Permaculture tower construction, cooking session, and belly beads

Belly beads - Fire opal - closeup, smTo pick up on our permaculture adventures: we have constructed The Two Towers. It took most of the day today and here are the details.

The straw was supposed to arrive on Wednesday, and so I have decided to make Tuesday a day to cook and catch up on beading and other things. I have made two strands of belly beads: Fire Opal and Blue Lagoon, and have put together designs for a few more. Baby and I went for a walk to ship some items, snuggled, played, and spent the rest of the day at home. I have put together the fencing for one of the towers on Sunday using twist ties we had lying about, and have completed another one on Tuesday.

Among our garden adventures, I have made chicken bone broth, and so on Tuesday, once the boys were out, the baby and I got cookin’. I made yellow chicken and potato curry, curried butternut squash soup, curry squash chicken sliders, steamed some broccoli, and cut up some fruit for snacks. I even remembered to make myself a smoothie of kale, a half-eaten apple (kids love doing this, don’t they?), some frozen blueberries, ground flax seed, hemp seed, and water. I have also made a batch of sangria, although using grape instead of orange juice (as I didn’t have any) made it a bit too sweet for my liking.

Belly beads - Wild Flowers - closeup, smOn Wednesday, I worked in the morning, and had a friend come visit around noon. Our  kids played and we chatted. Our organic box arrived later in the day. I have assembled the fencing for the remaining two towers using cable ties, and have worked on the lovely Wild Flowers belly beads in dark blue and purple glass beads, with amethyst, lapis lazuli, and blue crystals. Later Sebastien stopped by with the straw. We were all set for planting.

On Thursday, I made beet and sweet potato soup in the morning, and later, as the baby settled to sleep, I stepped outside of our yard looking for wooden sticks to put into the towers. Luckily, as the fences are currently being replaced by the rental corporation, part of a neighbour’s lilac bush got sheered off, and they had no problem with me taking the branches. It took a while to separate them into small enough pieces, armed only with scissors and a rather dull pair of secateurs, yet that meant I did not have to go any further to find wood for the towers.

To clear space for the first two towers, I have transplanted several offshoots of my raspberry bush into a pot for a friend. (I have planted the raspberries last year and they have already started to take over the garden.) The mint ended up with the same fate, as it also loves to spread itself around.

Once that was done, I have started to set up one of the towers. As our plot of land is small, I had to work on one tower at a time, clearing out plants to make space for it. I have assembled the tower from the fencing rolled into a cylinder, held together by twist ties, and attached it to four poles rooted into the ground by cable ties.

Tower 1, empty, md

First empty tower with four supports

An approximately two-inch layer of straw went onto the bottom to act as a barrier for weeds from the garden soil.

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Bottom layer of straw

The process consisted of layering straw on the outside, while putting soil in the middle, interspersed with a few wooden branches to hold in the moisture.

Tower 1, bottom, md

Packing in straw and soil

Tower 1, 1 quarter full, md

Straw outer layer and soil inside

Packing the soil against the straw was slow work, as I had to ensure the tower was even, the straw layer thick enough to hold in the soil, yet not too thick for planting, and the soil and sticks packed in tidily. The baby waking up part-way through the first tower did not speed things up. She decided it was the perfect time to play and be held, so I took a break for a couple of hours after the first tower, spending time with her, grabbing some lunch, and eventually settling her back to sleep.

Tower 1, md

Wooden sticks inside the soil for moisture retention

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Half-completed tower

First tower, about 2/3 completed

First tower, about 2/3 completed

As the tower was packed, the fencing bulged a bit on the sides and settled lower to the ground, leaving the tower shorter than 4 feet. The tower came out a bit tilted. The plastic supports do not appear to be very sturdy, so I shall go to a hardware store later today to search for something stronger to reinforce it. With the strong winds we have, I want to make sure the tower is sturdy enough to weather them.

First tower completed

First tower completed

It was a good thing I talked to the man doing the work on the fences in the neighbouring yards. Apparently our fence is to be ripped up next week. He came over to look at our yard, and said that we’d just have to move the gazebo over (as opposed to disassembling and removing it completely) and take hooks off the fences. According to him, there is no need for me to transplant the black currant bushes away from the fence. He had also complimented me on the towers and said it’s too bad more people are not planting gardens. Indeed, it is somewhat of a concrete jungle in our neighbourhood.

The second tower took less time, with the baby sleeping through most of the assembly. I have been making sure to pack the straw and soil more evenly, approaching the tower from all sides, to avoid tilting and bulging, and stopped frequently to evaluate the result. However, the tower still ended up settling lower, even though it came out more straight than the first one. I guess, that comes with using flexible fencing. As long as it stays sturdy enough though, I don’t see a shorter tower as a deal-breaker.

Tower 2, wooden sticks, md

Second tower with wooden sticks inside

Tower 2, 3 quarter full, md

Second tower, more than half full

Tower 2, almost complete, md

Second tower with a soil pile

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Two towers completed

For the next tower, I would have to extract all of the strawberries I currently have growing in the garden, to make space for it. So the plan is to do it tonight, planting them into the existing towers, as it’s not going to be so hot in the evening. We shall see how much I end up accomplishing, after needing to get to a hardware store before then.

Two towers, md

Garden with the two towers

It has been sunny and quite warm all day, although not without a refreshing breeze and an occasional cloud. As I write this, there are peals of thunder and now the pattering of rain outside. I have finished the towers quite timely, it seems. Let’s hope that the rain will ease up tonight so I can transplant the strawberries into a tower.

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Permaculture garden preparations

It has been a busy, productive and fun weekend, with lots of playing, fresh air, and garden preparations, so much so that I had no time to write this until Wednesday evening.

On Friday, I ventured out to pick up a roll of garden fence and a few poles, to get ready for the construction of plant towers.

On Saturday, my son and partner have gone to a store in the morning to get a birthday present for a party at a climbing/crawling/swinging entertainment venue they were attending later in the day. In the meantime, I dealt with the chaos in the kitchen, and have gotten lunch ready, so that there would not be much stomach space left for the usual fare of pizza or hot dogs (seriously, I cannot believe this establishment caters to children). Having had lunch, they took the gift they bought at the store along with some Russian-English translation cards I made, and set off.

I was left at home to tend the baby and plan the garden, as we were getting seeds the next day and I needed to know what to plant. (The four unlabeled circles are the spots for the plant towers.)

gardenPlan600

I have spent some time looking into bird feeders, as I’d like to bring the birds into my tiny garden to help with the garden insects. While searching, I have found this lovely solar-powered garden fountain that birds are supposed to like as a bath. I don’t know about birds, but I’m in love with it. Perhaps some day…

green_ceramic

I was not so lucky finding a bird feeder I liked. The one that struck me as the most aesthetically pleasing, is made of plastic, and according to reviews is utterly destroyed by squirrels. You do recall my squirrel issue? Well, I have set out to find a feeder with squirrel protection, and have found one, together with the pole for it. I have also looked into getting a ladybug house, but, according to some, ladybugs do not have a nesting instinct and so it is futile to get such a house: they won’t live in it.

I have ventured out in the afternoon to get organic tomato plants from a friend: large cherries, beefsteak, brandywine, and roma tomatoes, and to acquire the bird feeder, the pole to hold it, and some tent pegs, to further secure the towers.

I have stayed up late Saturday night, drawing out the towers and the plants to go into them at different levels, on sunny and shady sides. Planning is half the fun, although I had to guess how many plants could possibly fit into a tower while leaving proper spaces between them. As I have never planted in a tower, I had assumed 5 rows with about 8 plants in each, alternating between two types of plants per row (sun- and partial-shade-loving) and between the rows, so that hopefully the same type of plant does not overpower its neighbours, possibly helps them out, and is easy to distinguish when grown.

towers 1, 2, md

towers 3, 4, md

We shall see where this logic leads me. I’m sure the reality will be different from the plan, as it depends highly on the availability of seedlings and seeds, the final tower height, and so on.

