Did you know gratitude can make us healthier?

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I’m grateful for these two.

I started an evening gratitude journal, which includes an exercise known as “Three Blessings.” Every evening, I write three things I’m thankful for that happened during the day. They may be little things, like something beautiful I saw on a walk, or bigger like a new writing job referral. Then after each, I explain why the moment happened. It’s an exercise I learned about from a book called “Flourish” by Martin E.P. Seligman. He says in his book that this exercise has been proven to be just as effective as taking anti-depressants in fighting depression! I find it as a nice way to get grounded after a busy day and reflect on everything that is going well.

I try to have an attitude of gratitude. I didn’t realize how many benefits being grateful brings to your life until I read “Gratitude yields health and social benefits” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Here’s what they had to say:

Positive emotions such as gratitude open our minds.

With Thanksgiving having passed, we may want a jump start on our New Year’s resolutions. Research shows such a long list of health and social benefits that families might want to focus on cultivating an attitude of gratitude all year long.

Researchers at Northeastern University found that grateful people are more likely to be patient and make wiser decisions.

Gratitude also makes us more likely to take better care of ourselves. In one psychology journal, a study showed that a grateful attitude correlated to a greater willingness to eat healthier foods, exercise more and go to the doctor. Some research even shows that being appreciative boosts willpower.

Counting our blessings before bedtime can also translate to better sleep. One researcher said it may help soothe the nervous system. Not only can gratitude improve our quality of sleep, it can also help us fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

The health benefits of gratitude can’t be overstated. It’s been shown to decrease physical pain, reduce symptoms associated with depression, decrease blood pressure and boost energy levels. In fact, simply cultivating a lifestyle of gratitude can add an average of seven years to your lifespan.

Being grateful also makes us more resilient, less envious, more optimistic, kinder and more social. It’s no wonder that the more grateful a person is, the more likely the person is to have strong social connections, healthier marriages, larger friendship circles and improved networking skills.

Not only does gratitude have the power to transform our health, our social lives and our careers, it can transform our personalities. Research shows that gratitude contributes to a wide range of positive character traits. It makes us humble and it makes us more generous. Together, these traits combat entitlement and self-centeredness. Grateful people are more willing and able to focus on others and can therefore contribute more broadly to their communities.

We the parents have both the opportunity and the obligation to raise children who will have a positive and transformative effect on the future. As we focus on grooming an attitude of gratitude in our kids, we are not only improving their own quality of life but we are helping to change the world one child at a time.

I do believe it’s our duty as parents to instill gratitude as a trait our kids should embrace. One way is to start a gratitude journal. Another tip is to ask your children at dinner or bedtime to name three things they’re grateful for. In the book I’m reading called “Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance” by Julia Cameron, has exercises to list 10 things you cherish. Another day there I was asked to write 10 things I’m thankful for. It’s not a bad thing to do. By the way, I gave my husband a journal of gratitude and he’s enjoying writing a few things each day.

As parents, I think we need to let our kids and family know how much they mean to us. It’s that time of year!

What are you most grateful for in your life?

What does CA have against freelance writers?

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The view from my freelance writer’s life.

I am a freelance writer. Obviously, I’m not writing to get rich. I’m doing it because I love it. I don’t need the state of California to dictate who I submit articles to nor how often. But in a new bill, AB 5 that will be law in January, they are destroying the freelance writing business.

In an article by Katie Kilkenny in The Hollywood Reporter called “Everybody Is Freaking Out”: Freelance Writers Scramble to Make Sense of New California Law, she spells out some of the confusion and frustration over AB 5. The real intent of AB 5 was to get rid of the gig economy — in particular Lyft and Uber drivers — and force people to join unions. That’s the bottom line.

A new bill that caps freelance submissions may make writing financially unsustainable for many workers even though the legislator behind the law insists that the goal is “to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.”

California-based freelance writer Arianna Jeret recently learned about Assembly Bill 5 and is now concerned she and her colleagues in CA may soon be speaking about their jobs in the past tense.

Jeret, who contributes to relationship websites YourTango.com and The Good Men Project, says freelance writing has helped support her two children and handle their different school schedules. Her current gigs — covering mental health, lifestyle and entertainment — allow her to work from home, from the office and even from her children’s various appointments. “There were just all of these benefits for my ability to still be an active parent in my kids’ lives and also support us financially that I just couldn’t find anywhere in a steady job with anybody,” she says.

