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.
With 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.
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 mysummer 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.
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 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?
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I came across this quote by Henry David Thoreau when I was going through a simplification phase in the mid-90s. It struck a chord because I was at a point in my life where I realized that acquiring “stuff” was not the key to happiness.
Let’s back up a bit. Remember that I’m one of nine children and even though my parents did fine by us financially (we had all the basics covered and enjoyed some modest luxuries as well), I frequently heard, “We can’t afford that” as the response to whatever I was asking for. (Looking back, I think it was just my parents’ go-to excuse—not necessarily rooted in lack of finances, but invoked whenever they didn’t want to do or buy something.)
Regardless, my reaction to this childhood “deprivation” was the desire to buy whatever “stuff” I wanted once I had the money and independence to do so. And for a few years, that’s what I did. I’m no candidate for an episode of “Hoarders,” but I have accumulated enough stuff to overwhelm my fairly small home.
I fell in love with my little Cape Cod when I was 25. When we moved in—Mom, Dad and new baby boy—everyone exclaimed, “What a cute little starter house!” They were expecting us to stay in it for a few years and then “trade up.” But I knew we’d be in this house longer than anyone suspected—it looked like where “Happily Ever After” should take place. Although not large by modern US standards, it’s a near duplicate of the house in which 11 of us lived until I was seven, so surely there would be sufficient room for my small family to grow. And there was. That’s not to say that it didn’t become crowded at times, especially during the teenage years, but I believed in what a member of my congregation once observed, “The closest families I know all come from small houses,” and we never traded up to a larger house.
I don’t consider myself terribly materialistic, but over the last two decades, this smallish house has become filled with “stuff.” Stuff that holds memories, stuff that I think my grown kids might need some day, stuff that I feel guilty adding to a landfill, stuff that reminds me that some phases of my life are over.
And it turns out that our cozy house isn’t adequate for the unwelcome guest that arrived 11 years ago and shows no sign of leaving. So, I’ve reluctantly concluded that, as my husband’s Parkinson’s continues to progress, we should find a home that’s more conducive to his lifestyle, with an attached garage, smaller yard, fewer stairs and other features that can make his life easier and more enjoyable. At the same time, if I’m going to leave this home I love, I want to gain some benefits from moving as well—things like a master bathroom and walk-in closet.
Although I’m trying to be optimistic about our next home, the thought of moving is overwhelmingly stressful. Over the last 24 years, we’ve made a lot of home improvements, but there are also a lot of little things we’ve let slide. Dozens of small repairs that need to be made and other tasks that will either fall to me or have to be contracted out.
Then there’s the issue of my rather eclectic taste. My home is uniquely me. My husband retains veto power, but gives me a pretty free rein. Consequently, I’ve never really considered other people’s opinions in my decorating choices. But I know that to put my house on the market, I need to tone down certain aspects of my style. For example, I accept that my living room and dining room need to be transformed from a sociable, lively pink (which I spent hours rag-rolling to achieve a very subtle textured effect) to a more crowd-pleasing neutral tone. I also have a lot to do in “de-personalizing” my home, as it’s filled with photos and mementos. However, the new buyers will need to love the gold metallic cove around my ceilings, as well as my checkerboard kitchen tiles as there are some things I refuse to change. After all, I need to ensure my beloved house ends up in worthy hands.
I’ve set a deadline of next spring to put the house on the market, since my little house is most alluring when you can see my great backyard with multiple gardens, two patios and a fire pit. It’s a backyard just made for entertaining and we’ve had some wonderful parties there in the past. I know I’ll miss that yard, but this year as I was pulling weeds in the various gardens I thought, “I’m not really going to miss this part.” So I’m thinking maybe I’ve turned the corner and can now dive into the rest of the process with less sentimentality.
Another important step for me has been renting a storage locker for our excess belongings. I know that to show our house, we’ll need to stage it properly and that requires some extensive decluttering. I don’t want to fall into the same trap my parents did when selling their last home: My mother refused to do any staging and left all of her clutter and outdated décor intact. My parents ended up paying double mortgages for months when the house wouldn’t sell. And a lot of those same musty, dusty items are sitting in my parents’ current basement—waiting to be dealt with all over again. I like to think I can learn from others’ mistakes.
