Saturday, December 20, 2014

Boundaries, not balance

I heard crisis management consultant Judy Smith, the inspiration for the character Olivia Pope on ABC's Scandal, speak at the Massachusetts Conference for Women.

What I thought was going to be a presentation on the principles of crisis management, was in fact a series of object lessons on setting priorities in one's life.

Judy Smith, who like me is a graduate of both American University and Boston University, provocatively said, "I don't believe in 'work-life balance.' No one is balancing anything, its just one day at a time. I DO believe in boundaries. Because when one has clear boundaries, one can stay focused on what is important while keeping distractions out."

Interestingly, back in October, I read a Huffington Post article about Warren Buffet's rules for productivity that promoted a similar philosophy.

Both Smith and Buffet suggest that, in order to be balanced or productive, one needs to have a list of the top five priorities in one's life. Anything not on that list shouldn't get one's attention. Period.

Whoa!

I recently switched jobs, away from my career of choice, in order to have more balance. (I also left my job because my manager was cuckoo banana crackers, but that's another story for another time.)

But maybe part of my balance problem is that I have too many things I'm trying to do. I'm too unfocused in my effort to my the modern "superwoman."

Maybe what I need are boundaries, not balance.

So, here are my top five priorities, to keep my focused on living a happy, healthy, productive life.

Clownface's Top Five Priorities for Living a Fulfilled Life
  • Being the best sister, aunt, daughter I can be
  • Continuously trying to maximize my ability to give AND receive love from my husband
  • Creating, enjoying and sharing life's adventures
  • Understanding and removing obstacles for people - starting with myself - to realize their true potential 
  • Cultivating peace and beauty

I've done this exercise before, when I was exploring leaving my non-profit career in early 2013. The list has changed only slightly since then. And it remains philosophical enough that I can create fluid but firm boundaries. Or balance. Or whatever you want to call the pursuit of a fulfilling life.

I'll keep you posted on my success. Being balanced, maintaining boundaries, pursuing a fulfilling life, whatever.


Monday, December 15, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things


I've learned to focus my enjoyment of winter holidays on the things that make my heart go pitter pat. These are:
  • Sending Christmas cards - in part because I love to receive Christmas cards. But sending them helps me remember the people who are important to me and gives me at least one touch point with them each year. BMG and I make a point of sending them to every family invited to our wedding, if only to communicate "Look! We're still married! Thanks for your support!"
  • Decorating the outside of The Tiny Bungalow, complete with lights. I love coming home at the end of the day to a gaily lit home and am thrilled by the beauty of evergreens with pops of colors adorning the house. And I try to decorate in non-denominational ways, so I can leave the lights up throughout the winter without looking like a lazy neighbor. Even better than admiring my house, is driving around to see other people's outdoor decorations. From the tacky to the sublime, I love it all. This may be, in part, because as a child my parents would drive me and my sibs through downtown Syracuse to look at the municipal lights after the Christmas Eve service at my grandmother's church. Riots of light mean, to the child in me, that it is *almost* time for Santa to visit. 
  • Delivering homemade cookies to neighbors and service people who make my life easier. For BMG and I this includes our mailman, the trash guy, our pharmacists and the ladies at the post office. We've also given to the UPS guy, the folks who staff the dump on the weekend and our favorite bartenders. This year's mason jar inspiration came from the folks at The Decorated Cookie. (And bonus! All of the mason jars we bought for the lemonade bar at the wedding are now officially out of the basement!)
  • Wrapping packages in unique and colorful ways, with the end goal being a Christmas tree surrounded by a rainbow of beautiful gifts. My mom has always been a generous gift giver, and the pristine display of presents under the tree on Christmas morning was a thrill I remember from childhood. This year, I've handmade gift embellishments that look like gnomes and am wrapping in craft paper and bakers twine. 
      
