Monday, October 25, 2010

Blog theThirtieth

So it's Day 43 of my 30-Day Challenge. So much for the best of intentions; and I guess Morgan Spurlock's job is safe for now...

But here we are nonetheless, at Blog #30. When I started this little assignment for myself, the High Holidays were just drawing to a close and I was still sort of half thinking about packing some stuff for the move that I almost refused to believe was real until it actually happened.

Now we've been in the new house for nearly four weeks, and while there are still plenty of boxes piled up in the dining room and office, it is slowly starting to feel like home. We've found our new favorite pizza place, fixed a few leaks, and are beginning to check more things off the list each week than we add to it (barely, but still).

I've also realized lately that making plans to leave the house, see friends, and have evenings out are not things that can wait until everything is perfect in the house. First of all, things will never be perfect; and secondly, even when things are a bit chaotic, life has to go on. I do feel a little smattering of guilt when we venture out to do something fun, knowing that there are countless projects piled up waiting for me here. But then I think -- who cares? My home is not going to be featured in Better Homes & Gardens anytime soon, so why worry about it? [PS - if you come to visit anytime soon, you may be asked to unpack a box while you're here. You may also have to bring your own chair.]

I do think that attempting to blog on a daily basis has been really good for me discipline-wise, and reminded me that it really does pay off to exercise the writing muscle even when I don't feel like it, or I'm not sure I have anything to say. It's also been great to hear so many comments (on- and off-line) about the things I've written, and to receive so much encouragement.

I plan to keep blogging frequently, and maybe also to focus some of that energy toward other types of writing as well. I'd still love suggestions and feedback from those of you who enjoy the blog; so keep that coming. A couple of you have made suggestions already that are in the hopper, waiting for me to wrap my slow brain around them and come up with some sort of Mandafied take on them.

Reading is another big thing on my to-do list moving forward. I firmly believe that you have to be a good reader to be a good writer, but I don't always take the time to do it. I've had some great recommendations recently for both books and blogs, but I'd love any additional thoughts you guys have. Inspiration is never a bad thing....

Anyway, big thanks to everyone who's followed along with my little experiment; and I'd love to hear how your life experiments are going, too!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Fantastic Fall Day

Nothing deep to report today, just relaxing at the end of a lovely fall day. The weather was perfect today, and we drove to North Georgia to see the beautiful leaves and take MLM to a pumpkin patch. A stop at Greenwood's in Roswell for some home-cooking out on the porch, and a nap on the couch during football, and our day was pretty much perfect.

Today was one of those days that I always missed when I didn't live in Georgia, cool and crisp with spectacular colors everywhere, blowing in the breeze. I loved so much about Austin, and still miss it often; but there's no noticeable change of seasons in the mild Central Texas weather -- it pretty much goes overnight from 120 degrees and dry to the three weeks of chilly rain known as 'winter.' The trees native to the Austin area don't really change colors as they do here, and I always longed for these autumn days around this time of year.

A nice drive in a beautiful place always brings back memories of the other places I've been (there have been many -- I'm very fortunate); and gets me thinking about the list of future destinations I keep filed away in the back of my mental filing cabinet. It's sort of like eating a delicious meal and reminiscing about other great meals at the same time. What? No? Just me? Anyway....

A few months ago, DH and I decided that one of our joint goals for our family is to try and visit all 58 National Parks and 100 National Monuments in the U.S. I'm pretty excited about the idea of exploring as a family some of the places we've been separately in the past; and going to new places, too. We're also toying with plans for some international travel; but since that will require lots more money and planning (especially for MLM), it's not really in list form. But it's fun to dream.

Between the beautiful leaves, the winding road, and a sweet baby asleep in the backseat (or giggling for no reason, when awake), today's little trip went a long way to lessening all the stress of moving and lightening the weight of my seemingly endless to-do list. At least for a while....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to React When I Refer to Myself as a "Fat Girl"

You wouldn't believe how uncomfortable it makes people. Especially skinny people.

We'll be together in some social situation, talking about whatever (often it's food or dieting or fitness), and I will make a reference to myself as a fat girl. I often do this in an outrageously self-applauding way. For example when someone compliments me on a great home-cooked meal, I'll say "If you want to know about good food, just ask a fat girl." Or when someone congratulates me on accomplishing something challenging in the fitness arena (like my loooong walk for breast cancer in June), and I'll shrug with affected modesty and say, "Yeah, not bad for a fat girl, eh?"

And then, I just sit back and watch the discomfort set in.....

Nervous laughter, accompanied by shifting eyes. Or the tentative reassurance, "Oh, come on, you're not fat..." and I can almost hear the corrected sentence in my poor friend's terrified brain: Well, you're not as fat as some people I've seen. Or just uncomfortable silence and a quick change of the subject, accompanied by an expression that says I just sidestepped a huge conversational landmine.

Well, my friends, let me put your fears to rest. This is not an outcropping of low self-esteem looking for comfort and healing. I am not bravely asserting what I hope is a falsehood and waiting for someone to reassure me. I am certainly not putting myself down. [When I do, you'll know it, because all my sentences will follow this whiny formula: "You don't think I'm ____________ (obnoxious, a bad writer, a neglectful friend, etc.), do you?" ]

But when I refer to myself as a 'fat girl,' I'm simply owning a part of myself that I have come to accept and even love over the years, despite all the struggles it brings. Believe it or not, it is possible to embrace your identity as a heavy-set person and simultaneously strive to improve your health and weight each day. In fact, accepting this dichotomy is the best thing I ever did for myself. I am not ashamed of myself or any part of who I am, so there's really no need for you to feel uncomfortable when I mention it. Seriously. It's okay. Relax!

