New Year’s and its related resolutions are a perennial theme for KitKat and me. (YES, we’ve been doing the blog long enough now to have “perennial themes”—and the fact that this blog started out as a resolution proves my point, I think…)
From vision boards to attitude adjustments, we’re both a bit obsessed with self-improvement. Or at least identifying our shortcomings on a regular basis (ha, ha). Seriously, with how much I think about these things, I should be perfect by now. But as you probably realize, thinking and doing are two different things.
While I can be decisive and even a little impulsive, and I sometimes abandon my efforts when they don’t yield immediate results, I’m also a big believer in adopting the approach of the tortoise over the hare—slow and steady wins the race—and over time, small incremental changes can have a large impact on my life. Case in point: the bachelor’s degree that took me 11 years to earn.
Most of the time, it’s just about the choices you make.
Back when KitKat and I worked together, I had a 2 p.m. pop habit. (I suppose I should explained to some of our unenlightened readers that “pop,” not “soda,” is the proper nickname for carbonated beverages like Pepsi, or in my case, Diet Coke.) Each workday at 2 p.m., I’d saunter down to the break room and stick my two quarters in our company-subsidized (boy, in those days we were livin’ large!) vending machine. You could almost set your clock by my daily pilgrimage.
When I left that job, I was unemployed for a while and quickly got over the need for my 2 p.m. caffeine jolt. However, on my first day with my current employer, I found myself in the breakroom at 2 p.m., dollar bill in hand (no subsidized vending machine there!) and as I was about to slide my money into the slot, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” Here I had successfully broken myself of a habit that was unhealthy and I nearly resumed it based on…what? A habit? A memory? I made a conscious decision NOT to buy the pop and have consumed very little since then—about 10 cans a year vs. the previous 60 or so.
This remembrance inspired my resolution for 2016. What could I accomplish by simply making different choices? I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” about the process of creating and breaking habits—if you’re a self-improvement junkie it’s a must-read. Around the holidays I received her e-newsletter, which included an article about choosing a New Year’s theme instead of a resolution. This theme would consist of a word (or words) that would guide decisions for the upcoming year: “Health,” for example, or “Learn.”
As someone with new-found time on my hands after our recent downsizing, I wanted to get in touch with activities I wasn’t able to pursue when I was taking care of a house and three kids, so I originally was going to make “Discover” my theme for 2016. Then I realized that word wasn’t broad enough to encompass the other changes I wanted to incorporate into the year ahead, so I revised my theme to “Choose Different.” This has a few meanings for me: One is synonymous with “Discover”—because I still want to explore new interests. But “Choose Different” also reminds me to challenge my dysfunctional thinking patterns and alter behaviors that haven’t been serving me well.
We’re only three weeks in, but so far it’s yielding some positive results. One change I made was to force myself to be less of an introvert at work. It’s something I’ve told myself I needed to do a dozen times before, but a 360 review coupled with a tongue-lashing by a coworker friend convinced me I needed to make a change. Well, it hasn’t killed me and it IS improving some relationships at work, so I’ll keep plugging along until it feels natural. There are other examples as well, and I’m curious to see where this theme might take me in 2016. I guess that is one of the benefits of getting to 50. I can see the horizon ahead and know that even if I don’t get to my self-actualized destination overnight, I can become a better version of myself along the way…simply by making smarter choices most of the time. Are you making any changes in the new year? Please share in the comments…
I knew that I was a bit behind on my blogging, but was astonished to discover that my last post was in April… A whole summer had passed! A quarter of a year since I last logged in, yet I had thought I was only about a month behind on my writing. Actually, this summer has flown by in all aspects. Where did it all go? Next week my kids return to school. Usually, I am ready to push my kids out the door and back into a routine. Instead, this summer it feels like we were short changed by at least a month. The kids haven’t even yet started their ritual of bugging me, and each other, from too many days with no real structure.
