Well, it’s not rocket science…

Right now, I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room as my husband has brain surgery. The road here wasn’t short. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 13 years ago, we investigated treatments but found that there weren’t many options. The gold standard for Parkinson’s Disease is a drug called carbidopa/levodopa that Oskar has been taking for a number of years. As I’ve written before, it’s not a predictable treatment—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Moreover, the longer one takes carbidopa/levodopa, the more likely one is to experience dyskinesia: Unintended movements caused by a surplus of dopamine in the system. These can be annoying (like when Oskar dropped my favorite mug) or potentially dangerous (for example, while driving).

For more advanced Parkinson’s patients, there is one surgical option—Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)—but it isn’t a cure and the procedure can only be done once, so it’s usually not recommended until the disease is more advanced.

In recent years, Oskar started to reach a dosage level that brought on the dyskinesia. While the excess movements didn’t bother either of us much initially, it was becoming quite pronounced and, when he considered that along with the increasing frequency of “off” times, Oskar decided it was time to explore DBS.

Oskar volunteered to participate in a clinical study for a new device and underwent a series of tests to see if he was a good candidate for the surgery.

One of his consults required him to go off his medication overnight so that he was completely “off” while being evaluated. Then, they had him run through a series of motor tests to record his movements on video and time how long it took him to perform certain tasks. Then they let Oskar take his medication and he re-performed all of the tests with the carbidopa/levodopa in his system.

Now, I have seen my husband in both his on and off states hundreds of times, but the truth is I don’t pay attention to him much when he’s off. Oskar generally doesn’t like me to help him when his meds are off and it’s frustrating to watch him struggle and a bit depressing to see him sit there motionless. Truth be told, he’s not the best company when he’s off, so I usually go do other things while he waits for his meds to come back “on.” However, during the medical evaluation, I watched intently as he went through all of his motor tests both “off” and “on.” The difference was amazing. When he was off, he had a pronounced tremor, a blank expression, a softer voice, and very slow movements. When his meds came back on, you could see the relief flood his face. The tremor was replaced with dyskinesia, but he was more relaxed and able to do most of the motor tests with ease and greater speed. But throughout both on and off states, he kept his sense of humor and grace and reminded me once again what a classy guy he is.

The dramatic change in his motor skills was good news, though, because how well a person responds to the medication is an indicator of how they will respond to the surgical procedure.

brain surgeryOskar’s first surgery (on the left hemisphere of the brain) took 6 and a half hours. This was time he spent mostly awake with a halo screwed into his head, while the surgeon drilled a dime-sized hole in his skull and placed an electrode into his brain, looking for the optimal spot. The surgical team would test the location by having Oskar move his hand and leg and listen for the sound of the electrical impulses going from the brain to the muscle—basically listening for static. It took them five “pokes” to find the right location, but his surgeon was pleased by the results once they hooked him up to the transmitter because Oskar responded to very low levels of stimulus.

Before the procedure, family and friends offered their support—Do you need anything? Do you want someone to sit with you in the waiting room?—and I was actually a little confused by it. After all, this was a voluntary procedure expected to have a good outcome; it wasn’t an inoperable tumor or something… But as the hours wore on I started to get concerned; I hadn’t expected such a long time in surgery. My default coping method is denial, but that strategy requires one to keep busy so the real concerns don’t creep in. And that’s hard to do when you’re sitting in a hospital waiting room, alone, with a spotty wi-fi connection. After the successful completion of surgery number 1, I was grateful for KitKat’s company as I downloaded the day’s events to her over a glass of wine that evening.

Writing this in real-time, Oskar just completed his second surgery (for the right hemisphere) last week. This time, they were able to place the electrode on the first “poke,” although they took two more passes at it to ensure they had the proper placement. Although both procedures were somewhat exhausting and wore him out more than he was expecting, we were glad to get past them. All jokes aside, it was brain surgery, after all. We’re anxious to get through his final surgery later this week (implanting the transmitter in his chest) to see how much of an improvement he gains when they switch everything on later in March. The large scars on his head seem like a small price to pay for the increased mobility he hopes to gain.

It's a good thing scars on guys are "rugged and sexy"...
It’s good that a guy’s scars are “rugged and sexy”…

And there’s nothing like spending time in a hospital to remind you how fortunate you are. During these procedures, we both crossed paths with a number of people facing bigger challenges than us, and those encounters served as a humbling reminder of how lucky we actually are. We’re very optimistic about the outcome, but are trying to temper our hopefulness with reasonable expectations.

I don’t know what the future holds in terms of Oskar’s DBS results or how it might change our future, but I’m curious to find out. Yet, one thing Parkinson’s has taught me is to take it one day at a time—so you’ll find out when I do…a few months from now.

2016: Stormy’s year to “Choose Different”

New Year’s and its related resolutions are a perennial theme for KitKat and me. (YES, we’ve been doing the blog long enough now to have “perennial themes”—and the fact that this blog started out as a resolution proves my point, I think…)

From vision boards to attitude adjustments, we’re both a bit obsessed with self-improvement. Or at least identifying our shortcomings on a regular basis (ha, ha). Seriously, with how much I think about these things, I should be perfect by now. But as you probably realize, thinking and doing are two different things.

While I can be decisive and even a little impulsive, and I sometimes abandon my efforts when they don’t yield immediate results, I’m also a big believer in adopting the approach of the tortoise over the hare—slow and steady wins the race—and over time, small incremental changes can have a large impact on my life. Case in point: the bachelor’s degree that took me 11 years to earn.