On Sunday, my partner and son went to get the car fixed and to get groceries, allowing me to briefly review my copy of The Edible Balcony and come up with some more plant possibilities for the towers. I have also calculated that I needed about 2 cubic yards to create 4 towers, each 4 feed high with radius of 1 foot, and so I have ordered organic mix of peat moss, manure, black peat loam and mushroom compost from Manotick Gardens.

Greta’s organic seeds and seedlings was our destination for the afternoon. It is a beautiful piece of land, with fish ponds, a chicken coup, and greenhouses full of plants. We spent at least two hours there, my son running around reveling in all the green space, my partner keeping an eye on him, and the baby cuddled up in my ring sling, while I listened to Sebastien‘s plant recommendations and gathered up the seedlings into trays. We also got some seeds for peas, beans, kale, lettuces, carrots, and other plants to be started throughout the summer.

Seedlings outside, md

I have spent some time in the evening clearing out a corner of the garden for the soil that was to be delivered the next day. I had to replant a black currant bush and a mystery flowering plant (I can’t recall its name, but it has been growing back ever since I had planted it 3 years ago). I have also cut some tulips and hyacinths to put in a bouquet, and dug out the bulbs from other flowers that have already bloomed, to save them for next year.

Monday was Victoria Day in Canada, making for a long weekend. The soil was delivered in the afternoon, and the driver said he could not drive up to our back yard, since if he left deep tracks on the lawn, our rental corporation would be after him. We have come to a compromise of dumping the soil near the parking lot on a lawn (since even our rental corporation would hardly object to some organic soil feeding that wilting lawn corner). This meant that we had to transport the soil from the parking lot into our garden.

It was an arduous job, more so because I could not help much due to tending to both kids. Once the baby was asleep, my three-year old woke up and decided to help papa. This involved a toy truck and shovel, running barefoot on the grass between our yard and parking lot, and lots of excitement. My partner had to use our little wooden wagon without its sides, and two garbage cans, into which to shovel the soil. We have broken the wheels off our large garbage can in the process – they have just popped off, so we’ll have to figure out a way to fit them back on.

Wagon, md

Shoveling soil, md

Dumping soil, md

Once the soil has been moved, my partner had settled down with a cold beer, and I had engaged my son in starting the seeds we got the day before. He quite enjoyed scooping the soil into the planting trays, scattering the seeds, and watering them. We continued playing outside after dinner, as the weather was still not too hot, my son had lots of energy, and my partner needed more rest.

Lots of activity over the weekend, and at this point we are all geared up to plant, lacking only the straw that is to come later in the week, and wood sticks that Sebastien suggested we incorporate into the towers to hold moisture.

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Surround yourself with like-minded people

In addition to the alone time, we also need to allocate time to spend with like-minded people, to relax, be exposed to new ideas, and share our reality with those who understand.

For the longest time, books have been my most trusted companions – always there when I needed them, teaching me something new every day, and opening my eyes to different ideas and lifestyles. Then I hit puberty and realized that I needed to add unpredictability and adventure into my life, and so I became a lot more aware of the value interaction with other people brings. And although books will always be a huge source of inspiration and ideas for me, I have discovered that like-minded people are a great well of knowledge and comfort. Great ideas evolve from bouncing them off other people: you might talk to five people and get little useful feedback, but the sixth might have a wealth of knowledge on the subject and provide you invaluable input.

The closeness in values cannot be underestimated. I am not saying that we should not be open-minded to ideas that are coming from outside of our comfort zone. Not at all. Exploring new ideas is extremely valuable, and we will not learn if all we do is discuss the same things we already know. What is necessary, however, is that we share the core values with the people who surround us. I very unlikely would find much in common with someone who considers racism a valid platform, or believes that violence is a good solution to any problem, or thinks Caesarean section is the best way to manage any birth. I will much more likely learn something interesting from people who already share some of my values, such as, for instance, attachment parenting, gentle birth, love for Tolkien, goth aesthetic, Dungeons and Dragons, Russian bardic music, yoga, and so on. Once you find that you have similar core values, you can learn a lot from the person, even if you disagree on many points. The likelihood is that you’ll be able to discuss your points of disagreement in a respectful manner that can enlighten all the participating parties. You do not have to agree on everything, yet you can understand someone’s viewpoint if it is based on similar core values.

We do not want to invite negativity into our lives. No pregnant mama wants to hear other people’s horror birth stories, often exaggerated and rarely enlightening. Constant drama is draining, and so is perpetual questioning of your core values with the intention of changing your opinion even when it is well-researched. Like-minded people bring positive energy into our life, which is invaluable, especially in our more vulnerable moments. The love surrounding a budding mama during a Blessingway ceremony, support when you or your child is ill, meals and help during postpartum period, even a brief conversation with a friend when you are not having a good day, – and you don’t feel so alone while fighting to stay afloat during a life storm. And it feels great to be able to support your friends when they are having a tough time.

We tend to feel at home with like-minded people, instead of trying to live up to expectations, impress, or convert them to our way of thinking. Humans are social animals, and surrounding ourselves with people who resonate with us is a great way to reduce stress, bond, learn, relax, and laugh.

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Mother’s Day, belly beads, and permaculture adventures

It has been a few busy weeks, and it seems the next few shall bring much activity as well, so it took me until Friday to write this post. With the spring coming, I’m working on a fresh new product line of belly beads and planning my garden using the permaculture approach. And so far it has been an exciting adventure with lots to learn.

We had a lovely Mother’s day. My partner made banana oatmeal pancakes, and we spent the morning at home playing with the kids. In the afternoon, we set off to our respective adventures. The baby and I went to Mothers, Midwives & Babies: Celebrating 20 Years of Ontario Midwifery, and my partner and son spent that time at the Aviation Museum. It was great to see the midwives, get a tour of the new birth centre in Ottawa, view a collage of old photos documenting the history of midwifery in Ontario, and spend time with friends outdoors while kids played around us. Afterwards we came home and had a relaxing evening with Thai takeout for dinner and more quiet play.

bellyBeadsMd

For the past couple of weeks, I have been working on belly beads and loving it. I have initially thought of making belly beads for pregnant bellies only, but then I tried some on and realized how wonderful they feel. They also do seem to make me a lot more aware of my core muscles – which makes me remember yoga a lot more often. I have been wearing some around the house for the past few days. The Canada Post lady delivering a package smiled in surprise – I thought to tell her that, yes, I just belly dance all day, hence the attire.

I have incorporated gemstones, crystals, and Czech fire-polished beads into the designs, and have tried two- and three-colour combinations so far. They come out vibrant and light. I added a small drop to each one to hang over the belly button, as an accent. Some of them are being field-tested by friends and so far I’m getting great feedback. A friend has mentioned that her daughter would love some, and so I shall be testing out belly beads for children. And there are beads in the works for two friends who wish to celebrate their beautiful growing pregnant bellies. It is shaping up to be a very exciting and fulfilling project.

Bright side of life cards, etsy, front hyacinth, md

If I did not have my hands full before, I’m certainly lining things up to be busy this summer. For three years now, we have been growing some food and flowers on our tiny plot of land. Some plants in some years gave plentiful harvest, but we have to struggle with a clay-filled shallow soil, lack of an external water hook-up, and hours of blazing hot sun that burns down plants even when they are watered every day. And although I have grown some beautiful flowers that made it onto the postcards, so far nothing that requires even partial shade has survived a summer, and our daily watering ritual includes hooking up the garden hose to the kitchen sink, which requires partial disassembly of the tap. Last summer, watering was a bit easier since there was so much rain, but few things ripened as there were not that many sunny days. It is a delicate dance between scorching heat and never-ending rain, not with any consistent results.

Oh, and squirrels. Did I mention squirrels? If we actually manage to grow anything edible, before we even know it’s nearing a ripe state, squirrels consume half of it and scatter the other half. Strawberries, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, flower bulbs and petals, – you name it, they eat or destroy it. And peanuts are to be stored in my flower beds, since that’s the best hiding spot in the entire neighbourhood. The flowers can just move over in their opinion. To be fair, I cannot blame the squirrels from picking on me, as most people in our town house complex have their back yards paved with large square stone tiles and do not suffer anything to grow if they can help it.

