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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In Search of POE

waitressI was fortunate to take a mini-vacation this past week.  Four and a half days of fun, sun, sand and surf in Florida. It was lovely and restorative. I could use this post to go on a diatribe about how too many of us don’t take enough time off to refresh and reboot, and how important it is to occasionally unwind.  But I’ll hold off until I’m successful in taking my own advice and manage to take any further days off in coming months.

I could also wax on about how every sunrise, even over the ocean, is fresh and new and different, and how we need to take those hints as to how we should live our lives… but sunrises are deeply personal and amazing things we all need to experience and consider on our own.

I will instead offer up a topic that is more relatable no matter whether on vacation or not, because it has to do with personal interactions. One of the activities we do while on vacation that my family rarely does in our regular lives, is go out to eat.  In our day to day lives, eating out was one of those things that was taken off our list of normal routines in an effort to save both our budgets and our waistlines. But when on vacation, other than stopping at a local market to pick up a few things for the mini-fridge in the hotel room, pretty much every meal is eaten in some form of restaurant.  With some form of wait staff.

The restaurant business is hard. Waiting on tables and patrons is not for the faint of heart, nor really is any form of direct customer service.  Yet that interaction between customer and service provider can totally make or break an experience – not to mention greatly effect tips.  In the space of just four days, we interacted with the good, the bad, and the….huh?!

We had lunch at a sidewalk café on a beautiful weather day, in a cute touristy town.  The waiter, who’s name I have long since forgotten, could not have made it more obvious that the last place he wanted to be was there assisting us with our meal.  He did not smile, not even once.  And rather than look at us, even when speaking, he would gaze out at the road seemingly planning his escape route.  Mind you, the group I was with, all modesty aside, is a fun, friendly group.  We have ALL played roles in customer service at some point in our lives. We are all tippers.  We all appreciate what it takes to do what these folks do every day.  You know, things like energy, desire and enthusiasm. None of which this guy exhibited.

Then there was Technology Woman on Speed.  We went to one of our favorite seafood restaurants for supper, expecting a delicious meal and great service.  We did get the delicious meal.  And the Server was friendly and polite enough… however she was in rush mode, speaking at 100 miles an hour as if she needed us to hurray up with our decisions.  She was armed with a handheld digital ordering device, which I dread to be the next generation of dining interaction, and which I suppose added to her need for speed as it was likely her direct link to the kitchen. She focused completely on her electronics and didn’t attempt any eye contact with us.  Apparently looking at customers has become optional. She literally said “hold on” when she had to swipe, type, swipe, type to make a correction.  I felt like I was trying to talk to the new robot that roams around my grocery store beeping and checking stock.

There are times of course when no matter how hard the Server tries, they just can’t save a bad experience. Such was the case with the woman trying to serve us lunch at a local chain restaurant.  She tried her best, including being pleasant, accommodating and honest. She took back one meal when it was undercooked.  She sent out someone from the kitchen who attempted to convince us that rubbery, hard, inedible chunks in our conch fritters were supposed to be there. She reduced our bill.  She eventually commiserated with us that her friends won’t even come in because of all the bad Yelp reviews they’ve been seeing. Oh, sweetie, time to find a new job.

Happily, not all of our dining adventures were unpleasant.  A crew of amazing women were serving up breakfast at one cute café, with friendliness, energy, humor, and efficiency.  They made us feel welcome and comfortable. They were real women on a mission to treat their customers like they themselves would want to be treated. Imagine that.

The other stand-out was a young man by the name of Miguel, our server at a BBQ place. He was everything a waiter should be: friendly, accommodating, attentive, could make recommendations, and was efficient without rushing. He happily took our group photo when we requested it.  At one point I called him a secret ninja waiter because I had just finished my last sip of my beverage when he magically appeared asking if any of us needed a refill.

We women especially appreciate great service because it is such a treat for us to sit and be waited on, rather than be the one doing the running around taking care of people.  Trust us, we know what it is like to be tired, have sore feet, deal with difficult people, and be counted on to provide what everyone needs and expects.  It can be a fabulous thing to be on the other side of that.

There, I believe, is the secret that all great waitstaff know.  As with any variety of customer service, strength lies in POE:  The Power of Empathy.  Every person, alone or in a group, who walks through that door, is there for a reason.  It could be a celebration like a birthday, anniversary, or wedding shower.  It could be a reconnection of friends or family, a vacation, or a nervous first date.  It could be someone in mourning, stopping in after a funeral, or grieving over a break up. It could simply be someone who’s had a really long exhausting day who just doesn’t have the strength or desire to cook a meal. The reason doesn’t matter, what does matter is that they need help. Not just for someone to robotically bring them food, but to be human and kind.

This is true in every part of our lives. That person who sat at your table, walked into your business, met you on the street or even came into your home is there because their sunrise that morning started them on a journey that led them to you.  That journey could have been happy and delightful or more likely, challenging and tiring.  Because we are all on our own sunrise-directed journeys.  And a little POE can go a long way to serving up some warmth.

sunrise

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Food For Thought

grapesWe all know that food memories are surprisingly strong.  The smell of something cooking can transport us to a past moment in time.  A mention of an ingredient can make us remember a special meal at a great restaurant, and we can all probably name our top three favorite foods from our childhood.  (For me, that would be fluffernutter sandwiches, chicken in a basket, and chocolate covered graham crackers)

But what is most fascinating is that food memories link us directly to certain people – usually other Real Women, both past and present.  For example, a bowl of grapes. Instantly I think of the multiple road trip car rides when we were kids, and mom would pack a bag of grapes as a trip snack. In her ever practical mind, she thought it was a great way to “wet our whistles” without loading the kids up with liquids that would require multiple stops at the next available restrooms. Nothing says snack desperation like a warm bag of grapes that sat perched on the dashboard before getting passed around. I told this story to a friend, and she said now she thinks of me and my mom every time she eats grapes.

The food-to-person memories are usually very specific.  Ironically it usually isn’t the fancy, complicated meals we remember. Sure, you may have an Aunt that could cook an amazing Beef Bourguignon, or a Grandma who spent all day creating the perfect sauce.  But it tends to be the more simple yet comforting food that sticks in our heads, hearts, and taste buds.  Oatmeal raisin cookies make me think of a woman who used to care for my Grandmother, and her cookies were always the best. When asked what her secret was, she said in a whisper with a wink “I put the raisins in upside down.”  A concoction of creamed corn and hot dogs makes me think of mom and dad getting ready to go out, because that was a quick meal mom would prep for us before they left.  Salmon on the grill links me to my Dad and Stepmother – yet it is raspberry sorbet that is my son’s immediate link to Grammy. When I cook with peppers and onions, I think of my sister who said all good meals start with that as a base.

It isn’t even necessarily expert cooking skills that conjure up these beloved partnerships.  When anyone mentions cupcakes, I think of one of my BFFs who loves them, and with whom I have had serious ratings discussions on various samples. When I shop for bananas, I think of my brother who completely believed that the best tasting bananas were long, straight and slightly green. Another of my BFFs is a great cook, yet my food connection to her is the massive Reese’s Pieces Sundaes we shared in our teens (oh, how I miss those days.)

Most amazing is how our Fond Food & People Memories last for generations, and stretch to people beyond those originally involved.  Similar to how my grape story now sticks with someone who never had the pleasure of meeting my mom, the food connections not only continue, but grow.  Whenever we make tuna sandwiches in our house, either my husband or I say “toast it lightly and spread it thinly” because that’s how his Stepmom (a woman I never met) used to do it.  I felt a surge of pride when I made some Italian Wedding Soup that apparently rivaled that of his best friend’s mother, another memory from his youth.  We are confident that in our family, future generations will grow up eating “Queen Mary’s”, a creation my mother developed as a child involving an english muffin, strawberry jam and bacon, and knowing the story behind it.  If we all stop to think about the various connections of confections we have in our lives, the threads, or shall I say ingredients, that weave the treat tales is fascinating. And it always, one way or another, leads back to a person who had something special to share.

This weekend as I was trying out new recipes, and making some of my old standby’s like chocolate chip cookies, I thought about how when our older boys come to visit, they tend to request certain foods that they seem to associate with being home.  As time progresses, those associations and memories just naturally happen. I wondered what the Fond Food Memories will be for my son, and grandchildren, that they will identify with me. Will it be for my chopped salads? My comfort food?  My baked goods? Or something as funny as road trip grapes?  Only time will tell.

We all like to think we will leave some lasting legacy for future generations.  Some big thing, like a published work, a business venture, or even a financial estate.  Yet to me, “legacy” means anything that comes with a good story, and creates feelings of pride, happiness, comfort, and wanting to make the world a better place in memory of a loved one.  It doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be something wonderful that keeps living on through future generations.

Like a warm oatmeal cookie with upside down raisins.

 

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How About Now?

window sunDuring my usual morning routine today, with my brain running through my classic million or so worries, ponderings and plannings, I paused to flip open a lovely little book given to me by one of my RW BFFs last year: The Promise of a New Day by Karen Casey. Today’s WOW (Words of Wisdom) was an entry about living in present moments.  “We love to fantasize about the past and the future… But we get into trouble when we forget that “the past” and “the future” are inventions; the only reality is the present.  Yes, past events contribute to our now; yes, the present will help to determine the future. But we can’t do anything about them; the past and the future are out of our reach.”  Appropriately enough, this caused my muddled head to pause a moment and say “huh.”

We have just come through one of the busiest times of the year where people all over go into overdrive to get ready for Christmas, spending weeks if not months looking forward to the big day.  We finally stop for a few days of celebration and hopefully appreciate and enjoy our present moments… until BAM, here’s New Year’s Eve!   We tell tales of the past, and begin more planning and thinking about the future. We make resolutions about things we want to change, or do in the months ahead.  At work, we kick into plans for the year ahead, developing calendars, projects, budgets and set up deadlines to be reached.  Personally, we start planning events, activities, trips.   How many times have we made plans with friends and said “oh good, now I have something to look forward to?”  It is all about looking ahead.  Because we don’t want to admit that both the past and the future are out of our reach.  We R.W.’s especially don’t like to relinquish control, right?

In my own little world right now, sadly I have both a human loved one and a pet who are navigating their ways through their end phases of life… meandering towards that bridge to a peaceful place in the land of “whatever comes next”, leaving behind those of us who really don’t want them to go.  And through this process, I find that I am pretty well obsessed with what’s coming next.  Worrying whether I’m doing enough for them, am I preparing them, and myself, and my other loved ones, for the end.. how is it going to happen?  How much longer do we have? What do I do next?  I told my husband last night that I felt like all I am doing is waiting for horrible things to happen.

Because apparently that is what I’m doing. And I shouldn’t be.  Why are we so trained to focus on what in many ways is out of our hands, out of our control?  Why can’t we live for the present, and enjoy and appreciate what is happening right this very minute?  Instead of trying to plan when I’m going to clean my dirty windows, why don’t I just enjoy the way the sun is beaming through them?  Why don’t I stop and just watch the birds visiting the feeder in my garden?  Shouldn’t we all relish the moment when we share a laugh with a co-worker, or get a much-needed hug, savor a sip of cocoa, enjoy the smell of the top of a pet’s head, or get totally engulfed in a really good book?  Why can’t we be content with “right now, my time with this person, or this pet, is good and fine and lovely”?

The answer is we can — I think it is truly just a matter of re-programming, training ourselves, and having Faith.  We have to force ourselves to slow down and stop thinking ahead ALL the time, OR trying to relive past events.  And for goodness sakes, RW’s, slow down the worrying!   It is all we do.  We can’t enjoy the present if we are too wound up with worry about what’s ahead or what has already gone by.

I rarely make New Year Resolutions. Making a promise in January about some kind of change in my life is too much pressure – I’d rather set up goals as I move along.  But this time, thanks to that one little excerpt I read this morning, I do have one: to live in the present far more.  It can’t be that hard.  And I’ll bet it will feel a whole lot better.

Just like that famous tag line, we should ask ourselves:  Do you hear me now?  The answer: Yes, as long as we are listening.

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Santa’s Mixed Bag

santa_sackIt is just over a week until Christmas.  Like most R.W.’s, I’ve been hurtling towards the big day on Warp 10 Overdrive for several weeks.  I haven’t had any available time to write, and for someone who finds sanity in words, that’s not a good thing.  But here I am, spending several hours on a Sunday evening on a plane (more about that in a moment), with some forced sit and breath time, and it is making me consider what a wacky time of year this can be, and allowing me some time at the keyboard. I feel my heart rate calming already.  It’s funny how such a magical, lovely season can be so filled with stress and exhaustion. Every year many of us RW’s vow that “next year will be different” that we “will simplify”,  we will “start prepping earlier” and have “more relax time.” Hee hee, we make me giggle.

Then there’s the whole emotional side of the holidays, exaggerated of course by the aforementioned stress and exhaustion.  This year for me has especially felt like a mixed bag of emotions, and I know I’m not alone.  My older brother has had several health issues and hospital stays, our beloved pup is in his last days battling cancer, I’m fitting in a business trip right before Christmas, I still have some last bits of shopping and wrapping and cleaning to do, I’ve had a head cold, and oh yes, today happens to be the 26thanniversary of my mom’s passing.  Yet on the flip side, I love my job, we will have a full house of family for Christmas, my son amazes me every day as he works his way through his Senior year of high school, and we have not only a roof over our heads, but a beautiful home that I love to decorate for the season.

Nearly every other RW I know is trying to carry around a mixed bag of challenges.   Caring for elderly parents, coping with cancer, worrying about wayward loved ones, dealing with financial issues, mourning a loss, hosting a hoard of people for festivities… and yet all knocking themselves out to make the holidays special.  Why?  Because in the end it makes us feel better, and makes us feel like we are in control of our lives when so much we are carrying in that sack is out of our control.

We want our lives to resemble a Hallmark movie during the holidays with the amazing outfits, perfect scenes and happy endings, and we yearn to find the magic and wonder we felt as kids. Speaking of kids, we desperately want them to have an amazing Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, filled with fun and traditions and family and memories.  So we pick up that heavy bag and we keep hustling along, singing our favorite carol as we go.  We remind ourselves what the holiday is truly about, and reprimand ourselves when we start to lose sight of that and get cranky or anxious.

The lesson I’ve learned, especially this year, is we have to all cut ourselves, and each other, some slack. There are many out there who are suffering in some way, and this is a very difficult time of year for them.  We need to be sensitive to that, and lend a helping hand when we can.  There are even more out there who are lugging that big mixed bag of issues, and we have to recognize that some days are joyful, filled with laughter and amusement, and other days are going to be deeply sad, frustrating and anxiety-inducing. We need to determine when it is ok to offer platitudes and quote the Grinch, and when it is better to say “it’s ok, you aren’t alone — and you’ll get through this.”    We can offer to carry that big satchel, or better yet, lift out some of the heavy things and focus on the light fun ones.

My wish for all RW’s out there is that at some point, even if it is at midnight on Christmas Eve, or two days later when the hustle and bustle has settled down, that we all have a moment to just stop.  To breathe out the bad, and breathe in the good. To admire the beauty and joy we’ve created.  To hug loved ones.  To think of each other, and this journey we travel together. Put down that heavy sack, pick up a cup o’ cocoa, put up our feet, and be thankful that we have this wacky, mixed bag life.

Merry Christmas!!

 

 

 

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Getting Lost on Sleep Street

highway messWe all know that a woman’s brain is wired like a super highway system with dangerous corners and intersections, where the minimum speed limit is somewhere around 90mph. We are supposed to have off-ramps and rest stops that allow us to do that re-fueling thing called sleep.  But most of us seem to have a challenge with taking those exits successfully on a regular basis – even if we manage to get off the highway, we somehow mess up and hop right back on again.

These road blocks seem to come in two pretty darn annoying formats.  The first one is good ol’ fashioned insomnia.  This is the classic case of jumping off the highway and shutting down right away, only to wake up again somewhere between 2:00 – 4:00am (because nothing good ever happens during those hours), seemingly for no reason at all. Insomnia can happen for a multitude of reasons, like stress, life changes, and – my favorite – menopause. Our brain doesn’t really care why, it only cares that it no longer has to come up with those pesky bizarre dreams and says  “oh, hey, great, you’re perky.  Let’s worry and think too much.”

The second road block is our bladder.  The middle of the night get-up-and-pee syndrome.  As women, we train ourselves to develop a delicate and difficult skill: to accomplish this task without becoming fully awake, and more importantly, without letting that brain engage.  If we are lucky, we crawl back into bed and tell our minds “ssshhhh, all’s fine…think of fluffy clouds and waves….that’s a good little brain….back to the rest stop…”  If however, we miss that itsy bitsy tiny window of opportunity to not poke the beast, there it is again “oh, hey!  Great! Let’s ruminate!”

The stretch of highway that the brain chooses to travel during those hours is totally out of our control.  The most common roadway is Worry Street.  Did my son do his homework?  Oh, I have to remember to finish that project at work. I hear the dog wheezing, is he ok?  Will the fires in CA stop?  Geez, I hope I turned off the oven…wonder if I should check.  Am I going to get a call from the hospital about a loved one? Why can’t I sleep, I need sleep, I’ll be a mess tomorrow. What time is it now?   This often heads us over to Irrational Concerns Drive, where literally anything horrible can happen because it only makes sense at 2 am.  I had a headache today – do I have a brain tumor?  My partner is restless and snoring, is he planning to leave me?  If I have one hour’s notice of a natural disaster, what would I pack in the car?  Could we have an earthquake?

This time of year we can also expect a detour over to Holiday Stress Avenue.  Should I have bought an extra ham?  What am I going to buy that person who is impossible to shop for? Ugh, I still need to get wrapping paper and ribbon and boxes.  If I ship gifts on the 21st, will they get there in time?  I really need to finish decorating. Where did I put the mistletoe ball?  Should we have a party? Will 10 different types of cookies be enough?

And finally, the route that can drive us the most crazy when it happens, but makes us all laugh when shared with other R.W’s later: Totally Random Road.  Should I change the curtains in the living room or go with a valance?  Freddy Mercury was born in Zanzibar, where is Zanzibar? What time is my dental appointment? Did I miss it? Wait, did I flush?  If I start tomorrow and consume only water and carrots, I think I could lose 20 pounds by Christmas.  What was that noise?  I should paint this room blue. Maybe I should get up and go clean the kitchen… I mean, I’m awake, may as well be productive.

A couple of my BFFs and I have agreed that some night we should just text or call each other, because the others are likely awake as well, ruminating, worrying, or solving the world’s problems.  Or just having really bad night sweats.  We are not alone in our late night sleepless cruising.

Maybe, just maybe, Santa will bring us what we want for Christmas – a full night’s sleep or even a good nap. Besides, who do you think came up with the cookies for Santa tradition? Every real woman knows it is important to pack road trip snacks to share.

Sleepless woman face cartoon character suffers from insomnia problem

 

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In Celebration of… Appetites

dinner food“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes.  Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.”  – Erma Bombeck

Lo and Behold, in the blink of an eye, the holidays are upon us once again.  And you know what that means….  excitement with hustle and bustle, time with family and friends, taking the time to be thankful, celebrating our Faiths and looking forward to a new year…..yes, yes, it means all of that.  But the holidays also mean something else:  Food.  Lots and lots of food.

Sure, food is always important to us. But at this time of year, it is as if it becomes all consuming.  It is on our minds ALL THE TIME.  We start out with the grand-daddy of all food holidays, Thanksgiving.  We literally will plan this giant meal for weeks in advance, and will spend hours preparing the traditional fare so we can all quite literally belly-up to the table together to indulge.   Even the food prep itself can be a social occasion, with Real Women banding together in the kitchen to make the magic happen.  (Yes, I realize that is a stereo-typical comment to make…yes, many men out there assist and participate in the cooking…but really, without R.W’s taking the lead, how likely is it that the meal would include multiple dishes, all ready at the same time?)

But this one day, this festival of turkey and pies, is not all to blame for our Food Fanaticism this time of year.  No holiday social gathering, no matter how large or small, is complete without tasty nourishment.  Social food is fun.  It is festive.  And, oh, boy, is it yummy.  Combine that with the fact that we are spending more hours in the cold and dark, looking for ways to boost our moods, and we have the perfect gastronomic storm.

During this season, certain flavors and mixtures emerge, designed to communicate directly to our taste buds and our yearning for comfort food and calories.  As a matter of fact, certain combinations suddenly seem appealing when at any other time of year we wouldn’t even consider them.  “oooh, look, eggnog tea, that sounds good…..pumpkin bagels, sure!….cranberry and jalapeno relish, why not?”   And some how, I swear food just looks more inviting.  Walking through the grocery store, my head is turned every time I see cheerful packaging, and I’m tempted to buy anything that is a “limited time offer”.  What if I won’t be able to get that flavor snack item in a couple of weeks?  I better stock up now!

baileys

At restaurants, and even at home, cooked meals become colorful palates of steaming deliciousness and beverages turn either creamy or warm…and all together they shout “check me out!  I taste even better than I look! Come and get it!”

Of course, let us not forget the other prominent ingredient this time of year: sugar.  Like that mama bear fattening up for hibernation, we start piling on the sweets, bringing any willing accomplices with us.  We use the excuse of Christmas cookies to splurge on confections with a bazillion calories and fat content — all in the name of holiday.  Some of us who really enjoy baking gleefully pull out piles of cookie recipes weeks in advance to plan out what to create….there are the traditional treats that are requested by family members, then there are always a few new ones that just look so tantalizing on the cover of magazines at the check out counter that we’ve just GOT to try them.   Christmas spice-cakes with chocolate

Many of us believe we have a hidden Martha Stewart inside of us, aching to get out and create something amazing… a sumptuous meal to go down in family history, or incredibly beautiful and delicious pastries just waiting for ooh’s and aaah’s.

The one most beneficial aspect of this sordid love affair with holiday sustenance is that we all seem to realize the vital need to share with others less fortunate.  Although Food Pantries need our help year round, we all kick into gear a bit more now, as we remember that there are so many out there who may go hungry without our help… and the thought that someone could NOT have a good hot meal for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or Christmas is too horrifying to imagine.  So we step up to the plate (pun intended) and donate our time, food and money so everyone can feel the joy and comfort of this time of year.  All it takes is purchasing a few more items at the store, checking our own pantries for what we can share, or even better, donating some time to help out.  Then even more importantly, we should all set reminders on our calendars to do it again throughout the year, not just now during gluttony season.

And those of us who are lucky enough to be able to indulge too heavily and wallow our way through the holidays, we can be thankful that the winter season makes it more acceptable to wear stretchy pants and long sweaters to hide our resulting bulges.  We vow each morning to have a healthier lighter eating day – until the first whiff of a nutmeg-cinnamon-eggnog latte or fresh baked cranberry-carrot-pecan-muffin reaches our nostrils, and we weaken and drop to our knees to pay homage to the culinary yumminess that is the holidays.   Hey, this season only happens once a year – why not splurge?   After all, we know what comes next:  New Years Resolutions.

 

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