Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking Forward!

Here it is - the end of 2014. A traditional time to reflect and resolve. I did that this year and - scratch that. What I did was OVERdo that this year! Well, no sense pummeling myself about that. Instead, I've been using that experience as a means to figure out what is to be gleaned from that experience.

Mind you, I had some incredible successes this past year and some wonderful "mountaintop moments," including the publication of Wanna Cook? and seeing FryDaddy complete his graduate studies and come home to live with me and be my love full-time. I reached my goal of competing in a 5K race and, along the way, discovered that I like my version of jobbling. I attended my college reunion and caught up with a number of women who helped form me into the person I turned into. Likewise, I attended the Whedon-based Slayage conference and connected with an amazing circle of scholars who helped shape me professionally. Honestly, it was a very good year in many, many respects.

But the ending needed work. I took on too many challenges, both personally and professionally, and I buckled under the weight of all those obligations. That would have been fine, but I refused to admit that I am not Supergirl and that led to some long, dark nights of the soul. And - oh yeah - cancer diagnosis.* So in some ways it was a pretty lousy year.

Therefore, the key question was what to do, what to do?

Colanders & sloths. It's a thing.
Then I had an epiphany. (Not the Epiphany party I've thrown for years, though. That's one of the things going by the wayside this year as a concession to December's surgery.) I don't want this coming year to be about outside things as much as I want to make it about inside things. Yes, I hope that side effects of that will be a return to healthier habits, but my focus this next year is going to be just on being kinder to myself. As corny as it may sound, the cancer diagnosis, with all its attendant fear, uncertainty, and occasional moments of actual terror, has been a bizarre sort of gift. I've had to slow down. I've had to let others take care of me and no one wanted to hear me apologize for it. I honestly can't list all the kindnesses that have been shown to me during this ordeal, nor can I list all the people who have been so joyous when I had good news to share at different stages of this misadventure.

So - my resolution for 2015 is simple - be kind to myself. Instead of crash dieting and setting checklist and checklist for myself, I want this year to include changes such as:

  • Not eating lunch at my desk while I check e-mail every workday
  • Eating a lunch that consists of real food, not just a meal shake and a granola bar
  • Building breaks into my day instead of having meeting after appointment after conference
  • Making time off a requirement instead of a "wow, wouldn't that be nice?" Seriously, religions that observe a Sabbath are on to something in this regard.

Oh, there's plenty more I'd like to do, but it's a very, very good start that will already require me to make some real changes in order for me to put my own well being at the top of the list in ink instead of tentatively writing my name lightly in pencil at the very bottom of the page.

It sounds so simple, but I think it might be harder than it looks.

Onward!


*By the way - surgery was a few days before Christmas, which made for an interesting holiday, but I was so glad to get it done! And - calloo, callay! - the pathology report came back excellentwonderful with a report of clean margins on the excised tissue, which translates into "we got it all." You'll hear more about continued treatment for the next few months (radiation is coming and I doubt it gives me superpowers), but things look good, good, great on that front!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hurry, Hurry - Now Wait!

I've been putting off drafting this post, hoping a few things would snap into focus and I could write definitively about them, but that's just not happening, so let me get you up to speed as best as I can.

The fall semester is over. Grades are turned in and there was the usual gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and marking in red. Some students pulled things together and amazed me and some - well, some just didn't, or they misread the syllabus, or, or, or. At any rate, it's done and in the record books at this point, which means it's time to get ready for the holidays, right?

Well . . .

Even by my standards, Dec. 19th is a little late to be getting a tree, but that's how the Casa de Guffey rolled this year. On the plus side, waiting until the 19th means you get a really, really cheap tree.  On the minus side, it's a little on the funky side from being cut and tied up for so long.  We now have our second year of learning "just how much tree will fit in a sedan?"  (The answer for a Ford Focus is "about seven feet," by the way. Just drive carefully and stay on the back roads.) A good friend brought his sons over and he gave the trunk a fresh cut, we wrestled it into the stand and it's now slurping up water and letting its branches relax and hang out.  Hopefully, we'll decorate it (and get the last few thingamabobs up in the house) tomorrow, which is also a major family feed day. Yum!

As you know from this blog, the main reason the holidays are so discombobulated this year has to do with my introduction into the Pink Ribbon Club. That's kept me (and FryDaddy, as my personal chauffeur) hopping lately, with consultations and appointments galore.  Let's see - among the things I've learned would be:
  • I don't have a genetic predisposition towards cancer - it's just one of those things that could (and apparently, often does) happen. That's not nice, but it's good to know that I'm not at a high-risk for recurrence.
  • Surgery is expected to be a "lumpectomy," although I don't actually have a lump. On the day of surgery, they'll insert teensy guide wires to tell the surgeon "start here!" and "stop here!" I'd think a felt-tip marker could do the same thing, but no. When I whined about this, FryDaddy reminded me that, yes, I have many accomplishments, but going to med school isn't one of them, so maybe (just maybe) I could hush up about this part. I hate that he's right.
  • Surgery will be outpatient, which thrills me to no end. Get me home, please! We've got comfort food in the kitchen and I hope to have a few hot meals lined up before we leave on Monday.
  • When you remove tissue, the body doesn't like it much and wants very much to fill that void with fluid, which is bad and can be painful. To avoid that, the idea is to compress everything and hold everything very, very still. So I'll be wearing a garment I've spent my entire life avoiding - oh, it may be medically-indicated, but it's still essentially a tube top. I want sequins and blue eyeshadow to go with it, but apparently that's not an option.  At least not one covered by insurance.
  • Due to the (still fingers crossed here) change in date, Christmas is going to be very interesting. But honestly, I want this done.  As in DONE. So I jumped at the date change. Looks like the 23rd of December for me. I'm scheduled to go first that day, so we've booked a hotel room close to the hospital rather than make the hour-long drive at 4 AM.
  • The date was switched because a pathologist managed to get the slides from my biopsy, examine them, and say, "By George, the doctor's right in her surgical plan!" With that done (they weren't expecting the pathologist to get the slides so quickly, but that Very Fetching Hat seems to have some magical powers), there was a slot on the 23rd, so the hospital called me, and I began a whirlwind of phone calls to schedule what felt like thirty-seven separate appointments. While not physically exhausting, it's been a draining day.
  • The 23rd of December. That's sort of funny in the "non ha ha" way - a year ago, I began jobbling as part of my "I'm going to take better care of myself" pledge.  (My first jobble was on Christmas Eve, I believe.) Now this.
I am amazed beyond belief at the kindness and gentleness of people during this stressful, weird time. (And judging from the quote in the picture, I know a LOT of very, very strong people.) It's nearly overwhelming what friends will do for you in times of trouble. With cancer, maybe it's a little of that primitive lizard-brain at work - "If I do this, the Angel of Pink Ribbons will fly over my house;" I don't know. What I do know is that my yard and gutters are leaf-free, I have a Christmas tree with a fresh cut, my workplace is being beyond understanding, I have the promise of fresh homemade food, and dozens of friends have given/are giving us gifts of time, talents, kind thoughts, and errand-running so my house can get through this rough patch with as little disruption as possible.

It'll make you pause.

And maybe that's the lesson in all of this.

Be safe. And don't wait to tell those you love that you love them. If you get another chance to do it, tell them again. Won't hurt.  Might help.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November - Checking In!

