A Year in Gratitude (part II)

Hello, friends! And Happy New Year! This post is a continuation from my previous one…although, it’s not entirely necessary to read that one to know what’s going on here. But if you did read the last post, you know that gratitude was the key word from 2017 and that there were a few important factors and challenges that played a role.

{I originally planned to have this as a three part series, but last minute decided to squeeze it into one last post…so I apologize in advance for the lengthy ramble! I am excited to share some new recipes with you hopefully next week!}

Other key players from last year were: meditation, mindfulness, and presence. And, in my opinion, those three go hand in hand. They’re connected.

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

**Unless otherwise noted, the photos within this post were taken by Willow last year with her camera – she gave me permission to share them 😉

***I am in no way judging or pointing fingers at those who use social media daily. My life and “career” do not require my presence there, but I do recognize and understand those that benefit from social media. My message here is how my life changed by unplugging. Social media isn’t all bad when used with the right intentions, nor do I believe that those who do what I once did are bad. With that being said, here we go…

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Before we made that drive to take Abbey to her new person, I kind of gave a heads up in my Instagram Stories that I would be taking a step back to be with my family during this time. Little did I know that the whole experience would set off a chain of events that would eventually change my life.

Saying goodbye to Abbey was really hard for the three of us. It was a big adjustment and unplugging from social media was easily the best decision I made – it was a gift to myself and my family. Rather than throwing myself into distractions and mindlessly scrolling my IG feed, I allowed myself to feel all of the emotions – to essentially work through the process of grief. I allowed myself to fully BE there for Willow – to comfort her when she let me in and to be a strong, stable presence. When I say strong and stable, don’t be fooled, I was sobbing uncontrollably at times, BUT I was there every step of the way without a phone in hand. My eyes and ears were tuned into Willow and not a screen.

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

I pride myself in being present with Willow, Josh, and my family. When we’re together hiking, eating, playing games, reading, or just enjoying time together, I make a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room or turn it off. My time spent with them is in the moment and in tune with them…no longer thinking in the back of my mind about the comments I’d like to respond to or something I’d like to share on Instagram. It wasn’t always that way. I was guilty of snapping a handful of photos to try and capture that “perfect” shot of my meal (while it was getting cold or melting), or I was stopping every few minutes to try and get a photo of the scenery on a hike, or I had my phone in camera mode ready to get that action shot of Willow doing something. I’ll be the first to admit that social media was kind of like an addiction. I would get hit with the fear of missing out and feel the strong need to immediately open Instagram and see what people were up to, what they were eating or reading or buying or sharing. It was bad and I felt like I needed a detox.

I took this photo…obviously 😉 My sweet girl with her camera:

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

I remember not long before I came to that realization, I was at a local tea house with Willow sharing a pot of chai – my phone was in my purse and as I was about to grab it to snap a photo of this precious moment we were sharing, I happened to glance around and EVERY SINGLE PERSON WAS ON THEIR PHONE. Eyes glued to a screen as if in a trance. The worst part was that all of them were in the presence of another person – sitting together at a table, yet so far away. I remember seeing a little boy looking bored out of his mind while his mother was busy looking at her phone. Now, I’m going to give that mother the benefit of the doubt and guess that maybe she was sending a quick text to her husband or replying to an important message that was time sensitive. But for the sake of the message I’m trying to send here, let’s say she was scrolling Pinterest, or Facebook, or Instagram. All the while sitting with her son as if he wasn’t there. How sad is that?

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

Unfortunately, this is our society. Unable to live purely in the moment and so focused on the outside world that they lose sight of within, of those around them. Unable to just BE and enjoy the person you’re with or to take in a few minutes of silence. Our phones have become a security blanket and they’ve dehumanized many of us. I personally feel that our society over-documents everything…and I was definitely guilty of that. Whether it was posting everything I ate in a day, every activity (hiking, crafting, teaching, etc.), or anything that felt share worthy, it was uploaded to my IG profile or in Insta Stories. Nothing was sacred. I remember watching some accounts’ Stories and they couldn’t even walk down the street without videoing the view…or they were recording their feet while heading to their destination. Their stories were fully loaded with every moment of their day.

