Monday, October 5, 2015

Learning my lesson...the hard way

*Note: This is a follow-up to the previous post. It may not make much sense if you don't read that one first.

So I talked last time about two people who had insulted me to my face, really hurt my feelings, left me angry and frustrated, and, as is my style, I gave them nicknames.  Nellie Oleson and The Troll.  The plot thickens...

Nellie Oleson continued to be annoying and mean over email dealing with band competition related matters.  I was getting more and more fed up and so I wrote an email explaining certain details to another chaperone, and I'll admit, there were a few snarky remarks in there about Nellie.  This person got very confused by the directions I sent (which were Nellie's instructions), so she emailed Nellie for clarification.  Unfortunately, she copied my email and sent it directly to Nellie herself. 


About 2 hours later I opened my email to find a nasty, blistering email from none other than Nellie, tearing apart my character, accusing me of personality traits I do not bear, and cutting me down like Paul Bunyan fells an oak tree.  I was, in a word, horrified.

After the initial shock wore off, I realized I had a choice. I could email back, I could copy the band director, I could tell all of my friends and the other band parents what happened and I could fan the flames of this whole incident into a blazing bitter wildfire of hate and resentment.


I could put out the smoke before it became a fire by eating a generous slice of humble pie.

Which is exactly what I did.

I took a few minutes to prepare what I was going to say, took a deep breath, and called Nellie.  To my surprise, she picked up (man, was I hoping for her voice mail!). I greeted her and then launched into my carefully worded apology of my words in the original email.  I explained that I in no way meant to undermine her, I very much appreciated all of her hard work, and repeated several times how sorry I was that my words came out in such a way that her feelings were hurt.


Silence from the other end.

Another deep breath on my part.

I then launched into an "I'm so glad that you called me on my actions because although I did not intend for my words to be hurtful (or did I?), I clearly need to be careful of how I put things to make sure I do not hurt people with them." I thanked her for pointing out how wrong I was and assured her that I would do better in the future.

That seemed to thaw the icy walls on the other end of the phone.  Then this is what I heard,

"Thank you. I appreciate that. It's just that after last weekend I got a 4 page email detailing how terrible I was,  all of the problems with me and with the band program, and I got blamed for a lot of things that aren't even in my control."

A-ha!  So apparently I'm not the only one whom Nellie has offended. (as I'm learning, I'm one of very many over the years) And she was coming off of that situation, ready to bristle at anything that she perceived as negative feelings toward her.

Very interesting development here.

Now, let's be honest - were the words I wrote in my email meant to be digs at Nellie's attitude and demeanor? Of course they were! Upon re-reading the email I realized that on one level of reading, they were merely facts, but on another level, they definitely had a barb or two attached to them. Which brings me to the point of this treatise:

I was behaving the way Nellie was, and I got called on the carpet for it. Call it God, the Universe, the Powers That Be, whatever - I was acting in a way that wasn't kind, loving, or encouraging, and that's not okay.  Didn't I just say that I wasn't up for hearing anything that wasn't kind, loving, or encouraging, and didn't I just turn around and do the opposite? Not only was I not doing things the way I knew I was supposed to be doing them, I was doing things that didn't align with who I want to be and what I want to put out into the world.

What goes around most certainly comes around, and while this was by no means an easy lesson to learn, it was sure a crystal clear one.  And one that I shared with both of my kids as a reminder of what can happen when we're not living up to our full potentials as people.

(Also a good reminder to all of us not to put into writing anything that you wouldn't say to someone's face.)

So Nellie and I worked everything out, we put it all behind us, and then when I saw her two days later the first words out of her mouth were not "good morning" or "hello" but "You shouldn't do this and that and the other thing and stop doing blah blah blah because it's wrong."  I didn't blink an eye. I simply said, "Oh. Well that's how things have been done in the past and I didn't know about these new directions." She replied nastily, repeating all of the things she just said, to which I smiled and said, "Okay," and walked away.  There's no changing Nellie Oleson.  But I saw her in a different light that morning.  I saw someone who is sad, friendly, lonely, and clinging with all of her might to her volunteer position of power that will end in 3 weeks when the band season is over.  Again, never an excuse to be rude, but now I can almost see things from her point of view and treat her with compassion rather than animosity.

Speaking of animosity, remember The Troll?  Turns out that The Troll's husband unexpectedly walked out on her and their kids just 3 weeks prior to her insulting me to my face.  Wow, huh? Not an excuse of course, but makes it easier for me to see where she's coming from and not take her comments personally.

I think we all need reminders that everyone walking around on this Earth goes through something difficult at one time or another.  We may never know what a person is dealing with and it's up to us to treat others the way we would want to be treated; even if they never treat us that way in return.  We can only control our own actions, and that means that we can make the choice every day, or even every minute, to put kindness, love, and encouragement out into the world, regardless of anything else.

You know what's kind of amazing? Right before I got Nellie's email I had been reading parts of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  I had just read his advice about apologizing. He said, "Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people not yourself."

Lesson learned.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Treating mean people with grace...most of the time.

I was exuberantly happy last night.  It was Homecoming night at my kids' high school.  My son was starting on the Varsity football team, my daughter was performing at half time with the marching band, the Denver Broncos had chosen the game as their "Game of the Week" so there were professional cheerleaders, the mascot, and championship trophies to take photos with.  It was an incredibly exciting evening for my family and me and I guess my unabashed and overflowing joy showed to those around me.

It was on this night, last night, once before the game and once after (which we won, 45-0 by the way - WHO-HOOOO!!!) that two different people chose to insult me directly to my face.  Both of these women are fellow band parents, both of these women are known as unhappy, miserable people whom everyone dislikes, and both of these women are people whom I normally would avoid at all costs.  Alas, I had to deal with them, both were extremely unkind to me and while I honestly tried to let it roll off of my back, this morning I woke up still thinking about it.

