Category Archives: Health/fitness

Stormy finds her “happy pill”

A couple months ago, KitKat posted a blog whose title caught my eye: Looking for a happy pill. This phrase jumped out at me because I’d been doing the same. But unlike KitKat’s metaphorical search, mine was literal. This wasn’t an overnight decision. As I mentioned in an early post, I was raised by WWII-era parents. One of the legacies of my upbringing is a strong sense of personal responsibility. In other words, if something was bothering me, I should just “quit whining and figure it out.” Therefore, my view of mental illness in general and depression in particular was that the only time medication was warranted was if the individual couldn’t manage to pull things together on his/her own.

dancing_drugsFast-forward to this past year. As readers of this blog, you know I haven’t hidden my struggle with the changing dynamics in my life—my husband’s illness, my kids leaving home, a frequently stressful job, aging parents, etc. But throughout it all I kept trying to will myself to keep a proper perspective (I’m still more fortunate than most of the world’s population, after all) and not dwell on things I can’t change. Despite this, I found myself sinking further into… persistent… unhappiness. It wasn’t full-out “depression” the way I had always thought of it (not being able to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc.) but I found that things I could formerly let roll off my back were bothering me—a lot. Whereas I would normally be driven to tears once or twice a year, I was finding myself crying weekly. And I found myself raging against loved ones at little provocation. Basically, I felt like I was losing it, and I worried that if I couldn’t get a grip, I’d risk my job, my sanity, my friends and my family.

We're all madI explained it to my therapist this way, “I’ve lost my resiliency.” I asked for his opinion on whether he thought anti-depressants would help and when he said yes, I responded that maybe I’d wait until the fall to consider a prescription (thinking I’d really need it when the weather turned cold). He challenged me on that—why would you wait when something could potentially make your life better? We talked through my bias against medication and my general control-freak nature, but at the end of it all, his case was compelling and I made a consultation with someone who could prescribe the required meds. After talking with her and explaining how I reacted to various “triggers,” she commented, “You have a lot of stressors in your life—actually, I’m amazed you made it this long without needing something.” This made me feel better about embracing better living through chemistry. She made a recommendation that she thought would best address the combination depression/anxiety I was experiencing and gave me a low-dose prescription.

At home that night, I read up on the medication and my concerns came creeping back. The drug required a slow ramp up and had a long list of potential side effects. Yet, at that point, the potential gains still outweighed the drawbacks, so I swallowed the pill—both figuratively and literally.

My experience with mind-altering substances is limited to alcohol and caffeine, so I didn’t know what to expect. When you take something that is supposed to affect your brain, it’s natural to analyze every feeling and thought—is this me or is this the medication?—I asked myself a dozen times a day. I felt a bit “spacey,” but knew it may have been my imagination since I was told it would take at least three weeks for the medication to take effect.

Eventually, I determined that I had noticed a subtle improvement in my outlook. It was by no means a “magic pill,” and my biggest concern—that the drugs would alter my core personality—was unfounded. I was the same person and the same things made me upset, only I had my resiliency back. Minor setbacks didn’t drive me to tears. I was able to put things in the proper perspective and deal with things without falling apart.

I wished I had sought treatment months before, instead of buying into the notion that medication would be taking the easy way out. However, I ultimately decided I’d rather seek help and be happy than be self-sustaining and miserable. After all, when I think about my mother (who has been moody and challenging for as long as I can recall) I wonder if maybe she doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance?

Funny-crazy-peopleYet, even after gaining a clear benefit from the drugs, it wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast (after all, it’s one thing to have people think you’re a little crazy and it’s another to give them proof). 😉

Then what has changed? Obviously, if I’m making this a blog topic my perspective has shifted and I can tell you when that happened. In mid-August, I was mourning the death of Robin Williams—along with the millions of other people whose lives he’d touched with his exceptional warmth and humor—when I learned that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A disease my husband has had for more than a decade. I think our thoughts about this news were the same: This disease we live with every day was the thing that tipped his depression over the edge. That was an incredibly sobering thought. It made me realize that it’s impossible to know what other people are dealing with, so I thought if I could admit to a little bit of craziness myself, maybe it would make it easier for someone else to seek treatment if they need it. So there you go. I’m a little bit crazy. Crazy like a fox.