So this year I am attempting to put more thought into the garden design, and I have been looking into permaculture with the help of the wonderful Dasha and Sebastien from Agape Gardens. I have been watching Geoff Lawton’s inspiring videos on transforming dry terrain into luscious gardens and learning how permaculture designs use the natural features of the land to create a viable food-producing ecosystem.

Our rental corporation is planning to replace all the fences, and so we have to be constrained in our design, to prevent the trampling and destruction of the plants during the construction. So for now nothing can climb fences or grow too close to them, which is unfortunate. Since we have so little space and so much sun, we have decided to go vertical and create plant towers. That can allow us to plant flowers or root vegetables (such as carrots, beets, potatoes) on top, heavy vegetables (squashes and such) on the bottom, and things like strawberries, tomatoes, and greens on the sides of the tower. The herbs can then go on the ground around the towers. The towers will also allow us to create some shade and hopefully prevent the plants from being scorched if the summer is very hot.

If anyone has any ideas on how to deter the squirrels, I’d love to hear them! I have tried black or cayenne pepper sprinkled on top of the plants, but it gets washed off by the first rain, and squirrels seem to ignore it in any case. We cannot put any wire or anything spiky on the ground, as we do have children and a cat who can get hurt by it. We are planning to get a bird feeder to attract the birds to the garden for insect consuming purposes, and perhaps squirrels will take more interest in the feeder than in the plants, but I have my doubts. After all, flower beds are a great choice for peanut hiding, and the towers will likely be as well.

Lots to learn, and lots to plan and implement. I am excited to try this approach and see where it takes us.

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Spend some time with yourself

With so many demands placed on us by other people, we often forget to allocate time for ourselves. Setting aside even fifteen minutes of alone time is vital, so you can take a break and regroup.

We all know well the never-ending string of things that need to be done: work, child care, errands, dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, – and before you know it, bedtime comes and we realize that we had no time for ourselves for the entire day. “Tomorrow”, we say, “I shall make time to relax”. Tomorrow comes, new duties and errands take precedence, and the cycle keeps on going. Break it and schedule some alone time – your errands can wait a few minutes, and you’ll enjoy them more and be more efficient at them afterwards.

When I say “alone time” I do not mean time to exercise or take a shower (although it is important to find time for those things). I also do not mean time to surf the web, answer email, or go grocery shopping without the kids. As much as that might feel refreshing, it is not quality alone time. I mean having a quiet few minutes to yourself to have a cup of tea in peace, to read a few pages of a book, to meditate, to get some fresh air, or to immerse yourself in a relaxing bath. For me a few minutes with an audiobook and a puzzle or a beading project are a great way to take a break from work and home obligations, so I can come back to fulfilling those with new strength.

Planning to have those breaks can also serve as “the light at the end of the tunnel”, since you will be anticipating the alone time. That time, by the way, does not have to be quiet: you can go the other way and put on an energetic tune, stretch, dance, play a musical instrument, or do anything else you would love to do by yourself. One important factor is being fully present in the moment and enjoying it. This is why surfing the web is not a good choice: we tend to get distracted and carried away by what we see, and before we know it, our limited alone time is over and we emerge no more rested or satisfied with the experience than before.

Choose an activity that is engaging and pleasurable, and dive right in – you will be more productive and less stressed afterwards.

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Treat everything as a learning opportunity

Put aside emotion and frustration for a time, and analyze events and conversations to isolate things you can learn, so you can expand your horizons and create more positive experiences in the future.

Many a time, we keep replaying a negative conversation or situation in our mind, only to berate ourselves for behaving in a less optimal manner than we would like, or to get overwhelmed by circumstances and dig ourselves deeper into anxiety. It is not easy to get out of this mindset. A much healthier approach is to analyze the events as dispassionately as possible and attempt to identify the trends, causes, policies, and character traits of people involved. You can then file your findings away to perhaps help you rectify the situation, identify similar circumstances in the future, allow yourself to respond or act with more integrity, or avoid the situation altogether.

You can ask yourself a variety of questions to assist in this process. Say, you had a less-than-optimal exchange with a friend, leaving either one of you disgruntled. Was it bad timing? Was either of you frustrated by other circumstances in your life and the conversation came as “the last straw”? Is the person unfamiliar with your situation and making insensitive comments out of ignorance? Did you attack their choices and they became defensive? Are you unwilling to consider their point of view because it will imply you have made wrong choices? Try to remove your bias from the situation and approach it as a theoretical discussion. Where are the logical loopholes? Do you need to do some more research to be clearer in why you made the choices you had, so you can present your point of view better? Or to perhaps learn what sources there are for the other person’s views and whether they are valid and worth considering? Maybe it is better to let the topic go for the sake of preserving the friendship. Or maybe it is best to distance yourself from the friend for a time, to not let negative input interfere with your reality. I do not mean that it’s a good idea to break a relationship because of a single misunderstanding. But if someone consistently undermines your choices or brings negativity into your life, you might benefit limiting your exposure to that person.

As another example, you might find yourself in a situation where the circumstances “rule you” and you emerge with feelings of helplessness, being wronged in some manner, your rights being violated or wishes ignored. You can become an activist and passionately fight the system that has wronged you. Not everyone will feel it appropriate for the amount of time, resources, or effort required, or for possible repercussions. You can attempt to ignore the experience and shove it into the recesses of your mind, but that is not very healthy, as the emotions will likely resurface. In order to process the situation, it might be helpful to understand why things happened the way they did, what was caused by the existing political, economical, medical, or social realities, and come up with what you could have done differently, if anything. Perhaps you can learn more of your rights or find an alternative way of solving the issues that have brought you into the situation. Or maybe you can avoid the same situation altogether. Whatever the solution, a dispassionate analysis will assist you in separating the emotions from facts and seeing the causes and consequences within the flow of events.

Extremely negative situations and conversations aside, you can learn a lot from everyday experiences that seem mundane or boring. I have been to quite a few meetings or gatherings that by themselves were not especially useful or pleasurable. However, listening carefully, I’ve often been able to extract a fact, a name, a mention of something interesting into which I could look further, in order to learn more. And if nothing of interest is mentioned at all, you could strike a conversation with someone who looks interesting and see where it takes you. Perhaps the person has a hobby or an experience that you would like to learn about. There are so many different lifestyles and cultural traditions in the world, you never know what gem of an idea a conversation might uncover.

Set yourself a goal to learn something new every day, and if you have nothing else positive to recall about your day, reflect on what you have learned as a sign that a day had not been wasted.

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Control your atmosphere

Shape your surroundings by controlling sound levels, lighting, temperature, and other environmental factors, to help you be more productive, to reduce stress, and to motivate yourself.

If you have ever worked at an office with fluorescent lighting or no daylight, or lived in a building where floors are being varnished or walls painted, or walked by a noisy construction site, you know how extremely distracting and unproductive such environments are. Some of them are hazardous to your health, some are “merely” irritating, and there are many shades in-between. When you can effectively control these environmental factors, you can direct your energy better.

Control your mood and productivity with music. If you are most productive with an energetic melody playing in the background, put it on. If you need to destress or calm your rowdy toddler down, try putting on some zen music with nature sounds. Exercise is good to a good beat, and so is cleaning. Cooking for a party can go smoother if you play a selection of music in the same style as will be played at the gathering itself. Vacuuming with the baby in the sling or turning on the dishwasher produces the white noise helpful in lulling the baby to sleep. At other times, eliminating the noise can be what you need: noise pollution can be quite an irritant and get your stress levels up. Use the music and sound barriers as tools to enhance your mood and environment.

Control your alertness with lighting. Pull open the curtains to let the sunlight in and waken up your senses for an afternoon play session, cleaning, or doing creative work. Close the curtains when putting children to sleep to create a subdued quiet atmosphere. Dim the lights for a relaxing bath and try lighting a candle. If the flame is too bright, use a tea light holder that diffuses the light. Use a Himalayan salt lamp for a soft glow when resting. Have a bright directed light when reading a book or chopping up ingredients.