I know I did plenty these past few months. And I actually have about four different blog topics started to document some of the activities that passed during this time. Though, I still have to prove it to Stormy who kept hearing me say, “I have something to write about this week.” Yet, nothing ever fully materialized past my initial jotted notes. I’d get distracted with a game of catch in the front yard, a neighbor beckoning me over for a glass of wine on the porch, or time commitments of baseball games replacing the winter hockey schedule. Then suddenly, with an uncompleted list of planned summer activities and several unfinished blog drafts sitting in my to-do pile, summer is wrapping up.
Is this the start of what my grandma warned me about? How time would speed up and pretty soon I’d be looking back wondering where all the years have gone?
This observation came from the same grandma who gave me and my friends lessons on how to best hold your drink and appetizer while still socializing at a party. So she has earned my trust in passing on truly valuable nuggets of wisdom.
I am hoping that it is just a strange happenstance versus getting older that caused the summer time warp. As you may remember from a past birthday blog of mine, I am not taking the whole aging process graciously. I am not quite ready for even more “attributes” of getting older, so time speeding up is exactly what I don’t need.
Whatever the reason, this summer cruised by way too fast. Reflecting back on these past months, I can only remember flashes of memories, rather than a good summer story.
It had its simple pleasures – cabin trips, moms-and-kids staycation, family visits, and lots of outdoor time with good friends.
It has had its downers – breast cancer scares, parent’s health issues, and helping a friend through some intense life decisions and changes.
It has had its celebrations – my favorite being Stormy’s joint 50th birthday/moving party (which included drunk dancing in her backyard and a text the next day asking if I had any recollection of how she broke her toe after too many drinks!)
It had its lessons learned – wiener dogs do bite, waterslides are fun, and if the pool at the club closes unexpectedly just pull out the baby pool, hose and Prosecco in the backyard.
I guess, overall, the summer has just been filled with living in the present. I took a break from wondering what is next. I have a habit of always trying to peek at the chapter ahead versus engrossing myself in the current story. Maybe creating this new way of living through one of my chapters is what also messed with my time perspective. (Again, trying to deny the aging theory.)
If I was summing up this chapter of my life, I would just say it was a relaxing time, enjoying simple things, and growing up a bit (not growing old!). I did purposely try to make some self improvements such as watching how I acted and reacted, taking deep breaths as needed, and making sure I did the things I thought were best for those I love (whether they realized it or not).
I wasn’t always successful at this new calm, “take-it-as-it-comes” self. Just this past Sunday while back-to-school shopping at Target, I had a random moment where my mind was surprisingly confronted again with how fast time really does go. How quickly life changes. I had to remind myself to breathe–there was a reason I was there at that moment–and to just focus. No regrets. No worrying what was missed. Trust that I am making the most of my time, even in those periods of time that seem to disappear in a blink.
My personality won’t lend itself to taking this mellow approach to life long term. I am already plotting my plans and goals with fall approaching. I am considering taking up playing on a mom’s hockey league. I have some lofty career aspirations I want to hit. Also, I have a personal physical goal that I hope will send some parts of me back in time. As time keeps passing and new life chapters unfold, I want to find the right mix of excitement and challenges while regularly adding in some contentment and just enjoying the present. If my grandma’s warning is true about looking back and wondering where all the time has passed, I want to make sure I have filled the time with a vast collection of stories to look back on. I already have some wonderful ones to keep my old mind happy and as a good place to revisit.
My next chapter: The kids head back to school and I head to New York (a setting for several favorite memories already). Maybe saying goodbye to summer won’t so bad with an interest in finding out what is ahead.
You never know exactly what will be next or what tale will unfold. That should be the fun part, the unknown. It makes the passage of time easier. At least that is what my Grandma told me over a recent phone call. She also reminded me, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.”