Now I know that there are many reasons why I should not let the careless words of 2 people insignificant to my life affect me whatsoever.  I am frequently counseling my kids on these kinds of situations, reminding them that these people have their own issues they are dealing with and their "stuff" has NOTHING to do with them (my kids).  Or saying things like, "Don't let it ruin your day, don't let their misery change you, just let it go, what do you care what these people have to say?" etc.

I am realizing today, that this is easier said than done.  Not that this is news - plenty of people have been unkind to me in my life, and I used to really let it affect me.  But as I've grown older I've realized how unhealthy and frankly, stupid it is to let other people have such power and control over my thoughts and well-being.

But blame the PMS, blame my back injury flaring up, blame whatever, today I'm having trouble taking my own advice.

So what do we do when mean people affect us, even when we know full well that they shouldn't?

Well, one thing I do is, I give them nicknames.  I have done this for many years.  I find that it helps to cut them down a peg or two in my mind and makes my mind turn to laughter instead of anger when having to deal with them.  Plus, if I need to vent about them, I can do so anonymously!

I have had nicknames for bosses, for acquaintances, for co-workers, for my husband's co-workers, and for people whom I had originally believed were my friends.  Sometimes it's a variation on a person's name, (Cindy becomes "Sin City") sometimes it's something colorful like "Tri-Dub" (for the Wicked Witch of the West), ands sometimes it's just blunt and to the point like "Cujo." The nickname either comes in a moment or it doesn't, and once it's there it sticks forever and cannot be changed.  That's usually how nicknames work and these are no exception.

Because I have to deal with these two particular joy suckers for the next five weeks they are joining my illustrious group of nicknamed ones. (otherwise I wouldn't bother - not worth the brain power) Woman #1 is now Nellie Oleson.  Remember the bully girl in the Little House on the Prairie books, who is mean and rude and hated by everyone? Perfect. Woman #2 is now The Troll.  It just fits her in every way.

Now some people would say that I shouldn't even be taking the time to speak about these people and that they're not worth the breath it takes to even talk about them.  That alone is giving them power over me and my life.  While that may be true, because I am in a situation where I'm going to have to interact with them, and where I'm most likely going to be insulted again multiple times, I have to do what I can to deal with it.

At these times I also think about Jackie Robinson.  While I realize that my situation is .0001% like his, I can take the lessons of his actions when dealing with mean, spiteful, truly hateful people.  He always held his head high and kept his eyes focused on his goals, regardless of the verbal assaults, the spitting on him, the refusals of service, and the staggering amounts of attempts to denigrate his personal character. He didn't ever let the bullies win, not even once.

There is an all-day band competition today which I'm chaperoning, which means that I will be in contact with these women for a good 15 hours or so. I have a choice - I can choose to hold on to what they said to me yesterday, carry it around in my heart, and be grumpy and bitter at what should be a fun and exciting experience with my daughter, OR, I can blow their words away from me like dandelion seeds and not even let them touch me.  I can let them carry hate alone in their heavy laden hearts instead of me taking it up with them.  Which is, I think, their main objective anyway.  When they see happiness they have to squelch it because they have no room for that in their lives.

I suppose I should feel sorry for them. But I don't. Why? Because no matter what is going on in your life you have the choice every day to spread kindness or spread cruelty.  You can wake up every morning grateful to be alive or disdainful to have to slog through another day.  Each one of us has that choice no matter what happened to us the day before or what is going to happen tomorrow.  Because, after all, life is short. (See previous post.)

I am making the choice today to not let the disparaging words of 2 people whom I barely know affect how I am going to live my life. I'm choosing light over darkness, forgiveness over anger, joy over sadness, and love over hate.  Easy to do? Not really. But getting easier every moment.

Nellie Oleson isn't going to win today. She didn't end up winning in the books either. What goes around most certainly comes around.  What you put out comes back to you according to the laws of the universe and I'm not interested in anything coming back to me that isn't positive or encouraging or loving at this point, thank you very much.

So what will YOU put out today?  One request - please don't put anything out there that might incline someone to give you a nickname...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Life Is Short

My brother-in-law lost his best friend Milo yesterday.  Suddenly and unexpectedly in a plane crash.  Milo was the pilot, and sitting next to him was his grandfather Hal, so somewhere out there is a man who lost both his son and his father in the same moment.  The son was 35, an honest, friendly, married businessman who played in his church band every Sunday morning. His grandfather was the owner of the plane, an 83-year-old distinguished Air Force veteran, and loving husband, father, and grandfather.

I knew the son only a bit - he played bass at one of my concerts in Oregon. I knew his father some, who played the piano at my husband's and my additional wedding ceremony also in Oregon.  The family was close with my husband's family and this is truly a devastating loss to an entire community.

Even though I did not know these men well, this seemingly senseless surprise is hitting me strongly.  Over the summer two friends of ours lost dear friends unexpectedly, and over the past year, two other friends lost parents suddenly and without warning.  While at times this type of thing is often preferable to pre-death sickness, suffering, and pain, the jarring nature of it leaves the surviving loved ones in shock and disbelief, often without the comforting closure of a goodbye. No matter how you look at it though, it throws into sharp relief a very simple and true concept:

Life is short.

No matter when a person dies, to that person, it's too soon. There are always more things to be done, more experiences to have, more breaths to breathe.  We always think that there will be more time to accomplish those goals or have our dreams realized, but we also always know that the day will come when, quite simply, there isn't.

