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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who made this mess?

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For the past few years, I've been attending weekly meetings of a group for recovering control freaks, fixers and people pleasers. It's been a slow but steady path and from time to time I can look at a situation and see how much I've changed (and sometimes how far I still have to go).

Earlier this week, I made plans to go straight from work to the meeting. I arranged a ride home from school for Charlie and told Mike he would have to pick Robbie up from school. Annie had rehearsal and would be driving herself home. That's it. Easy peasy. Until...

We had a Thanksgiving pitch-in at lunch. Seriously some of the best southern cooking I've ever had (My contribution? Apples & caramel dip.) and there was plenty leftover, including home made mac and cheese. I knew the boys would love to be on the receiving end of those leftovers...and, if I'm really honest with myself, I didn't want Mike to order pizza for dinner because we are on a tight budget until payday.

So I told Mike that I would meet him at Robbie's school to hand off dinner. Then I would go on to my meeting. Only, when I got to the school, Mike wasn't there. He was still a good 15 minutes away. I went in, picked up Robbie and called Mike.

"I've got Rob. I'll just meet you at St. Luke's on 86th Street and then I'll go on to the meeting." He agreed.

Robbie and I arrived at the St. Luke's parking lot at 5:48pm. I had 12 minutes to get to the meeting on time, which was kind of important because I was supposed to lead the discussion.

5:50pm. No Mike.

5:51pm. My phone died so I could no longer track where my husband was using the "Find my iPhone" app.

I could feel my blood pressure rising and my jaw setting itself in "angry" mode. I took a deep breath and thought to myself "I cannot change this situation. There is no point in getting upset." I was pretty proud of myself for that.

Mike arrived somewhere around 5:56pm, although I don't know exactly what time it was because I'd given up staring down the clock. He took Robbie and the dinner and I sat in the parking lot trying to decide if it was worth showing up late to the meeting.

As I considered the option of arriving late, not totally happy with Mike for making me late, I heard a friend's voice in my head (not really, Mom), asking what was my part in this situation.

So I asked myself that. "What was my part in this debacle of a plan?"

It didn't take long to recognize that it was really all my part. There had been a plan in place that would have taken me directly from work to the meeting without having to stop for anything. Who changed that plan? Me.

Mike is completely capable of picking up Robbie and making dinner for himself and the boys. We could have eaten the yummy leftovers for dinner the next day. But I was both trying to be nice (hello, people pleasing fixer) and to control the situation (control freak!) by devising the leftover drop off/kid exchange plan. Mike teases that I am addicted to chaos. Looking at this situation, he might not be wrong.

I smiled to myself, even laughed a little, as I came to the realization that this mess was all my fault. So, I may not have come far enough to not create the situation in the first place, but I have grown enough to recognize how my actions led to the outcome. That gives me hope.

(And yes, I still went to the meeting and it was worth it.)

Pre-holiday reality check

 photo Keep-the-Happy-in-Your-Holidays_zpsa03b2a4d.jpg About two weeks ago, my one remaining freelance writing gig came to an abrupt end. With no warning, my client told all of us writing for him to stop. I was counting on the weekly check from that job to finance Christmas this year. Then a few days ago, we got a rather big bill in the mail that I wasn't expecting. I could feel the anxiety begin to set in. It seemed like the perfect time to read the new e-book Cherie Lowe, aka The Queen of Free, asked if I would review. The book is called Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money and Your Sanity this Christmas Season and is available via download for $1.99.

I'll admit that reading books about saving money and budgeting ranks in my mind right above going to the dentist. But, frankly, I was looking for someone to tell me we could have a great Christmas season without spending a lot of money. At 122 pages, the book was a quick read.

Keep the Happy in Your Holidays is broken down into 21 tips, beginning with a pledge to make it a debt-free Christmas. That's not a hard one for us; we operate on a cash-only basis. From advice on what is really a good deal on Black Friday (Tip #4) to creative ideas for gifts that cost $5 or less (Tip #11), the e-book is full of practical ideas for a variety of situations and scenarios related to the holiday season, including gift giving, travel and even wrapping presents.

