Sleep – The Key to Your Best Life

Eight has always been my favorite number. It’s perfectly proportioned, considered lucky in Chinese culture, the star of my favorite childhood game (Magic 8 Ball), 8 Balland reminds me of the infinity sign when placed on it’s side. Pretty cool stuff. It is also frequently the recommended amount of healthy things, such as eight 8-oz glasses of water each day, and eight hours of sleep per night. It’s that last one, though, that has me all riled up.

I used to be the best sleeper, rarely having trouble making it through the night. But lately it’s been getting more difficult for me to do much less hit the recommended eight hour bar for adults. Why, I wondered? I recently shared this frustration with my dentist of all people when she asked how things were going. Despite our somewhat broken chats in between metal tools maneuvering around my pearly whites, I’m thankful to have shared my sleep concerns.

She agreed with how challenging it can be on days following a poor sleep night (much less multiple nights). She told me about a great book she discovered recently on the topic of sleep. Perhaps it could help me uncover a better understanding behind my newfound lack of Zs? Sure, why not. I always love a good book recommendation.

Well folks, if there is one non-fiction book you read this year, this is it: Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, PhD. It helped shed some light on why I might not be sleeping as well, and that I am justified in my concerns about the amount of sleep I’m (not) getting. And Walker would know. In addition to writing his noteworthy book, he is the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science, and has spent 20 plus years studying the topic.

The book presents oodles of interesting data in an easy-to-understand format on what turns out to be a surprisingly serious topic. A lack of sufficient sleep affects so many facets of our lives, such as memory, mood, the ability to safely drive a car, potential misdiagnosis, even being productive at work and school, just to name a few. And according to Walker, “The silent sleep loss epidemic is the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century in developed nations.”

What?! We’re talking about sleep here people – you know, that free thing we all have access to? But somehow getting those eight hours (even more recommended for teens) has become easier said than done. Getting a good night’s sleep also seems to have developed a stigma in our society (e.g., important people don’t have time to sleep). And forget about napping (e.g., lazy people nap), which turns out to be a healthy idea! After exploring the research findings yourself, you may discover that this misguided mindset about sleep’s value is what’s keeping you from your best life.

I consider this post a public service announcement to my friends, family and fellow parents. Do what you can to make sure everyone in your family is getting a healthy dose of sleep.

Let’s start with just a few concerning things for a person consistently getting a less than desirable level of sleep. Walker presents the following points quite early on in the reading:

  • Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.
  • Inadequate sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety and suicidality.

While I’m not an alarmist, if there’s something I can do now to make my days even fuller, in addition to increase my chances of warding off disease in the future, I’m game.

I consider this post a public service announcement to my friends, family and fellow parents. Do what you can to make sure everyone in your family is getting a healthy dose of sleep. Ok, our dog probably doesn’t need more sleep sleeping dogsince that’s pretty much what she excels in, but I’d say the get-more-sleep mantra applies to the rest of us. And I don’t use the word “dose” lightly; sleep is apparently being prescribed by doctors more frequently now than ever before. What has the world come to if we need a prescription for sleep in order to take it seriously?

As a parent of two, I’ve heard the buzz about teens needing more sleep in order to better handle classes and the challenges life throws their way. Of course it makes logical sense that they would need a good amount of sleep to support their still-developing brains and ability to absorb new material at school. But can’t they just make up for a crazy week at school by sleeping in on weekends? Apparently not, especially if that crazy schedule is an ongoing occurrence.

For starters, those zero period classes scheduled early in the morning? They’ve got to go in order to give adolescents access to valuable sleep benefits only obtainable at certain times of day based on one’s natural circadian rhythm.

“It is the lack of REM sleep – that critical stage occurring in the final hours of sleep that we strip from our children and teenagers by way of early start times – that creates the difference between a stable and unstable mental state,” Walker shares. What a frightening reality for a family that’s always on the go, or that casually thinks getting even six hours of sleep each night is considered ok.