Control your comfort level with temperature and drinks. (This might sound weird, but stay with me here.) A few degrees difference in temperature can make us feel too sluggish or too frozen to want to do anything. Open a window to let some breeze in – it will help you feel energetic on a warm day. Keep the room on a cooler side when sleeping – you’ll likely sleep better and wake up easier. Cold and uncomfortable? Pour yourself a cup of hot tea (that’s where the drinks come in) and have a warm foot bath. If you put a drop of Eucaliptus oil into it, you’ll also breathe easier. Hot and foggy? Take a contrast shower, with alternating cold and warm water, finish with cold, and dry yourself vigorously. Have some cold water with a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber. Substitute gluhwein for tea or beer for cold water if an occasion calls for it.

Have some fun and play with the possibilities. Diffuse some essential oils to clear out unpleasant smells and to either invigorate or calm yourself. Dry brush your body to wake your senses up. Do a quick yoga session to stretch tight areas. Remove clutter from your desk to avoid distractions. Breathe deeply. You can control many aspects of your environment: make it work for you.

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Daily gratitude ritual

Take a minute each night, when you are drifting to sleep, to think of all you have accomplished throughout the day, no matter the scale. Think also of all the things that made this day worth living.

Have you shared a hug with someone today? Have you smiled at the sunlight or a cool breeze, or a refreshing rain? Have you sent or received a thank-you note or re-connected with a friend? Have you read an informative article or a few pages of a good book? Have you met anyone interesting? Have you made a healthy dinner? Have you done something nourishing for your body? Have you kissed your child goodnight and hear a “good night, mama” in return as they snuggled to sleep? Have you made something with your hands? Have you made anyone else smile? Have you completed a task? Have you had a few minutes to rest or meditate? Have you taken a walk? Have you come up with an interesting idea? There are so many things in our life worth noting and being grateful for.

Apathy, restlessness, or worse often come from us feeling that nothing special or interesting is going on in our life. When we choose to focus on the positive and actively list the good things about our day, no matter how few, it helps us gain perspective and fuel our desire to get up and welcome life the next morning.

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Split your project into tasks

Having a series of smaller tasks to do makes your project less daunting and allows you to complete something when only a short period of time is available. This gives a quick boost of satisfaction from the accomplishment which serves as encouragement to do another task.

The hardest part of any project is starting it. The second hardest part is continuing it to completion when the project stretches over an extended period of time or requires intervals of waiting between stages. To tackle the first part, I suggest to get everything you need prepared for the project before you start. Chopping and measuring all the ingredients before you cook makes for a smoother and more pleasant cooking session, and results in fewer forgotten steps and missing ingredients. Same goes for other projects. I also suggest to trip over your to-dos: use the space you will need for something else in the near future, which will constantly remind you of the project you have on-the-go.

To continue making progress on a longer project, split it up. For example, say you want to make printed paper invitations for a party, that you would distribute to your playgroup. You need to (a) come up with the wording; (b) decide on the recipients; (c) come up with the design; (d) assemble the design and wording; (e) print the invitations; (f) distribute the invitations. Each step by itself is well defined and not very difficult. Most of them are not time-consuming either. You can come up with the wording while taking a shower, or breastfeeding, or cooking, or at any other time when you have a few minutes to think. Jot it down and you have completed a task. Deciding on the recipients can be done in a similar manner. The search for the design could be as simple as opening up your software of choice and selecting the colours of the background, the text, and the font. Perhaps you decide to add an image in as well. Putting in the wording and tweaking the appearance will complete the most difficult task (especially for those of us who are perfectionists) since it requires the most creativity. Printing is trivial. And the last step is remembering to bring the invitations with you, which you can assist by putting a reminder in your calendar.

Once you complete the first small task, the ease of success will fuel you desire to take on the next task, to get more accomplished and finish the project sooner. Each task will bring you closer to the end, serving as motivation for the next task. It does not seem like much if all you have done on your project in a day is come up with some names and a few words, as we would in the example above. However, once you realize that it brings you two steps closer to completing the project and is about 30% of the entire work, it will feel a lot more relevant and rewarding.

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Easter memories and experiments

Easter paski and eggs, md

The coming of spring has brought to me the memories of Easter at my grandmother’s place in Russia: sunlight streaming through the lace curtains, smell of baking wafting from the kitchen, a plate with a large paska covered in snow-white icing towering over a ring of brightly-coloured eggs surrounding it, and a promise of a long lazy weekend full of family and delicious food. And this year for the first time I have decided to bring some of those memories to life.

Once children have entered my life, I have come to appreciate the importance of traditions on a whole new level. What we do in these busy years creates our kids’ childhood: something they will come to remember later, hopefully with a fond smile. And despite my lack of interest in any religious take on Easter, the celebration of spring and fertility sings to me. Kids love messy projects, and what better way to create fun Easter traditions than dye some eggs?

I have decided not to involve myself with artificial (even “approved”) food colouring, and stick to a few simple ways of using vegetables and spices to create several colours. We had boiled two dozen eggs, and created four different dyes: golden orange with onion skins, blue with blueberries, pink with beets, and dark yellow with turmeric.

How to dye eggs with natural dyes:

1. Boil the eggs and once done, run cold water over them so they peel easier afterwards.

2. Boil 2 cups of water with your choice of colouring material for 15 minutes. Per 2 cups of water, use:

– 2 tablespoons of turmeric to get yellow dye, or
– 1 cup of blueberries to get blue/grey dye, or
– 2 cups of shredded beets to get pink/purple dye, or
– skins of 5-6 onions to get golden orange dye.

3. Let the dye cool to room temperature and add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to each – it helps set the colour.

4. Now the fun step in which the kids can participate: lower the eggs carefully into the containers with dyes and put them into the fridge overnight (I used glass containers).

5. In the morning, the kids can carefully remove the coloured eggs and set them on a plate or tray to dry.

It is best to choose white eggs as they pick up the colour better than the brown ones (with the exception of the golden orange of onions that works equally well on either). Turmeric is easily staining so be careful. I must say, the best colours came from beets and onion skins. The boiled blueberries gave a not-very-interesting grey colour, and attempt to eat the blueberries themselves afterwards revealed them not very palatable, so it feels like a waste to me. The beets can later be sauteed with some coconut oil and roasted walnuts and consumed as a salad.

The making of the paska from scratch takes a better part of the day. Going the old school way, I used the cans from tomato juice, coconut milk, and other ones I had around. Starting up the yeast, beating the egg yolks with sugar, beating the whites with salt, kneading the dough, and waiting in-between different stages to let the yeast work their magic, followed by baking and decorating: this project is lengthy. I found kneading the dough very grounding though, letting myself be taken by the memories with the rhythm of it. Fingering zen indeed.

The paska itself is about as unhealthy the creation as they come, but as I do not bake often, I have resigned to that. It was the process that captivated me. The only variations on the recipe were using coconut sugar instead of white, and putting couscous dyed with beets, turmeric, and blueberries on top of the paska, to mimic the coloured grains used in fertility celebrations. That made for a better alternative to artificially-coloured sprinkles from a grocery shelf. My three-year old loved helping out with the paska top decorations.

Easter paski, md

On Saturday, we were invited to a friend’s gathering with about 15 children, and everyone had to bring 10 Easter eggs per child, stuffed with little treasures. We had no plastic eggs (and no way would I be purchasing those), so we made eggs from the empty egg cartons loosely following a simple recipe I found online (except we used green paper tape instead of gluing them with flour). After much internal debate, I have made ten charms in a style similar to my Blessingway beads, only with butterflies, dragonflies, and keys as charms, and with a lobster clasp to use them as pendants, treasures, or to attach them to anything random. The charms made for less a choking hazard than a single bead (although anything going into those small eggs is potentially a choking hazard), and ended up being treasured by girls and boys alike.

