The Other Stages

sunsetstagesAt the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer and having many of you avoid reading this full post (but I hope you will hang in here with me), I’m going to state the obvious: Death, rather unfortunately, is an inevitable part of life. No matter how you slice it, it is going to happen. None of us will live forever.  But we all want to live as long as possible, and even more so, we want those we love to live for as long as possible right alongside us.

This past month, I’ve experienced a double-whammy of loss.  My oldest brother, after a long history of health issues, passed away. Nine days later, we were forced to help our beloved fur-son, our dog, cross the Rainbow Bridge.  We’ve all heard about, and likely experienced, the “official” stages of grief that envelope us after the death of a loved one. No matter the relationship, at least some of those stages are going to hit us – shock, pain, anger, depression… These losses in my life were not the first, and I’ve felt these pains before.  What was different this time is that for both, I was the main point of contact, or the main caregiver.   Post-life-first-responder, if you will.  And I now realize there are other stages to grief that many of us R.W.’s will at some point in our lives have to work through if we haven’t already. And we may not expect them.

  1. Immediate Decision Making.Whether we are present at the time of the passing or not, after we’ve had our moments of saying good bye, we must somehow pull ourselves together enough to make some decisions. Calling immediate family, reaching out to a Funeral Home, determining what is to happen with the body, calling out of work – all things that need to happen within minutes or hours of the event, while our heart is split into pieces.  This is the time to take that Wonder Woman cape out of the closet and put it on – except this time it is black, and we really don’t want to wear it.
  2. Zombie mode.  After the initial burst of activity, we reach a brief stage where there’s nothing really to do. We are attempting to get our head around what just happened, get a grip on our emotions and deal with total exhaustion because we have just entered Weird and Dark World. We become a zombie – not the kind that comes back from the dead, but the ones left behind because of the dead.  We put one foot in front of the other in a cloudy fog and keep plodding along.
  3. Second-guessing.  Also known as the Guilt stage of grief. No matter how logical we are, no matter how many times we’ve been told we “did all we could do”, the guilt and second-guessing seeps in.   We are women. It is natural to relive every moment of the last few weeks/days/minutes of a loved one’s life and worry about whether we could have done more, said more, comforted more, ya da ya da ya da. Only time and re-assurance will help that stuff fade.
  4. Kicking Into Action.  When that very brief lull of “what now” is over, we take on yet another second/third/fourth job – that of preparing for whatever appropriate ceremony is needed. No matter what our culture or beliefs dictate, there will be an event to help everyone say goodbye and formally send the loved one on their way. What I realized is this is actually kind of similar to planning a wedding or birthday celebration; except it isn’t for a happy reason, balloons are replaced with lilies, and it all has to be done in days or weeks instead of months. There’s the venue, the program, the invitations/notifications, décor, photos to find, budgets to handle, travel arrangements, etc. Much to be done in a short amount of time. And guess what, this all happens while we are attempting to carry on with some semblance of our regular life. Yeah, that black cape is still tied on.

And here’s where I interrupt my list for an important PSA: Please, we all need to promise that we will take time now, while we are healthy and aware, to leave instructions for the future. Yes, having a Will or Estate plan is vital. But I’m talking about the other, more personal stuff.  My brother kindly left instructions about what he wanted for his funeral, which made that part of my life much easier, and made me feel better that I was doing what he wanted. In the Netflix series The Kominsky Method, a celebrity wife leaves her very specific funeral wishes for her husband, including instructions to find a casket made out of driftwood and having Barbara Streisand sing at the Service. Our wishes will likely not be that extravagant. But got a favorite song to be played?  Want your ashes sprinkled in the ocean?  Got a piece of jewelry to go to a favorite niece?  Whatever it is, no matter how small, those who are left behind will appreciate the guidance, and it will avoid arguments and even more grief. Even if you think you are a grumpy, unlovable old sot, someone is going to care and is going to feel lost and zombie-like. Help them out.  Oh, and make sure someone in your life knows where all your passwords are listed.

Now, where was I…. oh, yes:

  1. Overwhelming gratitude. I know, this sounds weird.  But the love and support and assistance from everyone in our lives, and the lives of the one who has passed, can be mind-blowing and incredibly comforting.  Soak it in. And all of those people who are offering to help in some way really mean it.  We’ve all been in that place before, wanting to help but not knowing quite how.  Even if it is something small like running a quick errand, take advantage of those who want to do their part to help through the journey.  Then thank them profusely.
  2. Phantom limbs. It is said that individuals who have had an amputation experience phantom sensations in the missing limb, most of which are painful. Thankfully I’ve never experienced a physical amputation, but the death of a loved one seems to me to be pretty close. We expect to be able to visit them, expect the dog to greet us at the door, expect to get the loved one’s phone calls, and we automatically think of things to tell them or to do for them…especially if we have been a primary caregiver.  We may even “see” them as if our hearts and eyes are playing mind tricks on us.  I believe this is the most painful part of the whole process, and the one that lingers the longest.  We just plain miss them, and it hurts.
  3. Finding a new normal.There’s no good word for this. The “official” name is acceptance, but I’m not sure that is accurate. We never get “over” the loss. The mourning never ends.  As a matter of fact, it has a nasty way of sneaking up behind us when we least expect it, and wacks us in the back of the head. We don’t go back to normal, because our lives are forever changed – instead we have to adapt to a new normal.  Eventually, however, bit by bit, the zombie mode fades and the pain starts to ease. We start to laugh again, and we find joy in living, even without our loved one – because it is what they’d want us to do.

