Self Care Guide for Women Who Aren’t Particularly Good at Self Care

Self care is an extremely difficult topic for me. Like so many Mud and Grace readers, I have a lot of irons in the fire, and I can’t just drop any old iron and go take a bubble bath. “Sorry kids! Mom needs a break tonight. You can just hitchhike home from practice, right?”

We cannot care for others and achieve our own dreams if we are suffocating under unrealistic workloads and are unable find any time for ourselves. But when people tell me “Take care of yourself!” I don’t even really know what that means. Am I supposed to… what, take a nap? When?

So naturally, I turned to the internet for help.

An extensive* Google search came up with several ideas for self care. For our purposes, self care is not self indulgence. While eating a cookie is nearly always a good idea, as cookies bring color and light into the world, “eating a cookie” is not self care. It’s just enjoying a cookie. For something to qualify as self care for me it has to make me feel more at ease in the world.

Beautiful and delicious, but not self care.

It goes without saying that self care is not punitive, and must be sustainable. Would drinking more green tea be healthy for me? Sure. But I don’t like green tea. It hurts my stomach and makes me gag. Therefore, we’re not filing that under Anna Grace’s plan for self care. Same goes for crazy grueling workouts done in the spirit of body hatred. Self care should make you feel good.

Also beautiful, also delicious, but in all honesty any more than a half-a-pound of green beans in one serving can only be considered punitive.

Here are a few options for self care I came up with. Please add any more self-care ideas in the comments below.

Health –plan and pack your lunches, plan and pre-prepare your breakfasts, sleep more, cut out or cut back on a substance that is limiting you, meditate, limit social media, take a daily walk, create and execute a work out schedule, pick one healthy food to add to your diet three times a week, read a book for pleasure**

Beauty – exfoliate regularly, maintain nice looking fingernails, learn to apply natural-looking make up and do so every day for a month, take better care of your skin, drink enough water, apply a good salve to your dry and peeling cuticles***

Style – Plan and wear a great outfit everyday for a month, wear every piece of jewelry you own at least once this month, tackle an area of your wardrobe (like outerwear or active wear) and plan and shop for the missing pieces you need to make this corner of your wardrobe function, don’t leave the house wearing dog hair and/or pilled clothing for a full month, try a clothing challenge. (Color Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color ChallengeThe One and Done ChallengeShop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1)

Clinging to the walls at Elevation makes me feel fantastic. Message me if you want to meet up.

Armed with my self care definition and list of options, I am starting 2018 with a self-care challenge, and I hope you’ll join me. For the month of January I am going to choose two self care practices and stick to them, with the hopes that they will become year-long, then life-long practices. As always, I made up some rules for the challenge. Here they are:

Pick one or two things

Once I’d compiled the big ol’ list of ideas above, I started making grand plans to do all of it. Because I can make 21 changes in my daily routine as I start back to work, get my kids back on the school schedule and it’s 35 degrees and raining out, right?

Basically, I’d just given myself more chores. So I took a good long look and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do, not just for the month of January, but forever. I landed on meditation and regular use of lip gloss.****

Set yourself up for success

Plan the when, where and how of your self care. If you are doing a style challenge, schedule time to plan outfits and go shopping if you need to. If you are doing a beauty challenge, figure out what time of day you will execute your new practice and drop something else from that time to make room for it. If your mornings are already crazy, committing to 10 minutes of hairstyling isn’t practical unless you can move something else to the night before. If you are planning on cutting back on your coffee consumption, be sure to have another treat in place for the times you normally reach for the coffee, and plan for the uncomfortable reality of caffeine withdrawal. To make time for meditation, I am going to have to move some of my workouts to the evening. To wear lip gloss regularly, I need to actually buy lip gloss and have it at the ready.

Track the first ten days

While there is no definitive number of days it takes to make or break a habit, ten is a good number. Mark each successful day on the calendar, or keep a list of achievements in a journal, but put it in ink. A visible tally of your progress will feel fantastic, and inspire you to keep going. By all means, keep tallying past the fist ten days if you like, but be a zealot about it early on. Pick a time each day to record your accomplishments and look forward to it.

