Love and Choices

13239029_10209299243580885_6529252908657338580_nTime is marching on a little too quickly these days.  It’s nearly summer and I hardly remember spring, except for my middle daughter’s wedding, the highlight. She and her fiance chose to have a small, private wedding which took place outdoors. It was beautiful and special and a perfect reflection of their love for each other. My daughter’s mother-in-law captured all of it on  video, including the sisters’ speeches which made my heart swell nearly as much as the ceremony did. I’m waiting to receive  the link to this video to share with family and friends who were not in attendance.

And speaking of missing family members, when we first heard of their desire for a very small wedding, I felt a twinge of disappointment. What about all our loved ones who would not be there? But I think we’ve raised our children to “think outside the box” when it’s right for them, and this was one of those times. So in time, I usually feel a sense of relief when they exercise this right. I like to know they are doing what they think is right for them.

One thing I’ve learned from parenthood is how little I know. We can love them a lot and listen to them a lot and guide them, but ultimately it is encouraging our kids to follow their own inner guidance that is the true task of parenthood.

My youngest daughter told me that some of the best words I ever said to her were these:

I don’t know.

It’s your life to live.  What do you think? 

She said it left her with a sense of empowerment and excitement about her own life.

It’s a good reminder. I’m just a parent. Our children are each on their own unique journeys. I don’t want to play God with that.

I love you  and I don’t know.  A suitable parenting mantra, I think.

And the  one and only piece of advice I recall ever giving my daughters about love was this:

Choose someone who loves you a lot.

Life throws enough curve balls and challenges. Your love life doesn’t have to be one of them.

***

Tomorrow is fifty days before my fiftieth birthday, which has inspired me to write exactly that post, tomorrow.(50 Days ’til 50). I considered a series, posting each day leading up to this birthday, but alas need to spend the time editing my memoir which I promised myself would be much more polished by the big 5-0.

Always having to make choices with time; such is life. But getting older makes me increasingly aware of this- that I am in fact making a choice at any given moment.   I guess conscious choosing  is a byproduct of adulting. Maybe that’s all life really is; one choice after the next. Even when things happen to us, we still get to choose, what now?

See you tomorrow!

P.S. *Please visit the site of Sarabeth Matilsky, a most adventurous mom of four. In her latest letter, she takes us through the decision to sell her home and travel with her family, and  details  the massive clearing out that took place.  In a very short amount of time, she got rid of 95% of her family’s possessions. Bam. Now that is how you get it done:  www.lifeisapalindrome.com

Time for chores

This was published in Huffington Post today: 

20150610_081629I keep coming across articles about how Millennials are making serious attempts at living simplified lifestyles. From pared-down wardrobes and weddings to pared-down homes, they are aiming for lifestyles that reflect meaning, experiences, time and relationships over stuff. If this is true, and there really is a quiet revolution of minimalism happening among this generation, then I say this is good news. Good for them!

After all, life can get complicated and cluttered enough, without inviting the added stress and chaos of too-muchness.

Perhaps as children, many Millennials witnessed stressed out parents working too hard to pay for bigger and better things, and now they want to live differently. Or maybe many of them were overscheduled or overburdened with too many resume-building activities while growing up, and now they want to take back their time.

Maybe their desire to simplify was born of these experiences or maybe not. It’s possible that there is a minimalist trend in much of society now, and Millennials just happen to be the ones being watched. I don’t know. I didn’t do the research, but I am interested in any trends in minimalism, no matter who the subjects are.

In addition to their newfound reputation of becoming minimalists, Millennials have been dubbed self-centered and possessing a sense of entitlement. Personally, I think such a generalization is unfair, but if there is any truth to it at all, aren’t their parents partly to blame?

Perhaps some of these kids have been raised with the belief that the universe revolves around them and their over-packed schedules, while the mundane chores of life magically get done (probably while their parents should be sleeping or relaxing), or they don’t get done at all because who has any time left? It’s just a theory.