Easter charms, md

The gathering was a potluck, for which I had made mashed sweet potatoes with coconut oil and Himalayan salt, Italian meatballs with spaghetti sauce, and a batch of home-made sangria. Kids had an Easter egg hunt and lots of playtime indoors and outside. And for adults it has been a long relaxing afternoon filled with smiles, conversation, good food, and merry drink.

Overall, Easter has been a great opportunity for cherishing memories, experimenting with beads, food colours and baking, and fun activities with family and friends.

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Trip over your to-dos

Place prepared items for your projects in strategically irritating places, triggering your desire to get rid of those items. You will realize it will take about as much effort to complete the project as to relocate the items or to keep tripping over them.

I absolutely despise a messy desk. Therefore I always place anything that needs to be done with the aid of the computer onto my desk. Having the items where they do not belong and seeing them every minute I am at my desk, makes me take action quickly so I can clear the desk. Things that need packaging, Blessingway beads that need to be listed on Etsy, receipts for insurance claims, books to review, new books to be entered into my book catalogue before being placed on a shelf, – all those are placed onto my desk and usually gone to their appropriate places within a day or two at most.

In my studio, I only have two desks: one that holds beading supplies and has limited space for beading designs, and another one that almost always has a puzzle in progress. However, when something needs to be done within a day or two and I have just completed a puzzle, I use my puzzle desk to set up everything I need to complete the task. That way, I will get to it within a day or two, because it will be very frustrating for me not to be able to do a puzzle whenever I wish. (Yes, I’m a puzzle addict to that extent. Imagine not being able to touch a puzzle for a week!) Similarly, if I have some designs set out on my beading desk, I have to assemble the pieces before creating new designs, otherwise I will not have space for them. This ensures that I complete the necessary tasks quickly, before I move on to something more pleasurable.

On a smaller scale, I leave things on the stairs to remind me of outstanding tasks. My studio is on the top floor, kitchen and living room on the main floor, and laundry and pantry in the basement. This means that I can find myself in the studio needing something from the basement or the ground floor, and before starting on a project I would have to go down the stairs to bring things up. Instead, I anticipate where something would be needed next and leave it on the stairs going in that direction. That way when I do traverse the stairs, I grab whatever is lying there, reminding me that something needs to be done. And conveniently enough, it needs to be done on the floor to which I’m already going.

Make it easy and rewarding for yourself to do what you know needs doing by making it irritating to NOT do it.

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Start multiple projects

To facilitate switching among different types of activities, prepare all the materials, equipment, and information required for several projects. That way, when you have a few minutes, you can start working on one of your projects, instead of procrastinating or attempting to gather up everything you would need, just to find yourself having run out of time.

This sounds like a counter-productive tip: after all, many people are notorious for starting several projects at once and rarely bringing any to completion. However, what I mean here is: gather up all the things you would need to complete a task, and set them aside. That way when time presents itself or the inspiration hits, you are not bothered with logistics, and can start working on the project right away. This also gives you an advantage of noticing if items required for a project are missing, ahead of time, and being able to acquire them before you start.

For instance, I always have a book ready and a puzzle laid out on the puzzle table, so that I can read a few pages or put in a few puzzle pieces for relaxation when I have time. My baby often gives me 15-minute time intervals to do anything, before she needs attention. This means that I have beads set out in designs ready to be assembled, photos for postcards I send as a gift with purchase, together with the card stock and markers to create the card vignettes, recipe books ready with a sheet of paper and pen to jot down ingredients for grocery shopping, dishes soaking to be washed, files open to be edited, and so on.

If the baby feels like riding in the sling, I can vacuum, water flowers, put away dishes, do whatever I have ready to go that requires movement and is not hazardous. If she feels like playing in the living room, I can write a blog post, list items on Etsy, do some code changes, stretch, or do yoga. If she wants to swing or play on the bed for a bit in my studio, I can take photos of items for Etsy, work on the packaging or jewellery designs, relax for a few minutes over a puzzle, dry brush, or soak my feet in a bath. And if she wants to cuddle and feed, I have an audiobook ready to go on my nano, which I might listen to as we lie down in bed and she slowly drifts to sleep.

If you take a few minutes to prepare the settings for working on several projects, you will find getting started on them a lot easier, and procrastination would not seem as attractive.

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Switch activity types

When you do the same type of activity for hours on end, you will find yourself less mentally sharp, more tired, and often more frustrated. A key to accomplishing many things is to switch to different types of activities throughout the day.

Some tasks require you to interact with people: phone calls, meetings, conversations with co-workers, engagement with clients. Other tasks need your technical mind: writing proposals, documentation, code, doing research. Yet others need you to be physically involved, such as working out, cooking, or cleaning. Some need you to be creative, some pragmatic, some playful, and so on.

To keep your day going smoothly and efficiently, try sequencing tasks in such a way that different types of activities follow each other. For instance, make a few phone calls in the morning, to get those out of the way. Follow that with a few stretches, to let your mind rest and your body engage. Then take on a technical task such as research, followed by a creative one, followed by a play session with your child. These can be done in whatever order, as long as each task allows you to engage a different part of the brain and body, and let those used in the previous task take a break.

You might also notice that after a physically-engaging task, such as a few stretches, a workout, or a brisk walk, your senses will awaken, which is likely to give you a fresh perspective on a mentally-intensive or a creative task. Additionally, while you are physically engaged, you might be working out a logical problem in the back of your mind, which will make it easier to come to a resolution once you are back to actively working on that problem.

The key is that you do not need to be doing nothing in order to rest. Relax different parts of your body and mind at a time while engaging other parts, and you will be more productive and feel more rested.

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Wake your senses up

First thing in the morning, before the shower, or any time during the day, a two-minute dry body brushing session can give you energy, wake you up, and activate your senses.

Dry body brushing stimulates the lymphatic system and improves blood circulation. It also stimulates the nervous system, removes dead skin cells, and just feels incredibly invigorating. All you need is a brush and 2-3 minutes of your time.

Dry body brushing is done on dry skin (if you are about to take a shower or a bath, brush beforehand) with movements towards the heart. Start at the feet and ankles, move up the legs in smooth motions, then up the body towards the chest. Brush your arms from wrists to shoulders, neck down to chest, and back towards the armpits. The belly, the armpits, and the thighs can benefit from clockwise circular strokes. Stay away from sensitive areas such as breasts, genitals, face, and any skin that is sore or can get irritated easily. The strokes should be gentle.

You can treat yourself to the whole galore of dry body brushing, followed by a contrast hot/cold shower or bath, and finishing by moisturizing your body with body butter or coconut oil. Or you could simply body brush when you have a few minutes free and need to give yourself a little pick-me-up. I feel a lot more awake and productive after just two minutes of brisk dry body brushing.

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17 things to do while waiting in hospital isolation with a child

cheoHeartsThose of us who have been confined to a children’s hospital isolation room with a sick child know that the time flows differently there than in the outside world. Some hours fly by in seemingly-endless exams and procedures when you have to be present every moment, help keep your child comfortable, interact with the hospital team; and you cannot sit down and focus on anything else. Other times you are counting minutes as your child sleeps, worried and full of anticipation and hope that they would feel better when they wake up, or full of frustration at setbacks or lack of progress. The atmosphere overall is not conducive to doing anything productive, yet you need to keep yourself occupied to stay sane and be available for your child when they need you. So below are a few suggestions on what you can do while confined in a room with a child who is resting and does not need you at that moment.

Overall suggestions:

1. Use the web and phone to stay in touch with people. Anxiety and loneliness can make things seem a lot worse than what reality is, and even when reality is bleak, an encouraging word is helpful. Talk through the events with other mothers who have been in a similar situation – you might gain insight into hospital protocols and rules, medical procedures, possible ways to make your child more comfortable, and an idea of what to expect. It also just feels good to hear that others have been where you are. It seems like a counter-productive suggestion (after all, talking to people takes away from productive things you might be doing during that time), but without a sanity check your thoughts and feelings might be so scattered that you won’t be able to focus on anything else.

