December 18, 2008

Crockpot Winter Breakfast Goodness

I'm all about delicious, nutritious breakfasts, but sometimes they're hard to throw together with a toddler romping around! For this reason, I LOVE my crockpot - throw everything in before bed, turn on low, and voila, ready in the morning! Kai and I both love this recipe!

In a crockpot, combine:
1 c. brown rice + 1 c. quinoa (or any whole grains)
1 c. adzuki beans (optional)
1-2 diced apples
1/2 c. diced winter squash
1-2 diced sweet potatoes
1/2 c. raisins or other dried fruit
1 tsp. cinnamon
7 - 9 c. water

Turn crockpot to low and cook overnight, or 6-8 hours. For grown-ups, add salted nuts and a bit of brown sugar, if you'd like, and enjoy!!

Pics in the morning, because I've got a batch going in my crockpot as I type...

This recipe has a lot of flexibility. Use any whole grains that you enjoy - though it's nice to include quinoa, one of only two grains that is also a complete protein (the other is amaranth, another breakfast favorite of mine). Sometimes I add diced carrots or dates, and if I don't have apples or squash, I'm fine with just sweet potatoes. The adzuki beans are totally optional, but delicious - they contribute to the overall slow sweetness of the dish.

As far as the water and cook time go - I generally find it best to make my first attempt at something in my crockpot during the day time - all of them are a little different, so I like to be able to keep an eye on the water/moisture level, and figure out when something is ready. I recommend the same to anyone trying this out for the first time!

December 16, 2008

Yoga Odyssey

I'm feeling really, really excited. Why, you ask?

Tonight finds me filling out my application for 200-hour (adult) yoga teacher training and also registered for my friend Barrett Lauck's monthlong online Yoga Odyssey course in January (that's Barrett in the pic over there!).

My training begins in February with Mimi Loureio at O2 Yoga here in Massachusetts. My first yoga classes were at O2 with Mimi many moons ago, and I couldn't be more tickled to have the opportunity to learn from such an extraordinary teacher. Hooray!!

Her goal is to help people create, develop, and stick with an at-home yoga practice. For just $40, participants will receive daily inspiration from Barrett, reflections from other participants via bulletin boards, and also weekly suggestions for sequences, both active and restorative.

Barrett's pre- and postnatal classes have kind of a cult following in the Boston area, and she is particularly committed to helping parents create and maintain their practice...

So...who's going to join me in January for this Yoga Odyssey??

December 15, 2008

Green Giving - Make it a Sustainable Holiday!

Even the savviest of eco-gift giving guides are chock full of products these days. Sure, they're full of recycled, reused, and non-toxic stuff, but that stuff is, nonetheless, STUFF.

Now, I hail from a family that has historically relished the present-opening process – sometimes I think that each of us bought much of what we did for one another just to add one more tear-openable-box to the giant pile under our tree.

I can't lie. As a kid, I loved opening box upon box upon box of trinkets and bobbles. The parachuting plastic men made a particularly lasting impression. But that pleasure was fleeting, and soon gave way to the burden of finding (and generally failing to find) a place to put the million-and-one tiny little stocking stuffers. Did I mention that my family is also full of packrats who live in relatively small abodes?

My grandmother, whom I dearly miss, was the biggest gift-giver of us all. But she went to her grave with a secret – all those Christmas presents had added up to huge credit card bills. She carried substantial balances, paid the minimum due each month, and was so in debt that when my grandfather discovered the state of her finances after her death, he was forced (in his mid-70s after a lifetime of hard work) to declare bankruptcy.

And how many of those childhood gifts do I own now? Aside from a few books and a pieces of special jewelry, I can't think of anything that was valuable or durable enough that I still remember it, let alone own it. Those little parachuting men, made of a petroleum-based, unsustainable material, and probably loaded with toxic chemicals, have long since taken up residence in some landfill, where they will likely remain for a very long time.

This holiday season, my husband and I want to celebrate the holidays and honor our loved ones sustainably. Eco-friendly or not, we decided to ban STUFF from our gift-giving. This year's Natural Living Holiday Gift Ideas come straight from the list we brainstormed for our own "shopping." Enjoy!! Oh, and parents out there might also enjoying checking out the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's Guide to Commercial Free Holidays. A friend just passed it along to me and I love the emphasis on traditions, rituals, and service over commercial holiday hype and stuff!

Now, finally, on to the Gift Guide…

Share a Farm
Rising consumer awareness of the nutritional, taste, and environmental benefits of eating locally means that your friends and family will almost certainly appreciate fresh produce, meats, egg, and dairy from regional growers and farmers. Give the gift of a CSA farm share – you'll be supporting local economies, your loved ones' health, and of course, in this economic climate, who wouldn't be thrilled with the added bonus of reduced weekly grocery bills? Search Local Harvest by zip code for nearby CSAs.