Our discomfort with confronting ourselves in the naked stillness of absolute quiet lead us to eat too much, drink excessively, socialize mindlessly, and engage in a host of activities out of a desire to simply avoid being still. This constant whirring in our minds creates disharmony and imbalance. The mind simply cannot function at its optimum level when it’s constantly under siege from endless opinions, criticism, and ideas. ~ Shefali Tsabary, The Awakened Family

I would spend hours browsing on Pinterest, pinning recipes I’d like to make one day, or projects I had hoped to do, or ways to “improve” something. I was getting so caught up in things I’d like to do one day, rather than enjoying what I had in the here and now. Like many of you, I was being bombarded with allowing myself to be bombarded with hidden messages/things that I should be doing…that my current state (diet, health, life, etc) wasn’t enough. Not to mention, I’d sometimes lose hours out of my night browsing! I’m sure some of you know how that goes…you go on to search for a broccoli soup recipe and before you know it, you’re looking at funny cat videos or something.

Mindless activity. That was my habit. I had to be doing something.

One of our greatest untapped allies in life is silence. Most of us are terrified to enter it, believing it to mean nothingness just because it doesn’t involve some sort of doing. Being still in silence is uncomfortable for most of us not only because it runs counter to the diet of constant busyness and achievement we were raised on, but because it puts us painfully in touch with the emptiness within where our true self ought to be. ~ Shefali Tsabary, The Awakened Family

I traded in my nightly Pinterest obsession and mindless Instagram scrolling for reading, meditation, or anything else that could be considered “me time.” Josh goes to bed early almost every night (he works crazy hours) and Willow is my night owl buddy until about 10pm, but then after she falls asleep, I focus on me. Well, that is if I don’t fall asleep with her! If that’s the case, I do my “me time” in the morning before she wakes up..I’m lucky that she sleeps in until 8-9am.

Willow caught me enjoying a quiet moment…

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

Meditation came into play when everything happened with Abbey and I felt a pull to go inward. It was something I had always wanted to incorporate on a regular basis, but I was really good about making excuses…and honestly, social media kept telling me there was a right way and a wrong way to meditate. BUT just like diet and lifestyle, TO EACH THEIR OWN. You figure out what works for YOU and do it! Ignore the outside chatter and recognize what feels good in your heart.

That was when I stumbled upon Insight Timer (an app) and it became a part of my daily/nightly routine. Taking a few minutes out of my day or night to sit quietly with a guided (or music) meditation changed everything for me. It woke something up inside of me and helped me to become my true self…my highest self.

I learned that meditation doesn’t require sitting in silence for an hour…I can work with the time I have or how I’m feeling. Some nights I listen to a short 8-9 minute guided meditation and other nights I enjoy an hour long one.

Sitting in stillness for a few minutes through the day allows us to begin to be aware of our essence, enabling us to recharge. Taking a few minutes to sit and place our awareness on our breath provides a break from the barrage of information our minds are constantly asked to process. These few minutes in centering allow us to remember what really matters in life – connection to self and others. Despite having all the trappings of external achievement, if we don’t have connection, we essentially have nothing. ~ Shefali Tsabary, The Awakened Family

Meditation has helped to bring a sense of calm and peace to my mind all day. If I feel myself getting tense or worked up, it is easy for me now to stop and focus on my breathing…to bring myself to the present moment. I’m also able to meet Willow’s occasional meltdowns with calmness rather than chaos. The best part is that my practices have rubbed off onto Willow. Some nights we’ll lay in bed and listen to one together, at her request. Her favorites are any by Sarah Blondin’s: Live Awake. You can find her meditations through Insight Timer or her podcast. I’d have to agree with Willow, her talks are some of my favorite as well.

Here’s her profile on Insight Timer…

Throughout the day, Willow can sometimes be heard saying, “I want to enjoy the quiet.” She’s able to recognize when she’s feeling overwhelmed or in need of a recharge. And that means turning off the music and allowing her to just BE. Sometimes we’ll sit together and quietly read or literally just sit and take in the silence. She’s taught me a lot.

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

You know what else I learned? I was so consumed with the fear of missing out that I was actually missing what it meant to really LIVE. TO BE. TO ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS.