2. Arrange for people to come visit. When there is an interruption in the routine of procedures which you can look forward to, the day does not seem as long and the night as lonely. Ask your visitors to bring a meal if possible. Hospital food is often highly processed and not fresh. Since your sleep routine is already disrupted and you are getting exposed to cleaning chemicals and infections abundant in a hospital, the last thing you need is to get sick from eating poorly. Sites like MealTrain.com can facilitate the creation of a meal train – an arrangement where people sign up to bring you a meal on a specific day. After having hospital food for a day and then subsisting on beef jerky for a couple of meals, a soup for lunch and a homemade cooked meal for dinner made a big difference for me.

3. Write down everything you can: child’s feeding times and diaper weight, oxygen level changes, test results, medicine administration times, and times of any other procedures. You’d be surprised how many mistakes are made and things overlooked, and many times you will be asked to confirm nurse’s records or doctor’s diagnoses. Write down the names of the doctors and nurses in case you want to file a complaint or send a thank you note after the discharge.

4. Have a video chat session with family members or friends. We have an older child at home, and with the seasonal visitation ban for anyone under 14, he has not been able to come visit for the entire week. I’ve managed to see him for a couple of hours one day, but that was not nearly enough. The video chat helped us stay in touch, and the baby enjoyed seeing familiar faces and her brother’s antics.

What to do when you have a few minutes:

1. Take care of yourself: brush your hair, trim nails, moisturize lips and hands (the hospitals often have very dry and cold air), brush your teeth, put together a snack. If you are breastfeeding and are engorged – consider pumping. In some hospitals the nurse can bring you a pump into the room together with bottles, caps, and labels, and you can ask them to put your milk into the freezer or fridge. In others you might have to go into a separate room to pump.

2. Get the room ready for when the child wakes: tidy up (not all nurses are diligent about discarding used packaging and tools), set out your child’s clothing, toy, book, diaper, snack, blanket, or whatever else they will need.

3. Take a mental break: look out the window if there is one, meditate, make a cup of tea, re-focus your attention. Once I know I’ll be stuck in the hospital for more than a day, one of the first things I ask for is a kettle, since having a cup of hot tea is the best way for me to get centered.

4. Take a physical break: do some sitting stretcheswrist or neck exercises (these are the ones I find useful). Carrying a child puts a strain on the wrists and arms, and bending over to breastfeed or play can stress the back and neck, so it is good to get some relief when you have a moment.

5. Give into the magic of coconut oil. I have used it to moisturize a split lip: it cracked in the dry air of the hospital and with diligent application of coconut oil it has healed within 24 hours. I have used it to help heal the site of the IV injection on the baby’s hand. You can also do oil pulling if you think no one will need you to talk in the next 20 minutes or so. Both calendula cream and coconut oil were helpful in easing the baby’s discomfort from rubbing her nose and eyes (the oxygen tubes were very irritating to her): I alternated applying them to her face.

6. While there is daylight, try reading – preferably something uplifting or peaceful, to take your mind from worry. A book with short chapters might be best since you can be interrupted at any moment, and it is hard to come back into the middle of a complex thought being expressed over multiple pages.

7. Find a way to smile. When my partner and I were in the hospital isolation with our older child two years ago, we were tired, sad, and despirited, as our son was fighting to breathe and get better. So one day when he slept, we decided to find a site with funny visual memes and browse through them together. It made us take a deep breath, smile, and took a bit of tension out, so that when our son was up, we were able to share our boosted positive energy with him.

8. Go through your outstanding emails (this can take as little or as much time as you have, just chip at it) and do some inbox clean-up. I use the combination of my email inbox and calendar as my to-do list. So there are always messages sitting in my inbox waiting to be read, watched, responded to, or actioned. Some videos might be problematic to stream over the hospital network (the connection has not been very reliable in my experience), but articles can be read, online research or purchasing done, and correspondence answered.

9. Rearrange your schedule. You have likely landed in the hospital unexpectedly. That means there probably are appointments in the next couple of weeks you might need to reschedule, or possibly some deadlines to renegotiate. A few phone calls are easy to make during the day, and you can reorganize your schedule for the near future.

10. Purchase supplies online. You might need medical supplies to keep caring for your child at home. This is a good time to take stock of what is needed and order it online – that way you will have everything you need once you are home. For instance, we had to get a nasal aspirator and additional filters for it, to help suction the baby’s nose. I also needed band-aids for myself, as a deep finger cut I’ve been trying to heal has been aggravated by all the dry air at the hospital, and the way I found to assist its healing was putting calendula cream on it under a band-aid, so it did not get smudged or dry off.

11. Do some of your online work (assuming you have any), if you feel you can focus sufficiently. Updating social media profiles, designing a newsletter, editing product or service listings, answering client emails, writing site content, doing online marketing or coding can all be done in short bursts.

12. Brainstorm. When you are in a non-routine situation, unexpected ideas often come to mind. Write them down. They could be related to work or business, home, family, outstanding task reminders, steps to resolve existing issues, or things you’d like to do for pleasure in the near future. It is good to take yourself out of the current situation even for a few minutes and imagine a different reality where your child is well again, and thinking up a few activities you could do together.

13. Breathe deeply. Remind yourself that this too shall pass, and trust that things will look brighter on the other side. If you are reading this at the hospital, my wishes of health and quick recovery for your little one.

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Staying strong with a baby in the hospital

I thought I was challenged when I got so sick. Writing this in an isolation room at the children’s hospital, I must tell you – that was only the beginning. Being here with my 4-month old baby who is fighting pneumonia and bronchiolitis, hooked up to the oxygen, IV, and monitors, looking at me with pain in her eyes while they are jabbing her trying to find a vein that is so tiny it keeps evading them, – this is a whole other level of hell. And in this dark helpless place, a positive hopeful outlook is not just a good idea – it is an absolute must.

Parenting comes with an immense level of responsibility that includes the necessity of making very tough decisions on behalf of your children. If you are overwhelmed by the events to an extent where you are so depressed or shocked that you cannot make a decision, it can spell disaster. People that attempt to bully you in this very vulnerable time to steer you towards a decision that is preferable to them, exacerbate the situation. This is frequently coupled with a lack of informed consent, a stressful environment, and lack of sensitivity by individuals who should not be working in people-centric jobs. Staying strong, positively-oriented, and clear-headed is crucial in such circumstances, but oh, is it ever not easy!

I have to remember to be focused on my baby and what is best for her. If that means asking the doctor questions about side-effects, risks, benefits, and alternatives and endure their eye-rolling (an enlightened approach to patient-centric care), so be it. If that means asking for a different nurse because the aforementioned conversation with the doctor has me somehow labeled as “homeopathic believer” (I truly wonder where on earth that came from as neither homeopathy, nor any alternative medical approach has been mentioned in the exchange), then that is clearly the best course of action for me and my baby. Being on the receiving end of ignorance, off-handed insults, and additionally sheer incompetence at simplest tasks with which other nurses have no problems, is not going to speed up my baby’s recovery or provide her with more comfort. It has me wondering why a person who can get so fumingly righteous over a normal conversation that it completely takes over their professional conduct of a sick baby and worried parents, would ever want to be a nurse. But ultimately, I do not even want to spend my energy wondering about that. It is unproductive. I must focus on my baby instead.

I have to remember I have a support network. Being brought up reluctant to ask anything of anyone without feeling guilt of intruding on other people’s lives, this one is really hard for me. I am also used to living on my own, taking care of myself, and not having any family or friends around to rely on. Accepting people’s suggestions of help is foreign to me, and I always feel like I’m taking away from their time. This attitude of mine is extremely unhelpful and makes adjustments to unexpected situations rather difficult. And so I struggle to say yes when it makes sense and try to think of how other people can help. My partner and I are good at mobilizing efforts when needed, but having an older child who is not allowed in the hospital, due to visitation restrictions currently in effect, requires additional resources. I must learn to receive help with gratitude, in the spirit in which it was given.

