10 Things I’ve Told Myself This Week

My mind is almost always going a mile a minute – pondering, reflecting, planning. Is this okay? or What will happen if _____? or What do I think about ____? Here are a few things I’ve been saying to myself this week. See if you notice a theme.

1. It’s okay to stay home from the gym this week; you’re sick!

2. It’s okay to leave work to go to the doctor. They can survive without you for one     afternoon.

3. Yes, you and Jonathan are doing a good job managing Jonah’s screen time.

4. You’re not a bad mom for having a babysitter two Saturday nights in a row.

5. You’re not a bad mom for taking a few minutes for yourself between getting home from work and picking up Jonah from Nonni’s.

6. It’s okay that you haven’t written a blog post in a while.

7. You will have a job next year. (More to come about this, perhaps.)

8. You and Jonathan and doing a good job with the dogs. They are loved, happy and healthy.

9. It’s time to find some friends here. But the thought of that is pretty exhausting!

10. You can’t do much about the fact that the world seems to be going to hell right now. Do what you can and focus on the positive.

 

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What has your self-talk sounded like this week?

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How I Achieve A Balanced Life

When I was younger, I had a very distinct vision of what my life would be like by the time I was 30. In this mental picture, I saw myself being a woman who juggled multiple challenging demands with ease: successful, fulfilling career, loving marriage, a couple of wonderful children, free time to pursue personal interests, etc. And me, easily navigating it all. Kicking butt and taking names, basically; having achieved that most elusive of things: work-life balance.

I am now 29. And while I wouldn’t say that I am kicking butt and taking names or some type of #bossbabe, for the first in my life I feel like I am getting close to having and successfully balancing all of the great things in my life that I described above.

Now, I know that the concepts of “having it all” and “work-life balance” are gendered in ways that are problematic. Men don’t frequently get asked how they balance work and family, or if it’s hard to find time to work and parent and spend time with their spouse and maintain a home. Only women get asked those questions, and judged on the basis of them. But the fact remains that work-life balance is an issue that many women do struggle with, so I wanted to explore how it’s working for me these days while acknowledging the problems that exist with it.

A few important things have changed since we moved to Atlanta that help make my work-life balance more possible: 1) support from my family that has resulted in a little breathing room financially and logistically, 2) a much happier work situation,  3) the fact that my school district actually pays teachers a living wage and 4) that I’ve been really trying to nurture my personal passions.

Living two doors down from my family has been amazing. Our normal weekday routine now involves my mom taking care of Jonah, as I’ve mentioned. And more than that, just the fact that there is always at least one backup person to help in case of an emergency feels very reassuring, especially to me, who tends to prepare for the worst-case scenario in all situations. I can breathe easier now.

As to work, I read a quote posted by some random person on Facebook the other day which said “It’s a lucky man or woman who gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.” (I just looked this up and it turns out it’s a Joe Biden quote.) This is where I am about teaching. I know that what I do matters, and I’m happy to go to my school every day. It’s what I want to spend my days doing.

On the practical side, I feel better-treated than I ever have as a teacher. There are several responsibilities that our current school system helps its teachers with, such as lesson planning, so that makes life a little easier and less stressful than previous teaching jobs.

More importantly, for the first time I feel like my colleagues and I are being paid close to what we are worth. To illustrate: I am making $10,000 more than I would were I to be teaching now in North Carolina, with the same years of experience, same degrees, etc. I am making $20,000 more than I did last year at my non-school system job. THOUSAND. Not hundred.

All educators deserve to make this, and more. Making enough money allows a person to do a few things for themselves. My family can now afford a gym membership and some housecleaning help without feeling like we won’t make it to the end of the month, which is where we were in 2015-2016. Money being extremely tight led to me being both less healthy and more stressed, because there was always work that needed to be done at home once I got home from my day job, and because I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself.

It’s hard to practice self-care when you literally can’t afford any non-essentials, and when you can barely afford the essentials. To employers: want your employees to be happy at work and have a good work-life balance? Pay them a freaking decent amount of money.

Because I feel less stress in other areas of my life, I’ve had the freedom and space to devote to people and things that I love. When I am spending time with Jonah and Jonathan, I can be all there, not worrying about when I will have time to clean the house or do those hours of lessons plans or if we can afford to go to a museum.