Best of all at some point all those memories start to bring smiles instead of tears. At that point, we know we’ve survived every stage.

 

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NSNF Month

summer fallIt is September.  That month that is not really summer and not really fall.  Unless you live in the southwest, and it is hot-as-hades-stop-talking-about-sweaters season.

But here in the Northeast, school has started, pumpkins and mums are available at farm stands, pumpkin-flavored-everything is everywhere, pools are begrudgingly being closed, county fairs are active, evenings are chilly, afternoons are warm, Halloween décor has been in the stores for weeks, and trees are just starting to consider changing.

And we have begun to ponder the important challenging topics of the season:

What do I wear so I don’t freeze going to work in the morning, and don’t sweat on the way home?

Can I wear sandals?

Is it too soon for boots?

Is it too early to be eating comfort foods, or should I still be grilling burgers and making salad?

Should I take down the hummingbird feeder?

Why are the stores only carrying clothing in the colors of tangerine, gold, burgundy, mustard, olive green, or leopard print, all colors that only look good on about 4% of the population?

ACK, do I need to start my holiday shopping already?

How soon can I start drinking hot cocoa?  Or should I make more lemonade?

Oh, sure, sure, we are thinking about important world news and life events too, but really…  this is the month for these daily real life quandaries…. Kind of like March, but in reverse.  After all these years, I for one still don’t really have any of these things figured out.

My gardens are looking spotty.  Some flowers and plants are long gone, others are clinging on with bits of color.  I will soon buy a few mums to plant because they will be hardy enough to last a few more weeks, and just might come back next year.  While I’m buying the mums, I’ll be tempted to purchase a pumpkin for our front steps. But that’s too soon, because the Weather Dude on TV said we’ll be back in the 80’s later this month, then I’ll just have orange rotted goo to clean up.  While I’m at it, should I be putting away my pink flamingo pillows that are on the porch chairs and get out the blanket throws in the living room?   This is one of the many reasons I don’t live in warmer climates. If I’m this confused now, could you imagine me if I had cactus or palm trees in the winter?

Every Fall I am shocked and dismayed by the shrinking hours of daylight, as if I’ve never experienced it every previous year. No longer do I have the luxury of knowing I can do gardening, or walk the dog, or go for a bike ride after dinner.  Nope, gotta get it all done before 7pm.  Same goes for the morning.  Getting up with the puppy for that early morning pee now feels like I’m roaming the backyard in the middle of the night.  And by the way, good thing no one can see me, because now I wear my fluffy bathrobe and garden clogs at that hour because it is too cold for shorts and bare feet.  As I stand there, flashlight in-hand, while she does her business and happily sniffs around the yard, I cringe at the thought that in the not too distant future I’ll have to make the move into a winter coat and boots for our little outings.

Speaking of temperature, the inside of buildings this time of year battle for variable comfort, as if they too are going through menopause.  One place may still be blasting the a/c, another may have it shut off and opted for windows open for anything from chilly air to warm breezes, and another may actually have the heat turned on.  Layers of clothing are the only option this month.  We become better at adding or removing clothing than superman in his phone booth.  In September, the casual-wear uniform is either shorts and a sweatshirt, or jeans with Tshirt and jacket.  Anything else, and we’ll end up freezing or roasting.

All this confusion aside, September is one of my favorite months.  The days are clinging to the last rays of summer, yet there’s the promise of crisp colorful beauty on the horizon.  Crowds in popular scenic areas are less, and going for walks and hikes is superb. The air smells fresh, and for a few weeks I can ignore the fact that winter is coming.

So in the days to come, I’ll embrace the wackiness of NSNF (Not Summer Not Fall) Month.  I will open all my windows in the house, roam around in shorts and sweatshirt. I will go for a hike.  I will drink hot chai tea in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon.  I will put out my Fall floral arrangements but not my pumpkins. I will plant mums and cut back my daisies. We will grill something simple for dinner, but then I’ll bake pumpkin bread.  I will sweat on a bike ride, but be burrowed under a blanket in the evening while I flip channels searching for any of my favorite returning TV shows.  We will giggle about a 45 degree temperature change in 12 hours. I may pack away my white shorts and a few tank tops, but the capri’s and T’s stay for now. I will try not to complain about not knowing what to wear.  I may do a bit of shopping… I won’t buy anything in olive green/mustard/leopard print, but a Fall purse may tickle my fancy.

