To Each Their Own Celebration–My Son Turns 21

It seems that the older I get, the more milestones there are to measure. As a child the milestones were momentous to me, but so small in the grand order of things. Walking up the street to a friend’s house, riding a bike without training wheels, going off on the big bus to Kindergarten, moving across town and going to first grade with all new classmates, going to middle school where both elementary schools combined…these were the milestones of my early childhood. After that came milestones of young adulthood: getting my braces off, getting contact lenses, starting high school, that first kiss, applying for college, and ultimately leaving home.

I’ve gone through many adult milestones too, including college graduation,  marriage, graduate school, first job, home ownership, parenthood, and even divorce. But as a mom, I find it sometimes amazing and sometimes terribly bitter-sweet to witness the milestones of my own children. They are born and then they rocket towards adulthood at an ever increasing pace. As a mom, I tried to both document their growth and live in the moment. Apparently I did more of the latter than the former, so there is little physical evidence to share. What there is, lies in my heart.

Today is my oldest child’s 21st birthday, and a  reminder to me about how each of us celebrates in their own way. He wanted to be home for his birthday and he wanted to go out to eat. Given that my younger daughter had a softball playoff game until after 8, dinner would be quite late. While my older daughter and I were at work, my younger daughter baked a cake. It’s now her signature dish, a Guinness cake. She’s made several and this took the last can from the pack I bought at the beginning of the year when she started making them. Her brother had apparently had the penultimate one on the ultimate evening of being technically too young to drink it.

At the restaurant, the waiter asked us what we’d all like to drink and he eschewed having a beer because that was what was expected and he’s all about being an individual who decides for himself whether it matters or not if he has a beer on his birthday and then says no to spite what was expected. Other aspects of a typical birthday celebration were too ingrained in tradition. The cake was duly adorned with a “2″ and a “1″ candles and lit. We sang him the Birthday Song, and he made a wish and blew out the candles. He happily ate cake and opened presents to round out the event.

More milestones await, as early as next week when my younger daughter gets her braces off.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the Joy in seeing your children grow up to the beat of their own drum!



My First Book Club

You would think, given my lifelong love of books, that I would be the veteran of many a book club by now, but I’m not. Every time I watch The Jane Austin Book Club, I want to start one, but I never have enough bandwidth to start yet another new thing in my life. Then one day, a like-minded colleague came to work brimming about a book club she’d attended the night before.

It turned out to be a book club for women focused on non-fiction. I was hooked! They only meet quarterly and she gave me the name of the next selection, Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe and I promptly ordered it. It ended up taking me until yesterday to finish, partly due to being over-committed to other endeavors, and partly due to it being a very fascinating story told in a meticulously journalistic manner.

So, after work, I headed to a nearby city to attend the meeting. Upon arriving, I was greeted warmly and, donning my name tag, I gathered up some refreshments and found a seat. We were in a conference room of a bank. The room was filled with about 30 professional women of mostly my own age or older. There was one woman in her thirties, and one who looked like late teens or early twenties (who turned out to be the daughter of a founding member).

Also in attendance were three immigration lawyers and a non-citizen law clerk. These four were invited to the discussion to bring some much needed expertise to the topic of the book. The book follows four Mexican American girls in Denver from high school through college, two of them undocumented. The events unfold against a backdrop of hot debate on immigration reform prompted, in part, by the murder of a local police officer by an undocumented Mexican man.

Now, I’m not sure how a typical book club goes, but this meeting ended up as mostly a Q&A of the experts about all sorts of immigration issues, some drawn from the book, but many not. Here in Detroit, we have similar issues. I’ve been drawn, especially, to the plight of children, whether documented or not. I once had the privilege of hearing a first-hand account by a girl, documented, whose family was deported when she was seventeen and how and why she forced her family to leave her behind.

