Why do we get paralyzed by change?

Change

The last few weeks I’ve been making some major changes in my life and it got me thinking about why we get paralyzed by change? Why don’t we carry out the decision to start that new exercise routine, or quit that job we don’t like. I always love new things, so I feel, compared to Angel, I’m more open to new adventures. Although I still get nervous and anxious when making changes in my life.

Habits
We are all creatures of habit. We love to do things the same way everyday. Putting our brain on autopilot means less mental work. Change equals making a habit switch, something that most of us don’t like to do or want to do. Whenever we want to improve an aspect of our life we do a habit switch. It doesn’t mean you would stop doing something completely, but you will have to replace it with something different. One of my friends is a coffee drinker. When she is stressed she can make several trips to Starbucks in a day. She is always “quitting” coffee but she still struggles with it. In order for her to succeed, she needs to replace the habit of drinking coffee with something else, hopefully something less additive and healthier. So when she’s stressed she can still have something that gives her comfort and helps her get through the stresses of the day.

Fear
You might not allow changes in your life due to fear. That is a strong emotion that in many cases is hard to control. Something that has worked for me is to write about my emotions. Journaling is a big tool when it comes to expressing your emotions and sorting things out. What are you afraid of? Why haven’t you taken that step forward towards change? Write those things down as they come to you.

A day at the time
When we think of changes we think of something major that has to happen overnight, but what we don’t realize is that any major change doesn’t happen overnight. I didn’t quit my job overnight, it took a year (probably more) of small little changes that led me to that decision. A few months ago I stopped eating cereal and I started eating granola cereal instead. It was a gradual change and now I don’t have cereal at all for breakfast. One day at a time I made a choice towards a big change.

Growth
Allowing changes in our life, big or small, means growth. If we don’t consciously participate in change, life somehow throws changes at us so we can grow. I’m a firm believer we are here to experience life and to better ourselves. If we don’t allow change we are missing the point and wasting our time! If something doesn’t work, fix it, don’t just wait there hoping it will be better someday. Take action, make a change.

Why did I quit my job and why now?

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If you want the easy short answer why I quit my job, that would be my kids. Those little pains in the neck or sweethearts, depending on the minute of the day, are the main reason for making this life changing decision. Why now? I have three of them… But if you want to know the more detailed explanation why I decided to stay home, keep on reading.

Purpose

The older I get the more I think about what I want and what makes me happy. I have been thinking a lot about my passions, my life goals and where I’m heading. There was a moment when I realized that although I enjoyed my job, I was not happy. It didn’t reflect my life goals and it wasn’t really taking me towards where I wanted to be in life; personally or professionally. I tried applying for other jobs thinking maybe the job was the problem, but nothing worked out. A year ago I decided to give myself another year and see how I was feeling and re-evaluate where I wanted to be. The year went by quickly and my feelings were still the same. I was ready to make a change.

Quality of life

I was spending 3 hours commuting daily. I used some of that time to read, sleep or write depending on how much energy I had. Some days it felt like I was making good use of my time. But lately I’ve started dreading my commute and felt like I could have been spending this precious time with my kids, sleeping on my bed or writing from a more comfortable location. I was highly stressed about my commute and the 10+ hours away from home each day. I started to think if it was really worth all this stress that was physically and emotionally making me ill. I started to think about what really matters to me and how I was stretching myself in different directions trying to make everything work. I could see that it was only a matter of time before I broke down.

So I thought, “I don’t want to work anymore. I really don’t.” I don’t want to come out like a lazy person, because I’m not, but I don’t want to work. I don’t want to stress about anything anymore. I don’t want to stress about being to work on time, deadlines, and the small stuff. I want to live a life where I take things one day at a time and I enjoy every moment. I want to do less things that stress me out and more things that bring me joy. I’m not saying I won’t ever want to “have a job” again. I’m only 32 years old, so I’m sure I’ll have a job again, but I don’t want it to take over my life and overwhelm me and reshape my sense of self to the point I don’t see where I’m heading anymore. I want it to be something I truly enjoy that doesn’t interfere with my main job and reason I have this life – to be a mom to my kids.