Most of all, I will attempt to let this month linger.  I’ll put my face up to the warm sun, and I’ll pick up the first perfect yellow-orange maple leave I find on the ground.  Let’s all make a pact to transition together in a bit of slo-mo.  The hurry-scurry world of the holidays will sneak up all to soon.  Let’s stop to breathe a bit first.

 

 

 

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The Next Good Thing

looking forward sunsetWe women are trained to be Queen Copers. Granted, some of us are better at coping than others, but for the most part we all do the best we can.  We can all identify with this definition of Cope:

Verb, to deal effectively with something difficult.  Synonyms: manage, survive, subsist, look after oneself,  stand on one’s own two feet, carry on, get through, get on, get along, get by, muddle through, muddle along, scrape by, bear up, make the grade, come through, hold one’s own, keep one’s end up, keep one’s head above water, keep the wolf from the door, weather the storm.

Sounds familiar, right?

Whether tiny or huge, we find ways to deal with life’s up and downs.  One of my key coping tools is looking forward to the next good thing.  It is something I’ve done all my life.

When we are young, looking forward to things is what we do all the time. It’s all about the next cool or fun activity.  The next new experience, playdate, or celebration.  We spend so much time looking forward to “what’s next” as children, that we beg for time to go faster.

As young adults, we are neck deep in looking ahead to what’s next.  First jobs, new relationships, first homes, marriages, travel, babies… you name it.  We are in a speeding vortex of happenings that keep us so busy we don’t have time to dwell on the invariable bad speed bumps that happen along the way.  If something ugly comes up, we juggle it around, find a solution, and move on.

When we get older, our coping needs change.  First, those challenges, difficulties and ugly speed bumps happen a bit more often or are bigger and harder.  Secondly, we no longer want time to go fast – if anything, we are praying for it to slow down.  We need the next good thing to be just ahead of us, where we can easily focus on it and let it help us slow down a bit and appreciate every day rather than wish it away.

I am constantly on the hunt for what I can look forward to, and can always find something, even if small.  Wearing a new shirt or scarf will help me get moving and ready for work. The expectation of a yummy lunch will get me through a long meeting.  Going for a bike ride or walk on a beautiful day will help me get my work and chores done, as will the prospect of watching a good movie or settling in for a great page-turning book. A get-together with friends will help me through any hard or challenging duties I have to get through first.  Of course an upcoming family visit, a trip, or a vacation is definitely enough to put pep in my step.  Heck, even something like knowing I can have some ice cream after oral surgery can be a glimmer of goodness to focus on.

Looking forward can help ease pain or sadness over big stuff too.  When my brother’s health was failing, he and I would talk about the next theater show he wanted me to take him to in Boston. There was no need to discuss the fact that he’d never make it there, just the joy of talking about it, thinking about it, discussing past outings together, gave him a little boost and something positive to think about.

In four days, we will be moving my son into his college dorm for his Freshman year.  That boy who for the past 19 years has been an integral part of most of my looking forwards will no longer be just down the hall in the house.  Stopping in to his room to catch up on the day’s events is no longer something I can look forward to each day.  He has grown from his baby days of being totally dependent on us for everything, and a young boy who needed us for all his events, activities, trips and celebrations, to now starting his own journey of life apart from us as a young adult. I know he’s anxious yet excited too, and I hope I have taught him how to look forward every time he hits one of those bumps in his road.

As for me, I’m struggling a bit more this time trying to be a Queen Coper. I’m trying to be excited for him, but I’m inherently sad. I find myself already looking forward to when he comes back for a visit for a long weekend, or for the holidays. But that comes dangerously close to wishing time would go fast, and I really don’t want that either.  And so I need to make a shift to focus on other immediate future good things, like getting together with friends, enjoying the last of the summer weather, and having some of my favorite Netflix shows start up for the Fall season. (See? Even little things count).

On my morning walk today, something else started to appear on my horizon that I hadn’t really been considering.  My husband and I have never had “just us” time. When he came into my life, I got the family package deal.  Starting my life with him also meant starting life with my two stepsons, who kept us hopping long before the youngest was even a glimmer in our eyes. Now, with both stepsons grown and on their own, and our son starting college, it will for the first time be just me and my hubby.  (And our mid-life-empty-nest puppy.)  After 25 years, we can start dating.  Imagine that.

My cousin recently gave me the sage advice to have something planned for the evening we get back from dropping my son off, so I have something else to focus on. In her way, she was reminding me to use my coping skills. Today I realized with that little glimmer of a boost to help me through my sadness, that I can start planning my first date with my husband.

Because it is never too late to look forward.

 

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Nested Personality

bird nestingA few days ago I took my son to do some shopping in preparation for his Freshman move into a college dorm room. We roamed the aisles of Target, buying exciting things like a collapsible hamper, laundry detergent, towels, and storage containers. Whenever I mentioned something about décor, he was unconcerned and disinterested.  I mentioned he might want a throw rug, to which he replied “yeah, I figured I’d just bring the one in my room now, so I have something to step on when I get out of bed.”   How his room will look is of little consequence to him at this point.  It’s more about practicality and ease. Because he’s a guy.

