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February Planner Peek

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My monthly spread is divided into all day, morning, afternoon, and evening events.

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On the other side I have tasks, bills (posties covering personal info), and other project-oriented goals.

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Blog calendar with posties to facilitate a changing calendar.

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Sleep tracker!

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An example of one of my daily layouts. At the end of the day I journal my day. Yes, I write down my outfit of the day. Not wearing fun clothes I love and resorting to sloppy outfits is one of my depression warning signs.

On Mothering and Social Media

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When I hear folks complaining about smart phones, Facebook, and other social media platforms, I roll my eyes. When I hear folks complain about MOMS on social media, I start to get twitchy. Now I’m going to get downright rant-y.

Dear readers, this is a post that has been brewing for almost two years. Today, for some reason, I decided it was time to let my social-media loving freak flag fly.

First I’m going to tell you when the seed of this post was sown. It was April of 2014. I had this friend on Facebook who was an “in real life” friend of a friend. We met at a mutual friend’s wedding and hit it off. This Facebook friend, I’ll call her Stacy, was super cool. Tattoos, liberal politics, hippie dippie, super feminist and lived in California. Stacy did not have kids. We were never close, but we did comment regularly on each others photos and chat periodically.

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On this sunny April day, I posted what seemed like a tame mom comment. Persy kept me up most of the night, work was a booger, and Atticus was having a meltdown. I think my post was one of hoping for a good night’s rest. Stacy commented, “why don’t you sleep train your kids?” I replied back, “nah, they’ll grow up soon enough.” Then Stacy said, “then why don’t you quit complaining about your kids all the time.”

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Whoa.

My heart sunk down into the pit of my stomach. I was horrified. Do people think I don’t love my kids? Do I sound ungrateful? I scrolled through several month’s worth of Facebook posts. The only other post that could be perceived as slightly negative – and I post quite a bit – was about three months before this incident and was tangentially related to over-dramatic teens. I messaged Stacy back something about criticizing moms being completely un-feminist and after a few angry messages we were no longer friends of any sort.

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For some reason women have a free pass to admit that sometimes marriage, work, marathons, macaron making, etc… is difficult, but throw in that you’re having a tough time as a parent and suddenly the haters appear. There is this, “you chose to have kids so suck it up” mentality that I don’t understand. Parenting is difficult and part of that difficulty is in finding social support.

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I started thinking about how social media has helped me become a better parent. YES. YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY. I am a better mom because of Facebook and other social media platforms. Let me share just a few examples:

  • I’ve arranged play dates and parties with ease on my lunch break or while the kids are brushing their teeth.
  • I received most of my breastfeeding support from other moms on social media and figured out Atticus’s dairy intolerance thanks to parents sharing their stories.
  • When the kids had Hand-Foot-Mouth disease the doctors didn’t know what it was (it manifested differently because of several new strains of the disease) but another mama on Facebook recognized what was happening and filled me in.
  • Sometimes documenting a messy house, or posting a “why my child is crying” funny rant, or bemoaning a lack of sleep produces a chorus of other moms saying, “yes, me too” and I don’t feel quite so alone. It gives me space to breathe, pause, and look at the situation differently.
  • On maternity leave, or during marathon nursing sessions, or at home with sick kids I’m still able to stay current with on library trends, talk books with my friends, and stay SANE because I am having grown-up talk with grown-ups.
  • When my depression started worsening, my “in real life” and “social media” friends came to my rescue via social media. I had messages of encouragement daily. It lifted my spirits to know that so many people cared. I also was able to arrange for help with the kids and meals.
  • I cannot stress how valuable social media is in parenting a teen. Hope and I snapchatted about grades and school this past weekend. We send each other encouragement. There are ridiculous selfies when we hang out. It brings us closer.
  • I read the news instead of watching the news live. This means I can know about all the terrible things happening in the world without having to explain “mass shooting” to my two-year-old.
  • There are times when I simply need to de-stress. I may be looking up cookie recipes on Pinterest, ordering ballet shoes for my son, or simply reading celebrity gossip. Those ten minutes, usually while I’m sitting on the toilet, helps me to return to my kids with a slightly better grip on reality. I’ve had a break and I’m better because of it.

There are countless other examples of how I’ve fashioned social media into a support network.

