Monday, October 27, 2014

Restoring balance

I'm between jobs right now. I left the national dental insurance company on Friday with the intention of restoring balance in my life.

My goal for the next seven days? To decompress and start routines where I am taking care of my body, my soul, my family & friends, and my creative side. This means getting enough sleep and creating rhythms where my evenings are blissfully full of time with friends, cooking, exercise, writing and other activities that make my heart go pitter pat. I need this so, when I start my new job at the mutual fund data company a week from Monday, I'm compelled to ONLY be at work when I need to be at work, and not a minute more.

These are my intentions:

To take care of my body:
  • Go to sleep at a reasonable hour every night, planning to be up between 6:30 and 7:00 each morning (instead of my typical 4:30-5:00 wake up time).
  • Be caffeinated, showered and fed by 8:00 or so, which I'm hoping will be my typical "leave for work" time at the new job. 
  • Make a high protein veggie smoothie for breakfast at least three of the weekdays; prep smoothie packets for the freezer. 
  • Try at least two new healthy and delicious recipes (sorry BMG).
To take care of my soul: 
To take care of my family: 
  • Plan a Christmas trip to NYC to enjoy the sites and visit with gal pal Suzy Burstein. 
  • Finish making Thanksgiving and Christmas plans to visit my family in NYC. 
To take care of my creative side: 
  • Cross a couple of Christmas crafts off my "to do" list well in advance of the Christmas season starting.
  • Do a decoupage project in the bathroom. 
  • Blog at least three mornings a week.
  • Finish setting up the website for a creative project I'm doing with BMG.
  • Schedule at least three interviews for a creative project I'm doing with BMG. 
I also want to finish cleaning the yard for autumn, including one major dump run.

I tend to have a "to do" list that is bigger than my capacities. Think I'll check back in on Friday night to see how far I got with my intentions. 

If you had a week to restore balance in your life (presuming you needed to restore balance), what would YOU do? 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chucklehead leaf blowers

I don't care if you rake your leaves or not. Generally speaking, nature is self-regulating and raking one's yard in autumn is a social convention intended to keep one's lawn looking green and lush.

If you do choose to rake, how you clear your yard of leaves is irrelevant to me - ol' fashion' arm-powered rakes, leaf blowers, whatever.

HOWEVER, I DO care if you use a leaf blower to merely move your leaves into the street for someone else to take care of, or worse, into your neighbor's yard.

Image source:
If you own a yard and you want your lawn to be the envy of the neighborhood, stop behaving like a chucklehead and bag your leaves. Simply clearing them but leaving them for someone else to deal with is no different than leaving your grocery cart in the middle of the parking lot, nudging your dog's diarrhea into tall grass at the foot of the neighbor's driveway where you *think* no one will see/smell/step in it, or blocking traffic during rush hour because you HAD to make that left hand turn across three lanes of traffic to get to your favorite Dunkin' Donuts.

You don't want to deal with your yard waste? Guess what? No one else does either. And if I'm forced to, all I'm likely to do is bag it up and put it back in your yard.

Awkward Family Photos

Photo source:

If you haven't seen the website Awkward Family Photos, you should. Its like the worst highway accident you've ever seen, because you just can't stop looking. Wondering who in god's name imagined THAT composition would be worthy of the family Christmas card.

BMG and I took our Christmas card photo today. As we prepared for the shot, I reflected on the dozens of cards we receive and hang on the wall every year. Each one shows beautiful, smiling children. And very few show parents with their children.

I think that's awkward.


Well, the kids aren't sending the holiday greeting. The family is, and really it is likely the more nurturing of the parents who does the work. Managing the photo session, selecting the perfect picture to include on the card, composing the list of people to receive the greeting and then doing the painstaking work of addressing the cards and adding personalized notes. 

And yet, on a majority of the Christmas cards we receive at The Tiny Bungalow, there is no inkling that the adorable children have parents. 

I have heard many a parent rail against Disney and the children's television industry for creating entertainment that perpetuates the notion that kids don't need adults to help guide their lives. In fact, one of my sisters went so far as to screen her kids' television programs to ensure they were not watching shows where the youthful protagonists had no discernible adult role models. She didn't want her daughters to make the same madcap decisions as Hannah Montana and her contemporaries.

Within this context, I think it is weird that an estimated 50% of the parents in my life send Christmas cards that only include photos of their children.  