Poet Thomas Hood didn't really care for November, once writing:
No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -
November! 

Right there with you, Tommy.

All throughout 2014, I've been "checking in" on the resolutions I made in January. Back then, I set five challenges for myself and all year, I've been reporting in my progress, setbacks, and "ack!" moments. To review - I picked six classic books I hadn't read to complete this year, I picked 24 "good movies" I'd never seen to watch this year, I determined to keep a household budget and tame the credit card monster while I was at it, I said I'd take the FlyLady system further into homecare, and I said I'd train to run a 5K race before the New Year's Eve.

OK. No one ever had me stand on a stage to receive the "Sanest Woman Alive" medal. There's been progress, sure - I've read three of my six classic books (along with a slew of other books that weren't on the list), seen 12 of my classic movies (again, along with a slew of classics that weren't on the list [I especially recommend Fritz Lang's M, by the way]), the budget comes and goes although we've done very well on keeping credit cards in a drawer, the basics of the FlyLady system are in place, although my zones are hit-and-miss, and - my big triumph - I've run 3 official 5K races, along with several "virtual" ones where you run and post your time online.

In the meantime, work has been driving me into a state of frantic "I can't get caught up," I feel like organizations I deeply care about are getting about 70% of me and that's squeezed in, my writing projects feel like chores rather than opportunities, and my beloved husband, who took me 40 years to find, feels a lot like an amiable roommate some days.

Clearly, something had to give.

I was not expecting it to be a diagnosis of cancer, although that'll pull you up right short in a hurry.

Cornhole - lot of missed shots there!
I wrote about this in my last post, but a quick recap and the latest news. I have been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS"), which is both good news - it's not life-threatening in and of itself; it's what it can turn into that's worrisome and bad news - it's gorram cancer. I've had two biopsies done and am scheduled for a third Monday morning. OK, now for the funny.  400 years of the scientific method and the best position for a patient to be in for a breast biopsy is to lie flat on a table, with the (ahem) body part in question stuck through a hole as if a backyard game of cornhole has gone dreadfully wrong. There's clamping and needles, and bandages, and teensy portable ice packs and uncomfortable sleeping for a few days and a day or two of sharpening your sponge bath skills.  In short, while not nearly as bad as any other number of medical procedures (at least you get to go home), it's not a barrel of monkeys, either.

After Monday's "third time's the charm" procedure, it's time to pick a surgeon (I'll be a patient of this doctor for a number of years, so we need to get along and also, how far do I want to have to travel for check-ups? These questions, along with, "You received your Board certification when?" and "You've performed this exact operation how many times in the last year?" are ones that will need be asked.) Hos much tissue will need to be removed (lumpectomy or full-on mastectomy), what sort of surgical follow-up (radiation, chemotherapy, both, or neither) and what kind of recovery time is expected - these are questions that cannot yet be answered.

Part of the Colander Commandoes
I've had what I'm being told is a very human reaction to all of this - and the first person to quote Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to me gets strangled with a pink ribbon. I see the massive "bummerocity" in dedicating this year to getting my diet and exercise habits in better order only to be hit by a cancer diagnosis. I am grateful for medical technology that found the "bad spots" years before a traditional mammogram could've picked up on them. I'm profoundly humbled by the kindness of friends and complete strangers who have come to my aid during a time when a certain slant of light makes me tear up. I have cards, presents, prayer shawls, silly pictures, and a list of names as long as my arm of people who are willing to help out. (Need your leaves raked? Dog need some attention and a place to romp? How about some casseroles and soup so you don't have to fret about cooking?) You learn that you're sick even if you don't exactly feel sick. And you learn that life keeps spinning and that it's not all going to break your way just because you're sick - we had to put our young gray cat down due to (you guessed it) cancer this past week and that was a Very Bad Day.

Very Fetching Hat
And you know what one of the most profound lessons in all this has been?  Yes. 

Yes, I do have time to be sick. Yes, I am far, FAR stronger than a half-teaspoon of malignant tissue. And yes, I am worth being loved and being taken care of. (There was a time I wasn't too sure about that part.  Really wasn't too sure about that part!) Yes, deadlines can be re-negotiated without the person on the other end thinking you're some sort of couch slacker. And yes, you can fight with a Very Fetching Hat and dozens of friends who are willing to wear colanders for the battle. 

I have cancer, yes, but that's far from all there is to me. Going into December, I figure my final challenge for 2014 is going to be one that I maybe should have put first - every day, I'm doing something nice for me. Maybe I'll bake something to share (hey, nice to me can also be nice to others, you know!), maybe I'll make time for a manicure (waiting in doctor's offices leads to me picking obsessively at my cuticles), maybe I'll take a half-hour and read for fun. At any rate - it's the Season for Being Nice - and yes, that should count me.

Be well.  And to quote those grand philosophers Ted "Theodore" Logan and Bill S. Preston, "Be excellent to each other."




Monday, November 17, 2014

So You Think You Had Plans . . .

As I wrote in my last post, my regular, run-of-the-mill mammogram didn't look so good, so other tests were ordered. Then an ultrasound. Then a biopsy. OK, at this point, it doesn't take a Rhodes scholar (which I'm not) to figure out that sumpin just ain't right in Boobtown. And true enough, the biopsy was clear as dawn - ductal carcinoma in situ ("DCIS") which translates into "yay! you've got the very least bad form of breast cancer!" What I've got hasn't invaded beyond the duct into surrounding tissue or into the lymph nodes, but let's not kid ourselves, this is still Pink Ribbon territory.

And I'm scared.

Friends and family have been great and things are chugging along - I have an MRI scheduled for first thing Wednesday morning and after that, I'll pick a surgeon (think of it as a really bad game show, probably airing on Fox until public outcry becomes too much to ignore) and we figure out how much of me is left and how much of my Amazonian cosplay takes on an air of true authenticity.

Time does funny things at this point. I want everything to just stop. Just. Stop. I want to curl up into a very small ball and hide under the covers, not even coming out for comfort food like pie or Chicken 'n' Stars. I just want things to stop. But things, of course, don't stop, not least of which is because I have attained the status of a Grown-Up and am expected to carry on with things. There is work to be done - papers to grade, laundry to fold, writing to do, pets to care for, errands to run - all the things that go into creating a modern life and yes, they have to be done. And they have to be done even when you're feeling weak, and fragile, and impostor-ish because with DCIS, you just barely have cancer at all, and so many other people have it so much worse, so for God's sake, buck up, girl! (You think this because your brain is certifiably crazy, by the way.) And someone gives you a hug or buys you a cup of tea and you just collapse into a shallow puddle. If you're lucky, you choke out, "Excuse me" and get to the bathroom before you begin sobbing and no mascara is really that waterproof. Screaming seems like a logical course of action, but it would scare spouses, co-workers, small children and/or pets, so that's out, unless you make an excuse and go for a drive. Then, make sure the windows are tightly rolled up and have at it.

And then there are the times where you're okay and you can fret over everyday things, like not being able to go for a jobble because it's raining too hard and you're pretty sure you could've made good time today. And you make jokes and wisecracks because it's what you know how to do and it feels normal and you want to feel normal but damn, this is weird. People in nurse's uniforms and sensible shoes are treating you like you're a chart, so you take to wearing a ridiculous hat just so they stop for a split second and look you in the eye.