Give the Gift of Fitness
Health and wellness are the foundation of extraordinary living and I can't think of a more powerful and personal gift for someone I love than in-home personal training or private yoga instruction. Full disclosure – I'm married to a wonderful personal trainer, Robert Bellon - he incorporates meditation and a bit of whole foods nutritional education into his training and I even partner with him to provide child care for some of his clients during their training sessions – you can read more about his work at Live Well Training. And another local recommendation, this one for private yoga instruction especially for prenatal or recently postnatal moms – Barrett Lauck with Five Points Yoga, about whom I hear never-endingly good things. To locate trainers near you, check out the American Academy of Sports Medicine and to find a yoga instructor, check out the Yoga Alliance.

Plant a Tree
Plant a tree to honor your loved ones in any US state, the Amazon, or Israel with Trees Instead, which works with local reforestation projects internationally. Tree-climbing kids and outdoor enthusiasts will particularly appreciate this gesture, which will literally help green the earth.

Fight Hunger and Poverty
Heifer International lets you choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one by helping children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that enable them to become self-reliant. Purchase a sheep for wool, a goat for milk, or egg-producing chickens for a community in need. One of my favorite options? Heifer's Earth Baskets, which provide "additional income for families and support for the environment. Bees produce honey and wax that supply income when sold at the local market. And did you know that an active beehive's pollination makes for more efficient crop growth? The Earth Basket also contains tree seedlings which provide shade and fodder for animals and prevent soil erosion."

Make a Loan, Change a Life
I'm thinking that entrepreneurs and businesspeople will particularly appreciate a Kiva gift certificate this year. Recipients get to fund a microloan to an entrepreneur in the developing world, watch via e-mail as that entrepreneur's business grows, and within a month, do it all over again as the loan is repaid.

Adopt an Animal
An especially great gift for kids, organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Bonobo Kids provide the opportunity to support wildlife conservation efforts by "adopting" an animal. These organizations also provide thoughtful, fun educational materials as well as sweet tokens representing the adoption. Actually, this is a great gift for grown-up kids as well. In the past, I've adopted animals for everyone from my husband to a former assistant, and every recipient has told me it's one of the most meaningful presents they have ever received.

Especially for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, check out Itsy Bitsy Yoga classes (again, full disclosure, I teach this program myself locally!), Music Together, and art programs. For older kids, give them the opportunity to pursue something they're curious or passionate about – perhaps a sports clinic, a pottery or glass-blowing class, or wilderness experience!

Another favorite gift I've given before – memberships to local science, art, and natural history museums are always a hit.

The tried and true coupon book for your time and service never goes out of style. I remember giving these to my parents and grandparents as a child ('cleaning my room without argument' was a particularly big hit), and gave one to my husband a few years back as well (I think it also included 'cleaning my room without an argument,' LOL!).

Memory Boxes
I once brought tears to my uncle's eyes by handcrafting a small wooden box and filling it with photos and memorabilia my grandmother helped me collect related to his childhood and early adult years. If your gift is going to be a physical one, nothing beats something truly personal.

Bottom line…by thinking creatively and sustainably, the holidays feel much more special for everyone. Happy 'shopping' and happy holidays!

November 23, 2008

Fabulous Home Practice Tool!!!

Just came across My Yoga 2 Go fabulous looking tool to support anyone and everyone's at home practice! It was created by yoga teacher and mom Beth Siegel, after her first child was born when she realized that without much extra time to attend classes and workshops, she was favoring particular asanas and practicing the same flows over and over at home. She created this system to keep herself challenged and inspired by her practice...

At $29.95, I think I'm gonna have to order me one of these! From her Web site:

With My Yoga 2 Go practice system you'll select from 70 different postures, as well as 7 different sequences:
  • Ashtanga (power)
  • Flow
  • Core Strength for Athletes
  • Hip Opening
  • Back Strength
  • Relaxation
  • Energizer

Each sequence is labeled as either beginner, intermediate or advanced, so that you can begin a yoga practice and continue to challenge and grow your practice with only one purchase of the My Yoga 2 Go practice system. Unlike books or DVD’s, the My Yoga 2 Go practice system has a endless combination of sequences that you can customize yourself, using the over 70 posture cards.

November 21, 2008

Why Yoga for Kids?

I start to answer that question in a guest post for Boston's Savvy Source blog. Check it out, and thanks to the Boston editor, Jill Notkin (who blogs about work-at-home momhood over at The Daily Grind) for the invitation to contribute!

