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Moving to SarahHackley.com

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This blog is relocating to my personal website: http://www.sarahhackley.com. I’m trying to consolidate my blogs into one location so I can focus more on my books and less on maintaining separate writing identities. Readers who wish to follow me can follow my RSS feed on my new website, follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook. (All contact info is also available on my website.)

I hope to see you there.

#Chronic Illness, #Toddlers, and the #WAHM – Five Ways to Make it Work

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Every chronic illness has its flare ups, those moments when it gets worse and stays worse for days, weeks, or months on end. Some are brought on by potent triggers. Some are seasonable. Mine is a combination of both, and the last two weeks have been particularly bad. Toddlers, however, don’t care about the triggers, the season, or our illness. They just want mommy to play.

This makes things difficult.

Coping with a bad flare up by yourself is hard. Coping with it while working is even harder. Coping while working and raising a toddler may be one of the hardest tasks of all. Thankfully, there are a few ways to make it easier:

  1. Call on your family and/or friends for help. Do you have an older child in the house? Assign babysitting duty, even if you’re in the same room. (In fact, sometimes this works best if you ARE in the same room.) Ask your spouse or significant other to make dinner and/or take care of the nightly toddler tasks (bath, story, bed). Have you watched your neighbor or friend’s kid once or twice when they needed it? Now is the time to call in that favor.
  2. Simplify. Take a look at last month’s post on this for pointers.
  3. Take advantage of games and activities that require little movement on your part. My 19-month-old son, for example, loves to bounce – on pillows, on stuffed animals, on the couch, and on me. As long as I’m coherent enough to squeeze my ab muscles, I love this game. It requires little of me other than laying there and giggling at the right moments. Duplos, puzzles, cars/trucks, and story books are other good activities for days I don’t feel well.
  4. Nap when your child naps. It’s age-old advice for parents of newborns, and it applies equally well when you’re ill. You need the rest. Take it. Resist the urge to use this time to catch up on work. By resting now, you’ll up your productivity later. Guaranteed.
  5. Take serious advantage of your internal clock and natural rhythms. If you’re like me, this may mean waking up at the crack of dawn to make the most of your peak energy levels. If you’re like my husband, this may mean staying up into the wee hours of the night. Regardless, find the time of day when your illness is at its most manageable and you are at your most productive, and commit to showing up and working during that time. Even if it’s only for 45 minutes at 3 a.m.

Letting Go #chronic illness #simplify

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Life with kids is hard enough. (Joyful, yes, but hard.) Add chronic illness to the mix, and it’s nearly unbearable. But, it can be made easier. You just have to let some things go.

Easier said than done, I know, but it can be done. More importantly, for the sake of your health, your sanity, and your relationship with your family, it needs to be done. So, here’s a gift from me to you, something we often feel we need in order to make decisions, big or small: Permission.

I hereby give you permission to let the following things go:

  •  Facebook/Google+/Twitter, etc. Unless you use these things primarily for work, drop them (at least temporarily). Your friends will still be there in two weeks or a month, as will all their horrifying, celebratory, and banal updates. I promise. If you’re truly worried about missing something big, let your closest friends know you’re dropping off the social media map for a while. That way, they’ll know to contact you in person if something really big happens. Disclaimer: This may be very difficult for you, depending on how much time you currently spend on social media. It will get easier. In fact, the longer you can go without checking your accounts, the less drive you’ll have to do so.
  • Non-work-related emails. (This is easiest if you have a separate work account.) Check your work emails daily, if necessary, but commit to only sorting through and answering your personal emails two or three times a week. Schedule the days, and don’t cheat. If someone in your life needs a faster response, they’ll call.
  • Unscheduled phone calls from numbers you don’t know. This is why we have voicemail and answering machines. Unless you’ve scheduled a phone call with someone and/or it is a call from a number you know you have to answer (such as your child’s school or doctor), let it ring. If not answering makes you uncomfortable, allow yourself to check your messages immediately. If it’s a call you should have taken, you can always call back.
  • Non-essential housework. Yes, we have to do the dishes, clean the kitchen, wash the clothes, vacuum, and sweep. Dusting, unless dust aggravates you or your children, can wait. So can the mirrors, the windows, the baseboards, and the floors in your bathroom (unless you’re currently potty training – that can get messy).
  • Non-essential baking/cooking. We all want to feed our families healthy, home-cooked meals, and that’s normal. (Of course, if you hate cooking and you have the money to purchase healthy prepared foods, by all means, go right ahead. That’s normal, too!) But, you don’t have to bend over backward to make baked goods from scratch for your child’s school functions or play dates, especially when you don’t feel well. Same goes for nights in with friends. Grab some take-out, frozen pizzas, party trays, or cheese and crackers. Your (true) friends won’t care.