There are chores in life. Lots and lots of chores. Food needs to be purchased and prepared, and cars need to be maintained and toilets need to be scrubbed and bills need to be payed and finances need to be organized and pets need to go to the vet and laundry needs be done and dishwashers need to be emptied. Rugs get vacuumed and trash gets put out. Appointments get scheduled and drains need to be unclogged and papers get filed and mail gets opened and birthday gifts get ordered and thank you notes get written.

If kids don’t partake in any of this while growing up, they won’t factor in that they actually have to leave time in their lives to do the stuff of life. Chores. Maintenance. Cleaning it up. Getting it done. Letting them believe that all of this just magically gets done is not serving them well, in my opinion.

In fact, it’s a lie.

All I’m saying is, perhaps along the way some of us forgot to factor in all the time it takes to get things done that are required to live a decently organized and grown up life. Or we forgot to let the kids bear witness to that, let alone have them take part in it.

There is work to do, often tedious, annoying work, and it must get done within the twenty four hours that we have in a day.

So as far as I can tell, it’s not only okay, but pertinent to sometimes say:

I don’t have time for that.

You don’t have time for that.

Because there are the chores.

Because if dinner doesn’t get cooked, we are going to eat crap and I prefer not to live that way.

Because if I don’t put the laundry away today, it will come out of my writing (or working, or playing or fill-in-the-blank) time tomorrow.

Because if this doesn’t get done now, it will come out of my sleep and if I don’t get eight hours sleep, I will feel lousy.
Maybe the Millennials have figured it out now. Perhaps they have become painfully aware of the limits of their resources; time, money, and energy. No wonder we are watching their tendency toward minimalism with interest. They seem to be absorbing a valuable truth at this time: their life really is about them. The choices are theirs to make. That’s not selfishness; it’s awareness. And time? That’s all theirs too. It’s on their side, after the chores are done.

You’ve got mail

One day about ten years ago, a letter addressed to Sally Jenson arrived in our mailbox. This was a little odd since no one by that name lives here. It had our address on it, and we had no neighbor by that name, so the mix up was a mystery.

I put it back in the mailbox the next day so the mail carrier could deal with it. Perhaps there was a Sally Jenson at a similar address and it would be sorted out.

But a week later another letter appeared, also addressed to Sally Jenson. This time, I exclaimed aloud to my family, but to no one in particular, that we had gotten mail for a Miss Sally Jenson yet again. That announcement produced a chuckle from my daughters and then the youngest one confessed that she in fact was the mysterious Sally Jenson.

During a game in which she and her sisters made up new names for themselves, she had chosen the alias Sally Jenson.   She decided to bring the game to a new level by filling out a form she found, in a magazine perhaps, using the pseudonym. Initially, she explained, the name was Sally Sampson Jenson, but that didn’t flow, so she shortened it to just Sally Jenson.

The form she had filled out was a request for some information, of what she cannot recall. It brought Sally Jenson to life, so to speak, and she’s been receiving mail ever since.

Over the years, Sally has received advertisements for summer camp, Pre-SAT course applications, invitations to visit college campuses, and applications for credit cards. It has been nearly a decade since my daughter filled out that first form, and if anything, the influx of mail for Sally has increased. My husband and I have taken to handing our daughter this mail with a flippant, “This one’s for you, Sally”.

We cannot make Sally Jenson’s mail go away. The childhood game lives on in an alias whose life exists through the U.S. postal service.

How do you cancel an identity? Who do you tell that a person does not actually exist? I know there is identity theft, but how do you explain identity creation? Is there such a thing? Apparently there is, because there is Sally and she isn’t going away.

Since my daughter first printed “Sally Jenson” on that first form, the world of capitalism ran with it. America won’t let Sally go. It wants Sally to enroll, to buy, to sign up, to contribute, to attend, and to borrow. But Sally doesn’t exist!

Can we prove this? How do we cancel Sally Jenson?

Sally Jenson was a game gone just a wee bit awry at the hands of a curious child. What will happen if I fill in this pretend name in this form? Will mail come addressed to Sally?

