Summer Doing

Summer relaxation“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”  – Ayn Rand

Ah, summer…. Every year we look forward to it, with visions of relaxation dancing in our heads. Those lazy, hazy days of summer – lounging on a beach, or sitting in a rocking chair on the porch sipping tea, or just laying in the grass watching the puffy white clouds go by…such lovely images.

But the reality of a Real Woman’s summer is neither lazy nor relaxing. It is more like a race to pack 50 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag as quickly as possible.

Here in New England, summers are pretty short. So we feel compelled to make the very most of them while they last. And in the blink of an eye, every weekend gets jammed with activities, every weekday is packed with getting things done and preparing for the weekends, and if a vacation or big event is in the plans – well, that’s when we slip into turbo drive.

Of course, we are our own worst enemies. It really doesn’t have to be this way. If we were smart, we could plan several days off to do nothing but lay around and watch the grass grow. But no, that doesn’t seem right. We have projects to complete around the house, we have special activities to plan with the family, we have kids to transport back and forth to camps, and we have trips and adventures to experience. We have to DO…. All the time.

Ironically, we get so busy “doing” summer that we stop participating in some of the simple things that keep us the most sane and bring us the most pleasure. We get too busy to connect with friends, or we skip our workouts, or we let our magazines stack up, or we forget how to snuggle in and watch a movie, or we let that rocking chair on the front porch gather dust….all those coping mechanisms we use in the colder, darker months get dropped because we are “too busy” doing other things.

As a classic R.W., I packed far too much into the first half of our summer. I didn’t mean to. Really, I didn’t. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even realize how busy we were – because I was too busy to notice. Then a few nights ago, as we were nearing the end of the month, over dinner I mentioned to my husband and son that I wanted us all to think about anything else we wanted to “do” during the month of August. Was there any place else they wanted to go, any other activities they wanted to experience?   They both wearily looked at me and asked “can we just stay home?”

It was like someone put a stop sign up in front of my face. Here I was worried that we hadn’t “done” enough. After all, we really hadn’t planned a big vacation this summer… instead we had been busy with weekend activities, a few short road trips and family visits. And the first half of the summer had flown by. What the men in my life were trying to tell me is “it is time to slow down and relax now while we still can.”

We are lucky enough to have a pool in our backyard. Yet we’ve spent very little time enjoying it so far. My son and I have yet to pick up our tennis rackets to go try to get the ball over the net a few times and laugh a lot trying. We haven’t done a fun casual family bike ride together. We haven’t gone to a drive-in movie, or even laid around in our living room cooling off after a hot day and watching an old classic on tv. We haven’t all just hung out on the front porch, sipping lemonade and watching the world go by.

And so it is time. Time to stop rushing, time to stop doing. In these last weeks before school starts and we start heading into the next season, it is time to lay back and watch those puffy clouds, to finally relax. I thought I’d be sad that my family doesn’t want to go somewhere or accomplish something else. But instead I feel a sense of relief, and eager anticipation. Because we are about to start doing something truly special together: nothing.

You give it a try too.  We can compare notes later.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

Review Time

accomplishmentsAll great achievements require time.” – Maya Angelou

In preparation for my annual review at my place of employment, I am working on filling out the requested Self Assessment Form. As is typical of this type of forced self-analysis, the first step is to answer this question: “what do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments over the past year?”

After spending some time on this, I got to thinking about how different my answers would be if the question was not related to my work, but rather my personal life. We Real Women are busy people, always “doing”, always “working” on accomplishing something. We often talk about setting goals for ourselves, we write daily to do lists, and we craft our own bucket lists of someday things we want to do, finish, or experience.   But do we ever, not just annually but really at any point, stop to consider what we have already done?   Pause to reflect and allow ourselves even a small self-congratulatory pat on the back?

At work, when we review our past six months or year, we are hoping for praise from our bosses, or constructive suggestions. We hope this review yields kudos, or advancement, an increase in pay for a job well done, and most of all, continued employment. In our personal lives, however, most of these rewards don’t happen. Certainly we won’t be paid for our efforts, or be given a shiny new title like Queen of Everything.   Because of this, we don’t really keep track of all that we accomplish – we just keep plugging along, marching toward the next endeavor. Isn’t it about time we give our personal selves a review, then hand out appropriate praise?

