A Year in Gratitude (part I)

I dedicate this post to my soul sister “weirdo” – may we always live a life filled with gratitude and find joy in the simple things. Thank you for waking me up, Karina. xo

I’m also dedicating this post to Tonya – you taught me about the beauty of unlikely friendships and to have faith. xo

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. ~ Zig Ziglar

Come January 1, 2018, Willow and I will have completed our first 365 days of writing in a gratitude journal together and if I continue down the path I’ve been on, January 1st will also mark 81 consecutive days of meditation for me. Two things that have helped me tremendously. This past year has been full of ups and downs, joy and sadness, love and loss. But more than anything, these last few months have been filled with positive growth, learning, and freedom. I honestly feel like a new person or as if I have been reunited with my soul…that I have become the very person I have aspired to be.

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

Those who know me well, know that I have always struggled with balance. Whether it’s biting off more than I can chew, spreading myself thin, or feeling like a failure, the one consistent thing was that I was exhausted in every sense of the word and felt like something was missing. Today, all I feel is immense gratitude and love. Love for life, love for where I’m at, love for the simple things, and a deeper love for family and close friends.

Our favorite kombucha from 2017 even fit with this post…Living in Gratitude from GT’S. Not only is the flavor incredible, but the bottle itself is beautiful. Especially this quote found on the bottle:

“When we root ourselves in gratitude, our joy grows and blossoms. It reaches up and branches out until a forest blankets the earth and fills the whole sky.”

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

That quote on the kombucha bottle couldn’t be more accurate. I have found that when I am living in a state of gratitude (and not dwelling on the could haves, should haves, or negatives), my entire presence is overcome with joy…and my joy spreads onto others and vice versa. Which is why I have spent my last few months surrounding myself with those who live in gratitude and in the moment. Joy and gratitude are contagious.

We live in a very fast paced, go-go-go society and sadly, many of us have lost the beauty of stillness and being present. Falling into the habit of journaling with Willow, along with meditating, has taught me just how magical and necessary it is to be mindful. Both have taught me to slow down and appreciate what is right in front of me.

The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become. ~ Robert Holden

Every night, before we cuddle down to read and fall asleep, Willow and I sit down together in bed to share three things we’re grateful for. There were days where I wanted to hit a reset button or fast forward through due to the amount of meltdowns or challenges, but every single night had us focusing on the positives – the joys and things we felt incredibly blessed for. And every night, our heads hit the pillow with the rough day behind us. No longer upset or sad, but rather happy and at peace.

The other day, Willow asked to read through some of our earlier entries in the gratitude journal and a few things happened:

  1. We laughed…a lot.
  2. I noticed over time how Willow’s entries grew to be more meaningful and heartfelt.
  3. Lastly, I recognized some recurrent things that we were grateful for.

The things that came up repeatedly (and almost daily) were the little things, which in reality, were the big things: spending time with family; doing things together (reading, drawing, painting, dancing, hiking, etc.); good health; supportive + loving family and friends – both near and far. I am so incredibly grateful for my family and for the genuine friends in my life who have been with me every step of the way. I really am blessed to have relationships that feel equal and not one sided. This year I let go of those where I felt like a person of convenience and embraced those who lifted me up. Where the love and care came from both parties and not just me.

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

Our first entry in the gratitude journal. Willow cracks me up with her replies the first few weeks. All about animals!

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

The theme throughout our journal was family and there was one big challenge we faced that really taught us just how important it is to stick together. Over the summer, we decided as a family that it would be best to find a new home for our dog Abbey. I saw the signs early on, but refused to face them because I loved her and selfishly wanted to keep her with us. Abbey was here for Willow’s first spoken words, when she learned to ride her tricycle (and bike with training wheels), Willow’s first camping trip, and when she started homeschool cohort. I associate a lot of memories with Abbey so this decision was definitely not an easy one. We weren’t just going to drop her off at a shelter or anything like that because despite our decision, she was part of our family. We adopted Abbey when she was 10 years old and I knew how hard it was to rehome senior animals – so after a lot of research, I found Senior Dog Rescue of Oregon. Which, as you can guess, was a group who found homes for senior dogs.