All of those times I was trying to capture a perfect photo of a hike or Willow riding her bike, I was actually MISSING the moment. A moment that couldn’t be rewound. Nothing was sacred, until now. Today, my phone is either in another room, hooked up to the iHome speaker so we could listen to Willow’s Spotify playlist and dance, or on airplane mode. I’m noticing things that I once overlooked and I have a newfound appreciation for others. Scents are more magical, the snowflakes falling have an almost spiritual feel to them, food tastes better, and watching Willow do the things she loves is so much more meaningful. AND I’m doing them with her!

*This is not to say that I don’t take photos anymore, because I do – I’m just more mindful of how often or how many. And I use an actual camera most times instead of my phone to avoid any distractions.

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

My experience from 2017 makes me want to stand up and shout from the rooftops, “WAKE UP, EVERYONE!!!!”

What made last year even more special, was that my relationships grew stronger and deeper. The connections were more alive and spiritual. And the friendships that were strong to begin with became unbreakable. Everything just flowed. My patience became my super power and I felt almost unstoppable. Nothing and no one could bring me down because all that mattered (and matters) is what I think and feel. I was FREE.

My photo…

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

I feel truly blessed for the friends who have remained during the last four or five months. I remember feeling an intense fear of losing connections or friends by unplugging from social media, but in reality, stepping away allowed those real friendships to shine, for them to step forward. Was it sad to lose friendships? Absolutely. But then I had to remind myself that if there really was a friendship to be had, it wouldn’t be lost.

I know I’ve rambled…A LOT and I think it’s because 2017 was a huge period of enlightenment for me and maybe some of this will resonate with one of you. And others of you might think I’m just weird. Thank you so much to anyone who reads this to the end.

Other things I’ve learned:

  • Mindfulness, meditation, and probably unplugging from social media, does wonders for my skin and digestion (hello, happy gut).
  • When I’m away from social media, I’m more creative! More ideas come to mind and things just flow.
  • If it’s important, they’ll call you. There’s a beautiful thing about a text message…it’s a message to read and reply to when the time is good for you. Although I frustrate some people with my lack of promptness! We need to stop living with phones attached to our hips and stop jumping at every notification! Be a rebel and turn those notifications off sometimes 🙂
  • I don’t like the phrase, “I’ve been busy” or “I don’t have the time.” Truth is, we all have the time, we just choose to live it differently. And we’re all, in a sense, “busy” living, but if someone or something is important to you, you find a moment to send a quick text or an email. In my opinion, if you have time to post or browse on IG, FB, or Pinterest, you have TIME to reach out to friend or read a chapter in a book.
  • I LOVE writing and sending letters to people. I started doing that again this Autumn and I feel like it’s so much more personal and meaningful. The recipient knows that I sat down with a pen and paper with them in mind…I was fully present in the moment.
  • To become your true self, you need to focus on yourself. And to trust yourself! I was constantly second guessing or doubting things about myself, but this break away from social media has shown me that some of my negative habits were influenced in fact by social media. I eat differently, feel differently, and I’m a much different consumer. No longer taking cues or messages from photos/captions people post, I stay in tune with myself. If I randomly stumble upon a product and it looks good to me, I buy it…not because a big name account said it was good. I eat and drink things because my body agrees with them and not because it’s the “right” thing to consume. Over the last few years, social media taught me to fear oil. Guess what? I cook with it sometimes and my body doesn’t hate me. I eat all the almond butter I want and don’t care about the fat grams. I eat raw foods when my body feels called to it and if my body wants a nice plate of coconut oil roasted veggies, I do it. Oh, and potatoes? Yep, they’re pretty much a daily staple (carbs are life). It’s all about how it makes YOU feel, not doing what people say is the “right” way. I admit that I definitely don’t miss reading comments on bigger accounts that are riddled with criticism and judgement. I think a lot of times we fail to recognize that everyone is different. I also don’t miss the labels that take away from the fact that we’re all human. Part of being mindful in my eating, is passing along the same practices to Willow.