So go ahead, start thinking about what you’ve done over the past year – not work related, personally….What have you accomplished? Can’t think of anything?   Ok, how about a few of these achievements:

* Health – Did you take steps to improve your health? Lose a little weight? Get more active? Start making healthier choices when eating? No? Then how about just getting through an illness, or dealing with a disability?   Outstanding effort.

* Relationships – Still married? Still happily married? Or did you make a change away from a bad situation? Or start something exciting and new with someone? Did you make a new friend, or reconnect with an old one? Good for you.

* Home – Did you make improvements to your home? Move into a new apartment, condo or house? Refinance your mortgage? Did you keep your home relatively clean? Congratulations.

* Children – Do you have children? Did you do your best to feed, clothe, care fore, and teach them? Did you help someone else’s children?   Impressive.

* Care giving – Is there someone else in your life you are helping take care of? Elderly parent? Disabled relative? Did you do any volunteer work, give to a charity, lend a hand and a smile to someone in need?   Bravo.

* Exploration – Did you travel outside your immediate home and work area? Did you see or experience at least one new place or thing?   Nice job.

* Learning – Did you try something new?  Take up a new hobby or craft?  Learn to cook, start a blog, write a book?  Fantastic.

And how about one more: Did you every day play the game of beat the clock in your super-woman kind of way, juggling career, home, family, pets and any other part of your daily life?   A+.

When I started to think about my own personal accomplishments over this past year, I started to feel pretty good about myself, proud even. My mood elevated, and I had a bit more pep in my step. And don’t tell my boss this, but my personal achievements mean much more to me than my professional endeavors.

So grab a cold drink, sit for a few moments in your favorite spot, and give yourself a personal review. You’ve worked hard for it, you deserve it. And let me be the first to say:  Yay You.

 

Beauty Sleep

sleeping_BeautySleeping Beauty.  Clearly, not a Real Woman.  Not just because she is a Princess.  Not because she is flawlessly beautiful, with the body of a Barbie Doll.  And not just because her curse is broken when she is kissed by a handsome prince, nor because they live happily ever after.  All those factors add up to quite the fantasy.  But no, what makes it even more obvious that she is not a Real Woman is because she is sleeping. Peacefully.  Uninterrupted.  For a lengthy period of time.

In our adult, mature lives, that peaceful full-length sleep cycle disappears faster than Maleficent can say “I curse thee”.  And unless we opt for taking a magic potion, we R.W.’s can only dream of 8 – 10 solid hours of slumber.   Reading about Disney’s many Princesses, we can envy Cinderella’s beauty, Jasmine’s spunk, Pocahontas’ bravery, and Rapunzel’s flowing locks… but Sleeping Beauty?   Pure jealousy of her “tragic” curse – oh, the poor dear….she suffers so…by sleeping.

Virtually any of the R.W.’s in my life either suffer from sleep deprivation on a regular basis, or randomly. I don’t know any of them who sleep soundly every night for more than 5 – 6 hours at a time.   Go ahead – next time you are with a group of your BFF’s, ask if any of them have slept through the night recently.  Soon you will all realize that you may as well have called each other at 2am and discussed recent movies or swapped recipes, since you were all awake at the same time.

Some of the problem of course falls on external forces for which we have no control.  First in line are children.  If you have a child in your life between the age of 1 day to 18 years, you are routinely awakened by anything from food needs, to nightmares, to toilet issues, to waiting for them to come home safely late at night.  But even those R.W.’s with no children are still affected by outside interruptions – pets, storms, snoring partners, you name it.  Then there are the female biological issues like needy bladders (the only prayer of not having to get up to pee during the night is to go to bed completely dehydrated, having not consumed any liquids for at least 5 hours), night sweats, and restlessness.