Finances

How are we going to make this work financially? One of the main things that was holding us back was our finances. When I was pregnant with Ally we started our journey towards financial freedom. In the past 3 years we’ve paid off a lot of debt which put us in better shape to make it on one income. We don’t make a lot of money, so living on one income even without debt is still going to be tough, but we have faith that things will work out. So we took the leap. Scary, I know!

Today is my first day as a stay-at-home mom. I’m looking forward to embracing motherhood to it’s fullest, to be the best mom I could ever be to my kids. I’m also looking forward to have more time to do the things that I truly enjoy, like writing, photography, and cooking. I look forward to spending quality time with my kids, my husband, my mom, my friends and with you, my readers. To a better, simpler life!

P.S. Happy New Year!

 

Giving is not about stuff

When it came to giving (and receiving) gifts, I’ve always thought of something tangible and measurable. A physical reminder of the gift, aka stuff. As I got older, and my home became full with stuff, I have learned that the acquisition and accumulation of stuff doesn’t really show our love and appreciations for those we love, nor does it bring us true happiness.

True happiness looks different to everyone as we all have a different approach to living life. For me true happiness is gained when making great memories by spending time with those I care about. And with the power of video and photography in our fingertips we are able to capture our memories making experiences more tangible and long lasting.

This holiday season take some time to rethink what is important to you and to those you love. I always like to think about the scenario of what if there is a fire, what would you take with you in terms of your material possessions? It always comes to my mind to bring my phone, important documents and photo albums. I use my phone to capture memories, write, read and keep myself organized. I’m a very digital person. Sure my phone can be replaced, so can the documents, but who wants to go through the hassle, if they can help it. Anyway, take a moment and give me an answer. What possessions do you really need?

The truth is that we don’t really need much after the necessities (food, water, shelter) are taken care of to be happy. I’ve come to realize that the act of searching for happiness, often leads to unhappiness, especially when looking for happiness in the wrong places (looking at you retail and online stores).

Ally plays with bottles

Despite all her toys she opted to play with plastics bottles and a glass jar.

If what I’m saying makes any sense to you, here are some ideas of how you can still enjoy Christmas this season and seasons to come.

Time

One of our most value assets is our time. Give your time to those you love. Cook a special dinner for your significant other or babysit for a friend. Instead of giving someone a cookbook, teach them how to cook your favorite recipe.

Experience

The gift of experience may be more expensive than giving your time… depending on what you give. A few Christmases ago I bought my husband (and myself) tennis lessons.The lessons cost $100. We had a blast learning together the basics of tennis. We realized that although we are not into sports, we both really enjoyed tennis. You can give certificates to a spa or a class to learn something new and experience something different and fun.

Christmas is about giving, but giving doesn’t equal to giving stuff. Give of yourself in ways you haven’t done before and Christmas will be more rewarding for you and those around you.

Learning something new is easy, mastering is hard

There are many things I’m passionate about, but when I think of my passions I sometimes draw a blank. I think it is because I’ve never mastered any of my passions; so I feel as if I was not passionate about anything in the first place. When I think about why I haven’t mastered anything, it all comes down to fear. I’m extremely afraid of failing. So a lot of times I don’t want to try. I’ve failed in cooking. I’m still not the great cook I wanted to be at the beginning of this year. Life got busy and I gave up.

But should I let this fear paralyze me? Should I feel ashamed things didn’t turn out how I expected? Probably not. I should keep on trying, right?

I yearn to become an expert at something. Master any skill. There are many things I could learn and many things I could and will fail at.