  • Christmas music, particularly the classics sung by Rat Pack-era musicians and other jazzy performers. I love listening to the music and singing it. I'm sorry caroling is considered so dorky, because it gives me a thrill to sing Christmas songs and to deliver the gift of music to neighbors. I also enjoy medieval choral music at Christmas time; it transports me to another time and place. I try to go to one concert a year. Usually by myself because no one else I know can stomach the stuff. 
Giving gifts to children in need, filling Christmas stockings, festive Christmas parties, eggnog and the joyful crowds at shopping malls are also among my favorite aspects of the seasons.
    What are the aspects of the holiday I don't like so much? Just three things come to mind: 
    • Obligation gift buying, particularly obligation gift giving generated by a surprise gift from a friend. Why? Unless the gift is one that I can return with a box of cookies, there is usually implied reciprocity that I may not be feeling. This, in turn, makes me feel pissy about shopping, rather than feeling generous love. So if you plan to give me a gift worth more than a loving token, consider talking with me about first. 
    • Disassembling the Christmas tree. The needles, the repacking of the ornaments, the scramble to find packing material for fragile items. Ugh. How do I deal? By making an indoor Christmas tree a rare occurrence rather than the norm. This year, BMG and I have decorated a tabletop Eiffel Tower instead of a tree. I'm telling people this is a "no tree" year because we have a kitten. While this is true, I'm grateful for the excuse to not have a tree indoors. (Hmmm. Maybe we'll get a kitten every year?) 
    Being childless by choice is one of the reasons I am able to make the winter holidays, and especially Christmas, exactly what I want it to be. I don't have the need to create magic for my children through contrivances like "Elf on a Shelf," nor do I have to withstand hours in line at the big box toy store or whiny children anxious for the 25th to arrive.

    Childless or not, what are your favorite parts of Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and/or Kwanzaa? And what do you do to make the winter holidays joyful for you and your family?

    And, are there parts you don't like so much? What do you do to minimize or avoid them?

    Regardless of what parts of the winter holidays you love (or don't), I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

    Tuesday, December 2, 2014

    Changing to make change

    The events in Ferguson Missouri have inspired me to change my giving plan in 2015.

    A typical stingy New Englander, I have historically given away just 1% of my gross income. I have a budget and a plan, which helps me sort out the myriad requests I get in the mail, on social media and in the course of my daily life. My plan has looked like this:

    • 25% to any number of local organizations or chapters of local organizations that alleviate the symptoms of homelessness and poverty - particularly for children and families (e.g., Cradles to Crayons, Horizons for Homeless Children, Housing Families, the Red Cross). I often feel guilty that I'm not funding root cause organizations, but then I remember that poverty is persistent in human culture, I can't do everything and it is the day-to-day suffering that hurts my soul. 
    • 25% to conservation organizations, specifically the Trustees of the Reservation and the National Parks Conservation Association. I love these United States, and want to do my small part to ensure that our natural spaces remain preserved and accessible. 
    • 50% goes to the causes my friends love, in the form of sponsorship of walk-a-thons, run-a-thons, hair-cut-a-thons, hair-grow-a-thons, etc. I do this because I know it is hard to raise money, and it is hard to ask friends for help. (I do have a practice of not giving to friends if I philosophically do not support the organization for which they are raising money.)
    And when the budget is used up, I stop giving. (Sorry Movember, I was too generous earlier in the year.)

    However, the events in Ferguson Missouri triggered a deep anger in me about the power of conservative fear in blocking efforts to reform gun laws. I perceive that this same fear - the fear of "other" and the fear of "god" - is also driving efforts to restrict a woman's right to choose. So, my giving plan is changing to look more like this: 
    • 40% to human and civil rights organizations dedicated to reforming gun law and policing practices as part of their overall civil rights agenda
    • 25% to organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding a woman's right to direct her own health care
    • 25% to my beloved conservation organizations
    • 10% to the causes my friends love
    And, in 2015, I will double the amount of money I give away, budgeting 2% of my gross income. I want to be able to give bigger - albeit still modest - gifts to the organizations I believe are making positive change in the world. The doubling of my philanthropy budget will be complemented by the gift matching program at my office, which offers a match of up to $250 for employee's charitable gifts. 


    I haven't worked out the details yet, and am excited to do the research to figure out who will get the money, and how I can use social media to help spread the word about their cause. 

