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The festive busyness of the holiday season is over. A bone-chilling fog, evocative of a dementor infestation, has enshrouded Eugene for the past week. And I have just been informed by Target that the Russian mafia may now be in possession of my personal contact information and credit card number. My instinctive reaction is to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and microwaved popcorn and binge-watch old Parks & Recreation episodes on Netflix. But, this may not be the best way to combat the January Blahs.

Sometimes it take a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Sometimes it takes a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Here are a few of my strategies for boosting my happiness level in this dark and dreary time of year:

1 ) Invest in my spiritual practice

Going to church regularly, reading the Bible and seeking God through prayer are my most important tools for maintaining a positive outlook on life. And the research backs me up on this — religious people tend to consider themselves happier than the nonreligious.

2 ) Keep exercising

Though I don’t feel much like running when the whether is cold and gray, I feel so much happier and relaxed when I do. If you’re not a runner you might try walking, biking, swimming or taking a dance class.

3) Focus on healthy eating

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Amidst the craziness of caring for my toddler, I need to remember to fuel my body with fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein — and limit my sugar intake. I also increase my Vitamin D intake in the winter, and take care to continue taking Omega 3 supplements.

4) Plan fun activities

I’ve realized that having something fun to look forward to is important. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that I’m a mom I don’t really have weekends “off.” Also my husband works long stretches of 12 days on and 2 days off. So I’m trying to make the effort to plan little things to look forward to. Last weekend we went to the movies for the first time since before our daughter was born, and in a few months we’re going on an actual vacation. Participating in fun activities also gives the added benefit of having positive memories to look back on. Win-win.

5)  Laugh

Like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and boosts mood. So maybe it’s okay to snuggle up on the couch and watch Parks & Recreation episodes from time to time.

6) Give thanks

It’s easy to take for granted the blessings I do have and instead focus on what I don’t have. Practicing gratitude helps me re-frame my perspective to view my life in a more positive light. Even simple things can be worth expressing thanks for. Some things I’m thankful for today are my morning into the sunshine, my dishwasher, and the lavender latte and pastries my husband brought home for breakfast.

7) Call a friend

Even though I’m rarely alone, I still get lonely from time to time. I mean, conversations with my 1.5-year-old can only go so deep. When I start feeling lonely, I know that it’s on me to reach out to others, rather than wishing that others would reach out to me.

What are some strategies you use to boost your mood when you’re battling the blahs?

 

 

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for right now. It is all too easy to get caught up in thinking about the negative things in life. Giving thanks is a way for us to redirect our focus onto the positive. Happiness researchers have found that practicing gratitude regularly will help increase your level of happiness.

I am thankful for…

Family: I’m so grateful to have my husband and daughter in my life. I prayed for both of them to become a part of my life — and my prayers were answered. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. Also I’m thankful for all the love and support that we receive from our parents.

Good Health: Hurray! It can be easy to take for granted if you’re healthy, but it’s a pretty big deal. I’m slightly obsessed with health. My current thing is drinking a wheatgrass/veggie juice detoxification blend daily. I eat fairly healthy and take a multiple vitamin, calcium, Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements. If I feel like I’m getting sick I take odorless garlic tablets. (I rarely get sick, though neither does my husband, and he does none of those things ;)) And I pray about my health and my family’s health all the time.

Being in Eugene: A direct answer to prayer! So happy to be home again. Having the support of my parents five minutes away is a huge weight off my chest.

God’s provision: Our basic needs for food, clothing, water, shelter, heat always seem to be met. Hallelujah! Sometimes I worry about not having enough money, because if I look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like it should be enough. But it works out somehow!

My faith: The biggest gift of all to me is my faith. Ever since I started going to church my freshman year of high school I have held tightly to my faith in Jesus. My understanding of God and the Bible has deepened over the years and I have been able to witness an amazing transformation in my own life. I guess that’s how I really know beyond a doubt that God is real — because the changes in myself have been miraculous.

Other things I am thankful for right now include our new church (which Marie loves!), the library (free books and toddler storytimes), the opportunity to work as a sub in Springfield, living next door to a playground, sunshine these last few days, and the yummy salmon chowder my husband made for dinner. And maybe a good night’s sleep tonight? Going to bed now.

Let’s celebrate my 100th follower! Hurray!

I have reached the magical number of 100 followers on WordPress. Depending on your perspective this may sound like a lot of followers, or maybe like not very many. When I first started blogging a few years ago, 100 followers seemed an inconceivable success. Then again, If I were a newspaper, 100 readers would be a pretty awful circulation.

The truth is about 70 of my followers are spammers who are interested in getting me involved in some sort of WordPress pyramid scheme. (Well, it’s always nice to be invited.) Another 25 followers are people who have followed everyone on WordPress in an attempt to get them to follow their blogs, and then perhaps 5 or so of my readers are genuinely interested in my blog.

But to those 5 or so of you who do actually read Mother Bear — thank you. Even if you’re only reading because we’re married and I told you that you had to read this, it’s nice to write for an audience. Otherwise I might as well just write in my paper journal. So thank you for taking the time to read this when you could be reading countless other blogs, magazines, tweets, or memoirs. (Have you read Debra Gwartney’s heart-wrenching Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love? Or Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life? If not, please, stop reading this and go get a copy from your local library or independent bookstore. I promise, we can finish our conversation later). I hope that at times you have found my posts informative, entertaining or perhaps inspiring.

What is a writer without a reader anyway? I write to bear witness to my life, and to share that witness with you. You, dear reader, are a vital part of this contract.

“Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper,
thumb-licking page turner, peruser,
you getting your print-fix for the day
…that is me rushing to the window…
me standing by a map of the world
wondering where you are–
alone on a bench in a train station
or falling asleep, the book sliding to the floor.” – Billy Collins (“Reader”)

As you may know, we recently moved from Portland back to my hometown of Eugene. Although it was time for us to leave Portland, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to live there for seven years. Some of the things I will miss most about Portland are:

* The Zoo. Marie’s favorite place. We had a membership and were visiting quite frequently. When we first moved to Portland I even got to work at the zoo as a marketing intern. I even got to feed one of the elephants! Still I’m sure we will still visit the zoo several times a year.

* Restaurants. Portland has a great restaurant scene and we will miss some of our favorite spots including: Por Que No?, Lardo, Ken’s Artisan Pizza/Bakery, Grand Central Bakery, Screen Door, Pine St. Biscuits, Oaks Bottom Pub and the Belmont food carts. And the best margaritas ever at Nuestro Cocina.

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A spicy margarita from Portland’s Nuestro Cocina.

* Theophilus Church. For the past four years we had the chance to be a part of a new church that started in the Hawthorne neighborhood. It was great fun because we knew the pastors, AJ & Quinn, from when we’d lived in Eugene. AJ was even my husband’s roommate one year in college. We had the chance to watch the church grow from a small group of people meeting in a living room into a medium-sized church of 100 + attendees per Sunday. Prior to that we attended Imago Dei for three years, which I also loved for its great sermons, social activism and community of artists.

* Gorge hikes. Loved, loved, loved hiking in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. My favorite was the Eagle Creek hike even though the uneven terrain caused me to have a debilitating knee injury.

* Friends and family. Well it goes without saying that we will miss all our friends and family who still live in the Portland area. We had the chance to get to know a lot people during our 7 years in Portland, mainly through church and my master’s program at George Fox.

However, in spite of all that I am very excited to be here in Eugene because I strongly feel that this is God’s will for us at this time. And I’m finding that I appreciate Eugene so much more now than I ever did before. Here are some things I’m loving about Eugene right now:

* Lack of traffic. Compared to Portland and other big cities, Eugene basically doesn’t have traffic. I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was to me until I got here. I was having frequent anxiety attacks when driving around in Portland and that’s not really an issue for me here.

* Access to nature. Eugene is a smaller town so it is much easier to access nature. Rather than driving 30 + minutes to go hiking, I can drive 5 minutes to go hike Spencer’s Butte.

Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, one of my favorite hiking spots.

Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, one of my favorite hiking spots.

* More great restaurants. Eugene has a lot of great restaurants for a town of its size (approx. 150,000).  I will give a shout-out here to Anatolia, Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen, Taco Loco and Sweet Life. These are our old favorites and we’re excited to discover new favorites.

* Connecting with a new church. This is only the second week we’ve visited, so there’s a chance it may not become our new church home, but so far I’m very excited about University Fellowship Church. I’ve been enjoying the sermons and the worship and Marie has been tolerating her time in the toddler room. I love that the pastor also preaches on Sunday evenings at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Also I’ve been thinking that I really want to join a choir and this morning they announced they are putting together a Christmas choir. Basically it seems to me like a great fit. Although it meets in the gym of my old high school, which is slightly weird. But really it’s been so long since high school that it doesn’t bother me. Plus I have mostly positive memories of high school anyway.

