Lost Skills

ostrichI’ve been hesitant to do any blog writing recently, because it seems there is only one topic any of us are able discuss.  It begins with P and ends in -ic.  It has consumed us in more ways than one, and every one of us, everywhere, is somehow affected by and attempting to deal with the -ic. To be honest, I’m completely weary of thinking about, talking about, and coping with the -ic.  So I’ve been avoiding writing. Which is not the right answer.

I will also admit that for the past two days I have willingly been the proverbial ostrich with her head in the sand. I have not read, listened to, or watched any news.  It’s not that I don’t care, or that I don’t feel the importance of what is going on around us.  But for my own sanity, I needed a break. I think we all need to take breaks from time to time to be able to recharge our coping mechanisms.

As part of this break, the only social media content and information I’ve read are positive posts.  I have scrolled past anything sad, frightening or worrisome. And guess what, the longer we go in this -ic situation, the more positive bits I’m finding. There are so many people out there sewing masks, delivering groceries, raising donations, and showing up at appropriate distances to show support for those on the front lines, it warms the soul and gives hope.

I am one of the very fortunate ones who is not only healthy (knock on wood), but still employed (please knock again), working from home. I am beyond thankful for both of those key points.  However, because I am still working 9+ hours a day, I feel limited in how much I can do to help others.  This is why I jumped at the chance to do one tiny simple thing for a friend. She asked if I could hem her scrubs.  You see she is a pretty amazing Doctor who is still going every day to a medical facility.  She is one of many other essential and incredible humans out there who risk facing the -ic up close every day while I stay safe and albeit stir crazy in my home.

The funny thing is my sewing skills are rusty. But I uncovered ye ol’ sewing machine, was all proud of myself when I remembered not only how to thread the machine but wind a bobbin, and got the scrubs hemmed so my BFF hero can avoid tripping and falling on the job. Did the hems look great? No. Luckily, they are scrubs.  If my sister, who is still a fabulous seamstress, saw my project, she would give me the one-lifted brow that says “really?  You learned better than that.” Then would giggle at me.

As I did my measuring, pinning, cutting, stitching and ironing, I thought about the ways we are all resurrecting lost skills in this time of the -ic.  One trip to a grocery store (with disposable gloves and masks in place) will lead us to believe that a lot of us are cooking and baking far more than usual. We are picking up actual pens and hand-writing letters and cards to those who need a boost. There are young mothers re-learning how to use cloth diapers. We are cleaning with washable rags to save paper towels. We are tackling home projects like painting and carpentry. We are having family game nights and going for hikes. We are playing music to lift spirits. We are making gifts, and calling people to actually talk vs. texting. Lost talents and skills, newly found.  And it’s kinda wonderful.

There is no denying that the -ic is overwhelming and we can easily let it get all-consuming. When we don’t take occasional moments to let ourselves regroup and breathe, everything feels huge and impossible to conquer.  Yet when we let ourselves think about something else – even for a few hours –  we remember that we have skills that have laid a bit dormant during the rush of “normal” life.  Perhaps we can find small little things to help each other fight back against the -ic beast. And feel better in the process.

By the way, did you know that the myth of the ostrich hiding her head in the sand came about because she’s actually tending to her eggs in her ground nest?  So she’s not really hiding and avoiding the world. She’s doing one very skilled, tiny little thing to make her world better.

 

 

 

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Chaos Through Z Eyes

gen zWe are women. Many of us are also moms, grandmas, aunts, guardians, and caregivers.  It is in our DNA to protect and to worry, while at least attempting to show outwardly that we are calm and in control at all times.  In other words, we are well-trained for this current global crisis.

Absorbing loved ones into our home nests to try to keep them healthy and safe comes completely naturally to us.  I was just texting with another R.W. yesterday who asked me if I thought she was crazy to drive 6 hours each way today to bring her daughter home to work remotely from her house instead of knowing she was alone and on her own.  Although I was concerned for her exhaustion level in doing that trip, not one iota of me thought she was crazy.  It is natural instinct.  It’s what we do.  Worry. Protect. Control.

Yesterday our office temporarily closed and each of us were sent home to work remotely. I am thankful that I still have a job, and have the ability to work from home. So many are not that lucky.  Up until yesterday, while I was not making light of the situation we are all in, I was calm and holding onto a shred of “this will pass soon” hope.  But when my 8-5 life was suddenly adjusted, my safe, normal social work environment changed, my awareness that any investments we have are taking hard falls, and my son got official word that he will not be returning to campus for the rest of this semester,  I felt like “shit just got real.”  For the rest of the day yesterday I battled to stay calm, to push down any rising feelings of panic (because my mantra from the start of this has been “panic solves nothing”), and I was near tears a few times.  And we are some of the lucky healthy ones.

Over the weekend, my son and I had done a round trip back to his campus to get some of his belongings.  Yesterday afternoon, he went with me on some errands.  A “last” trip to the grocery store to see bare shelves, a “last” trip to the pet store to get our dog’s food, and a trip to Kohls where social distancing was not a problem because it was deserted.  During my time with him, I was able to get a glimpse of this turmoil through his eyes, not just my Mom eyes.