For all of 2016, I’ve decided to concentrate my time and energy to mastering a new skill, photography. I’ve always loved photography. I took an intro to photography class in college where I learned about lighting, composition and developing films in a dark room. It was a pretty cool class. I also took a Photoshop class around that time. It wasn’t as fun, not sure if it was because the class was at 8am or the professor really sucked, but I learned some basics that I could have mastered if I tried. I even attempted doing the 1 photo a day for 365 days challenge on Flickr. It went well for a bit until I got busy with other things, so I quit.

I tend to quit quite often. Somehow I get bored or discouraged. I’ve never gotten to expert level, never mastering anything along the way.

So what am I going to do this time around to make it different? How can I leave the beginner status and become a master? Or at least closer to master level.

For the first time I am going to use the same principles we’ve used when getting out of debt.

Acquire the tools needed to accomplish the task

Back then, we needed a budgeting tool, so we purchased YNAB. This time I have a Nikon D3200 and my iPhone 6 as my tools to practice photography in my everyday life. Follow me on Instagram @mrsloyal to see my latest shots, mostly photos of my kids.

Learn something new

I did a lot of learning while we were working on our debt. I had to learn how to budget, how to save on our grocery bills and how to control our expenses overall. There was a lot of research done; daily; a few times a day. I was obsessed. I read books, joined communities, and would only talk about how great our life would be if we didn’t have debt. I was so passionate about financial freedom that we even started a Facebook group, Life Without Debt, to inspire others to pay off their own debt. And to keep us motivated on our own journey to financial freedom.

As I attempt to master my photography skills, I need to keep on learning, researching and absorbing any knowledge out there about photography. If you have any expertise or just tips and tricks about photography please share in the comments.

A visual reminder of my goal and progress

While getting out of debt it was very helpful to have a progress bar on the wall in our bedroom with information on how much we had left to pay. I always looked forward to updating the bar every time we made a payment. It was so much fun!  

For my photos, I will be entering them in competitions via the Twenty20app. Although I don’t expect to win (at least not anytime soon) it will give me an idea of how my photos are doing based on the community of votes. Help me to see how close I am getting to mastering the skill.

Find a source of motivation

Listening to Ramsey’s audience screaming “WE’RE DEBT FREE!!!” was a great source of motivation for me to stay on track.

Following other photographers on Instagram and on the Twenty20 community is great source of motivation. The fact that I’ve been able to sell two of my photos on Twenty20 is great inspiration for me. Small wins keep us going!

 

screenshot of sale on twenty 20

I’m no photographer but I made $48 on two photos. WHAT?!

I will fail

Yes, I will. I know that for a fact. I have failed on 99% of my ideas. There were times when we overspent. We didn’t keep track of our budget. We fell off the wagon. But somehow our desire to get out of debt kept us going.

So for this year of learning, the first thing I need to learn is that mastery is achieved when mistakes are done; when you try many different ways to do something until you get it done; when people reject your work; when you listen to other’s feedback even when you don’t agree; when you are willing to persevere. Learning something new is easy, mastering is hard.

I’m grateful for…

The last few days I have been in extreme pain. I suffer from a condition called tension myonerual syndrome (TMS). It’s a mind-body condition. My body reacts physically (with chronic pain) to an emotional symptom such as stress, anger and the repression of emotions.

Due to my pain I was late to work twice this week. I felt disabled walking down the streets getting honked by aggressive New York drivers who seem to have no compassion for me. In the surface, I look perfect; head, body, two arms, two legs. I may look a little tired, but I was not on a wheelchair or showing any real sign of me being in chronic pain except for my slow hobbling.

There is no pill I can take to make me feel better. There is no permanent cure to my condition. The only things that I can do to feel better are simple things like taking a hot shower, stressing less (maybe not a simple one), meditating and journaling. Often times, I ignore all the research I’ve done and I feel hopeless. It feels like this time the pain will never go away.

When I’m in the peak of my chronic pain it is hard to put things in perspective. I get overwhelmed by my own problems; my own circumstances. I don’t see how much worse it can be or how others have it worse than me. Sometimes talking to others is the only way to put things in perspective. One of my cousins was injured on her right foot and had to get a cast. Now she is home from work basically on bed-rest. It is going to be at least a month before she can go back to work. Listening to her current condition put things in perspective for me. Although I’m in extreme pain, I’m still able to get to work and take care of some of the basics. Another person I know is also dealing with a health condition that made me think of my own condition. He has been told by doctors that he may not live very long, yet he still has a smile on his face.

This year, besides my family and friends, the one thing I’m most grateful for is my diagnosis. Although it is a weird condition that is hard to explain to people, I’m so grateful that I have been able to understand it and I have been able to overcome it a few times over the past couple of years. I’m grateful that even if the pain is my worst ever, that I’m ok. I’ll walk normal again. My body physically speaking is healthy. I’m strong. I will walk again without pain. It’s happened many times before. It will happen again.

Blessed

After the birth of Lucas I was on a high. Life was perfect. I had finally given birth to my boy. A beautiful and healthy boy. I had done what some may have considered a miracle, a courageous action; while others considered it an irresponsibly selfish move. I had a homebirth. I didn’t take the decision to have a homebirth lightly. After having experienced a c-section with Emmy, I was glad to find out, through a lot of research, that I didn’t have to have a repeat c-section. I was then blessed to have a successful unmedicated (NO epidural, NO pitocin) birth after c-section (VBAC) at a hospital with the assistance of my wonderful husband and our doula.  If you are ever planning on a natural birth, you have to get a doula! It will make your childbirth and life a lot easier. So when I called my doula to ask her to assist during the birth of Lucas, she hinted at the idea of a homebirth. At first, I thought my insurance wouldn’t pay for it, but after doing some research and some convincing (me convincing Angel that I would be fine and that he wouldn’t have to clean up a huge mess) we decided on a homebirth. It was beautiful. Labor was longer than they expected, but it wasn’t as painful as with Ally. And Lucas was just a little bit bigger than they had calculated born at 10lbs 5oz. Our biggest baby to date and likely our last. Because of his size he had shoulder dystocia. Which means he got stuck with his head out and body in for about 3 minutes in the birth canal. It was a little scary but everything happened so fast that we didn’t had time to think. Our midwife and doula were very experienced and acted quickly. Lucas was born perfect.

I spent the next 12 weeks of maternity leave at home with my three little ones. It was summer. The weather was great. Life was good. We got to go to the park often and do all kinds of fun stuff you do with kids. Like teach them how to play monopoly, but that might be more fun for me. It was by far one of the best summers I’ve had. By the end of my leave, I was pretty excited and nervous to go back to work.  I returned to work very energized. I would wake up nice and early make the bed and wipe down the toilets, sinks and mirrors. I did this probably for a week or so.

Then something happened. I started feeling off. As the temperatures started dropping and the leaves changed color, life got harder on us. We struggled to get Emmy to school on time or pick her up on time. A series of events happened at work that started making me feel like quitting and becoming a stay home mom. I felt alone, hopeless, and depressed.

I had everything I ever wanted; a loving husband, kids, a home, a stable job, but I felt depressed. Something might be wrong with me I thought. I started feeling guilty. I felt guilty for not feeling happy. I should be happy. Life is “perfect”.

But the reality is that life is not perfect, even when you have everything you want, you still can and will feel like this. Raising 3 kids in the city while working full time is not by any means easy. I have moments I just want to quit. Move to a less lively city where life is just a little easier. Less overwhelming.

I have been praying a lot lately. Trying to find something to lift up my spirit. How to be more content, more grateful. The next thing I’m going to say may sound cliché and obvious but I realized I had already been blessed. I had a beautiful healthy family. Somehow I didn’t see that. Sometimes, in the midst of chaos, I forget how good I have it. I’m so busy thinking about all my flaws and misadventures that I don’t realize I have been blessed with a perfect life. I have a loving husband, healthy kids, a job! What else do I want? What else would make my life complete? If this doesn’t,  I really don’t know what would.