November 19, 2008

Calm Down with Your Sixth Sense

Ever wonder why yoga is so calming for babies, kids, and grown ups alike? Did you know that motion without touch is more soothing than touch without motion for an infant (touch and motion together are the ideal)? Or that in one study, babies who were held and spun around in an office chair demonstrated much faster reflex and motor development than babies who were not? Ever been on a meditation retreat? If so, have you noticed how many adults, when they silently sit with their own thoughts, begin to rock or sway to self-soothe?

Now that our whole family is feeling better, I am finally getting to one of my favorite subjects - vestibular motion!!! I know, as favorite subjects go, this one might be a bit strange, but I'm fascinated. From one one of my favorite books on child development, What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life:
From the moment of birth, children love the sensation of motion. Whether it's rocking, jiggling, bouncing, or just being carried around the house, babies find great comfort in the feeling of repetitive motion, and older children love to be spun, swung, or flipped upside down. The reason they are so receptive to motion is because they are born with a highly developed vestibular system - a "sixth" sense that allows us to perceive our body's movement and degree of balance. The vestibular senses are very old, in evolutionary terms, since all earthly organisms have had to orient themselves with respect to gravity and their own motion. Accordingly, they emerge quite early during embryonic development. Like touch, the vestibular system is precociously poised to transmit sensation that is not only very comforting for babies but also critical to their early development.
Surprisingly, vestibular stimulation makes important contributions to motor development, and deficiencies in the vestibular system are linked to emotional problems, perceptual or attention deficits, learning disabilities, language disorders, and autism. While not the sole cause of these disorders, balance and motion make a big difference for little ones. And infants who are born prematurely gain weight faster, are less irritable, breathe more regularly, move less jerkily, sleep more, and spend more time in a quiet, alert state when they are swayed, bounced, rocked, carried and spun.

Early vestibular stimulation provides a building block for the development of other sensory and motor abilities. And although the vestibular system's sensitivity peaks between six and eight months, as one of our most primitive senses, it remains available as a fast lane to calm.

Spinning, jumping, or moving to an upside down position has an immediately calming effect on children and grown ups alike. In my yoga classes for kids, I suggest poses to parents (like down dog, headstand, and spinning around or jumping up and down) that are particularly effective for averting an oncoming tantrum - but when my husband and I remember to try them ourselves, we always realize that they are just as effective for averting big people tantrums as they are for pint-sized ones!

Photo Credit: gemsling (flckr)

November 13, 2008

Laughing...and Coughing...

Just a quick note to say that as soon as I thought I was "back on track" - I came down with the bug that Kai and Bob have had! So it will be a few more days before I get back to posting.

November 11, 2008

Begin Again

How fitting that I recently wrote about surrendering, prioritizing, and committing to self-care. Almost immediately after writing that post, I faced several challenges to my own rituals of peace and wellness. Bob started a new nearly full-time position with a nearby gym, I started a new set of 6-week Itsy Bitsy Yoga sessions, Kai got a nasty cold, and Bob threw his back out. As soon as Bob's back got better, he got Kai's cold and a bad case of laryngitis. I went kind of non-stop for two weeks, not really getting more than a few moments to or for myself. Still not sure how single parents do it, and I bow down to them. Knowing that the circumstances I faced were very temporary, if exhausting, I decided not to renegotiate a whole new patter of self-care, but rather, to breathe as deeply as I could whenever I had a moment to do so, and forgive myself the lapse.

Now everyone is on the mend and our family is settling into new routines based on Bob's new schedule. And as always in this life, I begin again. Begin again with writing for this blog. Begin again with my commitment to practice yoga and meditation as close to daily as possible. Begin again with running and strength training.

Tomorrow I will have the post I promised last week, about the amazing power of vestibular motion (spinning, up-and-down, upside down movements), but tonight I just wanted to check in and say, I'm still here. I've been thinking of this blog, and all of you, often during the past week, and have been eager to reconnect. So happy to be doing so now!

November 5, 2008

How to Breathe Your Way to Calm

In Yoga, the breath (prana) is considered life force and guides everything. Focus on it quiets the mind, calms the spirit, and allows us to play to our edge in poses or challenging situations that come up in life.

I quickly learned that prana was the best place to start for soothing with my own son, Kai, in his early months. And now that he's toddling, I find that I can work the same magic I've watched other parents manifest with just a little bit of breath, sometimes even curtailing tantrums before they have a chance to begin.

So today, a few simple strategies for bonding and calming using the magic of breath:

Centering: When you feel your own reactions to your little one’s behavior intensifying, take a moment to notice your own breath. Don’t try to change it, but do pay particular attention to the feeling of it on the skin under your nose for a few minutes. We find that after a few moments, this leaves us much calmer, more present, and ready to deal with the situation at hand much more lovingly.

Baby’s Breath: Hold your infant against your chest and match your breathing to hers, inhaling and exhaling on her time. Feel the sensations on your skin where your bodies connect.