I know he’s disappointed, even sad, that he won’t be returning to campus until Fall.  I know he misses some of the activities there and his new independence. The good news is he is a Freshman, so God willing will still have three more years for a college experience. My heart goes out to students who are seniors in high school and college and have been robbed of their senior experiences and I’m sure are filled with worry about next steps.

My son asked me the other day if he could have a couple of friends over to the house.  He has also asked what I thought of him potentially going this weekend to visit a friend who lives a bit of a distance away, as a day trip.  I wasn’t sure how to answer. Do I slip into protective warrior control mode and say no, we all have to hunker in place?  He will be by himself in the car, then visiting one friend while they stay in the friend’s house and watch a movie. Do I allow some limited freedom with the thought that perhaps the potential of cultivating new friendships he has only just begun to make at school is a more “healthy” option?  The truth is he’s legally old enough to make his own decisions.  I appreciate that he’s looking to me for guidance.  But the bad news is that pandemics aren’t in the Mom Rule Book.  I’m just winging it here.

What struck me in our recent outings is his calm and practical view of what we are experiencing. He was fascinated by empty shelves at the stores.  He helped me find a few things and helped me with creative ideas on how we can do without.  When I told him I was wondering if I should go get cash out of the bank to hoard at home he said “Mom, why?  Even if you have it, where would you spend it, everything will be closed.  If you shop online, you’ll use your credit card.”  The new process of excessive hand washing and sanitizing does not bother him.  He lives in the mode of virtual communications already, so if any thing he will teach us how to stay in touch with others. At his very core, he seems to easily focus on now.  We are healthy and safe now.  He does not slip into hyper panic mode. He can find humor in his observations.

Every generation of human has had to deal with unique and challenging circumstances.  From World Wars to Depressions and Recessions, to Watergate and assassinations, to earthquakes and tsunami’s, we have all had our share of life-changing historic events.  Yet it seems to me that this Generation Z has grown up in the most ongoing never-ending bizarre and scary life altering process.  My son was a year old during 9-11.  Since then his generation has coped daily with terrorism, natural disasters, mass shootings, peculiar and ineffective politics, environmental crises, and now… a world-wide viral outbreak and quarantines. As he’s become more mature, and as I’ve watched him roll through the development of coping mechanisms, I wonder….  Is this generation fraught with higher levels of anxiety and depression than ever seen before like the news leads us to believe, or are we raising young adults with more skills of adaptation, resilience, individuality and sensibility than the generations before them?

In all honesty, our world is in a heap of mess right now.  We moms spend sleepless nights worrying about our kids and how they will manage, constantly concerned about their safety, and what their future holds.  Perhaps we should instead spend more time having faith in them.  In feeling reassured that they are our future leaders, and by growing up through turmoil, perhaps they will have the foresight and strength to make things better.  To hope and believe that they, the anti-bullying generation, will inherently know how to take care of each other, and the world we inhabit.

No, we won’t ever stop worrying or trying to protect and control.  But I think the next few weeks or months can be a bit easier and less stressful if we take a page from our Gen Z’s playbooks and take a day at a time, watch out for each other, and be resilient.  This too shall pass, so let’s all be in a good place together when it’s over.

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Embrace the Adventures

packed car for tripDuring this morning’s walk, my puppy and I passed a home where there was much activity in the driveway.  Clearly a family was packing up for a trip.  It appeared to be at least one or two families, plus grandparents. Two vehicles were being filled with bags and skiis, so I can only assume it was a weekend outing to perhaps NH, VT, or Maine.  On our return route past the home again, they had reached the end phase of the preparation for departure. Young children – I counted at least four – were being herded out to the cars.  As the kids circled the vehicles vying for their best seat locations, one excited young voice was repeating what I’m sure he’d heard several times inside the house “Everyone carry your own water bottle!”  I saw a mom walking towards a car with her arms loaded with the last round of items, as a dad was pulling a car seat out of a different car parked further up the drive.  I caught his eye, he waved, and I called out “Have fun!”

The irony is at that very moment, I’m pretty certain none of the adults were having “fun.”  I know without a doubt that mom has spent at least two weeks preparing for this trip, even if it was going to be a three-day getaway.  Coordinating schedules, planning activities, reservations, lodging, packing clothing, toys, necessities, snacks, food, medicines… and of course making appropriate arrangements for home and pet care while they are away.  Dad likely pitched in some too, doing things like setting up light timers and security systems, but we all know the bulk of the planning landed on mom.  This trip, no matter where or to what location, will not be a restful and relaxing event for her.  Trips with young children are not about R&R.  They are about adventures, about experiences, about memories, and about getting great photos.  The parents, especially mom, will return exhausted and looking forward to going back to work to rest up.  But if fun was had, kids were happy, no injuries or illnesses occurred, and sibling fighting was at a minimum, she will mark it down as a resounding success.

