?

Sure, you may think you are just helping the conversation along, but are you really? Or are you just trying to be the one who’s heard?

When was the last time you found yourself really listening to those with whom you interact?

Meaningful communication takes effort, time, and patience.

I know being a mom of two little ones, I’m inclined to rush. Maybe it’s the excitement over chatting with someone whose butt or nose I don’t wipe. Maybe it’s the not knowing when I’ll have to run off to fish a crayon out of someone’s nose, or a Lego out of the toilet.**

Whatever the reason, I’m not always the listener I want to be.

And if I’m not, how can I really expect to contribute in a meaningful way in my friendships and relationships?

I blogged a few years ago about empathy, and it’s importance in our day to day lives. I still love reflecting on the meaning, that to be empathetic, we have to “feel in”. We have to feel as if we were the person we are sharing with.

How can we ever show empathy (and in turn, compassion and care) if we don’t take the time to truly listen to those around us?

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Sad monkey is sad.

I get to do plenty of the talking, albeit mostly through this blog and social media. I’d like to make it a point to do a whole lot more listening, online or off.

To that end, I’ve made a list of just a few things to keep in mind as I endeavour to be a better listener:

 

My Best Friend is a Square

Or, more accurately, a rectangle.

Oh, beloved iPhone. My constant companion. Which probably isn’t so great for all my other companions. You know, the human ones, competing for my attention over the ding and buzz of every Instagram like and Facebook comment.

Not only am I going to make an effort to put the phone away when I’m talking to people, I’m shutting off all those pesky auto notifications that demand my attention.

I mean, my phone DOES talk in an alluring British man’s voice, but I’d rather that not be my only friend.

I’ll Be There

I’ve got a lot on my mind. Full-time job, writing obligations, kids, family, etc… it’s easy to get lost in the never-ending to-do list in my head.

Or, let’s be honest, it’s easy to get caught up in story ideas as well.

Giving my full attention, not just the bit of my brain not currently occupied with what laundry load needs to be done next or what story scene I need to work out, is the least I can do when someone is sharing with me.

Wait For IIIIIIIT…

While it may not always be intentional, sometimes I find myself stepping on the ends of someone else’s story. Maybe it comes from growing up in a large (and loud) family. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take much to wait for that FULL STOP before saying my bit.

Whatever I have to say, it will keep.

Enjoy The Silence

Being a social introvert, I’m not great with silences. Even brief ones. They leave me feeling anxious and can result in a crazy internal spiral of “what now” that isn’t pretty.

As a result, I tend to fill those silences. But why not ask questions that allow others to take that role?

And sometimes, maybe what the conversation needs is a beat of silence. Thoughtful reflection. A little discernment can go a long way.

 

Do you find you’re a better listener than you once were? How do you make sure you are doing your part?

 

*if you have published work and say you don’t have any desire to have an audience, you are probably not being honest with yourself
**I have not had to fish a crayon out of any noses, but the night is young…

 

Parenting

Fun For Creative Kids: Two Ingredient Playdough

August 31, 2015
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Last week was Jonas’ first week of school.

Homeschooling him while I’m still employed full time is no easy task. While I want to spend all my time putting together fun Pinterest-style projects, I have a day job and deadlines to get to.

Fortunately, Florida Virtual School started a new program this year to support home school students, offering a part time online learning environment, as well as curriculum support.

It’s only been a week, but I’m really happy with it so far.

Still, that doesn’t take away my desire to create fun and interesting things for him to do when he isn’t doing the usual math, science, reading, etc assignments.

Even if those activities are occasionally just the fun ones.

I’ve seen homemade playdough recipes floating around the interwebs, yet never tried one. While non-toxic and edible sounded good, I just haven’t bothered to try.

But when I saw a two ingredient playdough, one that promised a super-silky and soft end product (something I thought might be particularly calming for a sensory seeker like my kid) I had to give it a try.

After all, mixing two ingredients together seemed well within my skill set and time constraints.

What You Need:

Hair Conditioner
Corn Starch
Bowl and Mixing Spoon
Measuring Cup (optional)

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The process was super simple – two parts corn starch to one part hair conditioner. I used what I had a lot of, a mint infused conditioner that I hoped would have additional calming affects as he played, but any conditioner should do.