Guys care about function and having a place for their stuff.  Having it all look nice is rarely a big deal. For women, on the other hand, our surroundings matter.  Whether you give us a tiny or large space, we will make it our own.  We all have our personal spaces… might be a work office or cubby, a computer desk, a classroom, a command central table top or office in our homes or a tucked away reading nook – whatever it is, we put our mark on it by adding some sort of décor and style that reflects us.

My husband and I share an “office” room in our house. My side with my desk includes a huge bulletin board full of information, inspirational quotes and photos, framed art on the walls, memorabilia and small meaningful (to me) knick-knacks on my desk.  My husband’s side is a desk with computer, small bulletin board he mostly ignores, and piles of papers.  Similarly, his workshop is full of equipment and… to me, a mess.  To him, it is everything he needs to function and do work.  My husband cares that the yard looks decent and the lawn is mowed.  He leaves the decisions on interior home décor to me. I truly think he would let me do anything in our shared space, short of hanging a disco ball and strobe lights in the living room.  Then again, as long as he still had his recliner chair and a clear view of the TV, he’d probably be ok with it.

What fascinates me is the variety of taste and style we women choose for our spaces. Some women have framed photos of family all over their house, while others (like me) have a couple particular walls reserved for family pics.  I know some women with houses full of fascinating trinkets, artwork, and memorabilia, and others who have virtually nothing on any surface or wall (because who wants to dust?).

Our character and personality are even more evident when you give us smaller spaces to make our nests, because we have to be more selective about what we choose to have surrounding us.  My co-workers’ desk areas are classic examples.  One has a maximum of three things on her desk at any time.  When she is not in the office, whether for 2 hours or 2 weeks, her area is spotless.  Another, who is a new addition to our team, is already adding fun items like a fish tank complete with beta fish and live plant filtration.  As for me, my area is a bit of a mish-mash… I have photos of people and animals who are important in my life, one plant I’m attempting to nurse back to health thanks to fluorescent lighting, and various bits of inspirational text and quotes.  (I’ve always had a weakness for words.  Put me in one of those gift shops with wooden signs of phrases and quotes, and I could be lost for hours.)  During the day, my desk looks like something exploded.  But before I leave for the day I have to clean up, straighten and re-pile.  Kind of like how I can’t leave the house with dishes in the sink or the bed unmade.  But other folks can literally stop wherever they are, get up and leave.  I kind of marvel at that skill.

Earlier this year, a group of us at work took a couple of lunch time breaks to create vision boards.  We had no guidelines or “must haves”, just time and materials to create something that not only looks kind of cool in our work spaces, but also speaks to us, and about us, in some way.  Could be motivational & inspirational for work, or health, or family, or just plain fun, filled with things we like that give us happy feelings. I guess in a way the boards are like a snapshot view into our psyche. (At least the view we were ok sharing publicly with coworkers).  To me, it is just another piece of flare to show our individuality.  Our nest areas, no matter where they are, are like short illustrated stories about each of us.

I’m sure if I had a daughter who was going off to college, she would have already connected with her future roommate to determine room layout, wall-hangings, curtains and color schemes.  But my guy said as long as he’s got a place to put his electronics, and a bed to sleep on, he’s all set.  Sure, he’ll probably toss a poster or two up at some point.  And there just may be a collage frame of family and friends that arrives in a mom-made care package at some point that he may put on his desk after an appreciative eye roll.  That’s the true beauty of our spaces. They can be whatever we want them to be.  And it is time for my little bird to leave his home nest that is made up mostly of my personal preferences, and start making his own nests.  Even if that means starting with a boring grey rug because it feels good under his feet.

E grey rug

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It’s OK to Feel Like a Mess

emoI usually reserve this blog for the mundane, the common, the minor and frustrating yet amusing issues we Real Women face on a daily basis.  My goal is to let this blog be a place to set aside big worries, and commiserate and connect and occasionally laugh about how we aren’t alone in our pretending-to-be-superwoman struggles.

This is NOT a platform for heated political discussions or deeply intense and in-depth world matters. We are literally attacked daily by big worries and news broadcasts; no one needs me to scratch those wounds more.

Yet once in a great while, I feel that I have to touch on something that does truly affect each of us in a very personal way.  I can’t ignore some things that are on all of our minds and try to pretend they don’t exist.

Each day, like many of you, my heart hurts even more over the gun violence and shootings that seem to be a horrific and terrifying runaway train across our country.  Just when we think we’ve heard the worst, or are starting to heal after the last “bad one”, another tragedy strikes. And each of us reacts in our own way. We cry, shout, get angry, pray, and more are more are reaching out to others, to leadership, taking to the streets, demonstrating, and above all pleading that something needs to be done, needs to change.  Of course the thoughts and ideas on HOW to make a difference vary from person to person, group to group, leader to leader – and nope, I’m NOT going to go there with my own thoughts.  I still stand by my promise to not make this blog a political platform.