My favorite tip was Tip #9: Cultivate a Culture of Contentment in Your Kids. I want my kids to have happy memories of Christmastime and I don't believe that money = memories. Cherie offers these suggestions:
  1. Begin with a thankful list (instead of a list of wants).
  2. Conduct an ongoing discussion about wants and needs.
  3. Invest in your child's faith.
  4. Serve together. This is on my list of to do's this holiday season.
  5. Ask for or give experiences. Maybe Grandma would like to pay for a few months of piano lessons?
  6. Set limits. In our house, Santa brings 3 gifts and a stocking and mom & dad give 1 gift for each kid. We've done this since Annie's second Christmas, so our kids are used to it.
  7. Reflect what you want to see. Cherie writes "If we are worried, hurried, or frazzled, we shouldn’t be surprised if they [our kids] are too. If we are consumed with our desire for the next big thing or are constantly dissatisfied, then they will be too."
Nowhere in the book does Cherie tell you what to do. She gives suggestions and examples of strategies that worked to help Cherie and her husband pay off $127,000 in debt in just four years. The e-book includes several free printables, including printable gift tags. She also does a nice job gently circling the reader back to the real reason for the Christmas season. 

Readers of Keep the Happy in Your Holidays also get the introduction and first chapter of Cherie's book, Slaying the Debt Dragon, which tells the Lowe's story of battling their mountain of debt and the lessons they learned along the way. That book will be available in bookstores in early January 2015.

How to get the books:
  1. You can get both Keep the Happy in Your Holidays and Slaying the Debt Dragon on Amazon. If you use the links in this post to make your purchase, I'll get a few cents from your purchase. 
  2. Beginning December 1, if you pre-order Slaying the Debt Dragon (available in paperback and e- book), you'll get a copy of Keep the Happy in Your Holidays for FREE.
To learn more about the books and hear what others have said about them, visit the book website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From grump to grateful

When I woke up this morning, it was 10 degrees outside. Windchill brought the "feels like" temp down to -8. I was crabby at the thought of getting out of my warm bed and put it off as long as possible. 

After hitting the snooze twice, I reluctantly got out of bed -- only after I checked my email and the local news websites to see if, by some grace, school was canceled or delayed on account of the cold. I sleepily walked to the bathroom and started the shower, giving the water a few minutes to warm up. I grumbled to the boys to get up and get moving. I told them they HAD to wear long pants and sweatshirts today. 

I got in the shower and dared the water to wake me up. It wasn't just my body that was awakened as the hot water streamed over me. My attitude got a wake up call as well.
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I realized that I have a warm bed to crawl out of (and yes, to stay snuggled into). I have a warm house to wander in, waking sleeping people each morning. I have three wonderful children to argue with me about weather-appropriate clothing. I have a hot shower to step into. I have a job to go to that not only calls me out of bed but that pays for my heat and water and other things.  

And I have a God to thank for my many blessings, including the blessing of a new perspective to start my day.


Monday, November 17, 2014

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without...

thanksgiving photo: Garfield Thanksgiving 62c7e04a.jpgThanksgiving is a favorite holiday around here. As Charlie said tonight, "all you do is eat and watch football, how could a day get any better?" It's still 9 days away, so to pass the time I've made a list of all the things that make Thanksgiving Thanksgiving in my book:
  1. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sitting in jammies all morning long, watching the parade and hollering at the kids randomly. "Garfield is coming! Right after this commercial (and the next and the next and the next). Who wants to see Garfield?"
  2. Black Friday ads. It doesn't matter that I will have checked out the ads online several times since mid-November. There is nothing like paging through ad after ad of deals so good even sane people consider heading to the stores at 3am. My favorites are the Target and Kohl's ad, but Walgreen's is usually a place for some good deals, too.
  3. Green bean casserole. If it's not the original recipe from the can of Durkee's French Fried Onions, it's not green bean casserole. 
  4. Falling asleep to football. I like to watch football. Really. But I like a nap during a football game even more.
  5. Cranberry relish. This is new on my list of must-haves for Thanksgiving. Growing up, cranberry sauce always came out of a can, bearing the telltale ridges of the inside of the can. Yuck. But Mike's mom introduced me to cranberry relish made with whole cooked cranberries and little bits of orange zest. Delicious! 
  6. Fat pants. My brother-in-law taught this to my kids. Either wear or bring with you big stretchy pants for post-meal bloat. And if Mom wants to take pictures of the family, better do it before dinner when everyone still looks decent. Otherwise she will get a picture of people in a varied assortment of sweats, sleepwear and perhaps even old maternity leggings.
  7. Spending time with family. In the 21 years that Mike and I have been married, we have only not been with extended family once. And that's the way I like it.
What makes it Thanksgiving for you? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Oh the places you'll sleep