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

I reached out to them via email and telephone and we began the process. I helped to write up a bio about Abbey, sent them some photos, and then we scheduled an appointment for a checkup for her with our vet. Here is when things got really rocky and stressful. We took her in for what should have been a routine dental cleaning, but we received a call about an hour after dropping her off that her liver levels were elevated. So they couldn’t do the dental – instead, we were sent home with several prescriptions and had to postpone the cleaning for another month. Throughout this process, I kept the rescue organization in the loop and they began to grow concerned about moving forward.

I prayed and envisioned Abbey in a loving home where she could live out her remaining life in peace and no longer shaking out of fear with all of the loud noises and commotion in our house (between two cats and a busy five-year-old). She deserved better and I would do everything in my power to see this through.

A few days later, I received a phone call letting me know that there was a woman interested in adopting Abbey and that she lived in a house on a few acres of land (fully fenced in). In the bio I helped to write, I mentioned that Abbey needed to be in a home without children, cats, or small dogs. This woman met the first two requirements, but I was told she had a black Labrador Retriever – so clearly not a small dog, but we’d need to see if they got along.

Well, we brought Abbey in a month later for attempt number two at a dental cleaning and just like the first try, we received a call saying that her liver levels were double or triple what they should be. I broke down. Why was this happening? Was this a sign to halt trying to find her a new home? Who would be willing to take her on with health issues and numerous prescriptions?

I prayed again and told myself that whatever happens, things will work out the way they were meant to. If that meant keeping Abbey in our home and making some major adjustments or waiting for the right new home to come along, we needed to be patient and have faith.

Sure enough, I got a call saying that the woman who was interested was still willing to give her a new home and that the liver issue and prescriptions weren’t a deal breaker. I cried a mix of happy and sad tears. Happy that Abbey would be moving on to a better suited home, but sad because it meant we were going to have to say goodbye. I couldn’t believe this was really happening.

So we set a date in September to drive to Corvallis to meet – For us to meet Tonya (the potential adopter) and her black Lab Milly. The drive there was filled with heightened emotions and I began doubting our decision…and I seriously hated myself. I remember asking for a sign to tell me that we were making the right decision and not even 20 minutes later, a beautiful rainbow appeared. I remember my heart breaking while crying tears of peace. Since we had Willow in the car, I had a lot of internal conversations going on because I didn’t want to make things harder than they were for her. I told myself that if I didn’t like Tonya’s energy, we wouldn’t go through with it. And to be honest, a part of me wanted things to fall through – I was hoping to not like her so that we could drive back home and be the family I wanted to be. Sad, right? Like I said, I hated myself.

When we arrived at our meeting spot, I lost it. Tears couldn’t be stopped and I kept hugging and telling Abbey just how much we loved her. That just because we were letting go of her didn’t mean that the love wasn’t there – it was because we loved her that we recognized she deserved better. We ended up really connecting with Tonya and I could just feel the love she has for animals. She is very passionate and her dogs are her babies. Abbey warmed up immediately to both Tonya and her dog, Milly, so I knew that this was us saying goodbye to Abbey.

The next couple of weeks were some of the hardest that we faced as a family. I thought we broke Willow. Daily meltdowns, anger, and I felt like I didn’t recognize who she was anymore. Everything was a fight – getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating, leaving the house, cleaning up. All battles that I just didn’t have the strength to fight. So there were quite a few days of staying home in pjs in tears. Most days I beat myself up for being a failure to Abbey and for breaking my daughter’s heart.