Instead, more true to form, I’d like to take a minute to connect with our sisterhood about how we are all carrying around a big jumbled up mess of emotions. And say “it’s ok, me too.”

Even on the best of days, we women worry. A lot. Like all the time. Throw in this horrendous situation and we go into Turbo-Worry mode. Our first natural reaction, over and over, is deep sadness. We grieve for every innocent life lost, for every loved one affected, and we grieve for our country. It’s the kind of sadness that makes us cry every time we watch, read, or listen to the news.  It’s the kind of sadness that physically hurts. It is the kind of sadness that is directly connected to our other major reaction: fear and terror.  We want to pull all of our loved ones together, wrap everyone up in a cocoon inside the safety of our homes and never venture out again. We imagine, every time we kiss a loved one before leaving in the morning, that this is how it must feel for all who have those who serve our country in the military or emergency responders. Will we be together again at the end of the day?  Because now “this could never happen to us” has shifted to “that could have been us.”

As typical women, we can without warning shift quickly to a feeling of strength and bravery.  We don our Super Woman capes and devote ourselves to protecting our family and friends.  (Sorry guys, I know you feel this is your role.  Keep it up, every super hero needs a partner).  We slide into, even if briefly, the “screw them, they can’t take our lives away from us” mode.  We declare that we won’t change our lives because of fear, we will show “them” that we are stronger and braver and can’t be bullied.  And, of course, along with this comes frustration and sheer anger. Even rage.  This is what prompts us to take action, in some form or another.  Our classic feeling of “if they can’t fix this, then its up to us to do it” comes to the surface, until we realize we can’t do it alone. So we start to take it out on our leaders who now seem so very inferior and useless.

Weirdly, jumbled into this mess are moments of joy and laughter.  We take even greater joy in spending time with the people in our lives, we celebrate every glimmer of positive news and signs of goodness and kindness in others. We come together to feel better, and appreciate those who make us smile.  Then we hear about another episode and we start this spin of emotional mess all over again. Rinse and repeat.

I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m here to say that all of this is “normal” in a world that no longer feels normal. It is especially true for those of us who are moms. My son was born one year before 9/11 changed our lives.  He has never known a world without terrorism on our own soil, without very regular occurrences of shootings and violence and hate.  He has grown up doing Active Shooter drills at school, and has had to learn how to cope with the news every time something very real and terrifying happens.  Yes, I know, we all grew up doing things like fire drills at school, many of us had drills where we hid under our desks or put our faces to the walls in the event of a nuclear or atomic bomb. Most of us grew up in war times of some sort in some area of the world.  But this is different.  This has become common, every day, right next door.

Depending on which Google search you do, there have been over 40 mass shootings in my son’s life time.  He is only 19.   That equates to at least 670 people killed, in various towns like ours across the US.  Not in wars in other countries.  It is truly shocking, devastating, and sickening.

We momma bears always want to protect our children, keep them safe, healthy and happy. That is our core sole mission in life. My son leaves for college in a month.  Even at the most peaceful of times, this transition causes a mom to worry about her child’s safety. As a child grows and starts his own adulting life, we more than ever feel our loss of control in protecting them. And that’s hard, even on good days. Now, it is slightly terrifying.

After the recent shootings in Dayton and El Paso, my son came to both his father and me and said “Please be careful out there. No place is safe.”   His simple declaration, his obviously thinly veiled attempt at hiding his fear and concern, and his final acceptance after 19 years of hearing these stories that we can’t feel safe anywhere, hit me like a truck.  That hurting heart started all over again. And it feels like we are now officially living in some sort of badly written horror movie where our kids tell us that no place is safe.

We do, of course, have our moments where we dare to feel hope and pride that maybe, just maybe, this next generation will be smarter, braver, and stronger than the rest of us and will find ways to truly make a change. To finally make things safe and peaceful in our country. To put an end to so much violence. We need to allow ourselves a few minutes at least of genuine positivity that things can change – before we go back to curling up into a ball of despair.

This morning I was forcing myself into having an uptick in the emotional roller coaster, to feel good and positive. My son is getting together with friends today to go see a movie (I’m somehow comforted that they are going to a small local theater, as if that makes a difference in safety) so he can enjoy a few more days with his high school buddies before everyone starts their next chapters.  He told a family friend yesterday that he’s excited for college.  The weather is beautiful. My husband is going to a community event this evening with his classic car club.  I love my job and my co-workers and are blessed that today, at this moment, my loved ones are all for the most part healthy and safe.  I forced myself to turn off the news early so I could take a break from those sad, scared, angry, frustrated feelings.