Even so, it’s been difficult for me to part with some of my own stuff, even when I know I’m unlikely to need it again. But when I’m considering what to put into storage, I’ve found it’s much easier to ask myself, “Will I need this in the next year?” than to ask, “Will I want this again at some point in the future?” It seems like about half is going to the trash or charity and the other half is going into storage. And hopefully, when we’re settled in our new place and moving stuff out of storage, the answer of whether to keep X or Y will be much clearer and even less “stuff” will find it’s way to our new home.
It’s a little exciting (and a lot scary) to think that a year from now I’ll likely be living somewhere else. I want our next home to reflect a positive change and a new chapter in our lives, rather than feel like a concession to my husband’s disability. But I know it’s up to me to make that happen. I have to clear out the past to make room for the future. Wish me luck!
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.
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.
Sunday 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.
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:
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.
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 post—The 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 Machado, Border 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:
Dinner outside on a restaurant patio.
Coffee on the balcony.
Run/walk along the river.
Dinner at the local malt shop—sundaes for dessert.
Boutique shopping in town.
Read fashion magazine with a glass of wine on balcony.
Coffee on balcony.
Run/walk along the river.
Made smoothies and lay by the pool.
Lunch on another patio.
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.
*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?
“Forcing” is a gardening term that refers to the process of causing a plant to flower before its natural season. This is done by mimicking the conditions of winter and spring in quick succession in order to make a bulb bloom. While I’ve never done this (I take a very Darwinian approach to my gardening—no coddling or special effort), I determined that this year—this miserable 2014 that has been the 8th coldest on record since 1864 in Minnesota—I needed to “bloom” before my natural season. Last year, spring was late in coming and that’s simply not going to be acceptable this year. We need it. WE NEED IT…NOW!!!
“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
― Mark Twain
So, to take matters into my own hands, I decided I would “force” spring. First off, I chose a date. March 1st, seemed like a great time for spring to begin, and in fact, it’s considered the first day of “meteorological spring.” I’m not sure what that means, but it seemed like a good omen.
Next, I had a work trip planned that would provide the metaphorical greenhouse needed to “mimick the conditions of spring.” The same conference that presented a mid-winter break filled with Russian gangsters and strippers in 2013 was going to be held at a beautiful resort in Scottsdale the first week in March. The conference ran from Sunday until Wednesday at noon, but a planned spring break vacation became victim to my work schedule and a $10k IRS bill, so I decided to tack two additional nights on to my work stay (one at the group rate, the other paid for with points) in order to spend a day and a half by myself, relaxing in the sunshine.
The next order of business was packing. I am absolutely sick to death of my wool skirts (lined, of course, can’t have that wool anywhere near my delicate epidermis), boots, tights and cashmere sweaters. I would be foolhardy to think I could make it through the next couple of months without resorting to wearing some of these items. Still, I decided that the heaviest ones were, as of March 1, out of rotation until next November. And I would do my best to limit the others. Meanwhile, I dug out my spring/summer clothes and pulled out a few new pieces bought just for the trip. (Even the most un-style-conscious Minnesotans have—by necessity—large wardrobes since the extreme swings in temperature require clothing for every possible situation. So, for those of us with a bit of a shopping addiction, the ever-changing local climate provides a great excuse to hit the malls.)
I spent the better part of Saturday trying on pieces I had all but forgotten, lamenting my pasty white legs, breaking out the bronzer, and packing tank tops, shorts, sunblock and a bikini. I hate trying to choose what to wear in advance—I like to factor in the weather and my mood—so I compensated by bringing enough clothing for a two-week stay.
I’ve been typing this from the plane, eager to see what my “forced spring” has in store for me.
I arrived on site to mild temps (upper 60s) and palm trees. It seemed like my forced spring was off to a good start. The conference went well, but was typically exhausting. Too many late nights with multi-course dinners and drinks. Too many days filled with long workshops and booth time in uncomfortable shoes. I reached the end of my workweek feeling a bit crabby and tired. Hanging around in Arizona suddenly seemed expensive and wasteful instead of relaxing, but since I was already committed, I changed into swimwear and headed for the pool.