Well, full disclosure, folks. Both of my kids experienced the zero period in high school. Wanting the best teacher who taught early in the day, or fitting in enough honors and elective classes was the norm in our world. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have been ok with their schedules. I’m happy to report that both of my kids are on board with this healthier mindset and no longer join in on the early morning course overload. Better late than never, I say! And our family is much happier and healthier for it.

With a new school year fast-approaching, please think twice before being okay with your student registering for that early morning zero period class. There’s still time to change it, and it could make all the difference in having the healthiest school year possible.

Another surprising point I encountered in Why We Sleep is that trying to pull an all-nighter to cram for something (e.g., study for a test, prepare for a presentation) is not as helpful as one thinks. The brain apparently continues to process recently learned information during sleep, which is a required step for memorization.

“If you don’t sleep the very first night after learning, you lose the chance to consolidate those memories,” Walker explains. “Sleep for memory consolidation is an all-or-nothing event,” he continues.

If the goal is learning, it’s therefore a better choice to get a good sleep night after cell phonepreparing instead of staying up all night trying to memorize things that your brain could do more effectively while asleep. So next time you think about posting that picture on social media at 4am showing everyone how cool you are for staying up with the help of a huge mug of coffee, turn off the light and get to sleep so your brain can continue processing. I for one will think you’re much cooler for it!

Another rather alarming point I found Walker to make was that there is an apparent link between sleep deficiency and the epidemic of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

If you look at the symptoms of ADHD, “these symptoms are nearly identical to those caused by a lack of sleep,” he reports. He goes on to clarify that although “not every child with ADHD has poor sleep,” research has shown that “more than 50 percent of all children with an ADHD diagnosis actually have a sleep disorder, yet a small fraction know of their sleep condition and its ramifications.”

That percentage seemed so high to me, and especially concerning as parents may not even know their child has a sleep disorder. The main point I see here is to make sure one talks with their family doctor about any possible sleep issues in conjunction with an ADHD diagnosis, as it would be a shame for a child to unknowingly receive treatment for the wrong thing.

But don’t take my word for any of this, as I’m not the sleep expert here. Check out Walker’s research and decide for yourself.

Until you’re able to get your hands on the book (there’s a hefty wait list for it at my local library), click on the list of tips referenced below from NIH Medline Plus* that could help you become a more effective sleeper starting tonight. Walker includes this same list in his book’s Appendix (Twelve Tips for Healthy Sleep).

Now back to my sleep problem. After reading Why We Sleep, I am sleeping better! sheep2I’ve been trying out some of the 12 tips myself, which includes cutting out that afternoon coffee run or chocolate treat, not drinking fluids so close to bed time, and shooting for a consistent bed time each night. No easy tasks, mind you, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

Well that’s all from me today! Best wishes to you for reclaiming your eight hours. In the meantime, may your sheep-counting efforts be fruitful.

~Elizabeth

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep*

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*Reprinted from NIH Medline Plus (Internet). Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine (US); summer 2012. Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. Available from nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12/articles/summer12pg20.html.

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the Empty Nest

I’m a self-professed survivor of Empty Nest Syndrome. Well, technically I’m just a half-survivor since our youngest hasn’t yet graduated from high school. But I’m going with the word survivor nonetheless.

Our oldest left for college last fall (yep, that was about a year ago). It has taken me this long to process how such a milestone affected me, and to understand that even the departure of one child can turn a household sideways. Notice I didn’t say upside down (like the dark world in Stranger Things). That’s because I don’t think an Empty Nest is a bad thing….it’s an adjustment.Nest

From the moment our high school senior confirmed her college choice that spring until we kissed her goodbye at the dorm, our family was caught up in a whirlwind of activity. Everything was super busy with all of the college paperwork, planning and logistics; super celebratory with all of the “end-of” activities like prom, graduation, friends’ grad parties; super fun with cramming in our family adventures and vacation prior to the big Freshman Orientation send-off; and even super organized while shopping for dorm room decor, and making sure we had covered all items on the move-in day checklist (ok, that part was a bit stressful). But all in all it was an enjoyable and memorable time.