Breath Beats: Next time your well-fed, clean-diapered babe fusses, hold him close and try using an up and down motion (think a Yoga/exercise ball or Goddess pose/squats) that matches in the tempo of his breathing. As he and his breathing calm, slow your pace to follow. This used to turn even my son Kai’s fiercest crying into laughter.

Tantrum Tamer: In Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers: 8-Minute Routines to Help Your Child Grow Smarter, Be Happier, and Behave Better, Helen Garabedian suggests derailing an oncoming tantrum with some simple breathwork. Show your toddler how to breathe like a lion with Lion’s Breath: breathe in through your nose using an exaggerated facial motion and expression, then out through your mouth with a “haaaahhh” sound, imitating a lion’s roar.

Grown-ups (parents and non-parents alike) can work this magic on ourselves as well! It's amazing - the lessons of baby and toddler yoga can sweeten each day for big people, too. Next time you're upset, try rocking, swaying, or bouncing your body in time to your own breath, slowing your motion as your breath calms. Or let loose with a few lion's breath roars...I guarantee you'll feel better. Prana power works for everyone.

Why is up-and-down/side-to-side/upside-down motion so powerful when combined with prana? More on that tomorrow!

November 3, 2008

Mothering Is Like Meditating...

Seriously. Like a non-stop, never-ending meditation retreat. I find it impossible to cling too fiercely to the illusion of permanence when each moment presents me with a beautiful, fickle little creature who encounters every object, moment, and experience with his whole being; sometimes his whole body seems to hum with his delight, but just as quickly he finds something frustrating or upsetting. He's so obviously outside of my control that even I, practiced as I am at convincing myself I'm in charge, cannot begin to believe it is so when I'm with Kai.

There are those moments that of non-attachment, equanimity, and deep-calm-love, like when I remember to just look at Kai as he falls asleep nursing at night. Or when, as this morning, I discover something that will make him laugh right at that moment - what makes him laugh one moment does not necessarily have that effect in the next! This morning, he loved the sound of the word "oops" and couldn't get enough of it, laughing wildly whenever he heard it repeated.

But as with meditation retreats, such moments are fleeting and impermanent...thankfully that is obvious, so I can handle the more tedious moments of tantrums or exhaustion.

Today and yesterday were also filled with such moments - over the weekend, Bob both began a new job at a local training studio and threw his back out. Meaning that I was on Kai duty nearly by myself all weekend. Kai also developed a cold Friday evening, and for two nights woke up approximately every 20 -45 minutes. Add the time change this weekend, and he has been starting his days at 5am or earlier. Tired mommy. Tired mommy with no breaks during the day, and temporarily missing her extra hour of morning catch-up sleep while daddy recovers.

Every time I lost it this weekend - and my friends, I did lose it a few times, having to leave the room, Bob lying on the floor with Kai confined to a small space next to him for a few moments, because I was just so very tired and emotionally exhausted from keeping up with my sweet, crazy toddler. So yes, every time I lost it this weekend, I brought myself back into the game of parenting by reminding myself of the impermanence of the situation, and thinking about days 6 and 7 of my past 10-day meditation retreats. I have felt "done" each time at that point, and have just wished I could go home and be done with it already. But I've always dug down deep and pushed through, coming to something new and more complete in my final days as a result.

So that's what I did this weekend. And I discovered a well of playfulness deep inside me even in the late hours of the day, a time for which I had been telling myself I was utterly hopeless. I discovered that Kai likes being chased and tickled while he crawls around. That he'll chase me if I crawl away quickly and hide nearby, peeking around the corner from my hiding place and giggling. And that he will curl up happily in my lap to be read to for long periods of time. Oh, and apparently, he finds it quite soothing to listen as I quietly repeat "O-Baaa-Maaa" over and over again with the hope that he'll learn the word and make it his fourth (he's already got "mama," "papa," and "up" down pat).

I thought I was logging on to let you know that it's been a busy, tiring few days, and I'd be back for a longer post tomorrow. But then this turned itself into a longer post. So instead I'll say that tomorrow I'll be back with a more thought through and proofread post!

October 30, 2008

Surrender, Prioritize, and Commit

As mom to a toddling almost-10-month old, I sometimes wish that I could have learned some of motherhood's lessons before I actually had a child. I would have been able to take MUCH better care of myself!

So often I felt like I had too much to do to go to sleep early or sleep in, to work out, write, meditate, or practice yoga. When I let those things slip, I blamed the balancing act of a demanding job and professional travel schedule and various projects and relationships in my personal life. I often felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants...