Later, I walked around the local shopping area. I had thought about buying some spring clothes, but wasn’t inspired by anything. I had forced a spring environment, but forcing a spring mood was harder to achieve. I had a glass of wine in the lobby bar while reading my Kindle, already bored of my own company.
After a much-needed full night’s sleep, I felt the ice in my heart beginning to thaw—just a bit. I went for a run along the property, amazed at the fragrance of the desert flowers in bloom. (Those of you who live in warm climates will find this odd, but there really isn’t a smell to the cold—other than car exhaust, perhaps.) I had noticed my allergies were acting up, but under the circumstances, it seemed like an acceptable trade-off. KitKat is right about the restorative powers of fresh flowers.
Before heading back to my room, I popped into the spa to inquire about a massage and scheduled one for later in the day. I changed clothes and tested the limits of my ability to be completely unproductive while lazing by a pool. It turns out, I can do that for about three hours. Afterwards, more window shopping. Wine and an appetizer. A really nice massage. Sauna. Jacuzzi. Another short workout in the gym. A walk to Jimmy Johns and quiet dinner in my room, followed by a hot bath and another early bedtime. Perfect.
The next morning, I took another short run and my last turn by the pool. My short vacation was over, but it had served its purpose. As I head home, the temperature in Minneapolis is a “balmy” 30 (compared to the 53 days we’ve had so far with below zero temps) and my weekend is stretching out before me with little obligation. My husband and I have tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra on Saturday, and I need to run some errands and catch up with KitKat. I’ll do laundry and swap out my heavy winter clothes for my early spring clothes. I’ll start thinking about my garden and planning a party to welcome spring properly. Although it was easier to maintain a spring attitude in sunny Arizona, whether the weather in Minnesota continues to cooperate is no longer of concern to me. I know I can make the most of what I’ve got until the real thing comes along.
I have a confession to make: Christmas doesn’t really stress me out. That’s not particularly scandalous, but admitting this during the holiday season feels a bit like a betrayal to my hurried and harried sisterhood. Because, let’s face it: Many of the tasks that comprise “making the season bright” (e.g., baking, decorating, Christmas shopping, entertaining) often fall to the female gender.
I’m not trying to be sexist about gender roles. If we bring Christmas cookies or chocolate truffles to a holiday party, everyone knows the compliments go to my husband, the baker in the family. (Not surprisingly, I have trouble following directions.) But I think there’s some truth in my generalization.
What’s more, when it comes to holiday merrymaking, the motivations of men and women are often different. For example, a man going all Clark Griswold on his house is likely doing it because he gets a kick out of the results. But oftentimes his wife who is going from shop to shop trying to find gifts for teachers and distant in-laws is doing it more to fulfill an expectation than as a labor of love.
I used to be this woman until I realized it was sucking all the fun out of the holidays and really—once they stop being fun, what’s the point? Well, my spiritual side would argue that the point of Christmas is Christ. But I found that the whole religious aspect of Christmas was overshadowed by the incessant busyness and blatant commercialism, as well. Where were the moments of quiet reflection? Where was the magic?
One January, as I was taking down ornaments and swearing to myself that I’d “do it differently next year,” I composed a letter to myself. I’ve always loved “A Christmas Carol” and watching the musical “Scrooge” is a family holiday tradition, so let’s call this missive a “Message from the Ghost of Christmas Past.” The note starts like this:
Every year you do the same thing, Stormy. So this is a letter from your post-holiday, wiser self. I hope you will heed her message.
Then it has seven bullets of advice, addressing topics like:
Cookies – “We are never at a loss for cookies at any holiday gathering. Three types…are plenty.”
Gifts – “Buy little hostess gifts when you see them. They always come in handy. Keep track of what you get the kids so you don’t buy too much.”
Christmas Cards – “Keep it simple. Don’t feel compelled to send to people you aren’t connected to…and don’t worry about the ‘but they sent us one’ game.”