I have to brace against being constantly interrupted. It feels like every fifteen minutes, whether the baby is asleep or awake, someone comes in to listen to her and check vitals, to assess her state and administer medications, to ask me questions and to provide information. The baby needs to feed and to try resting among all the interruptions, and so she needs me. And without fail, as soon as she finally falls into exhausted sleep, someone shows up to wake her up. I try to help her rest and breastfeed frequently and I have to fit those things into the endless flow of ministrations she receives. Being not a people person myself, it is also hard to constantly have to interact with others and depend on them, but there is no choice and I adapt. The interruptions and the need to be present every moment are mentally taxing. I must keep in mind the positive: this is all a thorny journey to help my baby get better.

Within all this, I must remember to take care of myself. This is the newborn period all over again: baby needs me day or night, and day or night I must have enough energy and be clear-headed enough to tend to her. This means attempting to have regular meals, fluid intake, and sleep. This also means that since the breastfeeding has been disrupted, I need to pump or she will not be able to latch on. It means that the day flies by in small 10-minute tasks, some of them futile, such as attempts to rock the baby to sleep, and drags on in unexpected minutes of her fretful rest. And I have to make peace with that.

I have to try to not let despair and anxiety take over. And it’s so damn hard! Every dip in her progress or lack of change for the better over a period of time has my heart plummeting and makes me pace the room. Waking up to her heart rate dropping low and alarms going off has me enraged to tears at how helpless I am to make her better.

I have to remember that my baby needs my strength, the warmth of my arms, the calm of my words, the comfort at my breast, – no matter how broken and hopeless I feel at times looking at her struggling to breathe. I have to will her better, to provide the energy when she is so exhausted. I must be a stable presence, always there for her, trusting, believing, hoping, and willing that it shall get better and she shall smile again.

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Switch gears when needed

When you get sick with a cold or you are feeling down emotionally, take it as a sign to switch gears. Rest, listen to your body, take care of the most important things, and re-group. It often results in a clear mind, boosted productivity, and a fresh outlook on life.

It has been noted that young children often achieve significant developmental milestones after an illness. I have witnessed a case of it myself when my toddler had a week-long cold, five of those days with a fever, when he wanted to do nothing but rest, breastfeed, and be held. As he got better, within two weeks his conversational skills in both Russian and English have improved so significantly that even daycare teachers mentioned it to me with surprise. His listening comprehension has gotten much better, as well as his ability to follow directions in various craft activities and reading.

Now that I don’t plow through illness as I’ve learned to do when I was a child (staying home from school sick almost never happened), I rest when I need to and work when I can. I find that I accomplish more, feel better, and come out on the other side with renewed energy and fresh ideas. It helps not to leave things to the last minute, so that you do leave yourself some room to rest when you need to, instead of working on an important project due the next day while being sick.

It helps to get out of the routine, drop non-essential activities, and use whatever existing resources you’ve got. Have soup in the freezer? No need for cooking. Have someone who can take the kids for a couple of hours? Call them up. Have meetings coming up where your presence is not essential? Drop them. If you have mental energy, put your thoughts together in an email and send it to the meeting so they can aid the discussion. Take a day off work, or work from home if you can. Removing the commute, office noise and interruptions, temperature and humidity variations, bright lights, getting dressed, showering, and all those other things that come with working outside of the home will make it much easier on you, if you still must put in a full workday.

If you have time, pick up a book to read for pleasure, watch a quiet film, do a puzzle, take a bath – do something that is only about you and lets you drift away from reality. Your mind can rest from all the logistics of work and home management. Even an hour to yourself can make it much easier to face the rest of the day’s errands.

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Battling a cold

As my grandmother used to say: “If you treat a cold, it lasts a week. If you do not, it lasts seven days.” I have since gave into the truth of it. However, with children around, it becomes a matter of managing symptoms so that I can be coherent and awake enough to tend to their needs (especially now that the baby is sick as well). So, here is what appears to be working for me:

Black tea with lemon, ginger, and cloves. It soothes the throat and cloves have a numbing effect. Drinking keeps the throat from getting too dry, which makes the soreness more manageable. Plus I love the comfort of hot fragrant tea.

Heated rice sock for the ears and back of the neck. I’ve had the sock with rice in it in my freezer since the preparation for my first birth – it is supposed to be great when heated up and applied to shoulders during labour. With my labours progressing as intensely as they did, however, we have rarely had time to reach for any remedy except the birthing pool. So the rice sock bides its time in my freezer for those times when I need a hot compress. Warmed up in the microwave for a minute and a half or so, wrapped in a folded towel (as it is extremely hot at first), lying on a pillow with it under your ear is pure bliss. As the sock cools, you can peel off the layers of the towel, getting more heat out of it. Switching it between the each ear and back of the neck let me get through my toughest night with the fever. Sore throat often comes with middle ear irritation, and this ear warming compress feels very comforting. In my childhood, we used a sock with salt if rice was not available. Of course, back then in Russia we had no microwaves, so when the sock cooled down, we had to empty the salt or rice into a frying pan, heat it up, refill and re-tie the sock, and only then be able to use it again. Certainly not the ordeal you want to go through in the middle of the night while in pain.

Steam inhalation tent with Eucaliptus essential oil (thanks to a friend who reminded me of it). I used a basin with hot water (and as our tap “hot” water just at that moment decided to be lukewarm, I had to boil two kettle’s worth to fill up the basin) and put two drops of the doTerra Eucaliptus essential oil into it. Turning the overhead light off in the bathroom, putting the basin on top of a little footstool, and sitting on the floor under a towel tent, in the soft glow of our Himalayan pink salt lamp, it felt like ten minutes at a spa. On day three, my sinus pressure was through the roof, and so the relief lasted for only about 2 minutes afterwards. On day four, I have repeated it three times, and each time I breathed easier for about 15 minutes afterwards.

Me being a frugal Russian, it did not feel right to waste the 2 drops of oil on only the inhalation tent. I have then reused the basin with the same water for the foot bath with Eucaliptus essential oil. Do be sure to let the water cool down a bit – the heat your feet can handle is quite a bit less than what you need for an inhalation bath to be effective. If you don’t have time to wait, just add some cold water. The temperature should be as hot as your feet can possibly bear. This reminded me of another remedy to try: back in Russia we used to do a hot foot bath with mustard powder. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any mustard powder around, so I haven’t given it a try. Yet I recall it being effective when I was a kid.

Water with apple cider vinegar and honey. Try sending your partner to a store to get some apple cider vinegar with “Mother” still in it. It makes for an entertaining conversation, especially if you can barely use your vocal chords. Thankfully we used to make kombucha, so a clarification on what a “mother” is was easy. It also helps if the manufacturer has it clearly marked on the bottle. I made myself a pitcher holding about 4 cups with 4 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of honey, to drink throughout the day (I didn’t want to overdo honey as I’m a bit sensitive to it and extra sugars are not great when fighting off a cold).

Peppermint essential oil (I diluted doTerra Peppermint with fractionated coconut oil as a carrier for a 2% concentration – 6 drops essential oil to a 15ml carrier oil) applied on the back of the neck, under nose, to the soles of feet frequently (every 20 minutes when I had a chance). Peppermint is good against fever, and it made it easier to breathe. To give you an idea of how congested I was by day three: I could not smell that oil when mixing it at all, and it is very potent.

On day four, I was alternating four doTerra essential oils, all diluted at 2%: Peppermint, Melaleuca, Breathe blend (Eucalyptus, Laurel leaf, Lemon, Melaleuca, Peppermint, and Ravensara) and On Guard blend (Cinnamon, Clove, Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Wild Orange), applying them with a roller bottle to soles of feet, and Peppermint and Breathe to back of the neck. I’ve also used a drop of the Lemon essential oil in water a few times (do be sure that the oils you are using are safe for internal consumption). I did seem to breathe a bit easier, but I had to be diligent at the application which was not always possible with the baby needing attention. I’ve also been diffusing some oils, but the effectiveness of that is even harder to evaluate.