If all we had to deal with were these outside influences, we’d be able to cope just fine.  Our bodies are generally trained to come alert quickly to do what we need to do, then return to relaxation mode.  But rather than let our bodies call the shots, we slip into the dreaded anxiety-ridden, sleep-disturbing, irrational next mode:  we think.  We lay there and our minds kick into warp speed.  No matter how tired we feel, the brain of the R.W. just doesn’t care.  We may re-live the activities of the day just passed, but more than likely, we are thinking about the day, or days, ahead.  And we worry.  Because at midnight, 2am, 3am, or 5am, these brains of ours take our thoughts and concerns and put them on mental steroids.   The to-do lists that seem so attainable during daylight hours, or the family issues that seem manageable when the sun is up, or the work projects that are normally routine, all become overwhelming and monstrous in the dark.

So we lay there contemplating life, checking the clock every twenty minutes and adding to our stress by thinking “I have to get up in 3 hours, I need to sleep!”.   We start to play games with ourselves… some of us may try to visualize serenity in an effort to turn off our concerns, some of us lay there getting angry and envious of our spouses who are off in dreamland, and some of us just give in, and get up to roam around the house, make lists, watch tv or read.

The truly astonishing part of all this, and yet another reason why R.W.’s are so amazing, is that no matter how much, or how little, sleep has been had, we get up and carry on our daily lives just like any other day.  We put in our time at work, we take care of our families, we tackle our to do lists, and we look really good while we do it.   Sure, we may sometimes feel like we are treading through mud, or like we could curl up and sleep on the floor at any moment – but we don’t let it stop us.

I’m not sure if this is because we just get used to our sleeplessness, or because we just have a rather unending supply of stamina.  However I do know that the same is not true of the men in our lives if they miss out on sleep.  I’m not sure which is worse, a tired man, or a hangry man.  Either way, it isn’t pretty.   I’d much rather hang out with the over-worked, tired, maid-duty pre-ball Cinderella than spend a day with a Prince Charming who hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep.

I’ve never seen the after-story for Sleeping Beauty.  Perhaps after her long rest, she rode off into the sunset with Prince Philip, and she became more like the rest of us.  She had a home to set up, a family to raise, maybe even a Princess-y job to do.   And even more likely, there were some days when, just for a moment, she’d wish Maleficent would pay her a visit again so she could get another decent night’s sleep.

Welcome to the party, Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We What We Wear?

paper dollsMost of us Real Women, after reaching a certain age or demographic, spend a lot of time trying to not look like what we are. If we are leaving our 20’s and 30’s, we don’t want to “look 40.” If we are middle-aged, we don’t want to “look mom-ish”. If we are approaching retirement age, we don’t want to “look like a senior.”   We aren’t necessarily striving to look younger, because let’s face it, that ship has sailed. We have to accept who we have become. But we seem to feel there is a stigma in being labeled as a member of any of those groups simply by virtue of how we dress and accessorize.

I do my best to regularly land somewhere in style between Marion Cunningham and Peg Bundy. (Bonus points if you remember both of those TV moms). When shopping, I put back on the rack anything that I could easily picture my mother wearing. Similarly, I don’t even venture into the Juniors Department. If I have seen it on my teenage next-door neighbor or my 20-something interns, then I know it does not belong on me. That does narrow the field a bit…. However it often will narrow me down right into that dreaded “age appropriate” mom-style again. Egads.

I have read a couple of articles recently about “what not to wear”. Usually these are fairly obvious. Ditch the Crocs, get rid of old baggy jeans or those with the high waists that accentuate the muffin top…yup, ok, got it. I also gave up tucking a long time ago; when I was skinny and young, it was fine….but if I ever tuck in a shirt now, it looks either like a rubber band on a marshmallow, or it looks like the distance from my waist to my boobs has ceased to exist.

So I thought I was doing pretty well. I was avoiding the dreaded “looking like a middle-aged mom” syndrome. Then I read an article presented by the folks at TLC, who apparently have been snooping in my closet.   In order to not look like what I am, they instructed:

  • Don’t wear yoga pants. Yikes, guilty.  It’s not like I wear them to work or anything, but after hours they are mighty comfortable, and I THOUGHT a better option than throwing on my old sweats if I need to run to the store. The article informed me that “there are plenty of comfortable pants out there that don’t come with elastic waists.” Really? I doubt it.
  • No Vera Bradley. WHAT?!? The article said a Vera Bradley print bag should not serve as my go-to purse. Ruh-roh…. Tell that to the 5 or 6 Vera bags I have, and use, on a daily basis. How is one to resist those great designs and colors? Sigh.
  • Give up the slightly stained shirt. We all have that favorite top that at some point got targeted with a stain, and no matter how many times we’ve treated and washed it, a little lingering spot remains. Well, I guess we aren’t supposed to do that dance in front of the mirror where we turn side to side, hoping it isn’t noticeable enough, and decide we can still wear the shirt. TLC says that’s a no-no.   Not sure why it is still ok for the men to do it.