Traditions – “These are what make the holidays fun…Make Christmas about events and not things. Smaller gatherings are fun and meaningful.”
These are merely excerpts—my actual instructions to myself were more detailed and specific. I printed out my message and packed it away with my Christmas decorations where it was promptly forgotten until the following December.
The next year, when I pulled out my garlands and stockings the weekend after Thanksgiving, I spotted the note from Christmas Past and decided to heed my own advice. After all, if you can’t believe yourself, who can you trust?
That season, I took a low-key approach to the holidays and was pleasantly surprised. I was relaxed. Nobody died when I decided to skip sending Christmas cards that year. And we still enjoyed all of our favorite traditions. What a revelation! I felt like I owed a debt of thanks to my stressed self.
Since then, my Christmas preparations have varied somewhat—some years I make more of an effort, some years less. But whatever I do, I do it for the joy of it and not because it’s an expectation. This flexibility has been critical this year as my mom’s surgery and recoveryhas consumed a good portion of the free time that my siblings and I would have to spend on holiday preparations.
By now my low-key approach to the holidays has become second nature. Yet, I still keep the note to remind me of my frazzled, younger years. There are some advantages to growing older and as Scrooge himself can attest, it’s never too late to master the fine art of keeping Christmas.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Those who don’t know me well would be surprised to find I have a whimsical side. Hidden from all but close friends and family, this quirky trait only emerges on rare occasions. This past summer, when I was feeling uncharacteristically lighthearted after a couple of medical scares proved to be benign, I created a little elf home in the large pine tree in my backyard. Signified by a little wooden door draped in moss with a little stone path and—the piece de resistance—a little Weber grill (with real charcoal ash in the bottom: Stormy knows the devil’s in the details).
We were hosting a graduation party for my youngest, and I thought my great-nieces and -nephews would find it intriguing. I showed it to a few of them at the party, and they marveled over the tiny door and what might be inside the tree.
Fast forward to late fall. I took a day off work to tackle some neglected yard work and was clearing an overgrown mess of dead weeds from my garden when I happened upon my elf home. The grill was knocked over and the path had broken in two. I considered bringing in the grill, to keep it from rusting or getting lost in the mounds of snow imminent in a Minnesota winter, but instead I set the grill upright, carefully pressed the two halves of the walkway together and left it in place. The next day, I was hosting a small family party that would feature chili and a bonfire, and I didn’t want any of the kids who had seen the elf’s home to wonder what became of him.
“Every girl needs a bit of whimsy to remind her that life is a game and it’s all about having fun.” ― Candace Havens, Take it Like a Vamp
The next night I had forgotten about the elf and was talking with my sisters when my great-nephews ran into the house buzzing with excitement, “Do you have a flashlight? We found a little grill! And a little door!” asked Caleb. His cousin, Sean Ryan was jumping up and down with unconstrained enthusiasm, while his older sister looked on with skepticism.
“Oh,” I responded nonchalantly, “you must be talking about the elf’s home. Don’t harass him too much. He likes to be left alone,” I warned as I handed Caleb a flashlight.
The boys ran out the door to investigate. Later, Caleb’s sister came in to report that, “I don’t believe an elf really lives there, but the boys sure do!”
I think the thing that made their encounter so magical was that they discovered the elf’s home themselves—literally stumbled upon it in the dark. No adult had led them to it, pointing out the details carefully constructed to help support the illusion. Therefore it must be real, right?
“Those who shun the whimsy of things will experience rigor mortis before death.” ― Tom Robbins
The kids’ reaction reminded me of some things I’d forgotten during a very busy year: 1) Creating joy is a very productive way to spend one’s time. 2) You may discover magic when you least expect it, and 3) It’s more fun to believe. This is a timely reminder given that we’re entering what is generally regarded as the most magical season of all—because my “very busy year” doesn’t show any signs of letting up. So, I’ll make sure to appreciate the little pockets of whimsy to be found amidst the holiday hustle and bustle. Heck, maybe I’ll even create a little myself. Does anyone know where I can find a teeny tiny wreath? 🙂
When KitKat and I conceived this idea for a blog, a key question lurking in the back of my mind was, “Will we have enough energy/dedication/content to keep this thing going?” After all, I’ve been known to start many projects with great enthusiasm only to lose steam once life intervened (as it invariably does). Nonetheless, we launched in January with high hopes: This project would sharpen our creative writing skills, serve as a crash course in blogging (something two marketers should understand) and, if we were lucky, would also allow us to exercise some middle-aged demons.