I know I’m still going to struggle and have moments when I feel down, but my new goal is to be more self aware of the world around me. I’m not alone. I’m going to allow myself to feel sad at times without feeling guilty. I’ll aim to be more content and grateful. To let go of fear.

Also published on Medium

How to say goodbye

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Throughout my life I had to say goodbye some many times. People came and went, taking a piece of my heart every time. One of the hardest goodbyes in my life was when I was 14. My mother moved to New York and I stayed with my grandparents in the Dominican Republic. I have always been very close to my mother and seeing her leave was one of the most difficult moments I had ever experienced up to that point. I knew I would see her again… And we were going to just pick up where we left off. Two and a half years later I moved to New York and we were together again! But I had to say goodbye to everything and everyone I knew…I had to start over!

As I got older I met great people, made a bunch of friends… little by little I had to say goodbye again and again. Some I wouldn’t see again, others I was able to keep close to my heart. In these past 12 months I have experienced one of the worst cases of goodbye anyone could have ever experienced. Almost every family or individual we were close to in church started to leave. Some moved as far away as Germany, Hong Kong and Hawaii. One of our favorites, the Cruz family, moved to Arizona. Our friend Sally and her family also moved, although they moved very close, an hour away! We still had to say goodbye to them and get used to the idea that we wouldn’t see them every week at church. At work, I had to say goodbye to Julie. She was one of the first people I became friends with at work. We worked together for almost 5 years! She moved to the west coast looking for a greener pasture. In a couple of days, I’ll have to say goodbye to another coworker and friend, Valeria. We worked together for over 2 years. We had broken up and made up a few times along the way. Now, in the best time of our friendship, she got a job offer. Basically all the life long friends I had met at work will be gone by the end of this week.

Valeria, unlike everyone else, isn’t moving across country or to another state. She isn’t moving at all. She will still live 10 minutes away… A bridge away we like to say. Our apartments literally are a bridge away. How cool is that?

The more I say goodbye to friends and family the more I learn how to deal with it, right? Well I still have a hard time saying good bye. I don’t like it. I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye to anyone anymore. Why are they leaving me!? Sigh. I know it isn’t realistic to think no one I know will ever move. We always have to say goodbye to someone at some point. I know that one day I’ll have to say goodbye to my kids when they go to college or when they get married. People will always get new jobs, move away. That is part of life…

How do you say goodbye? What steps  do you take to get closure? And I realized I don’t want to have closure. I want to keep my friends even if they are far. Nowadays we have the Internet to keep us connected. So why not keep in touch with those you love? Even if they are far, it just takes one text message to feel connected again.

Goodbye,

Mrs. Leal

Facebook posts: The grass always looks greener on the other side

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I’m going to start with saying how difficult life can be. It doesn’t matter if you have it all, or not. We all have our good moments and bad moments. That is how life is… I have a hard time dealing with stress, my emotions, and just the over and over of the day to day stuff. I’ve committed myself to work on appreciating MY life… my chaos and my imperfections. Because, life isn’t always greener on the other side.

Let’s talk about Facebook posts… I know of people who don’t want to use Facebook because they don’t want to see how someone’s life is perfect. How those people get to travel or do lots of fun stuff that they can’t. For those with kids, we usually feel left out on single people’s fun. For those who are single and want a family, they always feel sad when they see pictures of a happy family. So they just quit on Facebook. I love Facebook. I feel that Social Media platforms are one of the best creations of our time. I like that I can keep in touch with friends I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t because of Facebook. I like that I can see what my friends and family are up to. I like to see the pregnancy announcements, the wedding photos, the 5th trip to Europe…sure there are times I wish I was there too; living that moment with them, but that isn’t  always possible. I’m grateful that they care enough about me to share that moment with me.