Then while checking some updates online, I saw this story from CNN about how other countries, in this case Venezuela and Uruguay, are issuing travel warnings against traveling to the U.S. :  https://cnn.it/2YPxZ4F

Some of us for many years have been quick to talk about those “other countries” that are not safe to visit, that have too many troubles and issues and bad government and evil people.  Now the tables are turning, and we are the country that others are considering unsafe, and we are the ones unable to protect our own citizens and our own safety.  Literally, one of the reasons given in the travel alert was the “impossibility of authorities to prevent these situations” and by situations, they cite “the recent proliferation of violent acts and hate crimes”.  What has become of us?

And so it continues. As my head, heart and stomach start to swirl, I hold up my Emotional Deck of Cards, present them to all, and say Go ahead. Pick One. Any One.  We are all in this screwed up game together.

 

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The Comfort of Old Friends

old shortsI’m tempted to refer to them as dear old friends.  But I fear that would be an insult to all of my friends whom I’ve had for many years, yet who have aged beautifully.  Because these other friends of mine, while long-lasting and comforting, have not aged well.  They are ugly, worn and quite literally hanging on by a thread.  We all have them.  We love them, but we keep them in hiding, away from public, judgmental eyes. I’m referring of course to the oldest, rattiest articles of clothing in our closets.  Otherwise known as The Comfort Club.

We women tend to blame the men in our lives for their vast collections of Comfort Club members. Ratty old stained jeans with holes in them, ugly stretched out shirts, and disgustingly dirty and bent baseball caps – items we come across in the laundry and threaten to throw away, stopping only because of the begging pleas from our men to just leave their Comfort Club alone.  My husband, for example, has a vintage Life is Good T-shirt that is so old and faded, the image on the front is barely recognizable. The collar is threadbare, it hangs limply with no shape and the fabric has become thin and super soft. The other day we half-joked about sending a photo of the relic to the Life is Good company.

What our men don’t realize is we don’t have the heart to do away with their beloved antique items because – well, we secretly have them too.  Come on, admit it, you each have CC friends who are way past their prime, but you just can’t part with them.  I know I do. And if the men in our lives found them, they’d happily think they had just found their next perfect polishing rags.

My most ridiculous Comfort Club member in my possession is a pair of cotton shorts that have been my favorite for Lord knows how many years.  The drawstring has pulled loose of the disintegrating waistband, held in place by maybe 2” of fabric that has not yet given up.  They used to be black, now are that odd not-quite-black-not-quite-grey color.  There are a couple of paint drop stains on them. Every time I wash them, I think “well, this is it, these shorts will come out in tatters.”  And yet, they persist.  Available for another evening for me to happily slide on at the end of a long day, or on a weekend when I’m only going to be in my own home or in my own backyard.

Similarly, I have a rather goofy pair of cotton pajama pants that are bright pink with white polka dots. I bought them from Victoria’s Secret back when I fit that store’s demographic, which means probably at least two decades ago. They still fit because the elastic waist is comfortably stretched and they were loose-fitting to begin with. Are they sexy?  Not in the least.  But they are my go-to night-time summer lounge wear.  I’ll even pack them when I travel, as long as I’ll be in a hotel room by myself, or with my long-suffering husband who has been looking at those damn pants for as long as we’ve been together.

And then there are the favorite ol’ pals that hide out in my shoe collection.  Next to the new, cute, trendy slides or heels or sneakers, there are a couple of pairs of sandals and flats that I just can’t get rid of, at least until they totally fall apart and I’m forced to give them up because they are WAY past the point and value of repair.  The other day I got out my white sandals for the 1,853rd time. They look a bit dingy, but still have the perfect heel height.  The cute little buckle on the top is not totally tarnished. They are a bit stretched out but as long as I grip with my toes when I walk, will stay on my feet. I still have them because I have yet to find a qualified replacement pair. And so I hope they hang on for another season, or until I can do serious, focused shopping in the “perfect and affordable shoes” stores that don’t exist.

Of course, hindsight is everything.  If we only knew, when we first purchase an item, that it will become the long-term, forever relationship, don’t ever want to part with it member of the Comfort Club, then we’d buy at least three of the same item. But no.  These are one-and-only’s.  Mostly because they were purchased so very long ago that we have no recollection of where they came from, nor even what brand they are because any labels have long since worn off.  They are special, and we try to make them last as long as possible.

So I guess after all, these Comfort Club Collections of oldies but goodies really are like truly good old friends.  Irreplaceable, beloved, unique, full of stories, providing peace and comfort…and we always wish we could spend more time with them.

 

 

Posted in beauty, clothing, fashion, friends, love, men, real style, real women, Relationships, shopping, Style, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Equalizer

pup on phoneWe all know people in our lives who can talk comfortably to anyone about anything.  They are that rare type of human who has not a shy bone in their body, and is genuinely fascinated by what others have to say and share.  They are generally very fun, kind and gregarious folks.