You try not to worry people around you, but you just don't know how to answer when someone asks you, "How are you?" That simple question becomes a big, honking deal. You just get through the day as best you can with lists running through your head as you pigeonhole your life - medical stuff, insurance stuff, work stuff, family stuff - and invariably you drop something.

And you just want to curl up into that very small ball - all from a microscopic cluster of cells that don't belong there. Roller coaster of emotions? Hell, that's easy. Try a gorram Tilt-A-Whirl. But I keep being told to "feel what you're feeling" and right now, I feel overwhelmed. People are thinking about me, and praying for me, and making me gifts (gorgeous, gorgeous gifts) and being so kind to me that I feel so crappy about feeling crappy.

But I am assured that this, too, shall pass.

Leaving what in its wake, I have no idea.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

October - Checking In!

Way back at the start of the year, I set five challenges for myself and I've been reporting in my progress, setbacks, and "ack!" moments all year. To recap - I picked six classic books I hadn't read to complete this year, I picked 24 "good movies" I'd never seen to watch this year, I determined to keep a household budget and tame the credit card monster while I was at it, I said I'd take the FlyLady system further into homecare, and I said I'd train to run a 5K race before the New Year's Eve.

Clearly, I was clinically insane to think I could take on all of that. Add in the fact that I work full-time at a job that I greatly enjoy, but one that is quite demanding and I have relationships that I care about keeping healthy and positive, and oh,yeah - I had a major commercial book come out (Wanna Cook?) and nearly immediately jumped into the next project - yes. Insane. Bonkers. Loopy. A sandwich short of a picnic. Round the bend. Crazy as a rat in a coffee can.  All of those terms, plus more, probably have applied.

So I'm practicing something that isn't on "the list" - something that I strongly suspect isn't on any of our lists, but jolly well should be. I'm practicing saying "enough will do." FryDaddy and I just finished a quick swoop 'n' clean of the floors in our little, lovely home. It had gone on too long, and what we just did will do. While I didn't pick up another heavy "good book" from my list, I've enjoyed reading Hedy's Folly (about movie star Hedy Lamarr's contribution to torpedo technology, as well as cell phone technology) and Factory Man (about keeping furniture manufacturing jobs here in the Southeast despite the flood of cheap Chinese imports). I haven't marked any more movies off my list either, but I've seen Fritz Lang's M, which I somehow had missed - amazing, incredible film about justice, vengeance, and insanity. The Babylon 5 project isn't moving as quickly as I'd like, but we're still okay on that. "Enough will do."

Budgeting is the tough one. It's just too tempting to eat out on busy, busy days. I'm hoping with the coming of colder weather that stews, soups, and casseroles become staples in the household. Easy to fix ahead of time and you know what you're having before you get home from work.

Following my doctor's report, I gave up tracking my food (just in time to go nuts with Halloween sweets), then got a KA-BLAM! dropped on me in the form of a "not so good" mammogram report. Long story short, additional tests indicate some calcification, so I have a biopsy scheduled for later this coming week and I'm scared. Hint - if something like this ever happens to you (and I hope it doesn't and that your life unrolls in front of you like the finest Chinese silk), screw being brave and stoic. Tell people. And let them help you. Let them cook for you and keep you company, and sit with you over coffee, and talk about something completely else, and offer you support, and prayers, and cartoons, and well wishes. And be so very glad you have people. They're a little scared for you too, and this helps them about as much as it helps you. So suck it up, sunshine - and let people help.

One thing I've learned in the last twelve years or so is that it's fine to be scared, you just don't let it stop you. So you do it scared. So this morning, I woke up to a dark, cold, blustery-with-rain day and went ahead and jobbled the "Rhythm & Roots" 5K race. My time was so-so - I was hoping to be under 35 minutes, but with the cold, rain, and crowd, I came in at 38:38. Still - that means I've done three 5K's this year and a year ago, I didn't even own a pair of running shoes and was flailing around a church parking lot.

Enough will do.




Sunday, October 12, 2014

What a Week!

 It's been an eventful week here at the Nest - both for me personally and for a far larger population.

To start with, I had my first full physical since I took up running at the start of the year. I have a fantastic doctor and, I'll admit, I was hoping that the needle of the dreaded doctors' scale would give me number I could preen about after all the exercise, food tracking, water guzzling, and so on.

Nope.

In fact, according to that lying piece of cheap machinery, I've gained nine pounds, which I'm pretty sure means I weigh the most I ever have. What the what? I was quite dejected about this. On top of which, I'd bought into an idea on a running blog and had started doing ten straight days of running. Yes, I'd kept most of the runs short (which for me means under two miles), but my calf muscles had started screaming at me the day before my appointment. So now I feel hungry (blood tests meant fasting), grumpy, achy, and generally unsettled.

By the way - all of that goes to prove that it's all attitude. Before I saw the number, while I felt hungry, all the rest - including the achiness - wasn't there. Instead, I felt good - like I was taking care of myself and doing the right things. I'm telling you, I'm half a step from crazy three days a week.

This is why you need a doctor you can actually talk to. I laid out my concerns - I'm stressed with multiple deadlines and responsibilities, I have a book contract to fulfill, which is a fantastic opportunity, but a heavy load of additional work. I'm getting older, the weight's creeping on, and I hate tracking food and exercise; it makes me feel additional pressure. I have a wonderful husband I want to be around to enjoy. What can I do?

Gently and with good humor, she explained to me that what I truly need to do is get over it. Seriously. The numbers that concern her - blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol, and those more arcane test numbers from (ahem) bodily fluids - all of those were stellar. Far better than they had been, and she had been happy with them before. Muscle does in fact weigh more than fat and my clothes are fitting just fine, so - keep running, but pay attention to twinges and take regular rest days and I'll see improvement more quickly than if I try to become a Navy SEAL. Eat food that's good for me, but don't track it if I don't want to. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and go to bed at a decent hour to guarantee that I get enough sleep to be sharp and function. Take time every day to rest and stretch and focus. In general, just be kinder to myself. And treat myself to that latte on the way home, although making it with skim milk isn't a bad idea.

Holy smoke. A doctor who talks sense to a patient who's maybe a little too harsh on herself.

I shook her hand and leave the office feeling much better about things and hied myself to the coffee shop where part two begins.

I took my latte and pastry (remember, still fasting at this point) out to a sidewalk table to begin enjoying the sunshine while I pondered the whole get over it thing. Within four minutes, I had a surprising opportunity to mend a fence that had been broken for a decade. Like most people who have passed forty, I've got a past and part of that past is a relationship that ended badly but has both of us still in this same small town. We run in different circles and rarely - very rarely - even see each other. While neither of us hisses and spits on the ground, historically we don't get along, each blaming the other for the demise of a relationship that (let's face it) was bad from the get-go. At any rate, he was walking into the coffee shop, said a cautious hello as he passed my table, and we wound up spending maybe five or six minutes chit-chatting about a huge legal issue facing our state (we're both lawyers, although I don't maintain a practice). I think the hatchet's buried, which is rather nice. We've both moved on and I know I'm in a far better place that I wouldn't be in if I hadn't come to this town and I followed him to this town, so . . . I doubt we send each other Christmas cards, but that's okay, too. Dr. King's right - hate's too big a burden to bear.