It’s kind of a snowball effect: just like stress in one area tends to build up and spill over into other areas of your life, peace can be the same. Remove a tremendous stresser in one area, and everything else gets calmer and more peaceful. Serenity spreads.

I’m also devoting more time to my personal passions. Readers of this blog have probably noticed that I am writing more regularly than I used to, because I actually have time to do it. I am also getting to go to yoga and Pilates at the gym weekly, which I love but couldn’t afford in the past.

I know that I am tremendously lucky, and I am so thankful for how my family has been blessed over the last year. Is everything perfect now? Of course not. But I’m feeling better physically and emotionally than I have in a long time, maybe since Jonah was born and Jonathan and I took on the responsibilities of parenthood. I feel…balanced.

To sum up: in my experience the answer to the work-life balance question is the following: get outside help from family (or friends) if you can, do a job you find fulfilling and find an employer who will pay you what you’re worth, take care of yourself physically, and take time to nurture your inner life and do the things that you find meaningful.

 

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Rainy day reflections

I’m sitting here at Barnes and Noble, drinking an iced coffee and eating a pumpkin muffin. Today it’s raining all day, but it feels like fall, and that is something to be celebrated. Jonathan encouraged me to steal a couple of hours away this afternoon (sweet man!). I should be working on guided reading lesson plans, which is purportedly what I came here to do, but instead I want to return to my long-neglected blog.

I haven’t been writing for a couple of reasons: 1) I forgot how much creativity good teaching requires. I also forgot how tired I am by the end of the day. After Jonah is asleep and I have time to myself I haven’t been able to muster the energy or creativity to write anything. 2) I have been deliberating on what to write publicly about my job. More on that below.

We’ve been in Atlanta as a family for a little over a month now. For the most part, the transition has been a dream. For example:

  1. We absolutely love our new home. We are settled in and about 97% of the way unpacked. The house is such a blessing for our family and so much more than we could ever have afforded or expected to have on our own without family support.
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    Our backyard view
  2. Jonah has transitioned amazingly well to my mom watching him during the week. He didn’t seem to really be phased by the change. He absolutely loves his Nonni and looks forward to going to her house. At the same time, he talks often (every day or two) about all of the family we left behind in NC. When Jonathan’s parents visited over Labor Day, Jonah picked back up with them as though we had never been apart. I like to think that his heart is big enough to hold love for the multitude of people who inhabit his world.14262843_1607457612887825_1594653374_n
  3. Jonathan quickly and easily got a job working from home that he will likely be able to continue once he starts school in the spring.
  4. We think we have found a new church home here.
  5. I’m loving my job. If you remember, during my job search I got a very, very strong sense that this job was the one that was right for me, though the others seemed to make more sense practically. I haven’t been disappointed.

As I mentioned above, I’ve made the decision that the wisest course of action is not to talk about my job in detail on the blog. This may seem like CYA (cover your …), but my school system tends to get a fair amount of attention, and I’m just trying to be smart. Here are the important points:

  • I feel more effective than I ever have as an ESL teacher. The time away from the classroom in an administrative role made me a better teacher.
  • I feel respected. I’m not a novice teacher anymore. It’s nice to have people come to me for help instead of it always being the other way around.
  • I like working with almost all older students. Upper elementary, baby!
  • Many days I am home at 3:30. That is something I never would have predicted when we decided to move to Atlanta.

6. I feel a great sense of balance in my life since we moved. Jonathan and I are getting         more date nights out and quality time together than we have since Jonah was born. Being home earlier in the afternoon means more time with Jonah. Even though I’m now commuting 25 minutes to work, I’m actually spending less time in the car than I did this previous year between taking Jonah to and from daycare, going to and from tutoring, my in-laws house, etc.

This will have to be all for now. Thanks to everyone who hung around and waited for a new post from me! I promise it won’t be this long until the next time I write. In the meantime…enjoy fall!

6 Resolutions for Life in a New City

Yes! You read that right. In less than a month, we are moving from this…

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to this.

