A Letter to my Younger Self, on the Eve of my 40th Birthday

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Dear Heidi,

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Forty years old is very, very young. Really, it is. You won’t believe how young 40 is.

Now that we have that basic truth out of the way, let me tell you some things I wish you had known a little earlier in life.

Pinot noir and gouda are both excellent.

Laugh more. Don’t take everything so seriously.

Getting pregnant and having a baby is a miracle. Never take it for granted.

Eat a little dark chocolate most days. It is delicious and is also apparently good for you. Win, win. Don’t eat very many other sweets. You don’t like them much anyway.

Trust your gut.

Being a mom is the most amazing thing you’ll ever do. Hands down. Cliche, but true. And the kid– wow. Just wait til you meet him.

There will be a day when you think coffee tastes better without cream and sugar. Crazy, I know.

You can’t go home again. Or, maybe you can, but it is a very long and winding road.

You’re wearing the wrong bra size (along with the majority of women). Go get fitted and spend some money on high-quality bras. Totally worth it.

Most people are so busy worrying about their own lives that they are not paying much attention to you. Don’t worry so much about what people think.

Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.

Primary care for vulnerable kids is not the most glamorous part of medicine. No matter. Do not doubt your decision. This is your calling.

Lift some weights. You’ll love it. I’m not kidding.

You’ll make mistakes- in medicine and in life. Try your best to learn from them and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. You are still not very good at this.

Be kind. Be yourself. Love deeply. Let the rest fall away.

A Return to Cooking

FullSizeRender-2Over the last six months I have placed serious, focused attention on taking better care of myself. A huge part of this has been a long-needed return to daily exercise. More on this in future posts, but today my focus is on nutrition and, more specifically, cooking meals at home.

My love of cooking is long-standing. I was blessed with two grandmothers who could prepare delicious feasts, almost magically, for large family gatherings. Only now do I appreciate what an undertaking each of those meals was for them. What a true expression of love. I have parents who, despite both working outside of the home, managed to prepare a home-cooked meal for our family almost every night. My mom– her famous lasagna or hamburger pie; my dad his skillet experiments (or hot dogs and peas :). Only now do I understand the effort and planning that required, day-in and day-out.

My own interest in cooking and baking started in middle school. A friend and I baked cookies and planned a future baking company. Another friend and I prepared a “cooking show” video outlining the process needed to create lefse (a traditional Norwegian staple).

In high school I asked my Grandma K to write down some of her famous recipes so that I could attempt to recreate them. In usual fashion, she outdid herself — I have a now treasured collection of recipes in her own handwriting. Little did I know then how much I would one day miss her — both her unconditional love and the food that channeled it.

College is a blur, but I didn’t cook much. The dorms weren’t great for cooking, nor the cafeteria for my waistline, but I wouldn’t trade the meals shared there with great friends for anything.

Contrary to expectations, medical school actually brought cooking back to me. A dear friend and I shared an apartment all four years. From her I learned about the art of vegetarian cooking and the wonder that is Indian food.

No, it was not medical school that led me to lose my love of cooking. Residency earns that distinction. 30 hour shifts followed by microwave popcorn and sleep. More take-out than I care to remember. The joy of cooking was gone. It felt more like a chore for which I simply could not muster up the energy.

Slowly, but surely, my love of cooking has found its way back over the last eight years. First, out of love for my child, I experimented with home-made baby food and simple healthy meals as he grew. I started to favor Trader Joe’s over take-out.

But, I must admit that it was not until the last few months that cooking has again become something I look forward to instead of a simple necessity. For this, I credit my fabulous wellness group, growing concern about the ingredients in processed foods, and an ever increasing desire to serve as a role-model for my son. We grow simple plants like tomatoes and herbs in the hopes that he will begin to appreciate where food comes from. I experiment with a variety of ingredients in order to expand his palate and help him learn that healthy food can be delicious. And, I involve him in the food preparation, with the goal that he grows into a man who is comfortable in the kitchen.