Indeed it will.

Sally Jenson, a random name from a made up game, in some bizarre way, lives on forever.

A little joy goes a long way

I don’t know why it took me so long to add music to my cell phone, but now it has made the difference between going for a jog or not. Though I love yoga, I need something else too, some consistent cardio in my routine. I love the simplicity of a jog- put on sneakers, walk out the door, back in forty-five minutes. I only jog about half of my route, and walk the other half, but it’s enough. I like how I feel after the jog. But I just didn’t like doing it.

Problem was, my inner rebel (or is it my inner sloth?) would put her foot down at the mere thought of jogging.

It’s too hard.

It’s too hot out, cold out, wet out. (She has a point)

It’s boring.

I don’t even like running.

Turns out, I just had to add a little joy. A little joy goes a long way.

When my kids were little, they made a game out trying on the next season’s clothing to see what still fit (named the fashion game). Cleaning up or helping to prepare meals could be fun. Learning, when it’s organic and unforced, is full of joy. Brushing and flossing teeth before bed was often a sisterly ritual, one that sometimes had to be hurried along as their chitchat continued past bedtime. And to this day, my youngest daughter plays her favorite music when she has a lot of laundry to put away, to make it a pleasant task.

It’s easy to figure out kids are more cooperative when there is joy involved. But guess what? Adults aren’t much different. We need joy too, and lots of it.

Tasks that are often tedious really can be fun.   Joy can make all the difference.

It turns out music was the joyful, magic ingredient to my morning jogs.

Oh Spotify, how I love thee. I named my first playlist Jogging. How much more enjoyable it has become to put one foot in front of the other while the Dixie Chicks, Darius Rucker, Toby Keith and Tom Petty are belting out their tunes. Oh Joy! Now my brain associates lacing up my sneakers with hearing some of my favorite music. And as a bonus, I often return from these jog-walks with an idea for an article drafted in my head.

I like dessert. I really like dessert. Which brings me to more joy.

I’ve cut those addictive sweets out of my life, as told in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/farewell-my-sweets/

Say what?! Nooooo.

Enter the joy of Dessert Substitutes. I am having fun finding dessert recipes that are sugar free and gluten free (the two ingredients that make me tired, unhealthy, creatively blocked and yet make me want more, more, more).

I have made delicious, flour-free cookies sweetened with stevia, and smoothies made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies. But there are so many more recipes for healthy desserts to try, I will never grow bored.

20150701_173611My latest joyful discovery is the very simple banana “ice cream”. I think I may be the last person to find this on the internet, but just in case you haven’t tried it yet and want to: Just slice and freeze bananas for a couple hours, put them through a blender (add peanut butter or cocoa if you desire, or both for a chocolate-peanut butter-banana flavor). Once you have a smooth texture, put into small bowls and freeze for several more hours or overnight. The high pectin content in bananas cause them to freeze into a creamy, rich dessert.20150701_174741

The joy of this discovery has eased the craving of the more traditional desserts that I miss.

So my point is, when faced with something we want to desire to do, but really don’t feel like doing, asking “What would add joy?” is sometimes hugely helpful. A dose of joy just might be the difference between the change we are looking for, or staying stuck.

But still, sometimes tasks are just going to be tedious, for children and adults alike, and we just have to do them anyway.   I doubt many people have found  joy in emptying the trash or taking the SATs.  The joy is simply in getting it done. But when we have the option of adding joy, why not?

Go Joy.

Simplifying begs the question, what next?

One of the most exciting things about simplifying is what comes after. Simplifying clears the way for this question:

What do I want?

After clearing your home or your mind or your schedule, there is this space that feels like a spectacular opening, an invitation. Sometimes, perhaps, what fills up that space is the understanding that we already have everything we want and now we can enjoy that more. And that is a beautiful thing.

But it is in our human nature to grow, and I think our desires can be the touchstones for that growth. So even if we have most of what we want, there is often something else.

Recently, while my daughters were launching themselves further into their grownup lives, I suggested this:

Take the job that scares and excites you.