What got me through? Josh listening to us cry about how much we missed Abbey and allowing us to fully process and grieve. Recognizing that we were all hurting and struggling meant that it was so important to be there for one another. To be an ear for words that needed to be spoken, a shoulder to cry on, and provide an embrace when the words wouldn’t come out. The biggest light was Tonya. We connected really well at the meeting that we exchanged phone numbers. She would text us daily with updates – letting us know how Abbey was adjusting along with an occasional photo. As the weeks went on, we really got a sense of how well Abbey was doing – as if she was thriving and getting to be the dog she was meant to be. She was exploring the land, becoming good buddies with Milly, and being spoiled by Tonya and her husband with lots of car rides, walks, and treats. One evening Tonya and I spoke on the phone for over an hour and that was when my heart was filled with tremendous peace. I knew we made the right decision and that Abbey was incredibly lucky to be with Tonya. All we ever wanted was for her to be a happy dog and Tonya has been able to make that happen. Every now and then I’ll get hit with a wave of “why couldn’t we be that home?” but more than anything I am grateful for the way things ended up. Abbey in a perfect home and Tonya gaining another baby AND I gained a friend. While it took us quite some time to fully process all of this, there were too many signs pointing to the Universe aligning our paths – that everything happened exactly as it was supposed to.

{Little similarities that made it all the more obvious our paths were supposed to cross: Tonya’s black Lab’s name is Milly….growing up, I had a black Lab named Milly. Tonya’s previous dog was named Maggie…my first dog’s name (the one before Milly) was named Maggie. And our shared love for dogs – they aren’t just a creature who walks on four legs, but rather, they have our hearts. They are family.}

From September to present day, I found myself mentioning Abbey and Tonya in our gratitude journal pretty regularly. Tonya set me free from the thoughts of being a failure and showed me that we tried all that we could to be a home for Abbey. Joy has replaced my previous feelings of sadness and pain – when I close my eyes, I can almost see Abbey’s energy and see a dog at peace – she is where she is supposed to be. And for that I am GRATEFUL.

GRATITUDE. GRATITUDE. GRATITUDE.

This year has taught me a lot. To find magic in the little things. To be be more aware and in tune. To recognize just how incredibly blessed I am. These last few months have been filled with so much beauty and joy and I can without a doubt say that going to bed with a heart full of gratitude has aided in that shift. I wake up with a grateful heart, which is how each day should be greeted. Now I see that there is SO much to be grateful for…that listing just three things each night has become difficult because I could easily write a full page. I highly recommend grabbing a notebook to start this daily/nightly habit. Just a few minutes out of your day can create big changes in your life and mindset.

I have really enjoyed watching Willow grow throughout this journey and seeing her recognize just how lucky she is has been amazing. I can see the light in her eyes when she talks about the things she is grateful for and that makes me a proud mom.

I recently asked Willow, “What do you think about writing in the gratitude journal? Do you like it?”

Her response: “I want to keep doing it when I’m 18 and 20!”

A Year in Gratitude // Be Sol-Ful Living

I’m looking forward to the next year spent in gratitude. What were some things you were grateful for in 2017?

Stay tuned for part two where I discuss meditation, mindfulness, and presence.

Thanks for stopping by! Wishing you all the very best in 2018!

Unplug to Reconnect

I have been unplugged from social media for over a week now. One full week. It was never my intention, but after two getaways with my family where I didn’t use my phone for anything other than texting, I came to a sad realization. We, as a society (myself included), spend far too much time on our phones. We get so caught up in the lives of others or documenting our own, that we forget to just LIVE. I would feel the urge to grab my phone and browse to see what everyone was up to or I’d get anxious about the emails that I needed to respond to. It made me think back to what my life was like before social media. Years ago, before I got sucked into the online world of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs and Googling everything, my life was very different. I used to spend more time reading, writing, creating, exercising and simply being more present in the moment. Since Willow was just a few months old, I began writing in a journal to her every night. I realized just how much things had changed when I opened her journal one night and saw that it had been two weeks since I wrote anything. But that wasn’t the only thing that changed.