Mix the corn starch and conditioner together. It will seem a bit sticky at first. If it doesn’t seem to smooth out, add some more corn starch.

I tossed some corn starch on the table before emptying the contents of the bowl (kind of like flouring your surface before kneading dough) to keep it from sticking while it all came together.

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With a little more kneading, you’ll end up with really soft playdough.

It’s not exactly firm enough, in my opinion, to mold all sorts of things, but it’s still great fun to play with. Next time, I’ll have to add a little food coloring for extra fun.

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End result: super soft hands, and a super happy kid.

Do you have any quick go-to projects for keeping the kids engaged?

Humor, Inspiration

Get Uncomfortable

August 19, 2015
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Another Throwback, for the new readers, or for anyone who needs a little push to do something out of their comfort zone today.

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Once upon a time, I took a trip to Mexico.

And it was epic.

I’ve mentioned it more than once here on the blog, with the dancers, ancient ruins, and wildlife.

But there is one key story that is quite possibly my favorite.

As part of this awesome trip, my friend and I traversed the mountain roads from Oaxaca City to the coast of Oaxaca. It’s a long, windy trip, full of bumps in the road.

Literally.

As you pass through small towns, “topes” or speed bumps appear to keep you from going faster than any livestock that may choose to pass through.

These were beyond anything you experience in the states. If you didn’t cross them at a snail’s pace and at just the right angle, you risked ripping out the bottom of your car.

Or at least that is what it sounded like.

We amused ourselves throughout the trip by yelling “TOPE!” to our driver* whenever we approached one of these road monstrosities.

The journey was one you don’t often get to take. We climbed in elevation so quickly that we could feel the temperature cool around us. Bushes filled with berries that would one day be coffee beans whipped by our windows, corn fields appeared on steep inclines, as did breathtaking views of the towns below us.

Taken from the moving car. There are no shoulders on these roads.

At a certain point, we began to descend, identifying the change in elevation and climate as we watched the greenery around us change. From conifers to palms, we stripped our blankets off and lounged in tank tops as we arrived closer to the coast.

It’s no wonder that this scenic drive was a highlight of the trip, right?

Well, the drive isn’t the highlight. I mean, it definitely was an absolutely amazing part of the trip.

But, it was a certain pit stop during our journey that stuck with me.

You see, throughout our entire stay in Mexico, I was introduced to a variety of new things I needed to get used to.

Like, not brushing my teeth with the water from the tap. Showering with a very limited amount of hot water. Throwing my used toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet, rather than in the toilet itself. Being prepared when using a public restroom by bringing my own toilet paper.

I’m not terribly prissy, so these things were simply an amusing adjustment, not an impediment to enjoying my travel.

As we traveled through small towns in our climb and descent to the Oaxacan coast, there came a moment in the very long drive that a restroom was needed. There was a “restaurant” up ahead, so we stopped there in hopes that a bathroom would be available for use.

I use quotes there as this was basically a building, where, as far as I could tell, food might be prepared at mealtimes for the locals, but it wasn’t particularly welcoming. Still, we had no plans on eating, just using whatever facilities they had, so we weren’t discouraged by appearances.

After paying a few pesos (I can’t recall how many) for a few squares of toilet paper, I was taken out of the bulidling through the back, where I more or less climbed up a dirt slope to a small shack.

Inside this shack was a toilet bowl.

Just the bowl.

No lid.

No seat.

I sighed as I entered the door-less shack.

Oh, did I forget to mention?

No door.

I stood, or more accurately danced, in front of the toilet, cursing myself for not adding more (read: any) squats to my exercise routine before taking this trip.

I pulled down the necessary clothing and slowly lowered myself, hovering just above the dirty bowl, trying not to touch the bowl or breathe in too deeply.

As my thighs twitched and burned, waiting for the rest of my body to get on board with the idea of relieving itself here, I found myself wishing that my legs were not tethered together by my underwear and shorts. My balance would surely be better if I could spread my legs further apart. Alas, the idea of dropping my drawers into the dirt beneath me promptly erased the idea from my mind, and I continued to wait.

My bladder finally gave in, realizing that I was not going to budge until I had accomplished what I came here to do.