So that legal issue we were discussing. Two years ago, North Carolina put gay marriage up to a popular vote in a primary election, when turnout was guaranteed to be low. The language used in the constitutional amendment (we already had a law, but that wasn't good enough for some folks) was harsh and broad, prohibiting not only marriage, but also any form of civil partnership. It was ham-fisted, unfair, and badly thought out. It also passed easily.

Fast forward to this past week. When the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari to any of the same sex marriage ("SSM") cases up for consideration, it created some chaos. The Fourth Circuit, which includes North Carolina, had ruled that Virginia's law violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection clause, but what did that mean for the rest of the states in the circuit? As a practical matter, it meant that SSM was legal in all states in the Circuit, but there was a flurry of filings. Interestingly, most of the focus was on a case in our Middle District. While our attorney general has refused to defend the law, based on the Fourth Circuit ruling, two politicians who used taxpayers' money to hire outside counsel, filed to intervene. While the judge there gave the potential "intervenors" (a fancy word meaning "I'm not a party to the case, but let me in to plead anyway") until 3 pm on Monday to get their act together, a judge in the Western District presiding over a different case (this one involving clergy who maintained that their First Amendment rights were being violated by prohibiting them from performing SSM ceremonies), relying on the Fourth Circuit ruling, struck down all laws and statutes prohibiting SSM in the state of North Carolina.

All laws and statutes. I had been obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed, yet missed the ball. I genuinely thought nothing would happen until Monday. Safe to say, North Carolina sort of exploded - some with happy tears, glitter, and cake, others with frustration, condemnation, and ashes - but the sky remains firmly in place.

As I said - quite a week.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Checking In - September!


What an interesting month it's been! (Such a useful word, "Interesting.")I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about "over-goaling" this month and I'm actually spending a few days re-assessing. Far from being a sign of failure, I've learned this year that those times are crucial to success. I took on too many goals and put too much pressure on myself to excel at all of them all the time, and it's okay to acknowledge that and correct it. Forward motion is progress and sometimes that forward motion is pitching a fit and declaring that there's just no way that all of this can get done right now and, if fact, declaring Bill the Cat to be my spirit animal!! (Pant, pant, sigh, gasp.)

True.

But where's that leave me?

Well, the "good books" and "good movies" challenges are back-burnered right now. With work on the Babylon 5 book heating up already, I found myself overwhelmed and teary at the prospect of doing those things to mark a title off an arbitrary list. I'll get to them, but right now isn't the season for that. I've seen plenty of movies and read plenty of books, but not the ones on "the list" and that's just dandy.

Zone cleaning is sort of in the same boat - it's not a struggle to keep up with my morning and evening routines, but much of anything beyond that is proving to be monumental. I keep the book with the zones out and I read my daily challenge each day and sometimes it gets done and sometimes something else gets done. You know what? The house is still standing and remains in better order than it used to be.

The budgeting challenge hits full-force this month. As I wrote over Labor Day weekend, we had car repair bills that turned into "we can't resurrect her this time," which meant a certain amount of yike! We're mobile again and just fine, but those were not expenses were were prepared for. It's going to be a tough end of the year on that score, no doubt about it, but it'll all work out and hey - we're doing all of this so that soon (on the cosmic scale, anyway), money won't be the issue that it is now. Delayed gratification. Can't say as I like it too much.

Now to report of the 5K challenge, which I've folded into the first-stage-of-wrapping-up "You Gonna Finish That?" Challenge. This was designed to make me hard-core accountable for a number of habits, including diet, exercise, and self-care. (Remember what I said about too many goals?) I used SparkPeople as my diet and exercise tracker which I liked since it had exercise videos and recipes that linked directly to the tracker. I don't like tracking, although I'll admit it's useful to see patterns (I eat too many carbs, for example. Mostly "good" carbs, like whole grains and the carbs found in fruit, but still - that was eye-opening). I made sacrifices in terms of sweets, made sure to drink at least two liters of water per day (yep, I know where every bathroom is throughout my college campus), aimed for hard exercise at least three times a week, and have tried to get more sleep. 

Right at a month in, I can report that, while I still don't like tracking, knowing that I have to do it has made it easier to say "no" to some bad choices. While I'm trying to not give the scale too much authority (I still stink at that, by the way), I'm down four pounds. I've also logged 13 run/walk workouts this month for a total of 31-and-a-touch miles, with 22 of those miles being at a jobble or better. For someone who was staggering around a church parking lot seven months ago, that ain't too shabby! So I'm going to keep this challenge going another month and let's see what we see.

What I really want to add in now is more attention spent on taking better care of me - teaching is not a job that lends itself to being left at the office and researching and writing a book isn't exactly a side job, so my twin goals here are to (a) make the office more pleasant and (b) not be so hard on myself with deadlines that I set and that I know to be ridiculous. I had a small writing project that nearly drove me around the bend that I should have been able to handle with ease, but when added to the several other regular gigs I've got going on (which includes two blogs, a weekly movie show that involves watching and research before the cameras begin rolling, and a regular column over at the pop culture site BiffBamPop), I was perilously close to the non-whimsical version of "crazy." So I reached the conclusion that normal people would've gotten to a long time ago and I'm not taking on more work during this time. Let me keep working on spinning the plates I've already got up on sticks!

Onward!





Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Moving Into Fall!

As in, actually "moving" into fall - I had my first actual timed 5K earlier this month and I just wanted to do my best. It was a challenging course and remember - my 5K back in April was that super-fun Color Run which was untimed. I was nervous. I'm not exactly sure why - I knew I could finish the course - even if I had to walk it, I'd finish it - but I wanted to do well. Ensley came out to cheer me on, as did a few other friends and I met some friends at the race. I just wanted to not be all the way at the tail end. I had a goal - finish in 40 minutes, which I thought was pretty realistic, given the times I'd been clocking on my shorter morning runs and the number of big ol, honking hills on the course.

Final time? 35:50. (And the crowd goes wild!)

Seriously. That's an average of 11:33 a mile for 3.1 miles. Oh, to many experienced runners, it's a nothing sort of time, but I'm not them and I was thrilled to the gills at that. Even won a third place medal for my age group. (I won't tell you how many people were in my age group, but yeah, it was three.) So, woo-hoo, me! And yes, I've already signed up for my next one, at which I might be chased by banjo players. Such is life in my hometown.

Due to starting on the next book project - go here to read about that - my book and movie challenges are being ignored right now. I hope to get back to them, but to everything there is a season, and right now, 'tis the season to watch and notate.

On the "You Gonna Finish That?" Challenge - I've done very well for three weeks. We took Sunday as an "off" day (my first in that time) and I ate joyously, which meant I totally overloaded on carbs and sweets, so the scale was not my friend after that. Oh, well - I'm starting to see these things differently. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do far more often than I'm not and - over time - that'll matter. It also doesn't help that I overdid it with some yard work over the weekend and haven't run since then. 'Sfunny - I actually miss not running, but I was far too sore to do that to myself. It's better to take a few days off than to stubbornly injure myself and need to take a much longer time off!