Fast forward to Kai's arrival. I knew he would need his mom, and I knew he would nurse every 1-3 hours for a while. Anyone who has actually nursed a newborn knows that the big surprise lives in the reality that when your babe nurses intheir first months, it's often for 45 minutes at a stretch. So when Kai nursed hourly at times during the day, that meant I had 15 minute windows to take care of myself and "get things done." New parents often choose between a shower or eating lunch when such windows of time arise, and MUST live with other things falling away, at least for a time.

Mamas and papas adjust quickest and easiest when they do two things:
  1. Surrender to the moment and to their baby's needs without trying to resist or change them, knowing that a time will come for doing other things; and
  2. Identify the one or two things that really, really matter to their sense of self, or feel unbelievably nurturing, and negotiate a way to do them.
To the first point - Babies are the world's best meditation teachers. Years of 10-day silent meditation retreats can't even hold a candle to what Kai has shown me about accepting reality as it is at any given moment. When he's hungry, I feed him. When he's tired, I help him sleep. When he needs cuddles, I give them. And really, even in those moments when I'd rather be doing something else, I don't even consider making the choice not to respond. That choice is off the table.

Now to the second point. What feeds you? The answer may be intensely personal, or it may be somewhat universal. Here are some of the things parents in my classes do for themselves:
  • Extra sleep - when you're working really hard, an extra hour of sleep makes a tremendous impact. Parents often achieve this by trading off an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening with each another - one parent gets to go to sleep early, one gets to sleep in. If you don't have kids, pick a night each week to head to be early and a morning to sleep late, and don't compromise on that time! And single parents can have a relative or friend come over from time to time to make this possible.
  • Write - one mama I know realized that when her babe woke in the wee hours of the morning, then nursed back to sleep, she herself could actually stay awake for a bit and spend the time writing. This time made all the difference for her.
  • Solitude or Time with friends - Introverts can use an hour or two to themselves for a recharge, while extroverts might need some time with good pals to decompress.
  • Get a weekly massage
  • Head to a yoga class once a week or do a few poses every day
  • Go the gym or out for a run several times a week
  • Meditate for a few minutes every day
For me, the difference between pre-baby and post-baby is truly a matter of commitment and prioritizing when it comes to this kind of self-care. Motherhood gave me no option but to choose what matters most to me. And the all-out focus on someone else most of the time made commiting to my choices imperative.

I rarely compromise on the hour or two each morning of sleeping in that Bob makes possible. Lately, I stay up a little later in order to write these blog entries, because the time for reflection and sharing is really sustaining me. Each evening I work out in our living room with my husband as my trainer, and when I nurse Kai to sleep at night, I often use at least some of the time to quietly meditate.

When we feed our spirits, and that's what we're really talking about here, we recharge that infinite and ever-expanding supply of love that we have and make it much, much more available for the people (tiny or big) in our lives.

I'd love to know how you find the time to nurture yourself, and what you do! Send me an e-mail at lauren dot bellon at gmail dot com, or leave a comment!

October 29, 2008

Gratitude Wednesday

Earlier today I found a few moments to read a recent article by Pema Chodron in Shambala Sun. She described the importance of building gaps into your day, intentional moments for the mind to live outside of the constant flutter and craziness of Everything That Must Get Done. These gaps, she insists, are what give us the opportunity to love and live better than our old habits would have us do.

Also today, I taught the first classes of my new six-week Itsy Bitsy Yoga sessions. I teach 11 classes at three locations, and typically, half the families who register do so during the last week before a new series begins, no matter how early I begin advertising. The lizardy fear part of my brain finds this terrifying and tends to use the days before new classes start as an opportunity to run around in crazy little "We're going to fail!! We're going to fail!!" circles, causing me to snap at my lovely husband and become utterly distracted while spending time with my beautiful son.

Not so today, however. Here's what building reminding myself to breathe throughout my day made me aware of:
  • The steady, hard sound of my breath toward the end of my evening run, quiet and booming at the same time in the freezing, dark air that made it visible.
  • What a gift it is to have so many returning families in my classes, kids and parents who grace me with the opportunity to watch them grow and change.
  • Kai's laughter.
  • The astonishing fact that Bob is doing work he loves, I am doing work I love, and we both get to spend so much time together at home and with our son. We did it. More soon, but through wonderful serendipity, Bob has stumbled into an unbelievably perfect opportunity that gives us confidence we will be able to continue down this path we've begun.
Contributing significantly to my calm of late has also been the free daily personal training that I get from my husband. It's a bit absurd, and perhaps overly obvious, to point out that when I take care of myself, it's easier to take care of myself, but there it is.

So in many of my Itsy Bitsy Yoga classes this week, I'll be asking parents to share what they are doing to nurture themselves.

It's an important question for all of us, whether we do or do not have kids. Tomorrow I'll share a few ideas, from my own experience, and from the wisdom shared by mothers and fathers in my classes, about caring for yourself in the face of responsibilities that are very, very time-consuming.

Learn more about this post's image, crafted by Thich Nhat Hahn.

October 27, 2008

Healthier Halloween? Get Active!

I confess that in years past, Halloween was really just an excuse for me to chow down on leftover Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats - the one time of year I went to town with junk food. But as a new mama who works with kids and thinks about their fitness on a regular basis, I'm feeling not-so-good about handing out high fructose corn syrup in a wrapper to the world's littlest folk.

Thankfully, the Mom blogs I follow are filled with tips and ideas for a greener, cleaner, healthier Halloween. Check out Crunchy Domestic Goddess and Boston Mamas for great alternatives to candy that won't get your house egged this year.

But since I haven't seen this anywhere else, I thought I'd share some activities to incorporate into your Halloween celebration to ensure that it's a healthy one. Especially if their junk food intake will increase, make sure you offer more opportunities for physical activity in the days to come. Some ideas to get you groovin' (these go for grownups without kids as well!):
  • Hoof It: Skip the car for your trick-or-treating this year and walk instead. Maybe even use your spooky stroll as an opportunity to start a new family tradition of going for a walk together every night.
  • Spooky Yoga: Do a Halloween yoga practice together. Cat pose becomes Scary Black Cat Pose, for instance. Let your kids go to town inventing new poses based on their costumes, on animals, on whatever their imagination can come up with.
  • Leafy Treats: If you live in New England, celebrate Halloween and autumn with my favorite fall activity, leaf pile jumping! The time spent raking leaves into piles will give everyone a workout. Little ones and big ones alike will delight in the sound and running through and into all the leaves.
  • Pumpkin Picking: If you haven't already picked your pumpkin this year, get your kids outside running around a pick-your-own field. Pick up some squash and roast it and the seeds for a healthy fall treat while you're there as well. You'll help your kids understand where their food, and their jack-o-lanters come from, and everyone will get some outdoor activity as well.
  • Halloween Dance Party: Dance the night away with your costumed kids to Monster Mash, Thriller, and Ghostbusters, and Time Warp! Check out The Complete Halloween Party Album on iTunes or just do a music search for "halloween party" and come up with your own playlist!

October 25, 2008

Never Doing Now

Yesterday I explained my Not Doing Now List. Today, I turn my attention to my Never Doing Now List.

A few of the items currently on this list:
  1. Cleaning the spaces between tiles on the bathroom floor with a toothbrush.
  2. Washing down the porch.
  3. Dusting the tops of ceiling fans.
Funny. I just realized that most of the items on my Never Doing List tend to be related to cleaning. This one works a little differently than the Not Doing Now List. I tend to reserve it for those things that occur to me as 'shoulds.'

So, for instance, I notice Kai looking up at the ceiling fan (maybe I'll do a post soon with some research on why babies and toddlers love ceiling fans and light fixtures so much - I would love to know), then think to myself, hmmm, it's probably very dusty up there. I really should dust it...

But I'm not someone who gets my kicks doing tasks like this. I know some of you out there are, and frankly, I'm a little envious of your spotless ceiling fans and sparkling porches! It really makes far more sense to spend my limited cleaning time on high priorities like making sure all the little fuzzballs and specks of who knows what that Kai manages to locate on the floor are, well, not on the floor.

Never Doing Now lets me acknowledge that a should is something "To Do" but also gives me explicit permission never to do it and frees up valuable brain space from worrying when I might get it done. What could you let go of by putting on your Never Doing Now List?

October 24, 2008

Not Doing Now

A few years back, one of my wise women role models gave me a tip for finding peace with what I thought was the tension between all the ideas that my brain likes to generate and the finite nature of a day - that whole 24 hours thing.

Instead of a to do list, she recommended creating a Doing Now List, a Not Doing Now List, and a Never Doing Now List. More on the Never Doing Now List tomorrow, but in the meantime...I've fallen head over heels in love with my Not Doing Now List.

The concept is not unlike another instruction I once received from a donor I worked with in my former career. He asked whether I'd been to China. When I replied, "No, I haven't had that opportunity," he replied, "You haven't had that opportunity yet."

As a mama, the available hours in a day have had to become even more focused. My Not Doing Now List gives me permission to become completely enamored with an idea while also being realistic about existing priorities. I reserve it for the things that I want to daydream about and absolutely will do, but am not going to focus on at the moment. Items on the list sort of choose their time to move onto my Doing Now List...this blog, for instance, had been on my Not Doing Now List since June. An earlier start would have compromised existing commitments, but by committing to Not Doing It Now for many months, I was able to love it without compromising anything.