I stood there, legs shaking a bit, praying that I wouldn’t fall into the bowl, when I heard something.

Movement. And it was close.

Very close.

Staring through the open “doorway” in front of me, a rooster strolled into view. He turned toward me, cocked his little head to the side, and stared.

I had to now not only maintain my balance while blocking thoughts of what grossness lay beneath me, but I had to do so with an audience.

I managed to finish my business (and by business, I do not mean “duty”…I could barely get through peeing here, folks…dropping a deuce was not an option) and walked out of the crap shack, saying a polite “excuse me” as I sidestepped past the rooster.**

I got back to the car and shared my communing with nature experience with my friend, a friend of much stronger thighs and whose wisdom in wearing a skirt often in our trip I was beginning to understand. We laughed, knowing this wouldn’t be the only story we would treasure from our trip, but it would definitely be a unique one.

Why would I share this with you?

If you never push past what you are comfortable with, you may miss out on some of the more awesome experiences in life.

If I had made the choice to stick resort-style Mexico, sure, my bathroom would have come with a door and my only encounters with livestock would have been accompanied by salsa and homemade tortillas.

But you know what I would have missed?

 

This.

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Puerto Escondido

Worth the shaky legs and some creepy one-on-one time with a rooster, eh?

 

*This is our driver. Also known as my best friend’s dad. Thank goodness he is a man familiar with windy mountain roads. I might have died from fear before we made it to the coast if it was not for his expertise.

**I am sorry to say there is no picture of the rooster giving me the stink eye. Holding an iPhone or camera whilst precariously balancing over a bowl of unknown germs, amoebas, and what not is hard enough without picture taking. It is my single biggest regret from the trip. :)

Products

Commercial Break: Warby Parker

August 18, 2015
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I have terrible eyesight.

I mean, really bad.

If my life were a sitcom, there would be lots of episodes were I accidentally reveal peoples’ secrets to the exact person they didn’t want them revealed to because I thought they were someone else, then I’d shrug and say, “I forgot my GLASSES”, and the laugh track would start, and I’d wink at the camera, and I’d be wedged somewhere between reruns of Family Matters and Full House, and THIS IS WHY PEOPLE GO OUT ON FRIDAY NIGHTS.

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Ahem.

But seriously.

When people ask, “Are you nearsighted or farsighted?” I never remember which is correct, since I can’t see past the hand in front of my face without the aid of corrective lenses.

An eye doctor once told me I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house without my glasses. I told him his face shouldn’t leave the house.*

For the most part, I wear contact lenses, but I’ve found my eyes need a break now and then, and my last pair of glasses are all sorts of bent and scratched.

I usually head over to 1800GlassesAreSuperCheapHere.com** and grab a pair, but lately, since I actually wear my glasses out of the house, I thought I’d give Warby Parker a try.

What’s so great about Warby Parker?

They send you a kit with five pairs of frames – frames you choose, or you can have the site help you with that – and you have five days to decide which ones are right for you.

Hello, pretties.

Is that why my mom had five kids?

 

And thanks to the wonder that is social media, you basically get to shop for glasses with your friends (and quite possibly, randos), as they can chime in with their opinions via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #warbyhometryon.

Five selfies in one shot. And then I died.

Five selfies in one shot. And then I died.

Warby Parker even gets in on the fun. (For the record, they chose the Harrison – the bold frames on the bottom right.)

Once you decide, you send the kit back, make your choice, and your new pair is on it’s way!

Pretty easy.

The only tough part? With such a great variety of cute frames and access to all those friendly opinions, you may have a tough time picking just one.

I managed to narrow it down to these two. The Annette and the Harrison.

I managed to narrow it down to these two. The Annette and the Marshall.

Of course, with the great price point on these glasses, you probably COULD get away with ordering two. All of the frames I chose were $95 WITH the prescription lenses, which is pretty sweet.***

I definitely recommend giving them a try if you are in need of a new pair of specs. Good things await you!

 

*I’m hilarious. But I didn’t actually say that.
**not an actual website
***I’ll be paying the $30 upgrade on my lenses because I have a coke bottle strength prescription, so I always opt for the thinner lenses.

 

This commercial break is brought to you by my super bad vision. Opinions expressed here are my own and not influenced by free goodies or cash monies.