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Thursday, December 5, 2013

the antidote.

The holiday edition of TLT (nothing is official until it has an acronym right?) had me stumped.  Trying to think of something entertaining/profound/funny enough to justify a Christmas post had me feeling like I should just scrap the December installment altogether.  Topics I knew I was not interested in writing about included but were not limited to:

  • Creative spots to hide that goddamn Elf on a Shelf everyone seems to own but me.
  • Holiday stress.
  • Anything having to do with religion.
  • The overblown retail/material aspects of Christmas.

After eliminating these potential topics and more from the list of things I thought might be interesting for you to read about I was feeling pretty fresh out of ideas.  Then, just when I was feeling like there was nothing I could write that was worthwhile about this time of year I read a quote that changed my mind.  I should have known that when I'm looking for inspiration, for a fresh and enlightened perspective on just about anything there is only one place I should turn.  The well of truth and inspiration that never runs dry.

Sandra Bullock.  You have your spiritual guru and I'll have mine.  Sandy is one deep lady.  

*Total side note, but WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THINGS HOLY did Jesse James treat her so wrong?  I wonder if he wakes up every morning with a scorching hangover, looks in the mirror while he's putting Bag Balm in his hair and thinks to himself "I was married to Sandra Bullock and I friggin' blew it."  Probably not.  He's probably fine with it, but seriously, how lucky was he?*

Getting back to Sandy.  Due to her extreme awesomeness she was recently named '2013 Entertainer of the Year' by Entertainment Weekly.  She posed beautifully for the cover and gave an interview in which she was quoted as saying:

"When people are like 'Life is so good, "I go, 'No, life is a series of disastrous moments, painful moments, unexpected moments, and things that will break your heart. And in between those moments, that's when you savor, savor, savor.'"

How can you not love this woman?

Shortly after reading this little gem I was commuting and listening to NPR.  They were interviewing the editor of Garden&Gun Magazine.  Why have I never heard of this magazine until now?  I looked it up and am now an official subscriber.  Any mag that has an article devoted to "Holiday Punch For Whiskey Lovers" is okay by me.

So this editor was talking about holiday parties and whiskey punch and celebrating and somewhere in the interview she said something along the lines of this:  "A holiday party should be the antidote for the rest of the year.  It should be a time to string the garland, put some mistletoe in your hair, be festive and celebrate."  

The word "antidote" caught my attention.  What a great way to describe the indescribable.  That feeling the holidays bring that somehow seems like all the little broken pieces of the year are being super glued back together inside of us.  When you think about it, how can a season built entirely on the idea of giving and salvation not have that affect?  

One of the benefits of living in a teeny-tiny country town is that special teeny town things always happen.  Late last December, on a Sunday afternoon, a group of 40 or so carolers arrived unexpectedly at my front door.  My daughter and I were the only two people home so we opened the door and listened.  As she stood there frozen, not yet two years old but so amazed by what was happening that she didn't literally didn't move a muscle I started to cry (just a little, nothing serious).  I was so touched by the effort these folks made to be neighborly by going door to door spreading holiday cheer.  I was so grateful to be sharing that special moment with my daughter.  As Sandra said, I was "savoring".  I was soaking in that one precious pause in between the holiday craziness to just be still and grateful.  

These little pauses, these opportunities to savor are everywhere this time of year - the antidotes are all around us.  Like when you stop to put your money in the Salvation Army bell-ringers kettle as you walk into the grocery store.  When you raise a glass of whiskey punch with friends and toast to a fabulous 2014 ahead.  When your kids write their letters to Santa.  When you visit with someone you haven't seen in years, or visit someone in the hospital.  When "Silent Night" makes you cry.  When you give.

My holiday wish for all of us is just that.  I hope this season you are able to savor as much as possible.  I hope the antidote this season of celebration and giving provides is strong enough to heal whatever is broken inside of us.  I hope we are able to give enough that maybe we can heal a little bit of what is broken inside someone else.  So keep your peepers wide open for those opportunities to savor...and have a glass (or three) of whiskey punch while you're at it.  

And in the end we were all just humans
drunk on the idea
that love, only love
could heal our brokenness.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Thanks to Kristin Burgess for refreshing my memory on this one.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

kids these days

I have a major crush.  It's not so much a single person as it is an entire group of people.  I'm crushing hard on early 20 somethings.  Not that twenty was thaaat long ago for me or anything, about fifteen years ago to be exact...but who's counting?  (Let's be real, with 36 knocking on my door in a mere few days I'm counting, but I digress.)

The point here isn't my mid-30's angst, but rather the amount of amazing talent I am seeing from the next generation of up-and-comers that are hot on the heels of my peer group.  These "kids" that were born anywhere between 1979 and the year 2000 (some say 1980-2000) are known as Millennials, and in my opinion, they're lighting things on fire.  Here's a quick run-down on the generational break-out as defined by people who define such things:  (*Note: some material shamelessly stolen directly from an "Inspired Training Institute" speaker that came to my company to present on generational differences in the workplace.)

  • Veterans (born between 1922-1943)  Think Colin Powell and your grandfather.
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1943-1960)  Think Oprah Winfrey and your mom.
  • Generation X (born between 1960-1979)  Think Jennifer Aniston and yourself (maybe).
  • Millennials (born between 1979-2000)  Think Mark Zuckerberg and your little cousin.
  • Generation Z (born between 2000-2020)  Think your kid.