When you last heard from me, two months ago, I thought I was through the worst of moving…However, downsizing is a gift that keeps on giving. We had a month of overlap with our properties which allowed us to make a few updates, but also dragged out the “fun.” We’re not home free quite yet, but we’ve been through enough where I can see a shimmering oasis of calm ahead, and I’m driving toward it with single-minded dedication. Here are some things I learned along the way:
Moving is when you learn who your friends are – The physical act of moving was an exhausting one after 25 years of accumulation. A well-meaning friend suggested I hire someone to pack everything up, but that was impractical for my situation. Each item needed to be evaluated—something that movers couldn’t do: Should it go to the new place? Do the kids need it? Could any of my family use it? Should we donate it to charity? Is it garbage? Sometimes the answer came quickly: Of course my bunny collection is going with me. No, we don’t need the cassette tapes. But others were tricky: I love my curio cabinet and TV stand, but there’s no place to put them in the new unit. And—in a situation I’m guessing was not unique to us—we eventually ran out of time and began throwing things willy-nilly in boxes. (This explains why, at our new condo, I spotted a box whose labeled contents included “Wii box.” Not the Wii IN the box, mind you, but rather a box for a video game system we bought in 2008, that my youngest has since taken to college. Really? Moving a box for an obsolete and relocated gaming system? Really?) As I was lamenting all the work involved in this process, I was genuinely touched when several friends offered sincerely to help move, pack and unpack. There’s a joke about finding out who your real friends are when you need to move—but it’s a joke based in truth.
We all have too much stuff and the 80/20 rule generally applies – Attempting to unpack was a lesson in humility. Who needs all this stuff? I thought of an article I read where a photographer took photos of people with all of their possessions laid out beside them. I was embarrassed by the sheer volume of riches I take for granted. We were buried in boxes for a solid week and had to move some into a storage unit just so workmen could get at our floor to replace it. Yet, somehow we managed to find the really important stuff—and survive without the Belgian waffle maker or ice cream maker. I’ve tried to live by Thoreau’s mantra, “He who owns little is little owned,” but clearly I’ve failed. My stuff is dictating how I live right now. I’m totally owned.
Organization is expensive—but worth it – People have varying tolerances for clutter, but I’ve found the older I get, the less I can tolerate living in a mess. My brain jumps from thought to thought and I become mentally exhausted trying to find things. One day, I returned home to find that my husband had been unpacking and attempted to organize the kitchen. Here’s his idea of a good location for a pantry:
Yes, it’s the cupboard above the refrigerator, where one usually stashes the roaster, the crockpot and other rarely used items. I had to text a photo of this to several girlfriends for sympathy and laughs before pulling out all the foodstuffs and relocating them to a more accessible location. (By the way, re-doing unpacking is even more annoying that regular unpacking.)
After four trips to The Container Store, I’m starting to bring order to my chaos, but at a price. That stuff ain’t cheap. But at least it matches, which brings me to another lesson:
Warning: Companies that make plastic totes are evil – That’s right, I’m talking to YOU Rubbermaid, Hefty, Sterlite… At one time, I had a vision of a perfect storage area with nicely matching totes, either clear or nicely labeled, but I’ve come to understand this Nirvana will never be realized unless I’m willing to buy all 20 totes at once. Why? Because companies that make totes change their design every two weeks. So if you buy a few at a time (like most normal people), the next time you go to buy them, they will be different—color, size, lids, something. (And good luck if you need to only replace a lid—it’s just not happenin’… Accept it and get on with your life.)
Summer is fleeting, take the time to enjoy it – The worst thing about moving in the summer is missing out on what is an already too-short season in Minnesota. Therefore, my husband and I have been trying to work in little bits of summer fun wherever we can: an impromptu boat outing, dinner on a rooftop patio, even listening to a local band performance while unpacking (our new home is next to a park, so we can hear music from the amphitheater when our windows are open). It was particularly inspiring when one of the bands started playing the theme from “Rocky.” Any daunting task seems more doable when accompanied by “Gonna Fly Now” performed by a live orchestra outside your window! … It’s a trade-off between wanting to make my current living situation more tolerable now and not wanting to wake up in my beautiful new home in September, wondering where my summer went. Somehow, I’ll find that balance, but it’s easier said than done.
Dear Readers, It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I don’t want you to think I’ve taken this absence lightly. We know our legions of followers depend on our dysfunctional tales to help them feel good about themselves, and KitKat and I are loath to disappoint. I want to take this moment to thank you for indulging me in my prolonged absence and assure you that the dry spell is nearly over. I hope that when you read what I’ve been up to, you can forgive me my negligence… And now, where has Stormy been the last three months?