So more good than bad to report. I'll check back in at the end of the month. Today's the first day of fall and Ma Nature wasn't fooling around with the change of seasons today. Personally, I love fall - the crisp air, the colors - but it was a bit of a sudden change!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Checking In - August!

It was just about a week ago that I checked in here regarding progress on the 2014 January resolutions, so I'll be brief on those:

Zone Cleaning Challenge - well, I've got my morning and evening routines down, but adding in the weekly zones is still hit & miss for me.  Now that the semester has started and is finding a routine of its own, this comes back to the forefront.
5K Challenge - who would have thought that I'd find out I actually enjoy jobbling? I have my first "real" (as in timed) 5K race this coming Saturday. I'm nervous, since of course I want to do well, but it's an excited kind of nervous. I'll be doing something that I couldn't have done when I first set these challenges and that has to be viewed as progress of the good kind.
"Good Book" Challenge - Just under the wire, I managed to finish Faulkner's Light in August before I ran out of month. I really, really enjoyed this and I found myself wondering what Faulkner's reaction to the events in Ferguson, MO would be if he were still around to talk with us about Southern mythology, class, and race - always race.
"Good Film" Challenge - Saw several good films this month; none were on my list. Well, it doesn't make me a bad person.
Budgeting Challenge - Doing well enough on this that we enjoyed a weekend away for Labor Day. That probably blew the budget (or perhaps the car repairs will - like Moses, our loyal Bonnie Bonneville didn't make it up the mountain to the Promised Land, but unlike Moses, her damage may be fleeting), but it was a sorely-needed trip and I regret nothing!

I think I "over-goaled" here trying to do everything at once, so I cut myself several breaks as I focused on one good habit at a time instead of trying to overhaul so many aspects of my life at once. But now that a few habits have, in fact, become habits, FryDaddy and I agreed it was time to tackle the elephant.

Eating.

See, I like food. I like white-tablecloth restaurants and I like fried chicken eaten on a tailgate. My comfort food is Southern - pimento cheese, Barefoot's homemade mac 'n' cheese, sweet tea, Krispy Kreme, and so on. I've been known to say (to a good friend, not on a job interview), "You gonna finish that?" while gesturing with my fork. I grew up one of those people who was picky enough of an eater that it seemed I could eat whatever I wanted with no problem. Well, like eight-tracks, those days are gone. Yes, I'm a runner, but I'm a baby runner, and I simply don't burn enough calories to eat like that.

Add to that the fact that my job involves a lot of sitting and typing, and the problem begins to emerge.

Add to that the fact that I deal with stress by eating and the problem comes into focus. 

Add to that the fact that I also do a movie show for local cable, and prep work for that involves sitting and researching the films and sitting in a dark theater to watch the films, which for me as a kid, meant treats like buttered popcorn and candy (maybe a Slushie), and I don't need a nutritionist to tell me what's what.

Oh, I've tried all this before; I've even bought the books and the hype. The result is the same - I'll lose five pounds, then reward myself with a Blizzard. So I've roped in FryDaddy this time to help me. Really, it's not a matter of me not knowing what a portion size is or not realizing that fried is less good for me than broiled, it's a matter of putting theory into practice.

I'm trying to be sensible - no cabbage soup, no "only eat tomatoes for three days," or any of that nonsense - and I know that this will take time, but dammit, I don't want it to. Sigh. Patience may be a virtue, but it's not one of my virtues!

Today has been all about getting ready - I'm eating a few things that will shortly be on the "verboten for now" list (Mickey D's really does have the best fries, you know) and I've done a massive grocery run. No kidding, this one's going to be hard, but for the next month, my plan is to limit my refined carbs (no rice or pasta as a side dish with dinner and no stuffed baked potatoes as dinner), no sweets beyond a touch of good dark chocolate or something similar (au revoir, Fuzzy Peach!), and (gulp!) no movie treats. Let them catch me sneaking in grapes and baby carrots. Let's see where I am in a month. I won't lie - the scale has power over me, but so does my wardrobe, and I'm tired of putting something on and offering up a muttered prayer that the button will fasten.

Deep breath. Here goes - and yes, I'm gonna finish that.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Summer's Waning

August has been a strange month here at the Nest. It's a month that tends to be syrupy hot-and-humid, so it starts by slowly crawling by, then suddenly, everything goes into turbo speed and it's the end of the month and I'm left wondering what the heck just happened. It's been a good month so far - a few days at the beach (FryDaddy and I swear we're going to get a solid week in next year) served as a break from start-of-school madness. (But not totally.  Seriously, this semester has gotten off to a rocky, weird start punctuated with all manner of schedule changes and curve balls. It'll settle and a rhythm will be found; it always does, but it's been a wee bit odder than most.) So I'm off my routines, but still wanted to check in once before the very end of the month.

Oh, and that's the lesson I learned this month - the term "routine" has a different meaning than "straitjacket." The idea behind routines is that I do those things way more often than I don't do them, and it helps keep the house running more smoothly as a result, but you just can't do everything every day. Sometimes work needs you a little extra, sometimes you have houseguests, and sometimes you need ice cream more than you need a fruit smoothie (it's true) - half a hundred things can happen and that's all okay. You just get back on it as soon as you can and, if you've been basically keeping up, it's not a big deal to get caught up. So zone cleaning (and healthy eating choices) are both ongoing goals, but there's progress.

So let's see -

I've signed up for my next official 5K race - I had the Color Run back in April (click here for details!) and I've done two "virtual" 5K races over the summer (you run your own race and post your time and other people in other parts of the country do the same thing), but this next race is local, so I figured it was time to run against the clock and see how I do. Today FryDaddy and I drove over the course and wow! are there hills! I won't be especially fast and I'm pretty sure there will be some walking involved, but I'll finish and that's way more than I could've said in January.

I'm working my way through Faulkner's Light in August for the book challenge and quite liking it. I'd been tearing through it - the language is so compelling and it's a great story - but I put it down to read this month's book club book (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - fantastic read!) so I'm not done with Faulkner quite yet.

Speaking of which, Faulkner worked as a Hollywood screenwriter for a bit in the 40s and he co-wrote the script of Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not which was (very loosely) adapted from Hemingway's novel of the same name. This month, FryDaddy and I started writing a twice-a-month column for the pop culture website BiffBamPop.com. My first contribution was on that very movie and Lauren Bacall, who made her stunning screen debut in it. Check out the column here! Not exactly part of my film challenge (I'd seen To Have and Have Not before; it gets better with subsequent viewings), but hey - that's where I am for now.

Budgeting is going pretty well, actually. We're both working on that and working off a single budget instead of two separate ones is much easier! Sure, we still have work to do (groceries are always more than we seem to think they will be), but again - progress.

So here I am, at the very end of summer - a season which beats you into submission with heat, humidity, and the siren call of hammocks and shade trees. I hope you'll understand if I remove myself from the Internet to go enjoy a few of those last golden hours. Just tell me, and I'll write a note for you to do the same!



Friday, August 1, 2014

Checking In - July!