Most of the time, it’s just about the choices you make.

Back when KitKat and I worked together, I had a 2 p.m. pop habit. (I suppose I should explained to some of our unenlightened readers that “pop,” not “soda,” is the proper nickname for carbonated beverages like Pepsi, or in my case, Diet Coke.) Each workday at 2 p.m., I’d saunter down to the break room and stick my two quarters in our company-subsidized (boy, in those days we were livin’ large!) vending machine. You could almost set your clock by my daily pilgrimage.

diet coke imagesWhen I left that job, I was unemployed for a while and quickly got over the need for my 2 p.m. caffeine jolt. However, on my first day with my current employer, I found myself in the breakroom at 2 p.m., dollar bill in hand (no subsidized vending machine there!) and as I was about to slide my money into the slot, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” Here I had successfully broken myself of a habit that was unhealthy and I nearly resumed it based on…what? A habit? A memory? I made a conscious decision NOT to buy the pop and have consumed very little since then—about 10 cans a year vs. the previous 60 or so.

GR_headerbooksThis remembrance inspired my resolution for 2016. What could I accomplish by simply making different choices? I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” about the process of creating and breaking habits—if you’re a self-improvement junkie it’s a must-read. Around the holidays I received her e-newsletter, which included an article about choosing a New Year’s theme instead of a resolution. This theme would consist of a word (or words) that would guide decisions for the upcoming year: “Health,” for example, or “Learn.”

As someone with new-found time on my hands after our recent downsizing, I wanted to get in touch with activities I wasn’t able to pursue when I was taking care of a house and three kids, so I originally was going to make “Discover” my theme for 2016. Then I realized that word wasn’t broad enough to encompass the other changes I wanted to incorporate into the year ahead, so I revised my theme to “Choose Different.” This has a few meanings for me: One is synonymous with “Discover”—because I still want to explore new interests. But “Choose Different” also reminds me to challenge my dysfunctional thinking patterns and alter behaviors that haven’t been serving me well.

Apple
Srsly? I chose a variation of an old Apple slogan for my New Year’s theme? How derivative!

We’re only three weeks in, but so far it’s yielding some positive results. One change I made was to force myself to be less of an introvert at work. It’s something I’ve told myself I needed to do a dozen times before, but a 360 review coupled with a tongue-lashing by a coworker friend convinced me I needed to make a change. Well, it hasn’t killed me and it IS improving some relationships at work, so I’ll keep plugging along until it feels natural. There are other examples as well, and I’m curious to see where this theme might take me in 2016. I guess that is one of the benefits of getting to 50. I can see the horizon ahead and know that even if I don’t get to my self-actualized destination overnight, I can become a better version of myself along the way…simply by making smarter choices most of the time. Are you making any changes in the new year? Please share in the comments…

Living fearless

Sometime in my early 30s, I had an epiphany about fear. I had wanted to adopt an orphaned child (not an infant) ever since I was a kid myself, but when I finally got to the stage in my life where I could afford the process, I had doubts. I already had two wonderful biological children and a happy marriage. What if I adopted a kid who was deeply troubled and screwed all of that up? This fear was holding me back.

Meanwhile, a guest speaker at church told us about a mission trip she had taken to work with Mother Teresa in India. I won’t describe the story that changed my perspective (I’m sure it would lose something in my retelling) but the upshot of it was I realized I needed to have faith in a good outcome and plunge ahead despite my fear.quote-inaction-breeds-doubt-and-fear-action-breeds-confidence-and-courage-if-you-want-to-conquer-fear-dale-carnegie-32059

Those of you who have met my daughter Blossom know that I was immeasurably blessed by my leap of faith.

A conscious choice to “Be not afraid”

Fast forward a few years to when my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A highly individualized illness, some people end up in a wheelchair in five years. Others still work for 15 or 20 years. About a quarter of those diagnosed end up with dementia. There was plenty to fear, but we made a conscious decision to not immerse ourselves too deeply in what “could be” and just focus on what he still could do in the here and now. So far, that decision has served us well, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relatively slow progression of his disease.

I recently was alluding to some challenging family issues, mainly concentrated around my elderly parents, and I’ve determined that the source of these difficulties comes back to this same issue: Fear. My mother is living in fear more and more as she gets older. It’s causing her world to contract and leaving her confused and angry. It’s challenging for her adult children because the fear colors her perception—and our concern about her well-being is interpreted as attempts to take away her freedom.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself… and daycare costs

There are many times our lives require us to overcome our fear in order to move to the next phase: Going away to college, moving out on your own, interviewing for a job, asking someone on a date, proposing marriage, deciding to bring a child into the world, letting your children strike off on their own, learning to trust your adult children, learning to trust that things will work out, and finally trusting that, even when death is inevitable, God is by your side.

baby_moneyHaving a baby is a common example. Many young couples fear the responsibility of parenting. With news articles estimating that it will cost  a quarter of a million dollars to raise a newborn to age 18, it’s no wonder. Yet most of us plow ahead anyway—adjusting our lifestyles along the way—and consider ourselves the richer for it (even while our bank account takes a nosedive). Which brings me to my next point:

Bad things still will happen on occasion…but you’ll be okay

Living a fearless life doesn’t mean that you’ll experience smooth sailing from that point on. Some of the things you fear may actually come to fruition. But there is power in forging ahead anyway and usually you’ll find that 1) Most of the time the thing you feared doesn’t actually happen, or 2) On the rare occasion the bad outcome occurs, you’ll cope with it the best you can, learn something in the process and feel even stronger when you emerge on the other side. And because you’re now living a fearless life, you’ll view these episodes as infrequent storm clouds in your otherwise sunny life.