It may not seem like much, but you’ll reclaim a significant amount of time and energy by letting go of these everyday tasks and activities. If you’ve found other ways to simplify, please comment. We’re all here to help each other.

The Most Productive Mom Tip Ever #wahm #productivemom #momtip

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I’ve finally done it, that thing I kept talking about, over and over, for the past nine months. And, guess what? It feels great! I’m more productive, less anxious about deadlines, and more at peace with myself. In fact, it’s been going so great, I can’t believe I didn’t start sooner!

No, I’m not talking about a new diet or workout routine. No, it isn’t a re-energized sex life (though 18 months into our son’s life, I’m sure my husband is ready for that). I’m talking about something much, much simpler. A thing we’ve all heard about, and yet rarely find the strength or energy to start doing.

Yes, I’m talking about the early morning wake up.

For the past week, I’ve been getting up at 6 a.m. and sneaking out to my office in the backyard to begin my day an hour and a half earlier than the rest of my family. The first day I did it, I completed all of my work for the entire day before my son even made his first peeps. Now, a week in, my electronic to-do list, which previously was glowing bright red with all my unfinished, overdue tasks, is a nice, healthy yellow. My office is (relatively) tidy, and my schedule is (relatively) clear.

To be honest, I cannot believe how much work I’ve gotten done in just a few hours. I also can’t believe how good getting up early can feel. And, while everyone across the Internet has raved about this time-management tip, I think it is particularly beneficial to me as a mom with chronic illness.

My illness is such that it builds over the day so, more often than not, by nightfall I’m wiped out and can do little more than veg out in front of my computer in bed in the dark. If I’m lucky, I might be able to read, but these days I haven’t been that lucky. Despite all this, I was still holding on to the crazy notion that I would finish my work for the day after the kids were in bed.

Obviously this was madness. I almost never felt well enough to work at the end of the day, and my to-do list just kept growing, glowing brighter and brighter red all the time.

Thankfully, I’m pretty sure I’ve resolved this issue. While I can’t say getting out of bed early is easy, especially if my toddler has been up in the middle of the night, in the long run, it’s much, much easier than not doing so.

What about you? Have you tried the early morning wake up? If so, how did it work for you? If not, why not?

 

 

Achieving the Elusive #MomVacation

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Mamas rarely get vacations. Even when we’re on vacation, we’re working. Whether we’re in Honolulu, Paris, the Bahamas, or Argentina, someone still has to get up with the kids. Someone still has to arrange dinner, and coordinate everyone’s plans. There are still diapers to be changed, young butts to wipe, sibling scuffles to referee, and various anatomy parts to prep for adult-time fun. More often than not, these tasks fall to the mom.

The only way to get an actual vacation as a mother is to go alone.

Yes, I can hear you laughing. But, I’m serious. We all need a break, especially us mothers, for whom every waking minute is lived in response to someone else’s needs.

But how do we get that break?

Planning. Planning. And more planning.

Last weekend I went on my first vacation in over two years. (It was a writer’s retreat, so it was actually a working vacation, but it was a vacation nonetheless.) I was a nervous wreck, but my family (including my still nursing 17-month-old son) did surprisingly well in my (49 hour) absence. While my husband is a wonderful father and all-around marvelous man, I attribute much of the weekend’s success to the level of effort I took in making sure everyone and everything was completely prepared.