I now spend a couple of hours each weekend planning and prepping our meals for the week. This past Sunday I was once again reminded that following a well-written recipe can be an almost meditative process— a peaceful way to start the week or end the day. I felt the warmth and satisfaction of a dish that turned out better than expected. The joy of knowing that we were placing delicious and healthy food into our bodies.

I may not be preparing a feast for twenty guests. Still, I think my Grandmas would be proud.

Digital Sabbath

Webster’s defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

With the aim of increasing mindfulness, this week I did something I have not done in a very long time— I completely unplugged for 36 hours. No computer. No phone. No internet connection. It was a complete digital sabbath and it was amazing.

It probably helped that I took this digital sabbath while staying in a cabin overlooking a beautiful bluff and surrounded by trees, but I came away from the experience more fully relaxed and with more mental clarity than I have had in a long time. My attention span feels longer. I am more fully engaged with my son when he’s talking to me. That nagging urge to check my phone, which often causes me to feel irritated with myself, is gone. I can be present and mindful about whatever I’m doing right now. The rest can wait. Not surprisingly, given the strength of the mind-body connection, I also feel more physically energized and ready to tackle my fitness goals in the coming weeks.

Given all of these benefits, I am more committed than ever to the two digital sabbath days per month that I have promised myself as part of our family media plan.

How are you cultivating mindfulness?

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Making a Family Media Use Plan

IMG_2557I have long thought about the importance of being mindful regarding our son’s media use. We have verbalized daily time limits that we try to stick to and I monitor content of his screen time fairly closely. This does not mean we are perfect or that we don’t have setbacks. Over the holidays we strayed fairly far from our from our usual limits and have not quite gotten back to where we should be.  I’m taking a piece of my own advice and writing down a family media plan. Here are the important elements:

  • Quantity: It is important for families to think about how much screen time they consider reasonable for their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended no screen time for children under two and a maximum of two hours for all other children, but has recently acknowledged that this is not the reality for most families. Data from Common Sense Media (2013) tells us that kids between 8-10 years old have an average of 8 hours of media exposure per day, and teenagers have in excess of a whopping 11 hours per day of screen time. This is more than time spent sleeping or time in school! Clearly, we need to get a handle on this stuff. Why are limits important? Excess screen time has been associated with problems like obesity, disordered sleep, and behavior problems. Perhaps most importantly, any time spent in front of a screen is less time spent interacting as a family. It is helpful to set “device curfews” and to keep all devices and screens out of bedrooms.

 

  • Quality: More and more, we are learning that it is not only the quantity of screen time that matters, but also the quality. Our family is pretty good in this regard. I use Common Sense Media as a guide to gauge the appropriateness of any videos or apps my son is viewing. Any program with adult content is off-limits. For any shows that are borderline, we watch together to provide context and share any teachable moments. Recent data suggests that certain “pro-social” media can be beneficial in teaching empathy, respect for other cultures, and in sending anti-bullying messages. Researchers are also exploring how interactive media, such as iPad use, may influence kids in different ways than more passive media exposure. More to come certainly, and it is well worth our time as parents to stay abreast of developments.

 

  • Role-modeling: An essential component of any family media use plan is to address parents’ media use and set limits for ourselves as well as our kids. This is important from a role-modeling perspective, but it is also important from a relationship perspective. A recent small study observed 55 parents’ behavior with their children while eating together at a restaurant. 40 of the 55 parents looked at a device during the meal. Researchers found that the more immersed a parent was with their device, the more harshly they responded to their children, even if the child’s request was simply asking for help with their food. My own personal goal is to stay off devices between the time I get home from work and the time my son is asleep. I don’t always succeed, but I’m recommitting to it in writing here. My son knows he can hold me accountable. Kids are much more likely to buy in to a media plan if they see that their parents have to follow the rules as well.