Meanwhile, my colleague was running late and arrived minutes after the bank guard locked up and went home. She did text me, but in the heat of the discussion I didn’t hear the soft tone alerting me to a text. We connected the next day and I filled her in on the event. Just about everyone there knew her personally, she’s that kind of person, a maven, bringing diverse people together who have a common bond.

I’m already excited to attend the next meeting, which won’t be until October. We voted for our next book and it is Give and Take by Adam Grant. Meeting quarterly with a new group of women may not meet my current needs to meet just these sort of women, but meet them I will and I hope some friendships ensue for the next phase of my life.

Find the Joy in the Journey…find it in every facet of your life!

Motivating Myself To De-Clutter

While I didn’t actually de-clutter my entire house while I was off of work last week, and I didn’t even completely de-clutter the main living areas, I did manage to make a dent in it…all on Sunday night. Yes, I waited all week doing nothing, then rushed to sort, throw out, and put away as much as possible. Why the last minute full-press? I’d bought an Angie’s List Big Deal with my preferred cleaning company and they were coming Monday morning. What else?

Sometimes (all the time?) I have to put myself on the spot to get anything done. I sign up for races so that I’ll keep running and I keep buying those big deals so that I’ll continue to work on de-cluttering my house. It’s a sneaky technique, but it does work. I got up this morning and continued my cleaning blitz so that the cleaning people could actually get a vacuum across the rug and a dust cloth across the horizontal surfaces.

The ultimate goal with the house is to be so organized that I don’t need a cleaning company at all. I’ll be all FlyLady and manage it all by myself due to being so organized, putting things away as soon as I’m finished with them.

The other extreme would be that I am organized and also have a weekly cleaning service…unfortunately, my budget just doesn’t allow this. Therefore, I look through Groupon, Angie’s List, Living Social, and Deal Chicken for coupons for my favorite house cleaning company. They aren’t available too often, but to me they are gold!

So, after frantically throwing papers in boxes and creating all new, harder to decipher piles, I left for work. I had earlier done a lot of sorting, so there were fewer papers to shove in corners, but none-the-less, this was not ideal. All day, I looked forward to walking in to my newly-cleaned home.

If it weren’t for my children, it would have been perfect. Even so it was almost-perfect. There were just a few dirty dishes scattered about. Otherwise, things were clean, dust-free, and all the beds had clean sheets. Heaven!

My long term goal, however,  is not just a clean house, but one free of clutter, not just on the surface, but throughout. I have a very long way to go, no matter how hard I work at it. It can be quite discouraging. I know that up in my attic I have my entire LP collection. I don’t know where it is and I fret that it is destroyed by heat. I know that in a small closet in the basement I have all my financial records for when I had to move out of my house for the renovations. Junk indeed, but I have to go through it before I can junk it.

I also know, that somewhere in the bowels of my Michigan basement, are my stability ball, my weight bench, and all of my barbells. It is a mission worth signing up for to get my fitness life in order. Aha, I’ve found a new goal, easy to fulfill, that will push me forward on my bigger de-cluttering goal! That’s how I roll, all multi-tasking mania!

Find the Joy in the Journey…Silver linings are there for the taking!

2048: It’s Just A Number…Or Is It?

I started the week as just a normal human being. I arrived for the weekend at my sister’s with my girls in tow and ready to celebrate a bridal shower. All went off as planned, but in the meanwhile, I was introduced to an addictive gaming app.

Hey, do you know 2048? No, I don’t. Well, just sign up for free and start playing. We all love this game, and we all hate it. It’s as addictive as crack-cocaine and we have deleted it as often as we’ve downloaded it. Oh, really! And my genius, programming nephew conquered it immediately? Like a Rubick’s cube? I see…I’ve never mastered the Rubick’s cube, but I know there is a formulaic answer….one which I refuse to look up so that I can cheat.

I was up for the challenge and soon had the game downloaded onto my iPhone.  In this game, you start with a couple of two’s. If you click them together you get a four. And so it goes, as you click the tiles together you form higher and higher numbers. The goal is to get a tile denominated as a 2048. It is frustratingly difficult to get the necessary numbers next to one another and keep building up to higher and higher tiles.

Soon enough, I had downloaded the app and given it a try. Dang, I didn’t get very far. I tried again. And again, and again. The weekend ended and I returned home with only a meager high-score in the 7000′s. Throughout my week off of work, I tried it over and over again, and then one day it clicked.

I rhythmically bashed those tiles together in a sort of trance, not even noting the pattern I was making, just knowing that I was keeping the higher numbers along the top and repetitively building up the numbers from the bottom. I stopped trying to think through the process and instead went with the flow as I rhythmically built up my numbers.image

Time was going by without my noticing it…what seemed a mere few minutes turned out to be hours. Oh, but in the end it was worth it, wasn’t it? I got that elusive tile only to learn that I could keep going! I wondered if I could get to 4096! I didn’t…but I mastered 2048 and could do it again. I decided to hang up my spurs and move on to greener pastures.

There is something addictive about games, so I limit myself to a few. I play Scramble With Friends with just my sister. I play Words With Friends with several Friends. I like that Words doesn’t have the pressure of being timed, so I play more of those games and can do so more at my leisure. The only other game I play is Spider Solitaire…ironic given my phobia of spiders and having to look at them on the backs of the cards…it makes me feel like I’m conquering something, anyway.

So, 2048 is gone. I achieved my goal and moved on. I guess I wasted some of my vacation time, but it did help me to decompress, and maybe that’s just what I needed.

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes it’s okay to take a detour!

Time To Get My House In Order: Getting Fiscally Fit

Eventually I would like to retire, and I’d like to have lots of years ahead of me to enjoy it. This means getting my affairs in order, among other things. I am inspired by a former boss, now retired. As a parting gift to the rest of us, he told us to hire a financial planner and figure out when we could retire. I liked his advice, and planned to take it. Then the proverbial stuff hit the fan and I put that idea on the back burner.

Now, it’s time to take a deep breath and see what lies ahead. I still have a few, unfortunately large, unknowns in my financial future, but I took the plunge none-the-less. The first thing I did was to get a will drawn up and to create a trust for my children. It’s a relatively simple thing. Basically, if I die, all of my assets will be swept into the trust. Any liabilities I have can be paid from the trust, including funeral expenses, and then the rest, including life insurance, will go to my children. There are rules for when the money can be disbursed, so I know it will go primarily towards their education. If I live to the point where they are all independent, which I fully intend to do, then I can change the trust at any time.

Having made sure that my children are protected, the next project was to find that financial planner and figure out a likely retirement scenario and to make sure I get on track and stay on track to meet my pre and post-retirement goals. I was fortunate to get a recommendation from a trusted friend and I found the planner to be a great match for me.

It may seem simultaneously boring and scary to put together a financial plan, but the good thing about hiring a planner is that they do all the research and the math and they make recommendations for you based on your own goals. Based on my goals, I will likely have to work for another ten years. If some of those financial blows happen, perhaps longer. If I manage to weather the upcoming financial storms, perhaps I can retire a bit sooner.

I feel very fortunate to be in such a good position, but it is not an accident. I have always been a saver and I’ve always tried to live within my means. I’ve also always had a good handle on my priorities and I’ve done without things I’ve wanted so that I could live by my values and priorities. For the most part, that has meant investing in my own education and the educations of my childen. The great thing is that once they are all independent, I can finally spend my money on new priorities, including travel.

What a relief to have some answers and trusted advisors in my corner. Next up is making sure that I have the physical fitness to enjoy retirement.

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes that means knowing when to ask for help!

Time To Get My House In Order: Getting Physically Fit

Back in February, I joined a gym and had a fitness assessment. The trainer created a workout routine for me and eventually I adopted part of it. I was still running as my primary exercise, but I added the upper and lower body weight machines to my routine a couple of days a week. Even so, I gained a bit of weight over the winter, hopefully due to building muscles…but I had my doubts.

I returned for another assessment this week. The good news was that I was within two pounds of my original assessment. The bad news is that it wasn’t added muscle…All in all, I’m pretty healthy, but there is always room for improvement. I know I need to be in the best health I can be so that I can enjoy my life as I get older and make the most of a (hopefully) long retirement.

My goals haven’t changed since my initial assessment; I want to lose weight (oops!) and increase my strength so that I can run faster. I’ve not made progress on my goals, but at least I stayed active during the winter, multiple polar vortices not-withstanding. Now to up my game. The trainer had me return to learn some new things in the gym.

The trainer and a trainer intern took me through some new exercises, mostly with free weights. She told me that I should come to the gym around that same time, or in other words 1 p.m. This is not at all likely as I work from 8 a.m. until around 6 p.m. and I don’t take an extended lunch. Hmm…she mention that the “Jersey Boys” dominate the area most of the time.

I learned a few things. First of all, I learned that I need fairly light-weight dumbbells and that I could find up to 15 pound weights upstairs (i.e. away from all of the young men). Secondly, they showed me some exercises with a stability ball…and I was shocked by what I learned.

I know I need to do core work and that I’ve not been doing any of the recommended core exercises. They showed me some simple exercises with the stability ball, some with weights and some without. In every case, it was much harder than I anticipated. The next day, even though I only did some practice exercises, my abs were hurting!

The bottom line is that I now have too many workout plans to do all at once. I have a new half-marathon training plan, one that is very flexible and perhaps I just need to work all the other plans around it. I have new exercises to do with free weights. I can do these on the main gym floor, or up in a quieter area…or I can even do these at home.

I’m not a quick adopter of new exercises, so I am grateful for the lessons, but I still need to approach things at my own speed. Somewhere in my basement is a stability ball…I need this most of all. One exercise was simply to place my feet on the ball and bridge my back up…sounds simple, but the ease of it depends on whether my hands are on the floor, or only my elbows…or best of all, my hands on my hips.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the right balance and stability to ensure physical fitness through-out your lfe!

Family, Friends, Food, and Fun

This weekend, I got to get away from my usual routine. I was able to leave work a bit early on Friday and grab my girls and go. We got in the car, my older daughter taking the first driving shift, and headed for Chicago. Work has been a bit hectic and I’ve got some things going on personally that would make your hair curl, so a weekend for fun was at the top of my list.

Closer in to Chicago, I took over the driving and was fortunate to find a nice parking spot right by my sister’s place in the city. We grabbed our bags and headed up to her flat. Officially, we were in town for my niece’s bridal shower and we got to meet her future mother-in-law and one of her future sisters-in-law. We had fun getting to know each other. I’m just delighted to get to know the lovely families that my sister’s kids are marrying into.

Saturday morning, I got in a four-mile run, then met up with a graduate school classmate for brunch. He picked me up on his motorcycle…flashback to high school which was the last time I was on the back of a motorcycle. We took in brunch in Wicker Park. I remarked how it reminded me of the Central West End in St. Louis. It also reminded me of the restaurant strip along the Rhine in Cologne…Mainly, it was a lovely morning for reminiscing.

The bridal shower was later in the day and was so much fun. I’m still getting used to the idea of being part of the “older” generation…My kids aren’t old enough to start marrying, but I can see that I’ll need to get used to that idea in the not too distant future! My younger niece and my niece-in-law were the hostesses and they threw a lovely party. The food was lovely and the games were amusing. The bride-to-be was the quintessential guest of honor, gracious and beautiful.

imageI did win a prize during the party…I won “the perfect man”…this turned out to be a cookie cutter. I am glad to have it, as my faith in men has been damaged of late and it is good to know that I can always bake a few good men should the need arise!

Next up on my agenda was to catch-up with my classmate at his favorite Speakeasy. I had been looking forward to this for ages. I asked all the over-21′s to join me, but in the end, it was the bride-to-be and I who made the trip. My sister dropped us off at the rendezvous spot and we three headed to the secret location. We walked over to a dim stairway with a red light. Apparently the red light was a clue. Down the dark, dank steps we went, and at the bottom was a wooden door with a communicating panel. I knocked, and armed with the password, I was given entree.

Inside, the place was dark. The bar was straight ahead, and then the room ran the depth of the building with a piano at the back. This speakeasy only uses ingredients available during prohibition in Chicago and uses only authentic drink recipes. So, I had a picador (precursor to a margarita) and a white lion. Both were lovingly hand-crafted and quite delicious.

Time flew by, with great company and entertainment. A friend of my friend was also a first-timer at the speakeasy. As an entertainer by trade, she spoke with the piano player and offered to sing a song or two…and boy did she! She sang Crazy and a piece from Cabaret. There was a bit of confusion over what key to start, and she remarked that her ad lib training at Second City was coming in handy…all in a night’s fun. Her singing was definitely the highlight of the evening. Then, too soon it seems, my niece and I were headed for home on the El.

Find the Joy in the Journey…especially the Joy of reconnecting with family and friends!


And Then The Command Hooks Fell Off The Wall

Just when I thought everything was humming along smoothly, a series of unfortunate events transpired. I’ve been trying to get back my equilibrium ever since. It was when the Command Hooks fell, however, that I gave up all semblance of getting my house in order and narrowed my focus to family, work, and working out.

The first hook fell in the middle of the night, in the room below my bedroom. I heard a crash, a bit of a scuffle, and then nothing. I lay there, rigid, listening with ultra-intense hearing for any further noises. Hearing nothing, I eventually decided it must have been the dog and I fell back to sleep. In the morning, I saw that a clock had fallen off of the wall, caromed off of a large rack of DVD’s and then several of the DVD boxes had fallen and scattered across the floor.

A few days later, I was once again awoken to the sound of a crash, one with a lot of jingling and clanging of just the caliber to convince me that it was my running medals. I’d bought an adorable rack for them off of Etsy with the phrase “Keep Calm. Run On.” I’d hung it on two hooks and one had come off of the wall while the other was still firmly attached.

My clock set on the kitchen counter for months and the medal rack set on the floor below where it belonged. Months went by. De-cluttering and home maintenance had been put by the wayside. Then, one day I bought some new adhesive for the fallen hooks and something new…a hook-and-loop strip with the same Command Hook adhesive. These were for heavier items, like large picture frames.

Back home, I took hold of the tab on the remaining hook. You’ve seen the advertisements…a gentle pull and the adhesive strip slides out and the hook comes off of the wall without leaving a mark. I pulled and pulled and then the tab tore off. Frustrated, I pried the hook off of the wall with my fingers. A large chunk of paint came with it and a corner of the adhesive touched my finger. Pulling it off with a jerk, it came away with several layers of skin.

Later I complained to my older daughter about the disappointing result from such a promising product. She looked at me quizzically and deadpanned, “did you put the adhesive on backward? You know that one side is stickier than the other…”. No, no I didn’t.

So, it is about time to pull it together…I’ve got a break coming up from work and I have a chance to step back and re-evaluate things, read, write, run, and relax. Oh, and repair the wall and carefully re-hang my things being sure to use the correct strength and to put the adhesive on correctly!

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes that means letting things go for a while!

The Arms (Almost) Have It

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity with Eight Grade Graduation and other end of middle school events, quarter close in an acceleratedly crazy work environment, and the dawn of multiple summer sports for my newly minted high-schooler.

I’ve not run enough. I’ve not been to the gym to do my strength training enough, I’ve missed lunch and then over-consumed at dinner too much. In other words, I’ve lost my equilibrium and my health goals have been tossed to the side for the time being.

Today, I had a couple of important meetings and had to dress accordingly. We’re a rather casual company. Given my status as a plateaued weight-loss woman, I am rather limited in my wardrobe…especially in these days of 90 degree weather when it’s still spring.

So, this morning I grabbed a top that I recently bought on a whim at TJ Maxx. Now, I’m not much of a shopper these days, but my daughters wanted to go there and I got fairly mesmerized by their discounted merchandise. The top I wore today is sleeveless, which is against the corporate dress code. I wasn’t too worried about it, but I did try a jacket or two and decided it was just too hot for a jacket and went without.

Now, the funny thing is that when I took a last glance in the mirror, I didn’t even think about my arms. It wasn’t until much later, after all the high-level meetings and hot assignments, that I finally had a second in front of the mirror in the ladies’ room to think about my arms. Huh…not bad. Not the taut, muscular arms of my dreams (think Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2), but, well, not bad!

So, not all is lost in my quest for health and strength to carry me through for the rest of my life…I may have had to take a step back temporarily, but I didn’t even realize the progress that I’d made in the months prior.

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes it just sneaks up on you!

I Need A Mental Health Day

I have so many things I want to do around the house, so many things I want to do to advance my personal health and well-being, and meanwhile, work is crazy and I still have some unbelieveable loose-ends to deal with. So, I decided to take a day off just for me. I decided to take a mental health day! I am fortunate that, after 25 years at the same company, I have a lot of vacation. I so wish I had the money to use all of those days to travel on international adventures, but, barring that, I may as well use them to advance other objectives.

So, of course, I made a list longer than my arm of things to accomplish. I chose a day when my younger daughter was on a school trip, so I didn’t have any chauffer duties. I could sleep in! And so it began. I slept in until about 6:30…after all, I am a creature of habit! I tried to turn over and fall back to sleep, and I did…until around 8. Ultimately, I got up and ate some breakfast then put on my running clothes. After a somewhat leisurely 3-mile run, I offered my older daughter a ride to her job and after dropping her off headed to the gym. I did my upper and lower-body workouts. I figure, why do just one if I’m there? I never do the core work. This is a problem. I don’t want to pull out a mat and do the work in the middle of the heavy lifters…but even though I can do the core work at home instead…I never do.

As I started my workout, I realized that I’d completely filled out my workout worksheets. So, after I finished, I went up to the desk to ask about new worksheets. They were puzzled at first, but then directed me to my fitness assessor. I headed for her office, but it was closed and I’d been advised by the front desk that she had an appointment. So, noticing another door into the general area of her office, I went through and approached her office from the other direction and found that she was alone. Knocking and entering, I asked for more worksheets. Of course, she wanted to sign me up for another fitness assessment. I demured at first…I’ve not done the core work. I’ve gained, not lost weight…but, I have done the strength training. She assured me that I couldn’t judge my progress without another assessment.

I have less than a month to kick myself into gear…start that core work, run more often, watch my diet. The problem right now is that I am so busy with my younger daughter’s sports schedules, softball and basketball practices and games, that I’ve not been able to commit to any races. I find that signing up for races is the best way to get myself out on the road and running, so this is the crux of my running problem. So, I will look for a couple of races that can fit into this busy schedule. I’ve also found a trick to get in some core work…a 30 day plank challenge. Now, I don’t know if there is any merit to it, but theoretically, it will get me from 20 seconds on the first day to four and a half minutes by day 29…then whatever you can manage on day 30. As for my diet, well that will take a little more work to figure out.

So, after my workout I drove home and took a shower, than met a friend for lunch. I spent the afternoon doing a little decluttering. Later I picked my daughter up from her job and made dinner. We relaxed as a family watching some crime drama TV. I enjoyed my “mental health day” and got a sense for how I could work on my goals on my days off without becoming overwhelmed.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and find the time for what matters.