OK - time to check in.  As regular readers know, at the start of this year, I set five goals for myself, with the intention of making 2014 a true "makeover year" and I post these "check ins" once a month (generally on the very last day of the month or the very first day of the month) to both show how things are going and to keep myself accountable for these goals I set.  And make no mistake, these were some LARGE goals. The road hasn't always been smooth, but looking back, I can see progress, often in some unexpected ways. So - the goals were:
  1. Believing that a sense of calm would come from a neater house, I wanted to get organized and stop doing "crisis cleaning" on the weekends. FlyLady had helped me get rid of (maybe literally) a ton of clutter, so I decided to take that system a little deeper and add "zone cleaning."
  2. Money's tight, but I wanted to stop using credit cards and live frugally, with the idea of whittling away at the household debt.
  3. I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that I really should have already seen, from a variety of genres, ranging from foreign classics to comedies.
  4. I wanted to read six "good books" that had slipped by me.
  5. I wanted to feel stronger, so I decided to train to participate in a 5K race this year. Thus, the "Dancing Sloth" was born.

Whew! Taken all at once, these goals were intimidating. But I've stuck to it (mostly) and can report the following as we head into the "dog days" of August:

July was interesting, since I was back in the classroom with my summer school classes. They're fun classes (at least I think so) and they went well, but boy howdy! do they take time. (I had two sections to teach, each of which met for three days a week for  just over three hours a session - yike!) Now that FryDaddy is home from graduate school for good, we're working through our "delayed honeymoon" period, which is an occasion for much YAY! but it also means we've been sorting through things that most couples would have sorted out at the beginning of the marriage. One thing I can thoroughly recommend for those in such situations (although I think this might be a good general rule) is to schedule "date time." We've been doing that, but we took it to a new level today and made all of today "date day" and it's been just lovely. We ran on our own schedules, ate out so no one had to cook or clean, saw a matinee (we chose Guardians of the Galaxy, which we loved, but pick whatever suits you), and took advantage of a rainy, unseasonably-cold day to lounge and snooze. It doesn't really matter what you do, it matters that you make time to do it together.
  1. As to the housework routines, we're nearly there. I have a few things I do every morning and a few things in the evening to get things ready for the next day, pretty much without fail. I'm working to add just 15 minutes to that on the weekdays, usually just after I get home. I spend those few minutes in the "zone room" for that week, using the FlyLady "daily mission" and zone checklist for that day as a starting point. Hey - the living room windows got cleaned this week, which has to count for something!
  2. We're back on the budget horse this month, making a strict budget using the Dave Ramsey system. (Yeah, he shoots his mouth off about the poor and makes some downright dumb statements, but his "debt snowball" system is sound. Take what works, leave the rest.) We'd used it before, but we were running off two budgets, since FryDaddy was at school and I was here. Now we're consolidated, which should make things easier. Fewer meals out, though - that's for sure!
  3. The movie challenge -  I marked one off my list in July; the amazing classic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. If you haven't seen this one - even if you're not a fan of Westerns - you owe it to yourself to see it. Incredible performances from Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and a story that'll just yank you in.
  4. The book challenge - well, I picked heavy books for that list and I sort of fell into a crevasse about it. I've been reading (I actually finished five books this month, all nonfiction, ranging from a short series of vignettes about women explorers to a fascinating examination of the origin on modern forensic science), and I'm determined to start Faulkner's Light in August since it's, well, August. Check back in a few weeks to see how I'm doing on that.
  5. As for the 5K challenge - I've had surgery to clear my airway (read about that in my previous post) and am back to running. A good thing, since I agreed with a friend - we'll call her "Bawlmer Hon" here at the Nest - to participate in next summer's Ramblin' Rose mini-triathlon. It'll be a hoot getting ready for that, let me tell you!
Huh. Looking back, I'd say it's been a good month. It hasn't always felt like that (surgery, school, chores, uncertainty), which is why these posts matter. There are days that are great, days that are good, and some days that are pretty much meh. The trick is to look at the overall pattern.

And hey - it's still summer!  Go enjoy it!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not Even An Isthmus

In one of his most famous poems, John Donne claimed that "no man is an island" and he was right. No matter how independent you may think yourself to be - and independence is a good quality - we are social creatures and we need other people. I've had some time to reflect on this over the last few days and I am even more convinced now that this is so.

Earlier this week I had some minor surgery done. Doctors aren't entirely sure why I have scar tissue in my windpipe (probably some sort of reflux, but tests weren't conclusive), but there it is. Scar tissue can be cut away, but it always grows back and as it grows, my airway narrows and my breathing is affected. I also start to cough a lot to clear away junk that most of us don't think twice about - a healthy windpipe has teensy hair-like structures to help propel phlegm and crud up and out whereas scar tissue is smooth and those structures are absent. Exercise exertion seems to both help and serve as a canary in this coal mine, so we keep an eye on things through an uncomfortable scope procedure that I'm very grateful for, and every few years (it had been three years since the last time; six weeks since the most recent scoping), I have to get my trachea "rotor-rootered." It's not fun, but it's pretty routine and low-key. Still - general anesthesia is not a joke, although I try to yuk it up as they get me ready. I was first diagnosed at Baptist Hospital (now called Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, but it's still "Baptist" to most North Carolinians) and I continue to go there for treatment. Yeah, it's a little out of the way from where I live now, but it's a top-notch teaching hospital and I make my living talking and teaching other people how to talk, so I'll keep going there thankyouverymuch.

Recovery from this procedure isn't too bad - everything is done with lasers, not scalpels, so there's very little blood or discharge - but I'm tired, sore, and achy for a few days and can't really do too much for myself for the first day and a half. (Interesting facts to support this point - anesthesia can make you super-cold and shivery for the first several hours post-discharge, the compression thingies they put on your legs to prevent clots can make your calves sore to the point of making walking uncomfortable for the first two days and your innards are likely to be strangely out of whack for two to three days.) While you're not covered up in bandages and bruises and stitches, your body's gone through some trauma and you're not exactly Little Miss Marathon.

Enter other people. Oh, let me explain just how much NOT an island I've been the last few days, for there is nothing (emphasize that - nothing) like being sick to make you appreciate other people. I can't list all the kindnesses I've received over the last five days or so, but let me try to capture the flavor of compassion.

  1. My surgeon cuts on Thursdays, so I had to miss a day of my turbo-speed summer school class. Far from celebrating "woo-hoo, teacher's gone!" my summer class made me a "get well" card on the sly to give me before I left for surgery last week. Totally spontaneous and heartfelt and I made sure it was propped on the dresser top so I could see it from the bed. 
  2. My parents went full-out Florence Nightingale for me. Every food that I even thought might be tasty they had in full supply. I go whole-hog Southern for my comfort food, so I've been consuming pimento cheese by the tubful and sweet tea by the half-gallon.
  3. My parents live in a century-old farmhouse, obviously built before air conditioning. The rooms are gracious, airy, and peaceful. I loved sitting on the breakfast porch and just watching the antics at the bird feeder. Plus, one night a doe came up out of the woods to graze in the pasture. Best kind of reality TV.
  4. Ensley tore up the road between our home and my childhood home, tending to our sick kitty (she's on antibiotics and won't come out for just anybody) then coming up to make sure I wasn't pushing things too hard the first few days.
  5. Having a little in my iTunes account to treat myself to gemstones in "Midnight Castle," a found-object game I spent a lot of time playing over the last couple of days. (Anybody playing that - friend me!)
  6. My minister - who's brand-new herself in town - kept up with me through social media and made sure to relay support and kind words.
  7. Friends.  Oh, friends. Neighbors who offered to look after the critters, Facebook friends from close by and across borders and oceans - I had dozens and dozens of people checking in on me, wanting to know if I was okay, if there was anything I needed. It feels good to know that I'm connected like this, not just drifting on the air currents like a discarded grocery bag.
  8. Being well enough to drive home, but still not have to do anything. Yes, there will be work tomorrow and errands and all the things that come with modern First World life and I'll be better suited to face them following three solid days of rest.