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10 points if someone can tell me what this picture makes them think of…

Pretty much my whole side of the family–parents, siblings, grandmother and now aunt–lives in Atlanta. My parents have been trying to convince us to move there for pretty much the whole time we’ve been married, and we’re finally doing it! Even though we could have moved before now, many factors are now converging to make this the right time. We’re going to be moving in to my grandmother’s house two doors down from my parents, while Grandmommy will be joining the crowd over at my parents’ house. My mom is going to watch Jonah full time. Financially this move is a no-brainer.

I’ve moved a lot in my life–if my count is correct this is number 14! But this one feels different. As far as we’re concerned, this is it: home forever. Atlanta is big enough, diverse enough and with enough opportunities and resources that we see no reason to ever move again.

So I’ve been thinking about goals I have for my life in the new, big city that will most likely be our permanent home. Here are six things I will and won’t do in our new town.

  1. I will be intentional about finding friends sooner rather than later. I wasn’t so great about this in Greensboro. With work + family + pups + miscellaneous responsibilities, my life is pretty full already, but I still need friends–not just long distance, but in person. Spending time with friends is good for me. It’s part of taking care of myself. 
  2. I will invest in activities that I enjoy. I’ll be okay with spending a little bit of money to do fun things, both with my family and by myself. (Like yoga! I’ve got to get back to it!)
  3. Jonathan and I will have a regular date night. Since money will be a little looser and there will be a multitude of potential babysitters around, this will actually happen on a regular basis.
  4. I will walk the dogs every day–and I’ll make Jonathan help me! Our yard is going to be much smaller so this won’t really be optional, plus it’ll be a good way to make sure I get daily exercise.
  5. I will not let work consume my life. It took me a while to find this balance in Greensboro, and now that I’m contemplating teaching again (easiest job to find from a distance) I need to make sure that I maintain that balance.
  6. I will not spend more than 20 minutes commuting to and from work. This is important as everyone knows Atlanta’s traffic is legendary. I’ll be miserable if I’m spending my whole day in the car.

(In case anyone is wondering about our plans to become foster parents, that is on hold for now due to the move. It is something we still want to do in the future).

Other people who have moved to a new city/state recently…any goals/ideas/positive changes for post-move?

Recipe of the Week: Sesame Garlic Beef Tacos

A couple of weeks ago I shared the recipe for the white chili I was making that night, and a lot of people really liked it! So from now on I am planning to post one recipe a week–whatever I happen to be cooking that I think readers will like and be interested in.

Funny story about how I came to find this fusion taco recipe: Last week at work I was preparing for a children’s event when I discovered that I had forgotten to prepare a crucial component of one of the craft activities, thereby resulting in me needing to cut out 2,450 magazine pictures in 2.5 days. Yes. That happened.

So as I was in the midst of cutting out pictures from Better Homes and Gardens I came across this recipe for sesame garlic beef tacos. I was about to cut up the page when I looked again and decided to save it instead. I made it for dinner this past Tuesday. I’m so glad that I did, because it was really, really good. And easy. Even with a crying toddler clinging to your leg.

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Here is the recipe:

Sesame Garlic Beef Tacos

These are beef tacos with a pickled slaw on top, topped with Siracha for extra heat.

Time start to finish: 30 minutes (*Note: This actually took 30 minutes, and it always takes me longer than what they say.)

  • 8 white or yellow corn tortillas (I used corn.)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stack tortillas, wrap in foil. Heat 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef in a large skillet. Drain fat, set aside.
  3. Add sesame oil to skillet. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds over medium heat or until lightly browned. Stir in soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, water and crushed red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return beef to skillet, heat through.
  4. To serve, spoon beef onto tortillas. Using a slotted spoon, top with Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Slaw (below). Serve with lime wedges and Siracha for extra heat if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Slaw:

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 tbsp. sugar, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Add 1 cup very thinly sliced cucumbers and 1 cup shredded red cabbage. Let stand 15 minutes or up to 6 hours.

1 taco: 250 calories

My whole family really liked this. I actually plan to make it again next week! (Gotta use up that whole head of cabbage now.) Next time I’m going to make it a little spicier as I thought the flavor was a little on the sweet side if you didn’t add Siracha. And I also overcooked the beef while making this due to the aforementioned crying toddler, so I’d like to see how much better it will be the second time.