Ironically, just last night, my BFF R.W. and I were looking through one of the recent scrapbooks I had completed.  The pages were full of adventures from eight years ago, when my son was 11 – 12 years of age.  Bicycle trips, hikes, outings to Newport, RI and Portland & Bar Harbor, ME, camping excursions, a trip to Niagara Falls, family visits, parties, holidays – all fun things we had done together when my son was young enough to still want to do activities with Mom and Dad. Back when I was that exhausted mom who wanted to do it all and make amazing memories.  And you know what?  We did just that.  In flipping through those pages, my friend and I were struck with bittersweet emotions.  Joy and happiness in the experiences we’ve had (many of them her family and I have shared together), pride in giving our kids great childhood moments, and a contrasting dose of melancholy and sadness that those crazy young-kid-family-togetherness days were in the past, and how incredibly FAST the past couple of decades have sped by.

I realize of course, before any of you admonish us, that life is far from over, and God willing there are many more adventures and memories to be made. In a couple of weeks as a matter of fact, my college freshman son will be joining us on a short vacation trip during his spring break.  This is likely one of the last times he will want to spend his spring break with us, but I know he will still join us for other trips or activities in the future, and certainly holidays and family gatherings.  And, of course, my hubby and I are just starting the next phase of our lives where we will have our own empty-nest adventures with just the two of us, like a new life stage of dating.  But there has still been a big shift, a change in types of activities, and who will be involved in them.  We will never again be introducing our little boy to new child-like wonders and taking him to places like Disney World or Hershey Park or to a kid’s theater or museum.  However, that also means that we will not again deal with packing three bags of stuff just to keep him occupied, managing panic as we attempt to track down the lost stuff toy left at a hotel, or finding the balance of too much activity before hangry tantrums kick in (well, ok, there’s still a bit of that needed when traveling with my husband).

When I think back to that family packing up their cars this morning, I realize that hopefully someday (not too soon!), we will be the cool Grandparents in that scenario.  While in many ways, I wish we could go back in time and re-experience all of those adventures we had when our son was little and we ourselves were younger and more energetic, there is something really appealing about being along for the ride for round two with grandchildren, and giggling a bit to myself as I will watch my son and his future wife take over those trying-to-make-it-perfect-or-at-least wonderful roles.

If there had been time, and I wasn’t afraid that they’d call the cops on this crazy strange woman, I would have paused and approached that young family this morning.  I would have told the mom and dad that they are doing a wonderful thing.  That I knew they were exhausted, probably a bit stressed, and no, they wouldn’t be getting any rest.  Then I would advise them to embrace the chaos. To soak in every up, down, and exhausting moment.  To take a million photos, but then don’t let those photos just sit in their phones and be ignored.  Print them, frame them, share them, maybe even scrapbook them.  Make sure the kids are engaged, and not glued to electronic devices the whole time.  Get them to look out their windows. Touch, feel, and experience their world.  Tell stories and share favorite memories…because it all goes really, really fast.

Then before I left them alone to start their journey, I would have given the grandparents a wink and a high-five and said “and YOU have fun.”

Happy Trails.

 

 

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Walkin Around at Level 2

bed comfy“I’m tired.”  Two words uttered as frequently as Love You, I’m Hungry, and What’s Up.  Let’s face it, we are beings who rarely feel rested and refreshed.  And when we do, it is short lived.  Most of us can probably count on one hand the number of times in the past year we woke up feeling energized and rarin’ to go.  And yet we continue on as if that is normal, swallowing down caffeine and using concealer for our under-eye bags.

Being tired is not just about a lack of sleep (although we all deal with that too, especially as RW’s who are famous for not sleeping well).  With these crazy lives we live, I’ve determined that there are actually different levels, or types, of weariness.

Level 1:  Fun Tired.  This is the rarest form, yet should be the most common. Fun Tired is a result of a great experience, like a terrific day out with friends, an exciting date, a really productive and fulfilling day, a unique travel experience, or even a hardcore workout.   This is the only level when we say “I’m so tired, and it’s awesome.”

Level 2:  InaFunk Tired.  Side effect of being stuck.  Could be “the same old dull routine” (thanks Rupert Holmes) of work/school/relationships, or maybe from being stuck in a long stretch of lousy weather or dealing with chronic pain, or a lack of change of scenery.  Whatever the reason, mojo is depleted and energy is out the window.

Level 3:  Two Wick Tired.   The proverbial, yet constant and common method of burning a candle at both ends. All R.W.’s experience this at some point.  Balancing far too much, multi-tasking because we think we can, packing far too many things into waking hours, and never slowing down.  Yup, that’s Level 3 stuff right there.

Level 4:  Emo Tired.  Unfortunately another unavoidable variety of exhaustion, this one comes from life events that stomp us down and wear our hearts out, like grief, or taking care of sick or elderly loved ones, or dealing with the loss of a relationship.  Whatever is causing it, this level of tiredness is miserable, and we wonder how we’ll ever make it through – yet somehow we do.

A couple of days ago, I woke up in Level 2 with a splash of 3 mixed in.  I had stayed up too late the night before, wrongly believing I’m still the younger me who can do more in her day by giving up on sleep and still feel fine in the morning (classic Level 3 shenanigans).  The weather was a continuation of 4 days of cold, grey, dreary, rainy sleety stuff.  My tendonitis in my wrist had flared up, and my knees ached.  And while I love my job, I don’t love my alarm and the hour in which it goes off, even if it is set as the first few notes of a Michael Buble song.  But like all other RW’s, I resisted my overwhelming desire to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed for the next 4 weeks or so, and forced myself to get up and moving.  Part of my daily ritual includes a morning walk with my doggo.  Although I tend to sigh and grumble occasionally about this, it almost always turns into one of the best parts of my morning routine.  On this particular morning, as we were headed back from our loop, we encountered a man who was putting out his trash.  I recognized him as one of the lead workers of the farm we were passing.