Forcing Spring…

“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.

Westin_KierlandNext, 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.

desert_flowerAfter 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. 

A mango daiquiri and spring fashion mag make for great companion

A mango daiquiri and spring fashion mag make for great companions.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FitBit tile

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

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

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

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

Baby bird gives mama bird lessons in flying solo

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how my youngest has flown the nest and how this has left me in a bit of a free fall. After spending 24 years actively parenting, it’s a little unsettling when you’re no longer needed except to dispense money and advice on occasion.

Child #3 left for college on Labor Day weekend and has barely looked back. She settled right into the collegiate routine, making friends and getting good grades. As her mom, I’m very happy that the transition was so easy on her, but I found myself missing her tremendously during the fall months.

A picture really does say a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come once she joined our family.

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come.

That’s because she is not only my baby, but from the time that she was very small, she was also my steady companion. Whether I was running errands, cooking dinner, visiting my parents, or doing chores—Blossom (in Stormy fashion, not her real name but a variation of her Chinese name) was always at my side, ready to help. However, during the last couple of years of school, I didn’t see much of her: Between school, work, sports, and volunteering, she simply wasn’t around.

So I was pleasantly surprised to be given an opportunity to spend time with my youngest over her Christmas break. Originally, Blossom had been planning to leave town shortly after Christmas, but her trip fell through and most of her friends had to head back to campus before her, so she found herself home for an extended break without any real plans.

During this time, we hung out a lot. We went shopping together. Despite my daughters’ no-holds-barred fashion critiques, Blossom wanted some pointers on how to evolve her look from high school jock to sophisticated undergrad. I remembered shopping with my mom at the same age (something I used to hate because my mom—having birthed nine kids—was never very happy with what she saw in the dressing room mirror) and was flattered that my daughter actually wanted my help. Being the experienced shopper that I am, I helped her get the most for her dollars and she came home with a bunch of new looks.

She accompanied me to the gym a couple of times, once as my personal trainer—a task she took very seriously. Why was I paying someone else to do this when my little sadist was as effective as any of them?! We also went grocery shopping, cooked together, and she visited me at the office, meeting my coworkers and going out for a “business lunch.”

pantry

Six boxes of lasagna noodles. Are we anticipating a global pasta shortage?

Blossom also helped around the house, taking down all my Christmas ornaments—heck, she even tackled my pantry solo. A daunting task, given I’m an impulsive grocery shopper who loves to cook.

I reflected on how much Blossom had grown up since leaving for college just a few months earlier. And I realized that, in many ways, she was a more functional adult than her older and ostensibly wiser mother.

My youngest is incredibly competent. The family joke is that it’s because she doesn’t share our genes or that it’s the result of “that good Chinese orphanage training.” She just dives in and does things. She doesn’t hem and haw or overthink things or dither around and get sidetracked (as I’m known to do). And it’s impressive to watch. She’s not intimidated by anything and she’s incredibly organized. As an employer, I’d hire her for any job in a heartbeat.

At the same time, she’s incredibly thoughtful and compassionate. When I was staying with my dad who has dementia after my mom’s hip surgery, she offered to go with me because, “I want to get to know Grandpa better and I know this whole thing has been hard on you.” She must have made an impression on him, too, because I was surprised a week later when my dad actually remembered where Blossom was going to college. (Heck, after 7 years, he still can’t remember where I work.) In fact, after one particularly trying day at the office, I came home late and she offered to 1) make me dinner and 2) give me a backrub!

The night before Blossom was to leave, I told my husband how much I was going to miss her. I realized she had temporarily filled a spot that my husband’s Parkinson’s had left vacant in my life. Although I’m an introvert, there are some activities I can tackle better with someone at my side—cajoling, challenging and encouraging. That’s Blossom in a nutshell. I know I can’t rely on my grown kids to fill that gap, however. They have their own lives to live and their own adventures before them. It left me thinking about how to address this on my own, and that’s when I realized my baby bird could teach me some lessons about flying solo.