Then, in the blink of an eye, I found myself making our daughter’s bed in the dorm room — and poof! We were back at home — where it was oddly quiet. Things felt really strange.

I assumed after drop off that all would pretty much carry on per usual in our home since we weren’t officially going to have an empty nest just yet, but I was wrong. How could my busy life of raising two children as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) for the past 18 years all of a sudden feel so askew with just one departed child? When I searched online for the definition of Empty Nest Syndrome to try and shed light on this, here’s what good ol’ Wikipedia informed me:

“Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university. It is not a clinical condition.”

Whoa, did you catch that last line? The best news yet — it is not a clinical condition! Let’s all take a moment and celebrate that part. Whether it’s your first, only, or last child to fly, take it as a hint that one can get through this thing no matter how sad we may feel at times.

A friend had heard from an experienced empty-nester that the first week was especially hard but then things improve. So the two of us decided to create a 1-week countdown to help get through it — sending each other encouraging texts throughout those first seven days. Just five more days ’til we aren’t feeling down anymore! Then it was just four days! And so on until a week was over. I was definitely feeling less emotional but things still felt off, especially when I walked by my daughter’s quiet, person-less bedroom.

What I soon realized was that I needed to stay busy, but quickly found that busy work alone wasn’t going to cut it. Saying yes to anything that came my way would only make me feel resentful of time wasted if I wasn’t doing something that gave me a sense of purpose.

I enjoyed working on long-overdue house projects for a while, and toyed with the idea of catching up on things like family scrapbooks, but I really needed something just for me. What did the trick was getting more involved in helping others through a philanthropic organization I’ve been dabbling in for the past few years, ramping up my Zumba and swimming routines to stay active, and focusing on my writing efforts as a content creator.

If you work outside the home, that alone may bring you fulfillment. But if this doesn’t describe your situation, that’s fine too. Perhaps you still feel a longing for something more meaningful. And for SAHM’s such as myself, finding something with meaning is imperative to take flight from the Empty Nest Syndrome slump.

Because my mission with litetherapy.org is to exchange helpful ideas and information to make life a little brighter, I have outlined below some tips I have encountered along the way that just might do the trick in helping one overcome Empty Nest Syndrome. No matter where you fall on the Empty Nest spectrum — just starting to feel anxious about your child heading off soon, parent of a recently departed child, or one who’s still struggling with how to re-focus a life with the kids no longer at home — I hope at least one of these proves helpful.

Empty Nest Syndrome Survival Tips

Find a meaningful outlet that gives you a sense of purpose – This can be a tough one! If nothing specific comes to mind at first, think back to what you enjoyed doing when you were younger. What was that thing where you’d lose track of time while doing it? Perhaps it was writing, painting, playing an instrument, running, coding, playing soccer, fishing, sailing, dancing, cooking, etc. If you’re having trouble remembering what that might be, it’s okay to call a parent, sibling, or childhood friend and ask for a clue! Delving back into a former activity you once loved can be heavenly, and may even set you on a path towards a new business opportunity.

If you’re still having trouble identifying how you’d like to spend your newfound free time, don’t despair. Check out this insightful book I enjoyed called, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It, by Barbara Sher.

No matter how long this step takes, though, try to stay positive that you will soon find your happy place.

Be aware of signs around you – One of my favorite motivational speakers, Wayne Dyer, has been quoted as saying that everything you need you already have. I believe this! For example, I knew I wanted to start writing again and my first blog post, Attitude is Everything, ended up being based on a quote I literally had hanging next to my desk for 13 years. So what I needed then I really did already have! You may also have a clue staring you in the face right now of where your life’s purpose is hiding — you just need to be open to seeing the signs.

Take a class or find a workshop on something of interest – I’m not saying you have to go back to school to get another degree, but taking a class or workshop in an area of interest can be a great way to get motivated on a new path you’ve been considering. Teaching? Horticulture? Counseling? Writing a book? Designer? Property Manager? Restauranteur? The choice is endless. But you’ll never know it’s your true calling until you put your toe in the water and take that first step.