quote-you-can-sway-a-thousand-men-by-appealing-to-their-prejudices-quicker-than-you-can-convince-robert-a-heinlein-41-65-49Recent terrorist activity seems to have activated our society’s collective fear response and the result is ugly. The birth of this country was not a fear-based decision. Our forefathers (and mothers) had good reason to fear the quest for independence—after all, one man’s revolution is another man’s treason—but the shimmering ideal of a free nation was too enticing not to move forward despite their fears. Most of us lucky enough to be born in this country are here because we have ancestors that didn’t let fear stop them from leaving their homes behind in pursuit of a better life. As we watch our neighbors react to terrorist attacks by proposing fear-based restrictions on innocent people in the name of “protecting ’Merica” let’s remember that nothing could be LESS American.

 

 

A Charity Case or a Case for Charity?

It’s a bad sign when KitKat asks me, “…any blog ideas?” which happened just this morning. If you look back at our postings, you can see that the longer gaps between posts are when we’re waiting on KitKat. Of course, this is justifiable because she has school-age kids and other obligations that keep her very busy. I have way more time to write. Usually, KitKat’s thrilled to have the blog-ball in my court because it gives her more time to work on her next post. But even she can tell I’m in a serious drought—and when she starts gently prodding me, I know it’s time to settle on a topic and get to work.

It’s not that life has been boring. On the contrary, there have been a lot of serious issues consuming my thoughts lately. However, both KitKat and I have noticed that the more something is on our mind, the harder it is to organize our thoughts on the topic and write about it. Consequently, you’re not going to hear about my challenges with my parents (although I’m sure that will be a future topic), or my thoughts on the recent terrorist activity in Paris (my brain will never be able to organize such a cowardly, inhumane act into a coherent post).

Paris_attack
There’s plenty of fodder for a blog post in this situation, but I can’t eloquently articulate this level of evil… I don’t think anyone can.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert and the worst part about that is it it’s easy for negativity to get stuck inside my head. That’s what’s been happening lately, and I know what I need to do in order to counter that: Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions.

For the last couple of years, ever since my youngest flew the nest, I’ve been aware of a lack of purpose in my life. Raising three kids has been my primary activity for the last 26 years and now that they are largely independent, I’ve felt a void. I’ve been seeking out a volunteer opportunity where I could feel like I was doing something worthwhile and after a couple of false starts, joined a program that provides mentors to unemployed/underemployed women.

My first mentee match was unusual, to say the least. I looked up my match on LinkedIn before meeting her—a native of Zimbabwe, spoke multiple languages, won several scholarships, was working on an advanced degree, had previously been Miss Africa, and had started a couple of businesses and non-profits. I met her and we had a great conversation; however, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. She was a force to be reckoned with and it was clear she would go far in life. In fact, she made me feel a bit inadequate about my own achievements: I had done far less with far more. We tried to coordinate our mentoring sessions but she had too much going on in her life to meet with me. (She was interested in public policy and had been chosen for an internship with the United Nations—seriously!) So while I was happy to have met such an ambitious young woman, I didn’t get much personal satisfaction from “helping” her.

Enter Ellen, my second match via the mentoring program. As with my previous match, I tried looking her up on LinkedIn beforehand, but there was no profile to be found. We met at a coffee shop. I was surprised to see that she was older than me. And then she told me her story. Her first son had died quickly of a brain tumor at the age of four and that sent her into an emotional tailspin (which anyone who’s a mother can understand). She became divorced and later became pregnant and had another son. She never married the boy’s father but supported him by cleaning houses. (After losing her first child, she wanted to make sure her schedule allowed her to be there for her son, as caring for him was her top priority.) Now her son had graduated from high school and she wanted to find a better paying job with benefits so she could start saving money for retirement.

floppy-disk-iconNow here was someone I could help. We talked about how to translate the skills gained from her house-cleaning business into marketable experience—managing a staff, scheduling, selling her own cleaning products. We talked about online applicant tracking systems and how to best present your information to potential employers. (When I suggested that in addition to completing the online application, she also should attach a PDF of a nicely formatted version of her resume, she asked, “You mean put it on a floppy disk?” That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.)

volunteerAt our next meeting, she excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day. I told her what I knew about the company and helped her research the position online. I gave her tips on what to do/not do during the interview and stressed the importance of sending a thank you note afterward. Driving home, I thought about how the mentor/mentee relationship was benefitting both of us. Although I have been frustrated with my job of late, from Ellen’s perspective I was living the glamorous life—a well-paying job, an experienced team, global responsibility, fulfilling work—and I was reminded how fortunate I am to have all those things.

Meanwhile, I realized that the value I was bringing to Ellen wasn’t in the employment-seeking pearls of wisdom I was bestowing on her (those could be found in any job-hunting book), but in the faith and encouragement I was bringing her: From my vantage point, she was a strong woman who had overcome a lot of challenges and was willing to work hard. I believed in her success, but she needed encouragement.

At one point she said to me, “There’s no dignity in being a housecleaner” and I immediately disagreed: “You provided for you and your son by doing honest, hard work—there’s plenty of dignity in that!” And hearing it from me, she started to believe it as well.cleaning supplies

I’m happy to report that Ellen got the job for which she was interviewing. While it’s starting at the bottom of the company and her shift begins at 3 a.m., she was thrilled to have benefits and hopes to work her way up to a customer service job with regular hours. With some help and support, I have no doubt she’ll get there.

And I gained something from the mentorship as well. I learned that getting out of my own head for a while is as restorative as any vacation—not to mention cheaper—and what I take for granted can make a difference for someone else.

Lions and soldiers and refugees, Oh my!

This past week, my sister made the type of comparison that is becoming all too common, particularly on Facebook. She had posted an article about the crisis in Europe related to the overflow of Syrian refugees. A photo of a small child who drowned while his family was trying to flee to Greece had touched her heart and she was asking her FB friends where the outrage was for this situation—comparing it to a month earlier when a Minnesota dentist’s slaying of a beloved lion had sparked outrage in the FB community that went on for days and days.

I'm just as saddened by the death of what's-his-name with the cool spots.
I’m just as saddened by the death of what’s-his-name with the cool spots.

If you don’t live under a rock, you probably heard about Cecil the Lion. And if you live in Minnesota, like us, you literally couldn’t escape the story because it featured a local villain. My sister had gone to Dr. Palmer for dental work. My coworker lives in the same neighborhood and gave first-hand witness of how the vilified dentist was being stalked by the media around the clock. His crime was illegal trophy-hunting and when the story broke, it appeared that most Americans didn’t realize trophy hunting was a pretty common occurrence among a segment of hunters with the means to pursue it. I was a little perplexed at the sudden outrage myself. I don’t approve of trophy hunting, but it’s been going on for years. Was the game changer the fact that he killed a lion with a name? Why didn’t anyone protest over the 40+ animals (lion, rhino, polar bear, etc.), that he had shot earlier? Or how about the other rich “sportsmen” doing the exact same thing, legally, every day?

However, while I agree that my sister’s point was valid (i.e., that many Americans’ values are out of whack), she made a grave error in how she posed her concern. By drawing a comparison between the toddler’s death and the lion’s death, she actually diverted focus from the refugee situation—because commenters immediately started defending their outrage about Cecil the Lion.

The situation was a classic example of a scarcity mentality that seems to be taking root on Facebook. That is, living as though there is a scarcity of outrage, a scarcity of common sense, a scarcity of compassion. In other words, assuming you can have compassion for a lion OR for Syrian refugees, but not both. Applying a “This OR That” logic.

In this, she’s not alone, and there’s nowhere it’s more apparent than on Facebook. A few recent examples:

When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the White House displayed some colored lights to celebrate the ruling. Immediately the posts criticizing the action started popping up: “Why didn’t the White House shine special lights on Veteran’s Day to acknowledge the sacrifice of our troops?!” Hey, that’s a nice idea, too. Let’s do that. But you don’t need to take away something nice for gay rights in order to do something nice for our military. You can do both!

Granted, not your typical American hero...
Granted, not your typical American hero…

Another example, Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn Jenner and some articles that lauded her gender transformation as “brave”… The scarcity crowd immediately started posting photos of combat veterans and countering, “Caitlyn Jenner isn’t brave, these guys are brave!” Well, can’t they BOTH be brave? A different kind of braveness, to be sure, but really, can’t they both be considered brave for their respective actions? Why do we have to belittle one to applaud the other?

And don’t get me started on the whole Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter/Cop Lives Matter issue. Of course they matter! They all do! But trying to raise awareness about serious issues facing the black community does not mean that those raising the issue are against cops* or dismiss the value of “other lives”… Those aren’t mutually exclusive positions and as Americans, we don’t have to subscribe to the notion of limiting “whose lives matter.” Or rationing how much outrage we can apply to an injustice. Or meting out the level of support we’re willing to give someone going through difficult times. It’s time that we stop these divisive arguments that diminish us as a society and embrace an abundance mentality.

Yes, it’s awful that Cecil was slaughtered AND yes, we should try and provide aid for refugees in Europe. Yes, it’s great that gay people can finally marry AND let’s give a little more recognition to the soldiers protecting our freedom. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner did a brave thing in acknowledging her inner struggle AND yes, let’s make sure our combat veterans have all the support and medical care they need when they return home. Let’s say yes to ensuring black people are treated fairly in the justice system AND yes to ensuring the safety of the cops who are doing their best to make that happen AND yes to protecting you and your loved ones as well.

Ultimately, all a scarcity mentality will get us is a shortage of everything we need as a society, because scarcity tends to feed upon itself until it eats away at everything good. Our ultimate redemption will only come in our ability to embrace an abundance mentality that says, YES. We have enough compassion for all—both This AND That!

abundance

*I acknowledge that there will always be some wingnuts who genuinely mean harm. My stance on that is to monitor them closely, but don’t fan the flames of their obsession.