I made Oprah's picture larger than the others.  Why?  Because she's effing Oprah, that's why.

We, as children of our respective generational groups are known for having certain personality traits that help define us, albeit in a very general way.  Not surprisingly, Veterans are known for their dedication and self-sacrificing tendencies.  They also value honor, duty and conformity.  Baby Boomers are known for their belief that their work defines their worth.  They are also optimistic, having been a generation of people that made much better lives for themselves than their parents before them did.  Gen X'ers are known for being self-reliant (since many of our parents were busy working), fun, and informal...a very "call it like we see it" generation of people.

The Millennials are known for many things (not all of them positive), but among the top characteristics of this fascinating generation are their street smart and techno-savvy ways.  They are also talented multi-taskers since they grew up listening to music, while watching TV, while Skyping, while doing homework all at the same time.  They have a heroic spirit in the sense that they refuse to stand by and watch others suffer if there is some way they can help.  They are naturally optimistic and believe that things can change, that they can improve.  (This is partly why the Obama "Yes We Can" campaign hit home so hard for this generation of young voters).  

*Fun little Millennial graphic (if you are reading this on your phone, good luck.)*
Millennials have a number of admirable qualities, but the one that has me crushing so hard is their desire to not just find a place in the world, but the desire to find their place in the world.  What I mean is that this generation of people won't go work at MegaCorp because they have to, if they take a job at MegaCorp it will be because they wanted to - because they believe MegaCorp is making a difference.  This is a generation that wants to figure out what color their parachute is, and do the thing that will allow them to make the greatest contribution to the world - people who want to leave their mark.

Now will some Millennials take a job at MegaCorp because the starting salary is $73K/year with full bennies?  Of course they will.  But in their off hours they will be doing improv comedy or selling their wares on Etsy in hopes of someday turning their true passion into a living.  I also admire their ability to prioritize what matters most.  This is a generation that puts family life before work, which is a unique quality generations before them didn't have.  A girlfriend of mine recommends I read Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar (thanks for the tip Rushmie).  Here is the publisher's summary of the book:

"What happens to our society as a whole when smart, high-achieving young women are honing their traditional homemaking skills? Emily Matchar offers a smart investigation into this return to domesticity.  There's no doubt about it: domesticity is enjoying a major comeback, with the explosion of stitch n' bitch knitting circles; our sudden fascination with canning, cheese-making, and grinding our own flour; and a tidal wave of memoirs in the "I quit my corporate job and found fulfillment on a Vermont goat farm" vein. Why are women embracing the labor-intense domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic, vintage-clad supermom become the medias feminine ideal?"

I am ashamed to say that once again, I have not yet read the book.  Work has been busy lately okay?  I am dying to read this based on the jacket art alone.  *Note the shoulder tattoo on the highly domestic knitting hipster.  Fantastic.  Maybe I'll ask for this for my birthday (the book, not the tattoo).

I also admire the way these folks seem to have a renewed respect for all things local, domestic and hand crafted.  Our big box/big carbon footprint generation of flatscreen TV loving, Costco shopping adults are being replaced by a highly conscious group of consumers who want to know what they are buying, where it came from and who made it.  The craftsmanship and quality of the product they are buying is as important to them as the product itself.  They will go a little further and pay a little more for locally grown/raised produce and meat.  For example, my little cousin and her chef husband host an annual farm to table supper at a sustainable farm near their home.  She also wears a conflict free diamond ring.  No, I'm not crushing on my cousin (ewww), but I do love her for caring.

As for me, I shop at a "regular" grocery store where I often cheap-out and buy the scary opposite-of-organic chicken.  I have no clue where my engagement ring originated from.  I don't drive a Prius and my kids don't wear organic cotton.  I'm not saying we should all be so concerned with the decisions we make that we cripple ourselves and our ability to lead normal lives - but I do like the way Generation Next is making us stop and think.  

The bullwhip affect these "kids" are causing is contagious.  It's making us all want to know more, question more, explore our personal talents and make the greatest possible contribution.  I'm excited to see the change they will bring about for my Generation Z kids, and I'm grateful for the inspiration they're providing to those of us who came before them. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

let's get together.

My awesome ex-boss suggested I read a book called "The World Until Yesterday" by Jared Diamond.  The book discusses the evolution of modern society (which began about 11,000 years ago) and what we can learn from traditional/tribal societies that might make a positive contribution to our current/modern existence.  I could lie and say I read the book but I didn't.  I DID, however, read the Get Abstract 5-page PDF summary of the book.  Get Abstract is a little bit like Cliffs Notes, except instead of being for kids who don't feel like reading the whole book it's for grown-ups who don't feel like reading the whole book.  

I do plan to read "The World Until Yesterday", I really do - I just haven't yet.  I've been way too busy reading all the Fall editions of home decorating magazines that have been flooding my mailbox since late September and I just can't seem to get caught up.  How am I supposed to find time to study traditional tribal societies when I am busy learning how to make my own custom Halloween luminaries using brown paper grocery bags and a stencil?  There are only so many hours in the day for god's sake.