Start an Empty Nest Survivors Club in your friend group or neighborhood – Spending time with friends on a monthly or quarterly basis who are going through the same experience can be therapeutic. This could mean meeting up at a local coffee or yogurt shop, going out for dinner or drinks after work, or gathering at a friend’s home with a new host each month. The choice for connection is yours. Just think twice before inviting Mildred to join in on the conversation, though. You know her – the wet blanket who would rather bring everyone down around her instead of uplift them in a time of need.

Schedule an appointment with a Life Coach – Sometimes having outside perspective on your goals can be helpful in determining the right path. Or just having fresh ears to help articulate or better craft your life’s story can be beneficial. I have a few friends with successful businesses in these areas and would be happy to put you in touch if you’re in need of a referral.

Spend quality time with those still at home

*Start (or increase frequency of!) regular date nights with your spouse or significant other, and remember why you got together in the first place.

*Spend more time with your younger child(ren) – who may not love all the extra attention;) But they may also be missing an older sibling as much as you so focused time might be in order.

*Exercise the dog more or play with other pets who aren’t leash friendly. They will definitely love all the extra attention.

*Make plans to attend Parents Weekend events at your child’s campus which will give you missed hugs to look forward to. And remember, if your college student will be coming home for Thanksgiving or Winter Breaks, you’ll be back together in no time. Feel free to start a countdown calendar for those events now!

Although this past year was difficult for me in some ways, I’m almost grateful for it because it made me confront what I believe makes me the person I am, where my talents lie, and how I prefer to spend my time. I guess that means I feel more like Elizabeth the person now instead of Elizabeth the mom.

Next steps for me? Continue to focus on the daily activities that bring me a sense of purpose. And make a mental note that when our youngest is ready to fly, plan a getaway or something special to look forward to during that first tough week. I’ve heard that helps with the adjustment too.

Honestly, though, I’m not going to stress about having a truly empty nest. I know I’ll survive, just as you will. And as friends with older children ultimately remind me, our kids never really leave us – especially if we plan a fun family vacation! They will be there to join in on the fun.

So best wishes to you all no matter what stage you’re in. And if you’re a recently departed college student reading this, send your parents a text today. Trust me, it will make their day to hear from you.

Elizabeth

P.S. If you have empty nest experience and helpful tips to share, please do so! We’d love to hear what has worked for you.

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More out of Life with Less

If I’m going to take the time to watch a movie, it better be a good one. And not one with a depressing ending either. A storyline with struggle is welcome, but it must leave me with a glimmer of hope. I see enough disturbing realities on the news so try and reserve movie time as sacred for something funny or uplifting. Enter the documentary. Not where you thought I was going with this, eh?

popcorn

I’m the first to admit I love a light-hearted Will Ferrell comedy (vs. a serious documentary) at the end of a long week. Ferrell and I apparently went to college together (although we’ve never actually met). Sadly, his new material or similar comedies aren’t released often enough to always be my go-to on movie nights. The other evening, though, that didn’t matter. The Hollywood Gods had a different plan for our home theater (um, living room couch).

While clicking through our video options, my husband and I couldn’t find anything of interest in our usual genres. It was getting late and I’m now one of those oldish people who values sleep a bit too much. Right before clicking off the TV, I saw it – a title that grabbed my attention. Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things (a film by Matt D’Avella). Well if it’s about the important things, it must be something I should know about, right? Game on.

The next 77 minutes of my life proceeded to be incredibly worthwhile. Let me explain how.

The documentary profiled a variety of individuals who shared how minimalism brought
more meaning into their lives and how they chose to shed what no longer served a purpose or added value (including careers!) The interesting thing was that each of these individuals had a different way of going about implementing minimalism. Tree HouseThe stereotype in my mind had been that they’d all be selling off everything they owned, quitting their jobs, donating their income to charity and living in huts around the world while doing their role to save mankind. While very noble, not exactly my life goal. But no matter – my preconceived notions were incorrect.