     
    But my giving won't end with the money I choose to give away. I recently took  new job, one that requires a shorter commute and therefore gives me more time to be a whole person. With some of my new time I will start volunteering. I will make my donations to organizations dedicated to alleviating suffering through volunteerism - at work and at home. This includes blood donations every eight weeks and preparing meals for my local community through Community Cooks. I am also trying to determine how I can participate in efforts to change the national conversation about race through efforts of organizations like the Public Conversations Project

    I learned about the power of a giving plan when I worked for the people who started what is now known as Bolder Giving. I loved the idea of being strategic and intentional with my charitable giving, regardless of whether I was middle class or if I was running the foundation BMG said I could start when he wins the lottery. And it feels good to freshen it up for 2015, so I can put my money where my heart and my mouth is. 

    Happy Giving Tuesday! 

    Tuesday, November 25, 2014

    We Regret to Inform You, Some Cards Will Be Kept Longer Than Others

    Do you get Thanksgiving cards in the mail? How do you handle them?

    I have a friend who sends a Thanksgiving card, instead of the traditional Christmas greeting.

    I think I get it. Maybe the friend wants to be righteous or deliberate about celebrating blessings instead of being mistaken for someone playing the "perfect family Christmas card" game. Maybe she doesn't want her family photo to get lost in the chaos of catalogues, packages and other cards. Maybe she loves to send cards, but doesn't want to be dealing with them after Thanksgiving.

    But, there's an unintended consequence.

    Instead of hanging the card with all of our other Christmas cards as part of our holiday decor, the card is opened and then left on the counter for the family to see. And on the day after Thanksgiving, when I clear the house of autumnal clutter, I recycle the card. So, instead of having their photo and greeting occupy a vaunted space on our Christmas card wall for an entire month or more, the card is left on the counter for three days and then forgotten.

    I'm not hard hearted. One year I tried hanging the Thanksgiving card with the Christmas cards. But, it hung by itself for nearly two weeks, until the first Christmas card arrived. Looking sad and lonely. And then, as the holiday greeting rolled in, the Thanksgiving browns and oranges looked out of sync amidst the reds and greens and blues and silvers. Like a section of 1970s era shag carpet wishing desperately for acceptance in a house full of gleaming hardwoods. It didn't work. I tried.

    Keep those cards and letters coming folks. I love all kinds of friendly greetings. Just know that some will be kept longer than others.




    Monday, November 24, 2014

    The First Thanksgiving

    BMG and I were multi-tasking while watching the DVR version of the Plimoth Plantation episode of Top Chef 12. As Padma announced that the chefs were preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast for descendants of the first Thanksgiving - both the first pilgrims and the Wompanoag peoples, BMG and I looked at each other and observed we were both moved to tears by the premise of the episode.

    And then we started laughing.

    As we moved towards one another to hug each other BMG said, "I am so glad we found one another. No one else would understand, let alone share, my tears in this moment."

    Me too darling, me too.

    Saturday, November 8, 2014

    Putting my bottle where my mouth is (or why I voted against expanding the beverage deposit law)

    I voted against Ballot Question 2 in Massachusetts. And so did a majority of the Bay Staters, because it didn't pass.

    I voted against it because the pro-side rhetoric claimed that it was an "anti-litter" bill.

    But it wasn't an anti-litter bill. At least not in my opinion.

    At its core, it *was* a "let's make litter more valuable so indigent people will pick it up" bill. (It was also a "let's make groceries more expensive for people who don't recycle" bill and a "let's make the manufacture and distribution of beverages in the Bay State more expensive because we need to have different bottles distributed here" bill.)

    Chuckleheads will still throw their garbage on the ground. But, with an expanded bottle deposit law, more of the trash that clutters our roadways and neighborhoods will now have value. While the pro-side of of the ballot question didn't come out and say it, it seems fairly straightforward to me that indigent people will collect litter that has value. If we make our most prevalent litter - drink bottles - more valuable, homeless people will collect it. Ergo, our streets look cleaner, making ballot question 2 an anti-litter bill. Right?

    Not to me. Instead, it felt underhanded, gross and exploitative.

    I would rather we talked about the problems of homelessness, un- and under-employment that lead people to rely on collecting trash to make a living. I would rather we talk about the dynamics (laziness, lack of community- and self-respect) that lead jerks to throw their trash on the ground in the first place. And I would rather that we, as a society, make strategic decisions about if/how we want to address these problems, so we can compel our neighbors, corporate beverage manufacturers, philanthropists and lawmakers to direct fund to support solutions to our persistent problems. I know there will always be people who "choose" to live on the streets, and who will always "choose" to collect bottles and cans as their form of income, but I'm not psyched about expanding this as an option for people who are in dire straights.