The lazy woman's summary of the book has me hooked.  I am fascinated with traditional/tribal societies and what we can learn from their family structures, parenting techniques and healing methods.  I eat this stuff up with a spoon.  One quote from the book (ahem, summary of the book) put it beautifully, it read: "traditional societies, in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct human society."  So basically, by studying tribes in Brazil and Africa that still function today as traditional societies did thousands of years ago, we can take advantage of their trial and error relative to medicine, diet, parenting and family.  Like anything else, of course, traditional societies have their pros and cons - so I put together a quick list of pluses and minuses based on (like everything else found in this blog) my opinion only:

  • You spend every day surrounded by your extended and immediate family.
  • Children breastfeed essentially non-stop for the first few years of life.
  • Extended family step in without hesitation to watch children if the parents need to leave them for any reason (hunting, etc).
  • Significantly reduced likelihood of stroke and heart disease.
  • Young adults have excellent decision making skills as a result of being allowed to perform adult tasks from a very early age.
  • Depression or poor mental health is essentially non-existent because people are never lonely. 
  • No formal justice system or courts of law.  Disputes between people or tribes are settled in person.
  • You spend every day surrounded by your extended and immediate family.  (This could potentially start to feel like a family holiday that refuses to end.)
  • Children breastfeed essentially non-stop for the first few years of life.  (I don't think I need to explain to any woman why this could perhaps be a "con" as well as a "pro".)
  • You might never have the chance to live since many traditional societies practice infanticide (selectively killing newborn babies for various reasons).  This is too depressing for words.
  • Letting small children work with dangerous tools and fire.
  • Violent and ongoing retaliation for settling disputes between tribes.
So yeah.  There are definitely some aspects of traditional societies that obviously don't fit well into our modern day ethos.  There are, however, some modern movements to get back to a more traditional approach - specifically to traditional parenting.  One current term for this is called "Attachment Parenting."  Mayim Bialik (girl who used to play "Blossom" in the early 90's sitcom) is a huge celebrity advocate of this.  TIME magazine also did a piece (May 21, 2013) on this subject that caught tons of media attention due to the controversial cover.  The image depicted a mom breast feeding her 4-year old son.  Remember this?
I will admit that when I look at this picture there is a little narrative in my head that sounds something like this:  "Don't judge.  Stop judging.  Don't judge.  Stop judging.  Don't Judge.  Stop judging."  I'm sure different people have very different reactions to this image.  So let's all agree that whether we like the idea of breastfeeding your grown kid or not, the mom in the cover image is super hot and just move on.

What really caught my eye was shockingly not the infanticide or extended breast feeding, but rather the idea that in traditional societies there is essentially no such thing as loneliness.  People were/are constantly surrounded by their loved ones.  Imagine if you spent your days with your kids by your side surrounded by your nieces, cousins, great aunts, parents, brothers and sisters?  Imagine it not in that horrifying-family-holiday-party-that-won't-end sort of way.  Imagine it in a connected, supportive, someone is always there when you need them sort of way.  Wouldn't that feel good? 

Wouldn't it be relaxing to know that if you ever needed someone to watch the kids there were countless people who would step in for you without thinking twice?  Your kids, for that matter, could essentially run around independently from the time they could walk without needing to worry about their safety?  If you needed to talk, to discuss your kids or your marital issues there was always a loving and supportive ear only a few yards away?  

A woman I work with is originally from India.  She said when she arrived to the United States in her twenties one of the things she struggled with most was the isolated way we live here.  In India doors and windows were always open, neighborhood children were often found playing in her yard uninvited, groups of friends would gather in the street to talk, etc.  While this type of open and interactive living may exist in some areas of the US, this "tribal living" is not the norm - especially in cold weather climates.  It is nonetheless true that an extended support system made up of family and friends is still a crucial part of modern day happiness.  That part hasn't changed, it just looks different now.  Why do you think we all seem to like Facebook so much?

Winter is coming.  Soon the frozen months of unintentional isolation will be here.  The days of impromptu barbecue's and family gatherings will be put to bed for another season along with the vegetable gardens and the pool toys.  I'll be the first one to admit I can get a scorching case of the seasonal blues if I'm not careful.  The best remedies I have found are fresh air and company.  It doesn't need to be face to face company either (though a glass of wine over the phone with a friend just isn't as much fun) the important thing is just to connect.  It feels good to reach out, it feels good to have things in common, and it feels good to remind yourself that you are part of something bigger.

As the nights get colder and the clothing gets heavier don't let your heart get heavy too.  Reach out to the people in your tribe who will gladly lend an ear, watch your kids or share their food.  Yes it's 2013, and yes we live in the most modern form of society this planet has ever known.  We are still just people.  We still need one another.  And we still need to get together.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

you happy?

"Happiness is not the belief that we don't need to change, it is the realization that we can." - Shawn Achor

I don't yell at my kids much, I just don't. Everyone has their own parenting style, but for me a bunch of yelling just makes the house an uneasy place where nobody wants to be...including me. I DO, however, have what I call the "wolf eyes", which is this super scary angry mommy stare that the kids seem to think can burn human flesh. When I give the wolf eyes combined with a through-gritted-teeth order suddenly teeth get brushed, clothes get put on and homework will be done. The wolf eyes are my "In Case Of Emergency Break Glass" move that I only pull out when I mean business and they know it. It works for me so I'm sticking with it.