The documentary made me realize that anyone can integrate minimalism into their lives – even me – on whatever scale deemed appropriate to get more out of life with less. And it turns out that I’ve already been implementing this concept in my life without realizing it.

I’ve often felt that I have “enough”. Family has always been the most important thing, along with friends who inspire me to be my best self, and health. When more income/material things came my way as I got older, I realized that it didn’t equate to becoming proportionally happier. I suppose you could say this was when I understood firsthand the concept of a satiation point, something I had heard about but never thought how it could apply to me.

According to BusinessDictionary.com, satiation is the saturation level of any activity at which its maximum benefit has already been derived and, therefore, the marginal benefit equals zero. So the more stuff I could get wasn’t going to equate to me being happier. To take that even further, I’d read here and there that getting more stuff could potentially make me unhappier! This included an article a few years ago called, “Here’s Proof Buying More Stuff Actually Makes You Miserable,” by Martha C. White, March 13, 2014 (Time.com).

Some examples of how I’ve already been applying minimalism in my life include:

  • Purchasing our recent car with transportation in mind vs. brand name flash.
  • Choosing to make the focus of a home remodel the upgrading of outdated materials instead of expansion (with a second story or basement) that our family would eventually outgrow.
  • Buying a classic purse that will never go out of style vs. buying a new one each year as trends change.
  • Starting to give “experiences” as gifts to my family like tickets to a show that will create memories instead of an item of clothing that will end up in the back of a closet.
  • Using a line of healthier cleaning products that turn my home into a safer haven while eliminating the need to buy paper towels and chemicals (more on this in an upcoming blog!)

I guess you could say I have experienced that intersection in life where my basic needs are being met and the tangible things I have keep me at an ideal level of happy. It’s a pretty cool place to be. I look forward to further streamlining my minimalism ways by implementing things I learned in the documentary (e.g., sticking with clothing basics instead of trendy items that retailers know will go out of style the moment I get home, being fine with my current cell phone instead of upgrading to the newest model, etc).

So how does one go about getting more out of life with less and practicing minimalism in a way that suits them personally? After all, not everyone’s satiation point is going to be the same. Mildred from book club, for example, is on a completely different spectrum as she continues to add shelves in her garage to house her growing garden gnome collection. Let’s pray for Mildred.

A great place to start your journey would be to watch the documentary or pick up the book on which it’s based called, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. You could also read my blog called Spring Cleaning with Meaning (April 2017), which references an insightful book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I’ve found Kondo’s strategies very helpful in helping to declutter my world.

Best wishes to you all on getting more out of life! And feel free to share your minimalism tips here so we can all benefit from each other’s downsizing successes.

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Get on Board with Your 2018

I love the start of a new year. So many possibilities, opportunities, adventures and experiences lay ahead. Although I consider myself an optimist, I would still jump at the chance to help direct how my year is going to unfold. If someone were to tell me there was a tool out there to do just that, then I’d be willing to explore it. Would you do the same or would you prefer to just see what happens in 2018?

Vision Board

I’ve discovered that some people love setting goals around this time of year and others hate it – like seriously despise it. Whatever category you fall into is fine by me, but I believe anyone can benefit from making a vision board. It’s a physical, tangible reminder of what you want the coming months to reflect.

When I told Mildred from book club that I was excited to begin working on my 2018 vision board, her response was an expression of sheer horror. Did she think I said Ouija board? Whatever. That lady is so negative. All I have to say is that you can’t knock it until you try it. Boy is it fun, and it truly works for me!

I made something like a vision board for the first time back in my 20s. It was essentially a one-page poster covered with images of things that made me happy, and I used it as room decor. It wasn’t until 2017, though, that I decided to try it again with images representing goals rather than things I simply liked. I signed up for a friend’s vision board event (think room full of fun women, tasty hors d’ouevres, and table space with piles of magazines) and had a ball. We were given time to think about our goals, and then look through magazines, catalogs, photos we had brought, etc. for images that resonated with those goals. We simply cut out those images and pasted them on a poster board. Anyone can cut and paste pieces of paper with images they like (think kindergarten here – so don’t tell me you’re not artistic and can’t cut and paste!)