Unplug to Reconnect

After returning from our camping getaway, you might remember me saying how I felt overwhelmed. During our two days away, I had my phone off and out of sight. I didn’t get distracted by incoming texts, notifications from IG or Pinterest and I had no idea how many unread emails I had…until I turned it back on. Those two days were incredibly freeing. I found I was more present and mindful as a mother and wife. There was more eye contact, deeper conversations and just an overall increase in engaging interactions. Turning my phone back on immediately brought about anxiety with all the things I felt “needed” to be done. Then my overnight getaway to Seattle with Josh for the Trader Joe’s party opened my eyes even more. I was spending far too much time on my phone after Willow fell asleep that I was missing out on quality spouse time. After Willow fell asleep, we were doing our own things – he would read, play video games or fall asleep early, while I spent hours catching up online.

Before Willow was born, Josh and I did everything together. Not because we felt we had to – we genuinely enjoy one another’s company. We’d go grocery shopping together, cook together, watch movies together and just spend time together. When we became parents, our focus and priority became Willow – her health, happiness and well-being takes the top spot. We soak up all the precious time with her, but my time with Josh is just as precious. You see, Josh works 50+ hours a week and not your typical Monday-Friday 9-5 gig. His work week starts on Friday (12pm-10pm) and ends on Tuesday (4am-2pm). Hours are all over the place with long work days.The recent trip to Seattle made me realize just how important it is to have that time together. I was reminded of all the little things we take for granted, such as an uninterrupted conversation or cuddling up on the couch together to watch an episode or two of a series.

When i was smacked in the face with the realization that I was spending too much time on my phone, something had to be done. So, I unplugged. I turned off push notifications, told myself I wasn’t allowed to open the IG app, and only checked my email once a day (I would have cut it out all together, but emails are how I get notified of an Etsy sale). As the days went by, I found myself becoming less stressed and overwhelmed and more calm and mindful. I could feel creativity creeping back in and far less distracted. My days were filled with more joy, smiles, laughter and adventure because I was less worried about catching up. It was honestly freeing. Rather than reaching for my phone excessively to capture photos of food or something that Willow was doing, I was learning to just live in the moment and ENJOY.

Unplug to Reconnect

I highly recommend clicking on this link HERE – you’ll see some photos that show you just how much our society is heavily dependent on their phones, along with some pretty great quotes.

Here are some observations I’ve made, as well as things I’ve noticed within myself. If any of the following signs hit home, you might want to unplug for a bit. I honestly feel that all of us could benefit from unplugging, even if it’s for a day or two.

