Dec 28, 2013

My New Years Resolutions


  1.   Throw Less Parties. Pity parties, that is. I am the queen of pity parties. I can throw a mother of a pity party, complete with decorations, fine china and a bottle of “Poor Me” champagne. My pity parties usually take place while washing dishes, sitting in the dentist chair or shopping at Ross. My latest pity party occurred roughly two weeks ago, when I visited the local Ross in search of a few last minute Christmas gifts. Ross is a place I loathe, yet find myself at quite frequently. To quote my friend Amy, “It smells like poop.” And if you sniff hard, you’ll note that it does. There’s always a screaming child nearby, the music is not even suitable for elevators, and the carts suck. Each cart comes complete with a long metal pole, just in case one should get a crazy notion and decide to run with it down the street. On this particular day, there was only one cart left when I entered the store. And I soon discovered why it had not been snatched up: it squeaked. It was the suckiest cart in the store. Within five minutes of my shopping experience, I was in full blown pity party mode. The progression went a little something like this: I always get the squeaky cart. I hate being broke. I hate shopping at Ross. I have no decent underwear. My hair is too frizzy. I hate Pinterest. No one likes me. My life sucks. Yeah, lame, I know. But there I went, on and on and on as I weaved my way through the crowded aisles. By the time I ditched my squeaky cart and got to my car, I was in such a low mood I had to go home and eat four giant chunks of dark chocolate. Yes, I DO know there are far worse things in the world than getting the squeaky cart at Ross. But sometimes, we just can’t snap out of the funk, ya know? So this coming year, I’m going to try harder. I’m going to try to stop the pity party before it starts. I’m going to slam the door in its face, hide the “Poor Me” champagne and focus on the good in my life.
2.       Raise My Voice More Often. No, I’m not talking about yelling at my kids, though, admittedly, I did a bit of that when they were younger. I’m going to start speaking up about the things that matter to me, even if it scares me a bit. I’ve spent most of my life playing peace maker, trying to please everyone, pasting a smile on my face and nodding my head politely. When certain topics arise, I simply change the subject or shove some chocolate in my mouth. But I don’t want to do that anymore. Being silent is not always honest, and I want to be honest – with myself and with others. Several months ago, a friend emailed me regarding something I did not agree with. For the first time in my life, I spoke up. With shaking fingers, I typed back a polite but candid email, explaining why I did not agree with her. I took a deep breath as I hit the “send” button, wondering if we’d still be friends after it was all said and done. But guess what? We are! We choose to disagree, and that’s okay! And so, in 2014, I will attempt to raise my voice, even if I have to clear my throat a few times before I get the words out. Though it feels scary, I believe that, like learning to ski, it will get easier the more times I practice. And I will be okay.
3.      Get More Wrinkles. As I inch toward my 40’s, I’ve noticed a few lines I’m not too happy with. Though I did not think it was possible, I am now a walking testimony that one can simultaneously have both wrinkles and zits. And it sucks. For the first time in my life, I invested in some (very expensive!) anti-aging cream this past year. So far, I’m not sure it’s working. But one thing I’m not too worried about? My laugh lines. You know, the creases on your face that prove you know how to have a good time now and then. I’m hoping to get a few more of those this coming year. And I’m hoping they come with the gut-wrenching, side-splitting, tears-streaming-down-your-face laughter, preferably in the company of good friends, with a glass of wine or a raspberry martini. If I must laugh at myself, so be it. And if I end up more wrinkly by December 31, 2014, I’ll just smile and wear them with pride.
4.      . Use More Paper. I know, the environmentalists are freaking out at this one. To be honest, I’ve never been too good at recycling. In fact, I’m downright lousy. Or should I say, lazy. I know it wouldn’t take much to march my cardboard boxes and bottles to the recycling bin outside, but sometimes I just don’t feel like putting my shoes on. And so I don’t do it. I don’t use the reusable bags at the grocery store either. While we’re at it, I sometimes leave the lights on when I go out, I take long baths and use up too much hot water, and I don’t support Green Peace. So shoot me. But this coming year, I’m vowing to use more paper. I’m talking about trading in the convenient “e-card” , email, text or Facebook message for a nice, old fashioned, hand written letter. Granted, my handwriting is illegible, and even I have a hard time reading it sometimes. But I really believe our generation has lost something in the technology boom. We’ve lost that personal touch, that little thrill when we open the mailbox and find a sweet letter, carefully addressed to us, scrawled on pretty stationery. Admit it –even the biggest Apple buffs love getting Christmas cards in the mail. This year, I plan to send more cards, more letters, more love. Even if it costs us a tree in some forest somewhere in Oregon.  So if you find a little something in your mailbox in the coming days, know that it came straight from my heart, even if it’s too illegible to decipher.
5.       Stop Running. Okay, well, those of you who know me well know I never started in the first place. I tried a few times. I attempted to train for a half marathon for three hours on a Saturday morning once, but I got side cramps and blisters and had to throw in the towel. I’ve tried running on the treadmill, but that’s not much fun either. The minutes crawl by, I sweat profusely, and instead of experiencing this so-called “runner’s high” I so often hear about, I simply feel angry. Like I could kick someone in the shins with my New Balance tennis shoes and leave a nice bruise. So, much as I’d like to plaster a 26.2 sticker on the back of my SUV, running just isn’t my thing. But I’m not talking about that anyway. I’m talking about running from one place to another, constantly scrambling, over-scheduling, squeezing every last nanosecond out of my 24 hour day. To be honest, I’m tired. The pace is exhausting, and I’m not sure us humans were ever meant to live life on the fast track. When I got sick a few years back, my life was forced to come to a screeching halt.  I stopped everything, gave it all up. And in the process, something kind of cool happened. I began to realize that slowing down wasn’t so scary after all.  I took naps without guilt, read magazines at 3 p.m., lit fancy candles I’d never used, and took long bubble baths. I overheard my peers gush about how “busy” they were, as though it was some sort of prize to attain. And instead of envying them, I felt a bit sorry for them instead. But several years later, I’m back on that same fast track, wondering how I worked my way into this constant tailspin. Soccer practice, laundry, dishes, homework –it never seems to end. This year, despite the inevitable madness, I vow (and by vow, I mean try really, really hard) to stop running. I vow to slow down, make time for those I love, to get off the fast train once and for all. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start living again. Maybe I’ll actually make eye contact with the grocery store checker instead of stuffing my wallet in my purse and bolting for the door. Maybe I’ll actually HEAR my daughter when she shares her dreams with me instead of muttering an absent minded “Mmm hmm.” Maybe I’ll actually take in the sunset and snap a photo instead of honking at the too-slow car in front of me. And maybe, in catching my breath, I’ll discover that sometimes all we need to do is just breathe.