For the past month, I've been getting up at 5am a few times a week to get Charlie to the high school for basketball try-outs. When I drop him off at 6am, I head on to work because going back home would be a waste of gas. Some days I go inside and get the day started. But sometimes I don't. Instead, I crawl to the back of the van and take a nap.

I've never really minded being short (5'3") and my height -- or lack of -- is a benefit for back of the van snoozing. If I lay on my side and bend my knees, I fit quite nicely on the bench in the 3rd row. I set an alarm on my phone and cover with one of the blankets I keep in the car in case I break down on a freezing day. You would be surprised how well I can sleep like that.

Today was not a car-napping day. But my butt was dragging and the thought of taking a nap was enticing. Finally at lunch I closed the office door, turned off the lights and crawled under my desk. Like the back row of the minivan, the space under my desk is perfect for SPN (short people napping). Apparently this is known as "pulling a George Costanza," from the TV show Seinfeld.

I got to thinking about all of the non-traditional places I've slumbered:
  1. In the back row of the van 
  2. Under my desk during lunch 
  3. On the floor of the dolphin pavilion at the zoo (Girl Scout field trip)
  4. Sitting up at the coffee table with my hands resting on the table top waiting for my nail polish to dry.
  5. In a sleep study room
  6. On a massage table -- probably not so unusual
  7. In the movie theatre (Mike said I fall asleep in the last 5 minutes of good movies)
  8. In the driver's seat of the van during afterschool pick up. I woke up when a teacher knocked on the window after all the other cars had left the lot. 
  9. In the awesome "egg" chairs at the Indianapolis Central library. Every. single. time. Those things are like a womb -- warm, dark and cozy. 
  10. Shhh...don't tell my priest...but I may have nodded off once or twice during church.
  11. And more than once, sitting on the couch, computer on my lap, mid-blog.
Funny, I can sleep in all those places, but for a long time the one place I couldn't sleep was my own bed. But since I've started using a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea, my chronic insomnia is nearly a thing of the past. 

If I had a sleep bucket list, I'd love to take a nap in a tree house (one of those awesome creations on TreeHouse Masters), on a hammock under big leafy trees in a forest, and in the JW Marriott near Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Ok, so I've done that one, but seriously, it was the best bed and comfiest pillows I'd ever had the pleasure of sleeping with.

Where is the strangest/funniest/coziest you've fallen asleep? What would be on your sleep bucket list? 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What I learned from walking the labyrinth

Earlier this week I met a woman who is a labyrinth designer. A labyrinth is a circular path that is intended to give you a place to reflect, contemplate and otherwise be quiet with yourself. Walking a labyrinth can be a calming exercise, a spiritual experience, or annoyance if that's not your kind of thing. When I went on my first silent retreat, I thought the labyrinth wasn't my thing.

It seemed cliché, a forced activity and kind of pointless. As I walked the grounds of the retreat center, I avoided the labyrinth like it was the dentist. Yet on the last morning of the retreat, I found myself walking toward the maze. I decided to give it a try. While I wasn't struck by lightning bolts of revelation, I did learn a few things from the experience, things that I think are life lessons.