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If you think about it from a historical standpoint this makes sense. In the 80’s lots of moms worked, but we lived in a small town filled with farms. My mom had several mothers in our neighborhood who were SAHMs and there were visits, phone calls, and emergency babysitting situations. Those women chatted, consulted, and helped one another. She had a readily accessible “in real life” mama tribe. I have my mama tribe, but most of us work outside the home or live many miles away from one another. We get the same level of support, but with more “online” as opposed to “on-ground” support.

Speaking of the 80’s, I believe many of us are looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. I think it is funny how we’ve managed to forget the ways our parents tuned us out at times. Did no one else have a mom with a super long phone cord who had HOURS long conversations with Grandma on Sundays? Am I the only one who really got tired of my dad watching the news at night while we were expected to ignore the awful stories and only bother him during commercials? Seriously, no one has parents who read the newspaper over coffee on the weekend? We all grew up with our parents staring at us 24/7 and anticipating meeting our every need while in a social vacuum with no community support?

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With social media I have my mama tribe readily available , I can connect with friends without hushing the kids, I’m aware of the news, and I get a break. All of this while still hanging out with my children who are fed, clothed, and loved.

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Now there is a catch. My social media consumption and communication has to be balanced. There are times when it is simply not okay to be posting on Facebook or re-tweeting articles. Driving the car, bathing the kids, crossing the street, when my child or spouse is trying to communicate with me in real life, etc…. I also try to set an example for my kids and not get out my phone during events or at the dinner table (after I Instagram my food, of course). I want my children to know that I am more than a pair of eyes staring at a phone. They see me read, knit, and do any number of activities besides interacting with technology. As my children grow older I listen to their requests regarding posting pictures and talking about them on social media. There are boundaries.

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When folks decide to play the critic and pick apart what I post and when and why, it isn’t helping anyone. You don’t know about the conversations my husband and I have about what we share and don’t share on social media. You may think I’m ignoring my kids while they play on the playground, but you don’t know that I’m snapchatting my teen through a tough break-up. When I post a witty comment about tantrums you aren’t there to see how I hold my sensory sensitive son while he screams and thrashes and you may not realize that that little post is how I let off steam and build support when parenting is difficult. If you peek in my window at seven on a Saturday morning you’ll see me drinking coffee and playing Candy Crush while the kids watch Glitter Force. My kids are not living a deprived and hollow life with an absent mama, because what you didn’t see is all of us piled into my bed in the world’s biggest cuddle puddle for most of the night.

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Parents should feel empowered to make social media choices for their families. What is right for me and my family, may not be right for you and your family. That’s totally cool! What would be really great is if we could stop the snobby “social media is ruining society” rants against parents. Now that’s a status I would “like” a million times over.

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Goodbye, January and Hello, February

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January:

  • My first week was introvert paradise. The kids were in school and I stayed at home … ALONE. I read, blogged, and drank so much coffee. There were even daily naps under a cozy electric blanket with the cat curled up beside me. Utter heaven.
  • The second week decided to bitch slap me into reality. I went back to work after four weeks off and it was difficult getting settled back into a work routine. On the way to work on Monday our check engine light came on in the van – keep in mind we are a one car family – and it was a transmission issue. It was around $900 to repair. Later in that week we got word of lice at the daycare, we checked Atticus’s hair, and OH JOY, LICE. I stayed up until 1am combing and shampooing everyone. Luckily, Atticus was the only one infected and we caught his early. He’s sporting a new buzz cut because I was paranoid about checking is dark, thickly abundant hair. I was afraid I missed something. And the dryer broke, WHILE WE WERE WASHING ALL THE THINGS. Thank goodness for laundromats. After that week January leveled off to a reasonable pace.
  • We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary with a second viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Thai food, and coffee.
  • We had a day and a half off for “snow.” It only snowed for about 15 minutes, but there was some nasty ice. The kids were disappointed. Atticus wanted it to look like The Polar Express.
  • I organized my yarn and embroidery supplies and FINALLY finished Sam’s scarf.
  • A little bit of coloring, a little bit of baking, a whole lot of binge watching The Great British Baking show.
  • Saw The Good Dinosaur with Sam and the little kids. Persy did fairly well for her first movie.
  • Read My Antonia and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’m still reading The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. It is taking me forever.
  • Shook out some blog wrinkles
  • Got a shipment of three adorable ModCloth dresses
  • Had an essay published in The Mighty.