Well, last year I mentioned that my husband and I were going to downsize. Part of this is just due to entering a new phase of our lives—our kids are grown and starting their own lives. At the same time, it’s also a concession to my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease. Twelve years into this disease, certain things have become difficult—and although he’s still able to do quite a bit when his meds are working, we’d both rather he didn’t have to spend his “quality time” doing routine household chores and yard work. After the holidays, we consulted with a realtor friend of my brother’s and decided we’d try to list our house in the spring. (In Minnesota, there’s a definite season to house-hunting and it peaks in April/May.)
Originally, I had a very pragmatic outlook to moving and told myself (and my husband) that we’d first focus on selling our house and then take our time finding the perfect new home. After all, we have a vacation condo (“urban cabin”) about 40 minutes away that we could live in temporarily if needed. Well, this strategy lasted about one week. I started thinking about the limitations involved in moving to our vacation condo—impossible for my husband to drive to his personal trainer appts., harder to see my elderly parents, farther away from other friends and relatives, longer drive to work—and decided I just wanted to get the process over with. (As I like to say, I’m fine with change—it’s changing, I can’t stand. Yet that’s the action verb that gets one to a new stage in life. It’s unavoidable—like death and taxes.)
I think that the power is the principle. The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.
– Robert Downey, Jr.
It’s also a fact that I tend to become a little obsessed over things like this—as my husband could attest—and so I started poring over online listings looking for our new home. This process was both exciting and frustrating. After so many years in the same house, it was exhilarating to think, “I can have a big walk-in closet!” “I can have a big master bathroom!” But it was also discouraging to realize that my husband’s illness meant we couldn’t pursue some properties—like the cool old brownstone in St. Paul with tons of character that required the owners to walk a long flight of stairs to reach the house from the detached garage out back (a perilous journey in the winter for someone whose meds aren’t working).
In mid-March we went to an open house for a property that showed promise. It was in one of our favorite areas of town and, although it wasn’t perfect, it “ticked enough of the boxes” to warrant serious consideration. Unfortunately, there were two major problems for us. 1) They didn’t allow dogs and 2) We were about to leave for a week long trip for Mexico. I decided I would just relax, enjoy our vacation fully and reassess the condo situation once we returned (if the unit had not been sold by that time).
However, during our vacation I found myself keeping one eye on the listing, and during the week a couple of additional properties popped up that were worth looking into as well. I was starting to feel more confident that we would ultimately find something that would work for us.
The morning after our vacation, I emailed our realtor three properties that we wanted to see. We wanted to go back to “the one that ticked the boxes” for a closer look, and there were two new places we wanted to check out. He responded that the two new ones were already off the market, but he’d scheduled a return visit to the condo we had seen before vacation. It seemed like a sign.
When we went back the second time, we took a closer look at the place and started talking about how we would redecorate, where we would put furniture and what we would do to make the condo “ours”…We were both able to envision ourselves living there fairly easily, but we still had the issue of our dog. I asked my youngest, college-age Blossom, whether she’d consider taking our elderly Westie. (In Pixie’s eyes, Blossom has always been her one true master.) And she graciously agreed to help us out her by taking on custody of her childhood companion. After that was settled, we made an offer on the condo that was under the asking price and were thrilled when the buyers accepted it quickly. One half of our journey was complete!
However, there was still the small detail of selling our house. So we dove headfirst into the arduous process of getting our house ready to list. This was no minor task. After 25 years, there were a myriad of small repairs needed: painting, pintucking our bricks, replacing fixtures and outlets, staining woodwork. Fixing the broken windows, quite literally. And cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. (Our realtor recommended everything be “surgically clean,” which is a notch or two higher than my personal bar: “the illusion of clean.”)
Our realtor always lists on Fridays and holds an open house the first weekend—part of a strategy to generate interest quickly—so we set a personal deadline for listing our house. A week before our self-imposed deadline, we knew we wouldn’t make it. My ADD was kicking in, so if I had to go into a new room to find a paintbrush or tape, I’d be distracted by 10 other things that needed doing. This meant there were half-packed boxes and half-finished projects EVERYWHERE and the clutter was stressing me out, making it even harder to focus. There was still way too much to do. Moreover, we were both incredibly tired, and I hadn’t been feeling well either—but since we now had a closing date set for our new place, we were determined to push through and finish.