These pointers got me to thinking about some of the other typical mom-wear I own. All of those flowy shirts that have been bedazzled a bit with glitter or sequins….the long loose sweater/jackets….and yes, even Keds-style summer sneakers. Those are all in my closet, in multiples.  They are so familiar to me, and I fear so over-worn, that I have tried to stay away from similar items lately when shopping.

The other day, after a rather unproductive run through Kohl’s, I spied a very cute simple summer dress. I realized it was from the youth area of the store, but still I held it up to myself in the mirror… and then realized that the hem of it would fall about 6 inches above my knee. 20 years ago I would have looked great in it. Now, not so much. No one needs to see that many spider veins, nor did I want to look like I was trying too hard to be young. Somewhat depressed, I returned it to the rack. I do miss those days of youth when I could wear just about anything.

So, in the end, we do our best to look good. And for the most part, I think we RW’s do a great job and look pretty darn spiffy. As much as some days I’d love to have someone mistake me for a college student, I know that just isn’t going to happen. Instead, when they ask “do you have kids?” I’ll smile and say “yes, how’d you guess?”   I know the answer. I look the part. After all, to quote Popeye: “I am what I am, and that’s all I am.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to change into my yoga pants.

 

 

The Ugly Truth Backstage

stagecurtain“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”   William Shakespeare

I’ve always loved this quote…. Then again, I’ve always been a bit of a Shakespeare junkie (with special thanks to Mr. Schmit, my high school English Teacher). We all spend an enormous amount of time playing our roles in life, putting forth our best efforts, showing our best sides to our audiences…. As Shakespeare said, we all in our time play many parts.

I was reminded of this quote last night and again this morning when a few things I observed made me think not necessarily about the plays and shows and roles we put on for the public eye, but more about what happens behind the scenes. What are the things we do behind the curtain, backstage, that we attempt to keep hidden from view?   The ugly, messy, real-life us that only those closest to us, and the most observant, ever experience?   No, I’m not talking about scary dirty skeleton-in-the-closet stuff (this is not that kind of blog!).   I’m talking about what happens when we take off the costumes and make up and set aside our public personae?

Last night on my way home, I drove by the small carnival that has been set up in the middle of our town – music was playing, lights were flashing, rides were spinning, people were happily roaming around enjoying the summer weather and the home-town excitement that can be found while spending large sums of money on games that can’t be won and fried dough that shouldn’t be eaten.  It was a sparkly sight.   This morning, on my way in to work, I went by the same site. The rides of course are off, everything shuttered until later today, no lights, no sound….. and behind the carnival area, in a large parking lot, are the campers and trailers where the carnival workers are staying while in town. Several of them were emerging and heading across the street for their morning cup o’ joe at Dunkin Donuts.   Definitely not a sparkly sight…. It was the backstage view, behind the scenes, not so pretty.

A bit later, I saw a man standing, straddling his bicycle, in the shade, by the side of the road. He was smoking a cigarette. At first I laughed at the irony…. Could he not wait until he got to his destination, but had to stop something healthy like biking in order to have a smoke?   And then I thought again about how this was his private, behind the scenes moment. Maybe he had no other form of transportation. Perhaps he’s not allowed to smoke wherever he was going. Maybe he wants others to believe he’s not smoking, and on a health kick with the bicycle.   Conflicting images for sure.

I thought of my own public and private life, and that of so many other Real Women out there. Each morning, I do my best to look presentable & professional for my job. Careful selection of clothing, make sure hair and make-up are done, etc. However, by the end of the evening, after a day of work, errands in the hot weather and maybe a workout or bike ride, the backstage me emerges – disheveled, sweaty, pony tail up, glasses on. I’ve definitely stepped off stage.