It's true - I'm not an island. I'm not even an peninsula or an isthmus. And what a wonderful thing that is. Think of it this way - you know who's truly independent? The poor schmo you see leaving the hospital in a cab. He can't drive himself and there's no one to pick him up, take him home, and get him settled, much less check in on him to make sure he's comfortable post-surgery. That's not independent; that's just sad.

Thanks to all who made sure I knew I wasn't an island.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Checking In - June!

First off, let's review - at the start of this year, I set five goals for myself, with the intention of making 2014 a true "makeover year." What were those again?
  1. I wanted to keep a neater house, feeling that cleanliness was next to impossible. I reasoned that my life would be calmer if I wasn't frantically searching for "stuff" in the morning.  And I hated spending the weekend cleaning the house or feeling guilty for not cleaning the house.
  2. Money's tight, but I wanted to stop using credit cards and live frugally, with the idea of whittling away at the household debt.
  3. I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that I really should have already seen.
  4. I wanted to read six "good books" that had slipped by me.
  5. I wanted to feel stronger, so I decided to train to participate in a 5K race this year. Thus, the "Dancing Sloth" was born.
Well, it's good to have goals and I have no shortage of them. But a funny thing happened this month. I got way off my goals and I discovered something that might just border on the profound.  See what you think.

The goals are going okay, I suppose. My summer classes begin next week, which means that my days become far more structured than June has been - a month during which I didn't work a single full week - so in a strange way, it's a good time to re-evaluate and re-commit. This past month, Ensley and I took a brief "staycation" and there was the gorgeous Slayage conference out in California (read about that here), among other life-affirming jaunts.  I wouldn't trade this past month for a gold monkey, but it's time to get back on the horse, so to speak. So where am I?
  1. I still have my basic routines for taking care of the house and I want to work the "zone" idea back into my routines, which I've let slide.
  2. Budgeting is on the list of "things to do" for next week. We've been living free and easy, which has played a bit of havoc with the budget goal, although we've been very good about keeping our hands off credit cards. (Not perfect - Slayage, don't you know - but very good.)
  3. I'm doing well on the movie challenge.  This month, I marked off three - Hitchcock's Psycho, Ford's Stagecoach, and Kurosawa's Red Beard. (You can read my thoughts about those here.) Another musical, Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, is waiting for me. I seemed to have turned a corner there - there had been a couple that I just didn't like and it soured me for a while.
  4. The "good books" challenge, on the other hand, has slipped into a crevasse. I read four books in June (and one, Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes should count, even if it's not on my list), but the heavy literature had to be put on hold while I dealt with a small brush fire of burnout. (Strangely enough, a really by-the-numbers romance novel helped a bit with that. Yeah, yeah - don't judge.)
  5. The 5K challenge - while the Dancing Sloth took some time off due to throat issues (being addressed mid-July) and burnout, she's back now! And a friend has me toying with a major challenge in that area. She's suggested we participate in next summer's Ramblin' Rose Triathlon. Now, it's not a hard-core Ironman sort of thing, but it is swimming, biking, and running - all on the same day. I don't own a bike and I haven't swum laps in years.  Still . . . and the fact I'm even thinking about this is amazing to me.
Now to the breakthrough. I'm not sure if this was the result of a long-simmering process the blossomed into a revelation or was more of a "burning bush" epiphany, but either way - it's a breakthrough.  Ready?  Here it is -

I'm not a sex kitten.

Sure, other people might have known that already, but it's new to me - and what a relief! Maybe it was that clothes-buying spree I wrote about in the last post, maybe it was hearing from so many people at Slayage that they enjoy reading my running posts, but all I know is that I have turned some sort of corner in my soul. Let me tell you, keeping up with the demands of the beauty industry is hard work at the best of times and our society never wants you to admit that you're not a coltish 22-year-old. I'm not, but that being fantastic is news to me. It's like this. I want to do these things - get strong by running and read good books and watch good movies and act like a grown-up with money and taking care of my house - for me. Not for my parents, not for my conference buddies or Facebook friends, not even for my incredibly loving husband, and certainly not for society at large, a sizable segment of which measures me simply on my "hotness" factor and has found me sorely lacking since I'm not that coltish 22-year-old (heck, I'm not even two 22-year-olds!). I wasn't even aware of how much I had been fighting that battle until this year but it's a relief to decide to stop. No, I have no intention of "letting myself go" and eating Nutella from the gallon jug for dinner. (Actually, that doesn't sound so bad . . .) But I'm not as beholden to the slick Photoshopped magazine covers and Internet clickbait that promise me I can lose those final 8 pounds by Tuesday (implying that I need to) and that they'll tell me what he really wants in bed (rather personal and how do you know my husband anyway?). I can't believe how much time I've wasted fretting over the size of my waist and my hips and how much power I've given a stupid number on a scale.

So, although this wasn't one of my original goals, I think it's important enough to report. I've got a new title now. I don't know what the IRS might think of seeing it on my taxes, but I'm a . . .

Sex Kitten - Retired.

I plan on having a great deal more fun on a regular basis, now that I have that knowledge. See, once you're living for you instead of what others think you ought to be, things get mighty interesting. I might put the fuchsia back into my hair. I might get henna tattoos. I might serve on the board of a nonprofit I'm interested in (already agreed to that, actually). I might demand crayons at my next faculty meeting. I don't entirely know how things might manifest, but I'm sure of this - Tasha Tudor was right.  Life is meant to be enjoyed; not saddled with. Eat well because you want to. Get a good night's sleep because you want to. Push yourself to jog to that next mailbox before you galumph back to a huffy, puffy walk because it feels good to push your body to do what it couldn't do two months ago. Insist on treating yourself well because you deserve it. And, for the love of all that's holy - make the world better because you deserve to make a difference. The size of your heart matters far more that the size of your hips.

Meow.








Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Checking In - May!

Yes, this post is a little bit late and I'll let my previous post (centering on my college reunion) serve as both my explanation and my apology. But here I am, ready to check in and report on my progress through the merry month of May.

Let's recap - the ambitious goals I set to work on throughout the year were:
  • Keeping a tidier, less cluttered house. I just can't stand the chaos of "where that thing?" as I'm trying to dash out of the house. But I work full-time, on top of several other large scale projects this year, so this goal involved finding a happy medium of “clean and tidy” versus “doable.”
  • Money is a sore point with me – as it would be with anyone who has spent years clutching the trifecta ticket of frozen salaries, disrespect, and rising prices – so we decided (this decision had to be a “we” decision, so FryDaddy is in this one as well) to keep a realistic budget to lower our household debt.
  • To strengthen my body, I decided to train to participate in a 5K race sometime this year.
  • To improve my mind, I decided to read six "good books" that had slipped past me.
  • Also to improve my mind, I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that had slipped past me.
      To be honest, May wasn't a very good month, goal-wise. Between FryDaddy's graduation (no, I'm not calling him "master," in spite of the fact that he's got the funny sleeves), exam week, some required travel, and a host of other activities, it was a full-out crazy month. Lots of fun stuff going on there, but it seemed that everything took precedence over the goal-keeping. So what's that mean?
     