When I receive these adult-free cards, I put my social worker hat on and imagine why the parents aren't included. Has someone died? Is the marriage in trouble? Are my grown-up friends too insecure or self-loathing to want to include a picture of themselves? Maybe their lives are so intertwined with those of their children that they believe sending a picture of their kids is the same as sending a picture of themselves? I might go to a maudlin place in which I believe my friends elect to omit themselves from the card because they do not actually intend to extend holiday wishes to me. At which point I assume the friend *must* think I'm a narcissist because I DO include a photo of myself on my annual winter greetings. 

Christmas 2014 is 60 days away. It is not too late to make the decision to include your entire family on your Christmas card this year. I know I would be delighted, because I love you and want to see you.

Merry Christmas!

PS: I also have a practical reason for wanting at least one photo of you each year.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

If Jack Sprat had Crohn's Disease

I was raised in the 1970s in one of those families that ate every meal together. While food was rarely fancy, my mom always prepared a balanced meal that contained a starch, meat protein, some sort of dairy (invariably a glass of milk) and a vegetable. My mom occasionally experimented with amazing (Chinese fried chicken) and disastrous (lion's head meatballs) results.

As a married adult who tends to play the caretaker role, I've bought into the idea that my job is to cook for my family. But, my husband has a particularly advanced form of Crohn's disease, which leaves him with mercurial eating habits. He doesn't have enough small intestine left to have much use for vegetables or any other food with any measure of fiber. (His body cannot process them.) The speed at which his body processes his meals means spicy foods tend to cause discomfort, as does anything with pointy edges. In this same vein, his body doesn't absorb bad nutrients the way mine does (or most other people's do). So, processed food, cheese, fat, sugar - all fair game.

On the flip side, if left to my druthers, I tend to cook vegetarian meals for myself, particularly Indian and North African flavors that I'll serve with brown rice. And loads of butter,  salt and spice. Oh, and I'm lactose intolerant. So high doses of dairy are taboo.

So, if left to our own devices, my husband and I would eat completely different meals.

But, because I have this belief that cooking for my husband is one of the ways to show I care for him, I've figured out how to make meals we both will eat. The meals we share are likely to be composed of animal protein with white rice or pasta.I'll cook a veggie for myself, or if it is one of the few veggies he'll eat (spinach, asparagus, cauliflower, peas), I might OVERCOOK a vegetable for us to share.

While I'm cooking, BMG might snack on some cheese, while I drink wine and sample from the meal as it simmers. When we serve dinner, BMG will take a portion of the meat we've cooked and a triple serving of carbs. And me? I'll eat a generous serving of meat and vegetables and a light helping of carbs. For our dessert course, I'll continue with another serving of beer or wine, and BMG gets dessert - often an ice cream novelty or candy.

When I'm preparing meals for us, I'm often reminded of the classic Mother Goose rhyme, Jack Sprat:
Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
his wife could eat no lean.
So betwixt them both,
they licked the platter clean. 

But, with slightly different words:

Jack Sprat ate carbs and crap
His wife? The wine and greens.
So betwixt them both,
they licked the platter clean.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I want my two hours!

I have the opportunity to reclaims two hours a day of my life. How? By reducing my commute from 2.5+ hours a day (round trip) to only 40 minutes.

There are a handful of reasons why I started to put feelers in the market, none of which were related to time management. But, when an opportunity for a lateral move quickly presented itself (same basic work, same base pay) AND the office was 20 minutes from my house, it seemed too good to pass up.

I want my two hours.

If you had two extra hours a day, what would you use it for?

Here's what *I'm* thinking of:
  • More sleep (and less money spent on make-up because I'm not trying to hide the bags of exhaustion under my eyes)
  • An hour a day (well, most days) for exercise
  • Good-bye Hamburger Helper, now that I have more time for preparing healthy and complete meals
  • More sleep in the morning because I don't have to get up early to read the paper now that I can listen to it on public radio while I drive to work
  • Fulfilling my goal of having a healthy garden, because I have time (and energy) before or after work to prune/weed/water
  • More time to talk with my family during the week because I'm in my car, and not taking public transportation, where I can use my cellphone without fear of being *that* person talking non-stop in the close quarters of the subway, bus or boat
It stands to reason that more sleep and more energy during the week will translate into less exhaustion and panic on the weekend. So, instead of dedicating one full weekend day to all of the cleaning and errands I normally do on the weekend PLUS everything I didn't get done during the week, maybe I can:
  • Be fully present with family and friends, instead of resistant to social plans because I'm "too tired"
  • Be fully present with BMG to create adventures 
  • Develop my creative side through dance, writing and art
  • Relearn how to meditate and start a spiritual practice
  • Take action to make the world a better place through community service
  • Give myself permission to take a long bike ride or travel longer distances to explore the world by kayak
At the age of 44, I've realized I want to be known for having a balanced life, not for being the best (insert impressive job title here). Looking back on the 15 years of my working life (post-graduate school), I see that I jumped off the career train pretty early. In this moment, I can admit that I took the leap not with intention, but rather because of fear. Or maybe, on the inside, I knew that I didn't want my legacy to be an amazing career, but rather a robust life.