Our goal was for each of us to do one post, every two weeks, for a total of four postings a month. Off to a promising start, in January we posted 11 times. We each had a backlog of topics floating around our heads, and it seemed there was no end to the curveballs—or perhaps “snowballs” is more accurate—life was tossing our way. Every day seemed laden with a fresh blanket of material… February brought a slight decline in our writing output, but the shortest month of the year still saw us generate 7 posts. After that, we stabilized at a pace of about 5 posts per month. That’s one more than our “guidelines” dictated, so we were still doing great.
Then it finally got nice out.
If you’ve been reading this blog from the start, you no doubt detected a theme in our early posts that can best be summarized as, “two-mentally-unstable-women-living-in-a-perpetually-frozen-locale-churn-out-ironic-observations-about-life-to-keep-from-slipping-over-the-edge-of-sanity-and-bludgeoning-those-around-them-with-an-icicle.”
And for the most part it worked. We finally made it to summer with our marriages, jobs and good humor mostly intact. But if we consider blogging to be a form of online therapy (and we do), then there have been a couple of mental breakthroughs along the way. And one thing we’ve both learned is this: You’ve got to strike when the iron is hot–whether you’re talking about writing or living. Carpe diem. That may be trite and hackneyed, yes, but it’s also undeniably true.
Today’s swimming hole is tomorrow’s skating rink, so you need to make your splash before the first thin layer of ice takes hold of your heart. I know that a lot of people swear by meditative silence, but I find that if I spend too much time alone with my thoughts, I find myself fretting over thorns when I should be smelling the roses. I’m much happier when I’m doing stuff—whether it’s making strides toward solving a problem (e.g., at work), improving my surroundings (e.g., weeding my garden), focusing on others for a change (e.g., visiting my parents) or just enjoying the best that Minnesota has to offer (e.g., concerts in the park with my kids).
At the same time, KitKat and I have also found that writing a post when we’re uninspired—or when long summer nights are beckoning us outdoors—is useless. It just ain’t gonna happen. Yet, we believe there will still be a few summer moments when inspiration strikes, and we can crank out our thoughts in record speed. But until then, we’ll just sip our margaritas while waiting patiently for that muse to arrive.
The bottom line here is KitKat and I are slacking off a bit with our posts during these months. But we hope you won’t really notice because you, too, have dragged yourself away from the computer and are enjoying these fleeting days of summer. That’s what we want for our readers… Just remember to come back in the fall. We promise that once October rolls around and the kids are settled into their school routines, our postings will wax as surely as our daylight hours wane, and we’ll be full of new stories to share. In the meantime, slack off a little yourself and go enjoy a margarita on the deck. We won’t tell.
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
Anyone living in Minnesota has felt a bit unlucky this year. As KitKat and I have mentioned several times, we’ve had unprecedentedly lousy weather this spring/summer. In addition, work has been relentlessly busy. It’s all a bit wearing on the spirit, so in early June—when a brief break in the rain allowed me to get to some long-neglected yardwork—I found this:
We were preparing for my youngest child’s graduation open house and our home really isn’t large enough to host her many family and friends, so when I found the clover, I was excited. I may not believe in gambling for the big jackpot, but finding such a lucky token surely must mean something, right?
Feeling a bit beaten down and daunted by the task of getting my house and yard into tip-top shape for the party, I decided to embrace the power of the clover. No matter what transpired in the coming week, I was going to view it as good fortune. I believe that our outlook is mostly a matter of attitude, so if I used this symbol of good fortune as a reminder of my blessings, it would bring about a change in attitude that would ultimately benefit me. Well, that was my theory at any rate.
I started the week with my attitude adjustment firmly planted. I was lucky! Good things were going to happen at every turn! I just needed to keep my outlook positive and my eyes open. The previous three months may have been a bit—well, sucky—but the tide was a turnin’ now and everything would be going my way!