I sent a “HELP!” text to my two sisters who live closest and they both volunteered their services immediately. I’ve mentioned before that I have a challenging relationship with my mom—but my sisters make up for it in love and support. I know that I can call on them for anything and they’ll be there. Because most of them were already teenagers when I was born, they did a lot of the heavy lifting involved in raising me when I was little and served as great sounding boards when I was a teen/young adult myself. After buying my sisters a nice breakfast, I proceeded to work them like slaves the rest of the day. But by the end of the weekend, we finally turned a corner and I could see that we would in fact make our deadline. We were ecstatic to actually see the finish line ahead.
First thing Friday morning, I searched the Internet for our listing and there it was: For Sale. The professionally taken photos of the surgically clean rooms—completely devoid of any family photos or usual signs of life (like ironing boards and dirty laundry)—looked nothing to me like the house I had lived in all of these years. But it looked good, nonetheless. So much so that text messages for showing requests arrived all day and over the course of the first two days, there were about eight private showings in addition to the open house. By Sunday morning we had FIVE offers—the best one a full $20k over our asking price. Even better, when we received the paperwork for the offer, we discovered that the buyer was the son of one of my husband’s college buddies. It was the icing on the cake to know that our house was going to a young couple, just starting out, that seem to love it as much as we do.
This impending move has been weighing heavily on my mind for the last five years or longer. To have everything turn out better than I expected was a much-needed reminder that in this dog-eat-dog world, sometimes life throws you a bone and it’s best to just wag your tail and savor the sweet taste of success. 😉
(Some headlines just write themselves.) In an earlier post, I mentioned being a late-comer to the fitness scene. I always had trouble with the idea of paying money to sweat and I was blessed with a good metabolism, not much of a sweet tooth and a little ADD. So I managed to stay reasonably fit without trying too hard. Eventually, however, Father Time and Mother Gravity caught up with me. And watching my parents deal with joint replacements and various aches and pains made me realize that it was time to get serious about protecting my own health. So, I joined LA Fitness and signed up for a personal trainer. Surprisingly, I actually thought my weight-lifting workouts were somewhat fun. But a few months into my new routine, my trainer announced she was leaving LA Fitness due to some disagreements with management. I changed to another trainer—a cute boy who was the same age as my college-age daughter—but although he was an okay replacement in terms of making me work, I didn’t enjoy my sessions as much. After a short-time, he moved on to another gym as well, and I was once again stuck without a trainer.
Based on the staff turnover and my lack of enthusiasm for working out on my own, I decided LA Fitness wasn’t a good fit for me. Trying to end my membership was a hellacious experience—it was 2014 and they required that we send a snail-mail letter to their headquarters and allow a month to process the cancellation—seriously?!? Then, despite sending the cancellation notice via registered mail (I know a scam when I see one), they claimed not to have received it and kept debiting our bank account for months after we cancelled. After multiple phone calls yielded no results, we actually had to cancel our debit card altogether before the auto-deductions ceased.
I then began a season of sluggishness that didn’t sit well with me. I had grown accustomed to working out, was feeling stronger than I had in a long time…and actually sort-of enjoyed it. I didn’t want to go back to my sedentary former self. I spent a few months trying to find a perfect substitute, but I was hesitant to commit to another membership (I was very gun-shy after my LA Fitness nightmare). So, I decided to try a couple of different options using a “punch card” and found the “pay-as-you-go” approach much more practical. Best of all, I didn’t have to sign any gym contracts or commit to just one routine. After a few months of this, I decided that when it comes to working out, promiscuity is a good thing. And it’s an approach that works for my lifestyle. Here’s what my “slutty” fitness routine looks like: Yoga at three different places – I go to a studio near my home, a studio where we have our weekend place, and thanks to a recommendation from KitKat, yoga comes to me once a week at my workplace. Small group circuit training – Because I wanted to continue to build muscle, but find gyms boring, I joined a small gym that does circuit training in small groups. This is a good fit because the trainer holds me accountable and the other participants keep me motivated (when I get tired, I just think, “if they can do it, so can I”). Pole and silks classes – This I do for the great workout and the sheer joy of it. I attended my first class (an introductory freebie) as a lark and had so much fun I was hooked. It’s a small, friendly, women-only studio that attracts members of all shapes, sizes and ages. I’ve taken my daughters, too, and laughed along with them while videotaping their spins and moves. This takes core strength to a whole new level.