    What I most certainly DON'T want is a subversive bill designed to support - rather than prevent - indigence. And that's how I understood Massachusetts Ballet Question 2.

    So, in the spirit of putting my bottle where my mouth is, I have decided that BMG and I will put a nickel in a kitty for every bottle and can we buy that *would* have been covered by the expanded bottle deposit bill. At some point during the year, we will make a donation of the money to  homelessness prevention/work support program serving our community.

    I'm doing a dump run this morning. We have 10 Gatorade and Orangina bottles ready to go to the transfer station. So, I'll put $0.50 in the kitty. And when I get back, I'll start researching community organizations that are making a difference in preventing and alleviating the factors that contribute to homelessness. Suggestions welcome.

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    How'd I do? (or was I able to restore balance in a week?)

    Were you wondering if I would find balance on my week between jobs? (I know I was!)

    Here is my diary of from the week:

    Monday:
    7:00 AM - Get up with a little help from the alarm
    8:00-9:00 - Prep pumpkin bread while waiting for and dealing with the plumber
    9:00-10:00 - Go to the gym and restart a C25K
    10:00-11:45 - Make pumpkin bread, run vacuum and steam mop, shower
    11:45 AM-2:00 PM - Run errands, eat lunch al fresco with my SIL
    2:00-4:15 - Rake leaves and transplant
    4:15-5:30 - Start relaxing with a glass of wine
    5:30-6:30 - Nap
    6:30-8:00 - Make and eat dinner
    8:00+ - More relaxing with BMG
    Body and family taken care of today. And with the gardening, a little soul too

    Tuesday:
    8:00 AM - Wake up (after a terrible night's sleep with a painful headache), drink coffee, make and drink a blueberry kale smoothie & read paper
    9:00-11:30 - Work on blog project with BMG
    11:30-1:00 PM - Run errands at Staples, Lowe's & Michaels
    1:00-1:45 - Coffee with my MIL
    2:00-3:30 - Rake, transplant fleurs, and plant tulips, daffodils & grape hyacinth bulbs
    3:30-4:00 - Fill out Thanksgiving volunteer application for me and BMG
    4:00-7:00 - Loaf, read books, play games, eat dinner
    7:00 - Resume binge watching House of Cards with BMG
    Tuesday feels like a rerun of Monday, with a little creative time added in. How do I make Wednesday different?

    Wednesday:
    7:00 AM - Up (with help from the alarm), drink coffee, read paper, eat breakfast
    8:15-9:45 - Walk to,the gym, exercise for 30 minutes, walk home
    9:45-11:30 - Shower, putter, work on a Christmas craft
    11:45-1:45 PM - Visit with Gal Pal Lois
    1:45-3:30 - Errands, hang Christmas lights (just because they are up doesn't mean we'll light them)
    3:30-6:15 - Read, putter
    6:15-9:00 - Drive to & then take "Intro to Meditation" class
    9:00+ - Watch TV, get ready for bed
    Body & soul are fully taken care of today. Add a little friend time & the start of some creative time & I'd say it was a good day.

    Thursday:
    8:00 AM - Wake up with no alarm (unless you count the cats as an alarm)
    8:00-9:15 - Coffee, smoothie, paper, putter
    9:15 - Head to Subaru dealer to check low tire pressure
    9:45-10:30 - Sit at Subaru dealer until I learn there is a nail in my sidewall and I need a new tire; grab a loaner and go
    *Cancel lunch plans in Acton, argue with BMG about whether I was smar enough at the Subaru dealer or if I let them take me for a ride
    10:30-4:00 PM - Shop for craft paper and baby gifts, eat lunch, wrap and mail/deliver baby gifts
    4:30 - Pick up car with new tire
    4:30-7:00 - Meet BMG at the Art gallery, have dinner at a new restaurant
    7:00-9:00 - Drinks with BMG's mom
    9:30 - Home & in bed
    This was a weird day. Had some itchy connecting time with BMG (had expectations that weren't met)', and I spent the day running errands but not taking any joy in them.

    Friday:
    7:00 AM - Wake up with the alarm and fall back asleep until 7:45
    7:45-8:30 - Coffee and the paper
    8:45-10:00 - Walk to the gym, exercise, walk to BIL/SIL's house to pick up truck
    10:00-11:00 - Take yard waste to dump and run a handful of local errands
    11:00-2:30 PM - Make and deliver gluten-free (and fat-free AND refined sugar-free) cookies for a neighbor, start prepping pasta sauce for dinner, putter and generally get in BMG's way
    2:30-4:00 - Go to DPW to renew dump sticker, then head to local bar to read and sip wine away from BMG
    4:00-10:00 - Finish making dinner, putter, pass out candy to trick-or-treaters, decoupage bathroom vessels with a Boston map, watch TV, argue with BMG
    10:00 - Read in bed until I fall asleep
    Body taken care of, along with some necessary errands and a little creative productivity. Soul care was dismal today given the arguing with BMG.

    Saturday:
    7:30 AM - Feline alarm combined with a headache leftover from the night before wake me up
    7:30-9:30 - Coffee, putter while waiting for BMG to wake up, make breakfast, download a headache tracker app with the goal of figuring out the cause/pattern to my persistent headaches
    9:30-9:30 PM - Putter, read books, eat, sleep, relax (it was a miserable day outside)
    I did nothing to take care of any part of me today. Was still a little down because of the previous day's fight with BMG + two separate headaches. This was a wallowing day.

    Sunday:
    6:45 AM - Wake up sans alarm (happy end of daylight savings time!)
    6:45-8:30 - Coffee, breakfast, putter
    8:30-10:00 - Gym for another C25K session and 30 minutes on the recumbent bike
    10:00-11:45 - More puttering, cleaning up
    11:45-2:30 PM - Run errands, give blood, grocery shop
    2:30-5:15 - Putter, read, nap
    5:15-6:30 - Prepare and try a new recipe for a salad made of roasted butternut squash, shallots and kale
    6:30-8:45 - Putter, read, nap
    8:45 - Head to bed, read some more, sleep
    Body taken care of - think I've jump started a healthy eating and exercise routine. And I feel proud of having given blood, particularly because I got to talk to a niece about it - raising her awareness that this is one way people can give back to their communities. Thought about working on my Christmas craft and/or addressing Christmas cards, but I didn't feel the mojo. Maybe next weekend?

    Monday:
    6:15 AM - Up without an alarm, ready for my first day at my new job

    So, how did I do? In m post on Monday, I said I'd try to to the following:

    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. 
    • Order our Christmas cards.
    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 took care of my body and soul on my week off. Family and creativity - a little lacking, but I'm well on my way to restoring balance in my life. 

    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: http://goretro.blogspot.com
    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: http://keltiecolleen.buzznet.com/


    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.

    Why?

    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

    Recanted

    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).

    Boom!

    This achiever feels satisfied today.

    Monday, March 24, 2014

    15 literary influences

    There is a meme circulating on Facebook right now. It invites people to list the first 15 literary influences in their lives - in under 15 minutes.

    Because my husband, BMG, asked, here are mine, organized by the type of influence they had on me:

    Stories I remember reading in my childhood:

    • Carolyn Haywood - Hers were the first mindless serials I remember reading obsessively. To this day I still find an author I like and then inhale her/his books. The author du jour is Deborah Crombie. I continuously stalk the library shelves for books by Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, and Jonathan and Faye Kellerman
    • Ray Bradbury (ONLY because of the short story "All Summer In A Day," which I had to read in 4th grade. It horrified and fascinated me and I've never forgotten it.)

    These two guys wrote the first "adult books" I ever read:

    • Stephen King - "The Stand" was the first long form adult book I ever read. (My pal Erika gave me the Stephen King gateway drug, "Night Moves." Yup, I mean business when I read
    • John Irving - My aunt loaned me her copy of "The Cider House Rules," which started a ridiculous love affair with his work and helped me become a feminist. "A Son of the Circus" was nothing but irritating to me, then I learned that John Irving has an elitist side IRL, and the love affair ended. 