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1.  Patience is a requirement. I expected there to be twists and turns in the path and that was ok. But once I got to the center, I was frustrated to find that to get out, I had to walk the path in reverse. Sure, I could have just walked out, but I'm a rule follower and not finishing "correctly" didn't seem right. Patience is something I'm working on. I want answers, I want a plan, I want results and I want them now. But walking the walk provides lessons and experiences I would miss if I just rush through.

2.  It's important to keep my eye on the path. Several times, I looked up and away from the path -- toward the sound of a bird, to nod at another person, to look over the wakening grass and trees. When I looked back down, I was momentarily lost and confused, unsure if I had stepped into another "lane" of the path or if I was where I was when I'd first looked away. I'm not a great goal-setter. (See "patience" above.) In walking the labyrinth, even though I knew where I wanted to go -- the center -- I still had to keep watch to make sure my feet where taking me there.

3.  Even good things can be a distraction. I stopped to look at a tree blooming with pretty little purple flowers, then again to turn my head toward a busing of birds suddenly calling to each other. Once I stopped just to feel the sun on my face. When I returned my focus from the labyrinth, I was momentarily unsure of where I was. Good things. Facebook. A movie. A nap. They all can be good, but they all have a way of derailing me from where I want to be. It's ok for me to indulge from time to time, but I need to be aware of when my path has room for those distractions.

4. The path is not straight. Sometimes the path brought me so close to the center only to lead me far away again. But I persevered and made my way back. Of course, perseverance was easy when I was sure of my destination. Life isn't always so obvious. But I learned from this experience that if I keep my life's destination set on God, then no matter where my path takes me along the way, I will find my way home.

5.  The center is the sweet spot. When I reached the center of the labyrinth, it seemed the sun was focused right on that spot. I stood for several minutes, bathed in the warm, golden light, thanking God for the "reward." I wonder what other sweet spots I have missed because my eye was drawn away from the path?

6. Never enter a labyrinth when you have to pee. Honestly, I wrote this because a.) I did have to pee while I was walking the labyrinth and b.) I wanted to lighten this post up a bit with some humor. But now that I think about it, there is a message about taking care of myself and my needs in order to reach my destination. Maybe that need isn't always a bathroom break. Maybe it's the need for some daily quiet time or the need to spend time with friends and family (the need for community). See, even after time has passed, the labyrinth is still teaching me things.

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? What was your experience like?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

It smells like yesterday

 photo smells-like-yesterday_zps38d7fa3c.jpgWhat do you remember from your childhood? Or your college years? Or a home you once lived in? I have memories that are visual; I can see in my head what my bedroom looked like when I was in the 3rd grade. I can remember experiences -- scenarios as they unfolded so many years ago and how I felt about them. For me, the most powerful memories come as what I call "sense memories" built on notable smells.

Today I was walking down the athletics hall at Charlie's school. All of the sudden I smelled the locker room area of my own high school. The smell was a combination of musty and bleach. It wasn't unpleasant; in fact it was kind of comforting, connecting me to a happy time in my life. 

Earlier this summer, Charlie got in the front seat of the car. Immediately, I was greeted by a scent that took me a moment to recognize. Soon, the memory formed in my head. I was smelling Drakkar Noir, the cologne that Mike wore while we were in college. If I closed my eyes, I could see myself snuggling in close and burying my nose in the sparse hairs lightly sprinkled across Mike's chest. I breathed in deeply and smiled at the at memory. I could see my fingers tickling across his chest, my...WAIT A DAGGONE MINUTE! 

I snapped to, realizing that this woodsy citrus smell wasn't coming from the chest of my husband of 20 years. No, this scent was coming from my 15-year old son who was sitting in the car next to me. Aw heck no! I couldn't have my son wearing cologne that drew me back to his father's room in college.

Thanks to a well-timed pitch from a PR company who offered a free bottle, Charlie now wears British Sterling H.I.M. Private Stock cologne.

Another scent that transports me in time is pipe tobacco, which conjures up memories of my Grandpa before he gave up the habit. Pipe smokers aren't very common these days, but if there is one within 20 feet of me, I'm six years old on my Grandpa's lap again. 

You would think that given my round shape, I would have olfactory memories tied to food -- cakes baking or Thanksgiving turkeys, maybe. But I don't. I wonder why that is? My poor kids will probably have memories triggered by the smell of burning food

Do you have any memories that are triggered by certain smells? What are they? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Life after cable TV

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A few months ago we made the decision to cut the cable cord. Mike wasn't working, we had some medical bills to pay (we always have medical bills to pay), and we needed to trim the budget somewhere. What we were paying for cable TV didn't seem worth what we were getting in return --  8-10 channels we watched regularly and 192 channels that we could care less about.

ESPN and all its affiliated sports networks were really what kept us from making this decision sooner. When Charlie was 5 years old, he introduced himself to a neighbor, saying "Hi! I'm Charlie and sports are my life." Not much has changed, so we were a little worried that the withdrawal of the 24/7 sports channels might be like taking water away from a fish. But Charlie was already busy with summer conditioning for high school sports, so we reasoned that he wouldn't have much time to be watching TV anyway. 

The first day that Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network were not available, you could have told Robbie that the world was ending and he would have agreed immediately. But we were already Netflix subscribers and decided to add an $8/month subscription to Hulu Plus to our entertainment options. Hulu has eased the loss of the DVR. Most of the shows that we would have DVR'd in the past -- Parenthood, The Middle, Castle -- are available on Hulu, ready to be fired up when we are ready to watch them, as long as its at least one day since the original episode appeared. And while we don't have ESPN, Hulu has an ESPN channel that offers highlights, feature stories and classic "best of " games, so we don't feel too sports deprived. 

We get all the local television channels and their bonus companions -- Channel 6, 6.2, 6.3, etc. I was pretty surprised to see all the shows we can find on the local TV. There are even a couple of throw-back channels where you can catch classic shows like "Emergency!" and "M*A*S*H," shows of my childhood. 

I will admit, it's not all sunshine and lollipops. We are able to watch the Colts on local TV, although it does seem like the TV reception wants to act up mid-game fairly often. We can still watch the game; we just have put up with a few blips and pauses here and there. 

I miss the Food Network, although "Chopped" and "Cutthroat Kitchen" are available on Netflix. And while TLC has a channel on Hulu, they only offer short clips of episodes, not full episodes, so I'm left wondering about how the plans for Jessa Duggar's wedding are coming along and how Kody and his four wives are getting along on "Sister Wives."

When Robbie is crabby, he defaults to "And we don't even have cable TV!"

The upside of ditching the cable? Besides saving $150 a month, that is -- there are some nights that our TV doesn't get turned on at all. We read, tool around on the internet, do laundry and dishes (gasp!), and even go to bed at a reasonable time. 

Mike recently began working again and Charlie and Robbie began a campaign to bring back the cable. But we are standing firm. I'm hopeful that at some point, the cable companies will come around with an a la carte pricing structure where you can choose a dozen channels you want and will pay for. Until then, it's free channels, Netflix and Hulu for us. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Things they should tell you before you get an iron infusion

 photo Irontitle_zps32fad272.jpgAbout three weeks ago I had an iron infusion. I'd been feeling crappy for several months -- low energy, crazy tired, easily out of breath, and eating ice like it was something made by Hershey's. I knew my iron was low. I switched to a different kind of iron supplement, but I just could not get on top of it.

I asked my family doc to test my iron levels. She said no. Why? Because she'd told me to check in with the hematologist last spring and I didn't do it. So, off to the hematologist I went. He decided I needed a rapid fill of iron and the way to get that was an infusion.

I didn't know much before going in for the infusion, just that it would take about six hours and that there would be WIFI available (I asked about that specifically).