I would encourage you, and all of us, to pursue those dreams, those goals, and those wishes, before it is too late.  However you can.  Stop waiting for the right time or the right moment and stop making excuses for why you can't. If you're an accountant but you've always wanted to spend your time throwing pots, sign up for a class and DO IT!  You may not be able to support yourself at first, but why not take the first steps toward doing what you love?  If your dream is to be a veterinarian but can't afford the tuition or the time, volunteer at an animal shelter to fuel that passion for working with animals while you save up and fill out scholarship applications.  If you want to get married or have a serious relationship, PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE! Yes, you risk getting your heart broken, but you also risk falling in love and finding the partner you've always yearned for.  Make the time to do the things you love and stop wasting time wishing your life away.

The people who are no longer walking the Earth had more dreams to pursue. Every single one of them. But they ran out of time, way before they were planning to.

In the words of Steve Jobs, who died at 56, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." It doesn't matter what was expected of you or if you follow some plan that someone else laid out for you long ago.   Your life is your own and it is UP TO YOU to make the absolute most of it you can. You cannot blame anyone else for the reasons why you haven't made your life the wonderful, spectacular, tremendous, and fulfilling one that you want it to be. And the time to do it is NOW.

Every morning when we wake up we have a choice.  We can make it a good day, or we can make it a bad day.  Or we can make it a mediocre day.  Our attitudes and our thoughts make up our reality, and no matter what outside forces act upon us at any given time, we always have the choice to control how we think about them.

This morning when I tore off yesterday's page of my desk calendar this phrase was staring at me:

"Don't ever save anything for a special occasion.  Being alive is the special occasion."


Life is short.  So go and live it while you can.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Differing Definitions of Success

My daughter is applying to colleges this Fall.  She and her friends have had many conversations about grades, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, etc. and they always come back to the phrase, "It will look good on my college application."

She has one friend who is a little nutty with regard to the prospect of college.  Ever since we met her in middle school, her mantra has been "I can't get anything lower than an A. If I get a B I won't get into a good college which means I won't be able to get into a good graduate school which means I won't be able to get a good job which means I'm going to be homeless."  I'm not kidding.

We also knew people where we used to live who actually embodied the stereotype of desperately needing to get their kids into the best preschool so that they could go to the best private school so that they could get into the best college so that they would ultimately become successful. I don't know what happened to those people's kids, but I'm guessing that some of them veered off of the dictated path to pursue their own, not-as-lofty goals, as kids will do.

I wonder, what were those parents' definitions of success? If I had to make a guess I would say a high-profile career, with an extremely high salary, a large home, a luxury car, and possibly even private workers to help with mundane things like cooking, cleaning, and tending to the perfect little offspring, who would end up on the same path to success.  But what IS success, really?

The definition depends on where you are in your life age-wise, where you live in the world, what you are exposed to, and whatever situation you are currently in. Most of all though, I think it rides on how you were raised to view success.  For example:

Success to the mother in rural Rwanda means finding clean water for her family to drink.  Literally.
Success to the young girl in Mexico means getting to stay in school another day instead of being sold to a human trafficker.
Success to the mother in the U.S. with the premature infant in the NICU means another ounce gained and another day closer to bringing her baby home.
Success to young man in an Middle Eastern terrorist camp means a bomb plan carried out and massive destruction shown on the news.
Success to the toddler anywhere is convincing the parents to serve ice cream for dinner.
Success to the unemployed actor means securing the part that will give him work for the next six months.
Success to the AA member means fighting the cravings for another 24 hours.
Success to the non-profit owner means getting the grant that will keep the organization running for another year.
Success to the paraplegic means getting the wheelchair up the ramp and through the door.
Success to the dieter means the scale reads lower than it did yesterday.
Success to the jigsaw puzzle doer means getting the last piece in.
Success to the clinically depressed means pulling back the covers and getting out of bed.
Success to the skydiver means a safe landing.
Success to the person on his/her deathbed is looking back with no regrets.

What does true success mean to you? Really.  Not someone else's definition. Not what was demonstrated to you on television or on social media of what real success is.  Not what society deems successful by some random standards. What is your heart's, your mind's, your soul's definition of success?

Here's what the dictionary says:
Success: The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts of endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.

Nowhere in that definition does it mention money or other material things.  Nor does it mention chasing dreams that someone else laid out for you. Nor does it say that the accomplishment has to be massive or profound or world-changing. When you figure out what success means to you then strive for that above all else.  If it's a high-powered job with a huge salary, then good for you. If it's working in an underdeveloped country with all of your possessions in a backpack, good for you too.  If it's something else in-between, or if it changes throughout your life, good for you.  As long as it's actually good for you.

Ultimately I believe that true success equals happiness, and if you're truly happy, then you are successful. No matter where you went to college or what your next bonus check looks like. More importantly, no matter what anyone else thinks. We all have known plenty of people who were "successful" on the outside but terribly unhappy on the inside. Which is more important to you?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Who in the world is 100% content? The answer may surprise you...

I've been thinking a lot about appearances lately - owing to the fact that I'm on a cleanse/diet to shed pounds for an upcoming photo shoot, and also because my daughter and I have been watching past episodes America's Next Top Model (and enjoying every mindless moment of it!)

If you've ever seen those "100 years of fashion in 2 minutes" videos, or watched a period drama, it's fascinating to see how the appearance norm has changed through the years, often even decade by decade.  The Donna Reed look of the perfectly put together housewife with an updo vacuuming in her pearls from the 1950s is a drastic departure from the braless, straight hair, bell-bottom-pantsuit -wearing mother a mere 10 years later.

Which just goes to show, what's fashionable now, may not be fashionable later...with the exception of one thing it seems.  Thinness.

Thinness has always been the fashionable look for women, even back in the days of Miss Scarlett having her Mammy tug as hard as possible on her corset strings.  With the exception of the 16th century painter Peter Paul Rubens (who, in my opinion, had a wonderful appreciation of a woman's natural body) it has always seemed like for women, the thinner you are, the prettier you are, which translates to, the better you are.

While this clearly has been the ideal in America for centuries, I believe our great-grandparents worried less about it.  One reason is because they simply didn't have the abundance of food that we have now and it was less of an issue.  In the early 1900s and through the wars where food was rationed, people worried more about how much they would have to tighten their belts, not about having to bore extra holes.

The other reason, I believe, is because they were not bombarded daily by television, magazines, and the internet showing what a woman was "supposed to" look like.  They were not constantly shown what some (predominantly) male advertisers in some room somewhere had decided was the "look" of the time. While anorexia has been around for hundreds of years, it did not gain huge popularity in America until the mid-60s when someone decided that the skeletal model Twiggy (also nicknamed "Sticks" because she was so thin) was to be the fashion icon of the era.  The disease took off again in the early 1990s when a new generation was exposed to the waif model Kate Moss, whose bony, heroin chic appearance was deemed the preferred look of the day.

We don't know who makes these decisions behind closed doors and we don't know exactly who propagates them, but the photos and advertising campaigns are everywhere and can't be escaped.


Unless you choose to escape yourself from them.

Eighteen years ago I had the opportunity to hear Hillary Clinton speak at an anti-bullying event for inner-city teenagers in Washington D.C.  One thing she said really resonated with me and has stuck with me to this day.  She was talking about how her grandparents had divorced when her mother was young and her mother and siblings had a difficult life trying to make ends meet.  They had to work hard, but they were not prone to bemoaning their situation or complaining about their lives. Why? Because this was just the way things were, everybody had it hard during the Depression, and there was no television showing them what a perfect family was supposed to look like.  She talked about how they didn't have Leave It To Beaver, or My Three Sons, or Father Knows Best in their faces every week showing them what these families had that they themselves didn't.  Truthfully, no one back then had a home like that because of the times, and most importantly because it was fake. But fake or not, once television showed people what they were supposed to look like and do on a daily basis, they tried to copy it.

Why is it that we are so anxious to jump on the bandwagons of other people's ideas of outward appearance and success and not decide about what's right for us from the inside out?

Another thing that has remained with me for many years is this: Oprah did an interview with an Amish family, who lived on the food they grew on their farm, made their own simple clothing, and had no technology in their lives - no telephones, no television, no computers, etc.  They lived peacefully in their community, whose members all shared the same values and way of life.  Oprah asked the mother, how content are you with your life, she replied, "100%."  Oprah was taken aback. "One hundred percent??" she asked.  "100%" the mother answered again. Assuming that what this woman said was true (and not just what she said for the camera) it was kind of staggering.  How could she have 100% contentment without the conveniences of a car, or phone, or computer, television, washing machine, refrigerator, and the hundreds of other things that we use every day that make our lives easier and supposedly more productive?  But maybe she was so content largely because she didn't have those things. No car payments or cable bills. No machines to break down and then have to have fixed. No distractions from family togetherness or getting things done.  Getting to experience the fulfillment and satisfaction of a successful food crop or canning process.

Not to mention, no In Style or Glamour magazine cover telling her exactly what she is supposed to look like! No "study" published and broadcast online about what a woman's measurements should be at a certain age.  No contrived television sitcom showing her how a family is supposed to act or appear to be.  If you go through your life with very limited outside influences, you're able to trust your own instincts about what's right for you and the people around you. What a beautiful and freeing way to live a life.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a fan of the BBC and I'm extremely grateful that I don't have to wash everyone's clothes by hand. But there's something to be said for listening to one's own heart and mind, instead of constantly being influenced by what someone else thinks is right or best for you.  There's something joyful and comforting about turning off the television and sharing time with your family without artificially designed distractions.  There's something very fulfilling about working toward our own goals and aspirations regardless of what society deems as "successful" for this era.  And there is something blessedly freeing about being comfortable in one's own body, whatever that body looks like, weighs, or how it looks in the latest trendy fashions.

I think it's time we all took a look at the outside influences in our lives and decided whether they are doing us harm or good.  Whether they are from social media, inconsiderate family members, non-supportive friends - we have the choice every day to pay attention to those influences and take them - or not take them - to heart.  Remember when the media purported that smoking wasn't dangerous to people's health?  Or that egg yolks would kill you? Or that car seat belts were optional?

You can't believe everything you read. Or see. Or hear. So don't.  The only thing you can trust is yourself.  Your gut always knows what right. Sometimes it's hard to hear it among all of the outside noise but you've got to try.

They say Rome wasn't built in a day. But guess what? An Amish barn can be.

Why? Because no one's checking their phones. Or fixing their hair. Or rushing off to the gym.  (I'm guessing the barn raising itself is plenty of exercise!)

I wonder how content we could all be if we listened to ourselves instead of everyone else? Do you think you could get to 100%? I know that's what I'm striving for. As the Amish would say, "The way some people look for faults, you'd think there's a reward."

P.S. The Amish also say, "A round wife and a full barn are the signs of good success." Amen to that! :)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Genetics - curse or blessing?

Disclaimer - this one is a little dark.  Feel free to skip if you want and read other, happier, more uplifting ones. 

I recently saw a photograph of the 61 year old model Christie Brinkley.  She honestly looks about the same as she did when she was 25.  Someone asked her what she attributed her incredibly youthful appearance to and she answered, "Genes, and a great dermatologist!"

"Great answer!" I thought. Way to give credit where credit is due.  We don't think about it often, but our genes play such a huge role in our lives - from our appearance, to our disposition, to our personality, and even our ways of thinking.  Genes control so much that we think is actually in our control, and it's a big relief to realize that instead of fighting against what nature intended, we can embrace the genetic hand we were dealt the moment we were created. Because, (as much as we might want it to sometimes) it's not going to change.

This is a topic that can take weeks and years to discuss, but for now I'm going to focus on one area in particular.  Looks - in particular, a person's genetically predisposed natural weight.

I have struggled with my weight my entire life. And by struggled with I mean obsessed over, worked on, thought about constantly, and mostly have felt a great deal of shame over.  The first time I can remember feeling badly about my body was around age 5, and it's been non-stop since then, so that's 2 score, 4 decades, or approximately 14,600 days of constant, never-ending belittling and loathing directed toward myself and my body.  I can count on one hand the times in my life that I have felt truly beautiful, and I'm up to the several millions that I have felt ugly and worthless because of my weight.

Here's the kicker though: I have never been obese. I have never had to shop at a speciality store for fuller-figured women.  I have been what you might call overweight, plump, chunky, and right after my pregnancies I was definitely inching toward those sizes with the capital Xs in them, but I've never been unable to fit into an airplane seat or had to worry about a seat belt closing over me.

Nevertheless, I was led to believe, from a very young age and from many outside sources, that one could never be too rich or too thin.  Literally.  One pound, make that one ounce over rail skinny was unacceptable, and made a person unworthy, regardless of what other talents or skills they might possess.  I couldn't enjoy the pool or the beach fully because my unacceptable body was on display.  I couldn't feel 100% comfortable performing in front of thousands of people because I thought they would all be thinking "What is that fat and ugly singer doing up there? Nice voice, but she doesn't deserve the spotlight." It's a fact that slenderness is a commodity in America, there have been many marginally talented people who have become successful primarily because they look exactly like a Barbie doll.

I wonder how many people in the world are actually genetically born to have a body like that? I have learned, after all of these years of dieting and exercising, that left to its own devices, my genetics would naturally have my body thicker and stronger (and yes, much hairier too!) than the models and actresses that we see on the screens today.  Why?  Well, quite simply because my ancestry on both sides is Russian. Not the petite, blond, waif-like Russians that we see ice skating and doing gymnastics; no, my people clearly must have come from somewhere cold. Really really cold. With evolution making them hang onto every ounce of fat to ensure survival through the Russian Winters!

For a long time I felt cursed by those genetics. Why couldn't I have been blessed with a high metabolism and smaller bone structure? Why weren't "Tiny Stomach and Small Thighs" on the list along with "Brown Eyes and 5 foot 6?" Would it have been so difficult to get "Perpetual Thinness" on my spin of the genetic wheel?

For....well, forever really, I have been envious of women who won that jackpot.  The ones who can eat whatever they want and not gain any weight. The ones who actually have trouble keeping weight on! (Can you imagine?) I have thought for my entire life that that was the perfect genetic attribute to have.  Because honestly, what could be better?

Then recently I started thinking about the people I have known who are actually like that.  Skinny women with sky high metabolisms, that allow them the freedom of never having to count calories or even consider for one moment what's going into their mouths and where it will eventually end up.  Several come to mind.  One that I can think of lost her father and only sibling at very young ages and has never really recovered from those early losses.  Another has serious learning disabilities and was unable to pursue her dream career because of them.  Another lost both of her parents to debilitating diseases and worries about those genetics potentially shortening her own life.  Yet another is a selfish, inconsiderate, uncaring person who is raising selfish, mean, and inconsiderate kids.

The list goes on and on.  Which got me thinking - which of of my genetic traits would I trade if I could just have a high metabolism?  Hmmm....would I trade the intelligence that made me valedictorian and graduate college in 3 years? No way!  Would I trade my singing voice or musical ability that has not only brought me great fulfillment but has also touched other people in many incredible, inspiring ways? Not a chance. Would I trade my capacity for compassion, love, understanding, and empathy that has made me a good parent?  Never in a million years!

Again, the list goes on and on.  And yes, while my body genetically loves to hold onto excess fat like a squirrel stores nuts for the winter, it is also genetically strong, healthy, and everything is in the right place.  It's not prone to being weak or sickly, it recovers every time it gets hurt, and quite simply, it allows me to get up every day and breathe and move and do what I'm meant to do on this Earth.  It's about time that I was grateful for THOSE genes, and not continually focused on the ones that I had considered a curse.

I also have to remember, those extra pounds weren't a curse for my great-great-great-grandparents.  They allowed them to survive, which allowed their children to survive, which eventually led to me being here.  Without those survival genes, there's a good chance I wouldn't even exist!

A different and interesting way of looking at things, don't you think?

But here's the best thing about it all.  I can lose weight when and if I choose to. True, it's harder for me to shed pounds because of my genetics, but guess what? You can't teach musical ability to someone who doesn't naturally have it. Innate intelligence can't be taught either.  You also can't teach someone to be naturally compassionate - you're born with that or you're not.  I am infinitely glad of the blessings of the genetics I have been given, all of which are ultimately more important than how many fat cells I have.

Do I still struggle with body dysmorphic disorder? Unfortunately yes.  But every time I look in the mirror I can remind myself, I'm more than what society says I am.  I'm more than the number on the scale.  Most importantly, I'm enough just exactly as I am today no matter what the tag inside my jeans says.

We can't choose the genetic cards we're dealt, but we CAN choose to make the most of the cards we end up with.  As for me, I'm sticking with the hand I have and going all in.  Do you know what comes when we do that?  Jackpot!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Birthday Eve Musings 2015

For the life of me, I don't know why people are reluctant to reveal their age.  I've been trying to figure it out, and I guess it's because we live in a youth-obsessed culture who has taught us that our value lies in our gray hairs being dyed, our wrinkles being Botoxed out, and in everything staying tucked up and firmly where it started out.

Personally I am over the moon to be turning 45 tomorrow.  When I was younger, 45 seemed "so old," but after my health scare last year (and the continuing issues from that) I couldn't be happier or more grateful. And with all of the attention on the British royal baby's impending arrival I'm reminded that I'm 9 years and counting on what Princess Diana got.

One of my mother's friends recently turned 70 and she was "freaking out" about it.  That got me thinking: why do people get so upset about turning older? Is it because they wish they would have accomplished more? Is it because they thought their lives would have been different by this point? Or is it because they simply can't believe so much time has passed by so quickly?

I believe that the main reason people don't feel happy or appreciative as they get older is because of one reason: regrets.  They regret that they haven't reached certain life goals and/or they haven't been 100% true to themselves along the way.  But often times these people are focusing on goals they made a long time ago, that may or may not have anything to do with the life paths they are on now.  So many of us are living in the past, bemoaning unfulfilled dreams and wishing we had made different decisions, without ever looking at the beautiful, interesting, exciting OTHER things that we have accomplished that have led us to the incredible place where we are now.  Without even realizing it, we turned our stumbling blocks into stepping stones and our mistakes into turn signals, and ended up in places of potential and opportunity along the way.   I think that too often we lose sight of what we HAVE accomplished while we're too busy focusing on what we haven't.

So to that, looking forward, here are 4 to 5 things that I am planning to accomplish in the coming year: (It was going to be 45, but I don't have that kind of time...)

1... and this one is intentionally Number One: Take care of myself.  Whatever that means day to day. If one day it means exercising and working up a good sweat to get rid of stress, then that's what I'll do. If one day it means taking the kids to school and coming home and going back to bed, then that's what's going on the agenda.  And not feeling guilty about doing that on those days. As I keep saying, my health must be my #1 priority, or I won't be able to do the rest of the things on my list!

2. Trust my gut. It is always right. About people, about work, about relationships, about creative endeavors, about what to say, what not to say, about every decision I make in my life, big or small.  I just have to remember to listen to it.

3. Stop worrying if/when the other shoe is going to drop.  I have finally learned that if it's going to drop it's going to drop, and my worrying about it isn't going to make one bit of difference. I can't will something to happen or not happen, no matter how hard I grit my teeth and bang my head against a wall trying.

4. Continue to let go of what isn't working for me, and embrace what nurtures, uplifts, and supports me. This goes for people (this definitely goes for people), practices, habits, ways of doing things, and it can allow me to question my old and worn out concepts of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." I'm looking forward to extending this principle into daily, seemingly trivial things like clothing, surroundings, entertainment, hobbies, and spare time activities.  Above all though, it has to translate into my time. (more on this in a later post)

5. Celebrate celebrate celebrate! Everything!  Over the past few weeks I have had several people say these same words to me: "I want to live in your house."  Why?  It's not because my closets are organized or because the knickknacks are dusted, believe me.  It's because we make it a point to celebrate and infuse joy into just about everything we do.  It doesn't take a lot of effort to consciously choose the happy route, and once you start, it just becomes the way things are.  We make the time to appreciate and encourage each other, to lift one another up, and we find the most joy in making each other laugh.  And we do laugh. A lot.  And I am very grateful for that.

I was led to believe that the 40s are an empowering experience for women because that's when we start to figure out who we are and begin to care less about what other people think.  I have found this to be abundantly and blessedly true. I'm now halfway in,  and  I definitely feel that along with the gray hair, the quiet voice inside that knows what's best for us gets louder and stronger, and it begins to overtake the other voices that we have heard throughout our lives telling us repeatedly that we're not good enough or pretty enough or thin enough or enough enough.

To that I say, ENOUGH!  Life is a journey that is to be explored and enjoyed as fully and as exuberantly as possible.  It is too short to be lived worrying about what might have been or what we could have done differently.  What we have is now and it us up to each one of us to determine our own happiness.  No one else can do that for us - it has to come from within us, and it means something different to each person.  Your happiness now may look completely different from what you thought it would look like five, ten, or twenty years ago. But who cares? What matters is that you are alive and have the gift of living a life that can be as happy and fulfilling as you want it to be. I can't help but imagine that Princess Diana would agree.

Here's to a year of self-care, gut-trusting, less worrying, more letting go, and even more celebrating and laughter.  To quote Jim Henson, who left the world at the age of 53, "Life is meant to be fun, joyous, and fulfilling. It's a good life. Enjoy it."

Will do Jim. Will do.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Grumbles Into Gratitude

While I am not usually one to skip a meal (for any reason, believe me) the other day, due to unexpected circumstances and overall craziness I ended up not eating dinner. In fact, I hadn't eaten since around noon and at about 4:00 in the morning the next day my stomach woke me up with some loud grumbles.  I was exhausted so I said to it, "Quiet! I'm ignoring you and going back to sleep!"

Well, my stomach had other ideas, and it decided to get louder and grumblier until after about an hour I said, "All right, FINE! I'll get something to eat!"  I grouchily got up, went as quietly as I could downstairs and opened the refrigerator door, sighing loudly in my ire.

As I stood there, a person came to mind.  She's a friend from long ago, whom I rarely ever see, but I suddenly remembered her recent posts about her current gratitude journal.  She is striving to write down 1,000 items she's thankful for per month, which is approximately 33 per day.  She regularly works with orphan children in Rwanda and has an amazing perspective on gratitude after living among these beautiful kids who not only have no living relatives, but also no things that we tend to take for granted like forks, shoes, showers, bed linens, and in some cases, uses of arms or legs.

I'm so glad that she popped into my head because as I was standing there barefoot on my kitchen floor, in front of my full refrigerator, I immediately stopped grumbling.  I forgot how tired I was, I forgot about my stomach, I forgot about all of the things I had to do within the next few hours and I was instantly filled with gratitude for everything around me. I thought about those kids in Africa, I thought about the people in our own country who live in poverty, and I just started saying thank you:

Thank you that we have a refrigerator full of food for when I, or someone in my family is hungry.
Thank you that we have heat in our home on cold days, so much that I'm able to go barefoot.
Thank you that we have access to nutritious things like fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, clean water, and milk.
Thank you that we have easy access to doctors and medicines to help us heal when we're not well.
Thank you that we have an oven to cook in, utensils to eat with, chairs to sit in, clean beds to sleep in, rooms for our children, clean warm clothes to wear, cars to drive.... it went on and on and on for quite a while.

When I finished with the material things, I moved on to things like:
Thank you that we have strength to walk and live our daily lives.
Thank you that we have healthy lungs to breathe and that all of our limbs work.
Thank that we have brains and bones and organs that work normally.
Thank you that we each have our own unique talents and skills that we bring to the world.
Thank you that we are able to use those skills to help make the world a better place.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you....

By the time I finished with my thank yous I wasn't hungry anymore, I wasn't tired anymore, and I certainly wasn't grumpy anymore.  Gratitude can be such a powerful thing and yet so often I, and we all, take things like our health, our food, and the things that make our lives easier and more beautiful for granted.  While sometimes it's hard to imagine not having simple things like forks or towels or socks, so many people don't have them, and that's what I kept thinking about in those wee hours of the morning.

Being grateful - for anything and everything - makes us each better people, and as the saying goes, If you are happy with what you have, you'll find you have plenty to be happy about. 

It's not always easy to turn your grumbles into gratitude, but I'm certainly going to try.  I'll start by saying thank you to YOU, for taking your time to read this. Believe me when I say I am very grateful.

To Lent, or Not To Lent...

Although we are not Catholic, for the past few years my family and I have been observing the ritual of Lent, giving up something for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Why on earth would we subject ourselves to this if we didn't have to, you ask? That's a good question.

We started, and have kept on doing it for several reasons. One reason is, it's a good way to practice self-denial because it has a start date and an ending date.  It's a great way to jump start that diet we've been planning on or finally resolve to omit that treat that we just can't resist for a short time, and that often  leads to long lasting results.

In the past years I've given up soda, sweets, soda again, and then there was that fateful year that my teenage son and I decided to give up bread, gluten, wheat, and anything leavened.  This took us right into Passover, which we also observe, which nearly killed us.

(Which brings me to an important aside:  I always thought that there were 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Well, last year, when we were mourning our breadless-ness, we actually counted the days, and found that there were actually 46 days in between.  That's 6 extra days we had been observing for years without even realizing it!  After consulting with some Catholic friends they let us in on the loopholes that we were previously unaware of. According to them, to make it 40 days you can:

1. Skip Sundays.
2. End on Palm Sunday rather than on Easter Sunday.
3. Start a week later than Ash Wednesday and end on Easter Sunday.
4. Have 6 "cheat days" within the 46 so that you end up with 40.

These may or may not be in line with strict practicing Catholics and I'm not saying that any of these are right or wrong.  I also do not know how or why the original concept of omitting foods or other things for Lent came about. I know it goes way back and most likely had a practical reason for beginning. But I digress...)

I also learned that instead of giving up something, one can choose to add something good for this collective period of time. Some people pledge to exercise every day, some vow to say something kind to at least one person a day, some use it as a way to finally start a regimen or project that they have been putting off.

Whatever a person decides to do, whether it's giving something up or adding something in, I realized that it's the intention behind it that matters.  Why a person chooses to do it, and then decides to stick with it, is more important than counting up the days or making sure to take 6 days off so it's "fair."

To that, if we're doing it with the right intention, what does it matter how many days there are?

I do believe that teaching children to follow rituals without always knowing why is important to build strong habits and observances.  But as we get older I think it's okay, and even beneficial, to take a look at the things we do blindly, just because we've always done them, and seek a deeper meaning from them.

While Lent was not one of the deprivation customs I observed growing up, (there were others) I have enjoyed participating in it with my family because it's another way we can support and encourage each other.  Having sympathy for my son who chose to not eat the doughnuts someone brought to school.  Commiserating with my daughter as we drank water with our pizza instead of soda.  It helps us to bond as a family, especially as we have the discussions leading up to Lent, talking about what each of us is going to give up this year and, more importantly, WHY.

The impetus for us starting a few years ago was something that my husband had heard about called 40 Days of Faith.  People who typically do not observe Lent take this holy time to omit or add things to their lives as a show of faith and to connect more spiritually with their faith, whatever it may be.  It has been transformative for a lot of people, as taking that small time every day in the midst of their craziness, to connect with their spiritual side makes a big difference in their daily lives. It makes them more mindful overall, and couldn't we all use more of that these days?

When I have shared with friends our practice of observing Lent in our own way, I've been met with confusion and negative judgement.  People cannot understand why we would voluntarily choose to do this, especially when we have no religious connection to it. When I've tried to explain our reasoning, they just dismiss us as being foolish or weird.  Maybe next year for Lent they should give up being so judgmental, huh?

So, what am I giving up this year? Nothing food-wise. (Last year I started with an 11 day cleanse, which went right into Lent, which went right into Passover  - as far as I'm concerned, that was enough for this year too!) Instead I have decided to abstain from my bad habit of throwing my clothes on the floor at the end of the day.  A week and a half in and I can tell you that my closet floor has never been cleaner.  They say that it takes 21 days to build a habit that sticks and since I'll have double that I'm optimistic that this will become a life-long change.  What's great is, every time I hang something back up or throw it down the laundry chute I'm reminded that bad habits can change, people can make positive changes in their lives, and on a grander scale, it reminds me that I have the choice every single day to look at things from a healthy perspective.

For our Lent, we're not depriving ourselves because we're bad and deserve to be punished, we're consciously abstaining from things because that practice makes us better.  For 40 days and beyond.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking Back...

December 31, 2014

"Never look back unless you are planning to go that way." -Henry David Thoreau

That is a precept that I believe in strongly and try to follow the best I can. Today, however, as an old year ends, I'm taking a look back at what I learned over what was a one of my more edifying years:

1. "Joie de Vivre" - Defintion: "Exuberant enjoyment of life."

My family and I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Europe this past summer, and the highlight of the trip was spending a day with the nicest, most gracious family we have ever met. (Shout out to John Hochart and family!) As we began our evening tour of the beautiful town Nemours, we walked past a garage with the door open. Inside the garage was a large table, and around it were seated 8 or 10 people, all of whom were eating, laughing, and talking merrily.  They were noisy, they were happy, and they were having a fabulous time.  More than two hours later, as we came back that way, even before we got to that door, we heard snatches of song and uproarious laughter.  Sure enough, as we passed by, the people were still at their table, eating, drinking, and sharing a wonderful time together. We waved at them and they waved back, and some raised their glasses and shouted something gleeful at us. We couldn't help smiling and marveling at the fact that they were still going.

While I didn't get a good look into the garage, I can tell you that there was no Martha Stewart inspired centerpiece in the middle of the table, and the dishes and glasses weren't perfectly matched sets. No one was dressed up, it wasn't a special occasion, it was simply Tuesday evening dinner.  No one was on a cell phone, no one was rushing off to soccer practice, and no one seemed to be worrying about what was to come tomorrow. Everyone was just in the moment, enjoying good food and drink, and reveling in the company of one another. It almost felt miraculous, seeing the people in this 11th century town who are able to capture what is truly important, and who savor the joy that life can bring on a daily basis. Merci to John and those people in Nemours for showing us true joie de vivre, and for what was a life-changing moment for all of us.

2. "Keep people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you, and make you happy. If you have people who do none of the above, let them go." -Unknown

Ah yes, a lesson that I keep having to learn the hard way. This year in particular was a doozy in this category.  As the new year approaches I find myself worn out from expending so much time, energy, and resources - both physical and emotional - on people who only know how to take, and take advantage. No more. I plan to look back next New Year's Eve refreshed from a year of taking care of myself first, and having used my remaining energy on those who do the above.

3. "As long as you have your health, everything else is gravy." - My Mother

This year taught me that this is incredibly, indelibly true. After 3 MRIs, 1 x-ray, 7 rounds of blood work, 4 trips to the neurologist, consults with an allergist, a nutritionist, a rheumatologist, an oncologist, a pain specialist, and a spine specialist, 2 cortisone shots, several visits to my GP, and many many trips to the pharmacist, I do not plan on taking my health for granted again. Thankfully I am fine overall, but let's just say that I am very glad and grateful to be leaving the last four months behind me.

4. "A day without laughter is a day wasted."  - Charlie Chaplin

Yesterday my kids and I were stuck in an airport with a flight delay. As we are wont to do, we made the most of our time together by having fun, and at one point we were laughing and carrying on so much that the person next to us remarked, "You guys are so entertaining you should have your own TV show!"  Reminded me of that time at the DMV (see previous post).  Every day might not be good but there is something good to be found in every day. Laugh, laugh, laugh. Every day.

5. "No more Spanx." - Me

Quick story: One night this past year my husband and I went to a show downtown and then to dinner afterward.  I was wearing a pretty dress and underneath I was wearing one of those top-to-bottom spandex numbers that I call a "sucker-inner." It was bra, underwear, and strong girdle combined.  I made it through the show all right, but when we got to the restaurant I was so uncomfortable I was having trouble drawing a deep breath. I looked at the menu and I thought to myself, "How am I going to be able to eat anything, much less enjoy the rest of this evening?" I excused myself to the ladies room, which was thankfully a onesie. I peeled off my inner chain mail to my thighs, sat down, and wondered what I was going to do, since I did not have any other underwear with me. At that very moment, there was a knock at the door. Filled with panic I shouted, "Just a minute!" and made a split second decision. Off came the sucker-inner in its entirety - my skin, diaphragm, and other internal organs silently thanked me - I stuffed it into my purse and went Commando for the rest of the night. True, it was a little chilly walking to the car, but I held my head up high and was grateful for the lack of air vents on that street.  Freedom from the Spanx! Forever more.

As 2014 draws to a close I am extremely grateful for the beautiful and love-filled times shared with my family, very grateful for my health, and abundantly grateful for supportive and caring friendships. In 2015 I plan to remember the lessons I learned above, and remain excited and open to what lies ahead. I wish you moments of true joie de vivre, encouraging people surrounding you, excellent health, much much laughter, and the freedom that comes with acceptance and love of the beautiful person that is YOU.  There is only one you in the world and you come with all of the gifts and talents that are unique to you alone.  I hope that in the coming year you use them to bless others and to help make your own dreams come true.

Remember, there is no key to happiness, the door is always open! Happy New Year!!