Looking to February:

  • February is birthday month around here. Persy will turn 3 on Thursday and later in the month Hope will celebrate her 16th birthday. WOW!
  • My plan is to keep February quiet. This is the month when illness tends to hit and it is also the month that – historically – my depression gets worse. I’m a weirdo and I typically have spring/summer depressions.
  • My few goals for February is to track my sleep, read, write loads of letters to friends near and far, and focus on weathering through the month.

Hope you all had a splendid January and February is off to a fabulous start.

A Blog Update, Mindfulness, and a bit of Mary Oliver for Good Measure

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You know, I don’t even know why I had my blogging knickers in a bunch. I had so many really lovely and constructive comments from readers. The overwhelming consensus was that I should do what the fuck I want to do with my blog. That’s what I’m going to do.

That seems like an easy answer, but it took several days of ruminating and reading through old posts to figure out what the fuck I do want to do with this blog.

The verdict?
I’m just going to do me.

I think that’s what I knew I would do all along. This wasn’t so much a blogging problem as it was a time and priority problem. The old Amanda had a list of things a mile long that she wanted to do: read! knit! chair this! lead that! write those things! grad school! parenting! work! clean! marriage! bake! everything! NOW!

Burning the candle at both ends indeed. How did I manage to do those many things? Cutting my sleep down to 3 to 5 hours a night. Drinking so much coffee my heart twitched in my chest. Staying so amped up about the next thing that I didn’t always enjoy what I’m actually doing. At work I’m struggling to whip up a blog post in a 30-minute lunch break or thinking about cooking dinner. At home I’m worried about work stress and did I remember to do everything I needed to do. I’m always between two places and never still, never present.

No more.

I’m practicing mindfulness.

When I’m at work, I’m at work. I may listen to an audiobook or podcast. I’ll read a few pages or edit a post on my lunch break, but my task is to handle my business and that I will do. Head down and work.

When I’m home alone with the kids due to Sam’s class schedule, I’m mom. I’ll play LEGOS. I’ll handle the laundry. I’ll make dinner. I’ll embrace that sweet, chaotic love my children give me. It is silly to try and read or balance my checkbook in that tornado of giggles and mess.

When the kids go to bed, I’m a free-wheeling introvert. I’ll knit, I’ll read, I’ll cuddle with my cat. Dishes undone, chores be damned, and the bills can wait until tomorrow.

When I’m with my husband and we’re spending time together, then I’ll be a wife. This means not agonizing over Candy Crush levels or crafting politically witty Facebook posts. Or worrying over work tasks or grocery lists. Instead I’ll focus on listening and how much I love his handsome face.

When it is 10pm and time to wind down for sleep, I will be restful. I will breathe, journal, snuggle down and just be. I’ll let the worry slide from my body. It can wait. I can rest.

I hate to sound cheesy, but this mindfulness thing has been quite a journey. I had to examine so many facets of my life, create boundaries, and ask, “is it worth it?” Quipping “be mindful” like some sort of Yogi drill Sargent was wholly unhelpful. I had to sit still and listen, as Sylvia Plath writes in The Bell Jar,
I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart, ‘I am. I am. I am.”
It has been hard work sloughing off things that are good to focus on what is better. I think I thought an overly full life was only detrimental if it was full of bad things. Nope, too much muchness was tipping me over. I had to ditch some good things to be healthy enough for the great things. It was difficult and more than a little humbling and uncomfortable.

I resigned a professional role that would have been awesome for my career. I decided to not pursue graduate school this year. Too much stress all at once was sending me spinning.

I quit my knitting group when they moved to a different night and location. I need to calm down and go to sleep at night and working the one evening shift is enough. I crave quiet before bed and I’ll find other times to connect with friends (Saturday afternoon, anyone?).

I radically accepted that some days I won’t read at all, or do laundry, or have a delicious home cooked meal for my family. Some days I’ll just want to sit and be to unwind. Or the laundry will have to wait. Or the we’ll eat cheap pizza and bagged salad.

Blogging was one of those things that required me to take a really hard look and ask, “is it worth it?” Yes, yes it most certainly is full of worth, friendship, clarity, and joy. I looked at my beautiful blog friends who are such kindred spirits and I read through my old posts and I marveled at the worthiness. This blog has worth because it has helped me puzzle out life, celebrate the good, grieve that sad, and figure out what it is that I value.