Most important remedy which I lack: if you have someone who can act as a doula-grandma-nanny-nurse – that is invaluable! I did not need help with cooking, as my weekly cooking session filled the fridge with meals for the week. However, cooking aside, what this person’s main job should be is keep you supplied with remedies, hot tea and food, entertain the baby, make you that steam inhalation tent or foot bath (and clean up afterwards), heat up the rice sock when it cools down, perhaps give you a massage, and let you rest while they take care of after-meal cleanup and other small chores that pile up.

I found that with a head feeling like a Tibetan singing bowl for its heaviness and ringing, it was challenging to even think of which remedy to try next to ease breathing and get me through the next half-hour, let alone attempting to execute the preparation steps for it. Add to it trying to figure out which food I can tolerate (day four I did not want to look at food at all) and attempting to keep the baby happy. With the lack of mental focus, all the remedies I know slip out of my head, and I tend to reach for whatever might be available. Even re-heating water and brewing more tea becomes a Sisyphean task when you have to traverse stairs to accomplish it every 20 minutes with a baby in your arms.

And when all else fails, hugs, chocolate truffles, and lots of love make things better.

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Challenged to focus on the bright side

I must say, this past weekend has truly been testing my ability to stay positive and look for the best in life. There I was Friday, singing to my baby as I went about my errands, and planning a bbq with a couple of friends on Saturday. Saturday morning, I woke up with an extremely sore throat, my voice gone, and a snow storm outside.

Now, normally I’m not a wimp – sore throats come and go and my voice should come back in a few days. However, this time the pain was from hell. Unable to sleep due to coughing that would leave my throat more raw, triggering more coughing, waking up the kids who they would have to be cuddled and fed back to sleep. I couldn’t swallow even tea without pain, let alone trying to have some food. I would howl, only a mere thought of using my vocal chords almost reduced me to tears.

Beautiful start to a weekend, wouldn’t you say? It would be easy to stay in bed (or at least attempt to do so with two kids around), but I am easily bored, and, equally important, stubborn. And so I went about my day in as productive and positive a way as I could. My concession was to slow down and take things one at a time. I took a shower and then made my family breakfast of boiled eggs, avocado, cucumber, and pork pate, followed by some black tea with lemon, ginger, and cloves. I have then called and rescheduled the bbq, which could not happen in the snow storm in any case.

I had decided to give doTerra oils a try, and some have arrived this past week, so I thought this would be a good testing ground to see if I can speed up the recovery using the oils. I’ve tried diffusing a few different blends and oils throughout the day, gargling with some, putting some on my neck and feet, all while consulting with the groups online to determine a protocol to follow. An immediate relief came only from gargling with oregano and lemon, but as oregano is not recommended while breastfeeding, I have not repeated that one. Everything else alleviated the pain very marginally, making my tongue feel like it has been scraped in the process. I think I will stick to external applications, except for lemon and lime oils, for now. I also made sure to have garlic with every meal, including breakfast, took elderberry syrup, made myself a salad with fresh onions, took echinacea, probiotics, vitamin C, and tripled my vitamin D.

I would say, the day went in as normal and productive manner as it would were I not sick. I even managed to provide a healthy lunch to my partner and son (thanks to advance planning resulting in sweet potato soup residing in the freezer) and to go get groceries in the evening, after the snow has stopped (thanks to advance planning once more that had me put together a list of recipes and ingredients I needed for the week a day before). I have also managed to review all the treasuries I’m curating on Etsy (of which by now there are over 70) and update the ones missing sold or removed items. I did not set myself a goal to update all of them, but I’ve chipped at it throughout the day and ended up finishing the task.

The marinated chicken breast purchased for the bbq the day before, grilled in the oven and supplemented with a stir-fry of cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and cranberries, became dinner. That took all of 15 minutes hands-on time, including serving and cleanup.

The night was rough with coughing and baby cluster-feeding, and Sunday morning brought no relief for the throat. I had to opt out of a Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care meeting on Sunday night, as without voice I would not have been of much use. However, I did manage to gather my thoughts and provide some input via email.

More experimentation with the oils, another healthy breakfast, and another healthy lunch (thanks to the gingered zucchini and beet yam soups in the freezer), breastfeeding and playing with the kids, and generally taking the day slowly, gave me the energy I needed to address the weekly cooking session. Chopping ingredients when I had a free moment and using the slow cooker and the oven to simplify the preparation allowed me to end the day with a dinner of baked salmon, fresh veggies, and cocoa-toasted cauliflower from Well Fed (which was absolutely delicious!). We also now have almost all of our weekly meals ready: piña colada chicken, roasted spaghetti squash, Italian pork roast, Taj Mahal chicken, grilled skewers that didn’t make it to bbq, and a few chopped veggies and greens. Given the energy, I’ll be making the crispy chicken livers with crisp-sweet collards (from Well Fed 2) tonight, as they have to be consumed right after preparation.

It’s Monday and I’m still in pain. However, looking back on the weekend, everything that had to be accomplished, has been. Thanks to my partner, my son got to a skating rink on Saturday and to a toy store to get crayons on Sunday, so he’s been entertained even though I was under the weather. We did some colouring and building with wooden blocks. Kids got food, sleep, baths, and playtime; my partner got food, rest, and watched hockey on Saturday night; and I have done the planned cooking, learned about essential oils, completed the Etsy treasury maintenance, finished a 1000-piece puzzle, packaged a couple of Etsy orders, photographed the new potion vial pendants for Etsy, cuddled with kids, and got as much rest as I could despite the cough. Since I had some quiet time when the kids were asleep, I’ve also listened to more Wheel of Time – The Fires of Heaven, while doing the puzzle and cooking. I’d say I would rather remember all the accomplished things than focus on this hell of a pain that’s still piercing my head. Wouldn’t you?

 

What strategies do you have for sore throat? What do you do to motivate yourself when you are not feeling well?
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Create your own reality

Focus on the positive and productive things that happen during your day. There is bound to be at least one. Think of what you would want to remember about this day, five years from now.

A good friend’s comment on my recent birthday post reminded me of my tendency to take the best from each day. That truly is something so integral to me now that I am not even sure when I started doing it.

Looking back on that day, I could have focused on the fact that I spent a large portion of my birthday (which I perceive to be the most personal day of the year) at a public function helping other people to reach their goals, and another large portion of it being “stuck at home” taking care of my children. If I did that, I would likely have felt disappointed with my day. Instead I focused on the pleasure of spending time with friends at the breastfeeding function and during the study group, on the quiet contemplation of puzzling, beading, and listening to a good fantasy audiobook, on the excitement of the children at playing with us in the evening, on having some delicious food, and enjoying time with my partner after the children were asleep. The motions of the day did not change no matter how I looked at it. The perceived reality, however, is significantly different based on what I choose to focus on.

Skeptics say that pulling rose-coloured glasses over your eyes is not a valid solution to life’s problems. And I am not claiming it is. However, we often tend to get so entrenched in reacting to life’s little disappointments, that our reality can become one never-ending stream of irritation. Slow traffic on the way to work, long line-ups at a grocery store, poor customer service, an irritating co-worker or neighbour, need to re-park your car every three hours because your workplace does not have parking, unpleasant comment by a passing stranger, – the list can go on. But I do not want to think of my life as such.

So I find other things to focus on. My child smiling at me and running to hug me as he comes through the door. A bright bird perched on the tree limb outside. An email from a far-away friend. Smell of fresh-brewed oolong in the morning. Fifteen minutes of reading squeezed in during a work break. A brisk walk in cold air to re-park the car. Flocks of geese coming back after the cold winter months. My warm baby cuddling in against me to breastfeed in the drowsy morning. My partner’s appreciative smile at the end of the long day.

There are both frustrating and pleasant things in my life. It is up to me to focus on the ones I enjoy and let the others fade. Five years from now, it is the good I want to remember. No need to give the rest of it more power than it has. Reality is what we make of it – elevate the pleasant experiences in your mind and you will derive even more satisfaction from them.

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