Delve into the creative project that you aren’t quite ready for. 

It’s exciting to see them growing into new things, becoming bigger versions of themselves. Though as parents we are not supposed to live vicariously through our children, it is hard to beat the feeling that comes from seeing your own children growing and thriving (just as there is no worse feeling than seeing them suffer, which also inevitably happens).

None of us is really ready for anything that challenges us, are we? At any stage of life, we are all sort of winging it, in a way.

Staying full of all sorts of clutter can be comfortable, like a cushion, a barrier between what we have now and what we don’t dare ask for.   That thing we want that whispers to us- or heck, maybe it screams at us- we want to hush it- because it’s too big, too scary, too improbable, or others might not like it.

OR THIS: It’s so small, so simple that it seems it wouldn’t really make any difference anyhow, so why bother?

OR IT IS INTANGIBLE: Peace. Acceptance. Relief. Confidence. Courage. Connection. Faith. How do we ask for these? We name them.

Sometimes we get what we want instantly. Often there is much work to do to get there- but at least now we are on our way. Anything I’ve gotten that I’ve wanted, came after either writing down my desire ( my form of prayer, in a way) or saying it aloud. The words I WANT hold power. They add clarity, focus, priority.

Sometimes what we want is just to know what we want. Often we know what we don’t want. But that’s helpful too. It gets us to the place of knowing what we do want.

I went through a time of not being clear on what I wanted. I tried different things and though they felt worthwhile, none were quite It. I felt I was squandering my time and energy on too many different things. I guess this was my clutter, distracting me from having to put real effort into one chosen endeavor.  It took time to get clear on what I wanted.  Simplifying helped greatly. It took saying no to all the things that just weren’t cutting it- all the things that would keep me busy but not quite fulfill me.

Now I know what I want. First and foremost, I want to keep being grateful for the intangibles that I already have so much of: love, health, faith, time. I want to always be clear on what I already have and to enjoy and appreciate all of it.

I want some less important, but still worthwhile, things. Some I may get, and some I may not, and all of that is okay. Often, the act of striving is just as fulfilling as the act of getting.

  I want to do well in the Moth Grandslam this summer and also be invited to the Moth Main stage, or some other big venue and I want to get comfortable with this idea. Okay, maybe not comfortable, exactly, but I at least want to be able to channel my nerves into something more like passion. I want to be absolutely satisfied with the way my book comes out. I want it published, well received, and to go on to write others (and it sure wouldn’t hurt to get the fellowship I applied for that would help me do this. It’s not required, but it would be sweet). And I want to know that the thing that fulfills me is adding some value somewhere, to someone else, at least sometimes. I want to keep reading good books.

I want to only crave healthy foods. I want to get clearer.  I want to have the energy, every day, to do the things I want to do. I want to get better and better at living in the present moment . I want to stop the mind chatter that only seems to cease entirely when I am writing, meditating, practicing yoga, sleeping, or listening to others.

I want a new light for my dining room because I really don’t like the gold one that’s there (we’re allowed to want petty things too). I also want a pair of white pants that are the right length so I don’t have to go get them hemmed. And while I’m at it, I want to figure out why the time on my laptop keeps changing to the incorrect time, no matter how many times I reset it. I missed yoga class today because I thought it was an hour earlier than it actually is. I want to forgive myself for still sitting here in my pajamas at noon. I thought it was eleven.

I want to let go of any regrets and judgements and worries. I want peace in every situation, every day. I know this is a stretch.

Wow, writing this makes me realize, once again, how much work I have to do and how far I am from much of this.   I know I will never quite get there. I will never have all of this. But I want to know I am trying. I want to know I am moving forward. It is natural to need to move forward, to grow, to expand in some way. And on the days I take one step backward, because I procrastinate or I give in to doubt, or I simply choose the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, carelessly or impulsively, I want to notice. Even though noticing kind of sucks. It hurts.