A few recent additions to my Not Doing Now List:
  1. Read Naomi Wolf's book Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries
  2. Submit an article for publication to Attachment Parenting International's publication, API Speaks
  3. Organize a Mama Bliss Day, somehow getting massage therapists, manicurists, and other yummy pampering professionals to provide free services to moms for a day, while organized activities were available for partners to do with kids.

October 23, 2008

The Power of Playfulness

Yesterday's post and focus on my inner Buddha turned out to be a good setup for today. The afternoon found me and the littlest bear home alone together, with me low on energy and him right in the midst of his newly discovered baby tantrums. He crawls up a storm and pulls up to standing on his own, but he's just itching to walk and gets really upset that he can't yet.

Since my inner Buddha babe was fresh in my thinking, I asked her for guidance and the answer she gave was obvious and immediate - PLAY. I upped my energy level and several minutes later, bear and I were laughing and making faces at one another on the floor.

For more on the power of play, check out Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD. His ideas have made it sooooo much easier for me to work with kids and parents in my Tykes (2-4 year old) classes and have provided the knowledge I need to be patient with Kai's endless games of I-drop-you-pick-up. From his Web site: award-winning book about nurturing close connections, solving behavior problems, and encouraging children's confidence...Playful Parenting means joining children in their world of play, focusing on connection and confidence, giggling and roughhousing, and following your child's lead.

October 22, 2008

Wise Woman Inner Buddha

The Girl Who Cried Epiphany posted recently about something that one of her wise woman role models shared with her:
Another gem from this woman from Cork was about turning to “the woman at the head of the table,” the noble creature who keeps order over all of the other characters that make up the personality. One needn’t worry about being swept away by the part of herself that is too bossy or too conceited or too insecure when she can trust one woman to sit regally and keep everyone in check with a kind, firm hand. That woman at the head of the table, of course, is the finest expression of yourself, the one with the clarity and the discipline to show your best face to the world.
This got me excitedly thinking about the wise woman I have come to call my inner Buddha. Read on for more about how I discovered her and a simple formula for calling out your own wisdom.

I've participated in a number of 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreats at the Dhama Dhara center in Western Massachusetts (check them out - free courses, including delicious vegetarian meals and good accommodations, entirely supported by unsolicited philanthropy from people who have previously sat a course) speaking only to the assistant teachers and course manager for the duration of the course, and then only about the practice or the facilities as necessary.

During my first few retreats I think I asked the assistant teachers at least one question at every available time to do so. Without realizing it, I was the twenty questions girl, constantly asking for reassurance that I was doing this whole thing "right."

The answers was always the same to me, and to others whose questions I could hear during open question times - return to the practice. Vipassana is all about maintaining equanimity while observing the breath and physical sensations on the body. Not too complicated.

Almost every question we students ask at these retreats fit into at least one of two categories:
  • Our craving for reassurance and validation
    ("I know I'm supposed to just observe sensation right now, and I'm feeling sensation that all right?" comes up a lot)
  • Our aversion to sitting in silence with only ourselves for counsel
A few days into my most recent retreat, I finally saw my frequent question asking for what it was and committed to rely on myself for the answers when questions came up. Instead of letting someone else do it, I told myself to start again, to observe my breath and sensation, and do whatever it took to maintain my equanimity. And I decided to wait until the end of the course to ask any questions, if they still remained with me.

And for the first time I made my own decisions about my own practice. At my most daring, I chose to break the rules and "do it wrong" at one point, which, as it turned out, was doing it right after all.

Quick background - a few days into these courses, once new students have some experience with the practice, three one-hour long sits each day are designated as sittings of strong determination. The idea is to sort of build the muscle that enabled the Buddha to sit down at that bodhi tree with a strong determination not to get up until he was enlightened.

Students are asked to choose a position and to meditate for the hour without opening our eyes, hands, or feet (back and neck adjustments are totally fine). New students usually take multiple attempts before they succeed in remaining still for the full hour.

But what did I do when I attended my first retreat? I powered through it, completely ignoring the teaching that emphasized equanimity in my effort to succeed. I silently sobbed and panicked through the full hour long sit, but damn it, I wasn't changing my position. And afterward, I really thought I'd done what I was supposed to do. I thought so for years.

So back to this most recent retreat. Over time, the strong determination sits became easier, and many had passed by then in simple meditation. But here and there, I would experience an hour like that first one. And one such hour reared its head during this retreat.

Newly tuned in to my inner Buddha, I moved during a sitting of strong determination for the first time ever. Buddha's teachings on meditation focus on developing self-reliance as we discover our own Buddha nature. My inner buddha, it turned out, was an incredibly wise woman. When she sensed that I was about to become unhinged within the confines of my own body even as I sat still for an hour, she gently told me to move. To fail. To be at peace with doing it wrong in order to retain the calm equanimity that was so much more important than proving I could sit still for a long time.