My rational brain still struggles with this. I actually like my current job. I am pulled, intellectually both to the services my present employer offers in the world and the challenges presented in the workplace as the business grows. It is a good fit for my professional skills and my ego. I'm not burnt out, I have no ill will towards the company or my colleagues. In this context, leaving feels like a weird thing to do.

But I want my two hours. I really want my two hours.

So, I'm going to take them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I've written extensively about my childhood and its influence on my as an adult.

I've written so much about my childhood, that a friend once said, after reading my blog, "Your family reminds me so much of Jeanette Walls' family as described in The Glass Castle."

While I need to be mindful of hyperbole, I can say that my childhood was apparently wackier than most.

Yup, my siblings and I ran with scissors while sucking on lollipops throughout our unattended home. While my single mom worked multiple jobs to provide for her five kids, we populated the neighborhood like a band of English school boys following a deadly plane crash.

But we always did our chores first.

My mom knows she did a good job raising her kids. And she also knows she was lucky.

On those occasions when I've reminisced with my mom about the crazy that was my childhood, she has been reflective. "It is amazing that none of you got into more trouble. I am glad that none of you made such bad choices that you ended up in jail, with an addiction, a family before you were ready, or serious illness or injury." (My therapist has said the same thing.)

And recently, she has been adding the following, "I believe each of my kids has an extraordinary work ethic. This is part of what helped you become the people you are today. And I'm sorry that I taught you that work comes before pleasure, that you can't stop to smell the roses before you finish your chores, that getting things done is the goal of life."

Wha?! Recanting the primacy of the almighty list?!

She continues, "Getting things done is important. But it isn't the goal of life. The goal of life is to have fun, enjoy friends and family, seek out and appreciate beauty. I wish you - and your siblings - could unlearn just a little bit of that work ethic I instilled in you. Before its too late."

Carol has spoken. I'm going to cross "Write blog post" off my list of things to do and go have some fun.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Park N-Shop

I had to take the strengths finder aptitude test for work and discovered that I am an "achiever."  What this means is "By the end of every day I must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about myself."

Big surprise.

I was raised by a list maker. Every day she would make a list of things that needed to be done. When my four siblings and I were old enough to read (and do chores), my mother would make lists for us too. "You can't play until you've done everything on your list" was her mantra. To further cement the importance of lists in our lives, we even played games that started with making lists.

Park N-Shop dealt each player a set of errand cards. The object of the game was to run your errands more efficiently than anyone else. The game board was a mock-up of a downtown square, and you rolled the dice to see how many sidewalk squares you could move to get to your next destination. Park N-Shop was such an influential game in my family that it became part of our vernacular, slang for being more or less efficient than one would like. As in "I am not park n-shopping very well today."

In Park N-Shop your errand cards functioned as your list. and one of the core strategies of Park N-Shop was to review your cards and plot out the most efficient route for tearing through downtown.

Luckily, I also married a list maker.

We just made our list of things to do this weekend, and have finished negotiating the first leg of our weekend errand running. We will drive to the farmer's market. Buy whatever vegetables (or other goodies) we want. We will then store them in the car while we walk to a local watering hole so BMG can pick up his football cards. We'll then walk back to the car, and head to the mall to return something and look for a new bookshelf for the living room. On the way back, we'll stop at Bed Bath and Beyond so I can get the new floor and carpet steamer I've been wanting. Once at home, we'll move the clean sheets from the dryer and make the bed, and move the wet towels to the dryer. Then, I'll clean the bathroom (including steam cleaning the floor).


This achiever feels satisfied today.