 

  • Safety: All media use plans should address safety. Do whatever you need to in order to refrain from using your phone while driving. For many of us this means placing the phone out of our reach. There are also now apps that make it impossible to text and drive. Consider installing one if the pull of the phone is just too great. For those with older children, being thoughtful about when they are allowed to enter the social media world is highly important. Having conversations about cyberbullying and being a good digital citizen are essential. For more information on these topics, take a look at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ excellent resource, SafetyNet.

How this looks for our family:

Quantity: We have a limit of 30 minutes of screen time for my son on weekdays. I’d rather this was zero, but frankly I really enjoy relaxing together on the couch after dinner, so I’m staying realistic on this for now. He has a two hour max on the weekends. These limits seem realistic, but require discipline. I am going to set more timers to avoid some of the “just a few more minutes” that easily turn into an extra hour on weekend mornings.

Quality: We will continue to use Common Sense Media to gauge appropriateness and to co-view with our son whenever possible. I will explore more interactive, educational apps and games and try to decrease the percentage of my son’s screen time that is passive viewing.

Role-modeling: Perhaps the most challenging section, but here goes. I’ve installed the “moment” app on my phone that lets me know how much time I’m spending looking at my phone each day. It also counts the number of times I pick it up. This has been eye-opening. I’m using this tool to help me stay under a total time goal per day. I’m also pledging to stay off my phone from the time I get home until the time my son is asleep, and he knows this and will help keep me accountable. I’m going to take a “digital sabbath” twice a month- two days a month when I am completely off-line. I will turn off all devices at least 30 minutes before my desired sleep time (this should probably be an hour, and I’ll work towards that by the end of the year).

Safety: Intentional, continued commitment to no texting or looking at the phone while driving. No excuses. No exceptions. For me, this means always remembering to set my audio book or music selection prior to starting out.

Do you have a family media use plan?

Forward

IMG_1756In lieu of more traditional resolutions, I have started the last few years by setting intentions. I find that choosing a word or two helps me to refocus on these intentions whenever I get bogged down in the day-to-day as the year progresses. 2015’s word was gratitude and I’ll tell you what, I’m keeping that one. Ending each day talking with my son about what we are each grateful for has become a very meaningful habit.

The word I’m choosing as a theme of sorts for 2016 is forward. Perhaps it appeals to me in part as the motto of my home state; and it also accurately represents where I’m at in many facets of my life right now.

I don’t mean forward in a “let’s rush and get this over” kind of way. In fact, most days I’d like to slow things down a bit. No, I mean forward progress. I mean a commitment to taking baby steps each day that slowly move the ball down the field in different areas of my life. A mindful, grateful movement towards more meaning, more joy, more organization. It is all too easy to go through the motions of the busy days. I sometimes get mired in the details and lose sight of my overall direction. Forest and trees and all of that. It’s easy to feel a bit stuck.

This year I’m shaking that off. I pledge to work on balancing gratitude for all that is with hope for all that can be. And, it won’t just be ethereal hope. I’m backing up that hope with a few concrete actions to get things moving.

  • Work: My work can be fairly intense. It is also exceptionally meaningful, and for that I am grateful. This year I am going to make a few concrete changes that I hope will keep me effective, but improve my ability to set boundaries, stress less, and focus more energy on forward progress in a few specific goals. In order to do this I’m tinkering with a new approach to the all-consuming beast that is work email and an overhaul of my (endless) to-do lists. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  • Home: By leaving more of work at work, I’m aiming to lean in at home by focusing on small, daily joys. I’ll work on keeping the time I have with my family mindful and positive. I’m hoping for forward movement in our ability to stick to daily screen time limits (for all of us!) in order to make more time for things like puzzles and games and legos and soccer and the park. These are the moments that my son invariably recalls as the “best part of the day” when we reflect at bedtime (well, that and Pokemon as of late). And we will continue our cherished bedtime reading.
  • Self: Over the past six months I made huge forward strides in taking care of myself. I kicked out the self-talk that told me I didn’t have time to exercise, decided I couldn’t afford NOT to exercise, and am now working out six days a week. This one change has brought with it the energy and focus that has inspired a completely new outlook and, indeed, inspired my choice of word this year. I managed to convince myself that sustainable change is possible when it comes to taking care of myself and there is no going back. If this change is possible so are others. More about this in future posts, but I am eternally grateful to Renee Paro and the other fabulous women in our wellness group who helped to set me on this path. I’ll be building on this with continued forward progress in physical fitness and work on mindset via daily reading and writing (even if it’s just ten minutes).