When I left the event, I went home and immediately taped up my board to a wall where I could see it every day – and be inspired to stay focused on things that brought me happiness. The photo above is a snippet of how that vision board turned out so you can get an idea of the project.

This process was different from my typical goal setting; I could see my goals every time I walked by the poster. They were no longer just written on a page in a notebook that was shoved in my desk which I’d maybe pull out a few times a year to revisit. Having a visual representation of my goals not only served as a daily reminder, but gave me a level of accountability because my family could see it and ask how XYZ was going.

So, how did I do with my goals in 2017, you ask? Quite well, I’d say! I reviewed my old board a few weeks ago in preparation for the new 2018 vision board I’d be making at a friend’s home (this time with couples so my husband got to join in on the fun). I evaluated how my goals either needed to be carried over from 2017 or modified based on any accomplishments or new interests. I had been a success, especially with my plan to lap swim more often, and looked forward to taking myself to the next level in the new year.

Regardless of how you choose to envision your year (or don’t), I wish you great things in 2018. If you’d like to give vision boarding a try, though, and live near Silicon Valley, I can put you in touch with a friend who has an event coming up later this month. Otherwise, I recommend trying the project at home, or simply searching “vision board” on the Internet to see how people craftier than myself approach their boards.

I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong way to do a vision board; it’s all about what works for you. But I can say with confidence that it’s certainly worth the time. Just a few hours can result in 12 months of a whole lot of direction.

 

Surviving College Application Season

Dear Friends Immersed in the College Application Process,

Ignore Mildred. Everything will work out the way it’s intended. Stay strong and be positive (B+).

Sincerely, 

Elizabeth

A few days ago, I was talking with mom friends whose kids are knee-deep in the college application process. They are stressed out. I started having flashbacks to this time last year when our senior was going through it. I remember feeling unsettled with all those “should I” questions right before preparing to hit send on applications. Our senior would come home from school after mulling things over with fellow classmates and wonder:

College App Folder

“Should I have taken one more year of language?”

“Should I add a few more safeties to my college list even though I already finalized it twice?”

“Should I take the SAT/ACT yet again to try and get more points added to my score?” etc…

This uncertainty seemed to not only be infiltrating our household but other students’ homes as well. But you know what? All that second-guessing turned out to be a waste of precious time and energy. Things were the way they were and they were just fine.

Looking back on the process, I feel comfortable telling friends this today: it will all work out for the best, and you have no way of predicting what that will be so try to relax and enjoy the ride. Just make sure to ignore that annoying Mildred from your book club as she tries to cast doubt! When she corners you in the checkout line for an update on your senior and proceeds to imply you’re crazy for not having at least 25 schools on your child’s list, hiring a Pulitzer Prize winning author to write their essays, or researching a long-lost cousin whose neighbor went to Yale that can write a heartfelt letter of recommendation, tell her to go pound sand.

I’m not here to say your child will definitely get into their dream school. Yes that could happen, or it may not, but it’s actually beside the point. What I am saying is that it will work out – however that looks. Your child has worked hard for four years. Don’t let them forget that (an easy thing to do as they’re attempting to sum up all their experience in a neat little package). Tell them to feel confident hitting send on those applications they’ve put so much effort into. They will get into schools for which they are deemed a good fit; trust the process.

I could never have predicted which college our now freshman would be attending this fall any more than I could have told you which film would take home the Oscar for Best Picture. But guess what? Our entire family couldn’t be happier with the final outcome, and freshman friends seem to be in similar spaces now with their decisions.  