6.      Gain a Little. The scale is perhaps the most dreaded fixture in our lives. We stare at it as though it were a live serpent, deciding whether or not to step on and face the music. Did the pumpkin pie and Fireball and garlic mashed potatoes really catch up with us this year? And if only we could take back that calorie-ridden fruit cake we ate JUST so we could say we’d tasted fruit cake! Did we do enough lunges and crunches and burpees to work off the junk? I didn’t own a scale for years. Then I finally bought one at Target this summer, and it promptly broke two months later. It cost $20 and didn’t have a warranty. And no, I didn’t break it…it broke on its own. A wasted $20, my husband said sadly. But I feel much better now that it’s gone. I don’t have to stare at its ugly face on my way to brush my teeth in the morning. My freedom to eat dark chocolate at night is regained. But I wasn’t talking about gaining pounds anyway. I was talking about gaining LIFE. You know, really living. Gaining experiences, new friends, new tastes, a new skill. Hiking that mountain I’ve only looked at from a distance. Finally signing up for that cooking class. Making the effort to walk a few yards across the street and finally meet my new neighbor. Visiting a new state. Trying that new lipstick. Gaining the courage to finally write the book I’ve been wanting to write for so long. Pounds will come and go, but life is priceless. So are you with me? Let’s gain a little this year! And if we wind up a bit plumper by next New Years Eve, we’ll call it a good year.