If you find yourself in the position to be getting an iron infusion, here are some things you might want to know ahead of time:

1. Where you are going. My appointment was at 8:15am. I went to the infusion center attached to the only office I've ever seen the hematologist in. I knew there was trouble when the gal at the registration desk started tapping away at her keyboard and clicking on her mouse, scrolling through several screens before she said "Oh, we have you scheduled at our downtown location." Fortunately, she was able to call and let them know I was on my way and they were able to hold a spot for me.

2. You can bring a lunch/food with you. It didn't occur to me that in six hours I might get hungry. The nurse who checked me in did show me the snack stash. And lucky for me, my friend Beth works at the downtown location and offered to bring me lunch.

3. You should hydrate well so it will be easy to find a vein. Three sticks and two nurses later, we found a good one. Credit goes to the first nurse who called for reinforcements when she was having difficulty.

4. They are going to have you mainlining Benadryl, which will knock your "I'm going to work on my laptop through this" plans right out the window. I called to ask about WIFI because I intended to make the infusion center my office for the day. Have laptop, will travel. It was a good strategy until they hung a bag of Benadryl and sent it free falling through my veins to ward off any allergic reaction to the iron solution. I was mid-email with someone and had to tell her that I would either be signing off or sending incoherent emails. Benadryl via IV might as well be vicodin. Add a blanket and a comfy chair you have the ingredients for one awesome snooze.

5. You're going to feel incredibly humbled to be sitting there for your one-time treatment, surrounded by people whose bald heads and germ-free masks give away the not-so-secret that they've been here many times before. Infusions are infusions, whether they are iron or chemo. Most of the people in the infusion suite that day were patients getting treatment for cancer. Many had family members with them and bags packed that said they knew it was going to be a long visit. I did a lot of praying, thankful I was there for a one-time fill-up and asking for healing and peace for those around me.

6. You will wonder why you didn't do this sooner. It takes 3-4 weeks for the iron to fully take effect, but one day about a week after the infusion I realized it was almost 3pm and I hadn't eaten any ice yet that day. Ice had become a staple of my diet (craving ice is a symptom of anemia), so much that I regarded Diet Coke as merely a vehicle for crunchy frozen bits. Not craving ice meant I was drinking less Diet Coke. My need for daily naps (either under my desk during lunch or as soon as I came home from work) began to ease up as well. I'm not still 100% nap-free, but I only nap 2-3 days a week now. And I'm feeling much more human overall.

The hematologist is hopeful that this iron infusion was just a tune up. Now that my tank is full (or should be, anyway) the iron supplements should be able to keep the anemia away.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Because I have too much else going on...

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Sometimes I'll sign up for an event or activity when my calendar is oh-so-full and I think sarcastically to myself "Oh, yes, let me do this because I don't have anything else going on." Tonight, I signed up to participate in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), committing to publishing one blog post per day during the month of November, because I have too much else going on.

Too much laundry. Too much Facebooking. Too much helping with homework and making dinner. Too much catching up on the latest episode of Parenthood or Castle. Even too much sleeping going on. My life is full and busy and I'm happy...but...I miss writing the stories that allowed me to connect with so many of you to begin with. 

The other day at work I had an opportunity to sit down, uninterrupted for several hours, and write a story about an amazing woman and her fight to recovery from spinal cord injury. My fingers were dancing over the keys. My mind was racing ahead to the next sentence. My breathing was quick and I swear I could feel my blood coursing through my veins. I felt alive and I remembered what a natural high writing can be.

So I'm taking the NaBloPoMo challenge and committing myself to the discipline of writing every day. I'm not making any promises that every post will be  fabulous, but I do promise to not waste your time. I promise that what I write will be worth reading, even if it's only to let you peek in a bit at who I am so we can get to know each other better. I'm sure to ask for your feedback or opinions so I can get to know you better, too. And I welcome your suggestions about what to write. I've got ideas, but I'll admit that a commitment of 30 blog posts in 30 days (yes, I know that I'm already behind by one) seems a little overwhelming to someone who has mostly been out of the habit of blogging.

So, happy NaBloPoMo friends! And happy reading.