So, in the vein of bringing it out into the open.... Here's what I know:

At this moment, I am about 53 pounds overweight for my height according to current medical standards. Technically, that's obese. When you hear about obesity being a huge problem in our country, I'm one of the people they're talking about. That bothers me in the sense that I don't want to experience medical problems as a result of my weight, and I don't want to miss out on activities because my weight or resulting medical issues might limit them. I also don't want my son (or any other kids who might come along later) to have to struggle with diet, exercise and body image as I have.

I have always been heavy. When I was younger, I was just a little thicker than some kids; and when I look back at pictures of myself, I barely see a weight problem at all. But many people around me -- mean kids I grew up around, and more hurtfully, adults who I loved and trusted -- saw a weight problem and felt the need to comment on it in a very negative way. Following their example, I began to view myself in that same negative light, which was pretty depressing.

And, it turns out, when I'm depressed, I eat. So you can imagine how well this cycle went for me during my teenage years, when you can get depressed if the wind blows the wrong direction and they serve milkshakes with lunch every day at school. Mmmm.....  Put that together with a society that focuses largely on appearances and places the highest value on women who are between sizes 0 and 4, and you have a recipe (mmmm..... recipe....) for some major body image issues. I certainly struggled with them, and I know for absolute certain that I was far, far, far from alone.

But this is where it gets better. Despite fluctuations in weight both up and down (more up, over time), and despite several key moments throughout the years when I broke down crying in a dressing room while trying on bathing suits, or angrily consumed an entire box of Oatmeal Cream Pies in my college dorm room when some jerky guy broke up with me.... I was okay.

People still liked me, guys still wanted to date me, and -- it turns out -- I could still climb mountains, shake my booty on the dance floor, and even run a little bit, just like the skinny people around me. Maybe not as fast, maybe not as far at first, but I could do it. And I think I felt a greater sense of achievement afterward, because I'd told myself for so long I wasn't someone who could live in that world. But I could, I can, and so can anyone else.

Over time, I began to learn that you don't have to be one thing or the other. You don't have to be a bendy Size 8 to enjoy and derive benefit from yoga or hiking. Eating healthy is important (and yummy) no matter who you are or how much you weigh. Vegetables are our friends. And the occasional burger and fries is good, too. It's okay to wish you were a few pounds lighter but still be proud of your curves, and to totally admire your own butt in Size 16 or 18 jeans (or larger - I've seen women who can make size 22 look amazing because they know how to own it). It's also okay to be naturally thin, and I promise to only hate you a little if you say, "No matter what I eat, I just never seem to gain weight."

I've learned that hotness is not about size, it's about attitude. My dirty little secret? I don't want to be skinny. Yes, being overweight is a struggle, and I continually strive to improve my health and fitness. But you can keep your bikini body, your calorie-counting, and your perfect thighs. I'm happy with the more of me there is to love, and I have embraced myself for who I am, just as I am. That's one healthy habit I absolutely will pass on to my kids: to love themselves for who they are, and never let anyone else cloud their judgment of their own self-worth.

So what should you do when I make a joke about being a fat girl? Laugh. And pass the breadsticks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Stages of Weight Loss - #5 (Weight Loss)

It starts out with me thinking that my scale is broken. So, I look up the company that makes it and call customer service [because everyone knows that's my favorite pastime].

CSR: "Thank you for calling Pleasantly Plump Weight Indicator Technologies, How may I help you?"
ME:  There's something wrong with my scale.
CSR: Could you describe the problem?
ME: Well, I got on this morning and the number that came up was lower than last week. By like 3 pounds.
CSR: Hmmm.... Did you check the battery?
ME: Yep, it's a new battery.
CSR: Are you using the scale on a hard, level surface?
ME: Yep.
CSR: Not on carpet?
ME: No.
CSR: Is it possible you're on a hill?
ME: In the bathroom? I don't think so. We moved recently, do you think I could've damaged it in the move?
CSR: Well, it's coming on, right? And everything else looks normal?
ME: Yes.
CSR: And you're standing directly on the scale, not holding on to anything for balance? Like a towel rack? Lots of people hold the towel rack.
ME: Nope, not holding onto anything; both feet fully on the scale.
CSR: And you're getting the same number every time?
ME:  Yep.
CSR: Ma'am, is it possible you might be losing weight?
ME: What?
CSR: Well, that's one thing that can make the number on the scale go lower -- if you've been dieting or exercising lately, your weight might go down, which could make the number go down.
ME: What?
CSR: Yes, ma'am. It sounds like you might be losing weight.

[Dumbfounded silence].

CSR: Ma'am?
ME: Yes, I'm here.
CSR: Congratulations.
ME: Um.... thanks. I guess I have been really busy lately and not snacking so much; and lots of lifting and stuff....
CSR: Good for you, ma'am.
ME: Thanks. Well, I have to go - I need to call my doctor and get in for an appointment. I want to get this puppy in the chart before it goes back up again....


This is, obviously, the most fun stage. Getting a little thrill when I step on the scale each week; watching the pants get looser; feeling so high on success I don't even want the jelly donuts and fried chicken; enjoying scarfing down the veggies because it finally feels like they have some bearing on the end result....

Am I totally excited to be losing weight? YES! Do I feel like a champ? You bet! Does it matter that the first five pounds always come directly off my boobs? Heck no!

Okay, it matters a little. But for the most part I get so psyched about inching the number down the scale that I don't focus too much on what's going on in the cleavage area. That's why G-d made generously padded push-up bras, right? And soon enough, the weight starts to disappear from other places, too, and I feel and look more balanced. Just lighter!

If I'm doing it well, this stage moves slowly, a half-pound or a pound a week, with an occasional two- or three-pounder to help me stay motivated. There are lots of weeks during this stage in which there's no movement at all, which was totally frustrating in Stage #4, but now seems totally tolerable.

And of course, after 2 weeks in this stage, I consider myself a weight loss and nutrition expert. I have unlocked the secret! Cracked the code! If I can do it, you can, too! It's awful, really, how quickly a little success goes to my head -- particularly considering I'm about 60 pounds overweight. But it's good, too, because that confidence in myself allows me to continue moving forward and tends to slow me down before I plow head-first into an entire package of Double-Stuffed Oreos.

There are positive cycles and negative cycles, and they both feed on themselves. It takes a lot of energy, patience and effort to turn a spiral of terrible eating habits into something more rewarding and healthy. But nothing creates that momentum in the right direction like a little bit of success. And when I start to see evidence that my efforts are paying off, I get totally excited and want to put more effort into it. It's a positive feedback loop. Pass the reduced fat salad dressing!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Isolation and Connection

Earlier tonight, I had a nice opportunity to catch up with a colleague I don't see outside of meetings very often. You know, it's odd, private practice therapy can be a bit of an isolating profession -- one that attracts people who are generally very sociable. I got into this business because I enjoy being with people, and I find them (us) fascinating as a species. And yet, the friendships we make in this line of work are often of the "passing in the hall" variety, because the work itself is done behind closed office doors.

Our therapeutic relationships, in which we spend most of our professional time, are -- intentionally and appropriately -- completely one-sided. For that 45-50 minutes, my personal needs don't matter, there's very little small talk, and no one asks questions about my life. And if they do, I have to graciously deflect them anyway... [I once had a friend who told me he felt guilty because every time he went to see his therapist, he just sat down and started talking, and never once asked her how she was doing. I told him that the fee he pays at the end of the session should totally absolve any feelings of guilt on his part. On reflection, he agreed.]

This contrived pseudo-isolation is just part of the weirdness of the job, and most therapists get used to it pretty quickly. But unless we plan specific ways of getting together with colleagues, we tend to miss out on those little conversations that most people experience at the water cooler. This could be one reason the occasional late client or canceled session isn't always devastating -- because it gives us an opportunity to chit chat with one another, or surf the web like normal people do during down time at work. Albeit, our gossip sessions and social networking aren't generally paid, but still... it can be nice.

As I chatted with my colleague, she asked me about some little detail of my life, and then followed up quickly by explaining that she reads my blog (I guess so I wouldn't think I had a stalker, though I have to say I'd be flattered). And, if she's reading this: sorry, it was either write about this, or the weird guy at Starbucks who reached down from the drive-thru window to pull a hair off my sweatshirt this morning...

Anyway, I thought it was funny because she is definitely not the first person to say that to me. It's funny how many people read this blog but don't comment (not a problem, of course, and in fact that's how I tend to be as a blog reader myself). The weird thing about being a blogger is that you put something out there and sometimes you get a big online reaction -- comments, e-mails, Facebook responses -- and other, times, silent.

And you don't know if it was silent because it just didn't hit home with anyone -- which is okay, too, it happens -- or because lots of people read it, nodded their heads and went "mmm-hmmm," and then went on with their busy days. Or, maybe it was such a spectacular post that there was simply nothing else to say about the subject. Who knows? I'm lucky that I do get lots of great feedback, so please, don't think I'm fishing here; but it is sort of a vulnerable feeling to write something about your life and send it out into the world, never knowing how it will be received in the moment or even down the road.

I've had people come up to me weeks after I published a post, people who I didn't even know followed my blog, and tell me that something about it made them laugh or resonated with them. And that's cool. It can also be sort of weird, because even though my blogs range from quirky observation to fairly personal confessions, I tend to forget what I've written... oh, about 5 seconds after I click 'publish post.'

Of course, I don't publish ANYTHING that I'm not 100% comfortable with anyone, anywhere, all over the world knowing -- clients, friends, ex-husband, mother-in-law [who is very sweet and always tells me she enjoys my posts], bosses, etc. That's a good rule of thumb for all of us with regard to things we put online, even things that we *think* are private, like FB status. But still, when you're chatting with someone in a different context and a topic emerges that you blogged about weeks ago, it can be a little jarring.

The internet is funny that way. It connects us in ways we never would've been connected -- someone I haven't seen since high school can enjoy frequent pictures of my kid, for example. And when I write something I'm going to put 'out there,' I generally do imagine the people who might read it and wonder what their response will be (internal and expressed), and in that sense I do become connected to them. I also become more connected to my emotions and my intellect, as I try to squeeze my internal experience of the moment into something tolerably readable.

But then it's gone.

The connection comes and goes quickly. I update my status, publish a blog, flip through a friend's photo album, and then log off again. Sometimes an actual connection is made -- a comment or a message -- but more often, not. There are times where a blog entry I write or read actually does lead me to a deeper understanding or at least a real conversation with someone; but so often it's all fleeting.

As with my profession, blogging and social networking represent a weird sort of pseudo-connectedness. It is there, it is real; but it is not a full and equal conversation in the traditional sense. And in a way, I'm glad. Like therapy, online connections can serve their purpose, but they are always a means to an end: better, real connections offline.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trying to Get the TV to Babysit, But It Shows Up Late and Talks on the Phone the Whole Time...

Don't use the TV as a babysitter. 

This is one of those rules I always hear thrown around about parenthood. Actually, come to think of it, I hear it less often as a rule and more often as a derisive example of bad parenting that people desperately want to avoid. It's usually something like, "I allow my children to watch a little bit of educational TV each day, but I would never use the TV as a babysitter." [The emphasis on this last word is typically said in the same disgusted manner you might use if you were saying "I would never feed my baby monkey feces."]

I don't know when I heard this expression first, but the adage has been ingrained in me for a long time -- since long before I started thinking about having my own children. I remember making little mental notes to myself about how I wanted to be as a parent and thinking, as most of us do, that there are some habits I wanted to minimize in my hypothetical future household, TV among them.

With good reason, of course. Children who watch too much television are at risk for a host of problems: sedentary lifestyle, obesity and ADD, to name a few. And I am committed to making sure MLM has lots of opportunities to get outside, play actively, and get lots of non-TV-related learning stimulation.

But like most "rules" I've internalized, the TV-as-babysitter one can reach a point where it ceases to be a helpful guideline for doing something proactive and positive; and instead becomes a metaphorical parenting whip with which I beat myself into guilt and inadequacy.

MLM has just reached the point in his development at which his favorite programs [Sesame Street, Curious George, any football game] will hold his attention for five or more minutes at a time. And I have to admit, I'm so glad.

At 6:30 a.m., I can put a sleepy, whiny baby in his little chair with a cup of milk and let him watch Sesame Street while I make coffee and find the sweatshirt that is currently functioning as a robe -- which make me much more available and perky mom by 7:15. I always feel a twinge of guilt at that moment, because I am, in fact, using the TV as a babysitter; and kicking off our day together with the boob tube as the focus. But the guilt is far outweighed by -- what is it? relief? gratitude? -- that I can focus on starting my day as a human being rather than exclusively a mommy.

And I have to say, I'm okay with it. It's an educational program, and LM rarely watches anything for more than 8 minutes before he's off to find something to play with or to figure out where I am and why my attention drifted from him for any reason.

The challenge is in the balancing act. It's hard, once you turn that noisy screen on, to turn it off again. And there's always the danger that a few minutes here and there throughout the day will turn into two-hour blocks of watching TV later on (which I really do want to avoid). Like most things in parenting, and in life, it seems that the trick is to allow the conventional wisdom, or the "shoulds," to guide decision-making in general; but to also adapt that to what works best for you personally.

Maybe that derisive voice in my head that says "Don't use the TV as a babysitter," causes me to hesitate a bit when I plop LM down in his chair in the morning, or when we turn on the weekend football game. It doesn't change what I'm doing in that moment, but it does give me pause, helps me to check my behavior. Because of that hesitation, that twinge of guilt, I can moderate my decision and commit to balancing it out later in the day. So if we watch a bit of TV as part of our morning ritual, maybe we turn it off and get outside in the afternoon, or opt for some music instead.

Everyone has differing opinions on this issue, of course, and every parent draws the line in a different place -- a place that can change daily, depending on the situation. But for me the focus is going to be more on not only balancing "should" with "can," but also feeling less guilty and conflicted in the process. Besides, everyone loves Elmo, right??

Something Near and Dear to My Heart - And How You Can Help

I know everyone is super-busy, but please take a moment out of your day to vote for this very important project. Yes, you do have to register with the Pepsi people, but then you can vote for up to 10 different projects each day (and I'd love it if you'd vote for this project more than one day this month). We're currently ranked at #142 and hoping to get to #1!

You can read more about Sean Costello and the fund for bipolar research here, and my personal reaction to his death in this blog post. Sean was my brother's best friend from age 10 on, and his death was a tragic reminder of the special risks musicians (like my brother, too) face, and the limited resources available to meet their needs. Thanks for your support.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cobwebs and My Addled Brain (Unrelated, Mostly)

First, I have had the heebie-jeebies all day [that's right, I said heebie-jeebies] after a trip to our basement laundry area this morning. I have noticed in the last few days that the cobwebs have gathered amazingly fast on our new washing machine and hot water heater, both of which were installed within the last two weeks. This morning I went down to find teeny little strands attached to almost everything, including our hanging clothes from earlier in the week.

I grabbed a duster and went to work. Then I noticed that under the light fixture, there were tons of dust particles lingering in midair. Weird. So I looked closer, and, yep -- those were itty bitty spiders. There had to be at least 30 of them, hanging over my head by almost imperceptible single strands from the fluorescent light bulbs. After spraying them down with my trusty Citrus Magic (sorry PETA, I'm a peaceful person and animal lover, but spiders in the house incur my wrath), I moved the clothes and went back upstairs. Ugh.

Wait.... was that a spider on my shoulder? Do I feel something crawling on my foot? Is my back always this itchy in the morning? Now there is definitely something in my hair.... All morning I was scratching and searching, battling phantom spiders everywhere in my clothes, on my skin, in my hair.

Once the ick factor wore off a bit, I started wondering about cobwebs, which I have always assumed were just collections of dust that had somehow formed a sticky line. I guess I thought it was static electricity or something. But I did a little research (esoteric code for Googling 'what is a cobweb'), and learned that cobwebs actually are spiderwebs that have been abandoned.

So the little guys start a web and get interrupted, or they make a web and it turns out not to be ideal hunting ground, etc. So they head out, leaving the sticky little strands behind to attract dust and conjure up spooky visions of Miss Habersham's wedding cake. What? Just me? Fine.

There's probably some interesting metaphor in there somewhere. Hmm.... Nope. I've got nothing.

That's a perfect segue to my brain issues. I love, love, love having my sweet baby boy around (and with me so often) and I can't express the joy he's brought to my life. But his impact on my cognitive abilities -- well, it isn't pretty. My memory, already lousy, is so much worse than ever. I forget birthdays and phone numbers that I never thought would slip out of my awareness and I forget to do basic stuff sometimes like locking the front door and paying rent at my office.

The distraction factor is huge, too. Today I had lunch with one of my favorite people (with MLM tagging along) and as we said goodbye I thought of several little things I wanted to ask him.... nothing major, just simple follow-up questions and bits of conversation that got lost when I was checking someone's mouth for pieces of chewed-up crayon or distracted by what could've been a choking-on-apple noise. We still enjoy our time together, I know, and it doesn't weaken our friendship. But I do have hazy memories of our long, intellectual conversations tucked into a booth at an Oxford pub, and I sort of long for the days when I could hold onto a topic long enough to cover it deeply.

Even when Little Man isn't at the table, the many tasks and duties of motherhood seem to be a constant soundtrack in the background of my brain, keeping me from focusing completely on whatever is in front of me. Part of it is the move, of course, and my mental acumen will stabilize as life becomes more normal. And whatever I have lost in the process of having a baby and raising a toddler is 100% worth it.

Still, it would be nice to be able to clear out the cobwebs -- literally and figuratively!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Watching Men Come up from the Ground

Isn't this just the coolest thing? Right now I'm enjoying MLM's morning nap and watching the trapped Chilean miners being rescued one by one. You would think that by the twelfth miner, some of the novelty and emotion of seeing this process would have worn off, but it hasn't. It's totally amazing to see someone stepping into sunlight after so many days underground; I'm in awe the sheer miracle of logistics that kept these guys alive and is helping them return to the surface.

More than that, the emotional experience of watching the reunions with family members after so long apart is keeping me glued to the television. I just saw, for example, Edison Pena reunite with the woman he loves (wife? girlfriend? I'm not sure). She has a house near the mines, and he got a job as a miner in order to be near her. I can't even begin to imagine all the emotions she's been dealing with in the last two months; and what it must have been like to find herself in his arms again with the whole world watching.

I'm also in awe of the psychological resiliency and incredible connectedness of the miners as a group. With everything else they've been dealing with -- survival, keeping themselves entertained and sane underground -- they also have to handle their new celebrity as the entire world watches their story. Apparently, they've agreed as a group that no one person will profit more than the others from their story and experience.

I imagine that the last 70 days under the ground have been a major study in group dynamics, and while I have no desire to be stuck in that situation myself, part of me would've liked to be a fly on the collapsed mine wall as the 33 miners navigated their experience together. Maybe in the coming weeks and months, we'll hear more about how they managed their situation and their relationships under such extraordinary circumstances. I have to say, it's a book I would certainly read.

From any angle, it's an incredible story, and I'm sure I have nothing to add that won't be said by news anchors and other commentators everywhere. So I'll just keep watching the news feed and clutching my Kleenex...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm Like Edward Scissorhands... If He'd Worked at Supercuts

Today I got to do something I haven't done in about seven years: I took a brand new set of hedge clippers and started the long process of trying to reclaim our overgrown jungle of a yard. Our new house has a pretty extensively landscaped yard in front and back. It was definitely one of the selling points of the house; and it's also a big project waiting to be tackled, since the house was vacant -- and the yard untamed -- for two years before we moved in. (Incidentally this is also the reason for the rodent infestation I mentioned a few blogs ago, still making itself a nuisance today).

Today's goal was not so much to bring order to the entire jungle, but just to blaze a trail from the lower driveway where we park our cars up the hill to the front door. Well, blazing a trail or cutting a swath of destruction, depending on your perspective. I pretty much have a black thumb, so I'm sure someone with actual plant knowledge would've cringed watching me attack everything in my way.

Despite being horticulturally-impaired, it really felt good to get back out there with the clippers and do some work. Even a half hour of bending, snipping and pulling left me a little bit sweaty and a lot refreshed. It's nice to do work where you can see the results immediately -- a luxury I don't have in my profession.

Some clients make rapid progress (or none at all) and then disappear suddenly, while others come and stay for a long time without seeming to move at all. Some I'm surprised to see go, and others I have to gently, carefully push out of the nest into the world. Either way, I don't usually get to know what happens next in their lives.... 

Did that couple who fought all the time in my office stay together or break up? Did the person who overcame her phobia continue facing her fears? Did the shy guy ever get the courage to ask for that promotion? Do they end up happy? Are they better for the experience of coming to sit with me for an hour a week for a while? Or do they look back and wish they'd put that money towards PlayStation instead?

I don't get to know. And that's okay, because our time together isn't about me. That time is all about the person sitting across from me -- what's going on in her world, what he wants to achieve. I am just a facilitator of growth, and sometimes a guide. And while I may walk alongside someone on that journey for a short period of time, it's absolutely critical that I don't confuse their journey with my own. When it goes well, or doesn't, when our paths merge, or suddenly part.... I don't get to take credit or blame; and I don't always get to know the outcome.

What I do have to do is stay mindful of my own journey, and take responsibility for my own feelings, my own decisions. That means taking care of myself, and allowing time and space to drift self-indulgently into my own thoughts when I am not sitting across from a client (or tending to a 15-month old). For, say, half an hour with the hedge clippers in the front yard.

So, maybe I pulled up some stuff that isn't weeds and left some things that are. And maybe the average adult would've done a far neater, more methodical job than I clearing away brush from the little stone path. But it was really nice to get out there in the yard and to know that it's mine (okay, ours) to tend. Plus, a little time with busy hands and a free mind is definitely a good thing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Stages of Weight Loss - #4 (Running in Place like a Cartoon)

It's time for another installment in the Stages of Weight Loss...

When we last left our heroine, it was the WAY FUN stage of being totally balanced and really psyched about moving in the right direction. Well, I hope you enjoyed that feeling of momentum. Because now we're going nowhere fast.

This is a particularly cruel stage because you're actually doing everything right -- working out more than once a week, developing more than a visual relationship with vegetables, spreading a thin layer of peanut butter onto whole wheat bread instead of eating it from the jar with a shovel.... But for whatever reason, for the first few weeks of improved habits, the scale doesn't move. Not a bit. And if it does move, it's more often up than down.

Here's how it generally plays out...

Diet Days #1 - 5 (Balanced): Whole grain cereal with fresh fruit and skim milk; apple slices with reduced-fat peanut butter; turkey sandwich with carrot sticks; whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and fresh spinach (or grilled chicken with steamed veggies, etc.). 8 glasses of water daily, one diet soda, one skinny latte. Walk/jog for 30-45 minutes each day.
Weight Change: None. Zero. Nada.

Diet Day #6 (Splurge):  Bagel with cream cheese, burrito with guacamole and sour cream, Snickers bar, 3 slices extra-cheese pizza with hamburger and onion. 2 big glasses of full-sugar Coke. Watch other people exercise on TV from safe haven of couch.
Weight Change: None.

Diet Days #7-8 (Remorse): Four rice cakes, 30 celery sticks, two gallons water with lemon juice.
Weight Change: +1 lb.

Diet Days #9-12: Back to balanced eating plan above (see days 1-5).
Weight Change: -1 lb.

So, all that for nothing. During this period, the number on the scale seems to have absolutely no relationship to what goes in my mouth during the day, much less how much exercise I get. While logically I know that this defies the laws of biology, physics and common sense, it's sort of surreal and discouraging nonetheless.

What I suspect is really going on during this time is that (a) my good habits - which I painted beautifully in Days 1-5 - aren't quite as good as I think they are; and (b) it takes a while for my body to adjust to the changes and start letting go of the pounds. What I often underestimate in Stage #3, when I'm totally psyched, is how really bad my eating and exercise habits have really become. So even very improved behaviors on my part may not be different enough at first to show up on the scale.

And come on, you can't have grilled chicken and steamed veggies without a little cheese on top. And so I added a little ice cream on at the end of the day and didn't track the points, so what? I was good otherwise!

It takes a little while for me to ferret out all these little rationalizations, and for my expanded gut to shrink down enough to feel full with smaller meals. I ought to know this, having been through the stages before, but it can be a little frustrating nonetheless. Still, it's usually not enough to knock me completely off track; and as the weeks wear on, I slowly whittle away the excess calories and get into a groove with the exercise. The good feelings from Stage 3 usually remain intact, though they become more muted and less.... insane.

On the whole, Stage 4 is generally positive, health-wise, despite the fact that my wheels seem to be spinning. And I like to think that the frustration of this stage is a way of earning the successes of the next one.

[Wait, did I give too much away?]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Love, Hate & Nachos; Thinking About Forever

What I Hated About Today:
  • The dead rat in the crawlspace. Discovered with my nose. YUCK!
  • Gratuitous landlord drama. (Seriously? It's been 9 days!)
  • My fifth aborted attempt at a nap this week. 
  • Having to miss out on (a) dinner and (b) time with a dear friend, because MLM was exhausted and overstimulated and needed a quiet night at home. Sometimes it's hard to make the right call as a parent...
  • Huge knot on MLM's head after a toppling chair incident. 
What I Loved About Today:
  • Walking to our new pizza place from our new house with my best friend and the kids.
  • Checking out the very cool library on our way home.
  • Finding out that our pest control company DOES operate on Saturdays (see first point above)
  • Playing with my awesome new phone after a week sans cell. 
  • A rare but welcome phone call from my brother.
  • Georgia, 41; Tennessee 14. FINALLY!
  • Having a husband who I love enough to miss terribly even after 36 hours.
  • Today.
  • Dinner: Nacho cheese in the jar, tortilla chips, and The Lost Boys on VH1. Somewhere there are college fraternities eating better than I am right now. Yummmm.....

Most of our clothes are still in boxes, along with our nicer dishes and wine glasses, and lots of other stuff we don't use on a daily basis -- or at least can get by without. But last night I unpacked some of my most prized possessions: our books. I don't get to read these days as much or as often as I would like; or rather, I tend to fill my time with other things instead. But something about pulling those familiar bindings and arranging them on the shelves goes a long way toward making the new house feel like home.

Home. I'm starting to be able to wrap my brain around the idea... The unfamiliar feel of this old house is being replaced slowly but steadily by a sense of belonging. It might be a while longer before I think immediately of this place when I hear myself say, "Let's go home." There's still lots to explore and plenty of ways we are planning to make this place our own. Also, I don't yet know my way blindfolded around the Publix, which in my mind is a big piece of feeling at home somewhere.

Since we've bought the house I've had several people ask if this is our "forever house." At first I wasn't sure what they meant: one person explained to me that her Forever House would have a large pasture and room for horses; while another mentioned that they are looking for their "Raising Teenagers House" but not necessarily "Forever House." Hmm... I obviously haven't put enough thought into this.

So maybe a Forever House is a cross between somewhere you're planning to stay a while and a fantasy home? Is it where you imagine retiring? Hosting weekend visits from the grand-kids? Something you build? It may sound strange to say so, having just signed the next 30 years of our lives away, but I honestly haven't planned that far ahead. We love our house, and we definitely envisioned ourselves being here a long time when we made the move; but I guess I've always embraced the unpredictability of life so much that I've never spent much time planning decades down the road.

Could I see us living here in 30 years? Absolutely. Could I see us living in a two-bedroom walkup in Madrid or Western Ireland? Sure. Minneapolis? Uh... possibly, if there were a compelling reason to endure the cold. I've written before about the number of times I've moved and my love of travel... When I fantasize about the future, I think about my son being healthy and happy and loving his life (and maybe other kids if we are so destined); I look forward to growing old with my sweet hubby; I envision putting lots and lots of pushpins on our travel map and weighing ourselves down with an excessive quantity of family photos.

But I don't really envision this future in any particular place. Maybe because home has been sort of a transient concept for me for so long; or maybe because I'm naturally resistant to being tied down. Who knows? One thing I'm sure of is that as long as I have family and friends and love in my life, I don't need a Forever House to know that I will always have a home.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blog #18

Darling hubby is out of town this evening, and MLM is long tucked away in his bed; so tonight it's just me, the trusty laptop, Sixteen Candles and a plastic cup of wine. Aaaahhhhh....

If you haven't noticed, 30 Days of Blogs has really turned into more like "30 Blogs in 40 Days" or something similar. [Note to Self: Try, try, try not to take on ridiculously ambitious projects while moving.] Like many projects I start with the best of intentions, my expectations for myself were less than 100% realistic. I fully believed I'd be able to pull this one off, with a day off for Yom Kippur and one or two more around the actual moving day. And like most projects I start, I underestimated both the time and energy I would want/need to dedicate.

The last 10 days have been pretty brutal, stress-wise. Moving is already somewhere on the Top 10 list of the most stressful events a person can experience; and this week I also got to add a broken washing machine and a suddenly-dead cell phone to the list. Add a few other work, family and personal challenges; and mix that in with chasing a toddler around a bunch of boxes and breakable items.... well, you can see why I've come up a little short in the blogging department.

On the bright side, like most projects I start, the 30/30 blog challenge has been a great learning experience. Plus my attempt at reaching the ambitious goal has helped me to be more disciplined and write way more than I normally would've this month. Too often, I think I look at the goal I haven't reached rather than the progress I never would have made if it weren't for that very goal.

This idea reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
Ideals are like stars: you will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny. (Carl Schurz)
I know most people had this on the wall of one high school class or another -- maybe next to the "teach a man to fish" poster -- but I've always liked it anyway.  It's a good reminder that there's nothing wrong with setting crazy-high goals for yourself, because in trying to reach those goals you can get where you're really supposed to go. The hard part is to keep challenging yourself to get closer and closer to the ideal, without beating yourself up when you fall a little (or a lot) short.

That's a fine balance. I struggle with it often; and I know many of my friends and clients do, too. When do you push yourself to go a little further, work a little harder; and when is it time to give yourself a break, shut down the computer (or whatever), put your feet up and just enjoy where you are? I wish I knew the answer or had some formula to suggest. But I don't -- sometimes I push myself entirely too hard and take on way too much; other times I realize that I have the capacity to achieve and give much more than I actually do.

For tonight, I think a good balance means bidding you farewell and enjoying the final scenes of a John Hughes classic. Maybe I'll get motivated to unpack a box. Or not..... Goodnight!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What if Customer Service Representatives Were Honest?

CSR: Thank you for calling Comcast/AT&T/Other Big Conglomerate. How may I demean and frustrate you today?

ME: Yes, hello. I'm having a problem with my service.

CSR: I'm not even a little bit sorry to hear that, ma'am. Actually, I was really enjoying a conversation with the people in the cubicles around me, and you're interrupting. So what's the problem?

ME: Well, what happened was this..... I did A as I was supposed to, then B happened, and now my C won't D. I called two days ago and someone told me to E and F, but it's still just D.

CSR: I can't decide if I don't believe what you're saying or I don't fully understand. Either way, please hold for one moment while I pull up your file, which as far as I am concerned is the only thing that counts about you. Meanwhile, you'll be listening to some advertisements from our company talking about all the ways we can serve you. Don't worry, though, I won't appreciate the irony.

[4 minutes pass]

CSR: I'm now required to say "thank you for holding." I've looked at your file on my computer, and it appears that two days ago you called and were told E.

ME: Yes, and F.

CSR: There's no note in the system about F.

ME: Okay. But the problem is, it's all still D.

CSR: I actually don't care very much about D, or you, but the script in front of me suggests that I place you on a "brief hold," which won't really be brief, while I try to figure out what to do next. I'm also going to run to the vending machine. Ready?

ME: Uh, sure, I guess....

[6 minutes pass]

CSR: I've done some research on your file, which means I talked to someone near me who's been here two months longer than I have; and I've come to the conclusion that your problem is actually D.

ME: Right, that's what I've been saying.

CSR: It doesn't matter when you say it, I have to come to the conclusion myself.

ME:  Great. So we're on the same page now?

CSR: I'm not allowed to respond to colloquial expressions or idioms. What I can tell you is that I've researched your file and concluded D.

ME: Okay, fine. How do we fix D?

CSR: What I'm going to do now is assume you're a complete idiot and ask you some unbelievably basic questions. So did you try turning it on? Plugging it in? Breathing in and out?

ME: Yes. I did all those things, three days ago. And then I did them again when I called in last time. But I'm thinking that it might actually be a problem on your end, because.....

CSR: I'm going to cut you off right there because I'm not allowed to have you participate in the troubleshooting process with your service. You are the customer, and therefore, have no qualifications to understand the complexity of our systems. You couldn't possibly know what is wrong, and your suggestion that you might understand the problem or be able to offer insight is a direct insult to me and my professional integrity. I will therefore work hard from this point forward to be even less accommodating and polite than before.

ME: Really? How can you be less accom--

CSR: Hold please.

[12 minutes pass]

CSR: Ma'am?

ME: (from a distance) Wait, hold on! I put you on speaker so I could do something else while I waited. Don't hang up!

[exasperated sigh from CSR whose time is being wasted while I return to the phone].

CSR: Ma'am, we need to troubleshoot your service to find out what's going on so, I need to ask you some questions. Would you please pick up your X and push the power button?

ME: Sure, but I've tried this already, and --

CSR: Ma'am, please pick up your X and push the power button. Wait 24 seconds.

ME: Okay, done.

CSR: And?

ME: Nothing.

CSR: It seems that the problem could be D.

ME: You think???

CSR: Sarcasm triggers an immediate 3 minute hold. Please hold.

[3 minutes]

CSR: Again, I'm required to say thank you for holding, but I will not try to hide the fact that I'm annoyed the first page of my flow chart did not resolve your problem. Everyone else around me got to go on break and have birthday cake, but since your problem wasn't resolved in the usual time, I have to stay here and help you. This makes me resent you personally.

ME: I don't know what to say. Sorry about the cake. I'm a little annoyed myself, what with my service being down for 3 days and D and everything. Also, I have to say, this hasn't been very helpful so far and it's been 34 minutes.

CSR: I'm interpreting your frustration as hostility and moving into defensive mode. Prepare to be completely shut down.

ME: Wait, no! I'm sorry. I am frustrated, but all I want is a resolution to the problem. See, I pay you guys for this service. I've been paying you for years on time without fail, and I feel like maybe I'm entitled to some help when something goes wrong.

CSR: I have no idea what you're talking about. You're not paying me.

ME: But I pay the company you work for.

CSR: That means nothing to me. You mean nothing to me. I hate my job, and I have no incentive to be nice to you. Nothing changes about my world whether you get D fixed or not. All I care about right now is that I'm missing out on cake in the breakroom and that I have to put enough notes in the system to justify my existence here for a few more months until I get my hairdresser's license.

ME: Okay, fine. I get that -- you're not very invested and my problem might be more complex than average. Can I talk to your supervisor instead?

CSR: I don't want you to talk to my supervisor because then I'll have to endure some sort of training session.

ME: I'm sorry, but I really think I need to.

CSR: Fine. There is a 3-hour wait to talk to a supervisor. I put you on the list, and they call you back.

ME: What? Why a 3-hour wait?

CSR: Our customer service is so colossally bad that pretty much everyone wants to talk to the supervisor. So we put you on the list and hope that by the time she calls you back, you'll be doing something else. She will leave you a non-committal message, and then the problem will be lost in the world of Phone Tag. By the time it's over, you will have found a way to work around your problem, or it will have resolved itself through our incomprehensible system.

ME: But what about the customer? What about me? I'm really angry right now and I want to change to a different company. Well, what I really want is for someone to be nice to me when I call and for you to be able to fix what's wrong.

CSR: Sure you do. But by the time the issue gets resolved, you'll have researched your options and found that they are all pretty much the same. It's one crappy huge company or another, really. In a couple of days, you'll forget how unbelievably pissed off you are right now and realize you don't have time to change your life based on one bad week. Your bills are probably on autopay, so you won't even resent writing the check every month. You'll just go on with your pathetic little life and roll your eyes whenever someone else tells a story of their bad experience with our company.

ME: You're wrong! I have rights as a consumer! I don't have to stand for this!!

CSR: Really?

ME: No. Not really.

CSR: That's right. You'll get nothing and you'll like it. Still want the supervisor to call you in 5 hours?

ME: Huh? Oh.... sure, okay. Thanks.

CSR: Okay, then. I'm still not sorry about your situation, but I am glad I don't have to think about it anymore. It's chocolate cake. I am required to invite you to participate in a survey about the service you received today. It will be a hassle - you have to leave your number and an automated system will call you with questions. You can do it if you want, but no one is going to pay attention to the results and since it's not even a human being calling, you're not going to feel like you said your peace at all. Would you like to participate in the survey today?

ME: Um, no thanks, I guess.

CSR: Is there anything else I can help you with?

ME: You didn't help me at all.

CSR: Okay then. I'm required to thank you for calling and sarcastically wish you a good day.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

And then she crawled out from under a half-unpacked box...

Whew! Sunday morning and I am enjoying my first pot of coffee brewed in the new house, while my boys are both napping upstairs. If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that I dropped the ball a bit on my 30 consecutive days of blogging. (If you've been paying attention that closely, I have to wonder if you might have some time on your hands...)

I honestly thought about blogging a couple of times in the past four days, but up until yesterday it was pretty much physically impossible. Between getting out of the old place, into the new place, and getting the condo cleaned and ready for renters; not to mention work for both of us, we have been going nonstop this week.

There have been lots of moments of joy in the last few days... Looking out the window into our amazing new backyard my second morning in the house (because the first morning I was out the door by 6:15 before I could see the backyard). Having the company and support of my mother-in-law, dad and aunt on three separate days while we tried to get everything accomplished. Collapsing on the couch together Thursday night with a bottle of wine when we were too tired to move anymore. Watching MLM go excitedly up and down the new half-flight of stairs over and over. And over. And over....

And of course there have been some challenges, too. Finding some new and interesting plumbing leaks; and realizing that it's going to take a while to replace the vacant-house smell with something more comforting and familiar. Discovering last night that the clothes washer left by the previous owner -- the reason we left our washer and dryer behind for the tenant's use -- doesn't really work when there are actual clothes in it. It passed the home inspection because the inspector, obviously, didn't actually wash anything. (Wherever she is, I'm sending the seller a big cosmic "thank-you" for that one.)

And in non-house news, there's been lots of teeth-gnashing as my beloved Alma Mater seems determined to have a losing football season this year; and the Atlanta Braves are taking the MLB wild-card race down to the final game this afternoon.

But the good news is that post-season baseball, and even a disappointing start to college football, mean fall is here nonetheless. I am so excited to have a yard to enjoy with my little guy as the beautiful, crisp fall days are upon us. It's going to be really fun exploring our new neighborhood and setting up our house as we look toward the cozy days of the end of the year.

We might be a little smelly snuggled up in our unwashed clothes, listening to the drip of the pipes in the basement; but we'll be in our home, together. And that's enough!