Also watching Willow’s love for creating and helping in the kitchen has increased because rather than striving for a perfect outcome to match the blogger’s recipe photos, she just gets to do her thing. Being mindful of how important it is to have her involved means more to me than anything else…and to watch the excitement and pride in her eyes is priceless. Here’s a pic of the gingerbread men she made (recipe courtesy of Natalie @ Feasting on Fruit):

A Year in Gratitude (part II)

  • Unplugging and disconnecting from social media doesn’t mean I’m selfish and disconnected from life. I had someone tell me I was being selfish by stepping away from Instagram – she went on to say that it would be easier if I was on there. I had to laugh because I think she was struggling with having to actually connect with me outside of social media…it was easier for her to broadcast to a wide audience rather than connect on a more intimate level. For me, I was growing tired of reading the robotic comments that didn’t seem to have any real emotion behind them. So for someone who was craving more personal connections, I realized that social media wouldn’t fulfill that need.
  • Lastly, I learned that by being more mindful and present, I was finding more joy in the simple things. A new book from the library, building LEGOs together with Willow, or a quiet walk through the neighborhood. I hold more close to my heart and don’t feel the need to take a lot of photos anymore to share (with essentially mostly strangers) on social media.

I had someone the other day ask when or if I’m going to return to Instagram and to answer…I honestly don’t know! I’m just taking things day by day. If I wake up one morning with an urge to pop over there, then I will. But for now, I’m enjoying the interactions I have through this little blog of mine and the connections I have through texting, email and Skype. Willow keeps me present and on my toes…she also reminds me that true connections happen outside of social media.

Don’t let this girly dress and crown fool you…most days Willow can be found wearing her Spider-Man shoes and crawling around playing with Hot Wheel cars 😉

Thanks for stopping by! I promise my next post won’t be a novel 😉

14 thoughts

  1. Thank you Mandy and Willow for all of your thoughtful words and photos. You are both a blessing and inspiration to me of how meaningful life is meant to be. My prayer is for all people to be mindful of what they have and not be too busy to enjoy it!

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    1. Thank YOU, Marty!! We feel so grateful to have you in our lives – your positive energy is just contagious…not to mention you’re also super sweet. Sending so much love your way and we’re looking forward to seeing you soon. XO ❤

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  2. Oh Mandy. This is so well written and so “true. You are one of the most inspirational people for living in the moment. I have learned so much from you. Such a great reminder. We have “this moment. Live in it”. However, I do love your photos as well !! Have an absolutely beautiful day.

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    1. Awwww! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my incredibly long rambles…it really means a lot. Living in the moment is something I definitely strive for and while not every day is perfection, I find it easier today to get back on track. I honestly have Willow to thank for growing into a more mindful human being – she keeps me focused on what matters…she keeps me on my toes so that I really don’t have “time” to pay attention to much else! Ha! I love you so much! Miss you tons ❤ xoxo

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  3. Hi!!!! I am so with you in the dislike of the word “busy”. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked someone how they are doing or what they are up to and that’s the response I get. Then in my head I’m thinking “wow! I feel so close to you now with that generic response”—yep I can be sarcastic even in my own head 😬. Not to say I never say it—I am sure I have. I truly believe you can make time for what’s important to you and make time to be calm. Like right now I’m sitting in my kitchen floor chilling between steps of making curry reading your lovely post listening to Pink sing. That’s a happy chill place for me. To unplug can mean so many things!!! It’s whatever we want —the glory of being an individual!!! I am greatful for you lady!!

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    1. Helloooo!!! I love you and your sarcasm!!! Hahaha!! That’s what I say in my head too whenever someone responds to me with that…and I’ll admit to throwing in an eye roll for good measure 😉 on the inside, of course. Oh, I’m sure it’s slipped out of my mouth as well, but I’m more mindful today of my word choice. I love it!!! Making curry and listening to Pink! That sounds like a happy place for me…and relaxing. Time spent in the kitchen with music is my jam! Right??? Unplugging looks different to everyone. I know a couple people who have unplugged from social media AND gotten rid of their cell phones…I can’t go quite that far 😉 Embrace individuality! Thanks for reading, my friend! I’m SO SO SO grateful for YOU!!! xoxoxoxo ❤

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  4. Oh Mandy, this was great too!!! The world is social media obsessed and it drives me…bonkers. I do enjoy IG but I set limits for sure. Can you believe my husband has never owned a cell?! I love that about him, he is all about living in the moment. I however tend to get sucked in that late night scroll. I’m gonna fix that! I really need to start meditating and doing yoga again, so thanks for the app recommendation! I find that life is all about balance and people really need to figure that out. Once again, thank you for your friendship I truly adore your family! 💜