I know what you’re thinking, “What about those that like to show off and a lot it is all fake?” I know. I have those fake Facebook friends too. Those that capture a perfect moment and call it life. I usually feel sorry for them. There is no need to pretend. There is no need to compete. There is no prize. At the end, they have empty lives. Pretty sad isn’t it?

So how can we keep using our Facebook accounts and stay sane?  Here are some tips to make Facebook a happy place you can trust and go for inspiration and keep in touch with those you love.

  • Unfriend those who are not friends. I will unfriend anyone who will annoy me or I really don’t consider a friend or care to see their posts. It is as simple as that. I haven’t unfriended that many people as I’m usually pretty easy going.
  • Don’t reject those request of people you are not sure about. Leave them pending. Yes! If you reject them they can request you again. But if you leave them pending, they will just stay there forever. You eventually learn to just ignore them. I do.
  • Build a strong relationship with those you care about. If there is a friend you care about but get jealous of their awesome life, why not join them in their adventure? I know you might not be able to afford keeping up with them, but you can still do things together. The more time you spend together, you will realize their life isn’t perfect either. And they probably get jealous of your awesome life too.
  • Lastly, get inspired. Facebook post by your friends can inspire you to do better, get out there and live life. Don’t get jealous, get motivated.

Life isn’t always greener on the other side. Value what you have and you will see how green your grass has always been.

Take care,

Mrs. Leal

Me, myself and The Cooking Hat

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Why is it so hard to talk about ourselves? We spend 100% of our time with ourselves, but yet some of us still have a hard time understanding ourselves, our goals and our purpose.

When I started this blog 2 years ago, I didn’t really know what I wanted to make out of it. I knew I wanted to WRITE…so I started writing without much thought. I took the leap and hit the publish button. I enjoy cooking… and eating. So I felt making a food blog would be easy and named my blog The Cooking Hat. BUT it wasn’t easy. Having a food blog is fun, but it’s so time consuming. On the other hand, writing about emotions and ideas or my advice, although can be hard at times, comes so naturally to me.

 
I LOVE to write, to express myself. I have a passion for preserving and sharing memories through writing and photography. I enjoy changing people’s lives for the better…sharing a message that will inspire them or at least give a second glance into their lives.

Because of all the emotions, thoughts, ideas, and randoms things that dwell in my mind, I started to notice that I want to allow myself to be FREE. Free to self express, to share a message that matters to me regardless of what people expect from a blog named, The Cooking Hat. This doesn’t mean I won’t ever share a recipe. I’m sure I will. However, I want to have the freedom to create, inspire, live and write!

Will you follow me on this journey? 

Take care,

Mrs. Leal

Don’t be afraid of the rain

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Today was pouring rain in New York City. One of my biggest worries about our morning commute is having to deal with rain or snow. When I heard that it was going to rain during my morning commute, I started thinking about the steps I needed to take to get all 3 kids to daycare on my own. Ivan has to be at work at 8am. And the daycare doesn’t open until 8am.   

 So I figured it was time to make a list of everything I needed in order to defeat this natural phenomenon. So these were the basics: rain boots, rain jackets, rain cover (for the stroller) and umbrellas. As we walked out, the rain was light… I was thinking we can make it! At some point it became much stronger….I was still thinking we can do it. It got windy…we could still do this. After almost a mile of walking we arrived at the daycare… I remember singing as we walked the last block. I felt accomplished. We did it. We made it. We overcame the rain. 

 
This may sound like a small accomplishment. A day that my kids won’t remember. I’ll probably forget it too… I guess that is why I wanted to write about it. I don’t want to forget how strong I can be. How a challenge gives me the opportunity to grow. It’s ok to work hard, to fall, to cry, to get hurt, to get wet. Life is a journey, an adventure, a time to experience, to make mistakes, to lose. So don’t be afraid to try and fail. Don’t be afraid of the rain. 

Take care,

Mrs. Leal

P.S. I have very dry skin and getting wet makes me itchy and irritated. So this was a big deal.