Despite my positive outlook, the week was inauspicious. While nothing terrible happened, it wasn’t exactly like Lady Luck was smiling upon me. I was a bit disappointed in my botanical harbinger. Then, at the end of the week, things took a decided turn for the worst. We had a system issue at work. This wouldn’t be terribly catastrophic except that we had just had a similar problem—one that cost our company time and money and our clients considerable disruption—a mere month earlier. We hadn’t experienced such a significant disruption to our business before that, and the thought that this new incident might mirror the earlier one was weighing heavily on our minds as we sought to troubleshoot the situation. “Power of the Clover!” I invoked. Maybe this was the situation for which the luck was intended? Well, the problem was resolved much quicker than previously, but it didn’t feel so much like good luck as just an avoidance of really bad luck.
Disenchanted with my clover, I turned my attention back to other matters. My daughter’s graduation was troubling me and not just because we were hosting a big party and the weather wasn’t cooperative. This was my youngest child’s graduation from high school. I would soon be an “empty nester.” Moreover, my birthday was looming ahead. So, combine bad weather/party stress/empty nest/mid-life crisis/anxiety about getting older and you get a stormy Stormy.
So on my long list of to-dos, was my annual exam. I was telling my nurse practitioner about all of the things going on in my life and she was nodding sympathetically. At the same time, she was telling me that I was in great shape. My blood pressure—great! My lungs sounded good. Pressing on my abdomen, she commented on my muscle tone and said I was in the best shape of anyone she had seen that day. I have to confess, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe turning 48 wasn’t that big of a deal. Then it came time to do my breast exam. “There’s a lump. Feel it?” Sure enough. How did I miss that? (Maybe because I do a half-assed job at breast self-exams when I remember to do them at all?) “When was your last mammogram?” she asked. It had been 2 ½ years. Shit. “You need to get that checked out.” Next was my pelvic exam. “Your ovary is enlarged.” Double shit.And I had made an outrageous statement about cancer being more suited to my temperament than Parkinson’s in an earlier post. How stupid could a person be? I was just asking God for another big slice of humble pie! Even if neither were indications of cancer, it would likely take a while to get the all-clear report and the specter of doom would be hanging over my head all weekend—tainting my daughter’s party, Father’s Day and my birthday. Boo.
Fortunately (luckily?), my doctor’s office was able to line up diagnostic tests quickly: The mammogram would be later that afternoon, and an ultrasound of my ovaries would be done the next day.
I have to confess, I freaked out a bit while waiting for the tests—after all, I was facing TWO diagnostic tests for two DIFFERENT kinds of cancer, one of them highly fatal. I wasn’t sure of my odds, but they were doubled, right? It was like a frickin’ BOGO! Suddenly, the status quo looked pretty attractive. Preparing for my daughter’s open house seemed very insignificant. So did turning another year older. After all, it’s a blessing to tear another page off the calendar, right? A lot of people don’t get that privilege. What was wrong with me that I had been so absorbed with such petty matters?
Well, if I ever needed to invoke the Power of the Clover, this was it. And I’m happy to report that my little four-leaf friend came through for me. Both abnormalities were harmless cysts, not malignant tumors. Afterward, I was much more enthusiastic about the fact that I had a wonderful accomplished daughter whose graduation we were celebrating. (After all, this is a good thing, right?) And despite an ominous forecast, it was even sunny for her party. Yay! So lucky! And so what if I was turning another year older—that’s better than the alternative, right? And I was certainly another year wiser as well. Sooooo lucky!
My dad always says, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” And while, I can’t determine who coined that expression, there’s some truth in it. However, the part that’s not explained is that luck isn’t something you “find”—like a clover—it’s all around you, hiding in plain sight. Rather, it’s something you need to RECOGNIZE . In the end, the clover was just a lens through which I gained some much-needed perspective. I don’t expect this realization to last (it never does) but maybe I can come back and read this at a later date and that will help me remember the good fortune that surrounds me. And if it helps you keep a little perspective, too, then it’s all been worth it.