It all sounds a bit audacious written here. So be it. As they say in Texas, go big or go home. And so, here I go. Onward and upward. In kindness, in gratitude, in respect for all living beings. Forward.

What’s your word for this year?

Time Flies

A glance at the clock
as I finish the dishes
tells me it’s 7:13

So that’s it I think;
A few bedtime stories and
The sun is gone
The day is done

Just a few hours with you

Feels like a second ago
that a glance at the clock
as we ran out the door
told me it was 7:13

The hours in between:
Fast, fulfilling
Slow, missing you

The push-pull
The balance ever teetering
Until I think,

Instead of having it all
I’d settle for having it together

For just a few more hours with you

And sure it’s cliche
It’s all been said before
But not by me
At least not here

And so I’ll say it:
Time flies.

All I can do
Is hope I’m passing it well

One Word for 2015: Gratitude

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 8.47.30 PMAt the start of each of the last few years I’ve focused on words instead of specific resolutions and have found it much more meaningful and effective. In 2013 it was Decide, Attend, and Play. Last year I added Focus, Accept, and Sleep. This year I’m going to try something a little different. I’m going to continue to think about the good words I’ve already got and add only one more: Gratitude.

2014 brought its share of challenges and I frankly wasn’t all that sad to see it go. But, as I reflect on the year that was, I realize that I was also blessed with many great memories shared with wonderful people, and that the “bad” stuff wasn’t really as hard as it might have felt in the moment. I see now that things started to look up when I began to shift my focus and think about all that I was grateful for.

I also know that I want to raise a kind and generous son who is able to cultivate gratitude (more on this in a future post). And, I know that if I want to do this, I must model it myself.

So 2015 will be a year of daily reflection on gratitude in both abstract and more concrete ways:

  • Last November we started a bedtime routine of sharing one thing we were grateful for during the day. It has been revealing, wonderful, and at times very humorous (my son has, on more than occasion, mentioned his gratitude for lunch). We’re continuing this practice in 2015 and I’ve started a gratitude journal to keep track.
  • This year I’ll be more mindful of the amazing people in my life and more vocal in my appreciation for all they do and are. I’ll share more compliments. I’ll be better about staying in touch. I’ll do all I can to be with loved ones.
  • I’ll spend time outdoors each and every day. Wow, writing that down it sounds pretty audacious, but it’s gonna happen. Even if it’s cold (or hot) and even if it’s only 10 minutes. The beauty of the world around us never fails to improve my mood and inspire gratitude for the profound gift of life itself.

I’ll leave you with this lovely 6 minute video which pairs beautiful images with a message of gratitude and mindfulness including, “You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you. Today. It is given to you. It’s a gift.”

Sleep, Mama, Sleep

IMG_1658When my son was an infant (and not the greatest sleeper), we’d rock and listen to lullabies. We listened to one CD so many times that many of the songs are seared into my brain. I remember one song in particular. “Sleep, baby, sleep. It is time to close your eyes.” I’d sing along, willing the words to come true. Continue reading

A Doctor’s Heart

photo (1)In just a few days I’ll be leaving the clinic where I’ve practiced pediatrics for the past six years. The last months have been a flurry of last visits with families, paperwork, and tying up loose ends. There have been many, many goodbyes. I’ve been deeply moved by the expressions of gratitude and affection that many families have shared with me. It seems it is always in these times of change and endings that we are most open with each other. Continue reading