Yes, I took time to sit in a chair reading a romance novel with a fantastically trashy cover. Points for me!

These hours and minutes moving past us as we go about our busy days make up our lives. Time is all we have. When taking on self care, we want to incorporate practices that are good for us, enjoyable and sustainable, even it’s just lip gloss. These practices will bring us peace, joy and energy that we can then share with the world around us.

If you choose to take on self care in 2018, let me know how it goes. Do you have trouble with self-care? Do you have a self-care practice you’d like to share with other Mud and Grace readers? Respond in the comments below.

Have a beautiful 2018 readers!

Rosie jumped the fence and came up to join me on the deck. You have to admire her tenacity for self care.

* Over 20 minutes

** I just finished Kieran Kramer’s Regency romance Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. It was awesome. Message me if you want to borrow it.

*** Climbers, I’m talking to you.

**** That is not a weird combination at all.

Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm

I’m blogging from Bend, Oregon this morning, where it’s a refreshing 14 degrees outside. We’re here for the USA Climbing Regional Youth Bouldering Competition. My daughter wasn’t 5 minutes into the comp when I realized that while my ensemble was stylish, I was gonna freeze in that drafty rock gym.

Not wearing some approximation of the right thing is a huge pet peeve of mine.

But, this being Bend, home to stylish mountain ladies, I had ample time to admire how these moms keep warm and stylish. And this being a climbing competition that lasts all day, I had more than ample time to contemplate the best ways to keep warm.

What follows are my favorite “Cold Mom” ensembles from the day, and somewhat scientific* tips on keeping warm.

Busy Day Mom

At first glance, this woman had paired an expensive, long black puffer with skinny jeans and quality boots, which is a perfectly functional uniform. What I liked about her style was that the deep red jeans and denim shirt she wore under the coat could take her from the rock gym, out to a nice lunch or baby shower, or whatever else she had on her calendar. The coat looked good, but could easily be discarded as she moved on with her day.

Flexible, practical.

Fun Mom

This cheerful, spring green coat stood out among a sea of black, brown and olive. I loved her bold choice, along with athletic-shoe styling on her boots. Add a favorite t-shirt and a worn in pair of jeans, and she looked completely in her element.

I could just tell we were going to get along.

Minimalist Mom

Simple black puffer, cargo pants and great ankle boots. I know I’ve posted similar outfits before on this blog, but this mom just looked so perfect for the occasion. This ensemble works in a dusty, cold, crowded rock gym, it would also work in a school, in a casual work environment, out for a day of errands, just about anywhere.

I imagine this woman has five changes of clothes, and a fantastically busy life.

Elegant Mom

A masterful combination of wine and cognac, set against a backdrop of black, this woman looked amazing. She also looked as though spent more time on her hair and make up this morning than any reader of this blog is likely to spend all week long.

I could pull this off in the imaginary world where I’m never late and don’t spill coffee on myself.

Hip Grandma

There were A LOT of grandmas at this competition, and all of them looked fantastic. My favorite was an older woman with short silver hair peeking out of a beanie. She wore girlfriend jeans, a cozy sweater and a chic bomber jacket.

I have every intention of rocking a bomber jacket in my late 70s.

So they all looked fantastic, but exactly how is it they were keeping war? Keep reading…

The science of keeping warm

You exist with a heater on at all times, set to 98.6. Your job is to keep that heat in, and keep moisture and wind away from your skin. Here are the keys to doing so:

  1. Wear a wicking layer to pull moisture away: A base layer of silk or wool pulls moisture from the inside of the fabric to the outside of the fabric, and it stays there. You only really need this layer is you are going to be sweating. That said, silk long underwear is really cozy and I wear it even if all I’m going to be doing is lesson planning in front of the fire.
  2. Keep the heat in: Ideally, you want to trap the warmth your body produces and keep it near you. It’s the same concept as insulating your house. You do that with what’s called loft, or air space. Goose down is not warm in and of itself, but the feathers in a down coat create space where warm air can be trapped. The thicker your down coat, the thicker the layer of warm air you’ve trapped around you.
  3. Beware convection and evaporation: You know that awesome feeling of a soft breeze in the middle of a of summer day, evaporating the moisture from your skin and cooling you down? If you want to stay warm, avoid that. Keeping wind at bay with a “shell” or coat is essential, as is wicking all moisture away from your skin, be it sweat, rain or melted snow.

What about layers?

Layers don’t actually keep you warm. They can help trap heat, but piling on one layer after the other doesn’t create warmth. Conceivably, if you are just going to stand around, you could wear a long down jacket and boots with nothing on underneath and be just as warm as a lady with 12 layers on. **

The number of layers you choose to wear has to do with the activities you have planned. Planning on sweating? Wear a wicking layer. Planning on standing still in the cold? Wear a thick insulating layer. Planning on changes in your body temperature due to movement like hiking or snowshoeing? Wear several layers that you can peal off and on as you warm up and cool down.

Margaret was down to her last layers by the final problem.

So to sum up: Keeping warm us about trapping heat, repelling moisture, and stopping the wind from coming into contact with your skin.***

What about my ridiculously cold hands and feet?

When you begin to get cold your body limits blood flow to your extremities (hands and feet) so it can keep that warm blood in your vital organs. The saying “Cold hands warm heart” is quite literally true.

The trick to keeping your hands and feet warm is to start with warm hands and warm feet. Before putting on gloves, warm your hands. You can rub them together, hold them over a heater, whatever. Warming the gloves helps too. Sometimes I place mine on an air vent and let warm air blow into them. Whatever you do, don’t put cold hands into cold gloves. It’s like putting a cold cozy around a cold can of soda.

Mittens keep your fingers together, sharing the warmth.

The same goes for your feet. Start warm, add warm socks and shoes that won’t let any cold in, and you are good to go. Again, your goal is to trap warm air next to your skin.

Should I wear a hat?

Is it true that you lose 50% of your heat through your head? I have no idea. I don’t even know how someone could measure that. You do have a lot of blood flowing up to your brain, and most people don’t store fat along their skulls, so whether it’s 50% or 10 % or whatever, a hat or hood makes sense.

The easiest way to get comfortable pulling on and off a beanie and making sure it looks right is (and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done this) practice. Stand in front of a mirror, figure out the best angle for your hat and how your hair should look underneath, then just practice pulling it off, and putting it back on again. It will take 5- 10 minutes, then you will never hesitate to wear a beanie again.

We are living in a great age for cozy hats.

Putting it all together

Like so many lessons I’ve learned in this style blogging adventure, dressing to keep warm takes planning and intelligent investments. I casually threw an outfit that would work at our climbing gym into a bag without really thinking it through, or even checking the weather in Bend. I have a warm coat, good boots and perfectly flexible outfits to wear with them, I just didn’t take the time to plan in advance. Next time, I will remember the chill in my bones, and the inspiration of other women. Rather than being Cold Mom, I can just focus on being Mom, which is an art and science in and of itself.

Do you have a favorite cold-weather ensemble? Share it with us in the comments below!

*As scientific as I’m ever likely to get.

** You could do this, but I would judge you.

***Please memorize this for a pop quiz that will take place sometime in January.


Mud and Grace Gift Guide

The holidays get me a little overwhelmed. There is so much stuff in the world and so many people I love, and matching the stuff with the people while trying to keep to a budget seems impossible some days.

So over time I have developed have two basic rules for gifts. I try to find people something they would not buy for themselves, and attempt to buy the highest quality of whatever it is that I can afford.

This generally winds up looking like small luxuries for everyone, a high quality notebook, a whimsical tree ornament made by a local artist, really good chocolate. Most people don’t buy themselves top-of-the-line anything, and we have so much stuff already that a small indulgence is savored while an inexpensive larger gift is used and tossed quickly. $20 pair of wool socks will last for years, and $20 acrylic sweater will not.

With those guidelines in mind, here are a few ideas:

Gorgeous paper products: Handmade note cards, a quality notebook, unique paper decorations, embossed stationary, etc.

How many times a day do we rummage through the house for a birthday card, or a thank you card, or something to write a grocery list on? Imagine being the person to stop your friend from frenzied rummaging by gifting her a lovely stack of cards or a trim notebook she can keep in her purse.

Page Illustration makes the most beautiful cards. See below for a link…
Little Sloth Friend makes adorable custom banners. See below for a link…

Artisan soaps and lotions: Lavender-honey soap, real beeswax lip balm, creamy lotions, specialty salves.

Local farmers markets and specialty sores are full of wonderful, high quality items most people would not indulge in on their own. At the holidays, you can indulge for them. One year a friend brought me a little pot of salve to save my hands from the ravages of gym climbing. I use it regularly and think of her every time.

Handmade soaps are the best.

Cozy knits: excellent socks, a cashmere scarf, an alpaca knit hat, snuggly mittens.

These are all items for which you don’t need to know a person’s size, and one can always use multiples. Observe your friends, figure out which colors they are drawn to, and buy accordingly.

This Everlane hat would make a nice gift.

Kitchen linens: Dish towels, hot pads, oven mitts, aprons.

Any one who cooks burns through these essentials pretty quickly. You probably have no idea if a person on your list needs a spatula, but you can be relatively sure there is a ratty kitchen towel ready to retire in a drawer somewhere.

Ann gave me this oven mitt, I laugh out loud every time I use it.

Memories: framed pictures, photo albums, personalized calendars, a framed poster from a favorite concert or event

Framing one shot of a special memory from the year, or putting a few pictures together in a book from Snapfish or in and old-fashioned scrap book is always a thoughtful gift, particularly for far-away friends and family.

My husband ran in the Cactus Meeting in Luxembourg in 1984, then kept the poster rolled up in the closet for thirty years. A few years ago I pulled it out and framed it. Now we can all enjoy the bouncing cacti.

Not-in-your-home made foods: Endless options

The idea of lovingly baking for others at the holidays fills me with dread. I want to be the sort of woman who cozies in for the day cooking for others but… when? There is literally one free day between now and Christmas on which I could bake, and chances are I will fill up those hours pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are hand-made tortillas, tamales, beautiful breads, sausages, special cheeses, and who knows what other wonderful things to eat for sale in this town.

This bread is being sold at the Metropol Bakery right now!

Give an experience: A month’s membership to a climbing gym, a reservation at a summer camp, a trail ride, lunch at a favorite spot, a punch pass to Barre 3, concert tickets, theater tickets, a camping trip.

Large or small, these are our family’s favorite gifts to give and to get. For the last two years my children have given their grandparents a trip to the movies. We block out time, get popcorn and sodas, and all go together. My mother often gives each of her grandchildren a special lunch out, something their stingy parents never do.

This is what I really want for Christmas.

Have a go-to gift: Readers choice

Honestly it’s better to give someone something they love every year, rather than trying to come up with something new they will feel they have to keep or use out of obligation. In December, my husband and I pack up baskets of whatever we’ve canned, pickled or preserved, throw in a few homemade soaps from the farmers market and we have gifts for family. One friend of mine always receives a bottle of vodka. My mom and a good friend of hers have taken each other out for lunch and then to a book store for their birthdays for years.

I was thinking of you in August.

A note on presentation: Responsible wrapping

Let’s not pretend that we don’t love a gorgeously wrapped gift. Beautiful wrapping is like clothing for your presents. But I also don’t want to pretend that using paper and ribbons once for the purpose of clothing a gift isn’t a little wasteful and silly.

I’ve always saved quality ribbons. The day after Christmas I roll up left over ribbon, and put it back in the ribbon box to wait another year. A few years ago I bought a huge roll of recycled craft paper. Now we wrap our gifts in the brown paper, and reuse it for all our craft paper needs through out the year. I also pick up baskets at St. Vinnie’s and Goodwill throughout the year, so by the holidays I have a pile of them to pop pickled things into and send out the door to friends. If I’m feeling particularly crafty I’ll run outside and cut off a sprig of literally anything and attach it to the basket. It is easy and beautiful.

What’s in the box?

I hope this list is helpful and takes a little angst out of your shopping and sneaks in a little joy. Do you have great gift ideas? Please post them in the comments below!

Another gorgeous example of Page Illustration

Page Illustration –

Little Sloth Friend banners –