A fierce competitor...against herself

A fierce competitor…against herself.

I decided I would do well to model a few of her behaviors—the ability to jump into a task without procrastinating, for example, or the genuine interest she shows in everyone from the butcher at the grocery store to her older relatives. As parents, we usually think of ourselves as the one teaching our kids, but as my kids have grown, I realize it’s a bit like horticulture—we’re propagating the strongest features, cultivating the best traits—and so I’ve learned there are many things they can also teach me. I hope that by learning from my kids, I’ll be able to fill my own garden with more blossoms and less weeds.

Just Breathe

True to form, it is about a month away from the end of the year and I finally decide to check out my progress on accomplishing my vision board. Not exactly true to the philosophy behind it, but that’s exactly the way I work: Procrastinate and then excel in crisis mode.

KitKat's vision for 2013

KitKat’s vision for 2013

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised how well I had done … maybe there is something to this envisioning. My board’s subliminal messages seemed to have seeped into my life.  In fact, I didn’t even remember having “Needing Las Vegas” on it and I just booked a girls trip to Vegas. Check!

On the downside, I didn’t quite create the ass and stomach I envisioned. And, even with my talent of getting shit done when the pressure’s on, at age 44 that goal is going to take time and work. If I wanted to be realistic, perhaps it is a vision that might not be attainable past the age of 30. But I refuse to give up on all of my dreams just yet.

Well, back to the board … one thing that seemed like a big miss and easy to do was yoga. I used to be a die hard. I loved how it made me look,  how I felt and what  could do. It’s why I put it on my board, yet 11 months later I still have not reinvested myself.

This I know I could do. And, it is probably the perfect time for it. Between being insanely busy at work, the holidays, and my “hockey mom” role starting up again, I could use some “me time.” Add on having had two cars totaled in the past two months (one just a few days ago and thankfully escaping with only bruises and repeat car shopping torture), I obviously need some focus. Plus with the weather turning cold, the thought of escape to a heated room has its own appeal.

So the past few weeks I have been spending a lot of time at yoga. It is addicting. One hour of sweating and contorting into poses I almost forgot my body could do is my new release. I also forgot how wonderful it was to have someone reminding me to breathe. Seems like that should be natural, but for me it’s like I have been holding my breath ’til I walk into that room and then I can finally let go.

Also as a competitive girl, even with myself, I was impressed with how quickly it all came back. My body could contort into ways I had forgotten. My mind is so quiet when I am challenging myself into poses. This may sound simple. Especially if you’re a true yogi, since isn’t yoga about a quiet mind and focus? But for me it doesn’t happen. My racing mind only quiets when my body is pushed into an extreme. And even then just for a moment.  Once I accomplish the challenge my mind starts congratulating myself. Next I start thinking about what else I could do that I haven’t tried and should add to my list … and the race goes on. No I will never become a true yogi. It just is not natural to my nature. As much as I wish it was.

Then there is also the added benefit of focused time at the end of each class to get my list organized in my head. This is supposed to be the time to completely quiet my mind and let all go. My best move during savasana was realizing that’s impossible and to stop fighting it. (The more I am told to relax, the worse it is.) Instead, I embrace the chance to lay in a lovely position with no other demands on me except sorting out the list in my head. I have no problem twisting that into reasoning that I am following the advice given to me each class: It is  your own practice and do what your body feels. Listen to yourself.

By the way, why is breathing so hard? … Or is it just me?

Power of the Clover!

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:

Power of the Clover!

Power of the Clover!

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.

Stormy freaking out.

Stormy freaking out.

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.

The “Coffee Achiever” evaluates her options … and priorities

As you may recall, I like my morning cup of coffee. Well, a couple of Saturdays ago, I woke up to make my morning cuppa only to find my standard-issue coffee maker had passed on during the night. (It was a good thing it was a Saturday, too. I had just come off of a particularly busy and stressful week at work and–as “A Coffee Achiever”—if it had died the day before, I’m sure I would have curled up into a little ball and cried.)