Then there are the rest of us.  Some of us welcome meeting new people, some would rather not. Some like being in crowds and social occasions, others would rather be alone or speak only to one other person they know and trust. No matter where we each land on the spectrum of sociability, there are inevitably occasions where finding a common topic can be a challenge.  There’s that awkward silence as one tries to find something to say, to break the ice, to make some sort of connection.  Inevitably we turn to the blatantly obvious safe topics like the weather.  “Hot today. They say we may get storms later.” Yeeaahhhh, riveting stuff.  What’s worse is when that topic has been covered in 6 seconds, only to be followed by more awkwardness.

Over the past few years, I have discovered one topic that invariable gets people to open up, warm up, and make an immediate connection:  pets.  Let’s face it, we’ve all gotten crazily passionate about the animals in our lives. And the odds of this being a common topic are in our favor.  67% of U.S. households own pets.  50% of U.S. households have at least one dog, while 34% have at least one cat.  That equates to approximately 106 million households combined that have a dog and/or cat.  And we aren’t even talking about horses, rabbits, fish, lizards, you name it. For those who don’t own a pet, it is highly likely they have friends or family members with pets, or help care for/babysit pets.  Yes, ok, I know, there is a sliver of you folks out there who – gasp – hate animals of all kinds and would never welcome one into your household.   You will have to stick to those other conversation starters like the weather, children, the economy, or worse, politics.  May the force be with you.

Years ago, I worked with a gentleman on our Sales Team who went to call on one of our more challenging customers.  Our contact there was a woman who was notoriously serious, even cranky, who did not welcome interruptions to her day.  During the course of his sales call, he happened to find out she owned a certain breed of dog, and was able to share a photo of a similar breed he had in his life.  Instantly her tone changed, she opened up and they had a great conversation and started a whole new positive business relationship.  After that meeting, he and I half-joked that the best tool a Sales person could have would be photos of every type and breed of pet on his or her phone.  “oh, you have a Bassett hound?? So do I!  Let me show you his picture!”  Ta da. Instant connection.

Now I’m not really condoning carrying photos of fake pets with you.  But sharing a simple story about a pet can open a whole connection with someone new.  Humans generally care for their fur-kids even more than other humans in their lives. I know, that sounds harsh, but true.   I’ve had taxi and Uber drivers talk to me throughout a full ride about their dogs. I have customers who call with a problem and end up talking to me like we are BFFs because we’ve made a pet connection.

Granted, that “club” talk happens even more easily if you happen to have your pet with you.   It’s kind of like guys talking about sports cars, or young mothers talking about their toddlers.  There is an easier connection if the topic of conversation is right in front of you.  The other day I was out walking our ICS (Instant Conversation Starter), our new puppy, and an older, presumable retired couple were walking up the street on the other side.  They asked if they could come across to meet the ICS.  Our ICS turns herself inside out with joy at the prospect of meeting new humans, so certainly, come on over.  Within minutes we had covered all the basics – her age, the fact she is a rescue, her age and questionable breed mix, and I learned they had over their time together had 5 dogs, losing the last one a year prior.  At this point in pet conversations, invariable someone’s phone comes out to show photos.  And true to form, even though these folks do not currently have their own dog, they proudly presented pictures of a friend’s Boxer whom they pet sit.

With pets, unlike those motor head tall tales or proud mom chats, the conversation rarely turns competitive. I have yet to hear anything close to a “my dog is smarter/faster/newer/better than your dog” conversation.  No one compares horsepower, or at what age their pet started walking.  If anything, the talk tends to turn the opposite direction, like “my dog is so goofy…”

Everyone is on the same level when the topic is pets.  It is the Great Equalizer.  I may be wrong, but I tend to believe that if each high-level stressful corporate negotiation or contentious government partisanship meeting started with discussions about someone’s ranch horses, or beloved St. Bernard, or backyard goats, or perfect Persian, or chatty parrot, tough discussions would be kinder, gentler, and much more productive.

It truly is remarkable how little effort it takes to get a pet conversation going.  I suggest the next time any of us are in a new and potentially uncomfortable or awkward situation, try a new opening line, like “I was almost late today because my dog didn’t want me to leave.”  Then see what happens.  Worst case scenario, the other person responds with “ugh, I HATE animals.”

To which you will be forced to resort to a response like “That’s too bad.  Do you think it will snow tonight?”

Posted in communication, discussions, dogs, Entertainment, pet, Relationships, skills, social media, Social situations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Time We Mean It

stickersWe said “never again”.   Then three years ago, we did it again.  Then we said “ok, really, no more.”  Then last weekend, we did it again.

We held a Tag Sale. Or a Yard Sale or a Garage Sale, depending on where you live.

Why?  Because, just like the previous sales, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Until we once again experienced the coordinating, planning and preparation – all for, sadly, minimal results.  We let ourselves get duped by the fact that the last sale we held a few years ago was miraculously successful.  We made enough money to help pay for our vacation that summer, and we cleared out a lot of stuff.  Then this year, due to a storage unit full of items left behind by my brother who passed away six months ago, and another few years of junk accumulation in our house, we decided what the heck, let’s have a sale.  It was kind of like the angel and devil sitting on our shoulders, but in the form of tag sale gremlins.  “Don’t do it, you know it is a major pain in the ass, you don’t have the time to devote to clean out, sorting and pricing”  vs. “aww, come on, you’ll get rid of stuff, make some money, and it will be FUN!”