I supplement these “paid” workouts with a number of other activities done on my own—an exercise bike and free weights in the winter and when the weather is nice, walking, running (although not very far), biking, paddleboarding and roller-blading. The variety keeps me going and if I’m not in the mood to do one activity, I can always substitute another.
I knew I had turned a corner on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. It was unseasonably warm for January in Minnesota and I was taking advantage of the mild weather to grill some carnitas. In a very stupid move, I accidentally grabbed an electric charcoal starter that was molten hot. Although I immediately plunged my singed hand into the snow at my feet, I nonetheless suffered second degree burns on my palm and fingers. I had been planning to go to my small group training that evening, but knew I couldn’t work on the machines if I couldn’t use my right hand. Then it dawned on me that I couldn’t do ANY of my normal workouts (except my exercise bike) with my blistered hand. And rather than rejoice in having a legitimate excuse not to exercise, I was actually disappointed. However, I was determined to do my best to keep to my routine. And although I missed my session that evening, I maneuvered my way through my downward dogs at work yoga the next day. I also attended my small group circuit training class on Wednesday. On Sunday, I took advantage of the nice weather by going ice skating at a nearby park with my sister (skating is something I LOVED to do as a kid, but don’t do very often as an adult). When I realized I had managed to get three workouts in despite a pretty serious injury, it dawned on me that…gasp!…exercise had actually become a priority for me. That would have been unthinkable three years ago. I’ve discovered that when it comes to exercise, the best routine for me isn’t a routine at all and “fitness infidelity” is the way to go. Hey, you can still teach an old Stormy new tricks.
Our readers know that one of my standby topics is self-improvement and New Year’s only adds kerosene to those flames of obsession. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been thinking a lot about this year’s resolutions lately. But ultimately, I decided that last year’s goals were pretty solid—I just need to master them. (Full disclosure: Although I’m awesome at coming up with resolutions, I’m much less proficient at living them.)
Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions
This first one requires an attitude change. While I think I’ve made some progress in this area (with the help of pharmaceuticals), I still have a ways to go. The second and third resolutions are more action-based. As a control freak, one of the challenges of getting older is realizing all that I can’t control, but these resolutions help me focus on the things I do have control over.
However, if you’ve learned anything about me it’s that Stormy is never content to merely stay the course.
In addition to a Milestone Birthday, the coming year will also bring another big change—selling our house of 25 years. So, I’m starting this new year knowing that I’ll end it in a very different place. In other words, 2015 is A Perfect Storm for Stormy. Therefore, in anticipation of all that is to come, I’m going to add two more resolutions to my earlier list:
1) Just say “Yes!”
A month ago, I was at a party talking to a friend who lives out of state. She had found herself unemployed about the same time her father’s health declined, so she moved back to the Midwest and spent a couple of years taking care of her elderly dad. After his death, she returned to California to reinstate her former life and find a new job. During this process, she adopted the above philosophy—to Just Say Yes to any invitations, ideas, concepts and be open to whatever life had in store for her. As we were talking, she was waiting to hear about an exciting job opportunity that she probably wouldn’t have heard about if she hadn’t said “yes” to an invitation she otherwise may have turned down.
I mentioned I was feeling at a crossroads myself and had adopted a similar philosophy toward my future. And so far, JSY has yielded some interesting results. It’s led me to discover paddle-boarding, start a gourmet dinner club and even take some pole dancing classes. Trust me, despite the stripper pseudonym, that’s something that a younger version of myself never would have considered doing. (Fortunately, my husband is very supportive of all my craziness. When I was thinking about backing out of the “free” introductory class, he encouraged me with, “You have nothing to lose but your dignity.”) I plan to ratchet it up a notch in 2015, so look out.