Jeret is now coming to terms with how her lifestyle will change come Jan. 1, when AB 5, California legislation aimed directly at the gig economy that was signed into law Sept. 18, will go into effect.

The bill, which cracks down on companies — like ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber — that misclassify would-be employees as independent contractors, has been percolating through the California legislative system for nearly a year. It codifies the 2018 Dynamex decision by the State Supreme Court while carving out some exemptions for specific professions.

I worked at jobs with benefits for years before deciding to stay home and work as a contract employee. I did this when I became a mother. My husband had benefits from his job, so I no longer had to worry about health insurance, etc. I had the freedom to stay home and write. I’ve written for PR firms, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and worked on non fiction and fiction manuscripts. I’ve had enormous freedom in my writing career to juggle it with motherhood and volunteering. Sometimes writing took a back seat. And that’s okay. It was all my choice. 

Freelancers have different reasons for not being full-time or part-time employees. They know what the benefits are as well as the drawbacks. Why doesn’t the state want us to decide what fits our lives best? Why do they think they know better?

AB 5 came up with a number of 35 submissions to a single publication, or you’re considered an employee. And you have to join the union, too. So how did the State of CA come up with that number?

As for how lawmakers settled on the 35-submission figure, Gonzalez says that she and her team decided that a weekly columnist sounded like a part-time worker and so halved that worker’s yearly submissions. After protest from some freelancers, the number was bumped up to 35. “Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she says.

Still, labor experts and freelancers alike are skeptical that the desired outcome of AB 5 — that newsrooms will hire California-based freelancers as part-time or full-time employees — will be achieved in the short term, especially as the news media continues to face major challenges to its business (in September, Business Insider estimated that 7,200 workers have lost their media jobs so far this year). Many publications that employ California freelancers aren’t based in the state and it’s not clear how AB 5 will affect them. Still, some are choosing to opt out entirely. Indeed, several freelance writers who spoke to THR say that various out-of-state employers — some with offices in California — have already told them they’re cutting ties with California freelancers.

What’s especially disheartening about this bill is that is was written by someone who doesn’t understand the industry at all. They have no idea how their law is going to affect the media industry.

I’d love to hear from other freelancers about their thoughts on AB 5.

It’s the basic things that count — like vision

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Sunrise view on my morning walk yesterday.

I’ve spent one week at home mostly blind. If you could see me as I type on my laptop, my nose almost brushes the screen and my shoulders are hunched in a painful position. I’m going to the eye doctor tomorrow for a check up and to hopefully schedule eye surgery, if my vision has “settled down.”

I know I’m too young for cataracts. But I’ve got them and they have to go. In the meantime until my surgery, I can’t wear my contact lenses that I see so-so okay with. Instead, I’ve got on my thick glasses that are severely scratched and are an outdated Rx. You can read about my missing glasses here. Hence I’m putting my nose against the computer screen. I’m trying to work and continue to write, but it’s slow going. I’m on day nine of this, but who’s counting?

I can’t drive, but I got really adventurous one day and took Lyft to my local grocery store. Oh boy! What excitement. Of course, I couldn’t read the signs above the aisles, or see the products on shelves until I stuck my nose up against them. Thankfully, I know our store so I managed to find a few things I needed. I was excited to successfully complete the outing on my own — and not depend on my husband or friends for my daily survival!

The highlight of my day is my morning walk. I’m leaving earlier and earlier to avoid the heat and I’m treated with glorious sunrises — that even I can see. After my walk, I jump into our pool and kick several laps. It’s not a bad way to start the day. I keep confusing signs and posts in the park for people and dogs, but other than that, I can make it around the park and back home in one piece.

I can’t wait for surgery and to recover my vision. As bad as my vision was, I took it for granted.

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What are some of the basics in your life that you’ve taken for granted — and then had to do without?

 

 

 

The mystery of the missing glasses

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Views from the morning beach walk.

We unpacked from vacation last night and I can’t find my glasses. This is especially bad, because I’m having eye surgery in a few weeks and I’m not supposed to wear my contacts. The question is — where did my glasses go?

Our vacation was in a VRBO beachy house in Summerland, a quaint town near Santa Barbara. We had our daughter and Waffles the pug stay with us for the first weekend and then mid-week our son and his girlfriend joined us.