    
    These authors wrote books I read during my college years - some because I had to, others because I wanted to. All introduced me to new ideas and world views that had an impact on me:

    • Margaret Atwood - "The Handmaid's Tale" was on the reading list the summer before my freshman year
    • Aldous Huxley - "Brave New World"? Woah. 
    • William Golding - "Lord of the Flies" is still a useful cultural reference today. Go banana.


    Yep, I love to escape inside a good, all-consuming fantasy world, and these are the masters, IMHO:

    • Johnny Gruelle - Boy did I get lost inside the Raggedy Ann and Andy books of my youth. Perhaps these books helped launch my love affair with gnomes? 
    • William Goldman - "The Princess Bride" rocked my world. If you haven't read it, you need to because it is pure genius. 
    • J.K. Rowling
    • J.R.R. Tolkein - I read "The Hobbit" while camping and backpacking in Yosemite National Park. The redwood forests are a terrific place to to imagine the world of hobbits really exist.
    • Gregory Maguire - "Wicked" was the first and best. All the others he has written are too derivative of the first and don't come close to capturing the magic of his reimagined "Wizard of Oz." 

    And just a few that can only be categorized as being the authors of memorable books that help me see the world in different ways:
    • Amy Tan - "The Joy Luck Club" because it and her other books, like those by Lisa See, opened my eyes to the cultural peculiarities of the mother/daughter relationship
    • Mark Salzman - I truly and seriously love the book "The Laughing Sutra" for helping me appreciate the value of adventure for adventure's sake.
    • David McCullough - Who knew history could be so engaging?!
    Which authors are on your list? Why? 

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    A pal recently sent me a chain letter, inviting me to share words of inspiration with her and a friend.

    "Send a quote? I'm full of quotes!" I thought, so I passed it along with this message to eight friends:

    My pal Angie invited me to play Buddhist chain letter. Who can't use a little more inspiration in their lives? (And luckily, you won't die if you don't play.)

    Here's how it works.

    I'm participating in a collective, constructive, and hopefully uplifting exchange. It's a one-time thing and I hope you will participate. We have picked people we think would be faithful, and make it fun. Please send an encouraging quote or verse to the person whose name is in position 1 below (even if you don't know him or her). It should be a favorite text verse/motivational poem/prayer/meditation that has lifted you when you were experiencing challenging times. Don't agonize over it--it is one you reach for when you need it or the one that you always turn to.

    (Minimally, I invite you send some inspiring love to Angie.)

    Imagine two names and email addresses here

    After you've sent the short poem/verse/meditation/quote/etc. to the person in position 1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email, move my name to position 1. and put your name in position 2. Only my name and your name should show when you email. Send to 20 friends using BCC. (I can't think of 20 people to send this to! Pick as many as you think is appropriate.) If you cannot do this in five days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating. It's fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas and inspiration. The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once.

    Enjoy!

    I share with you what I received in return. 



    1.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Desiderata


    2.  Art & Fear:Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
    ON PERFECTION:
    The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

    3. THE WILD ROSE” – BY WENDELL BERRY

    Sometimes, hidden from me in daily custom and in ritual
    I live by you unaware, as if by the beating of my heart.
    Suddenly you flare again in my sight
    A wild rose at the edge of the thicket where yesterday there was only shade
    And I am blessed and choose again,
    That which I chose before.


    4. See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.
    -Anonymous


    5. "Dear Crazy, Crying Heart" by Barbara Pescan
    Oh, my hear
    dear foolish on,
    sweet crazy keening heart---
    Get ready -- hush ---
    let the winds sweep clean the hidden corners of your lies
    Stop crying and wrap your arms
    around that child in htere
    the one in the crash helmet
    the one with the broken leg
    the baby in the dark
    the one with the broken heart
    the baby knowing its hand for the first time
    the child full of milk and lullabies
    the child with not food in its belly
    It is all God
    It is all God
    the food         the baby     the hunger
    the starfish hand with translucent fingertips
    the wrinkles of your face
    the memories of seventy years
    and knowing your wholeness at another's touch
    the brokenness
    the cry at the bottom of the mine
    the song from the top of the tree
    All God, All God
    all pouring itself out 
    for you, heart
    dear crazy crying heart
    hush
    listen to your song.        Ah.      Amen.