     Well, after a bit of a breakdown - I have a nasty tendency to see things as "keeping score" instead of "this is going to make things easier, but there will be setbacks" - I think I can report some success, although it's been more in this most recent week rather than in May. Therefore, I'm not going to talk about my set goals as much as I'm interested in talking about setbacks and how to approach them. After all, this is something I know a fair amount about.  (Read as - I know A LOT about setbacks!)
    
      Read this until you believe it:  the bad days and weeks and months are going to come. They just will. Unexpected expenses will crop up and play merry hell with your delicate budget and you'll think you're a failure because - golly gee, you could've saved money by recycling dryer lint into creative Halloween costumes but no, you had to go off and buy something. Food that's not especially good for you is cheaper and requires less prep work and it's tempting when the busy times strike. There's no time to clean and you can't settle down enough to concentrate on a "good read" and you just want to be entertained instead of watching a movie from your list. Nothing is working, you've gained ten pounds and you wonder what happened.

      At the risk of sounding like I have things held together with peace and calm instead of duct tape and the use of Anglo-Saxon words as adjectives (look, it's been a few weeks of me yelling at the cats, okay?), when nothing you're doing is working, do nothing. Just stop. Look around. Reassess your goals (seriously - I've had three different people advise me to skip Thoreau's Walden which was my scheduled book. So I decided to read Beloved instead and still haven't started it, although I've read six other things in this period of indecision) and make course corrections as needed. Growth is not constant - that's why we have winter. It's a time in the natural year to recover from expending all the energy it takes to grow, blossom, and harvest to hunker down and consider the Next Step. If it works for carrots and bears, why shouldn't it work for people? (That made more sense before I typed it. I'm still going with it.)

      For example, I went on a shopping trip with my mother this weekend. I mean a SHOPPING TRIP, the kind where you wind up with new everything. Here's the kicker - I asked my mom when the last time was that we did a trip like that. She carefully considered the timeline and said, "Right after you finished law school and took that job in South Carolina." 

      That was in 1998.

      So the deal was that I had to go through my closet and ruthlessly get rid of clothes that no longer worked. I just did that and it was hard - I want to think I'll be that size again and/or that I'll be able to wear that style again and it's hard to be realistic about that sort of thing. (And there were a few things that are getting thrown away rather than being given away - I'd crossed the line from "frugal" into "cheap." Shame on me.)  But I'd rather wear clothes that actually fit me instead of clothes that fit me in 1998 (and yes, I had still had some of those). I'll drop them off at Goodwill in just a little bit - the clothes will work for someone else and I believe in karmic concepts enough to think that giving away creates room in my own life for more good stuff to roll in. I'll get back to drinking water instead of diet soda and my other good habits. Sometimes life demands to be noticed more than the dust bunnies.

      It's okay. Really, it is.

Monday, June 2, 2014

On Women Coming Home

Yes, I owe you an end of month check-in post, but indulge me.  It's been a tough few weeks to be a woman.  Kitty Pryde's story was stripped away from her and given to Wolverine in Days of Future Past, which had me angry and bewildered, then Isla Vista happened and I was violently reminded that it's dangerous for women, even in a developed society such as the United States.  (Other countries, other dangers, but home isn't necessarily safe, either.  #YesAllWomen.)

I am the product of four years of all-female undergraduate education and, this past weekend, Hollins called me home.  It was reunion, an annual event during which amazing women head to a leafy campus near Roanoke, Virginia to laugh and reminisce and reflect and so on.  This was a big one for me - I suppose all reunions are big, but some birthdays are bigger than others.  My class was forged in flood during our first semester as freshmen when the Roanoke Valley was inundated by floodwaters, leaving us quite literally stranded on campus (this was in pre-cellphone days).  Power lines were down in standing water, we were fed cold sandwiches via canoe, and our parents were panicked.  It was an adventure and, like all adventures, it had large chunks of awful scattered throughout.  We had no electricity or water while stranded, classes were cancelled for three-plus weeks while the campus was made livable and during the final three weeks of that semester, we did six weeks of work, with classes running from 8 am to 11 pm. (Remember, this was pre-online classes.  By the way, it took ten years for the library to recover from the losses.  People frantically flung rare books into canoes, but not everything - not by a long shot - could be saved from the water and subsequent mold.)  I remember trying to read de Tocqueville's Democracy in America in my hometown library for my history survey class while being distracted as all get-out.  It was my first time living away from home and I was struggling to find where I fit in at college and now I'd been sent home.  So many other girls at college seemed confident and self-assured and I was this skinny, unsure country mouse scurrying around all these brash butterflies who seemed to soar effortlessly.

How little we know.  Everyone's struggling.  Absolutely.  Everyone.  You just sometimes can't see it.

Since it was a "big reunion," our senior pictures had been printed on our name tags.  When I picked mine up, I gazed at the picture of that girl for a long moment.  I remember that picture - I hated it back then. My hair looked terrible that day and my face was round as a peasant's, and I could go on and on.  But when I looked at that picture on my name badge, what struck me was how gorgeous I was.  I look confident and happy and - seriously - gorgeous.  And it wasn't just me - I noticed that time and again looking at the name tags of friends who were also at reunion.  We're so hard on ourselves.  We focus on the pimple that sprung up on our nose, or the hair that won't curl the way we want it to, and we're sure that it's all anyone will see and we forget that's not us; it's just what we look like when the shutter clicked.

Hollins is the reason I look that way in that picture.  No, Hollins didn't make me who I am; I had a large part to play in that, as did some good friends, some good experiences, and (to be strictly honest) some bad ones.  In that picture, I'm not who I am now, but I'm starting to be her.  And let's be clear - I like her.

What did Hollins do for me?  Hmm - so much I could write to answer that, but let me tell just one story.  When I was at Hollins, I was a theatre major.  Coming from a high school that didn't have so much as a drama club, that still amazes me.  Since I graduated, the theatre has undergone major renovations, as has the program as a whole.  During some unstructured time over the weekend, I wandered into the building I spent the most time in during my years at college just wanting to once again be in the place that helped form me.  (Theatre people are notorious for skulking around places.  We're like mongooses - we "run and find out.")  As I slipped in, I was greeted by a man who turned out to be a theatre faculty member.  We chatted for a minute and he asked if I was on campus for reunion.  I replied that I was and that I had been a theatre major, so I was curious to see the building, if he didn't mind me nosing about.  He smiled broadly and said words that brought a sudden sting of tears to my eyes:

"Welcome home."

And this, Fair Readers, is what a college should do.  This man, who didn't know me from Adam's housecat and who had work of his own to do, dropped everything to give me a tour of my old stomping grounds, proudly showing off how the renovations had added to - probably doubled - that available space.  See, it's all well and good to talk about how a college is a community and is a family and is whatever other emblem and metaphor you want to use.  But the proof is in the action.

You want a world with strong, confident women who will work like rented mules to make the world a better, fairer place?  Hollins.  Seek it out.  Visit.  And yes, support it.  You could easily do worse - you're unlikely to do better.