He had Level 2 written all over him. The winter coat with hood up against the elements, the slumped shoulders, and the trudging footsteps as he carried his bags of trash, all were sure signs of his tiredness. For my puppy, however, the sight of this man and his trash was the most divinely exciting thing she had seen yet that morning (besides her breakfast bowl and the squirrel she chased up a tree.)  Her tail started wagging so energetically that her whole back end had to give in to the force.  She simultaneously emitted “oh my gosh, good morning good morning good morning” whines towards the man.  When he acknowledged her with a smile and reached down to pat her, she responded with two full circle twirls and that puppy pose that says “drop everything you are doing and play with me all day.”  He and I shared a chuckle over her antics and I was able to pull her away only after she got distracted by two birds flying overhead.  As she and I walked away I realized that during that brief 30-second interaction, he and I both forgot to be tired.

Try as we might, we can’t all believe that someday we will win the lottery, quit our jobs, and spend our days lazing on a beach.  Nor can we expect that somehow magically our lives will change overnight and we will have no stress, and will be able to sleep late every morning.  No, the only guarantee is that we will be tired. Often. At various levels and for various reasons.  With intermittent bouts of being rested and refreshed.

What we can do, however, is remember that most of the other RW’s we encounter, and even some of the men in our lives too, are walkin’ around in a level.   We can help each other out by sharing a bright moment, offering to lend a hand, or even sharing a cup o’ joe (or, more my speed, a piece of dark chocolate).  Every little gesture or moment can help us forget for a few minutes how tired we are and more importantly, actually appreciate why we are tired. We can be grateful for the routines we get stuck in, and that we have busy lives full of people who need us so we can burn out our candles.  We can be thankful for the special people that we have, or did have, in our lives.

I know I’ll never get myself organized enough to have time for 8 hours of sleep every night. Even if I did, that wouldn’t be a foolproof solution.  The goal I can set, however, is to experience a whole lot more Level 1’s.  I may still have to use concealer under my eyes – but I’ll have a smile on my face.

 

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Nothin’ to see here

daisiesAnytime we put a lot of time, money, skill or energy into something, we naturally want to reap the rewards and satisfaction of our efforts.  We want our work to be noticed, appreciated, or admired.  We lose 20 pounds, we are thrilled when someone notices.  We do a major renovation on the house, or a new paint job in a room, we hope someone will ooh and ahh.  We buy a new fabulous outfit or shoes, we wear them with pride and wait for someone to notice. Get a new hair cut or style, and someone is bound to toss out a compliment.  We toil through a major project at work or school or in a community group, and we love to see it all come together or hear a “nice job” or thank you.  Even if we are doing some anonymous community or charity work, it still feels great to see our efforts benefit someone else.

But what of the things that go totally unnoticed?  What about the projects or expenses that are totally necessary but are virtually invisible?   There are plenty of these if you are a homeowner.  Get a new HVAC system?  Yeah, you’ll be happy when it works, but it’s not like anyone is going to go into your basement and say “wow, that’s a beauty.”  (Well, ok, my Dad would have, he was an HVAC engineer… but probably no one else).  Invest in a new roof?  Yup, beats having leaks, which someone would notice, but it’s not like you are going to have a celebratory backyard party and ask everyone to stand back, crane their necks, and bask in the beauty of new shingles.  (You COULD of course do this, but it will likely be the last party invitation anyone would accept.)  You may feel like you accomplished something major (which you did) yet there isn’t anything fun or exciting to show for it. Just an emptier bank account or higher credit balance.  Where’s the celebration?  Where’s the “yay me”?  Where’s the “wow, good for you?”

I had that same feeling today.  After two months, multiple visits, pain and plenty of expense, I finished up a root-canal-tooth-buildup-new crown procedure with my dentist.  My dentist, a great guy who somehow finds joy in what he does, was excited to hand me a small mirror so I could see the final result.  He explained how they had matched the color to my other teeth, it is good and strong, and doesn’t it look great, etc.   The tooth is the last one on my bottom right.  And as I peered in at it with the bright dental overhead light reflecting on its shiny newness, I realized that no one except my dentist, and me when I brush and floss, will ever see it.  But there it is, in all its glory.  If anything, it now makes the other side of my mouth less attractive because there’s a hole towards the back on that side where a problem tooth had to be extracted and I can’t afford the suggested implant.  So I suppose Mr. Nifty New Crown could be getting compliments, or jealousy, from my other teeth.  And yes, it will help me eat.  Yes, it probably will help keep things aligned.  But after literally much pain, time, and expense, I’ve got nothin’ to show.   Similar to the failed backyard roof party, if I opened wide and told friends and family to “check this out!” they’d awkwardly turn down any similar requests in the future.

What else do we have in our lives that we work hard for and have nothing to show?  A healed pulled muscle?   An organized file drawer?  A defrosted freezer?  A simplified email inbox?  Cleaned and re-hung curtains?   Lost 5 pounds?    All awesome accomplishments that no one else will notice.

So I have an idea.  I think every time we have an unnoticeable accomplishment, we should do something simple and noticeable to commemorate it.  Like plant a bunch of daisies in a pot by your front door after the HVAC system is done.  Put down a new rug in your foyer when the roof is completed.  Wear a fabulous scarf when you lost 5 pounds.  Hang a favorite photograph on the wall next to the newly cleaned curtains.  And enjoy responding to the compliments:

“Cool new rug!”  “Thanks, isn’t my new roof beautiful?”

“Wow, pretty flowers!”  “Yeah, my new HVAC system really is awesome.”

“Great shoes?”  “Thanks, yes, my knee is feeling better.”

Sure, we’ll get confused looks, but we will have gotten noticed.

And trust me, complimenting my soon-to-be-purchased fabulous new earrings will be a whole lot less awkward than looking into my mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

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Overwhelmed by Options

menu bookDecisions, decisions, decisions.  We all love having a lot of options to choose from, and in this land of excess, we have options galore. In all areas of our lives.  Yet I can’t help but wonder sometimes if we’ve gone a bit overboard.  Especially in restaurants.

I don’t go out to eat often.  I generally cook dinners at home, and pack my breakfast and lunch from home.  So when I do go out, with family or friends, it is a special occasion. It means no cooking, no cleaning, no having to make decisions about what to make for dinner.  But wait.  There are decisions to be made. Far more now than ever.  So many that my husband and son now know that I need to go last when ordering because it will take me the longest to make up my mind.

It’s not that I don’t know what I like or dislike. It’s because there are far too many possibilities presented.  Even at fast food establishments, the selections up on the header board or at the drive-thru have become multi-paneled dissertations on how many different ways they can make a burger or chicken sandwich.  Even the finer establishments, with their trendy menus printed on a large double-sided board that initially looks so elegantly simple, have so much to offer that they need to use small print and provide a separate document for beverages.  By the way – that mature woman in the corner who is breaking out her reading glasses or worse, pulling out the flashlight accessory on her iPhone to read the fine print on the menu in the darkened ambiance – yeah, that’s me.

Last week I caught up with a couple of RW girlfriends and we stopped for a casual meal at Uno’s.  Uno’s used to be a pretty straight-forward pizza chain with fairly basic offerings.  Seemingly in an effort to compete in the ever-over-indulgent lifestyle to which we have all grown accustomed, that has changed. After we settled in to our booth, the waitress kindly handed out multi-page, hard cover novelettes, otherwise known as their menu.  Not only was it lengthy, but it included an addendum of additional specials, plus there was a separate booklet for drinks.  It honestly was overwhelming.  And I’m not picking on just Uno’s.  Pretty much every dining establishment has fallen prey to feeling the need to offer an encyclopedia of edibles.  And now that we all feel the need to know the caloric value of all of the fattening fare, and want even more options like gluten-free, nut-free, meat-free and organic, the descriptions of the plethora of potentials have gotten lengthy as well.

As we laid out the literature, or sat back and held them up so we could no longer see each other, It felt a bit like we were all preparing to read story books to each other.  “Once upon a time, the mozzarella sticks, onion rings and spinach dip decided to form a band called The Appetizers.  They started to recruit more members until they were 20-snacks strong. They had a glorious time together until the Entrée Gang showed up. Bigger, stronger, and more confusing, The Entrée Gang took over….”  Flip, flip, flip, five pages in, we reached the chapter on sides.

We three, as usually happens when women get together for a meal, started discussing what we were considering ordering.  I kid you not that the conversation went something like this:  “I’m thinking of having the Chicago thin crust pizza with two toppings.”   “Wait, what’s the difference between that kind of pizza and the three other kinds of pizza?”  “ooh, maybe I’ll get something from the sandwich section”.  “Hold on, where are you finding that – what page are you on?”   “Where did you read about that special salad, was that in the Addendum?”    The waitress came first to get our drink orders.  She said “if you’d like to review our other drink options, there’s a small book over there on the end of the table you can browse.” Dear God, no, just bring me a diet coke.

It took us far longer to decide on our order than if she had just given us a list of 5 options. And we would have been just as happy.  None of us ordered anything really unusual.  It has gotten to the point that most often, when I am out, I will do my best to whittle down my preferred options to a top 3, then ask the wait staff for their recommendation. I figure, heck, they are the pro’s, and they had to apparently get a Masters Degree in Menu Management in order to learn everything that is included in the 20 chapters you are holding, so why not let them help make the decision?

Once we selected our choices, we closed up our books and handed them back to the waitress who now has to do strength training classes just to carry them around.  The food was fine, we had a fun evening, then when we were finished and she offered to box up left overs, you know what came next: “Would you like to see a dessert menu?”  Oy.

I wonder how we got this far.  I remember eating out was simpler when I was younger.  Menus were predictable, and it mostly meant picking between just a handful of options.  They were generally constructed as tri-folds, and included everything you needed to see in one place: Specials, Apps, Dinners, Desserts, and Beverages.  Select one from each minimal section, and you were done.  Somewhere along the way, apparently we became no longer easily satisfied – or at least the restaurant industry decided we need to be overwhelmed and confused in order to be happy with our experience.  They are all competing for the most unique and memorable food and options.  But I think in many ways, we are going the opposite direction, where everything is just getting diluted into a pool of overload.

Yes, I do enjoy going out to eat from time to time.  But other days I’d rather just grab something easy in my own kitchen where the options are limited, and leave my story-time reading for a real book.   Besides, I need to save my energy for the really important choices – like which shoes I’m going to wear tomorrow.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

 

 

 

 

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Resolutely Positively Real

Woman crossing stepping stones on a riverEvery time I turn on a news program or wade through my social media feeds, I’m bombarded by contradictory messages.  The world is falling apart from politics, military threats, horrendous wild fires, and hate crimes.  But woo-hoo, it’s a new year and a new decade, time to eat better, exercise more, get healthier, volunteer more, and be your best self (thanks Oprah).

It’s kind of schizophrenic and exhausting. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel. Horrified and scared? Strong and brave? Nervous and Exhausted? Hopeful and Determined?  Eeesh… Oh, and while I’m at it, I should be setting my New Year resolutions?

I’ve never been a big resolution setter. Primarily because I’m a classic one for stating my intentions, then promptly forgetting them. Just like I can’t tell you if any birthday cake candle wishes have ever come true, because I don’t remember what I wished for by the time I’m done with my ice cream.

The other reason I’m not a huge fan of setting resolutions is that by doing so, we seem to be stating that we aren’t good enough, and need to make some sort of fairly substantial self-improvements. As if we haven’t just spent the past year busting our butts to stay healthy, pay the bills, take care of family, do our jobs, and overall be good people. Nope. That’s not enough. We must resolve to be better in some way. You know, like by losing 20 pounds, run a marathon, solve global warming, and save all of the Koalas. So even if we do remember our solemn promises, we can then be depressed when we can’t complete our grandiose goals.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have goals, and we shouldn’t do our best to make the world a better place – because Lord knows there’s a lot of improvement needed.  Some of us WILL make massive changes for ourselves and for the world. But for the rest of us, instead of promising to become the next Joanna Gaines, Greta Thunberg, or Christina Koch, we Real Women would be much better off first acknowledging how amazing we are (I mean, come on, we just finished up the year by pulling off Christmas again), then set much more realistic, achievable daily goals. Aren’t there smaller attainable steps we can take to actually feel good about ourselves and our lives, and give us moments of saying “yay me” instead of “oh, crap, I gained three pounds instead of losing ten” ?

Here are a few RR’s (Realistic Resolutions) I’m pondering for this year:

  • Get through winter. Some of you out there adore winter. Good for you. I tolerate it. Sure, some days of fluffy white snow are pretty. But overall winter is cold and dark and I spend most of it waiting for Spring. I vow to fight winter gloominess and grumpiness.
  • Stop sucking in my stomach every morning when looking in the mirror, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. It does. And it wants to be my forever friend.
  • Find new recipes for dinners that take less than 30 minutes to prepare, use five ingredients or less, and beat back food prep boredom.  (Oh, ok, I suppose I’ll make sure at least a couple of them are fairly healthy.)
  • Be supportive and excited for my college freshman son and not dwell on the fact he is turning 20 and my little boy is gone. Stop sobbing.
  • Crank my tunes in my car and sing. Out loud. More than I already do. Preferably when alone.
  • Try harder to accept my aging body.  Notice I didn’t say love, I’m not that far yet. I still wish my body was 25. But I’m getting there. Instead of being cranky that my arthritic knees hurt, I’ll be thankful I can still walk, bike and garden.  Instead of counting my age spots, I’ll think of my mom every time I see my hands which now look like hers did.  Instead of moaning about new wrinkles, I will try to greet them as signs of a life well-lived and maybe even name them. The one at the top of my nose between my eyes I shall call Gladys.
  • Start picking up trash while on my walks with my dog. I remember doing this as a kid in the 70’s. Sadly, some things like filthy littering pig people don’t change.
  • Don’t let scary sad news prevent me from being positive.  Our world doesn’t need another cranky mean grump-ass.  And it feels so much better to consistently believe that good will win over bad.

Will any of these make me a remarkably changed woman? No. Will any of these solve serious world issues? Nope. But all of the above are attainable. They are realistically positive. And they just might make me, and folks around me, feel a bit better every day.

Ok, your turn. Do tell some of your goals. Sky-diving?  Or just cleaning out your basement.  Becoming a super model?  Or just finding an easy hair style you like.  Let’s head into 2020 cheering each other on with simple positivity.

Not that any of us need improving. We are perfectly real just the way we are.

 

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Happy New Year

strong woman

To all of the amazing real women in my life, and to those I have yet to meet:

Thank you for traveling the ups and downs of this past year with me.  In 2020 may we all experience more laughter than tears, more adventures than boredom, more peace than stress, and more love than hate.

I look forward to stopping to smell the roses with each of you.

Happy New Year!

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Daily Constitutional

walk stepsEarlier this week the morning windchill was -10◦ so my puppy and I missed our morning walk. She was all out of sorts, pacing and whining.  I felt a bit off too.  I’m fortunate that my work days start late enough that every morning I can fit in a 30-minute outing with her after sunrise.  Since she became a part of our family seven months ago, we have missed very few mornings –only due to a change in my schedule (an early morning meeting or travel) or for extreme weather conditions – torrential rain, massive snow storm, or like that morning, dangerously cold temps.   Otherwise we are out there every day, checking out the neighborhood, doing one of three available routes from our house.

My father used to call walks like this “the daily constitutional.”  Sure, there are some mornings when I don’t really feel like going out there, especially in less than stellar weather.  I could do other things with that half hour, like a bit more sleep, or more writing time.  But once I get out there, I’m glad we went.

I enjoy seeing the world coming awake, the sun having just come up, the quietness fading as people head out to work or school.  Everything seems prettier just after sunrise. And according to my pup, it is apparently a great time for sniffing and catching up on all of the nocturnal animal activity she missed.  There is also a comfort in the routine of it all.

When I was a young girl, we knew all of our neighbors within a 2-mile or more radius.  Now not so much.  Life is a bit different with less personal contact.  We know our immediate neighbors – as a matter of fact we are BFFs with our next door neighbs.  But once you get further down the road, or around the corner, the familiarity ends.  Thanks to these walks, where knowledge ends, my imagination begins.  My pup and I recognize certain routines for each house we stroll past, and I like to play the game of putting together clues, or just making up my own stories for those who live there.

First we got to know houses by the dogs that inhabit each home.  There’s The Senior Boxer’s Raised Ranch, The Twin Pugs’ Abode, The My-Bark-is-Worse-Than-My-Bite Retriever’s Turf, and Mr. McBarky the Tiny Tough Terrier’s Terrain.  Then over time, I’ve started to fill in the blanks a bit about the humans.

In one direction, we’ve got the gentleman who spent his summer working very hard on creating expansive gardens in his front yard, only to run out of time before actually adding more plants or mulch. Then there’s the retired couple who travel a lot, the young woman who has been doing a massive renovation of her home while trying to live in it at the same time (my kudos to her, been there done that, and it ain’t easy), the woman who has a small daycare in her home, and the slightly frazzled mom who wrangles her kids every morning to get their stuff in the car in time to drive them to school.

In another direction, there’s the cop with the beautiful big shepherd dog, the rather wacky family with a veritable zoo or farm in their backyard, the mysterious potential hoarding-case house, and the ever-expanding solar farm.

The third loop is the most interesting because it includes a more traditional neighborhood.  Let’s see… we’ve got the young dad who works third shift, the nurse who’s large tree fell over in a bad storm, the home of the smokers who have a tarp on their roof and a flooded driveway,  the busy family with multiple dogs and kids who have not noticed the broken folding lawn chair that lies crumpled in their front yard, and the home of the very sweet retired Italian couple with a cute cat and extensive garden. There are the two sisters who walk that same loop in pleasant weather.  And there’s the home with the misguided water sprinkler that makes a funny sound as it sprays their mailbox.

Sometimes the puzzles take longer to put together. There is one older man who I would expect to be retired, yet I saw him head off to work every day.  Until one morning when we happened to be walking about an hour later than usual, and I saw that same man pull back into his driveway and into his garage. Given the fact his recycling bin each week is full of neatly folded newspapers, I have now surmised (ie: created his story in my head) that every day he goes out to get a cup of coffee and the paper.  My neighborhood stories must always be cute and friendly, unlike the reality that probably lurks behind most doors.

The last part of that loop brings us by the Farm Stand and Nursery which of course changes and evolves throughout the year, starting with early spring flowers and ending with Christmas trees – after which the hard-working folks can finally take a vacation.  The familiarity of watching the seasons through that farm is comforting.

During afternoon weekend walks we will from time to time stop by the farm stand to bring home some veggies or plants, and my pup relishes the attention she receives there. During one of these stops, another woman customer said to me “You walk her every morning, don’t you.”   It had never dawned on me that my morning observations could go both ways.  Perhaps I’ve been a character in one of the home owner’s stories.  Perhaps I should put more thought into what I’m wearing or put on some makeup.  Nah. That would make my character far less interesting.

And so our daily strolls will continue, God willing, rain or shine for years to come. We will see families move away, and new ones come in. We will see renovations, landscaping changes, and children and puppies grow. I will continue to make up stories, and my pup will still chase squirrels up trees and stop to sniff the deer highway that runs over an old stone wall.

Next week, on Christmas morning, while our home-from-college son slumbers and my husband starts making coffee and cocoa, perhaps we will slip out for a holiday edition of our Daily Constitutional.  The morning will be even more peaceful.  The farm stand will be closed for the season.  Inside those homes, excited children will be waking parents, or couples will be exchanging gifts over breakfast, or families will be preparing to drive to visit relatives. Outside, however, there will be quiet, just our footsteps crunching through snow and ice along the roadside, and the sound of my doggo sniffing and snorting as she investigates.  Instead of making up stories, I’ll think about the one story that means the most.  That so many years ago, in the quiet and stillness of an early morning, a newborn baby changed the world.

Thank you, dear readers, for being there for my shared stories.  May you each find your own slice of peace, stillness and love this Christmas.

christmas farm

 

 

 

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Old, New, Just Because

advent calI opened today’s door on my Advent Calendar, because I’ve had a December count-down calendar all my life. I asked my husband to hang the mistletoe ball in the doorway because that’s where it goes. Tomorrow I’ll bake peanut butter blossoms and raspberry ribbon cookies because they are a family requirement.  I’ve hidden the pickle ornament on the tree and will get the extra surprise gift ready, because we always do the pickle present. I added an antique angel to my creche because it was my mom’s.  I’ll polish and wear my silver angel necklace for Christmas Eve Service because she always goes to that mass with me.  Because, because, because – they are traditions.

There’s no other event or time of year that is as dedicated to a multitude of “because that’s how we do it’s” as the December Holiday Season.  Sure, we have our customs and rituals throughout the year for other holidays, birthdays and life events.  But as soon as we near the end of the year, we become ferociously devoted to doing things a certain way. Like putting on our favorite, perfectly fitting, soft, warm sweater that we’ve had for 20+ years, our traditions make us feel good. They are comforting, they are fun, and they connect us to the past.

I’ve seen people get almost aggressively protective of their traditions. As funny as some of them may seem, it makes sense.  Traditions provide a sense of comfort and belonging.  In our ever-changing, frequently frightening big world, being able to rely on something NOT changing is like a big hug.

Once in a while, though, as uncomfortable as it may feel, we have to – gasp – change things up.  Starting new traditions can be for joyful and fun reasons like a new member of the family, a move to a new home or part of the country, or starting a new relationship – which can also lead to creativity. I’ve had some fascinating discussions with folks who blend Hanukkah and Christmas (one called it Hanumas) or take part in seemingly contradictory customs depending on which branch of the family they are visiting.

The most bittersweet shift in traditions of course comes about with the loss of a loved one, and just the progression of time. Within our world of Real Women, it feels like 2019 has been a year of loss.  Many RW’s I know have lost a loved one, or are dealing with the decline – both physically or mentally – of parents and other relatives.  Which means how they celebrate the holidays has shifted and changed and will never be quite what they were before.  Having to let go of some of the “that’s how we always do it’s” can hurt, and make us surprisingly sad or agitated.  Facing a changed tradition can hit us emotionally and suddenly like being run over by a pack of reindeer.  The key lies in how we get back up and brush the snow off our faces, shake the hoof prints off our backs, and find the right elves to support us in going a different direction without giving up completely to go hang out on a beach in Aruba.  (Remember how well that plan worked in Grisham’s Skipping Christmas.)

Not having a loved one with us for the holidays, for any reason (death, military service, school, distance) feels like a big chunk of our heart has left without taking along the rest of our body.  As many of you know, I’m a big believer in signs that come to us from our missing loved ones. During this magical time of year, they are easier to see if we just keep our eyes open.  One of my brother’s favorite traditions was to recite “Twas the Night Before Christmas” every New Year’s Eve. It was a carry over from our childhood, when we would each take turns reading that story.  A couple of months ago, I randomly selected my Advent Calendar at a Christmas gift shop because it was pretty.  Well, guess what. Each door I open is a verse from that poem.  Not a coincidence.

Finding ways to honor and remember those who are not with us helps ease the pain and discomfort.  I love seeing how RW’s choose to do this. One BFF’s husband adapted certain parts of their Christmas Village to be in memory of her father who passed this year.  Another RW friend is carrying on the tradition of making a cookie tree because her mother is no longer able.  Another is hanging inherited holiday décor, even though it doesn’t match anything else in her home.  All of these things bring a piece of that person back into our daily traditions.

We have to also be ok with doing new things, and feeling the freedom to make changes and enjoy them.  One RW and I were discussing that with the loss of our loved ones this year, our caretaking chores were relieved and we’ve had more time to enjoy our holiday preparations. Without having to go back and forth to transport or visit our ailing loved ones, we can relax and be home more. Maybe the loss of someone in your life has allowed for starting new traditions like changing the menu for Christmas dinner, or changing which church Service you attend, or having the time to go help out at a Soup Kitchen, or listen to different holiday music, or go on a trip for the New Year… whatever it is, we RW’s are struck with the dichotomy of guilt, grief and joy, and it really can twist us up inside.  Hence that lovely cry-laugh that emanates from us at any moment, scaring the men in our lives more than if they saw one of Scrooge’s ghosts.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter WHAT the tradition is.  Whether you’ve been carrying on for 50 years, or starting something new this year, what matters is the peace and comfort it brings, and the memories it builds.  Webster’s gives a definition of tradition as “the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word or mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction.”   There’s no way really of knowing what will “stick” for our future generations.  We just know, that like us, our kids will do certain things “because that’s how we do it”, and will have some form of story, accurate or not, likely embellished through time, to tell for each one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get out my mom’s cookie recipe (old) and go set up a small lit tree on my son’s desk for when he gets home from college next week (new).  Then I’ll tune into my playlist to sing some of my loved one’s favorite carols and hear them in my head singing right along with me.  Just because.

antique angel

 

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