Yeah, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to keep doing me, but I’m not going to worry about blogging when it is not Blogging Time. Yup, I have blocked out weekly blog time. I’ll write what I can, close my laptop, and then go on to being present with the next task.
What better way to close than to share a favorite Mary Oliver poem?

Mindful by Mary Oliver

“Every dayI see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?”

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Little blog, here’s to being that needle in the haystack of light.

Calling all Blog Readers! Seeking Advice and a Giveaway for Readers

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I’m in a weird funk about my blog at the moment, but for odd jangle of reasons. I’m having difficulty writing or establishing a direction for my blog and yet I really want to blog. Below is a list of some situations impacting and influencing my blog writing.

Things that induce blog anxiety:

-Increased negative attention: Towards the end of last year I discovered that an individual (not a regular reader, but rather someone involved in my real-life life) was mining my blog and Twitter for negativity. We’re talking scrolling through weeks and weeks of posts and lifting a handful of sentences out of context. This led to much personal hell. On top of this I had a few headache inducing spots of antagonism: rando person bitching about pumpkin spice lattes, a few readers who decided to leave my blog due to my swearing (bye, Felicia), and the infamous news reporter’s boyfriend being a dick.

–Anomalous spikes in readership: If I blog about being fat, or raped, or mentally ill, I get LOADS of traffic. While I’m glad my personal life resonates deeply with other and it is empowering to write these posts, it takes a hell of a lot of effort and personal exposure. The sum of my existence is not that of a fat, sexual assault survivor, bipolar chick. I would say close to 90% of my blog reflects an existence rooted in exuberant joy: books, coffee, kids, fun dresses, more books. I do have steady and faithful readers who recognize that my blog is a patchwork quilt of my life: different colors, textures, and hues, but all the same quilt. But if you’ve started reading for the books and find me talking about rape or you’ve come for the mental illness discussion and find Ipsy bag reviews you may be confused and even put-off.

–Marketing shit:  I’ve started getting emails asking things like, “hey, you’re great! We’re a no-name car rental company. Blog about your favorite travel essentials and our social media team MAY look at it and USE it.” And use it how? Use it for free advertising? Do you even read my blog? With the exception of a single trip to Texas I am a broke-ass homebody. I will review books and products (anyone want to send me coffee?), but it is not the purpose of my blog and it has to be something I think is phenomenal and will use regularly. I’ve even gotten book stuff that asks me to blog about something that’s my favorite and they will share it. I’m not into advertising for free. Want me to write for you? Then you can pay me. Free blogging happens for charities and causes I think are worthy, not for cheap marketing hacks.

My Shiny Happy Blog Rainbow:

This is a case of the good greatly outweighing the bad.

-My Crew: Some of my closest friendships have been formed through blogging. I’m saving my shout-outs for BBAW, but I’ve had two separate blogger meet-ups last year (1,2) and it confirmed the importance of this community in my life. In addition to meeting folks in person, my book blogger friends have been there for me during my rough patch as much as my local friends. Cards, emails, Christmas goodies came regularly brighten my day and it made such a difference. Seriously, the love was radiating out of my computer and my mail box.

– Memories and growth: My courtship and marriage to Sam, all my babies growing up, the books read, the memories made. It is all here. I can look back at recipes and crafts. I marvel at how much I’ve grown and how much more I have to learn in this great bright world.

– Learning: Book recommendations, breastfeeding tips, recipes, strategies for life… I’ve learned so much from other bloggers and readers.

–Writing: I’m not going to spit out a novel or an award-winning essay, but good golly I love writing. My passion isn’t only for reading the words of others; I get a certain amount of personal understanding of self and  cathartic satisfaction from spilling my own words.
The Verdict:

If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m not leaving blogging. What I need to do is reach back to those writing basics and figure out my purpose and audience. My purpose is to write for myself and to connect with kindred spirits.