And as for my surroundings…. My set props, if you will…. Those too vary between public and private viewing appropriateness.   Last night, with my hubby home sick, my teenage son home on school vacation, and me out of the house for 12 hours, I came home to a somewhat disheveled environment. Dishes in the sink, food crumbs on the counter, various bits of clothing laying around, stuff piled on the kitchen table, and my dog pacing waiting to be fed. Yup, I thought, this is my backstage, nothing the public should see.

This past weekend, my husband and his friend were giving me some teasing because I made a comment about wanting to prep the house for this upcoming weekend visit of some of my family members. His friend said “my wife does the same thing, she goes nuts preparing and cleaning the house. I don’t get it.”   I pointed out that men are just as likely to want to make sure the lawn is mowed, the workshop cleaned up, and the cars washed before visitors arrive. Even if the audience is “just” family or close friends, we still want to make sure our stages are set, and we have our best public appearance in place.

After all, who doesn’t love making a grand entrance?

Play on.

 

 

The Lost Art of Meandering

snailIt never fails. I’m tight on time, need to get somewhere quickly, and I get caught behind a slow driver.   It could be a trash collection truck, a piece of farm equipment, a student driver or an elderly senior.   Whatever the reason, the vehicle in front of me, in a no-passing zone, is not going fast enough for me. And I start talking to them as if they can hear me. I drum my fingers on my steering wheel. I fidget in my seat. One would never know that I am normally a patient person.

We Real Women spend our days on “beat the clock mode”, packing the proverbial 100 pounds of stuff into a 12 hour day…each duty, responsibility, or chore, planned down to the minute – and anything that gets in the way of that planned time frame is a frustration.

The other day I had a short slice of time before my son’s birthday party to run out and pick up balloons and bags of ice.   Lo and behold, I got behind an older couple travelling 24 miles an hour in a 45 zone.  When I “finally” reached the grocery store, I grabbed a cart to head down the necessary aisle and got “stuck” behind a browser. You know those shoppers, the ones who are walking at about .03 miles and hour, slowly scanning all items on the shelves, usually traveling down one side of the aisle while a family of four is parked on the other side of the aisle discussing cereal.

Now in reality, these slow-downs likely only cost me a total of 10 minutes. But at the time, those 10 minutes felt like an eternity. I have a couple of R.W.’s in my life who are now having to participate in practice drives with their own young “student drivers” in their families. And they both report how much longer an errand takes with a very cautious early driver behind the wheel. It seems when we are not in total control, going whatever speed in life we want to be traveling, we feel pressured by not being able to beat that clock, and having to constantly adjust our plans.

When I was behind that elderly couple in my car, and when talking at them seemed to produce no results, I began instead to talk to myself. I started doing some deep breathing, then started discussing what items could come off my to do list if I got too delayed.   And I realized that unhurried drivers and dawdling walkers are put in front of us by some higher power to quite literally slow us down. If those slow-pokes weren’t in front of me, I likely would have been speeding…. which besides being dangerous, could have resulted in being pulled over and thus wasting even more time and money.   That grocery plodder forced me to slow my pace and breathe, something I likely needed before facing a pool party of teenagers.

If we didn’t have this constant “need” to rush, to fit more into our days, to hurry from one thing to the next, how different would our lives be?   The other day my sister sent an email that included an ad featuring the perfect outfit for “a long wander.” My friends and I all decided we wanted the lifestyle that would require a dress to go wandering; how lovely to need something fashionable to go meandering about. Then we all tried to remember the last time we actual meandered – anywhere. I suppose it is possible to wander, to stroll, to take ones’ time…but that only seems to happen during planned vacations, or maybe during get-togethers with friends. But never in day-to-day Real Woman life.

At some point, I have faith that will change. That couple in the car ahead of me was clearly in no rush at all. They had plenty of time to get wherever it was they were going. Perhaps they were driving to the park to go meandering. Perhaps they were headed to the grocery store to wander the aisles.   Considering this, I felt my frustration ease, and turn into admiration with a touch of jealousy. God Bless Them. I thought about how I can look forward to someday being like them. Some day I too can take my sweet time doing anything or going anywhere, and I can chuckle as I watch the frantic and frazzled women in their mid-life stages running like lunatics from one thing to the next, and think “ha, I was you once.”