There are some folks out there who have tag sales annually, if not several times each summer. They are Pro Taggers.  OR, they are very casual and haphazardly toss stuff out on their lawn and hope someone comes along wanting to sort through junk and barter some prices.  But me, the classic R.W., has to treat it like an event, with far too much planning.  My husband and son groan and shudder as I start pawing through closets and the basement, gathering things in piles.  And everything must be priced.  A classified ad promoting the sale must be placed in the local weekly newspaper, online, and on Facebook.  Then in the early morning pre-sale set-up, things should be categorized and merchandised – Christmas décor together on one table, kitchen ware on another, and so on.   This year we even had a cooler filled with beverages for $1 each.

Sadly, though, no amount of event planning can guarantee a crowd.  Too many other factors are at play, like weather, heat, conflicting activities in the area, other tag sales, signage placed in the right places in the neighborhood, and just overall energy and interest by those who might have any desire to stop and shop.

The day of the Sale itself can either be entertaining or very dull.  It is one day that you will spend more time in your garage, driveway, and front yard than any other day.  It is more fun if you have a friend or neighbor who joins in on the sale and can help work the “event” to help with that whole boredom factor, OR to help handle customers.

While sitting or standing among junk – err, I mean treasures – and doing my best to send mental telepathy to passing cars to encourage them to stop and buy, I was at least entertained by the people who did pay us a visit.  I noticed some similarities and shopper habits.  First of all, the shoppers generally represent an older demographic.  Which is in some ways was a shame, because we had lots of stuff that would have been great for a young person with a new apartment to fill.  Then again, I suppose most Gen Y’s and Z’s have no interest in older used furniture and accessories.  They don’t embrace the Eclectic Variety of Hand-Me-Downs Style that I enjoyed in my young adulthood.  We did have a couple young moms come by to get some great deals, which is brilliant.  Of course they are brilliant. They are young RW’s.

  • The Sale Ninja. Usually a solo shopper, this bargain shopper slips in quietly, making no eye contact and not speaking. They appear to be looking for specific items, but don’t want to ask. They rarely buy anything unless one small item catches their eye, in which case they will reluctantly approach, and give exact change from their fanny pack. Most often, however, they don’t dawdle, and ninja-slink back down the driveway.  They want no interaction as if we might threaten to physically force them to buy something they don’t want or don’t need.  Personally, I take great glee in tossing out a hearty “Good morning!” and “Thanks for stopping by!” to watch them cringe and seek the shelter of their car.
  • The Socialites. The opposite of the Ninja, the socialites often come as a couple. If there’s a man, he does a quick browse to look for something interesting like an antique tool, then gets chatty to beat back his boredom while his wife shops.  OR, it could just be a happy shopper who enjoys striking up conversations.  These folks also rarely purchase anything.  We had one man who after a brief browse, spent most of his visit playing with, and discussing, our puppy.  He came back half an hour later to show us photos of his dog.  (We are dog people. It happens.)  Another woman who stopped towards the end of the day proceeded to tell us basically her life history. That’s ok. We had time on our hands.
  • Serious Deal Shoppers. These taggers often travel in groups, either with family members or friends. They know and love the Tag Sale drill and the thrill of the hunt. They have done their research to map out their route to various sales, and are making a day (or at least morning) of it. They are in no rush because they are having fun.  These are the best customers, because they chit-chat, joke around, ask questions, and usually buy.  We had one woman and her adult daughter who asked how to use a bread slicer I had available, because it was the second one they’d seen that weekend, and she was so fascinated to know how to use it that she had to have it.  Another woman was excited to buy a steamer to cook the beans she had just picked at a local farm. And one of the young moms told us about her five kids, and how she’d gone out with friends the night before for a mom’s night out and was still dealing with the hangover.  It didn’t impair her judgement, she found some good deals and discussed kitchen gadgets.

Ironically, I don’t go to a lot of other people’s tag sales.  I enjoy them, but either my weekends get too busy, or I just don’t need more stuff that I’ll have to find room for in my house. Perhaps going in to this long weekend, I’ll stop if I see an interesting opportunity.  I like to think that when I DO stop in to someone else’s event, I’m among that third category of shopper.  However, I do admit I have in the past slid into the Ninja variety.  Avert your eyes and move on.

At the end of the day of our sale, we were sweaty and tired, filled my husband’s van with everything left over to go to Goodwill, had made enough money for a couple dinners out, and had met some interesting people.  It wasn’t a horrible day.  But as we finished putting everything away and sat and counted out our meager earnings, we looked at each other and said “Never again.  We mean it this time.”   I give us about 4 years to forget our pledge.

Posted in cleaning, communication, Entertainment, events, family, friends, preparation, routines, sales, shopping, simplifying, storage, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment