Category Archives: Children

Looking for a happy pill

I am sad. Why? No particular reason. At least none that I can directly point to. I am not even sure if “sad” is the right word. Wistful, blue, blah, wishful, lacking … all I know is don’t call it mad. That is what had me walking out of the house the other night.

I can’t say what set me off. Perhaps my hope, or need, for a fun family dinner to dispel the dark mood cloud I felt settling in. A dinner that instead had my son angrily sticking up for, or throwing a tantrum about, Adrian Peterson. “It’s just what they do in Texas,” (said the boy who may have had four spanks/light swats EVER which left me as the only one hurt, due to my guilt over losing my temper). His only motivation was 11-year -old warped thinking that if he argued his point, miraculously the Vikings would have their star back and win again. Or maybe it was my daughter, who left the table ten times to look at her wiggly tooth (her first one). And then there was my husband who just didn’t pay attention to any of us. I wanted laughter, smiles and talk – a distraction from my looming mood. Basically, a pretend TV family. That was not happening.

Click to watch my version of fun family dinner

Click to watch my TV version of family dinnerblack-play-button

I was craving having a feeling – and not the kind of feelings I have been having lately.

I’ve been busy worrying about family members: Breast cancer, undiagnosed but life-affecting illnesses, and a liver laceration (of a child who might as well be family – our kids call each other cousins).

I have also been feeling stressed: busy working at a crazy pace with insane RFP responses added to my already over-packed job (and they’re not a marketing favorite), branding and marketing a friend’s new hair salon, and exploring a little side business idea.

Add on to that, dealing with raising a middle schooler and his Jekyll and Hyde emotions.

Maybe my need for the “right” feeling was brought to the surface from the heartbreaking tragedy of a school mom who died in her sleep a few days before. Maybe that is what kicked up the dust, woke me up in the midst of being lost in the hecticness, and made me want to feel something special. Or, perhaps it was just plain and simple craziness. Or it could be my hormones. (I have hit the age where I can blame them for everything). All I know is I needed to laugh. I needed to feel pure joy. I needed to enjoy. I was needing one of those moments of bliss like girls’ night at the cabin, sisters drinking wine on a Sunday, or dancing would give me. I’d had a taste of it recently – a couple of hours with my stepmom and sister just laughing in the kitchen together. But I needed more of that silly stuff that makes the rest of it all worthwhile.

With dinner not going as planned, and my family not giving me what I needed (admittedly it was a losing battle for them before it started), I got distant. Annoyed. Bummed. Resentful. I can’t tell you exactly where it escalated, but basically the words “I can’t do anything without you getting mad. Nothing I do is right,” were the final words muttered to me that set me off. I stood up and left the house without a word.

I walked and walked. I tried to sort through what was wrong. I just knew I was missing something. I stopped and had ice cream. (That helped a little – simple pleasures). Then I walked some more. My head was reeling with how to fix it.

Nothing came and two hours later I went back. My daughter was still wiggling her tooth in a mirror. The guys were each on a couch (squishing my pillows!) and I walked upstairs without saying a word and went to bed. My drama basically unnoticed by anyone else.

Nothing like starting a day a few bucks richer

Nothing like starting a day a few bucks richer

It’s a new day – starting with the announcement of a missing tooth. “This is such an exciting day!” squealed my six year old. Decidedly a new attitude was needed from me too. So along with my Daily Love dosage, I added on another cheesy self-love prescription and decided to take the advice to write three things I am thankful for today.

  1. I am thankful for the smile from my beautiful daughter with her first tooth missing.
  2. I am thankful for reading that my son did notice I was upset and texted “you ok? coming home? love you.”
  3. I am thankful for all of the special people who have made me smile and laugh in so many different and wonderful ways, that I miss it when I am down.
A moment of bliss in NY with my special people

A moment of bliss in NY with a couple of my special people

Damn, this stuff works. I am smiling at the flood of fabulous memories. I found a natural happy pill. And I’m not crazy – I just like to smile.

KitKat & Stormy: A fair debate…

Stormy’s Perspective: The Fair

The end of August means two things to a Minnesotan: Back to school and State Fair time! Given my kids are grown and my one college-age daughter doesn’t need help choosing a backpack or new shoes, it’s all about the fair for Stormy. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people—those who love the fair and those who…inexplicably…don’t. Despite the many commonalities between KitKat and myself, this is one area where we part ways. However, with this season passing at warp speed and many of the items on my summer checklist going unchecked, this was one opportunity I wasn’t going to let pass by.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together has been located in St. Paul since 1885. It’s where Teddy Roosevelt introduced his foreign policy to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” It’s where 85 lbs of butter are carved into the likeness of a dairy princess. It’s an event memorialized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “A Night at the Fair.” It’s a place where half a million corn dogs are consumed each year. It’s an institution. It’s nirvana.

The Food

statefair_reubenbites

We made short work of the Reuben Bites (aka: deep-fried spheres of goodness)

People might tell you that they go to the State Fair for the exhibits, for the entertainment, for the animals—and there’s some truth to that—but make no mistake: They really go for the food. While many Minnesotans are pretty conservative in their dining habits, that’s all tossed out the window at fair time when deep fried pickles, cheese curds, alligator on a stick, beer gelato, deep fried Twinkies, deep fried Snickers (really, anything deep fried or on-a-stick), is the order of the day. In our six hours at the fair last weekend, Blossom and I had Reuben bites, an apple dumpling with ice cream, a beer (just me), walleye mac ‘n’ cheese, candied almonds, a prime rib taco, Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, all-you-can-drink milk (Blossom), a wine slushie (me again), and a roast turkey sandwich. (After too much indulgence, I always crave a turkey sandwich. I guess it’s supposed to signal my tummy that the smorgasbord is over and it’s time to return to sensible eating.)

The Entertainment

Enjoying a little Chinese culture at the International Bazaar

Enjoying a little Chinese culture at the International Bazaar

The fair has lots of free acts and whenever you need to sit down and take a break, there’s sure to be a performance to watch. We watched the CAAM Chinese Dance Theater perform, which reminded me of the performance given to us by the children at Blossom’s orphanage when we adopted her. Later on, we caught the “dock dog” competition of the lumberjack show. Walking by the grandstand, we noticed throngs of teenage girls whipped into a frenzy over a teen duo, “Jack and Jack.” You’d think it was the Beatles, In Sync or New Kids on the Block appearing during their peaks. I hadn’t heard of them, but (surprisingly) neither had Blossom—more evidence that she’ll be exiting her teen years in a couple of month’s time. But the vast array of performers begs the question: Where else can you see Chinese dance, leaping dogs and boy bands in the span of an afternoon?

The Activities

Admit it. This scarecrow is some downright frightening!

Admit it. This scarecrow isn’t just scary, it’s downright terrifying!

There’s plenty to see if you embrace the randomness of it all. We saw homemade scarecrows (one of them entered by my kids’ former teacher), some amazing crop art (what some people can do with seeds!) and a whole gallery of really good “amateur” art. Usually the animal barns are another highlight, but for some sad reason, when we visited this year most of the barns were closed for cleaning or some other bogus reason. We were able to see the horses, but had to pass on the cows, bunnies and the World’s Largest Pig. The midway is another prime attraction for those who like to live dangerously, although my favorite ride—the double Ferris wheel—was missing this year, so we skipped the rides. But everyone would agree that the best activity at the fair has got to be people-watching. You can see politicians, local newscasters and other minor celebrities, but the regular folk provide the real entertainment. Much like Vegas, they shed their inhibitions and exhibit behavior they would eschew in their more respectable daily lives—standing in long-lines for yardsticks, donning silly paper hats, eating foot-long hot dogs at 6:00 a.m.

A Minnesota fashionista wardrobe must include at least one papier chapeau.

A Minnesota fashionista wardrobe must include at least one papier chapeau.

The Shopping

Even if you’re a seasoned shopper, you’ll find something unique at the fair. This year, I bought a cool Indian-motif tank top and Blossom bought a handmade necklace. It’s also the motherlode for items you never knew existed, but soon learn you can’t live without. Case in point: My d’marie Frappe Vino frozen cocktail fusion. This purchase alone will have KitKat rethinking her State Fair ban. Take one box of mix, a bottle of cheap wine, a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and 3-5 hours later: Voila! A delicious wine slushie. (Purchase three boxes and they throw in a free slushy—guess how many boxes I bought?)

KitKats Rebuttal

Unlike Stormy, I am still in the stage of back-to-school preparations. And as tedious as it is searching for the exact supplies listed for each of my children’s classes, I would choose that over a trip to the State Fair. Every year when the State Fair arrives I listen to co-workers, friends and even strangers in stores and restaurants mapping out their plans for their fair visit. Often these plans include not just one but multiple days, which means it isn’t just an obligation, they have to do for their kids or as a Minnesota “thing.” I have sucked it up a few times to give my kids the State Fair experience I hear they deserve, but for the past few years I have turned over the chore to my husband. I have experienced no guilt at all about missed family time. I am content, actually thrilled, to know I have relinquished all responsibility to attend the fair.

Stormy does sell a good story, and I will pay the wrath of the fairgoers, but let me provide you the fair experience from my perspective.

The Food

It doesn't have to even sound good to be on Fair goers menu for the day.

It doesn’t have to even sound good to be on fairgoers menu for the day.

Granted, there are always interesting items and I love to learn about each year’s newest food vendors. The Business Journal’s article on fair food had me wanting to try a beer gelato and cringing at the walleye mac & cheese. (Yes, mac & cheese is another item on which I differ from the majority of the population by my dislike for it. There is NO way to make it taste good.) But I do enjoy exploring the odd menu options from the comfort of an iPad on the couch. For actually eating any good food available (like the Cajun lobster rolls or prime rib tacos), I want to be able to sit and enjoy it in a cool atmosphere. As for the historical walking fair food, often on a stick, I am not a fan. For example, the popular cheese curds that taste like greasy rubber bands. Or all-you-can-drink milk, by a barn and in the heat: Yuck. I am not above greasy fries or warm chocolate chip cookies but I much prefer to abuse my calorie intake while not standing in line, being bumped and pushed by crowds, and paying triple for the so-called experience.

The Entertainment

This may be the one area where I will give kudos to the fair. I did see both Def Leppard and B.B King there. Not often does my weird, eclectic taste get catered to. Though it would be a hard sell to get me to any concert playing there now, knowing the price (and I don’t mean monetary) that I pay for that entertainment. I also don’t mind the skate park. I actually enjoyed some of the stunts (for a few minutes) and as my son was entertained for a long period of time, I escaped for 20 minutes of walking and enjoying a beer—my one moment of fair bliss.

Pour Some Sugar On Me can make anyplace tolerable.

Pour Some Sugar On Me can make any place tolerable.

The Activities

Last year's Fair winnings that I missed carrying around.

Last year’s Fair winnings that I missed carrying around.

My first memory of a fair activity is being convinced that the haunted house was fun and not to be missed. I knew I didn’t enjoy being intentionally scared in any setting. But, I caved to peer pressure and went in. A few minutes into the haunt, I refused to take a step further and had to be walked out a side door so the crowd of fairgoers could continue the haunted tour. Returning in later years as a mom, our activities revolved around the animal barn and The Midway. I would walk through the animal barns feeling sorry for the animals and me. Growing up with summer visits to an actual farm, I knew we all were happier in that environment. As for The Midway, it simply consists of carnival rides and games. The insane ticket prices cover a shorter time on the same rides that can be found at our community carnivals. The games consist of me helping lug an assortment of prizes (won by my son’s uncanny ability to win the basketball shooting games) through a crowded fair. Again, I would prefer the small community carnival that does the same job with less people to maneuver through with a giant stuffed dog in my arms.

The Shopping

Actually, my first experience of the fair, at least that I remember, was working  my uncle’s dollar booth. (My mom obviously shared my fair dislike.) I worked in the Merchandise Mart selling all kinds of trinkets for a dollar. On breaks, I would wander to discover more junk. I was the only sibling who worked for only one season. The next summer I got a job in a small clothing boutique at Southdale Mall.

The Merchandise Mart at the Fair - My first job, first Fair and first time realizing I did not like either.

The Merchandise Mart at the Fair – My first job, first fair and first time realizing I did not like either.

So again this year, I will pass on the fair. Happy to wave my family off for their Minnesotan obligation as I watch The Notebook again without being made fun of. Though, I will ask them to grab me one of the wine slushie things Stormy mentioned.

 

Summer Checklist

Well if you had any clue from my lack of recent blogs, summer so far hasn’t been as relaxing as I imagined. My fantasies of taking advantage of the long, sunny days … or at least nights after work … were quickly ended by what it really means to have kids running “free range.” School activities, hockey, and homework were swapped for random camp times, baseball, and kid swaps in my work parking lot for play dates. Add in random sitter issues (saved one week by Stormy’s daughter, Blossom), and summer has turned out to be more chaotic than the school year.

Granted, I could have signed my kids up for a full-time day camp catering to working parents. But, my working mom guilt often gets the best of me. Why shouldn’t they enjoy these summer months of freedom? I sure miss having a summer break!

So what my kids would describe as a fun summer filled with sleepovers and

photo 2

sleeping in, has been mass chaos for me. No routine and every week requires a new battle strategy of who to get where and when. My tipping point was last week. A situation where I knew (standing in the bushes in my heels), that I needed some summer enjoyment too.

How did I end up in the bushes? It was my week as a camp driver. We only signed up for “specialty camps,” which means camps kids like but which have no convenience or scheduling around a working parent’s needs. (I will need to do another blog on why everyone else gets what they want, yet I seem to starve myself from all my needs. Even the eyelashes are gone!) Anyway, this week of specialty camp I worked from home in the morning and then took a group of kids to tennis before heading into the office at noon. (I have no idea how parents manage it without a flexible work schedule). One morning I had a conference call for an important pitch. I told the kids that I would be giving hand signals when it was time to be sprayed with sunscreen, grab their racquets and bags, and head to the car. I was proud of myself for organizing it all, including having lunches packed and backpacks lined up in front of the door before the call. The first ten minutes went great. The kids were quiet … which should have been my first warning of upcoming disaster. As I was talking, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see my daughter mouthing “sorry” and pointing at the window. Somehow she had knocked out the boards bracing our window air conditioner unit. I was looking at a gap in the window and the air conditioner rocking on the ledge. Throwing the phone on mute, I ran outside. The rest of my call was done on speaker and muted unless I was forced to speak. I stood in the bushes holding up the air conditioner with my phone resting on the window ledge and my other hand trying to jimmy rig the boards to hold the unit in place till we could do a permanent fix after work.

That night, I realized I have been so busy juggling a full-time job and kids running loose that I basically missed the first half of summer. Our “no routine” had us crazier than our over-scheduled winter. It was time to make up for the lost summer. Which meant another list! Yes, my kids groaned as I asked them to make lists of what they wanted to do before summer ended. I was determined to do at least one thing on each list this weekend. KitKat determination took hold. No matter what it took or what hurdles needed to be jumped, I would do some summer activities. I do realize that I work best in chaos and a crunch, even when the task is finding time to relax.

photo 1Number one on my son’s list was to catch fish. So we drove up to the cabin Saturday morning and spent the day fishing. The fish even complied with our list, and we had a great day. One item done and I actually relaxed. Hard not to, with a pole in one hand and wine in the other, plus a son who would bait my hook and take off any catches.

I had decided to drive back that night with my daughter, so we could check an item off her list on Sunday. We left father and son at the cabin for a full fishing weekend.

I skipped past number one on her list, Chuck E. Cheese, and chose one further down—which was shopping at the farmers’ market. We had a slumber party in my room Saturday night and in the morning I surprised her with money for the excursion. She made sure to spend every penny. She loves nothing better than to pull out cash and pay for a frivolous item. After a summer of giving up things or putting them on the back burner (well, trying), I had just as much fun buying whatever suited me at the moment.

photo 3

All in all, it was a jam-packed SUMMER weekend. I ended it sitting outside and watching my daughter and neighbor kids on the Slip & Slide as I looked up things to do in Duluth for a moms and sons trip planned at the end of August (another check off the list). I still had cleaning to do and hadn’t finished my list of dinners for the week but was determined to take a moment to do nothing but enjoy the weather (another item on my list), which I plan to make time for at least once a week.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means waste of time.” – Sir John Lubbock

After fully enjoying my summer weekend, I think I am ready to battle another summer workweek. Including managing the text I just received that my sitter has two days she can’t cover.

 

Running away from home… Cali style

As I mentioned in my last post, KitKat’s tale of Vegas fun inspired me to schedule a trip with my two best girls—my darling daughters. The impetus for the trip was to use an airfare credit my youngest had, and the premise was visiting a high school friend who had moved to LA a few years earlier. However, as I mentioned in my last post, the real motivation was trying to regain my sanity by getting out of my frenetic rut and spending some quality time with my girls.

First of all, I was just pleased that my daughters wanted to travel with me. It’s true I was paying for everything except the one plane ticket, but even so, I can’t imagine myself at that age wanting to take a trip with my mother to visit one of her friends—or at any age, for that matter. Our tastes are just too different.

I’d never taken a trip with just my girls before, but from our family excursions I knew that traveling with Lucky (22) and Blossom (19) would be akin to vacationing with The Odd Couple. Indeed. To illustrate my point, we were leaving on an early Thursday a.m. flight, so I asked my girls to drive home from their respective cities Wednesday afternoon with everything packed. Blossom arrived two days early to babysit for KitKat (whose regular summer sitter was unavailable) and had her suitcase ready and waiting in the living room the day before. Felix Unger all the way.

Lucky started the long drive home on Wednesday afternoon, forgot her contact lenses, realized it an hour into the drive, returned to her apartment to get them, and finally made it down to our house at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night—a bit bedraggled and with a suitcase full of dirty laundry that still needed to be washed. Clearly our Oscar Madison.

Both girls were ready by the appointed time on Thursday morning, though. So after a quick trip through the security lines, we were sitting on the tarmac, waiting for stormy weather to pass. We touched down a bit late at LAX and got our rental car. Blossom (our Felix) was my human GPS. She pulled up all of our destinations on her smartphone and gave me real-time directions out of the rental car area and smoothly onto one of LA’s infamous multi-lane freeways toward my friend’s house. (Her quick-draw-with-an-app skills also came in handy later, when we were looking for a pharmacy and grocery store.)

I already knew my girls would click with my high school friend. Dot is just one of those people who can make friends with anyone—because she is interested in everyone and everything. In fact, her pseudonym comes from her role in a high school performance where she played an Uber-Geek with complete and utter commitment (something the self-conscious Stormy wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at 16). As Lucky said after meeting her, “I love her. She just radiates positive energy.” Not a bad sort to hang out with 😉 which is good, because that was our plan: An unstructured vacay comprised of some cheesy Hollywood/LA type of activities and lots of hanging out.

That first afternoon we hung out at Dot’s pool and plotted the rest of our visit. We decided to tackle Universal Studios the next day. Since Lucky graduated with a film degree and Blossom was deprived of the Disney Experience bestowed upon her older siblings, it seemed like a clever way to kill two birds with one stone. Or in my case, entertain two diverse daughters with several hundred dollars in admission and overpriced burgers.

Universal Studios was a blast. It had been a long time since I had been to an amusement park, and I was amazed by what can be done with computer generated special effects. Likewise, the studio tour was fun—spotting familiar scenes like the town square from Back to the Future (a favorite movie for our family of Michael J. Fox fans). Throughout the day, I was acutely aware that it would have been a very different experience with my husband. The crowds, long lines and sprawling theme park would have been challenging for him to navigate. It was fun to have the freedom to explore all parts of the park and not be worried about wearing out my spouse.

That evening, we went to the Hollywood Fringe Festival to see one of Dot’s friends perform. It was a sweet, engrossing play and our front-row seats put us nearly on stage in the tiny theater. After spending all day at the theme park, we were a bit tired. But since we were trying to pack as much as we could into a short vacation, we were glad we were able to catch this unique performance during our trip.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage's handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage’s handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

The next day was our “tourist” day. We went into Hollywood to see the famous sign (from a distance), tour the Walk of Fame and people watch. Afterward, we drove to Santa Monica and had a late lunch on the pier. Lucky was excited to play in the ocean—she couldn’t recall the earlier Disney trip to Florida that Blossom missed and had no real memory of swimming in the ocean as a child. After a long day, we got home early in the evening, but Lucky wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. She said, “You know, if I was on vacation with my friends, we’d probably go to a club or something.” I said, “You know, if I was traveling with my friends, we’d probably do the same thing.” So Lucky determined we should go back to Universal and explore the “City Walk” portion of the park—which is basically shops and restaurants and rather reminiscent of our own third-floor Mall of America. And Blossom, being Blossom, was happy to go with the flow.

hiking_LASunday was our last full day, and after the previous two jam-packed days, we decided to dial it down a bit. We texted Dot in the a.m. to see if she wanted to go hiking, and she led us on a beautiful trail up in the hills. Afterward, we hung out in her pool again, where Blossom (my usually practical child) learned you shouldn’t try to scoop a bee out of a swimming pool with your bare hand.

Dot is married to an actor. He’s not Brad-Pitt-with-paparazzi-hiding-in-the-bushes famous, but he’s recognizable, respected and steadily working…while still able to live a pretty normal life. (Which, when you think about it, is probably the level of success one should strive for, if one goes into that business.) He joined us at the pool where the girls got a big kick out of talking with him and realizing that—even though they’ve seen him in multiple TV roles—he’s a pretty normal guy, all in all.

Later that afternoon, we drove through Topanga Canyon and up the coast to Malibu to meet my husband’s sister and her husband for a seaside dinner on the deck at Duke’s. Lucky ordered King Crab legs and kept her eye out for dolphins and whales (no luck spotting them, though). I had fish tacos and the house specialty—a Mai Tai. It was fun catching up with my sibs-in-law, and I was envious that what was a vacation outing for us was just another Sunday night for them. Our Minnesota summer has been turbulent from the start, so the consistently 80-and-Sunny LA weather was mighty attractive.

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom's new boyfriend...

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom’s new boyfriend…

On our last day, our agenda centered around going home: Get up, shower, pack, hang out by the pool for an hour, have lunch, return the rental car and check in at the airport. (Can you see my control-freak side rearing its head?) I had timed out how long we had for each activity, but Lucky (Oscar) wasn’t operating on my timetable. We got into a bit of a tiff about it…the result of too much togetherness, I think. The fact is, I could travel with Blossom for a year and experience nary a kerfluffle—we’re just that compatible, and she’s a great traveling companion. On the other hand, Lucky and I are not much alike in terms of our hobbies, but we’re emotional twins. I’ve just been on the planet longer that she has, so I’ve learned how to fake my confidence. It frustrates me to see her wrestle with the same insecurities I had at her age when I know—KNOW!—that she has such strength and competence and intelligence inside of her. But I also realize she has to figure that out for herself, so I apologized to her once we were both in a better mood.

We arrived home tired and slightly crabby, but with some fun memories to carry us through the next long winter. All in all, the trip was a success. Not only for me getting a rare chance to spend time with my darling girls, but for being able to take a “vacation” from Parkinson’s—something, sadly, my husband can’t do. I think there are more such forays in my future (as long as I’m paying). After all, there’s some truth to this adage:

If momma ain't happy

Because I know that when I’m happy, everyone around me is happier, too. I just hope Lucky learns this lesson sooner than I did. And, more importantly, realizes that her happiness is in her hands.

 

D-I-Y attitude adjustment

Usually, it’s KitKat who has trouble getting her posts queued up in time. Our unofficial schedule is supposed to have us alternate posting, one each week, but sometimes (read: often) life intervenes. This time, however, Stormy is the slacker. KitKat has been patient. Meanwhile, my muse has been buried under an avalanche of work and isn’t bringing anything to the party, so I’m left to struggle it out.

I was trying to come up with some Significant Thought that encapsulates everything going on in my life right now. But I’ve found that sometimes the more that’s going on, the less I’m able to write about it—coherently. However, a loose theme has emerged over the last couple of weeks that seems to be worth sharing.

You’ve probably figured out by now that both KitKat and I are introspective people—always trying to look for the meaning in things, figure out a way to do things better. I already know I over-think things. I’m not very good at stopping myself from thinking discouraging thoughts, even when I know my time would be better spent focusing on the positives in my life. But even though I can be a bit slow to learn some of life’s lessons, it’s hard for even me to ignore them when they come in threes.

The first reminder was while reading a post from an email that KitKat mentioned in a previous postThe Daily Love. I don’t remember the exact wording but the topic was aimed at people like me who have this over-thinking problem—that we have a tendency to get stuck in the information-seeking stage (i.e., analysis paralysis). It said, “You likely know exactly what you need to do and just have to take action.” This is true. I keep looking for answers to some of my pervasive challenges—but I KNOW the answers. I just don’t want to take the actions I need to.

The second message was a friend’s Facebook post. She was posting a book. I know nothing about the book (and this shouldn’t be considered a recommendation) but the title electrified me, “We make the road by walking.” It was such as simple statement, but was a powerful reminder that it’s the really simple actions cumulatively can make a difference.

Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.

Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road 
Only wakes in the sea.” 
― Antonio MachadoBorder of a Dream: Selected Poems

The third message was at my daughter’s college graduation. I’m not a fan of commencement ceremonies, because—let’s face it—they are excruciatingly dull. As proud as I am of my daughter’s achievement, this one was particularly stressful as it required a long drive to her college while my husband was suffering (and I mean suffering) from a kidney stone. The planned speaker wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony and another student stepped up to the plate to deliver the commencement address on short notice. He did a remarkable job. The theme was based on a Zen proverb: “Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.”

As a marketer, I know that it sometimes takes multiple exposures to a message in order for something to sink in, and this was the third message that seemed to be telling me the same thing: Quit sulking and get on with your life.

You see, I already know that I’m the only one who is responsible for my life and that regardless of what happens around me, I’m the only one who can make myself happy. In fact, I know this so well that I based my New Year’s Resolutions around these very principles. But somewhere over the last few months, I seemed to have forgotten myself.

Last week, I decided enough was enough. I had been working extremely hard and had nothing to show for it but a bad attitude. It was time to try a new tactic. I started by following through on an idea I had been toying with—to take my daughters out to LA to visit a high-school friend who had moved there. It seemed a bit indulgent, but after reading about KitKat’s Vegas trip, I figured a trip with my girls might do me some good.

I took this new-found attitude right into the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend. I didn’t have time to schedule any social activities for the holiday, but had vague plans to go to our cabin with my husband and youngest daughter. I decided to just enjoy each day as it came. I spent nearly every moment doing whatever I felt like doing and was fortunate to have Blossom hang out with me. It was an awesome weekend—and nobody else suffered because of it. If anything, I was better company to my family than I’ve been in quite some time. By Sunday night, I felt a bit too decadent, and we headed home from our weekend place. On Monday, I was a bit more productive, but continued the theme of “doing what I want.” Overall, my weekend went like this:

Friday night:

  • Dinner outside on a restaurant patio.
  • Early bedtime.

    Oreos, chocolate, bananas and whipped cream.

    Oreos, chocolate, bananas and whipped cream.

Saturday:

  • Coffee on the balcony.
  • Run/walk along the river.
  • Boating.
  • Dinner at the local malt shop—sundaes for dessert.
  • Boutique shopping in town.
  • Read fashion magazine with a glass of wine on balcony.
  • Movie.

 

Sunday:

  • Coffee on balcony.
  • Run/walk along the river.
  • Made smoothies and lay by the pool.
  • Lunch on another patio.
  • Came home.
  • Shopping.

View from my morning walk/run.

Monday:

  • Run/walk at the local nature center.
  • Visiting Mom & Dad*.
  • Stop at Dairy Queen. (Yes, that’s two sundaes if anyone’s counting.)
  • Buying plants at the local nursery.
  • Grilling dinner.
  • Writing blog.
  • (Bedtime.)

*Visiting my parents was the one activity that was more obligation than fun since my mother tends to stress me out most days—but I didn’t stay long enough to let her get to me.

All in all, it was a nice, restorative weekend—just what the doctor ordered. While there is no Significant Thought in this post, that’s the takeaway: Sometimes life doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Sometimes a simple tune-up can do wonders. What can you do to make your life a little better…right now?

 

Beta-testing Stormy 2.0

Despite the fact that I’ve never considered “Mom” to be my primary identity, I’ve been having a tough time adjusting to my empty nest. I remember back to when my mother-in-law found herself “retired.” Her husband passed away about the same time her youngest two graduated from high school. After spending 40+ years as a wife and mother, she literally didn’t know what to do with herself. She spent the next several years in a funk until a chance meeting with an old high school friend blossomed into a “golden years” romance.

Having seen her go through that, I—as a young mother—vowed to have more balance in my life so that my identity wouldn’t be defined by my relationship to my family. But as most of you probably know, raising a family while building a career doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for “self-actualization.” So despite my best intentions, now that my children are off starting their lives, I’m floundering too.

I try to get excited by the potential of what lies ahead—I’ve got time to pursue my interests now (if I could only remember what they are!), I’ve got time to volunteer for causes I’m interested in, time to reconnect with friends. I can totally reinvent myself for the next phase of my life. However, before I unleash Stormy 2.0 on the world, I need to figure out who I am today—independent of my role as wife and mother.

So, as an experiment I conducted a poll, asking my Facebook friends to describe me in three words. I thought this would be an interesting experiment because my Facebook friends are comprised of people from all walks of life: family, coworkers, former coworkers, and friends from high school, college and church. I assumed that I acted differently with these various audiences, and therefore different descriptors would emerge based on how I knew the person responding to the poll.

Here’s a Word Cloud that shows a distribution of the responses:

Screenshot 2014-03-24 21.05.25

Me in Three

First of all, keep in mind that the poll was conducted with Facebook friends. Consequently, I expected most words to skew toward a positive light. (But because just about any trait—when taken to an extreme—can be negative, I also tried to keep in mind that some of these traits might be categorized in a less positive manner by those who don’t know me as well.) Although it’s true that an assortment of terms were posted, a few themes emerged…

“Driven” took top billing – Okay, I expected that one from my coworkers, but I was surprised when a few family members chimed in with that descriptor as well. KitKat and I have observed that we both share a vague dissatisfaction with life—always wanting more despite the fact that we are both pretty blessed. So I recognized this trait as the source of my current unhappiness—because it’s a core part of my personality, yet I have nothing I’m driving toward. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a fine line between contentment and complacency. On the one hand, I credit my “drive” with helping me to accomplish many things in my life. On the other, I sometimes wish I could learn to be satisfied with all I’ve been given.

Another set of words centered around authenticity—being genuine. This surprised me a bit. I know I could apply a little more diplomacy at times, but I guess it’s generally considered positive that people know where they stand with me.

The most surprising responses? A current coworker who described me as “sweet” and a former employee who described me as “empowering.” Both of these responses made me smile.

Overall, the “Me in Three” exercise was insightful. While there weren’t any life-altering revelations, it was a good reminder that there is more to me than just my role as an employee, wife or mother, and I’m generally happiest when I can find a way to express all sides of myself. Now that I’ve got the time to reacquaint myself with those other aspects of my personality, I plan to do just that. At the same time, there are a few words missing from my Word Cloud that I would have liked to have seen appear among my three-word descriptions. Apparently these are traits that I haven’t quite mastered. So this exercise may also serve as my inspiration to make some new descriptors a reality. Can I do it? Of course… After all, I’m “intelligent,” “capable,” and let’s not forget: “driven”!

 

Fit-shaming or fat-shaming… How about neither?