These success stories aren’t the only reason I feel confident sharing my “it’s going to be okay” advice today. I’m also passing along words of wisdom from others. No, not from the many knowledgeable and prestigious college speakers I went to hear at various book tour roadshows over the years (and believe me, I attended many). Nor from high school graduates even! What I found to be the most valuable piece of calming advice amidst the overwhelming facts and figures we were slowly drowning in came from a group of high school seniors. They were participants on a panel during College Night at a local school, and had been asked to discuss their experience with the application process.

This College Night was held near the end of the school year, and one senior told the audience that he and his peers amazingly seemed to have all survived the application process…just fine. He had apparently been surprised that things worked out for everyone he knew. He just wished he had known it was all going to be okay beforehand so he could’ve enjoyed his senior year more. Other seniors on the panel chimed in with similar perspective.

Damn. Can we all just learn from those teens right now and trust that things will indeed be okay? And remind our kids that their senior year is a special time to enjoy as much as possible? I know I will do a better job of having this mindset when it’s our second child’s turn at this rodeo.

I personally believe that everything in life happens for a reason. So stay strong and B+ my friends. You will get through this roller coaster ride and live to tell, just like I am now.

In closing, a few more thoughts for anyone interested in what I found as helpful insight along the way:

  • Be 100% sure a senior truly loves a school before applying Early Decision. While these acceptance rates are typically higher and it’s attractive to want to play those odds, the concept of buyer’s remorse can be a tough teen lesson (e.g., If I got into that school so easily I probably should have tried for XYX instead! Now I’m committed!)
  • Don’t take the ACT (or SAT) more than twice, as I haven’t heard it make a significant difference in one’s score — and teens really could use the extra sleep instead of testing again.
  • Don’t rule out a “less-prestigious” college with a great honors program.
  • Submitting 12 applications from a balanced list seemed to be the average number most sane parents I know held to and were ultimately pleased with.

So there you have it, friends. My tips on surviving the college application process this fall.  Feel free to share below any additional advice or thoughts you may have to help others going through this adventure.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all on this exciting milestone!

 

Spring Cleaning with Meaning

I can actually hear the warmer spring weather trying to make a break for it. A gentle breeze is blowing against the wind chime hanging outside my office window, and the little wren couple is chirping excitedly as they move into our birdhouse. Both birdhousecreate a familiar melody — a reminder that a thorough spring cleaning is in my future.

Yes, friends, these warmer weather sounds remind me of cleaning and organization. Is that weird? It’s an annual symbol for me to store my cozy boots and long pants in exchange for flip flops and capris. But if your home is anything like mine, closets and counter surfaces can be a bit amiss. They actually seem capable of self-populating, and are overflowing with stuff that really shouldn’t be there. But how does one even begin to truly put a home in order instead of just moving items around or shoving things in cute storage bins with snap-on lids?

Oh boy, do I have a solution for you!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. I have heard various people mention this book — something about an artsy way to fold clothes to make your drawers utterly dazzling to anyone lucky enough to peek inside. But how exciting can a book on tidying up really be? I decided to check it out to see what the fuss was about. Holy cow — am I glad I did.

This isn’t just a book about organizing your sock drawer. It’s filled with insight into how to get your possessions in order so there can be more room for the important things, such as meaning, purpose and happiness. I kid you not. If you haven’t yet read it cover-to-cover, you must stop everything and pick up a copy now. Like right now.

Kondo actually had me at page two. She states, “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dra­matic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”  Well if that statement doesn’t entice you to read on, someone must have enjoyed too much cough syrup last winter.

When you start implementing the author’s advice on how to go about adjusting your possessions based on asking a simple question, “Does this spark joy?” when you touch an item, your space will transform.  At least it did for me.

I confess that I’m only half-way done with my spring cleaning project, but so excited to keep going. I simply had to break away and share this inspirational book find with you before moving on to part deux of my tidying mission. Although the transformation does take time, I hope you will consider this recommendation seriously. After all, who wouldn’t want to make room in their life for more meaning, purpose and happiness?

When you actually begin to discard stuff that no longer serves you, instead of just moving it into the other room like that hoarder Mildred does from your book club, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded only by things that bring you joy and contentment.  Kondo also offers great advice on how to part with more sentimental items, which can be tough for anyone to tackle.