I was visiting my favorite hairstylist this week, and we were talking about how this is one of the hardest lessons to learn—acceptance—but it’s also one of the most critical. Despite all we can control and change in our lives, there are certain things we just cannot do. We can influence our health by making smart choices, but we can’t safeguard ourselves against heart problems, cancer or Parkinson’s Disease. We can choose to treat people with kindness, but we can’t make others love us. And we can try to be good sons and daughters, but or we can’t keep our parents from aging.
Yet, I know that the happiest people are those who learn to accept the cards they’re dealt—especially when no other options exist. So that’s my overarching goal for the coming year: To accept 2015 and all the change it will inevitably bring… while still saying “yes” and having a little fun along the way. Here’s wishing you all a year of acceptance, discovery and peace!
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.
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!
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:
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”!
Well, tomorrow I will be waking up as a 45-year-old. Birthdays have never gotten to me. I celebrated 30 and 40 without any dismay about the accumulating years. That is not to say getting older hasn’t hit me. The increasing wrinkles and slowing metabolism are a constant reminder of the aging process that I am none too happy about. But, it has never been a birthday that has depressed me.
This year is different. For the first time, I am experiencing the birthday blues and want to protest or divert this upcoming age transition.
I should get some credit for skipping despair of turning 40. Though I may now resort to celebrating a repeating 44th birthday.
Perhaps it is that I am approaching 50. Every day, from here on out, I am closer to 50 than 40. Fifty sounds like a whole new life. Not an age I ever imagined being. But now it is sinking in as a reality. I am crossing over the line. I have friends in their 50s. They look amazing. Actually, they look better than they did in their 40s. But I am not ready to join them.
This birthday also means I have officially hit midlife. (I figure I will live past 80, looking at the women in my family, but don’t expect to see 100.)
Or maybe it is the combination of mood swings and hot flashes that have been a preview to what is in store. It’s an uphill battle from here on out. Good genes can only carry me so far. In an effort to take some control, I have taken a few preemptive strikes. Similar to Stormy, I am very good finding reasons (sometimes farfetched) to pay for services that make my life, and looks, better.
Covering the grey hair has been part of the age-fighting routine for years, although now the timeframe has narrowed from every six weeks to four. Though, a fresh hair color was not going to carry me through this birthday. When I was getting my hair done, my gorgeous 49 year–old stylist told me she liked me without makeup. I looked younger, fresher. Hmmm … it got me thinking. I always wanted to try “mink” eyelashes. And what better reason than a birthday—I would experience time savings in getting ready, less stress on my eyes if not applying makeup, saved makeup costs, and a new look. Plus, I had been complaining that my eyelashes were thinning out and breaking (a common complaint this year that I also attributed to aging). A week later my masterful rationalization has me donning new, lushes lashes with only a hint of blush and lip gloss: A natural look. (Okay, a fake natural look, bought and paid for.)
I did add some “natural” help, all shoved into a few weeks ago as I realized 45 was getting close. Microdermabrasion treatments to brighten up my skin (no needles were involved, so I count it as natural) and waking up at 5:30 to add a 20-minute Jillian work-out to my other routines. She promised it would change me in only 30 days!
I think the toughest thing is time is going so fast. It seems to be speeding up.
Sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving, I used to wonder when I would feel like an adult. I remember thinking 30 was so old and now it seems so young. My mind still feels like that same little girl. I still have a lot I want to do and experience. I am not ready settle.
Yes, I know that aging graciously is the way to go. I am just not ready for it. And, if I have to distract myself from all the other issues of aging with a silly focus on looks, so be it. Right now, I will focus on the shiny object.
I will also spend my first day after turning 45—first day closer to 50 than 40—with Stormy for a birthday drink. We can catch up (we both have been crazily busy at work) and perhaps the bartender will buy me a drink after hearing I am turning 44 … again!
Did you think I would end this post by coming around to accepting my age and being thankful for all the wonderful things about aging and all the things I am grateful for? 🙂