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    1. Carrie!!!!! Amen, mama!! You gotta set limits/boundaries. And it’s all about balance! That’s so awesome!!! I joke a lot about wishing we could go back to the days without smartphones. Everything at your fingertips can be pretty dangerous…but so amazing. I know a few people who use flip phones and have no intention or desire to upgrade to a iPhone or what not….they all say, “why do I need all the extra stuff when I have a computer?” or they all recognize how easily people can get hooked into distractions with apps and texting. With those flip phones, you really need to put in some extra work to text 😉 haha!! Yes!!! That meditation app is wonderful…I saw that they recently added an option to upgrade so that you can download meditations – which means being able to be offline (yay to turning on airplane mode and meditating)…I’m going to look into how much that costs to do that. You’re right! Balance is key and we all just need to find what works for us. I adore you, my friend!!! XO Thanks so much for reading and commenting! ❤

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  5. While maybe not as emotionally tugging at my heart as part 1, this one really really hit home for me too. I am so grateful to have this creative job and I know social media comes along with that, but it is definitely something that takes really conscious boundaries or it creates an anxious GOTTA KEEP UP energy for me too. And I SO relate to using it to avoid stillness and avoid emotions. I was feeling really down the other day and found myself turning to any and everything except just sitting and feeling and eventually talking it out with a friend which is what I really needed. This topic is so on my mind lately, you’ve inspired me to get back into meditation even if just for 5 minutes a day. Also how lucky that you have your own personal blog photographer now 🙂 Thank you for the thoughts! xo

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    1. Hi, Natalie!!! I felt like part one was a bit too emotional so I toned some of this post down a bit 😉 I’m glad you were able to relate or take something away from this though. I honestly don’t know how you and some of the other big creative bloggers do it…I feel like it would be hard to just keep your focus on what you’re doing at your own pace – I know i would definitely fall into the “gotta keep up” energy and then burn out. But oddly enough, being a mom has really slowed me down and center my focus. It can be so uncomfortable at times to really sit and face what these emotions are all about – and I was so guilty of distracting myself in any way possible in an attempt to shove the feelings aside. Sometimes that’s all we need – To talk it out with a friend – bounce it off of someone else because inevitably, we’ll get hit with an “aha” and feel better. Yay! I hope you do get back into meditation – it took me a bit to get back on track with it, but now I don’t know what I’d do without it! Love ya, friend! Thank you for always being so supportive! ❤ xo

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  6. Wow, Willow is so big!! Crazy how much she has grown. Happy to hear you have found what works for you and your family. We are all different and just because one thing works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for another. Even within our family I find big differences. My husband needs to be alone to recharge, chill at home and relax. For me being social and out with my friends and family is how I recharge. There is nothing more fun for me than going out to a good dinner, glasses of wine, and hanging with friends. We have worked hard to try and understand each other and our needs, and not to say I don’t enjoy hanging at home but when I get stressed, it’s working out and going out that helps me. That’s the beauty about the world, we are all different yet many of us find a way to be friends and even married to those different than us. Hang in there! Big hugs!

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    1. Isn’t it nuts??? Crazy kid will be six in April and I’m wondering where in the world the time went! Haha!! They grow up way too fast. Thank you, Sophia! Absolutely! And I hope my post or wording didn’t come across any other way – I recognize that we are all different and function in various ways, recharge in opposite ways, and thrive in ways that others may not. Our world would be SO boring and predictable if we were all the same! What I shared here is kind of a journal of sorts…what works for ME. I was inspired to write this after talking to a few friends who are of a similar mindset/lifestyle as me and thought that maybe talking or sharing my experience might be able to help someone else a little. Like you said, we all just need to be mindful of one another’s differences – embrace them and the person. Overall, I just see a disconnect in our society – the lack of being able to truly engage and connect as human beings. I am grateful for technology and social media because it did bring me together with some of my best friends, but I have also seen the negative side to it. There are some people so heavily reliant on their phones and social media that they forget how to actually live in the moment and interact. I think it’s great that you recharge by being out socializing with family and friends! Clearly you’re not included in what I was discussing earlier about not being able to connect outside of social media. Sorry for the rant! And I apologize if my post came across as a how-to for everyone…definitely not my intention.
      Thank you, life is really good and I’m happy and healthy! Big hugs to you and your family! xo ❤

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