Ease of making recipe while simultaneously caring for a young child: Difficulty level 1/5

If you make this, let me know how you like it!

Working Moms: Where Are You?

Here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while: Where are all the working moms? Regular readers know that I am a full-time working mom of a toddler. Other than a 3-month maternity leave, I’ve worked since my son was born. Statistics say that I am one of many, many working moms of young children in America: 64 percent of women with children under age 6 work or are actively looking for work, and 70 percent of those work full time.

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Since this is the case, why do I only know a handful of other full-time working moms, either in real life or virtually? Most moms I know either stay home or work part-time. Maybe this has something to do with my immediate context in the South, where “traditional” families are perhaps more common than in other parts of the country. And I read a lot of mommy blogs, which tend to be written by SAHMs. Maybe most full-time working moms don’t have time to blog.

Perhaps this is a leftover element from my younger years, but there is something about being different from most people around me that makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m not privy to some secret that others share. I find it annoying that staying home still seems to be what is considered normal for moms of young children, even though, as the statistic I discussed above indicates, working is now actually more common. You wouldn’t know it. I would like to take Jonah to a toddler storytime at the library, but when do you think they are? Weekday mornings. I joined a toddler playgroup Meetup, but when do they always want to meet? Weekday mornings. Moms’ bible studies? You guessed it: Weekday mornings. I. AM. A. BIT. OVER. IT.

Me working full time is what works for my family at this point–it’s not really optional. However, it’s what makes me happy, too, though I won’t lie and say I haven’t occasionally felt envious of those who get to stay home. Overall though, I get a strong sense of satisfaction from my job. I like making my own money. I’m proud of myself and what I do, both at work and at home. I like the example that I’m giving my son of a strong, accomplished woman. Another reason to be glad that I work: Recent studies show strong, long-term benefits for adult children of working mothers.

But really: Where are the working moms? Let’s be friends!

How Yoga Helped Me Take Myself Seriously

It all started with a Groupon.

About two months ago I began doing yoga. I’ve always wanted to try it, but all the studios I had looked at were pretty expensive, and as the working mother of a toddler I didn’t see how I had the time. At the beginning of March Jonathan found a Groupon for a local studio and suggested that we buy it, and I agreed.

I started going to classes and was immediately hooked. The combination of pushing my body outside of its comfort zone plus mindfulness and proper breathing did wonders for me physically. I felt better.

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public domain image via pexels.com

Soon I noticed that something strange was happening. During and after class, I began to have lots and lots of ideas to write about. I’ve enjoyed writing for a long time, but have always been very much a slave to inspiration, meaning that I would only write when I had a great idea–which wasn’t often. But once I started doing yoga, the ideas just started flooding into my mind. Yoga inspired me, and I started writing multiple times a week. I haven’t stopped yet.

Then, I got the crazy idea that someone else might want to read what I was writing, and that they might even pay me for it. Why not submit some posts to some other websites and see what happens, right? Can’t hurt. And two weeks later, I had five posts featured on BlogHer, including one I was paid for, and two accepted for publication on YourTango and Scary Mommy.

I think yoga has inspired me to write in three ways: 1) I am actually exercising on a regular basis, which benefits my body and mind, 2) the mindfulness that is a part of yoga practice helps me to clear my head and focus on my breathing, so when I do begin to think of other things again the ideas flow freely, and 3) yoga and writing are both things that I am doing only for myself. They are mine–not part of my roles as wife, daughter, mom, employee, just Holly.

I really think this is the crux of the whole issue: When I started taking care of myself in one way it enabled me to take care of myself in other ways, too. When I started believing that my writing was worth taking seriously, I found out that other people thought so, too. And that’s an empowering thing.

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public domain image via pexels.com

As women, we seem to have a tendency to discount our gifts. Maybe you have a little hobby that you dabble in now and then but you don’t think that it’s worth showing to other people. Or you downplay your strengths at work in order to not seem pushy or like you’re showing off. And this benefits nobody. It doesn’t help the people who would benefit from your gift, and it certainly doesn’t help you.

So I guess the moral of this story is to find whatever it is that inspires you, and make time for it. Don’t be afraid of the gifts that you have. Embrace them, and find others that do, too. Make yourself a priority. Take yourself seriously. And try yoga–it’s the best.