    6. "I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will." ~Edward Everett Hale, Unitarian minister

    7. Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 
    --Anonymous
    
    
    8. Some lines that I love, from Dylan Thomas's Fern Hill (I hope he'll forgive me for chopping his poem down to a few lines):
    Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green, The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
    Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying Though I sang in my chains like the sea. 

    Golden Girl

    I'm the golden girl at work right now.

    It is both flattering AND extremely uncomfortable.

    The flattering needs no explanation. The extremely uncomfortable? I said to my boss this week, "When you are the top, the only way to move is down. I'm not looking to move down right now."

    I'm not looking to move down. But given my performance of late, everyone is asking me, "What DO you want to do here?"

    I used to want a career. And the attendant power and authority that came with being an Executive Director or CEO. My career ambition in high school? A very modest "to be the first female president of the United States." (Sorry Hillary, but it isn't yet your time.) In fact, I remain $19,000 in student loan debt (down from a high of $90,000, thank you very much) as a result of my pursuit of not one, but a greedy TWO graduate degrees.

    But now, when asked this question, I simply respond, "I want to make a positive contribution, and earn  enough money to have a life worth living." I want to travel worry-free, I want to share exciting experiences with my loved ones experiences, I want to have a beautiful home.

    So, this golden girl is taking a step back, evaluating her options, and choosing the path that will help her live a robust life without the hassle of a career.


    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    Narcisselfie: A new word

    Narcisselfist - someone who shares an irregular number of random self-portrait on social networking sites for no other apparent reason than to passively solicit some sort of empathic reaction from friends both real and virtual. I experience narcisselfists as needy, attention grabbers - regardless of whether the reaction they seek is a "You look mahvelous" or "Gah! I'm so sorry that happened to you!"

    I understand selfies taken and posted when something extraordinary is happening - sharing the euphoria of a visit to the Taj Mahal (or the Grand Canyon or even America's Stonehenge), documenting a special date with family or a dear friend, or even showing off a particularly flattering haircut. To me, these selfies are best understood with clear explanations - so no opportunity for misinterpretation of the intent of the photo. "Look! I'm at the Taj Mahal! "lucky" or "Yup, I really DID get my hair chopped off. I love it."

    But selfies taken and shared for selfies' sake? I read them as pure, irritating narcissism.




    Saturday, March 1, 2014

    In a past life...

    ...I was clearly an animist.

    The evidence, you ask?

    I intentionally rotate my underpants in the drawer, out of a concern that underpants that might not get as much wear will feel bad because I'm not using them.


    Sunday, January 5, 2014

    Why I Love CES

    CES, the Consumer Electronic Show, is held in Vegas the first full week in January.

    I love CES. Why? Because I'm home alone for eight full days. Hooray!

    This is what CES 2014 looks like to me:

    • A rearranged living room - NOW the room makes sense and has more space. I feel like I can fully relax in the space
    • The addition of120 square feet of living space to The Tiny Bungalow by clearing out and organizing the office (hooray)
    • A fridge full of vegetables and vegetarian, whole grain plans for dinner
    • Meals prepared for the next two days 
    • A home lit by candles and table lamps - overhead lighting be gone
    • No football on Sunday (or Monday or Thursday). Instead I watch re-runs of Bridezillas and Criminal Minds. 

    I love BMG. I love the home we share together. And truly take appreciate it when he isn't home. I'm an introvert and I need alone time to keep myself centered and whole.

    When BMG is away on business, I only have to clean up after myself. The bed is made EXACTLY the way I like it. I don't have to compromise on what I cook for dinner. I have no excuses to not take 100% responsibility for myself (e.g. "I can't go to the gym after work; I need to get home to make BMG dinner"). I watch whatever I want on television, and sleep so much better absent my true love's snoring. I love finding ways to maximize my alone time so I can be a better Clownface when BMG gets home.

    What makes CES really perfect is that it happens at the start of the new year, so those reluctant resolutions I have yet to give voice to have the opportunity to spill out. What is on deck for 2014? More vegetarian and whole foods eating, more stretching and meditation, less TV, continued efforts to have a more regular sleep schedule.

    Boy do I love CES.