The thing is, when we know what we want, it becomes painfully clear when we choose something that is not that. We know when we’ve chosen in the direction that is away from our desires and it just feels all wrong, like heading east when we wanted to head west. Like disappointing ourselves. Our desires, our goals, at least the reasonably healthy ones, are a reliable compass.

Simplifying begs the question, what next? What do I want? What do I really want? It’s the best question in the world to ask, I think.   It’s the one that is always worth asking.

Not knowing is unsettling, like flapping in the wind, like living by inertia as time ticks away.

Even if the answer is the faintest of whispers, or scary or unlikely or very, very difficult, it could be the answer that is worth so much. A gift that helps us navigate the denseness of day to day life. It is the answer that only comes when we dare to ask the question.

What do I want?

It takes a village idiot…

stock-illustration-25264645-diversity-tree-hands-illustrationI like that my kids go to a diverse college, one that seems to represent the real world as much as a college can. They may choose to spend a lot of their time with people who are a lot like themselves in values or views or interests, but they also have friends, acquaintances, and every day exposure to those who differ in everything from religion to politics, birth countries,  socioeconomic class, and of course, ideas. They encounter the carefree, the hardworking, the entitled, the entrepreneur, the liberal, conservative and everything in between. There is the genius, the artist, the geek and the environmentalist. Kids who want to change the world and those who don’t know how to change a set of sheets.

There are some brilliant professors and some overworked teaching assistants, some lazy students and driven go- getters. This is a big school and like the real world, whatever you look for, you will likely find.

Including jackasses.

Generally, I don’t like to focus what I don’t like, but sometimes it takes writing it down in order to just let it go.

stock-illustration-26038210-car-accident-at-the-pathway-going-to-farmMy two daughters had the car that they share vandalized. Now technically, this is still my husband’s car since he bought it used, in good condition, put a lot of love and care into it to make it better still, and handed it off to our daughters to use at college. In fact, he had just put four new tires on it, a water pump and battery and did some front end work. It was the car our graduating daughter would be launched into the world with.

Then in the dark of night, on campus, possibly as an April Fools celebration, someone decided it would be amusing to stomp on cars  in the large parking lot, and this particular car was totaled. Large footprints on the rooftop, which is now caved in, multiple scratches and dents all over the car, a damaged hood. It went from being a nice car to a wrangled mess. Totaled.

I assume the perpetrator was not alone (how much fun would be without your buddies laughing along with you?) I am also assuming he was not sober. (I say he based on the size of the footprints; of course I could be wrong, but I’m going to use the male pronoun here).

Let me just say that I do have this in perspective. It’s just a car. No one was hurt. Everyone is alive and well and no one’s life has been altered, not even close.  It was just a senseless, random act of destruction. And if there was other damage that night, those victims-of-vandalism will recover as well. I am looking on the bright side here. We’re talking cars, not people. Vandalism, not assault.

Having said that, I want to indulge in a vent. It peeves me when parents raise delinquents without realizing it. Or they realize it but don’t take action to correct it.

Parenting can be difficult. I get that. I also get that things happen beyond our control. Biology and circumstances and a million other things can conspire to make raising a child very challenging. Many parents are struggling to raise happy and decent kids when the tide is against them. Add to that the fact that we all make mistakes. And our kids make mistakes.

Things can go wrong. I have empathy for this. I really do. I also understand that decent kids can do dumb things in college and still grow up to be good and highly functioning adults.

But when kids blatantly do bad things to other people, you’ve lost me. stock-illustration-8895909-fast-carNow I know deep down this Car- Stomping-Delinquent has lost touch with his worth. He sees himself as someone who destroys others’ property for kicks. And so he is. Or maybe he was so drunk that he doesn’t remember the incident, in which case he sees himself as someone who drinks to oblivion. And so he is that.

Did his parents think shipping him off to college would solve the problem? Or just solve the problem of getting him out of their house? I don’t really think that any amount of academics will correct his character. Or his substance abuse. Or his acting out. Or whatever this is. College is an expensive way to cross your fingers and hope your kid will grow up and out of their dysfunction.