This is why the other night when I "yelled" at my not yet three year old little girl it took both of us by surprise. I had cooked what I thought was a nice dinner on a work night that included fresh fish and all major food groups. I was proud. We all sat down to eat a proper meal at a set table which happens like never. I had my fork in my hand and was about to take my first bite.

*Queue the toddler melt down.*

She wasn't hungry, she didn't like the food, she wanted to eat in the living a problem,she had it. After many failed attempts at trying to get her to sit in her seat and eat I finally picked her up, carried her into the living room and put her on the couch. I pointed my finger at her and yelled "WE EAT AS A FAMILY IN THIS HOUSE! YOU NEED TO LEARN TO SIT AT THE TABLE AND EAT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE! WHEN MOMMY COOKS A NICE DINNER I EXPECT YOU TO EAT IT!"

She looked at me totally confused/scared and nodded her little head "yes". I quickly and guiltily scooped her up, hugged her and told her I loved her. I felt like a total piece of dirt.  About a half hour later I was cleaning up the dishes when she walked into the kitchen with her footie pajamas on and looked up at me. In her sweet little toddler voice she simply asked "Mommy, you happy now?"

Yes, parenting guilt is the gift that keeps on giving and I will probably always remember the day I yelled at my daughter for not sitting at the dinner table. The question she asked however, was so black and white, so clear - yet so much more relevant to me than she even knew. She simply asked if I was happy. It's such a short little question with such a big meaning behind it - and it came at a very interesting time.

Earlier that week I had attended a seminar on Female Leadership sponsored Simmons College. The keynote speaker was Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour (  She was the first African-American female combat pilot and author of the book "Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step Battle Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals That Matter". Her presentation focused on setting goals and accomplishing them. She talked about how to figure out what you want by first imagining there are no constraints and no obstacles - nothing stopping you from reaching your goal. Just picture yourself where you want to be first and then worry about establishing the path to get there. She had some other key points that I thought were worth sharing (since chances are you weren't there):
  • Set aside time every for free thinking. Whether it be in the car with no distractions, or before you go to sleep at night save some time to NOT be tactical. Just letting ideas and new thoughts flow freely into your mind can be very relaxing - meditation is obviously great for this.
  • Opportunities don't go away - someone else just takes advantage of them. Don't spend so much time making a decision that the opportunity is gone by the time you've made up your mind.
  • Do the things that are important to you every day. For example, if you are interested in publishing a book, set aside time every day to write. Make your goals into a regular practice.
That same week I happened to attended a meeting for SWE (Society of Women Engineers). I'm not an engineer, but I am a woman, and apparently that's good enough for them. One of the video clips presented during the meeting was a coaching session led by Shawn Achor, author of "The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work". This guy is interesting. He is a Harvard grad who studied, then lived, then worked at Harvard for 12 years. During that time he started to notice patterns in behavior amongst students and correlations between attitude (happiness) and success in their studies.

He became very interested in the field of Positive Psychology (studying what makes people feel better instead of studying what makes them feel worse), interviewed about 1,600 Harvard students and then travelled the world studying people from various walks of life before the wrote the book. He studied commonalities in behaviors and approaches to life that all happy people share and turned them into "The Seven Principles" (which are kinda meaningless unless you read the book but just for fun), they are:








He takes a totally different approach to defining success. He argues that we are programmed to believe that only once we are successful can we be happy. The only problem with this thinking is that success is a moving target. Is getting into college a success or is graduating? Is getting a good job a success or is getting a promotion? When are we actually done being successful? Never. If we keep waiting until we accomplish our next goal before we can be happy the obvious answer is we never will be.

He also talks about how happiness really depends on the lens through which we look at life. You can have a Harvard student who sees their Ivy League education as torture they must endure while a student in an African schoolhouse with dirt floors and limited materials feels honored to be receiving any type of education at all. It all has to do with perspective.

I related to him much more than I had related to the Simmons College speaker earlier in the week. I really like the idea of not sitting back and saying "I just want to be happy". 'Cause guess what? So does everyone else. Happiness isn't something that comes to everyone naturally, nor is it something that every person gets to experience. That's why the United States Declaration of Independence states that "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". We have the right to try, and that's all.  But that's enough. 

The science of Positive Psychology has come so far. We have actual resources, methods and tools supported by science that can help us create more happiness - simple practices that can actually change our lives. How lucky are we that we live in a time when studying, creating and enjoying happiness has never been easier? I would encourage anyone to seek out these resources and try to adopt just one new practice, just one small change that can have a surprising affect on the happiness you experience in your life. Exercise, keeping a journal, meditating or making random acts of kindness a practice are all proven examples. Give one new practice a shot and see if the positive ripple affect your new behavior creates is worth the time/emotional investment you've made...betcha it will be.

So in the end, I answered my daughter's simple question with the most simple answer I could give. When she asked if I was happy I simply told her "Yes honey, I am." 


Monday, August 26, 2013

coming clean.

Ever wonder why the fridge sorta smells? Well, I have been wondering that very thing since about the 4th of July. The slow creep of the fridge funk has been happening throughout the course of a crazy busy summer with little to no attention paid. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I emptied the entire thing, removed every last condiment, vegetable and dairy product until it was an empty box. I then gave it a relaxing hot water and mild dish soap scrub (basically the same spa-like treatment I wish someone would give me) until it was positively sparkling. I learned two things:  

1) Very few household chores give you the instant gratification and tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes from properly cleaning out the fridge.
2) When you remove all the expired/gross/moldy objects from my refrigerator I essentially have no food. (see below and note the way the one lonely piece of leftover chiken from the night before has an entire shelf all to itself.  Talk about excess real estate).

Yes, summer is busy and some things just take a backseat to other, more important things - like going to the beach and drinking. I don't think I'm alone in saying that when that first chilly night of cool "Fall-like" air hits I am secretly excited to organize the sh*t out of the house and all its contents. Spring cleaning doesn't really thrill me the way it does for some, but I sure do love a good end of summer clean sesh.

Going through closets to see which pants are now too short (for the kids, not me. I'm pretty sure I'm done growing). Making piles of donate vs. give away vs. throw away. Realizing that the closet actually has a floor, not just an abyss of pajamas, stuffed animals, costumes and toys nobody plays with anymore. Making sure all the hangers are going in the same direction and the different types of shirts are grouped appropriately (sweatshirts, button-ups, hoodies, etc) is a thrill for my OCD to be sure.

Summer is so fleeting and so carefree.  It feels good for one season to only worry about having clean beach towels and a healthy rotation of bathing suits to keep the family weekends flowing. Back to school however, is a good excuse to really dig in and get things in order before a whole new breed of busy begins. That doesn't have to mean the big pull-your-hair-out-torture-for-everyone shopping trip either. It doesn't all have to happen at once. It can be done more simply, more slowly, and in a less retail oriented way and be just as gratifying.

Giving your kid a home grown haircut instead of dealing with some Kids Cutz (I hate the substitute "z" where an "s" should be by the way, when did that become okay?) horror show is a good way to keep the mommy blood pressure down. Grabbing the list of necessary school supplies when you're solo on a Tuesday rather than dealing with the crowds at Target on a Sunday in late August when you have the kids with you, etc.  Heck, grab yourself a nice quiet lunch next door at Panera while you're there and really live it up.

Back to school organizing is also the perfect time to play Santa Claus for a girlfriend you love. A dear friend of mine who is raising up two lovely little girls recently went through their combined arsenal of shoes and generously gifted the ones they had outgrown to me.  How happy was I to receive twenty pair of gently worn little girl shoes?  I did the same this past weekend and gifted an awesome travel highchair and an overpriced toddler enriching toy to one of my fellow mommy co-workers. Yes cleaning house when done with friends in mind can be a perfect pay it forward/everyone wins kind of situation. You get a nicely organized closet filled with things that fit your child properly and someone else gets your old crap that feels like Chirstmas to them. Win win.

A new school year is as much a fresh start for us as it is for our children. New teacher. New classroom. New friends. New possibilities. While we're cleaning out our mudrooms and closets this Fall let's also toss out any residual mommmy baggage from last year we're still keeping in that Pottery Barn storage system in our brain. Forget about the classroom Mom from last year that made you a little mental. Give the smart ass third-grader who made your kid cry last year the benefit of the doubt that they did some growing up over the summer. Whatever "it" is, put it right in the Sterilite bin with the too-short pants and the holey sweatshirts. Take a big deep breath of that crisp bus stop air and enjoy the excitement of a fresh start through the eyes of your kid. Because when people talk about the magic of being a parent, I'm pretty sure that first day of school feeling is what they are referring to.  Soak it up.

Happy first day of first grade Little.  xo, mom.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Macaroni Necklace

I have had this post written in my mind for months, years maybe.  It seemed like now that the dog days of summer are finally upon us and the season of fun is in full swing, it was as good a' time as any to talk about the macaroni necklace.  The macaroni necklace you see, represents much more to me than some colorful pasta tied together with string.  It's a symbol of all things simple, youthful, carefree, creative, authentic and fun - it's a state of mind.  To help you better understand the macaroni necklace allow me to use it in a sentence:

"This traffic is a nightmare - when I get home I'm gonna put on my comfies, cook a nice meal, grab a book and put on the macaroni necklace for the rest of the night."

A more extreme example would be as follows:

"This traffic is a nightmare - today I'm going to quit my job and move to a clothing-optional, self-sustaining compound in Oregon and home school the kids."

Are you feeling the macaroni necklace?

I'm 99.99999% sure I stole this term from my girlfriend (who incidentially, hates this blog and will undoubetedly be miffed that I tainted the sacred necklace by mentioning it here).  She and I have been using this term to describe "the good life" since we were too young to know we were already living the good life.  Back in those days we thought the macaroni necklace was a lifestyle. It meant moving to a tropical locale and braiding hair on the beach by day and mixing rum drinks by night.  It represented the opposite of responsibilities, pressure, stress, and work - it represented an escape.  

My mother has some great one-liners, but one of my favorites is that "Work is work.  If it was supposed to be fun they would have called it 'fun' instead."  Ahhhh, the Baby can't argue with that kind of logic.  While it's true that most of us don't have the luxury of living a life of...well, luxury - that's actually the beauty of it.  Life itself is the luxury.

I still love the macaroni necklace and use the term regularly, but these days I don't see it as being quite so extreme.  It's become less about escaping to paradise and more about the idea of making the place you already are into a paradise.  The necklace means enjoying every moment of every day as much as possible, regardless of what that particular day happens to hold.  People have written books and given seminars about the macaroni necklace, except they call it living an "authentic life" or "living awake".  One of my favorite Eckhart Tolle quotes on this topic is "life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be."
I used to think that there were two choices - the macaroni necklace lifestyle or "real" life.  Now I say the macaroni necklace doesn't need to take you to lands can wear it with anything, anytime, anywhere in the life you live right now.  You can throw on your necklace any given Monday night when you elect to kick back with your favorite person and a cold beverage on the deck.

Summer is here.  I encourage you to head to the kitchen, grab a box of dry penne and a little gardening twine.  Whip yourself up some macaroni bling and rock it proudly while you participate in your favorite form of fun this season.  Do the things that make you feel young and free and lit up on the inside - the things that are in harmony with what's important to you

For our part my family and I are heading up to Vermont for our annual summer getaway in a month or two.  It's always refreshing to break out of the routine and the expected - there's something about a change of scenery and the adventure of the unknown with people you love that naturally makes you feel a little lighter.  This year I think it might be fun to bring some dry pasta and food coloring along for the trip.  Letting the kids construct their first macaroni necklaces sounds like a great way to buy my husband and I fifteen minutes of peace and quiet.  They will also serve as souvenirs of childhood for Mom to keep with her long after the splish-splashy, lemonade-soaked days of summer have gone.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

i'm trying. a Father's Day shout out to the fellas.

Last year I designed a custom T-shirt for my husband's birthday.  The front of the shirt reads these two simple words -  "i'm trying".  The back of the shirt shows three different images.  The first is a (presumably) man riding a mountain bike.  The second image is a person sitting at a desk in front of a computer and the third is a baby carriage.  The idea, of course, was to visually summarize the three primary aspects of my husband's life - fun, work, and family.  Check out what a creative little bugger I can be when I apply myself:

*Note:  ignore the wrinkles - my iron is dusty.*

This shirt makes me smile inside every time he wears it.  There is something very endearing about having a cup of coffee in the morning with a man who is wearing a shirt that says "i'm trying".  It's like he's talking to me without saying a word and it's also a great reminder.

Seeing as though this blog admittedly leans toward the feminine side of things (and since Father's Day is around the corner) I am hereby devoting this post to the other side of the gender coin.  This is a little shout out to all the Dads, the husbands, partners, and men in our lives - the ones we count on, yell at, laugh with, sleep and share our lives with. 

The expectations for both men and women have changed so much in the last few generations.  When you think about gender roles even one hundred years ago as compared to today the shift in expectations for both sexes is staggering.  You can't turn on the television or walk through Barnes & Noble without seeing something devoted to the topic.  Most conversations seem to focus on the new expectations and responsibilities for modern day women.  So often we overlook the dramatic change in expectations of men.  We have taken our fire building, animal hunting, house constructing, machine operating, war fighting men and turned them into modern day daddies who cook, clean, put hair in pigtails and fold laundry.  If it seems like I'm over-generalizing to make a point it's because I am.

TIME magazine (March 26, 2012) did an interesting piece on gender roles from the standpoint of average income for American men and women today.  The article was called "The Richer Sex", and the subtitle read "As female economic clout grows, it is changing how men and women work, play, shop, share court and even love each other".  The approach was based on earning potential and salary increases amongst women in the last couple of generations.  One of the big shockers for me was that today less than 1 in 5 married-couple families are supported by the husband alone.  Though it might sound like this piece was based solely on money it really wasn't.  It was more about the affect this shift is having on our families, our marriages and our society in general.  The best part for me, however, was one of the in- article takeaways that stated this:

"If people think differently about money, power and gender roles, everyone may come out ahead."

It's not just women who are changing.  We need to step outside our smart black pumps and remember that men are changing too - they're just quieter about it.  As women one of our big hot buttons tends to be "understanding".  We want to be understood, we want our feelings to be acknowledged, we want our challenges and our struggles to be recognized - and we're really good at articulating just how much we need all of that.  Men need it too, they just aren't as good at asking for it. 

Now let me be clear about one thing before I start sounding preachy - I am not great at this.  I have a lot of growing to do in this department.  It is not always easy to genuinely consider a situation or life in general from your partners' perspective.  It's often much easier (and natural) to stay comfortably in our own shoes and list the reasons why the other person could have tried harder or done something more to accommodate our needs rather than their own. 

A good partner however, will hold up the mirror.  They will gently and lovingly show you the things about yourself that could use a little attention.  They'll challenge you in a way that feels safe and supportive without knocking you down.  Patrick has done so much for me but this is the one thing I am most grateful for.  He's the only person I have ever met who really made me take a hard look at myself on the inside - I'd like to think I have done the same for him.  We're highly imperfect but we're helping each other get better every day.  We're trying...and I think that's what marriage is all about.  Just to be sure, however, check back with me in forty years and I'll tell you if I was right or not.

In the meantime I make a conscientious effort to see the story from his side, to remember that no one has it easier than the other when it comes to raising kids, and that life is happier when both people are giving as much as they can instead of taking.  I also constantly remind myself that these modern day men are trying just as hard as we women - the expectations put on them are just as high and their challenge is just as great.  I also keep in mind that if what I really want is a wife (which some days doesn't seem like a half bad idea) I'm barking up the wrong tree and maybe should have thought of that eight years ago. 

Father's Day is a good reason to do a little more than buy a card and a new hand saw at Lowe's.