Stormy learns to “move it or lose it”…but mostly loses it.

bicycleWhen you last heard from me, two months ago, I thought I was through the worst of moving…However, downsizing is a gift that keeps on giving. We had a month of overlap with our properties which allowed us to make a few updates, but also dragged out the “fun.” We’re not home free quite yet, but we’ve been through enough where I can see a shimmering oasis of calm ahead, and I’m driving toward it with single-minded dedication. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Moving is when you learn who your friends are – The physical act of moving was an exhausting one after 25 years of accumulation. A well-meaning friend suggested I hire someone to pack everything up, but that was impractical for my situation. Each item needed to be evaluated—something that movers couldn’t do: Should it go to the new place? Do the kids need it? Could any of my family use it? Should we donate it to charity? Is it garbage? Sometimes the answer came quickly: Of course my bunny collection is going with me. No, we don’t need the cassette tapes. But others were tricky: I love my curio cabinet and TV stand, but there’s no place to put them in the new unit. And—in a situation I’m guessing was not unique to us—we eventually ran out of time and began throwing things willy-nilly in boxes. (This explains why, at our new condo, I spotted a box whose labeled contents included “Wii box.” Not the Wii IN the box, mind you, but rather a box for a video game system we bought in 2008, that my youngest has since taken to college. Really? Moving a box for an obsolete and relocated gaming system? Really?) As I was lamenting all the work involved in this process, I was genuinely touched when several friends offered sincerely to help move, pack and unpack. There’s a joke about finding out who your real friends are when you need to move—but it’s a joke based in truth.

We all have too much stuff and the 80/20 rule generally applies – Attempting to unpack was a lesson in humility. Who needs all this stuff? I thought of an article I read where a photographer took photos of people with all of their possessions laid out beside them. I was embarrassed by the sheer volume of riches I take for granted. We were buried in boxes for a solid week and had to move some into a storage unit just so workmen could get at our floor to replace it. Yet, somehow we managed to find the really important stuff—and survive without the Belgian waffle maker or ice cream maker. I’ve tried to live by Thoreau’s mantra, “He who owns little is little owned,” but clearly I’ve failed. My stuff is dictating how I live right now. I’m totally owned.

Organization is expensive—but worth it – People have varying tolerances for clutter, but I’ve found the older I get, the less I can tolerate living in a mess. My brain jumps from thought to thought and I become mentally exhausted trying to find things. One day, I returned home to find that my husband had been unpacking and attempted to organize the kitchen. Here’s his idea of a good location for a pantry:

If you can guess what's up there... well then maybe YOU can make me dinner!
If you can guess what’s up there… well then maybe YOU can make me dinner!

Yes, it’s the cupboard above the refrigerator, where one usually stashes the roaster, the crockpot and other rarely used items. I had to text a photo of this to several girlfriends for sympathy and laughs before pulling out all the foodstuffs and relocating them to a more accessible location. (By the way, re-doing unpacking is even more annoying that regular unpacking.)

After four trips to The Container Store, I’m starting to bring order to my chaos, but at a price. That stuff ain’t cheap. But at least it matches, which brings me to another lesson:

Warning: Companies that make plastic totes are evil – That’s right, I’m talking to YOU Rubbermaid, Hefty, Sterlite… At one time, I had a vision of a perfect storage area with nicely matching totes, either clear or nicely labeled, but I’ve come to understand this Nirvana will never be realized unless I’m willing to buy all 20 totes at once. Why? Because companies that make totes change their design every two weeks. So if you buy a few at a time (like most normal people), the next time you go to buy them, they will be different—color, size, lids, something. (And good luck if you need to only replace a lid—it’s just not happenin’… Accept it and get on with your life.)

Summer is fleeting, take the time to enjoy it – The worst thing about moving in the summer is missing out on what is an already too-short season in Minnesota. Therefore, my husband and I have been trying to work in little bits of summer fun wherever we can: an impromptu boat outing, dinner on a rooftop patio, even listening to a local band performance while unpacking (our new home is next to a park, so we can hear music from the amphitheater when our windows are open). It was particularly inspiring when one of the bands started playing the theme from “Rocky.” Any daunting task seems more doable when accompanied by “Gonna Fly Now” performed by a live orchestra outside your window! … It’s a trade-off between wanting to make my current living situation more tolerable now and not wanting to wake up in my beautiful new home in September, wondering where my summer went. Somehow, I’ll find that balance, but it’s easier said than done.

Getting to “Sold”

Dear Readers, It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I don’t want you to think I’ve taken this absence lightly. We know our legions of followers depend on our dysfunctional tales to help them feel good about themselves, and KitKat and I are loath to disappoint. I want to take this moment to thank you for indulging me in my prolonged absence and assure you that the dry spell is nearly over. I hope that when you read what I’ve been up to, you can forgive me my negligence… And now, where has Stormy been the last three months?

Moving prep can kill you.
Moving prep can kill you.

Well, last year I mentioned that my husband and I were going to downsize. Part of this is just due to entering a new phase of our lives—our kids are grown and starting their own lives. At the same time, it’s also a concession to my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease. Twelve years into this disease, certain things have become difficult—and although he’s still able to do quite a bit when his meds are working, we’d both rather he didn’t have to spend his “quality time” doing routine household chores and yard work. After the holidays, we consulted with a realtor friend of my brother’s and decided we’d try to list our house in the spring. (In Minnesota, there’s a definite season to house-hunting and it peaks in April/May.)

Originally, I had a very pragmatic outlook to moving and told myself (and my husband) that we’d first focus on selling our house and then take our time finding the perfect new home. After all, we have a vacation condo (“urban cabin”) about 40 minutes away that we could live in temporarily if needed. Well, this strategy lasted about one week. I started thinking about the limitations involved in moving to our vacation condo—impossible for my husband to drive to his personal trainer appts., harder to see my elderly parents, farther away from other friends and relatives, longer drive to work—and decided I just wanted to get the process over with. (As I like to say, I’m fine with change—it’s changing, I can’t stand. Yet that’s the action verb that gets one to a new stage in life. It’s unavoidable—like death and taxes.)

I think that the power is the principle. The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.

– Robert Downey, Jr.

It’s also a fact that I tend to become a little obsessed over things like this—as my husband could attest—and so I started poring over online listings looking for our new home. This process was both exciting and frustrating. After so many years in the same house, it was exhilarating to think, “I can have a big walk-in closet!” “I can have a big master bathroom!” But it was also discouraging to realize that my husband’s illness meant we couldn’t pursue some properties—like the cool old brownstone in St. Paul with tons of character that required the owners to walk a long flight of stairs to reach the house from the detached garage out back (a perilous journey in the winter for someone whose meds aren’t working).

In mid-March we went to an open house for a property that showed promise. It was in one of our favorite areas of town and, although it wasn’t perfect, it “ticked enough of the boxes” to warrant serious consideration. Unfortunately, there were two major problems for us. 1) They didn’t allow dogs and 2) We were about to leave for a week long trip for Mexico. I decided I would just relax, enjoy our vacation fully and reassess the condo situation once we returned (if the unit had not been sold by that time).

Ziplines in the jungle were a fun distraction from house-hunting.
Ziplines in the jungle were a fun distraction from house-hunting.

However, during our vacation I found myself keeping one eye on the listing, and during the week a couple of additional properties popped up that were worth looking into as well. I was starting to feel more confident that we would ultimately find something that would work for us.

The morning after our vacation, I emailed our realtor three properties that we wanted to see. We wanted to go back to “the one that ticked the boxes” for a closer look, and there were two new places we wanted to check out. He responded that the two new ones were already off the market, but he’d scheduled a return visit to the condo we had seen before vacation. It seemed like a sign.

Blossom and Pixie in younger days
Blossom and Pixie in younger days

When we went back the second time, we took a closer look at the place and started talking about how we would redecorate, where we would put furniture and what we would do to make the condo “ours”…We were both able to envision ourselves living there fairly easily, but we still had the issue of our dog. I asked my youngest, college-age Blossom, whether she’d consider taking our elderly Westie. (In Pixie’s eyes, Blossom has always been her one true master.) And she graciously agreed to help us out her by taking on custody of her childhood companion. After that was settled, we made an offer on the condo that was under the asking price and were thrilled when the buyers accepted it quickly. One half of our journey was complete!

However, there was still the small detail of selling our house. So we dove headfirst into the arduous process of getting our house ready to list. This was no minor task. After 25 years, there were a myriad of small repairs needed: painting, pintucking our bricks, replacing fixtures and outlets, staining woodwork. Fixing the broken windows, quite literally. And cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. (Our realtor recommended everything be “surgically clean,” which is a notch or two higher than my personal bar: “the illusion of clean.”)

Our realtor always lists on Fridays and holds an open house the first weekend—part of a strategy to generate interest quickly—so we set a personal deadline for listing our house. A week before our self-imposed deadline, we knew we wouldn’t make it. My ADD was kicking in, so if I had to go into a new room to find a paintbrush or tape, I’d be distracted by 10 other things that needed doing. This meant there were half-packed boxes and half-finished projects EVERYWHERE and the clutter was stressing me out, making it even harder to focus. There was still way too much to do. Moreover, we were both incredibly tired, and I hadn’t been feeling well either—but since we now had a closing date set for our new place, we were determined to push through and finish.

The Lean Mean Cleaning Machine (Will work for food!)
The Lean Mean Cleaning Machine (Will work for food!)

I sent a “HELP!” text to my two sisters who live closest and they both volunteered their services immediately. I’ve mentioned before that I have a challenging relationship with my mom—but my sisters make up for it in love and support. I know that I can call on them for anything and they’ll be there. Because most of them were already teenagers when I was born, they did a lot of the heavy lifting involved in raising me when I was little and served as great sounding boards when I was a teen/young adult myself. After buying my sisters a nice breakfast, I proceeded to work them like slaves the rest of the day. But by the end of the weekend, we finally turned a corner and I could see that we would in fact make our deadline. We were ecstatic to actually see the finish line ahead.

First thing Friday morning, I searched the Internet for our listing and there it was: For Sale. The professionally taken photos of the surgically clean rooms—completely devoid of any family photos or usual signs of life (like ironing boards and dirty laundry)—looked nothing to me like the house I had lived in all of these years. But it looked good, nonetheless. So much so that text messages for showing requests arrived all day and over the course of the first two days, there were about eight private showings in addition to the open house. By Sunday morning we had FIVE offers—the best one a full $20k over our asking price. Even better, when we received the paperwork for the offer, we discovered that the buyer was the son of one of my husband’s college buddies. It was the icing on the cake to know that our house was going to a young couple, just starting out, that seem to love it as much as we do.

This impending move has been weighing heavily on my mind for the last five years or longer. To have everything turn out better than I expected was a much-needed reminder that in this dog-eat-dog world, sometimes life throws you a bone and it’s best to just wag your tail and savor the sweet taste of success. 😉

The gym virgin becomes the gym slut

(Some headlines just write themselves.) In an earlier post, I mentioned being a late-comer to the fitness scene. I always had trouble with the idea of paying money to sweat and I was blessed with a good metabolism, not much of a sweet tooth and a little ADD. So I managed to stay reasonably fit without trying too hard. Eventually, however, Father Time and Mother Gravity caught up with me. And watching my parents deal with joint replacements and various aches and pains made me realize that it was time to get serious about protecting my own health. So, I joined LA Fitness and signed up for a personal trainer. Surprisingly, I actually thought my weight-lifting workouts were somewhat fun. But a few months into my new routine, my trainer announced she was leaving LA Fitness due to some disagreements with management. I changed to another trainer—a cute boy who was the same age as my college-age daughter—but although he was an okay replacement in terms of making me work, I didn’t enjoy my sessions as much. After a short-time, he moved on to another gym as well, and I was once again stuck without a trainer.