It’s no secret that a large part of the US population has a dysfunctional relationship with both food and exercise. Last year, the US was dethroned as the “Fattest Country in the World” (that title now goes to Mexico), but the need to lose weight is still deeply engrained in our collective psyche. We have an incredible variety of food available to us, but convenience and cost often skew people’s choices toward cheap, overprocessed food. Many people also outsource physical labor and then turn around and pay a gym or Pilates studio to help them burn calories.

"Of course that damn Nellie is getting more attention from Almanzo... She can afford a personal trainer and a private chef!

“Of course that damn Nellie Oleson is getting more attention from Almanzo… She can afford a personal trainer and private chef!”

I sometimes imagine what it would be like to give an 1860s farm family a glimpse of our modern lifestyle. I’m sure they would shake their head in amazement at our excess and foolishness.

The older I get, the more I realize the need for conscious exercise. And yes, I’m occasionally guilty of avoiding a free workout (shoveling snow, for example) in lieu of paying someone to make me sweat.

In my personal quest for better fitness, I’ve also purchased some gadgets that have a mechanism for monitoring weight loss and goals—namely a Wii Fit and a FitBit Flex wristband. As I was setting up both devices, they each required me to set a “weight goal.”

In a country obsessed with weight loss, this is an unpopular admission to make—but I don’t really need to lose weight. My weight bobs up and down within a 5 lb. range at any given point, but it’s all within a healthy BMI. Since I consider my optimal target weight to be on the lower end of that 5 lb. fluctuation, that’s the number I entered into each device. Living in a perpetually frozen state makes exercise inconvenient, so like many Minnesotans I put on a couple of pounds over the holidays and had been hovering at the upper end of my range for a few weeks. I wanted to drop a few pounds and return to my comfort zone.

The new year has been crazy-busy so far, so I had my youngest set up the Wii Fit in her vacated bedroom so it would be more convenient for me to work out. I also started wearing my Flex again to remind me that I needed to be conscious about making time for exercise. While I haven’t been terribly successful at that, the one benefit of my hectic schedule is the ability to cut calories without too much effort (because I’m much more likely to overeat when I’m bored than when I’m stressed).

Consequently, I recently stepped on my Wii Fit and elicited cheers from the little balance board guy: “You’ve reached your goal!” His excitement was short-lived, however, as he immediately ordered me to set a new goal. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I don’t need a new goal…I’ve reached my target.” I wasn’t sure what to do next. I know there will be days that I creep above my optimal weight again—so I just wanted to leave my goal where it was so I could be reminded of where I needed to be. Unfortunately, this concept seemed completely foreign to my little avatar friend.

Likewise, I was logging my weight on my FitBit dashboard and the same thing happened. It congratulated me and immediately demanded I set a new goal.

FitBit tile

That neither of these devices seems to allow for simply maintaining one’s weight disturbs me because it discourages the concept of accepting one’s body as it is. There’s also a lot of debate in this country about what type of shape is acceptable for a woman. Those who advocate fitness are sometimes accused of “fat-shaming” and the backlash from some in the overweight camp is to demand that the media acknowledge what “real women” look like. I find the latter personally offensive—as if I’m somehow “fake” because I’m at a healthy weight?

Having two daughters with different genetic make-ups has underscored for me the need for a broader definition of “real.” One daughter is tall and willowy, the other is short and strong. The willowy one has bordered on anorexia before, has a pretty appalling diet and doesn’t place a high priority on exercise. When she comes home to visit, I check her weight to make sure she’s getting enough calories and eating something besides burgers and pizza. My other daughter has a very healthy diet, loves sports and is in great physical condition, so I don’t worry about her from a health standpoint at all. But in our house, the focus has always been on health and strength—not what size jeans one wears (in fact, I think they may wear the same size jeans, despite the fact that they have completely different builds). And you know what? They’re both gorgeous in their own unique way and they are both very real. Dove got this right in its Campaign for Real Beauty.

There are many factors that influence obesity: Large portions, unhealthy food, sedentary lifestyles… and there are other factors that can lead to obesity—some that a person can control (usually diet and exercise), but also some that a person can’t control (genetics, physical impairments that affect the ability to exercise, life situations that minimize free time for exercise—e.g., a sick child, demanding work schedule).

Knowing this, I don’t spend time judging others on the root cause of their current weight. As I’ve shown here, I’ve got my hands full trying to work on my own issues even if weight loss isn’t one of them. At the same time, there’s a fine line to walk between contentment and complacency. While self-acceptance is important, it’s not inherently bad to want to improve oneself—whether physically, intellectually or emotionally. That’s why I’m happy to live and let live…while encouraging others to achieve their personal goals, whatever they may be. After all, real women know we’re all in this together and consequently, we should try to lift each other up.