So I did. Because I had muted the voice that always asks for external explanation and direction, I was finally tuned into this amazing woman, this inner Buddha who really is me.

But hey, I'm also a human, and not currently of the fully enlightened variety. I did look for some reassurance from my assistant teacher after the course had ended, telling her that I knew what I had done was the best thing for me and my practice when I did it, wondering if she agreed, and acknowledging that I knew asking her was a demonstration of my craving for external validation and approval. Gentle as she is, she laughingly provided encouragement, saying that all of this is part of walking the path...

When I remember to ask and listen to my inner Buddha, "the woman at the head of the table" sitting regally and keeping everyone else "in check with her firm, kind hand," things go along much more peacefully, and nowhere is this more true than with parenting. When the frenetic do-er voice pipes up in my head, telling me that my son Kai is taking too long to nurse to sleep, or should be happier playing nearby on his own while I do dishes or cook a meal, she is the one who reminds me to surrender to this moment, to connection, and to love. To meet the moment and my child where they are at with what they require of me. My inner Buddha is also my own earth mama - the sagest of sage mothers out there.

So here's today's formula. I don't know for sure whether it will work for you - but it always works for me when I need to hear my own "woman at the head of the table":
  • Get rid of any background noise and set your cell phone to silent. Better yet, turn it off.
  • Find a comfy place to sit or lie down. Then sit or lie down there.
  • Pay attention to your breath. Notice how it feels in your nostrils and on your face. Don't try to change or name its pattern, just pay attention to it like a scientist observing its subject.
  • Ask your buddha if s/he's there. Then ask what you should be doing at this very moment. Then do it. Even if the answer surprises you or is different than what you think it "should" be.
If you try this, let me know how it goes. I adore comments and also e-mails (lauren dot bellon at gmail dot com).

Photo Credit: Zevotron @ flickr

October 21, 2008

The Journey Begins

Before Kai was born, I harbored fear about the sacrifices I expected to have to make.

I thought I would see less of the people I love. I had nearly decided that the random dreams I dream would no longer be an option. In fact, I suppose I imagined that I would have to sacrifice myself on the altar of practical martyrdom.

Turns out my fears were unfounded. Motherhood has made me driven to do what I love, and has given me courage I had never tapped into before. I believe it is imperative that I give my son the gift of a mom who loves everything about her life. I want him to grow up knowing that he has the ability to make choices, to create a life that feels good.

My husband and I had everything worked out. He would be a stay-at-home dad and I would continue to build my career in higher ed fundraising. After Kai was born, he gave his notice at the college where we both worked. When I returned to work from my maternity leave, he came home full-time. And I knew almost immediately that everything we’d planned – the very practical plan we had come up with to keep one of us home, and one of us earning a comfortable living, just wouldn’t work for me.

Fast forward to Kai at nine months. I teach baby and toddler yoga classes, am working as a postpartum doula, and coming closer and closer to the end of my brief consulting career with my former employer. Bob has become certified as a personal trainer and has turned his passion for physical fitness and wellness into a career. Kai is crawling everywhere and threatening to begin walking any day now. In order to live more frugally and more peacefully, we’ve greened things up quite a bit (lots more on this in upcoming posts), gotten outside a whole lot more, and are generally living more actively and healthfully than ever before (also lots more on this to come).

To be honest, we're scared a lot. We know when our spendable savings (we're not willing to touch our longest term savings) will run out, and when we will need to begin earning more than we spend again. That day gets closer and closer. We've added expenses like life insurance, health insurance funded solely by us, and other "responsible" things that do, in fact, go along with being a parent. We try not to let the economy terrify us into paralysis.

Luckily, when one of us gets scared, the other is usually there to provide a gentle reminder that our worst case scenario is a wonderful adventure, a bit of failure, and a retooling of our plans. When we occasionally both get scared at once, we remind each other to breathe, and we slowly begin again, building our confidence and faith and joy in the possibilities that we are creating every day for ourselves, our family, and the world.

It’s fascinating to me that just days before launching this blog, intended to share ideas about living and parenting with presence, and pursuing your bliss not just in spite of being a mom or dad, but because of it, I stumbled on a post over at Christine Kane’s Blog mentioning that when she posts about courage and living intentionally, she gets angry e-mails from parents: “Easy for you to say! You wouldn’t feel that way about taking chances if you had a few kids!”

Since we chose this path of possibility and uncertainty, I’ve encountered dozens of other people doing exactly this. Parents who have been so inspired by the realization that we are all as our children are, little worlds of discovery and possibility. Parents who want to nurture that in themselves so that their children will have a daily real-life example of people who live with passion and creativity and inspiration and love. I’m looking forward to bringing some of their stories to you in the months and years to come!