Jan 28, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

I almost did the unthinkable last week. My fingers hovered over the “delete your account” button as I contemplated taking a break from Facebook land. For good? Temporarily? I wasn’t sure. But those guys at Facebook are good—they know how to pull at the heartstrings. “So and so will miss you,” they reminded me in a last desperate attempt, producing a slew of photos of people I’d wave goodbye to if I cut myself off. I contemplated, mulled it over, and in the end, I decided not to pull the trigger.
For the past several years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Having moved out of state and back, it’s been a great tool for me to keep in touch with friends near and afar. I’ve celebrated with friends around the country as they posted first photos of pink little newborns and cried with others as they grieved a loved one or expressed having a bad day. I’ve been able to share my own life’s journeys, triumphs and difficulties as well. Facebook has provided ample opportunities to network, connect and converse. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve scored sporting tickets, a new table, a great lasagna recipe, free workout tips, great jokes, new music suggestions and parenting advice. And I cannot forget that it was a kindly stranger on Facebook who generously donated to something near to my heart two years ago. So what it is it about the social media site that makes me cringe sometimes?
For starters, it is the sheer concept of vulnerability. Is there not something a bit intimidating about putting ourselves out there for the world (or at least our 600 plus Facebook friends) to see? I will be the first to admit I’ve started to update my status and then quickly erased it for fear I will be misunderstood. I admire those who can bare their souls completely, and though I like to think of myself an open book, there are times it’s just easier to post “Having oatmeal and a banana for breakfast.” Why? Because I don’t really want to share what’s on my mind. Because I know some will understand but others will scratch their heads and wonder if I’ve lost my marbles. Because my post that was supposed to be construed as funny will not be, and the post that was meant to be thought provoking will be overlooked. To be misunderstood over coffee is one thing, but to be misunderstood in a land where our words disappear into virtual thin air is another. We may not be in junior high anymore, but there is something about Facebook that sometimes makes us feel like we’re 13 again, hovering beside our locker in our fake Guess jeans and bad perm, asking the question we all long to know: “Do you like me just the way I am?” It is because of this that we sort through our photos and post only the best of the best, the ones where our hair sits just right and our lipstick is on and our stomachs are sucked in and our cellulite has been disguised. It is because of this that we feel a bit bummed if no one comments on our photos and a bit pleased if 90 people do. Or is that just me?
Secondly, what we see of someone on Facebook is only a fragment of who they really are. For instance, though I have a deep faith in God, I don’t feel compelled to post Bible verses every five minutes or interject spiritual things into every online conversation. It’s just not who I am. On the same note, I actually do have very strong opinions about political ideas, but you’ll be hard pressed to see me post much about our president, gun control or other White House shenanigans. I believe Facebook was meant to be a glimpse into our lives, an opportunity to give others a taste of who we are, yet somehow along the way, it seems we’ve let it define us—all the way down to the number of “friends” we have on our page. I suppose that if someone were to browse around my profile, they’d conclude, based on my status updates and photos, that I was a rather clumsy, endearing goof who always finds herself in a pickle and likes to make others laugh. What they may never know is the other side of me, the one that feels a bit like a misfit in life, that constantly wonders if she is good enough, wondering if she’d even find herself qualified to work at Burger King should the need arise. The one who spends ninety percent of her days in fuzzy socks and baggy pajama bottoms but slips into a nice dress when she heads out for the night. The one who posts “having fun” pictures with her kids, all smiles, but sometimes keeps herself awake at night wondering if she’s doing anything right as a mom. This is why I must conclude that, while Facebook is fun, it is not a substitute for real life. Real life is tears and laughs over cappuccino at Starbucks; that’s where we reveal our true selves in entirety.
Thirdly, there’s that whole idea of feeling left out. Think you’re the only one? Think again! A quick Google search on the concept blew me away; turns out social media has created a whole new problem that some bloggers and experts have dubbed FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out.” The very place we go to to feel connected can be the very place we feel loneliest when we see what fun everyone else seems to be having … without us! Trips to exotic places, parties with friends, six-course dinners we were not invited to, and the list goes on. Suddenly, though our lives were fairly interesting and fulfilled five minutes ago, they are completely and utterly B-O-R-I-N-G now! We MUST get a life … pronto! We must know in our gut that no one can have possibly have fun 24-7, yet somehow we get this wild idea in our heads that we are the only ones sitting at home folding laundry, nursing colds, changing diapers, scrubbing toilets and eating cold pizza for dinner.
My last “gripe” (if I must call it that) has only been brought to my attention recently. I like to call it Information Overload. I first realized my uneasiness after the Sandy Hook shootings. In the weeks that followed the tragedy, I found myself increasingly fearful and restless as I pored over the many posts on the matter. Suddenly, it seemed bad news was everywhere. Being the sensitive soul that I am, I found myself crying over lost puppies a friend of a friend of a friend had posted, poring over stories about impoverished children in other countries, and anguished over a terminally ill child I would never meet. I prayed for as many of them as I could, but my head and my heart began to hurt so much I feared they might burst. And then, through two separate conversations with friends, I realized the problem: As humans, we are simply not meant to digest so much information. Political wars, illnesses, famine, unemployment and other crises have existed for decades and decades, yet through increasing technology and social media sources, it seems these issues are brand new. Though we should care, we simply cannot take the world on our shoulders—it is too much for one person to bear. And strong as we might like to believe that we are, at the end of the day, we are still just one person, doing the best that we can.
For me, Facebook will always be a bit like the dive Mexican place my friends and I frequented growing up. The chips were always stale, the seating too crowded, the noise level too high, the carpet outdated, the tacos a bit too greasy. But there was something that kept us coming back time and time again. Despite its quirks, it was good. And the good part--the nostalgic, happy, good friends and two-dollar one-pound burrito part-- outweighed the bad.
Ironically, I plan to post this blog to Facebook. Why? Because I care about you all. Because, I suppose, I hope that you feel a bit of what I do too. That I’m not alone. And isn’t that what sits at the root of ourselves? The idea that we are not doing this crazy, beautiful life alone? Isn’t that what Facebook was meant to be all along?