10 Signs you Need to Unplug:

  1. When you wake up, you instantly reach for your phone to check your online profiles – who “liked” or commented on your posts, who started following you or browse your Facebook/IG feed. I’ve been guilty of this. I used to be so good about saying affirmations or just taking a few deep breaths before greeting the day. Lately I find that some mornings I am too quick to grab for my phone to see what I missed. Most mornings I sleep in with Willow and don’t have time to even bother with my phone. I now realize that whatever I “missed” can wait. Unless it’s an urgent voicemail or text message, it can all wait.
  2. You can’t go a few hours or an entire day without checking your feed and/or online profiles. Really pay attention to just how often you’re reaching for your phone.    
  3. Your child has to repeatedly say, “look at me!” or has to repeatedly call for your attention because you’re too busy on your phone. I’m generally pretty good about staying off my phone while Willow is awake. I’ll occasionally text someone back, post a quick photo on Instagram or glance at emails, but I stopped browsing IG a long time ago and wait until Willow is asleep. Why? It hit me one day that I want Willow to look over at me and see me looking back at her. She shouldn’t have to hear the words, “Hold on” or “One minute.”  I don’t want her to know me as the mom who is glued to her phone. I want her to know that she is far more important than online profiles and the number of followers I have. I’ll never forget this awful play date we had last year. The mom had her phone in her hand the entire time – I think we made eye contact once during the few hours we spent at her house. She was consumed with replying to emails, texts and who knows what else. What saddened me most was her son’s behavior and how she reacted to him. He was screaming, throwing himself on the floor and clearly in need of attention. Rather than talking with him and figuring out what was going on, she took him up to his room for a “time out” and left him there for a good 20 minutes. Willow and I sat there awkwardly playing while she resumed whatever she was doing on her phone. That was the one and only play date we had with that family.
  4. You find your mood being negatively affected after time spent online. I will be the first to admit this has happened to me. Whether it was a hurtful comment, judgmental post or people unfollowing me, I no longer take it personal. There will always be haters and the amount of followers you have does not dictate your value or importance. Within the last month or so, I stopped looking at the numbers and post whatever I feel like. I tried running two separate accounts on IG, but it was time-consuming and I realized I’d rather attract people who were interested in all aspects of what I post. This works for me, but I can understand why people keep it professional. Along those lines though, when your online profile begins to feel more like a chore and less fun, that is a clear sign that something needs to change…or you need a break.
  5. You spend more time on Facebook/IG (etc.) rather than spending real quality time with the people in your life. I already discussed this earlier in the post.
  6. A large portion of your day/night is spent replying to emails, comments on posts or browsing the web. We co-sleep with Willow and after she has fallen asleep in my arms or on top of me, I reach for my phone and catch up. I had no idea just how much time I was spending on my phone until I timed it one night. Responding back to individual comments, questions, direct messages on Instagram and then browsing/catching up with what others were up to….are you ready for it…three hours. THREE HOURS. It was then that I realized that I can no longer use the “excuse” I don’t have time. Those few hours could have been spent meditating, doing yoga, exercising, writing, reading and a long list of other things I struggle with finding the time to do. Limit usage, for example, allow yourself to spend an hour to browse or respond to comments. Remember, it can wait – so don’t feel like it all has to be done in one sitting.
  7. Your phone joins you at meal time(s). I know many of you are guilty of this one. Josh and I don’t use the phone during meal times together, but I’m guilty of snapping photos of our meal before eating. I’ll be eating dinner with my family and in my head I’m planning out the caption to go with the photo. Rather than being present at dinner and spending REAL time together, my mind is elsewhere. Such a sad thing to admit.
  8. You feel the need to document everything online (what you ate, what you’re wearing, what you’re doing) – in other words, if you’re posting excessively. I’d like to think that I’m not one to post excessively. I try to limit myself to one or two posts a day, if that. Ask yourself, “Who am I posting this for?” and “Why?” Are you trying to impress someone or gain popularity? Think of social media as a way to inspire – a tool to spread knowledge or ideas. I recently unfollowed a page that was posting six or seven times a day….every day. It all felt repetitive and this person was sending the message that he/she spent ALL day on there.
  9. You feel the urge or need to respond to every comment or email right away. Guilty. When I started receiving more comments on my posts, I felt the need to rush to respond back. I know it’s not expected of me, but I like to respond to each comment individually. To let the person know that I read and acknowledged their comment/question. I later realized that it can wait. I can’t do it all – no one can.
  10. Your sleep is suffering. Are you going to bed too late and waking up exhausted? I was. There were a few nights where I was up until 1:00 am responding to IG notifications and/or emails and then waking up wiped out. Willow typically sleeps through the night, but sometimes she wakes up needing me. So, on those mornings, I was extra exhausted which lead to me feeling lazy, sluggish, grumpy and stressed. I’ve heard some people say that they charge their phone outside of the bedroom so as not to be tempted to check it so frequently OR spend the last hour before you go to bed phone-free. Use that time to meditate, journal or read a book.