Yes, I know it takes a village to raise a child.  But unless utterly incapable, parents are the first and most consequential part of that village. Yup, that’s right, I’m blaming the parents. They brought a person into the world and it was their job to recognize how things were going. And to correct things along the way if need be. Sure, he’s no longer a minor and ultimately responsible for his own behavior. He’s society’s problem now. Good luck to the village.

My kids were taken aback by the vandalism. It was an unfortunate and unfair event. Sometimes that happens in life. Sure it was inconvenient to stop in the middle of a full day of classes to fill out a police report. And take photos to send their father. Yup, here it is, Dad. This is what your project looks like now, after probably four minutes of someone’s intoxicated fun.

He’s over it now as well. Our insurance will even cover the cost of the damage. But somewhere out there is a lost kid, without a consequence (he wasn’t caught). Perhaps the best hope for him is that he is caught after his next offense, or the next or the next, and the consequence is severe enough to force change. I don’t know.

I think kids generally live up to what is expected of them: decency, effort, play nice with others. Contribute to society or at least do no harm.

The village is trying, it really is. Parents have got to do their part. Let’s all do our part to help kids know their worth and reach their potential, because this crazy, wonderful world we live in needs a lot of things, but another village idiot is not one of them.

Engaging the holidays with a four thing day

Just a couple more days until Christmas, and I’ve been feeling balanced about the whole holiday thing; I’ve got time, I didn’t go overboard on anything and best of all, college kids have fully settled back in for their break (evident both by the extra joy and the extra dishwasher cycles). I’m caught up on most stuff that needs being-caught-up on. Gifts are bought and wrapped, fridge is stocked. There are just a few more things I need to do, and today was supposed to be the day.

So if life is calm and joyful and good, why am I behaving so badly today? Badly as in I seem to have staged a private revolt against finishing up anything that’s left to do or just generally making sensible choices. For example:

Here’s what I should be doing: Going to get a haircut.

Here’s what I did instead: Bought more hair product to revive my curls that really just need a trim, in order to avoid going to get that trim.

Here’s what I should be doing: Picking up the party platter at the grocery store for tomorrow’s pre- holiday visit with my grandmother.

Here’s what I did instead: Roamed the aisles of Whole Foods, sampling their natural lemon body spray and vanilla nutritional shake mix.

Here’s what I should be doing: Finalizing my menu for Christmas brunch.

Here’s what I did instead: Read about what celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis will be eating for Christmas in my Natural Health magazine. Smoky turkey, cranberry soup, and smashed root vegetables, in case you were wondering. And she’s not cooking it.

Here’s what I should be doing: Walking my dog.

Here’s what I did instead: Let my dog run around the yard and then went for a jog myself, while listening to Pandora. While on the jog I took a photo of a sign on the side of the road that said Fixer upper. Must sell fast. The sign included a phone number.

Here’s what I should be doing: Plugging in the lights. It’s getting darkish, despite only being late afternoon.

Here’s what I did instead: Called the number from the sign and left a message. Why would I do that? I’ve no idea except that I was curious. It was a bright yellow sign, urgent! Where was this house? Why were they trying to sell so fast? But in hindsight, maybe the fixer upper is not even a house. It could be anything. A car. A bike. A husband. Why did I assume fixer upper meant a house?

.

Here’s what else I should be doing: Cooking the edible gifts I plan to give.

Here’s what I’m doing instead: Eating popcorn.

Maybe this is how I subconsciously engage Christmas; by being a time-wasting slacker for a day or so leading up to it.

Ah well, here is what I should be doing: Jumping off this couch and getting something, anything done. I should be recognizing that Christmas is coming barreling down the road, for Christ’s sake. Literally.

Here’s what I’m doing instead: Feeling glad for having done three things today: exercising, writing, and answering an important email. That’s not much, but I’ve been so busy not stressing about the holidays. Not even a little. Maybe I can count that as accomplishing something. That makes four things. Today was a four thing day. I can live with that.

Merry Christmas!

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