I had a brunch date with girlfriends, so I fumbled my way through a shower, pulled on some clothes and navigated my way to the restaurant (a risky maneuver, as I really shouldn’t operate heavy machinery without caffeine in my system). I ordered a cappuccino upon arrival and was then able to think clearly enough to devise a rough game plan:

  • The coffee maker needed to be replaced asap.
  • The death of my coffee maker presented an opportunity to explore new coffee-making options.
  • I could either make a decision quickly or drive to my “cabin” and fetch my coffee maker from there as a temporary substitute until I made a decision.

coffee-32376878468I spent Saturday exploring my options. I wanted something simple, but that would make really good, strong coffee. So I asked for opinions on Facebook about the various one-cup (pod) options. Last fall, while visiting my brother-in-law’s family, I had fallen in love with my sister-in-law’s very expensive “super-automatic” espresso machine. I wasn’t seriously considering spending so much on a replacement, but as I explored other options, I kept coming back to the Saeco espresso machine. As a master of the fine art of rationalization, I could justify it. After all, I drank coffee EVERY DAY. Plus, the super-automatic would make it easy for my husband to make a cup at his convenience throughout the day. But the online reviews pointed to a somewhat temperamental machine and it seemed a bit extravagant for a sensible Midwestern gal like me. So I was more seriously considering a Bonavita coffee maker—very highly rated—but simple to operate.

Sunday morning, after my husband ran out to get our morning coffee, I hit up several stores to consider my options. By afternoon, I was tired of decision-making and headed to the store that carried the Bonavita coffeemaker. But looking at it in the store, I wasn’t 100% convinced and thought about driving up to my cabin-condo to fetch my other coffeemaker until I was ready to make a decision. But walking back to my car, I passed another kitchen store and spontaneously popped in to check out the coffeemaker selection. There it was: The Saeco. In about a minute I decided to buy it. I’m worth it, damn it. And I like my coffee.

Oh, you suave Italian playboy, promising bliss and giving only heartache

Oh, you suave Italian playboy: promising bliss… but giving only heartache

Loading the large box in my car, it looked like the box had been opened and taped shut again. I was a bit concerned that it was a return, but shrugged off my concerns and brought my purchase home. While setting it up I discovered—you guessed it—a piece was broken. Augggh! It was 15 minutes until the store closed so I didn’t have time to exchange it. My darling daughter, taking pity on her mother, offered to run to Starbucks the next morning.

The next day on my lunch hour—fortified by that morning’s latte—I exchanged my Saeco. The only other one they had in the store was the floor model. Again, trepidation, but the floor model was kept on a high shelf and the manager assured me it was neither used nor abused, so I took the exchange.

That night I set up the new machine and… it didn’t work! At this point, I was totally disgusted. Damn Italian design! I spent the rest of the evening Googling various models of coffee makers. While reading reviews from people who laboriously roast their own beans, own $500 coffee grinders, and regard anything other than their personally handcrafted espresso to be undrinkable swill, another realization came upon me: I didn’t want to be associated with these people.

When I thought about the times I really enjoyed a cup of coffee, I thought of sitting on the dock at my sister’s cabin in beautiful northern Minnesota or first thing in the morning after a late night of client dinners at a work conference. I thought about sitting on the balcony of my cabin-condo with my husband or catching up with KitKat at the local coffee shop. I decided that I didn’t want to buy something that by its very superiority would lessen those treasured moments.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not passing judgment on someone who buys an expensive espresso machine. Not. At. All. If you like coffee and can afford it, go for it. I did—or tried to. (And if that darn Saeco had worked, rest assured that I’d be typing this while enjoying a lovely latte.)

Not as sexy, but he’s there for you in the morning.

However, the reverence with which some of the online reviewers idolized their espresso machines was as eye-opening as espresso itself. As I found myself spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to settle my own coffee dilemma, their obsessiveness hit a little too close to home. After all, I’ll give people second chances, maybe even third chances, but I don’t extend the same courtesy to appliances. Why was I spending so much time and energy on this one? 

I decided that reliability is more important to me than Coffee Nirvana, so the next day I returned the Saeco and bought the Bonavita coffee maker instead. It reliably produces a decent cup of coffee, and I’ll just savor those transcendent moments of caffeinated bliss whenever they happen to occur.