I will be the first to admit that finding balance is hard. My struggle is that I can’t do things half-heartedly…for me, I put all my focus and energy into whatever it is that I’m doing. Trying to do that across the board meant spreading myself thin. I could literally feel myself breaking apart. When I begin to feel overwhelmed or too anxious, I pull back from just about everything. Everything but being a mom. Making the decision to be a parent is a HUGE responsibility and it was MY decision…not Willow’s. I think as parents, we need to be more mindful and remember that WE brought our children into this world, that they deserve our undivided attention. I feel happiest when Willow is happy. When I know that I did the best I could, that I soaked up the moments with her. We’ve also made the decision to unschool, so over this last week, it has been a lot of fun being 100% focused on following Willow’s lead. Her passion for learning is strong and that’s something I want (and need) to keep feeding. I’ve done a lot of reading on mindfulness over the years and here’s a short list of ways to be more mindful as a parent…which is deeply connected to unplugging from technology.

Unplug to Reconnect

How to be a More Mindful, Present Parent:

  1. Put your phone away and spend actual time WITH your child.
  2. Turn off push notifications for social media, emails, etc.
  3. Turn off the TV.
  4. Let go of the To-Do lists.
  5. Always make eye contact while talking with your child.
  6. Get down on their level – play on the floor, sit next to them.
  7. Be a “YES” parent.
  8. Involve your child in day-to-day activities.
  9. Put yourself in their shoes.
  10. Forgive yourself.

I’m not saying that you can’t use your phone at all during your child’s awake time, but most definitely put a limit on your use. If you’re one to check your phone every 20 minutes, try limiting it to every hour or two. If you feel the need to carry your phone in your back pocket, don’t. You’re a parent and the people who know you, know that. Don’t feel like you have to respond to every text immediately or rush to the phone with every beep, or vibration. If it’s important, they’ll call you! Let go of expectations – rather than being consumed with all that “needs” to be done, realize that none of it is going anywhere…it will be there later. If you have deadlines to meet or feel pressure, don’t hesitate to ask for help – whether from your significant other, a close friend or family. Don’t use the TV as a babysitter. When you are spending time with your child, get down on the ground and play with them! Whether it’s doing a floor puzzle, building with Legos or digging in the dirt – they appreciate you joining in with them. Willow’s face lights up every time I grab crayons to color with her or when we build a tall tower of blocks together just to knock them all down. I do believe that independent play is important, but if they ask you to do something with them, don’t deprive them of that.

Unplug to Reconnect

Our little nature girl.

I was in Target the other day and the number of times I heard this mom say, “no” to her child was ridiculous. I’m not saying that we should spoil our kids and say “yes” to everything, but what’s the harm in a $1 pack of note cards or post-its? Avoid the power struggles and learn to pick your battles. I always think to myself, “how would it feel if that were said or done to me?” I’m pretty sure I would feel defeated if everything I brought up was greeted with a “NO.”

The one thing in the list above that was a bit hard for me at first, but definitely an important one, is to include your child in day-to-day activities. I am a perfectionist and sometimes I’d rather do something myself so it gets done in a timely fashion. As Willow has gotten older, I realize that everything is a learning opportunity, a chance to teach responsibility or new experiences. A meal that would take me 20-30 minutes to put together will now take an hour or longer, but Willow LOVES to help and it is all worth it to see the smile on her face. Same goes for when we started involving her in feeding our dog, Abbey. Willow runs to help and does it proudly. What used to be a quick 30 minute workout, now takes a good bit longer because I’m either teaching Willow a new move or we’re rolling on the ground laughing.

Unplug to Reconnect

Excuse the poor quality of this photo and our mess of a kitchen, but here’s our sweet girl focused hard on helping with dinner.

I am far from being a perfect mom or wife, but I learn from mistakes and greet each day as another chance to do better. When you find yourself juggling a lot of tasks or responsibilities, it is important to find that balance. Don’t let the stress of it all get the best of you. There is absolutely NO shame in taking a step back, a break or unplugging from it all for a bit. For me, I needed to unplug from almost all of it to center my soul and reconnect with the people I love. If you’ve never disconnected from your phone before, do it. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Thanks for stopping by!