Join at your own risk.
Join at your own risk.

Based on the staff turnover and my lack of enthusiasm for working out on my own, I decided LA Fitness wasn’t a good fit for me. Trying to end my membership was a hellacious experience—it was 2014 and they required that we send a snail-mail letter to their headquarters and allow a month to process the cancellation—seriously?!? Then, despite sending the cancellation notice via registered mail (I know a scam when I see one), they claimed not to have received it and kept debiting our bank account for months after we cancelled. After multiple phone calls yielded no results, we actually had to cancel our debit card altogether before the auto-deductions ceased.

I then began a season of sluggishness that didn’t sit well with me. I had grown accustomed to working out, was feeling stronger than I had in a long time…and actually sort-of enjoyed it. I didn’t want to go back to my sedentary former self. I spent a few months trying to find a perfect substitute, but I was hesitant to commit to another membership (I was very gun-shy after my LA Fitness nightmare). So, I decided to try a couple of different options using a “punch card” and found the “pay-as-you-go” approach much more practical. Best of all, I didn’t have to sign any gym contracts or commit to just one routine. After a few months of this, I decided that when it comes to working out, promiscuity is a good thing. And it’s an approach that works for my lifestyle. Here’s what my “slutty” fitness routine looks like: i-do-yoga-to-alleviate-stress-just-kidding-i-drink-wine-in-yoga-pants--1407e Yoga at three different places – I go to a studio near my home, a studio where we have our weekend place, and thanks to a recommendation from KitKat, yoga comes to me once a week at my workplace. Small group circuit training – Because I wanted to continue to build muscle, but find gyms boring, I joined a small gym that does circuit training in small groups. This is a good fit because the trainer holds me accountable and the other participants keep me motivated (when I get tired, I just think, “if they can do it, so can I”). Pole and silks classes – This I do for the great workout and the sheer joy of it. I attended my first class (an introductory freebie) as a lark and had so much fun I was hooked. It’s a small, friendly, women-only studio that attracts members of all shapes, sizes and ages. I’ve taken my daughters, too, and laughed along with them while videotaping their spins and moves. This takes core strength to a whole new level.

One of my favorite running spots, the nature center near my home (with nobody to laugh at my pace except the ducks and the deer).
One of my favorite running spots, the nature center near my home (with nobody to laugh at my pace except the ducks and the deer).

I supplement these “paid” workouts with a number of other activities done on my own—an exercise bike and free weights in the winter and when the weather is nice, walking, running (although not very far), biking, paddleboarding and roller-blading. The variety keeps me going and if I’m not in the mood to do one activity, I can always substitute another.

One hand, grilled medium well.
One palm, grilled medium well.

I knew I had turned a corner on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. It was unseasonably warm for January in Minnesota and I was taking advantage of the mild weather to grill some carnitas. In a very stupid move, I accidentally grabbed an electric charcoal starter that was molten hot. Although I immediately plunged my singed hand into the snow at my feet, I nonetheless suffered second degree burns on my palm and fingers. I had been planning to go to my small group training that evening, but knew I couldn’t work on the machines if I couldn’t use my right hand. Then it dawned on me that I couldn’t do ANY of my normal workouts (except my exercise bike) with my blistered hand. And rather than rejoice in having a legitimate excuse not to exercise, I was actually disappointed. However, I was determined to do my best to keep to my routine. And although I missed my session that evening, I maneuvered my way through my downward dogs at work yoga the next day. I also attended my small group circuit training class on Wednesday. On Sunday, I took advantage of the nice weather by going ice skating at a nearby park with my sister (skating is something I LOVED to do as a kid, but don’t do very often as an adult). When I realized I had managed to get three workouts in despite a pretty serious injury, it dawned on me that…gasp!…exercise had actually become a priority for me. That would have been unthinkable three years ago. I’ve discovered that when it comes to exercise, the best routine for me isn’t a routine at all and “fitness infidelity” is the way to go. Hey, you can still teach an old Stormy new tricks.

Saying “YES!” to 2015…

Our readers know that one of my standby topics is self-improvement and New Year’s only adds kerosene to those flames of obsession. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot about this year’s resolutions lately. But ultimately, I decided that last year’s goals were pretty solid—I just need to master them. (Full disclosure: Although I’m awesome at coming up with resolutions, I’m much less proficient at living them.)

So that means that 2015 will find me once again striving to:

  • Assume the best
  • Make my own happy day
  • Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions

This first one requires an attitude change. While I think I’ve made some progress in this area (with the help of pharmaceuticals), I still have a ways to go. The second and third resolutions are more action-based. As a control freak, one of the challenges of getting older is realizing all that I can’t control, but these resolutions help me focus on the things I do have control over.

However, if you’ve learned anything about me it’s that Stormy is never content to merely stay the course.

2015 will be a significant year for me because I was born in 1965 (you do the math). If you think KitKat was a little wigged out over turning 45, that’s nothing compared to the massive denial that I’ve been experiencing. Such a momentous event, coupled with my unresolved empty-nest syndrome, has led to the Mother of All Mid-Life Crises.