What this means:
I’m rejigging my blog post calendar and how I create posts. I’m going to move to more batch posting. I’ll be focusing on my right now and my future. I’ve decided to let some of the heavier posts take a back seat and instead write about how I’m coping, learning, and growing. My posts may be more of the brief and visual variety and I hope to begin posting with more regularity.
I will be writing about heavy life experiences, essays about motherhood, and exploring life’s complications, but I’m working on developing those pieces as essays for other blogs and writing ventures. I have a few leads on some posting opportunities and I may share some of these essays at Fig and Thistle, but mostly they will find homes with targeted audiences at other subject specific blogs and websites. My words and my story can help those who need to hear it, but it will allow Fig and Thistle to be a chronicle of living my life to the fullest.
Survey:
I was going to craft a reader survey because I really want to know what you all like about Fig and Thistle, but I decided to keep it here in a public space. It will be.like a nice chat. Are you a new reader? Have you been around for a while? Grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat. What drew you to Fig and Thistle? What types of posts do you like to read? And most importantly, let me know if and where you blog (or another form of social media) so we can connect. I’m all ears eyes and eager to get to know you all.
Giveaway:
Let’s make this even more fun. Leave a comment with your thoughts and you will be entered to win a box of Amanda-ness. Don’t worry, I’ve no plans to send you a severed ear. It will most likely contain some of my favorite coffee, a loved book, and a few other trinkets and treats. I’ll leave this post open for comments until Saturday, January 23rd at noon (EST). I’ll announce the winner in before January 31st.

Ibotta App, or, how I fund dates by grocery shopping

Y’all, marriage is hard.

Buying groceries for five people when finances are stretched thin is harder.

Finding money to go out on a “for real” date with my husband is the hardest.

Our finances took an unexpected hit with my illness and a decrease in Sam’s work hours. I was worried before, but now buying groceries is major stressful. I shop mostly at Aldi, but there are a few things I buy at other stores. If I exclude diapers and non-food essentials, I spend a total of $100 to $120 a week on groceries. This figures to $3.43 per person, per day. My little kids are in the midst of an insane growth spurt, my teenager runs track and needs high protein snack, and my husband is built like Hagrid. I have to make my dollars stretch.

Once I pay bills each week there just isn’t money left to go out once a month. We try sitting cash aside – $10 or so a week — but that only covers babysitting. And we could really, really use the chance to get away once in awhile.

 

Here comes the Ibotta app to the rescue. This is how it works. You download the app and create a profile. Then you go through and “unlock” deals at various stores. It may be as simple as clicking “unlock” to earn $1 on a a gallon of milk or you may have to answer a question about your household (like how many kids you have) or watch a commercial to unlock a deal. Next go to the grocery store and shop. I like to check my grocery list against my unlocked deals and then decide which store to shop at. The trick is to use Ibotta for stuff you would use or that you really want. If you buy a bunch of stuff you don’t like for the money back, then it is really just pennies down the drain. However, I know that I always buy milk, cheese, bread, bananas, pasta, coffee, etc…

Okay, you have your list, your deals are unlocked, and you’re shopping. Keep in mind that you can totally use other coupons at the register and it will not impact your using the Ibotta app. Once you’re done shopping you verify your purchases within the app by submitting a receipt (usually you snap a pic of the QR code or barcode at the bottom). The program may take a few hours, but you’ll get an email alerting you to “cash” loaded in your account.

You can redeem your Ibotta cash in $20 increments for Paypal and Venmo OR you can redeem in $25 chunks for giftcards to various retailers, Starbucks, theaters, etc….

Y’all, I signed up on January 1st and I have earned $32.50. I’ve purchased a theater giftcard and now I’m on my way to purchasing a Starbucks giftcard. And there you have it. We use our tucked away cash for babysitting and then our monthly date consists of what we have giftcards for… I feel brilliant. Probably a misplaced bit of confidence, but whatevs.

Of course there are loads of other ways you can use your Ibotta cash. Perhaps you want to save for a TV at Best Buy, use the funds at Amazon for books, or binge on make-up at Sephora. Towards Christmas, we may use some of our Ibotta for Christmas gifts for the kids. It is a helpful, stress-free way to earn a little bit of cash.

There are also “teams” on Ibotta and you get fun little bonuses when your team verifies purchases or gains a new user. I’m serious, I got $5 because someone from my Facebook friends signed-up and verified a purchase. If you’d like to get started with Ibotta you can use my referral link and get $10 when you verify your first rebate and they’ll kick $5 to me. 

I should mention that no one at Ibotta has asked me to review the app; I just really like it. And I’d like to make my latte a venti. ;-)