When I reach that stage, I’m going to go out and buy myself a fashionable outfit for wandering.

But in the meantime…. Please turn at the next intersection — you are in my way.

 

wander

Real Life Classroom

grocery mapAt times we Real Women will hear our children ask in frustration while doing homework:  “Why will I ever need to know this stuff?”

I may be slightly hard-pressed to explain to my son how in day-to-day life he will need to know how to derive square roots, or create a plant cell out of modeling clay… but I can easily vouch for how many skills are needed for something as unassuming as a trip to the grocery store.

Sure, watching mom head out to the store and come back with a car full of groceries seems simple enough.  In kid world, it is kind of like magic….within an hour or two we can go from “there’s nothing good to eat” to a fridge full of food.  Yet the other night as I traversed those well-worn aisles in my home-away-from-home store, I thought about the brain power required to make it a successful outing.

So, kids, pull up your chairs, take out your notepads and observe the R.W.’s skills put to use in one of her natural habitats:

  • Mathematician:  First and foremost, the R.W. must possess finely tuned arithmetic skills.  They are required to mentally track the cost of what goes in the cart to stay within a pre-defined budget.  Some R.W.’s may be seen with an actual calculator in hand, but most will test their mental acuity by doing long addition and multiplication as they roam.  Beyond the big picture are the individual calculations made while standing staring at similar products to determine the best cost: brand with coupon vs. store-brand and no coupon.. Then factor in size and quantity, and the R.W. has created a formula worthy of Sheldon’s white board on Big Bang Theory.
  • Value Manager:  The skilled R.W. will not be misled by pretty signs offering great deals.  She must gauge the offers wisely. Buy-one-get-one is appealing, but will the family really go through 20 pounds of potatoes before they go bad?  Should she really pay $5.00 for two small containers of blueberries?   Then the most dangerous deception of all: packaging.  With pride and excitement, the R.W. may find that the cost of a jar of peanut butter has decreased – until she conducts closer analysis to discover the shape and size of the jar has changed – indented bottom, skinnier diameter… those sneaky packaging devils struck again.  But the Value Manager is not fooled.
  • Scientist:  Another key skill lies in understanding of what “best by” and “sell by” means in the world of expiration dates.  The scientific R.W. knows how long steak will last past the “packed on” date before it turns a funky grey.  She can gauge how many days beyond the “best buy” date cottage cheese will stay fresh before it becomes a fridge experiment, and how many days it will take for bananas to change from green to yellow to brown.  As for the selection of produce, there are a myriad of ways an R.W. will determine if something is ripe.  She may conduct a short experiment like pulling the leaves on a pineapple, smelling the bottom of a melon, or squeezing the top of a pear.  Scientist R.W.’s are fascinating to watch in this environment, and much can be learned from them.
  • Logistical Engineer:  Efficient packing of the grocery cart is a fine art.  R.W.’s who are shopping for a party, or stocking up, develop a well-planned layering and stacking technique to make the most of available space.  A seasoned visitor who is familiar with her surroundings will also logistically lay out the hunting experience for time efficiency and to avoid back-tracking. She has finely tuned hand-eye coordination and fast reaction time to work around parked carts, clusters of chatty shoppers and confused men and seniors.
  • Interpersonal Relations:  The grocery shopping experience may seem like a solitary experience, but the R.W. must possess clear communication and reasoning skills to be used at the deli counter, check-out, and on the rare occasion when she needs assistance finding a particularly allusive product. In order for the experience to be truly successful, she must maintain a calm and pleasant attitude in the face of crowded aisles, missing inventory, lost and confused other shoppers looking for guidance, and delays in lines.  This is potentially the most difficult skill to master – for although the R.W. is highly skilled and trained to take on this task of grocery shopping, it is often the very last place an R.W. wants to be.

Yes kids, that school work is indeed valuable.  Study hard, keep up the good work, and someday you too may become a skilled professional like the R.W. in your life.