It was one of the most relaxing and best vacations in recent memory. We walked the beach a few blocks below the house each morning. Each day brought new sights with a combination of fog, clear sunshine, horses, dogs, seals and dolphins. After the morning walk, my husband and I’d log onto our laptops for a few hours work. Then back to another beach for hours sitting under an umbrella, watching the waves and reading. We’d end the beach day with another walk with our feet in the cool ocean water. What we found so surprising was practically vacant beaches in August — in So Cal!

Dinners we shared with friends and the kids. We know several great couples who live in the area and we laughed through great meals and memories, like grilled fresh ahi, a delicious Italian restaurant and a make-your-own pizza night. For the kids, I cooked prime steaks, salads and their favorite veggies, using my tried and true reverse sear method I found on youtube.

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The beachy VRBO.

I was resigned that the wonderful vacation must come to an end. What I wasn’t prepared for was losing my glasses. The last time I wore them was at our friend’s house and I packed my small handbag with contacts and glasses — I’m sure.

The next few weeks will be interesting, because without contact lenses, I cannot drive. I’m literally going to be housebound until my cataract surgery — except if my friend takes me to Masters swimming and I can manage to swim blind.

My contact lenses change the curvature of my eyes, so I have to let my eyeballs rest and return to normal. I scrounged up an old pair of glasses at least five years old and scratched as heck. But it’s better than nothing, I guess. I plan on taking my morning walks, and continue on with my writing, although at a slower speed and most likely more typos — since I can’t see worth beans. In the long run it will be worth it. But, where did my glasses go?

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Waffles on a beach run.

My girlfriend has searched her house on her hands and knees. I have done the same in my own house. I’ve gone through trash, laundry, drawers, suitcases, bags, under beds, and throughout the car and trunk. Of course, I blame my missing glasses on my husband — but that’s a story for another time. Just when I need my glasses the most, poof! They’re gone!

I’ll let you know if they turn up and where they disappeared to! Any ideas?

 

Words of advice from Ray Bradbury

In honor of the great Ray Bradbury’s 99th birthday.
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I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up
Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

imgresThat’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.images-1

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.images-3

My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. images-4

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing

Tips to Rekindle Your Creative Spirit

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Inspiring view along my morning walks.

I’m reading a few pages a week from Julia Cameron’s books. Who is Julia Cameron you ask? She’s a writer, musician and artist who encourages creativity for the rest of us struggling along our jumbled paths. I read something in the book Walking in This World  that helped me out and wanted to share it.

What’s ironic is that it’s the same thing I write about in my parenting tips for SwimSwam. Why don’t I take the advice I shout out to the rest of the world? Who knows?

It’s all about performance pressure and focusing on results rather than the process. When our kids focus on times, or we add performance pressure on them, they will struggle to improve. Likewise, if we are too focused on the number of “likes” and “clicks” on our writing, we lose sight of our creative spirit. We’re more worried about what people think of our work–rather than losing ourselves in the process and creating art.

This results in writer’s block, frustration, second-guessing our work and losing passion for what we’re doing.

What is Cameron’s solution to this? In her books, she has a number of suggestions that include writing morning pages, walking and making time for an artist’s date with yourself. Also, she suggests trying something artistic outside your chosen field. For me it’s getting out a sketch book and drawing from time to time. When I was a little kid, I wasn’t worried about what people thought about my artwork. I drew for hours on end. I found it scary at first to try and sketch again, but I reminded myself that nobody is looking at it. I won’t be looking at the number of “likes” and “retweets.” It’s a creative outlet just for me.

Another suggestion of Cameron’s to rekindle the spirit of creativity, is to use your talents to help someone else. Make a gift for someone, teach, volunteer, or do something for your community. It does make you feel enthusiastic after helping someone else and getting the focus off yourself and your end product. 

Thank you to my BFF Cindy for giving me The Artist’s Way five years ago and encouraging me on my current path.

Julia Cameron has been an active artist for more than thirty years. She is the author of forty books, fiction and nonfiction, including her bestselling works on the creative process: The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Her work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages and has sold more than four million copies worldwide. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television.

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I find inspiration from my view.

How do you rekindle your creativity if you’re discouraged or reached a block? Do you have any tips to share with us?

Is it possible to work from home with kids?

katrob 3When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became more challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

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Now there’s just me and the cat while I work from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle the parenting responsibilities with your job?