For those of you who, like me, dream of regaining your sanity and reintroducing your self to yourself, here’s what I did:

  • Arranged for my in-laws to come stay and help my husband while I was away. (My son has only just learned to sleep through the night, and since he is still nursing to sleep I was concerned my husband may not be able to get him down. I figured having additional adults there would ensure he – my husband – got some sleep no matter what.)
  • Printed out a daily schedule for my son, complete with approximate nap and snack times.
  • Prepared and printed a toddler-wrangling handbook that included all the little tips and helpful hints I’ve figured out from being at home all day, every day with my kids. (Such tips included the details of the bedtime routine, including the specific wording of the vitally important bedtime song, how to tell when nap time should commence, what snacks the baby will actually eat, what to do – and how to tell – if he’s teething, and the proper dosage and timing for any necessary medications.)
  • Baked my son’s favorite muffins, so my husband would have plenty of easily prepared, toddler-approved breakfast foods. (Making food pre-coffee is HARD, y’all.)
  • Washed, dried, and put away all the laundry in the house (so my son’s pajamas and towels would actually be where the handbook said they were).
  • Cleaned the entire house so my husband wouldn’t feel any need to focus on anything except our son.
  • Packed the freezer with easy-to-heat dinner foods, in case everyone was too exhausted to cook.
  • Ensured we had plenty of diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, and other toddler necessities.
  • Left the address of the retreat on the fridge along with the phone number of the closet neighbor to where I’d be staying. (The retreat was at a farmhouse where there was no internet access and limited cell phone service.)

All that work might seem like overkill, but I can assure you it made it significantly easier to leave. It also made it much easier for my husband to handle life without me, and you know what that means: I’ll likely be able to leave again in the near future.

Score.

 

Why I Started A Blog on Living Practically with Chronic Illness #chronicillness #wahm

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Living with chronic illness isn’t easy. Some days, there just don’t seem to be enough resources (or spoons, as Christine Miserandino describes them) to get through the day’s obligations, no matter how hard we try. Thankfully, there are many places we can go online for support with this issue, places where we can empathize with each other and find people who understand what we’re going through (see below for examples). This is essential to our mental well being, and I am grateful every day that online communities like these exist.What there doesn’t seem to be enough of, however, are places where we can get and share practical advice for living with our illnesses.

That’s why I started this blog. (It’s also why I wrote my recent book on migraine.)

I wanted to share with others the tips and strategies I’ve created (and/or stumbled upon out of dumb luck) to help me cope.  My hope is that they will make your lives a tad bit easier, as they have mine. If you’re not someone who deals with illness on a regular basis, but you are a work-at-home parent, a homeschooling parent, or a parent to a specials needs child, these tips and strategies also can be of use to you. I hope they are. And, if you have any tips of your own, please, please share. 🙂

Community Websites:

*Disclaimer: I have not personally visited/used all of these websites. Do not take the following list as a recommendation for any particular website. It is merely for informational purposes.

Nathan’s Freezer-Friendly Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins

We all know how important breakfast is, but it’s hard to give the meal the attention it deserves , especially on weekdays. Thankfully, I’ve come across a few delicious, easy to prepare, freezable recipes that make it much, much simpler. Here’s one I’ve modified that my 15-month-old son absolutely loves:

Nathan’s Freezer-Friendly Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce (I use Mott’s organic unsweetened applesauce, purchased in bulk from Costco)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries (I use the large package of organic blueberries from Costco)
  • 5 cup old-fashioned oats (again, I buy mine in bulk from Costco)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cup milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In large bowl, mix eggs, vanilla, and applesauce until combined.
  3. Add brown sugar, banana, and blueberries.
  4. In a second large bowl, mix oats, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.
  5. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing well. (Everything should be uniformly wet.)
  6. Pour in milk, stirring to combine.
  7. Spray two muffin trays with cooking spray. (My trays fit 12 small muffins a piece.)
  8. Fill each muffin cup about 1/2 to 3/4 full with the mixture. (I fit 1/4 cup of the mixture in each of mine.)
  9. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean.
  10. Cool completely, and then wrap individually in plastic and freeze together in gallon-sized freezer bags.
  11. Reheat in microwave or toaster oven, and enjoy!

I purchase most of my ingredients for this recipe from Costco, which makes each muffin cost less than $0.13 to make. What a bargain!

Five Tips for Surviving as One of the #ZombieMoms

My son turned one this month. He is walking, running, pointing, gesturing, saying words like “come” and “sister,” laughing, playing jokes, and learning about boundaries – his own and those of other people. He is not, however, sleeping through the night.

In fact, after 40 weeks of pregnancy and 12 months of baby, a “good night’s sleep” for me is still a three-hour chunk of uninterrupted slumber followed (or preceded) by a couple of 90-minute chunks.

I’m exhausted, and the get-your-toddler-to-sleep routines touted by many don’t work for us. I can’t night wean him, because he is underweight, and I can’t delegate a night feeding to dad because he won’t take a bottle. I can’t leave him to soothe himself to sleep, because his cries typically only escalate (and I’m not an advocate of CIO anyway). And, prior to this week, I couldn’t get him to fall asleep without being on the breast.

So, for now, the only recourse to my severe lack of sleep is learning how to survive as one of the sleep-deprived #zombiemoms. Luckily, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that enable me to continue working and existing as a quasi-human, despite my lack of zzz’s:

1) I’ve become a huge fan of the 20-minute power nap. Even if I don’t actually fall asleep, I’ve found that just resting my eyes for 15-20 minutes can really help fight off exhaustion and increase my cognitive functioning.

2) I’ve figured out how to make the most of my coffee intake. I LOVE coffee and the ritual of drinking it is one of the biggest morning pick-me-ups I know. Unfortunately, I’m still breastfeeding, so I can only have about a cup of the caffeinated stuff per day. In order to make the most of the small amount I’m allowed, I brew four cups (my typical pre-pregnancy serving) of 1/4-caf coffee first thing in the morning. (I use one scoop of regular caffeinated and three scoops of decaf.) That way, I feel like I’m getting the same amount of caffeine as usual, even though I’m only getting a fraction of it. Also, by drinking it in the morning, I get a pick-me-up when I most need it, and I don’t keep myself from sleeping later.

3) I learned how to nurse lying down. This was something I figured out with my first child and used again with my son. It allows me to drift in and out of consciousness on those inevitable nights when he decides he wants to eat from 2 to 4 a.m.

4) I carry a liter of water with me at all times. Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to boost energy (and keep migraines at bay), but it’s difficult to remember to drink water all day long, especially when you’re chasing after a toddler. A large-sized bottle cuts down on the number of times I have to refill my glass and ensures there’s always water at hand when I need it.

5) I cook and freeze individual-sized breakfasts once or twice a month. Eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to increase alertness, but cooking first thing in the morning (before coffee) with a toddler on hand is anything but easy. To make sure I don’t settle for something less than satisfying (or worse, nothing at all), I cook individualized baked-oatmeal bites, mini egg and sausage quiches, and breakfast burritos once or twice a month and freeze them. Then, in the morning, all I have to do is stumble from the freezer to the toaster oven and wait 20 minutes.

I have high hopes for a solid six hours of sleep some night in the future, but, for now, these five fixes will have to do.

Reader question: What do you do to combat mommy exhaustion?

Flexible Scheduling for the #Homeschooling #WAHM

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My life revolves around a schedule. It isn’t because I want one. (I’m not a natural planner, and I chafe under rigidity and obligation.) It’s because I need one.

With an unpredictable chronic illness, an ever-changing infant on the cusp of toddlerhood, and a sweet-but-sometimes-explosive adolescent girl, my schedule keeps me sane.

It helps me pencil in time to work, read, and relax. It ensures I get a shower or bath more often than every 72 hours, and it reminds me that (eventually) I will have a break. In short, my schedule is often the only thing that keeps me from jumping off a cliff. The key to maintaining it though, and not allowing it to become just another rigid set of rules, is to keep it flexible.

For example, I don’t pencil in my son’s naps at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I don’t force him down if he isn’t tired, and I don’t mind if lunch is served at 1:30 p.m. instead of noon. Instead, I have a loose set of guidelines that help me know when to run errands, when to head to my office to work, and when to put my kids to bed.

To develop this schedule, I spent about a month monitoring our days and activity levels. After about two weeks, several important things became abundantly clear:

  • My son generally wants to nap about 1.5 to 2 hours after waking in the morning and then again about 2.5 to 3 hours after he wakes up from the first nap.
  • If I try to get him down outside of these parameters, he usually won’t sleep.
  • If I get him down at the right time, he’ll sleep for approximately 90 minutes each time.
  • My daughter does her best work in the morning.
  • If we run errands before her school work is done for the day, she is likely to have a meltdown while doing it.
  • My son won’t eat between about 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., no matter how much or how little he’s had to eat that day.

Knowing these things has enabled me to craft a loose but predictable schedule that ensures everyone in the house gets what they need on a daily basis. It doesn’t work for specific events planned by other people (e.g., library story times and yoga class at the local YMCA), but it works wonderfully for things I plan or schedule myself.

Based on these guidelines, I know to schedule appointments and errands between approximately 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. or after 3 p.m. I know not to expect any significant undivided work time until the afternoon (when my husband gets home) or the evening (when the kids are in bed). And, I know that I’ll likely spend my son’s morning nap gearing up for the day and helping my daughter with her schoolwork.

It isn’t perfect (I haven’t yet figured out how to make it to the 10 a.m. Zumba! class down the street), but it works for us.

 

Tools and References that might help if you want to try creating something like this for yourself:

Baby Connect App (perfect for monitoring infant and young child eating and sleeping habits)

Educational Leadership: Giving Students the (Right) Time of Day

 

Making Time for the Unexpected

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Having grown up in the U.S. to remarkably independent self-motivated parents, I internalized the idea that hard work equaled success from an early age. But, working hard doesn’t have to mean working 24/7. In fact, working constantly is a sure-fire way path to burnout: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As a homeschooling work-at-home mom to a breastfeeding infant and a special-needs, pre-teen girl, I’m constantly fighting the urge to spend every minute of my day engaged in one task or another. Between writing books, juggling clients, teaching my daughter, and caring for my son, my house, and my husband, there just never seems to be enough time to get it all done. But, I’ve learned the hard way that trying to do it all without taking the time to rest and recharge means getting less done overall.

It is invariably the days and weeks on which I am over-scheduled with work projects and other must-do tasks that some unplanned event or catastrophe throws a wrench in my plans. My baby gets sick, cuts a new tooth, or refuses to eat and requires my constant attention, or my daughter has a meltdown that takes hours of time and most of my energy to get under control. Or, I get sick and simply can’t work any more that day, no matter how much I’d like to do so.

In short, things happen that I can’t control, and it means I have to be able to adapt. And, I can’t do that, if my schedule isn’t flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen events. To make sure I have the flexibility I need, I created the 75% rule: However many hours I want to work in a week, I cut it by 25%. Then, I fit my work assignments into only the hours I have marked as available. No matter what.

When I first implemented this system, I really had to work against my tendency to fill in the empty hours on the calendar. If a new client popped up with a potential assignment, I would see the empty slots in my mind and automatically say “yes, I have time.” It took me months to realize that the empty slots weren’t really empty. They were full with events, outings, and setbacks that I couldn’t possibly foresee. They were my fail-safes. And, in my life, they are absolutely necessary.

What about the rest of you? Do you fill your schedule, or do you purposefully leave some time for the unexpected?

Other links on working smarter by working less:

The 80% Energy Rule: An Old Secret to Success

Blogger Justin Jackson talks about The Principle That Changed My Life

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive