My Happiness Challenge–Part II

In Part I, I covered five happiness boosters: exercise, sleep, reducing your daily commute, spending time with friends and family, and smiling. I’m feeling happier already, but the article I read about happiness,  10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science, obviously has five more ideas to try. Some of these are more involved and will take more time and effort to achieve.

Next up is getting outside. The American Meteorological Society found that 13.9 degrees Celsius is perfect. Being an engineer, I had to convert that to Fahrenheit…exactly 57 degrees, which makes me wonder if they didn’t measure in Fahrenheit and then convert to Celsius! I’m not sure I agree that 57 degrees is ideal, but it sure is a nice temperature for running. Aside from the recent Polar Vortex driving the temperature below zero (way below zero in Celsius), I live in a four season climate…maybe the average year round temperature is near 57, but it swings much colder in winter and much warmer in summer.  So, while I’ll enjoy my outdoor experiences more some times during the year than others, I need to get out more. 20 minutes a day is enough to improve happiness. I am certainly happier when I run or walk outside, even in bad weather, than I am when I use my treadmill. I’ve gotten in the bad habit this winter of staying inside too much. Part of this is the lack of available daylight, so I’ll try to get out at lunchtime during the week to soak up a bit of sun and fresh air. Maybe I’ll ask along a co-worker to add socializing and smiling (a triple happiness hit!).

It might surprise some people to learn that helping others increases happiness. So does buying something for another person rather than yourself. Even the gift of kindness makes us happier people. Doing these things on a regular basis can be a real happiness booster. As a mom, I wonder if doing things for your kids gives the same benefit. Parents are always buying things for their kids, helping them with miriad tasks, and teaching kindness by example. I surely hit the two-hours per week recommended in the article if I count parenting! I used to volunteer much more than two hours a week, but I’ve had to cut back in recent years. I think I can incorporate this idea in multiple areas of my life. At work, I coach and mentor people, and I will try to be more structured in making sure I’m helping and supportive. At home, of course, there’s all that positive parenting to do. Now I just need to find some form of volunteering that I can fit into my life again. It’s time.

Now it’s time to plan a vacation. Apparently this can lead to weeks of happy anticipation. After the vacation happiness drops back to normal, so the planning is key even if you don’t go on the vacation. I’m not sure about this one. I have planned quite a few vacations in the last several years. I don’t use a travel agent, and maybe that is why I find it rather stressful to plan a vacation. Anticipating the vacation is something else, it can lift my mood each and every time I think about my next vacation. My next step will be brainstorming where I’d like to go…that should do the trick.

For me, the next one is the hardest…meditation. I might need a hard-core class in this, or even a retreat, and I definitely don’t have that on my list of things to do…unless I plan my vacation around it. Meditation can have a tremendous impact on happiness right away and over the long run. I’d like the result, but I don’t know how well I can learn to meditate. I can’t be hypnotized, which might give you an idea of how hard it is for me to shut my brain down. On the other hand, perhaps this is the one skill I really need to cultivate. I’m torn. As we like to say at work, I’ll put a pin in that for now.

Finally, being grateful makes us happy. So, I will practice this by writing down three things that I am grateful for each day. As simple as this practice is, it is shown to have a very positive effect on well-being. To start things out, I am grateful that I didn’t have to shovel snow today. I am grateful that I brought my lunch to work today since I didn’t have time to buy one. I am grateful that the gas company admitted they are at fault for overdrafting my checking account (and that they will cover the overdraft fees). I need to work on this, but at least it has me thinking about the positive things in my life.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and in getting older as that makes us happier people too!

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My Happiness Challenge–Part I

I’ve been thinking about how nice it was to have three weeks off from work and how hard it is to go back to work. Didn’t I have a nice, relaxing vacation? Well, yes, mostly. And now that I’m back to work, is it all sadness and gloom? Hardly, but vacation is better than work.

I started to wonder what exactly makes life happy…what would make me happy more often than not. Then a friend posted a link on Facebook to a post by R&S in Science, called 10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science. It makes a lot of sense, and explains how vacation can make me happier…and also how I can figure out how to bring happiness into my “real” life as well as into my vacationing self.

Tackling the first five, I know I’m on the right track. First off…Exercise more. Yes, that is very good advice. The article indicates that even 7 minutes a day makes a difference. I can say from personal experience that exercise is a major happiness enabler. On my vacation, I didn’t exercise as much as I could have, but every time I exercise, I can attest that I do end up with a greater sense of well-being.

Secondly, sleeping more means that you will be less sensitive to negative emotions. I know this one from many experiences. I long ago realized that I make very bad decisions when sleep deprived. I feel more “put upon”, more “wronged”, I feel as if I am in a hopeless situation…but I’ve learned not to make important decisions while sleep deprived…things always turn out to be much more optimistic when I’m well rested. I wrote about Sleep early on in my journey as it relates to weight-loss. Now I know it has even more benefits, so I have even more reason to get a good night’s sleep every night.

Third is to move closer to work. Well, in my situation, that is impossible. I live right, smack-dab, in the middle of work. Most of my colleagues live 20 or more miles away and to make matters worse, the commute can be brutal in bad weather. What the heck. living one mile from work I can’t really move closer. Those who live 20 miles away spend up to 45 minutes getting to and from work.

Fourth is to spend more time with family and friends. I love this one! I don’t live close to my extended family…they are scattered around the country. To make matters worse, I have never been very good at keeping in touch. This one I’ll have to work on. I have been spending more time with my friends lately, and that has been nice. I also work with a lot of friendly people which sure makes me happier than the alternative.  Mostly, when not at work, I spend my waking hours with my younger daughter. I know for a fact that this makes me a happier person. We get so much more one-on-one time than I ever got with my older kids, because now she’s the only one at home. I love hearing about her latest obsessions. I now know that the reason she wanted those skate shoes was because Naill (aka her favorite member of One Direction) has a similar pair. That just makes me smile…and smiling is another happiness booster!

I’m skipping ahead to number seven, which is to smile more. I really could use more smiling in my life. It’s important to use your eyes when you smile to really make it work…and of course, thinking about happy things that make you smile is even better. Perhaps I need some more time with my friends so I have someone to smile at and laugh with!

My challenge to myself is to try to implement all ten of the ideas and see what happens. I’ve covered five here and will cover the rest in a separate post. I’m already concluding that happiness isn’t about worklife balance, it’s about balance, period.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the path to happiness as well!

Reading, Writing, and Running

As my 50th birthday gets closer and closer I wonder what I’ll do with my blog…Laura’s 50 by 50 will be over when I get to that milestone. I know I won’t have done everything I wanted to do, but I sure have done a lot and I’m happy with my successes. Three things that have come to the forefront in my life recently are reading, writing, and running.

I have always loved to read…well, at least since I was 7. I was a late reader but have been an avid one ever since. As I started this project I admitted that I’d lost touch with the reader in me. My life is full of lots of responsibilities, many of which are time-consuming. Reading had taken a back seat to other activities. Even with a goal of reading 50 books for pleasure in the 2 and a half years leading up to my 50th birthday, I’m falling a bit short. This is one goal I will reach…I will make sure of it!

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Right now, I’m reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, my 36th book. I am enjoying it immensely, especially since I just read The Paris Wife, a novel by Paula McLain about the same time in Hemingway’s life based on primary sources. The version I’m reading was edited by Hemingway’s descendants, and they provide refreshing perspectives on his life.

I have always wanted to be a writer…well, at least since I was 7. I was a late reader, but I quickly got up to speed and hit college-level reading in fourth grade. Early on I read the Little House books and Little Women. The first was a memoir by prolific writer and journalist, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the second was a novel about a writer by a writer. It helped that Louisa May Alcott and I share a birthday. I was enamored with the idea of being a writer from almost the moment I first started to read.

I had the writer-wannabe down pat long ago…but with this blog, I finally have put writing into practice. It is not the kind of writing I long to do, but it is the kind of writing I can do every day and can fit into my current priorities. I started a novel a few years ago, trying to use NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, aka November) to get myself psyched. November turns out to not be a great time of year to write an entire novel…

I have wanted to be a runner since I was about 14. It didn’t go very well. I read Running by James Fixx and was inspired. I was young, I flew out the door and ran 3 miles. That was Easter and by Memorial Day, I was ready to run our quirky 5.2 mile, hilly hometown run. I vaguely recall running it in 52-ish minutes. I don’t recall running again until I was about 34, except as coerced in high school gym class. I had a lot of trouble with my ankles to the point where I had to stop running.

These days, however, I’ve managed in the last 15 months to go from couch to half-marathon-training. I am happy about the running, but completely stressed-out about the half-marathon. I think that 6 miles is a sweet-spot for me. I’m still determined to meet my goal of running a half-marathon, but after that, I just want to enjoy a 6-mile run two or three times a week.

So, as I approach the point of letting go of this blog, at least the name of this blog, I wonder what to turn it into…at the moment, Reading, Writing, and Running is on my short list.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and remember that rather than an ending, you can choose to evolve!

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Health and Happiness

My last post garnered more views in the first 24 hours than any other post I’ve written. On average I get only about 15 hits a day on my blog but I got 102 in the first 24 hours after posting The Elusive Goal. I have a very small following, but maybe it is starting to grow! Now, it’s not my most read post, but it hit number 12 in 24 hours, and number 6 within a few hours more, so who knows where it will ultimately end up. My most popular post, by the way, is My First De-Cluttering Project–The Mud Room.  Weight-loss/fitness and de-cluttering are my most popular topics.

In addition to getting many hits on my blog recently, I got 2 more followers and a few comments as well. I got even more comments privately. There were three themes…one:  that I should learn to be happy as I am, two: that I shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about losing weight, I should figure out my game plan and start already, and three: offers of advice, sympathy, and encouragement. I want to circle back on the happiness comment. It is true that I am not always a very happy person, but I’m no sad-sack either; I’m not a Pollyanna, I’m a realist. I was my happiest, in general, when I was thin. Why is that?

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties, I was working out about an hour and a half a day and I had lost a lot of weight. It’s pretty simple why I was a happier person, despite the stresses that I was under back then (money issues, new-marriage issues, new-career issues, and infertility). Endorphins released by exercise have the known effect of making one happy. Finding that your body does what your mind tells it to do, to be coordinated and strong, is affirming. I also found that I could eat more, enough to satisfy my body and enough to satisfy my emotional-eating needs without gaining weight. I could go to the store and pull something off the rack and it fit and it looked good on me. All the exercising I was doing gave me emotional resilience, made me feel good, and made me strong and healthy. I want that again, and truth be told, we all would be happier if we had that level of health and fitness.

So, to my dear friend that told me to be happy with the body I have, I made some progress; I bought myself some clothes that fit and are flattering for my body the way it is now, not the way I want it to be after losing 20 pounds (a common mistake I make). To Melissa Robinson, (Fitness PhoenixX) a fellow blogger, fitness coach, and soon-to-be-pharmacist who told me “Don’t sit and think too long”, I finally heard my 16 year old daughter telling me she wanted to join a gym…and I signed both of us up this weekend. And to all of the people who offered me advice, sympathy, and encouragement…please keep it coming! I appreciate all you are offering me.

I’m still trying to figure out why I am my own worst enemy…but meanwhile I am taking a bias for action. I will have my moments of failure, those days when I’m laid low by bad intentions of others or more stress than I can deal with in a day, but if I let those days get to me I will choose to wake up the next day and get a fresh start. Happiness and joy are not the same thing, but I believe that if I am happier due to taking better care of myself…I will be more open to the Joy that is around me.

Find the Joy in the Journey!

Related Post: The Elusive Goal

If you like my posts, please scroll down past the comments section and “like” me on the Facebook link to my new page, Find the Joy in the Journey. I would love to build this page to be a real community!

Would You Live Your Life Over Again?

If you could live your life over again, would you? I have thought about this question at different times in my life with different answers. After I met the man that became my husband, my relive-my-life fantasies got a bit convoluted…they had to include meeting him. Once I had kids, they got impossibly convoluted to the point where, if I could re-live my life it would have to start some time after my younger daughter was born. So, I could only re-live the last 11 years, which doesn’t seem worth it. Except that I had a really bad stretch in the middle there and maybe if I relived it I could make it turn out much, much better. Or not. I think I’ll just start where I am, 47 years old, and go from here. It’s good advice for everyone…start where you are and go from there. Don’t look back, don’t regret, don’t look at others and think they are “luckier” or “more privileged” or anything…that way lies bitterness.

But, I’ve had my Peggy Sue Got Married  fantasies, and here are a few.

Growing up, I found school boring. I was bullied from 1st through 5th grade. Middle school was a bore, and had the unwelcome middle-school lunchroom drama. I was unpopular. I wore coke-bottom-bottle glasses. I had braces. No, nothing could make middle school any better for me, so let’s skip any “reliving”. I think this is mostly true for everyone. But, with my younger daughter, I think I’ve found a lovely exception…her 6th grade class is a continuation of 4th and 5th with the same teacher and with the three grades together. Hey, sometimes you get it right as a parent by the 3rd child! But, no, I still wouldn’t repeat my 70’s middle-school experience.

Then there’s high school. If I could have relived it as late as graduation, I may have. Or maybe not. Part of my fantasy is that I retain all knowledge I have as I travel back in time…but I really don’t think that my 18 ½ year old self was so much more mature than my 14 year old self and that probably would have trumped knowledge. But, if I returned with my current level of knowledge…ah, then you are in Peggy Sue territory, except that I’d be less worried about romance and more into learning and extra-curriculars. But to put it back into an 18 year-old’s perspective, no one that age thinks about going back in time…the world awaits!

The end of college was a different story. There weren’t any personal times that I wanted to do-over, but I struggled academically and the idea that I could finish college then immediately do it over again (retaining all four years of learning, of course) would have meant major improvements in my grades. But, my biggest do-over fantasy about college was taking an English major instead of a Chemical Engineering major. If I’d done that, I would have had a college grade point average to match my high school performance…instead of an ordinary one. For me, college was about finally challenging myself academically, so I picked the hardest major there was…whether I liked it or not. I ended up getting a masters in business right out of college…I didn’t work as an engineer and thought for many years that I’d blown it on picking my college major. With the wisdom of age, I realize it really doesn’t matter. I learned a lot in college that wasn’t in any book and I’ve forgotten more than I remember about what I did learn in class. Besides, my husband and I met before classes started as Freshmen and we waited four long years to get married…a do over would have stretched that to eight!

So, let’s jump ahead to after my younger daughter was born. Hindsight being 20-20, I could make different decisions about our home renovation and about our finances in the days leading up to the housing crash, but I wouldn’t be able to change the facts that there is corruption in city hall and that my neighbor used that to mess with us. I don’t know why. If I did, then maybe I could change things if I relived them. I wouldn’t take the risk, however. You just never know what will happen if you relive part of your life! I mean, it’s been a literary device in books, plays, movies…it seems to never get old. Whether the lesson is, “be careful what you wish for” or “you’re better off than you think” it’s almost always the same end result…the wisher wakes up and realizes how little they appreciated the life they have. Just in the movies I can think of a few of my favorites: It’s A Wonderful Life, Big, 13 Going on 30, The Wizard of Oz, and of course, Peggy Sue Got Married. I think I’ll leave my “wishing” for my literary creations and not my fantasies!

Find the Joy in the Journey and be grateful for the life you have!

Idyll of Summer

As summer break winds down I think back to my most idyllic summer as a teen. I don’t recall what summer that was, maybe my 16th. I’m pretty sure it was the summer I drove to an evening summer job but before I had a boyfriend.  It was a carefree summer full of swimming, biking, and hanging at the river with my girlfriends.

Maybe we only went to the river a few times, but in my memory we spent our summer there. It was cool and shady down by the river. We sunbathed on the huge river rocks, dangled our feet in the water, and occasionally jumped in to cool off. It was our secret place, accessible from my friend’s house by cutting through a neighbor’s yard and slipping down through the woods on the riverbank to our spot.

When we got hungry, we’d go back up to the house, then walk or bike up to town. We discovered that we could get generic pot pies for 25 cents apiece; just the thing to meet our cravings and our teen budgets. Back we’d go to the house and pop them into the oven. Then it was an agonizing 45 minutes for them to cook, wafting their savory, chickeny smell past our noses until our stomachs growled in protest.

My summer job wasn’t too taxing and I probably didn’t have too many hours…I scooped ice cream and made numerous fancy sundaes and milkshakes to order. There was a boy who seemed interested in me all summer, but I guess he was too shy to ask me out, so it was just a light summer flirtation. The people-watching was entertaining and eye-opening. One time a gaggle of giggling 16 year old girls came in, one in a fur coat which she’d just received for her birthday and decided to wear to get ice cream on a 90 degree evening. They ordered Tab floats and wafted out the door, back to their world so different from mine.

With all the swimming and biking I did that summer, I was in the best shape of my life. I swam for fun, but biked for transportation. Living at the outskirts of town, I practically glided to town down into the valley every day. Getting home was a grueling 2 miles up hill.

When I watch my children in this last week of summer for my college-bound son and my high school daughter, I don’t see them having the kind of liberating freedom that I had. We live across the street and up the banks from a river…even closer than I lived to my river growing up. But I don’t see my kids hanging around in it. That would scare me! But, maybe if my parents had known I was down at the river they would have been uncomfortable too…but I doubt it. Each generation seems to be dealing with scarier environments…or are they?

I bet the young generation in my home town is sneaking down to the river for a dip or a tryst, just like I did. The difference, I think, is that I grew up in a town of under 5000 where my own parents grew up…adults could watch out for random children and know just whom to call if there were a problem. My kids live in a small city of about 100,000…it’s just not the same.

But when I look back on it, I was swimming in a river just a mile or two downstream from a paper factory…who knows what pollutants I was exposed to…But I do know that the river near my home, although home to raccoons, deer, ground hogs, muskrats, and numerous other forms of wildlife, is also known to be polluted enough that no one would dream of swimming in it.

I hope my children, who spent significant portions of their summers in organized summer camps or academic programs enjoyed their parentless weeks or hours….grew independent muscles, learned amazing things, whether taught to them explicitly or learned through experience.

Find the Joy in the Journey and learn from your younger self how to really know what joy is!

Was Blind But Now I See

I’ve been feeling a bit down lately due to my husband’s travel schedule taking him away for week after week and often with only a day at home before he’s off again. So, I decided to think about something about which I’m grateful. Nothing related to my husband, just something totally out of the blue. When I was a little girl, I read the Little House on the Prairie books over and over. I always marveled at how grateful they were for the things that I took for granted. Getting an orange in their Christmas stocking was one of the great joys of their year and it was never a guarantee. I put a chocolate orange in the stockings of my children in remembrance of that, but the thing that I always go back to is that Mary would never have gone blind if she’d lived in modern times.

I can remember a time when I could see just fine, or as fine as a little child needs to see. I think I was fine even in Kindergarten and first grade, but there came a time when my vision just wasn’t very good and I was starting to notice it. I’d sit closer to the TV than I was supposed to “because it would hurt my eyes”, but it wasn’t the TV that did it. One day there was a public service announcement about diabetes and how it can cause blindness. The screen grew blurrier and blurrier as a voice intoned that if this is how you see, you need to see a doctor right away. I flew down the stairs to tell my mother that I was going blind! She didn’t buy it.

It couldn’t have been too long after that that we were in church and I asked her what the next song was going to be. The number for each song was on a plaque at the front of the church for all to see…except that I couldn’t and we were in about the 6th row from the front. At first my mother thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. Soon after, I was at the eye doctor being fitted for glasses. They were the absolutely ugliest glasses, big flesh-colored plastic frames and seriously thick lenses.

As we drove home I looked out the car window up into the sky and exclaimed about the miraculous things I could see. “Mom, look! Leaves! I can see the leaves way up in the trees! Individual leaves!” You mean you couldn’t see those before? “No, Mom! And look, what are those lines running between the telephone poles? Were they always there?” Those are the telephone wires…do you mean you couldn’t see those either? “No, Mom! But I can see them now!”

My vision probably was fine months before, it continued to change so rapidly that I needed a new prescription every 6 months while I was growing up and it even deteriorated when I was an adult. When I was in 8th grade, my mom finally let me get contact lenses. Back then, contacts were more expensive than glasses so it was a big deal. Freed from glasses, I saw the wonder once again in having peripheral vision! And an even more interesting phenomenon…boys started to notice me!

My childhood eye doctor pioneered radial keratotomy in the US and told me that I would never be a candidate for it because I was far too nearsighted.  I ended up as an adult going to an eye doctored who was a pioneer in laser eye surgery, but once again, I wasn’t a candidate for it because I was too nearsighted. As the years went by, however, the surgery continued to improve and one day my doctor told me he finally had a technique and a laser that would work on me!

When the time came, I was given a Valium to steady my nerves. You are awake during the brief surgery and need to be perfectly still. A rather intimidating proposition! The Valium had no detectable effect on me, but I observed one woman getting giddier and giddier and calling friends on her cell phone to tell them she was on Valium. She didn’t appear to have the capability to hold still if she tried!

In the operating room, they explained the procedure and what I would hear. Mine would take 2 minutes per eye, far longer than normal due to the severity of my nearsightedness. I held still as required and listened to the clicking of the machine making the laser and tried not to think that they’d sliced my lens open, lasered the inside, and placed the flap back in place. After the first eye, I knew I could manage it one more time for the other.

Finally, they were done. They sat me back upright and asked me how I was. I think I scared them because I couldn’t answer;  I couldn’t talk at all…I was so choked up with emotion because I could read the clock!! It was an ordinary clock, the kind you can buy for about $8. Not only could I read the numbers parading around the perimeter, a miracle in itself, I could actually see the hands!

I had always been afraid of going blind. I never lost a pair of glasses because I wore them every waking moment and kept them close at night. I had a fear of trying to get out of the house in case of a fire without them. The mere idea that I could go blind during surgery scared me and it wasn’t until I learned I needed sinus surgery and I compared the risks between the two surgeries, that I decided to go ahead.

So, here I am…20/20! I no longer fear being blind and lost. I am grateful for my eyesight, grateful for glasses, contacts, and eye surgery! So, next time I am feeling down, I will think about that for which I am grateful. I will look back and see that once I felt overjoyed to see the leaves in the trees and the hands of a clock.

Find the Joy in the Journey, even if it has to be in retrospect!

Sometimes I Feel Like Miss Havisham

The other day, while doing a little de-cluttering, I stumbled on this curious scribbled note: “Sometimes I feel like Miss Havisham”.  I do? Wow. I started to think about Miss Havisham…I picture her, waxen-faced, sitting in her wedding dress and wearing only one shoe. She’s in her fifties, but looks older. Actually, I mostly think of her wedding cake, picked away by mice and covered in spiders. I really hate spiders; I’m an arachnophobic. The image of the cake is forever etched in my brain and temporarily makes my mind wander away from the original statement: Sometimes I feel like Miss Havisham.

Miss Havisham, jilted and defrauded by her lover on her wedding day. Well, that’s certainly not anything like me! In doing a little research, I discovered that there is even a disorder named for Miss Havisham. According to The Telegraph: 

“Scientists say pining for lost love can turn into a physically addictive pleasure and have dubbed the condition the “Miss Havisham effect” after the jilted bride in the Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations.”

Miss Havisham never put on her second wedding shoe and had all the clocks stopped at twenty to nine so that she’d never forget the exact moment of her betrayal. Oh. Wait a minute. Now we’re getting somewhere. Miss Havisham, punishing her oblivious, former lover by allowing herself and her house to fall to ruins around her. Miss Havisham, fantasizing about punishing her (oblivious, former) lover by allowing herself to be laid in state upon the same table as the cake, eaten away by the very same mice.

Man, this woman sure has issues. Anyone can see that she’s only hurting herself by focusing the rest of her life on someone who is evil and is laughing all the way to the bank. Right? Now, I know, and I’ve always known that I was only hurting myself by focusing so much bitterness and anger at being betrayed by my neighbor. But that doesn’t make it easy to let go. Fortunately, though, I’m finally focused on the here and now in order to get to the future I want. I am not fantasizing about some imagined revenge, I’m focused on my family, my job, myself…right here and now.

If I am Miss Havisham, then I am the Miss Havisham that finally got up out of the chair, took a shower (please!), put on new clothes (and two shoes), and set the clocks to the correct time. I’m the Miss Havisham who got rid of that awful cake (ok, I asked Pip to do it…those spiders are too much for me!). I am the Miss Havisham who did not let my bitterness infect my children.

When I was in 8th grade, my class went to see Great Expectations. The things I remember about it are that Miss Havisham was very large…she looked a lot like the wedding cake sitting there in her big, tiered wedding gown. I remember the spiders on the cake (ok, maybe I just “knew” they were there…if they were visible from the audience they would have had to have been enormous, bigger even than the mice). But, mostly I remember that for the whole second act, Pip had his fly open and the hem of his white shirt was poking out of his dark pants. My class was later commended for our polite behavior—kids from other schools got the giggles!

That wasn’t helping me remember any details about Miss Havisham, so I looked for a copy of the book in my collection, but it wasn’t there. Perhaps it was a victim, as many of my other books were, to one of the three times our pipes burst during the stop-work order; our house was stripped of roof and siding and the old steam heat could not keep up with the unusually bitter cold that winter. It was really hard to lose those books…I have never gotten rid of a book and losing a random sample of my books was like losing touch with old friends. Now, I can always replace any that I particularly liked, but I also lost all of my yearbooks and other memorabilia. But, part of this process I’m going through is learning to let go of what isn’t truly important…and that goes for old yearbooks. (Ok, waiting for my husband to toss the last of them…partly due to my mold allergy and partly due to not wanting to “deal” with them.)

So, I find a spark in me. No, not on me, in me. Miss Havisham suffered a painful, and eventually fatal burning when her dress caught fire. My flame, of inspiration, motivation, and hope will save me. No more will I pine away for what might have been…but I reserve the right to vent occasionally and hopefully with humor!

Find the Joy in the Journey!

Pre-Empty Nest Syndrome

Since I try to give my children an experience away from home for a few weeks each summer, I sometimes end up all alone. So far this summer, I’ve only been totally alone one night. Last summer I planned for all the kids to be gone during the same week when I had a down week from work…but I forgot to coordinate with my husband, so he was away on business and I was home alone for the whole week!

This summer I am constantly reminded and amazed that my children are getting older and more independent. Also, how very different they are from each other and were since the day they were born. It is a joy of parenthood to see these things. My younger daughter loves sports, reading, and science. She’s off at science camp and hangs at the lake most afternoons. She goes on field trips and arranges fun times with the other kids. She’s as outgoing as they come and a natural leader. She calls or texts me goodnight and catches up with me on the weekends.

My older daughter loves the band Switchfoot, she is into anything art-related, and spends her spare time making little Pokemon figures out of bake-able clay or making stop-action animated clips. She’s away at art camp and I’ve barely heard from her! Of course, she’s older and her cell phone broke as soon as she got there. She’s navigating the process to get the phone repaired or replaced on her own. She texted me several times as she did her laundry for the first time, but since then she’s handled it solo. I’m sure she is feeling quite independent and ready to be off at college already!

My son is home this summer, no special camps for him this year. Since he couldn’t find a job in this economy, he’s been biking, working out, swimming, reading, and generally enjoying a carefree summer prior to leaving for college. He went to college orientation last week, and since then his excitement level has gone up. He has his schedule planned out and is even applying for a campus job. Once he’s gone, the empty nest officially winds up…although it will take 7 years until it’s complete.

These summer weeks are an opportunity for me to figure out what I’ll do with my time when the kids are gone…especially with the first one off to college in a month and the second following in two years. I have found that instead of 2 loads of laundry a day, I’m down to 3 per week. Instead of 2-3 loads of dishes a day, I can go a few days…then have to run it because it smells, not because it’s full!

I can watch my favorite shows on TV instead of catching up on Hulu. I get to pick the DVD instead of trying to facilitate an acceptable choice across the 11 to 18 year old, girl/boy, fantasy/sci-fi versus romantic comedy landscape. (A prime reason why we have watched a significant number of TV detective series over the years, including Poirot, Miss Marple, Columbo, Monk, Sherlock Holmes, and the like.)

I don’t need to go from room to room each morning before work scooping up dirty clothes and dishes. I don’t need to then start the dishwasher and washing machine only to return at lunch to throw the wash in the dryer, throw in a new load, and then unload the dishwasher. I’m not stopping at the grocery store on the way home unless I want a bit of fresh fruit or vegetables for my dinner.  I can travel without checking everyone’s schedule and without coordinating childcare and rides. It’s definitely eye opening how much more freedom I will have once the kids are grown or at least the youngest is driving.

So, what am I doing with my freed-up time this summer? I’m getting together with friends for lunch or working through lunch more often. I’m going home at lunch and reading or writing instead of doing housework. I’m attending wine tastings after work once a month with my girlfriends, and I’m working on my de-cluttering efforts on the weekends.

In the fall, I need to regroup because although my son will be off at college, I’ve lost him as a spare driver. Until my older daughter gets her driver’s license, I will be more schedule-constrained than I’ve been over the last two years. But come winter, I’m contemplating taking a French class or maybe a cooking class. I also applied to be on a special employee council at work…if I’m selected, that will bring some interesting projects my way.

To me, this is an exciting time. It’s exciting to see my children growing up and developing their own skills, interests, friendships, and competencies. They know I am proud of them and they know that they have a soft place to land if things don’t work out exactly as they plan. And it’s an exciting time for me too as I re-energize and re-examine my life and prepare for whatever comes my way.

Find the Joy in the Journey!

Over Indulgence—Sometimes It’s Okay!

I was a bit stressed about today and how it would go and that I’d have to get up earlier than usual and get home late. I planned to go to bed early the night before, jump out of bed when the alarm rang and jump onto the treadmill, then take a quick shower and be off. But, when I woke up this morning, I realized that I’d really not left myself enough time and I skipped the workout. I also skipped my normal egg substitute and grabbed an energy bar instead.

I was going fishing a couple of hours away with a group of people. I work with some of them, and the rest I’ve been in meetings with, but don’t really remember their names, making it a bit awkward. I’d not gone on the trip before, so I really didn’t know the routine. It was early, but I figured I could last until lunch on just the energy bar. I got in my car at 6 a.m. and the D.J. on the radio announced that it was 81 degrees already and likely to break 100 degrees for a record-setting temperature.

Well, when we got there (after I’d eaten my energy bar) I learned that we start off with an enormous breakfast, get no lunch, and end with an enormous dinner. Hmm…Well, I was pretty hungry, and I’m horrible when it comes to buffets or big, family-style serving. Eggs…real ones. Pork chop (ok, they call it “bacon” there, but it was half an inch thick, white meat, just like a boneless pork chop if you ask me). Sausage link. English muffin. French toast (more like raisin bread casserole). And, boy was it all yummy! Skipped potatoes (allergy) and bacon (never made it my way).

There were about 18 of us…or should I say, 17 men and me. We split up into groups of 4 or 5 and got on our boats with our captains. Thankfully, out on the lake it was really breezy. I was more worried about my skin, however, and had worn long shorts and a loose, light-colored shirt. I sprayed on the SPF 50 sunscreen regularly, but I wasn’t convinced it was enough. I was calculating in my head…if I get a bad burn in 15 minutes, but I get 50x protection, how long is that?  I also tried to balance my need for hydration and my reluctance to use the head.

I had no idea what techniques to use to catch fish, but it turned out not to matter; it was mostly dumb luck. We used live bait, so you don’t even cast…just drop the line down in the water. Although I didn’t catch the most fish of the day, nor the largest (bets were on both), I did catch the most fish in my boat, 11 small-mouth bass (counted towards the bet) and a small perch that we released. I’ve only ever fished twice before in my life and caught one snake fish when I was 6…so this was indeed a success for me!

The guys all went “swimming” a couple of times, which was really standing on a sand bar with water up to their chests. The second time, it was more like, standing in chest-deep water and drinking beer! Those from my boat found little leeches on their feet after that second swim. I still wished I had felt comfortable getting in with them. Two things I thought were that if I come next year, I hope I’ve lost enough weight to feel comfortable being in a bathing suit in front of my co-workers and to bring a hat that ties under the chin. It really is unfair that men can wear a bathing suit and it’s no different than being in shorts…but for a woman it’s much more revealing even with a super modest suit. While they were out there, I wiped my hand across the front of my neck and found that I had a white powder there…took me a minute to realize it was salt!

Back on shore, it was time for dinner. Every place had an enormous steak on it; I would guess they were each almost a pound! Then there was the bass, cooked up two different ways, and corn on the cob, wax beans, squash, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and salad! I only ate a little steak, and the salad was the best part, but still I’m sure I over-indulged. Um, oh yeah, then there was dessert…a choice of peach cobbler, blueberry pie, cherry cheesecake, and strawberry rhubarb pie. Sigh!

Soon it was time to leave, earlier than I’d thought. They wrapped up my share of the bass and put it in an insulated bag with some ice and wrapped up my steak and put it in too. We drove back to our meeting point and, light still in the sky, I drove home. It was 103 degrees according to the car thermometer! Now that the sun has set, my house is still 81 degrees even though the central air conditioning has been running non-stop for days.

So, here I am. I’m tired and full and happy. I am happy that I took a one-day break from my diet and exercise to have a new experience! I’m enjoying my journey!