* Family and friends. Yes, we have family and friends here too. In fact one of the main reasons I wanted to move back here was to be closer to my family. It’s been really great having my parents and grandmother so nearby. I’m also excited to have the chance to reconnect with some of my old friends here and to make new friends as well.

 

Candle-flame-no-reflection

 

 

The other week, I attended a dinner party hosted by a lovely couple who had recently lost their baby.  At 38 weeks, he was full-term, ready to join our world. Now, a flickering candle keeps alive the memory of the child they almost had.

I was invited because my husband and I had made them dinner in the weeks following their loss. I was a little nervous about going to dinner. Having a young baby myself, I didn’t want to be a reminder of their pain — as if they could forget.

I was glad to see them strong and healthy, able to talk about their loss without tears. Able to talk about their hopes for a future baby, to smile and laugh.

They were still standing, this attractive and successful couple who had experienced every parent’s greatest fear. It’s hard to imagine surviving such a loss, going back to ordinary routines of work and television and dinners with friends. But what else can you do?

The wife said it helps her to think that her baby is in heaven, and that God needed him for some other task. I’m glad she believes that. And I’m glad I believe it too.

Sometimes it’s easy for me to lose sight of the bigger picture in the midst of the day-to-day. I get caught up in laundry and diaper changes and paying bills. I can forget that I believe in a God who loves me and has an underlying purpose for my life. I forget about my belief that my true home is in heaven. I like how C.S. Lewis describes heaven in The Great Divorce, as a reality even more real than this earth. The ultimate reality.

Still in spite of that, the idea of losing someone I love is devastating to contemplate. To open your heart to love is to be vulnerable to loss.  It would be safer not to love at all. But without love, we would strip life of its meaning. I am so thankful for my daughter and my husband, the joys and struggles and love we share.

 

-UC

(Candle photograph from Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Sometimes blessings come in disguise. I have been thinking lately about this Chinese story we read in grad school:

There once was a poor rice farmer, who had a very small field just large enough to feed his family.

Then one day a herd of wild horses came run­ning through the vil­lage. They ran into the farmer’s rice field and got stuck in the mud, and since they couldn’t get away, they were his.

His neigh­bor came run­ning over and said, “This is good news! Such good for­tune! You are rich, this is amaz­ing!” And the rice farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

A few weeks later the farmer’s 12-year-old son jumped up on one of the wild horses for a ride, only to be thrown off and have his leg bro­ken. The neigh­bor comes run­ning over and says, “Oh no, this is such bad news!” And the farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

A week later a Chi­nese gen­eral is march­ing through the farmer’s vil­lage on the way to war. On this march, the army is con­script­ing every healthy boy over 10 years of age. So they took every boy in the vil­lage except the farmer’s son because of his bro­ken leg.

The neigh­bor comes run­ning over and says, “Yes! This is won­der­ful news, how lucky are we!” And the father replies, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”

During my maternity leave, I was laid off from my job at a private school. Enrollment was down, so my position had to be eliminated. This probably sounds like bad new! But it has allowed me to collect unemployment benefits, about equal to the amount of money I would have been making at that job. So, it is sort of like getting paid maternity leave for another six months or so. This gives me precious time to bond with Baby Bear while she is little.

Another thing is that I did not have health insurance through my work. As a result, I became a member of this great cost-sharing organization called Christian Healthcare Ministries, which paid for all of my prenatal care. They would have also paid for my delivery costs, but I was able to get Medicaid to pay for those costs. And now Baby Bear is on Medicaid, so we don’t even have to pay a co-pay for any of her doctor visits. Other people I know with regular health insurance have had to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for their deliveries. We didn’t have to pay anything. A huge blessing!

I am sometimes a little bit worried about not having a clear plan for the future. I get frustrated with applying for jobs that I know have hundreds of applicants. I would have had a better chance of getting into an Ivy League college than I do of getting most of the jobs I apply for!

Because I am receiving unemployment, I had to go to the WorkSource office a few weeks ago to take some tests and meet with an employment counselor. The counselor looked at my resume and said, “Oh, you’re a teacher. Time to think of Plan B. We see so many teachers every day.”

Okay, sure. I would also accept a job as a writer for National Geographic or Outside magazine. Maybe White House Press Secretary. I do have a journalism degree, that should be worth something right?

Right?

Well, the point is, I don’t know quite what the future holds. Besides a lot of diaper changes. All I can do is enjoy this opportunity I have to bond with my daughter while she’s a baby. I am thankful to God for this opportunity. I love our time together! Although our conversations are a bit one-sided.