Holiday Madness: Pause and Give Thanks

On this most auspicious of holiday weekends, time simply slips away. Between Thanksgiving festivities, football, cleaning the mess, Black Friday shopping, and putting up the Christmas decorations, it’s hard to remember to take a step back from the holiday madness to be thankful for what you have.

Pause this weekend and give thanks to those you love.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

The giving of food. Photo courtesy of Plimoth Plantation.

We all know the story. Pilgrims didn’t have enough food for the winter and Native Americans came along and saved the day. From this Thanksgiving was born.

Centuries later, the holiday has morphed. I remember as a kid, just hearing “Thanksgiving” brought a warm, fuzzy feeling. It signified plentiful food and the coming together of family. It was a time to celebrate what was most important. It was a day to give thanks for everything we had and for the family that surrounded us. It is because of this that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Modern Thanksgiving

Here is my soap box. I’m about to step on it for a bit. In the last few years (3, if I remember correctly), Christmas has encroached the Thanksgiving Day festivities. I used to enjoy going out at 12am to shop the Black Friday sales. There was a certain thrill (and thrift) to it. Then about three years ago Toy ‘R Us decided that they would test the waters and open on Thanksgiving night to pull in more sales. It was later, like 10pm, but it was still Thanksgiving. This wasn’t so bad because most people were done with their Thanksgiving by that time.

But then it got worse. Other stores realized they got away with it, so the next year it was a competition between Walmart, Target, and Toys ‘R Us to see who couple open sooner. The time was bumped up to 8pm. This year, stores start their sales at 6pm. And I find this completely abhorrent.

This is disgusting! Photo courtesy of another WordPress Blog.

Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, and I refuse to join the masses that enable this sort of atrocious behavior. And I’m not just talking about the trampling, stealing, and harming. I’m talking about the way we let these big corporations get away with this. Why do we bother to spend the day being thankful for what we have, then as soon as we finish eating we rush off to the store, leave family behind, and buy more junk we don’t really need?

This is what our modern Thanksgiving has become. In two or three more years, Thanksgiving will be obsolete. People will forget what they are thankful for completely just to buy more junk. I won’t do it.

Me and my house will remember and celebrate. I vow to never go Thanksgiving Day shopping. Who’s with me?

Stepping down from the soap box now.

Press Pause

Forget the shopping. You don’t need any of that stuff anyway. Instead of rushing off to shop, hustling from place to place, take a step back from the madness and remember what is truly important: family. Why else would you feel the need to forsake them to buy them junk?

Unexpected things happen. We lost my grandmother this year. It makes me even more thankful for what I still have. I don’t need anything stores can sell. I need the people I love around me.

Give Thanks

I cannot even begin to give thanks for everything I am Thankful for. Here is a very rough start:

  • My parents: Without you I wouldn’t be where I am today (literally and figuratively). You have helped us in ways that we can only repay you with love. And even that isn’t enough.
  • My husband’s parents: Without their steady hearts and emotional support, we would lose ourselves in the madness of our lives.
  • Our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles: You may not always understand why we do what we do, but you have still supported us and helped us when we needed you.
  • Our friends: You guys all are amazing. You help us keep our sanity. You offer us creative ways to de-stress when we need it.
  • You: If you are reading this, I thank you. Words are important to me, and the fact that you’re still reading this means you enjoy reading my words. I hope you stick with me in the years to come.

Despite the madness of my life, and of the holiday season, I always find time to pause and give thanks for what I have.

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Thank you!

What are you thankful for?

Forcing Chaos to Conform to Your Dreams

Or Finding Time to Pursue That Which You Can’t Live Without

Everyone has a dream. It’s part of the human condition, like breathing. There are different types of dreamers:

  1. Those who store it in their subconscious and never truly tap into the passion.
  2. Those who feel that passion but find it suppressed by just find a way to make it from paycheck to paycheck.
  3. Those who sacrifice their paycheck to pursue that which they cannot live without.
  4. Those who found their way.

I don’t have any scientific studies to support my theory, but I believe that the most common people are those who fall into the second category. The least common seem to be from the forth category.

Myself? I fall into the third. The struggle for those like me is the constant feeling of pressure and constraint. It can often border on anxiety because the chaos around us becomes overwhelming, daunting, and tedious.

So how do we control the chaos and force it to conform to our dreams?

Persistence

Build your own bridge. Photo courtesy of Depression Hero.

Never retreat. Never surrender. Success is never easy. My dad often told me that nothing would be handed to me on a silver platter. I had to work for it. I spent years waiting, though.

Obstacles will get in the way. It’s just the nature of things. Whenever they do, you have to be persistent and find a way to overcome the challenges.

Focus

Persistence is important, but if you lack focus you won’t succeed. It can be hard to remain focused when the electric bill is overdue, you are behind on rent, and your car breaks down. In these times, it is even more important to keep focused on your ultimate goal.

If you have a hard time keeping focused, find out what some Life Hackers have to say about it. Keep on target no matter hos hard things get. Focus is imperative.

Keep your goals on target. Photo courtesy of Live Well with Shelly.

Community

Surround yourself with like-minded people who are just as driven to succeed as you. Family is great for support, but your professional community are the ones who will push you forward when you start to lose faith. The key is to finding that community. When you do, you will just know.

I found this community in a couple of places. First, my writing buddies at NaNoWriMo are amazing at encouraging me when I feel discouraged. They know my writing goals (and what I am currently working on) better than anyone. The second I found on Twitter. It may sound crazy, but I surround myself with others who either have the same goals as me, or have already achieved them. Reading their tweets reminds me why I breathe: to write and help other writers.

Be persistent, keep focused, and find you community. The rest will happen in time. It just takes a little patience.

Photo courtesy of Rico Reads.

Next Week: Holiday Madness: Pause and Give Thanks

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Adjusting Budgets

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom, student, or adult. Life is full of unexpected surprises. The difference between students (and student-parents like me) and regular adults, is that there is often no such thing as savings for emergencies. So what do you do when the unexpected comes along?

De-stress

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail

This is far more important than anything else I could say. The last things you need to do is stress yourself out about how to handle the situation. Just take a deep breath and remember that there are answers. Deal with the stress. Stress can complicate matters and cause serious health issues.

Just breathe.

Assess

Once you’ve found a way to de-stress, it’s time to assess. Some things can be overwhelming to deal with, but a cool head will help. Here’s a few tips to use when assessing:

  • Find out what the damage is. If your washer broke down (like mine did), find out what’s wrong and what it costs to fix. If you damaged your car (like I did), ask friends and family for recommendations on a shop that won’t charge you to give estimates.
  • Find out what you can afford and start negotiating when necessary. Businesses want your business, and you can often negotiate rates or payment plans with them.
  • Find out if you can DIY the project. This won’t work for everything, but you would be surprised how easy it is to fix some of the more simple problems and save a lot of money.

Adjust

Any time there is a major change in your life, you need to adjust your budget to accommodate. Sometimes this works in your favor. Sometimes it doesn’t. Whichever way it goes, you have to take stock of the financial situation all over again. No matter how much you want it to happen, you can’t split a single bill over numerous expenses.

Photo courtesy of True Financial Planning.

For college students, budgets are not always as cut and dry as they are for real-world adults. Money floods in only a handful of times a year, and planning how to use that money over the course of months is imperative. You can find great tips on creating your budget through the federal assistance program.

Accept

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I find myself facing this more often than not. In one week, my furnace and washer broke down, and I hit a deer with my car. While it was a stressful week, these steps helped me get through it and come to accept the situation.

When things fall apart, you can do little more than de-stress, assess, adjust, and accept. Do these things in order and you will come out on top of the situation.

Photo courtesy of Keep Calm-o-Matic.

Next week: Forcing Chaos to Conform to Your Dreams

Madness vs. Perfectionism: The Ultimate Match Off

imagesCAVTTOGDOne of the hardest things parents do is attempt to control the chaos of their world. This could be a range of things from whether or not the kids eat their dinner in a timely manner, if the dishes are cleaned, if the laundry is sorted, or if the daily tasks can realistically be completed. The list is limitless. For perfectionists, it can be maddening to try and rein everything in.

Sometimes you just have to let go.

What is Perfectionism?

No, this is not a trick question. There is a difference between being OCD and being a perfectionist. An OCD personality struggles with unwanted thoughts, feelings, or ideas, often causing them to obsess about a particular thing (ex: making sure toys are sorted by size/color). A perfectionist cannot accept anything short of their own perceived idea of perfection (ex: making sure the toys are put where they go).

I am what I prefer to call a selective perfectionist. It may not be a technical or medical term, but it works for me. For instance, it drives me crazy to start a job and not complete it at the same time. The job could be anything from doing dishes to writing this blog post. It doesn’t matter. When I start it, I don’t just complete it. I pick at it until it looks and sounds exactly the way I want it to. I can’t just rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I scrub off anything that wants to stick so that it won’t come out still dirty.

Photo courtesy of Feminist Mental Health UKLiving in Madness

Anyone who has a child understand one simple rule.

life = madness

Just this morning I crossed the living room, slipped on my son’s train tracks, fell and tried to catch myself, only to impale a plastic dinosaur into my hand and spill my coffee on the rug. This is the madness of everyday life.

The trouble is we often try to control this madness. When it comes time to put the toys away, I have to remind myself that my children are still toddlers. I’m lucky they know that the toys go anywhere besides the floor. I cringe and try to guide them to put things where they should go instead of where they want them to go, asking gentle questions through gritted teeth:

“Does that seem like the best place to put your Leap Pad?”

Often, that simple question asked in a gentle voice makes them realize their mistake. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I have to internalize that myself.

Dealing with Perfectionism

It can be hard to let go. Believe me, I know (and by extension so does my husband). If letting go is a real problem, as yourself a few questions and answer them honestly:

  • What is working?
  • What are you enjoying?
  • What is the purpose of what you are doing?
  • Are you meeting that purpose?
  • Or, if things aren’t working so well, don’t give up — ask yourself why it isn’t working.

A lot of the time, we try to connect the madness of our lives and compare it to that of someone else we know. Often those people appear to have everything together. For me, this was seeing just how perfectly organized some of my family keep their house. I start to wonder, “Why can’t I do this?” It drives me crazy trying.

Remember that appearances are deceiving. Just you like, they strive to make it appear as if they have their ducks in a row. The truth is, you can’t see their everyday life, just like they can’t see yours. I bet you would be surprised by what you see behind the veil.

Photo courtesy of Creating LauraThere are a number of resources to help overcome perfectionism, no matter how extreme it is. Sometimes, you just have to let things go and understand that there is no such thing as perfect… no matter how hard that may seem.

Madness doesn’t have to win, but perfectionism doesn’t have to consume you.

Next Week: Ch-ch-ch-changes: Adjusting Budgets

Controlling Chaos: The Importance of Organization

For any student, keeping organized is the key to success. It doesn’t matter if the student is fresh out of high school, has a family to support, or a job to balance. The key to controlling the chaos is in organization. Here are a few tips on how I managed it.

get-organized1

1. Create a Schedule

I’m not talking about a rough schedule. Be honest with yourself about what you do with your time. Use the 24-hour worksheet to fill times for the following information:

  • Sleepimages
  • Meals (anything that requires a break/prep time)
  • Hygene (brushing teeth, showers, hair/makeup, etc.)
  • Travel
  • Class
  • Work
  • Study
  • Family time (This will happen and it is important.)
  • Organizations/volunteer time
  • Housework (dishes, laundry, dusting, etc.)
  • Free time (This is for entertainment such as games, movies, etc.)

If you can color-code each category, it helps give you a better picture overall of where you spend your time.

Keep in mind that the dates on the worksheet are arbitrary. The dates don’t really matter.

2. Make Necessary Adjustments

Once you can see where you spend your time, you can make adjustments where you need to. For example, if you use too much “free time” and not enough “study” time, you may need to adjust. Conversely, of you spend way too much time on homework and not enough on time on yourself, you will want to adjust. Getting organized like this helps you create balance necessary to succeed.

3.   Make To-Do Lists

images2This is a seriously big deal. For those of us who balance a number of responsibilities, it can be very easy to forget to do some small task (or homework assignment). If you have a smartphone or tablet, download an app that lets you make lists of homework or other responsibilities. ColorNote works great for me. I can make a quick checklist each week of everything I need to get done. Lists can be created for a daily or weekly basis. I would advise against going any longer than a week. It becomes much easier to lost tasks in the shuffle.

There are a number of great tips to help students get organized. I recommend checking them out.

I am very fortunate that I have had a great support system. While I mentioned before that I have a lot of family supporting me, I found support in so many different places. UW-Rock County had a great program that helped me get the tools I needed to succeed in receiving my Associates Degree. UW-Whitewater has a wonderful organization to support adult students. (I even received a very nice scholarship from them for this academic year.) All of these have been incredibly important to my success.

Next Week: Madness vs. Perfectionism: The Ultimate Match Off

Mad Stress Relief: Stop and Smell the Roses

Life never gets any easier. We are all overwhelmed in our own ways. For some of us, that’s through work, for others, through our own pursuits. No matter what your reason, it’s important to take a step back from the madness of everyday life. Stop and smell the roses.

Finding an Outlet

Courtesy of HHB Life.

No matter what life throws at you, it’s important to remember that both your brain and your heart need a break sometimes. There are a few ways you can do this.

  • Go on vacation.
  • Exercise.
  • See a movie.
  • Do crafts.
  • Have family time (or time away).

The ways to relieve stress are limitless. Stress can have adverse side effects, so it’s important to find a way to relieve that stress.

My Zone

Every week I try to find time where I can to just let go of the stress of homework and home-life. Like everyone else, I want to enjoy life. There is no point in making stress worse when it doesn’t do anything good for me.

This week, I found my stress relief in the strangest place. While doing research for a school paper, I took a long walk around downtown Beloit. I learned about the rich history and marveled at just how many of the buildings from 100 years ago are still standing.

Taken on my phone during the stroll.

Old Beloit Post Office, then Library, now Performing Arts Center.

Taken on my phone while walking.

E. Grand Avenue, downtown Beloit. These buildings are historical, and some are under renovation to attract new business.

In the last 15 years, Beloit spent a lot of money (and time) re-purposing historic buildings and rebuilding downtown.

The revelation that Beloit was starting to really turn a corner took a stressful research project for school and transformed it into something else completely. By the end of my historic trail, I felt revitalized and ready to attack my project with confidence. It also left me feeling refreshed. I walked for more than an hour without the hindrance of troublesome toddlers.

The exercise, fresh air, and civic pride I felt at the end worked wonders for my stress. It can do so for you too.

Next Week: Controlling Chaos: The Importance of Organization

Homework and Toddlers and Football, Oh My!

Finding balance in life can be one of the biggest challenges for any parent. Whether you are working full time or going to school, life is never quite as easy as we want it to be. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

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The football themed snack buffet.

A Weekend Event

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The problem I encountered was an inability to connect with homework in the way I probably should have. I did my readings (in record speed), and managed to coordinate a group project. The paper that needed done were done (or at least pushed off to the last minute, very unlike me). Somehow, everything came worked out.

Making It Work

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The birthday boy in all his themed party glee.

The key? Balance.

When the going gets rough, just remember that you aren’t alone. There are other parents out there who go through the same madness that you do (and that I do). There are a number of people out there who will give you advice on balancing your life, but in the end the key to success it to relax.

In fact, someone wrote a book about it. Carol Harvey, host of the Comfortable Chaos seminars, published a book with a mirroring name: Comfortable Chaos.

Comfortable Chaos is the first book that accepts the pace of modern living and helps readers come to their own life balance. This book recognizes that life today will never be free of stress and that everyone has his or her own level of tolerance for chaos. –Amazon

Basically, just chill and roll with the punches. It’s best to accept that you cannot control everything, and sometimes the shit hits the fan.

Next Week: Mad Stress Relief: Stop and Smell the Roses

In Sickness and In Health

This was not my original topic for the week, but as I write this post, a nasty sickness is at war with my immune system. The timing couldn’t be worse. (Well, maybe it could, but I don’t know how.)

In Health

As I drove home from school yesterday, I began to realize just how much I had to do over the weekend. The list was long.

  1. Artist Kevin Cornell

    A summary of my stress today.

    OWL papers (Online Writing Lab where I tutor)

  2. Content articles for my other job.
  3. A dinner party with a group of doctors.
  4. One website to build.
  5. Three papers.
  6. Laundry.
  7. Dishes.
  8. Read a full novel.
  9. Read chapters from school texts.
  10. Start work on a research paper.
  11. Create a manifesto for a new school org.
  12. And this blog post.

And of course, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I have the kids to look after. My son has been sick off and on all week, so I haven’t gotten much sleep. Time that I set aside to get some of my tasks done were pushed off until it was bedtime. By then I was too exhausted to do anything.

Yet I had it all worked out. My timing was scheduled down to precision so that I could get everything done on time. It required quite a bit of homework time today in order to succeed.

In Sickness

I should have seen it coming. With my son sick and my husband and I cleaning up puke from floors, tables, and bedding, it was only a matter of time before I caught it.

Last night I spent a good portion of the night in the bathroom. I’m sure no one wants details, but suffice it to say I’m not feeling well today. My head hurts. My stomach hurts. I’m dizzy. Tonight I was supposed to go to a dinner party with my husband to meet some of the doctors and students he works with at med school. Today I was supposed to get a good portion of my work done. Now… Well I will be lucky to get a small portion of it done.

My Remedy

Here’s the hard truth of it. I can’t let this sickness hold me down. While it may require a little creative thinking, I can adjust my schedule. The things I can’t do with the kids around, I will continue to try and complete while they are with grandparents. My best bet for the day is to rest on the couch with my assignments and just do what I can manage. It’s hardly ideal, and there’s a chance I could still fail at this, but it’s the only option I have.

I just need to keep motivated.

Next Week: Homework and Birthdays and Football, Oh My!

Importance of a Support System

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the amazing support of my family. I’m not just talking about my husband. I’m talking about my parents, my husband’s parents, and extended family.

Non-Traditional Challenges

Pursing a degree presents unique challenges. Universities are often ill-equipped to deal with the needs of non-traditional students. Classes are often offered primarily during the day, which doesn’t work for students who have a full-time day job. The key to success in college for this type of student is to get organized and choose classes wisely. I won’t beat a dead horse with this. If you are reading this, you are probably a non-trad student who is already aware of how hard getting a college degree is.

For those of us who have kids that need to go to daycare while we are in school, making it to class is even harder. Daycare is expensive, and college students just don’t have enough money to dump into daycare. I have two kids, which means twice the price of daycare. The average cost of daycare in Wisconsin is nearly $10,000 per year for full time care. And that’s just for one kid. That means it would cost me around $1,650 per month to send both of my kids to daycare. No college student can afford that.

How to Succeed

Courtesy of MeetVille

Want the super secret key to unlocking college success as a non-trad? Get a strong support system. Family and friends are the best source of support. Don’t get this wrong. I’m not saying that if you need money they should fork it over. But if you need a few extra hours to get something done, or if an emergency arises, having that support system can be the difference between success and failure.

How I’m Blessed

I’m blessed. I am well aware of this, and most of my education would have never been possible without the support my family has given me. My mom and mother-in-law were both eager to watch my son after he was born. At the time I was working full-time, but when I quit my job shortly after that to return to school, they didn’t waiver in their support.

Every semester my schedule changes. Every semester my parents and in-laws take the kids when we need them to, no questions asked. In fact, their overwhelming generosity in this matter makes it hard for me to ask for more. Not because I’m afraid they will say no. In fact, I am fairly certain they will say yes. I am afraid that I am asking too much.

  • If there is an on-campus event I want to go to, I don’t ask them to watch the kids.
  • If there is an organization that meets at a time I should be leaving to pick up the kids, I don’t ask for an extension of time.
  • If I need extra time to get a paper done, I have a hard time asking for their help.

These concerns tend to happen because I’m afraid of asking too much of them. They are truly amazing, and my success today (and in the future) is owed strictly to them. I can’t thank them enough for the support.

This fear of asking too much often holds me back from participating in classes or events that could help me grow. This semester there were two classes at night I wanted to take. Because of the kids, I couldn’t ask anyone to take them on two nights in a row. It just didn’t seem fair (or reasonable). It isn’t that I’m afraid they will say no. I’m afraid they will say yes.

It isn’t just our parents that make this education possible. When my grandmother passed away at the beginning of the semester, my mom was not available for three weeks of classes. I understood why she needed the time off. And she deserved it.

I didn’t want to ask my husband for extra help, because his education as a med school student is so much more challenging than my own. I wanted to prove I could handle it. I wanted to keep the burden off his shoulders.

When panic set in and I was afraid of the impact it would have on my grades, my family stepped in. My husband’s mom offered to help as much as I needed. My brother’s wife offered to be there  if my mother-in-law wasn’t available. My sister let me know she was available on the day she was off work. Some of my instructors were incredibly supportive, and when I had to miss a class for the funeral my instructor didn’t question it.

I cannot thank any of these people enough. Their support meant the world to me. It was the difference between success and failure. It helped keep me on track for graduation on time.

I am blessed. Without the support of our families, I would have failed this semester before I even had a chance to start.

If there is one piece of advice I have for non-traditional students, it is this: Build a strong support system and ask for help when you need it.

Photo courtesy of InkEfex

Next Week: In Sickness and In Health

Welcome to My Mad World

Returning to school after years away was a hard decision. My husband was a pre-med undergrad. I held down the only job in the house. I had a family to support. Yet I knew that I would never be truly satisfied with my life if I didn’t pursue my dream. I quit my job and started college.

After enrolling for my freshmen semester as an undergrad, I found out that I was pregnant. Again I was faced with a choice:

  • pursue my dream.
  • go back to work to support my family.

My persistence to succeed kicked in and I carried on. One week before the spring semester of my freshman year, my daughter was born. Everyone assumed I would take time off. I refused to slow down. My dream was ahead of me, and I was determined to get to it. Thanks to my mother and my stubborn will, I attended all of my classes. It was the hardest semester I face, but I faced it and succeeded. I now face my senior year of undergrad studies. The chaos of my world has only intensified.

My Normal Chaos

  • Photo courtesy of me.

    Associate Degree graduation with my family.

    Just one month ago, my husband started medical school.

  • I have two toddlers at home who depend on me. Grifynn will be 4 in October. Kharysma will be 3 in January.
  • My grandmother (mom’s mom), was diagnosed with advanced cancer. This presented new challenges to my usual routine.
  • I work three jobs.
  • I have a full load of credits.
  • There’s housework to do.
  • My car is dying.

And that’s just the beginning of my chaos.

I don’t list those to try and conjure sympathy. It is to help paint a picture of the madness I face every day. Surviving college (and life) with toddlers is more than I bargained for. And I’m not alone.

Non-traditional students with children face the same challenges as me every day. These challenges often go unnoticed by fellow students and instructors. This is because we non-trad parents understand one thing clearly.

We aren’t looking for pity or a break. We simply want to survive the madness of our everyday lives long enough to get the degree we desire.

It also means that we have fewer opportunities on-campus than traditional students. Our schedules are limited, and are often strictly rigid. This prevents us from joining organizations, seeking tutoring, attending on-campus events, and even working on group projects adequately. Getting an internship is more challenging because we already have jobs that consume our employment time.

In short, we have to find a more creative and rigid approach to our education. Sometimes this drives us into madness.

Those of you who deal with the same stresses that I do will understand (and perhaps even enjoy reading about) the chaos of my world. Who knows? Maybe some of you will even glean wisdom from my experiences which will help you overcome your own obstacles. This blog will plunge you into the madness of my life in ways that are both comic and crazy. And maybe sometimes stable.

Welcome to my mad world!

Next week: Importance of a Support System