It's a nice opportunity to respect and acknowledge the men in our lives and all they do to keep the family thriving, the house running and our hearts full.  It's a chance to take ourselves out of our mental comfort zones for a minute to see life from the other side of the bed. 

Because they're good guys.  Because we thought enough of them to marry and start a family with them.  And mostly...because they're trying.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

anger management

I hesitate to even admit this, but if the last two weeks of my life had to be described in a single word I am pretty sure that word would have to be anger.  I feel lucky to say that in general, my life is pretty anger free, so this sudden swing in the whole vibe of my existence has been noticeable - which is a good thing I guess.  What kind of anger you might ask?  Well, it's been a potpourri of anger, coming at me from all sides, all angles and in all forms.  I think the anger-fueled array of experiences I have had in the last two weeks can best be expressed in list form (plus I'm just always looking for an exuse to make a list) - so here goes:
  1. My nanny got angry with me. So she quit.
  2. My husband left me on Mother's Day morning to get on an airplane.  To go to a conference.  In Virginia Beach.  I was little angry.
  3. My boss got angry with me for not responding to one of his requests as promptly and with as much detail as he expected.
  4. My son got a bad haircut he didn't want in the first place.  This made him surprisingly angry.
  5. My husband "broke" the front end of his new/old BMW trying to put the license plate on right after the body work got finished.  He was quite angry.
  6. He later called me "childish" and "annoying" all in the same night/same conversation leaving me feeling angry.
  7. I got angry right back and wrote a scathing email to him the next day.
  8. We had to give the loaner hampster back to my sons Kindergarten class.  My daughter was angry.  I promptly went to the pet store and bought her a replacement.
Sensing a theme?  None of this stuff is exactly earth-shattering and I realize that on the spectrum of actual problems these all fall on the low and relatively unimportant end - but it added up.

Instead of trying to pretend that everything was all hippies and dolphins I figured it best to recognize and acknowledge all this bad energy and face it - learn from it even.  As civilized people sometimes it feels like we're expected to have evolved into a Buddhist monk-esque state of bliss where traffic jams, snarky comments and emotional bruises can't affect us.  We expect that somehow we should have moved beyond the place where we allow ourselves to feel anything short of happiness, grace, forgiveness and positivity.  I mean have all the inspirational quotes and posts we read on facebook, twitter and Pinterest taught us nothing?  Have I not been reading my own blog?

I give you Exhibit A - a sign I recently contemplated purchasing for my home but then decided not to:

I mean seriously, how could anyone who lived in a house where this hung on the wall ever get angry about anything?  Actually, I'm a little angry at myself right now for ever considering hanging this thing in my kitchen.  What was I thinking.

To that point, I recently heard someone refer to the act of removing someone from your life as "Bless and Release".  I interpret this as a very evolved way of saying "don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out of my life".  Or "it's been real".  I love it.  Bless and release.  Someone should make a sign for that on a piece of salvaged barn board and sell it on Etsy.

I got curious about anger, and whether or not in this day and age it's even an okay thing to feel.  Are we, as educated, socially responsible, spiritually evolved citizens of 2013 even allowed to feel anger anymore?  Did anger walk out when recycling and self-help books walked in?  Or is anger an emotion left only to be experienced by people who are mentally weak, self-unaware or somehow involved in politics?  Kidding of course.  Maybe.

Here is how the American Psychological Association defines anger:

is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. Anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems. But excessive anger can cause problems. Increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger make it difficult to think straight and harm your physical and mental health.

Interesting right?

The first thing that jumped out for me were the words "increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger" - and here's why.  A friend in the medical field once told me that when you reach the elevated state of true anger (imagine a very heated argument) there are actual physiological changes that take place in your body.  Your heart rate quickens, your body temperature elevates by a degree or two, and you literally become incapable of reasoning or making rational decisions.  "They" (whoever they are), have done studies, and it takes exactly twenty minutes for your body to recover back to a normal state where you are once again able to think/act like yourself.  So the next time you get out-of-your-mind-hand-through-a-wall-mad don't just take a deep breath and count to 10. Take a deep breath and count to 1,200.

The second thing that jumped out for me was the second sentence. "Anger can be a good thing."  I especially like the way anger can help motivate you to find solutions to problems.  My first reaction to that idea was to reject it, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it's true.  Sometimes it takes that little twinge of "I've had it" - just a little drop of pissedoffidness to light the spark that takes you to the next better thing. When you look back over the course of history there are countless examples of anger and dissatisfaction that when managed correctly, turned into positive change for people, countries, governments, etc.  On a smaller scale you might get angry that your favorite jeans don't fit anymore so you drop 5lbs and feel great.  See?  Anger can be okay.

Here's the rub - there is a difference between anger and hate.  Hate is defined as:

, often attributive \ˈhāt\1a : intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury

Hate is a totally different animal, which according to Merriam Webster can be the result of uncontrolled anger.  Allowing your anger to go unrecognized, unchecked and unattended can result in feelings of hatred which (as far as I'm concerned) doesn't have an upside.  So I answered my own question (for myself anyway, I'll let you draw your own conclusions on the topic).  For me, I guess a teensy weensy bit of anger sprinkled in the cracks of a primarily happy existence is okay - healthy even.  It's the Sriracha on the fresh Vietnamese spring roll of life that makes things a little more spicy.  If you were to drink the whole bottle however, it would taste like absolute crap.

*Yum right?*

I'm going to stop feeling like a Neanderthal for feeling angry now and again.  I will continue to count my blessings, my hippies and of course my dolphins when life is going with the flow and everything is falling into place like I hoped it would.  But when the hippies and dolphins are out back taking a smoke break and all logistical hell breaks loose I will give myself a hall pass to feel a little anger.  I'll allow myself enough time to swim around in it until I figure out what to do next. 

The challenge is not letting the anger set up shop - not letting it stay so long that it establishes a permanent residence in your heart.  Let yourself feel it.  Acknowledge it and figure it out.  Then swiftly kick it to the curb and replace it with a feeling more pleasant to live emotion you wouldn't mind hanging on the kitchen wall.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” - Buddha didn't say this, someone at an AA meeting did.  (Which makes it cooler.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Getting Fed

eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim. - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Six years ago my husband and I were sitting in the executive offices of a church going over the details of our son's impending baptism.  We sat on the sofa as unsure new parents listening to the same wonderful man who had baptized both of us as babies (in that very same church) talk about the rite of baptism - the history, the significance etc.  Toward the end of the conversation as we were wrapping up he asked us if we planned to attend that particular church as a family in the future.  Since we had given the topic little thought we were honest and said we weren't sure, that we hadn't really decided yet.  His response was interesting.  He said "It doesn't matter to me where you decide to worship, whether it's this church or any other is fine with me.  Just so long as in a spiritual sense, you're getting fed." 

I love that way of putting it.  I loved the way he treated the soul, or the spirit, as something that needed to be fed just as much as the body.  Few people would argue the mind/body/soul connection and the importance of maintaining all three, but something about the language he used just really hit the mark for me mentally.  We spend so much time putting "first things first" in our lives that it can be hard to remember to set time aside to do the things we love, the things that feed our soul - but it's important.  If we don't make time to do the things we enjoy we become stressed out, depressed, and spiritually starved.

This "food" is different for everyone.  For some it is exercise, non-fiction, cooking and church.  For others it's indie movies, shoe shopping, poetry and the ocean.  My husband feeds himself with skiing, music, mountain biking and old BMW's.  I feed myself with books, gardening, blogging, music and Windex.  Nobody loves cleaning a kitchen counter more than I do.  Nobody.

Sometimes the things that feed our soul are so small they can be easy to miss.  The other day I was driving down the road on a perfect Spring day.  The windows were down, the sun was strong and the air was crisp.  At just the right moment that one perfect song came through my iPod via Pandora (*side note:  Pandora is magic.  Seriously, how does that software always know exactly what you want to hear exactly when you want to hear it?  It constantly amazes me - magic I say.)  I turned the volume up so loud the dashboard was vibrating and I couldn't hear anything but the music.  The sound of the wind, my car, and the notice dings of new e-mails coming through my phone all disappeared.  The music made my skin prickly and my heart beat faster than usual.  I could feel that song in every square inch of me and I thought to myself - 'This feeling.  This is it.  This is what it feels like when your soul gets what it needs'.  I've heard athletes feel this sort of rush all the time...but I'm just going to have to take their word for it.

Patrick's favorite T-shirt is from Copper Mountain in Colorado.  It has a skier doing some crazy jump on the front with his skis all crisscrossed and under the image it reads "fuel for the soul".  I like to make fun of him for being "soooooo hard core ", but the truth is that skiing and biking really do fuel his soul, his spirit - whatever name you want to give it.  If a month or so goes by and he hasn't been outdoors to recreate somehow he becomes irritable, depressed and generally unpleasant to be around.  When we first got married I didn't understand how important these things were to him and I would try to guilt him into staying around the house more.  It didn't take long before I realized that a) it's not worth fighting a losing battle and b) he really needs to do these things in order to feel his best.  I've also just grown up and realized there is no sense in trying to stop someone you love from doing the things that make them happy.

The trick is finding the ever elusive "balance" between getting fed and being a pig about it.  Taking what you need to be a better partner, a better parent, a better person is doubt.  Equally important however, is taking enough to be satisfied without stuffing yourself and leaving the people around you feeling hungry.  Self-sacrifice and putting your family first is the name of the game in parenting.  A friend of mine told me once about being a parent that "if it's not a little hard, you're probably not doing it right."  I will admit that when it comes to feeding myself, I prefer to err on the side of always wanting a snack because I'm never really full.  My mommy guilt and Yankee upbringing always have me not taking quite enough of what I need for myself.  I know lots of moms who feel the same way.  I guess I reason that there will be a day when I can indulge in all the "me" related activities my soul desires...but if I wanted that day to be today I shouldn't have had two kids.

I think a great place to start is simply knowing what it is that fuels us.  So when the opportunity presents itself - when we have the chance to feed our soul, we know how to do it.  When we find ourselves down and needing to be lifted up we know what will help us get back on our feet.  Recognizing and practicing the things that bring us joy is as important as making sure we have something green on the dinner plate. 

Don't let yourself go hungry.  Make sure that once everyone at the table of your life has what they need, you sit down and feed yourself too.  Carve out the time to make sure all three elements of You are being given the attention and the fuel they need to thrive.  Even if it means taking your plate into the bedroom and eating in front of the TV. 

Gotta run.  Dinner is almost ready, and I'm starving.