Ok, so I admit I did love seeing the look of awe on my family members’ faces the day they were indeed lucky enough to open their perfectly organized sock drawers! But the benefits of this tidying approach go much further, which you will soon understand after reading the book. It’s a pretty quick read, by the way — only took me about a day.

So thank you Marie Kondo for sharing your tidying philosophy with the world, and for inspiring me to write about it today.

Happy spring cleaning!  This time with meaning.

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Keeping Restaurants Old-School

Can you imagine a day when restaurants no longer sing “Happy Birthday” tableside during dessert because there’s no staff to do it? bday-cakeBefore you jump in and say, “Thank Goodness! I hate all that embarrassing attention from strangers,” please read on.

Five separate incidents have led me to this post. And you don’t need to be a foodie to appreciate the heightened degree of alarm with which my fingers fly across the keyboard today. Your local restaurants and coffee shops need you, you need them, and here’s why.

My husband recently attended a dinner reception while on a work trip in Illinois. Towards the end of the evening, a drone appeared with a platter above a group of colleagues and descended to deliver their dessert. While my first reaction was, “that is so cool!” my subconscious registered something disturbing – and it wasn’t concern over a tray potentially tipping and splattering chocolate mouse on an unsuspecting partygoer below (although that would be funny if it happened to mean Mildred from book club).

Enter incident #2.

I’ve witnessed a trend in local restaurants, especially here in Silicon Valley by nature of innovation, where you sit down, place your order via kiosk and food is delivered to you. Minimal interaction with staff, no one to ask what they recommend or what’s fresh that day, etc. Just get your food and go.

I then found myself reading a newspaper article about restaurants closing at an alarming rate (posted on my twitter feed @litetherapy). This is apparently due to a variety of factors, including the inability for some restaurants to absorb increasing costs and higher local wages, find/retain qualified staff, and competition from other restaurants or local businesses that offer in-house food service. Are more kiosk and drone establishments in our future? Say it isn’t so.

Well, I recently picked up the phone to call my favorite local cafe for a reservation and guess what? It was listed on Yelp as “permanently closed.” Sigh. So now it’s become personal. Perhaps that’s the motivation I needed to try and help.

Sadly, this trend doesn’t stop with restaurants. Just this week, a news report showcased a robot designed to process and serve coffee orders at lightening speed. BAHH!!!! Where’s the enjoyment in having machines do everything for us? Life is becoming too automated. It’s all fun and games now but how will our future look?

I love walking into my local coffee shop, listening to the music and surrounding customer commentary as I, yes, wait in line a bit for my lovingly brewed beverage, and talk with the barista about the unique coffee beans of the day.

Perhaps I just don’t want any of us to be that elderly person down the road with a family ‘grown and flown’ and unable to feel the warmth and happiness that personal interaction while dining out brings. Food really is more than fuel; it not only brings families together but communities as well.

Yes, your loved ones may still be around to fill in the happy birthday lyrics while dining in a waiter-less venue, but isn’t there something memorable about a total stranger making a scene about your birthday, bringing you that sombrero in a Mexican restaurant while riling up your guests and other patrons to join in, that brings a smile to your face? What if your future children or grandchildren never get to experience that simple pleasure?

Okay, I should probably “chill” now as my teens would say. After all, people did tell me traditional books would disappear with the Kindle introduction, which I have yet to see. No book reading device could ever replace for me the happy scent of a book. Ummm…maybe I should delete that last comment in case Amazon gets inspired to sell a scented model?!

So friends, please continue to support your local dining establishments and help keep them old-school and in business. After all, who really wants to walk around with a stash of birthday candles and matches in their pocket, or interact with technology all day long?

In support, I’m listing my current favorite restaurant below. Please feel free to do the same or tweet me with your recommendation and I’ll look forward to trying it out when I’m in the area. Oh, and best wishes for a very happy birthday!

The Table, Willow Glen, CA – @TheTableSJ or thetablesj.com