"My birthday wish is that I'll stop aging at 39..."
“My birthday wish is that I’ll stop aging at 39…”

In addition to a Milestone Birthday, the coming year will also bring another big change—selling our house of 25 years. So, I’m starting this new year knowing that I’ll end it in a very different place. In other words, 2015 is A Perfect Storm for Stormy. Therefore, in anticipation of all that is to come, I’m going to add two more resolutions to my earlier list:

1) Just say “Yes!”

Just after a really impressive spin... Trust me!
Taken just after a really impressive spin…trust me!

A month ago, I was at a party talking to a friend who lives out of state. She had found herself unemployed about the same time her father’s health declined, so she moved back to the Midwest and spent a couple of years taking care of her elderly dad. After his death, she returned to California to reinstate her former life and find a new job. During this process, she adopted the above philosophy—to Just Say Yes to any invitations, ideas, concepts and be open to whatever life had in store for her. As we were talking, she was waiting to hear about an exciting job opportunity that she probably wouldn’t have heard about if she hadn’t said “yes” to an invitation she otherwise may have turned down.

I mentioned I was feeling at a crossroads myself and had adopted a similar philosophy toward my future. And so far, JSY has yielded some interesting results. It’s led me to discover paddle-boarding, start a gourmet dinner club and even take some pole dancing classes. Trust me, despite the stripper pseudonym, that’s something that a younger version of myself never would have considered doing. (Fortunately, my husband is very supportive of all my craziness. When I was thinking about backing out of the “free” introductory class, he encouraged me with, “You have nothing to lose but your dignity.”) I plan to ratchet it up a notch in 2015, so look out.

2) Acceptance 

I was visitserenitying my favorite hairstylist this week, and we were talking about how this is one of the hardest lessons to learn—acceptance—but it’s also one of the most critical. Despite all we can control and change in our lives, there are certain things we just cannot do. We can influence our health by making smart choices, but we can’t safeguard ourselves against heart problems, cancer or Parkinson’s Disease. We can choose to treat people with kindness, but we can’t make others love us. And we can try to be good sons and daughters, but or we can’t keep our parents from aging.

Serenity 2

Yet, I know that the happiest people are those who learn to accept the cards they’re dealt—especially when no other options exist. So that’s my overarching goal for the coming year: To accept 2015 and all the change it will inevitably bring… while still saying “yes” and having a little fun along the way. Here’s wishing you all a year of acceptance, discovery and peace!

An unexpected Christmas Present

The other day, I was reading Facebook and my daughter Lucky posted a video clip from the musical “Scrooge”—a holiday favorite in our house. Along with it, she posed this tongue-in-cheek challenge to herself:

Personal goal: To reach (Ghost of) Christmas Present levels of combining a jovial and uplifting attitude with being generally insulting.

Although I don’t aspire to insulting anyone, striving toward a “jovial and uplifting attitude” sounded like a fine idea.

Last year, I wrote about the lessons I learned from the Ghost of Christmas Past, but this year Lucky’s post made me think about the lessons I could learn from the Ghost of Christmas Present.

If there’s one thing living with my husband’s Parkinson’s has taught me, it’s the importance of living in the moment, but I’m notoriously bad at this. I’m constantly looking into my future through a negative lens. I’ve had a really tough year at work and was so busy I couldn’t take much vacation time. Since we have a use-it-or-lose-it policy, I found myself with 16 consecutive days off and decided to use this time to really live in the present and enjoy both my family and the holidays.

On my first day of “vacation,” we had plans with my sister and her husband to see one of my husband’s former co-workers whose band does an annual holiday concert. We had seen them years before, so I knew they were a good band—but I knew the concert itself would be challenging for my husband who has trouble standing for long periods or navigating through crowds when his meds aren’t working. But he was game to go, so we bought tickets and I hoped for the best.

We got to the rented hall, turned in our tickets, had our hands stamped and were given a red Solo cup for pop or keg beer. My brother-in-law said it reminded him of a college kegger, and the atmosphere was equally festive. There were ugly Christmas sweaters, sequins, Santa hats and light-up jewelry. The security staff was very friendly, and everyone was filled with holiday spirit—as well as spirits of another kind (in addition to the beer and pop, people could also bring in their beverage of choice). However, all of the tables and chairs were already full of partygoers who had arrived early enough to grab a space.

PopbangWith the first song, the dance floor filled. My husband promptly (and predictably) announced that his meds were cutting out on him and he needed to find a wall to lean against. This was the dark cloud hanging over the evening and I felt a bit defeated—here was another potentially fun evening that was going to be ruined by Parkinson’s. Luckily, we found a space among the empty benches lining the walls of the hall and we set up our base there. With a raised ledge that was wide enough to sit on, it was ideal. It was possible to sit comfortably and still see the band and the dance floor. My sister and her husband headed to the dance floor, but since dancing is nearly impossible for my spouse, I was resigned to sitting it out.

However, the band was just too good for me to remain sullen, and the various “spirits” were taking effect. My feet were tapping, my body was swaying and the next thing I knew, my brother-in-law had dragged me out to the dance floor. From that point on I embraced the present by channeling my past. I partied like my 21-year-old self the rest of the night. I danced with my brother-in-law, I danced with my sister and I even managed a slow dance to “our song” with my husband. We stayed til the very end of the party and then grabbed a bite to eat afterward.

By deciding to accept the gift of Christmas Present, I had a surprisingly good time. But how many potentially fun moments had I missed by worrying about the future instead of living in the present? This is one Christmas lesson I need to remember all year long: If I like life, life will like me.