Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday's Creative Spirit

Oatmeal - It's What's for Breakfast
I used to blog a lot. Lately I've come back to it. It feels good to use my creative juices and share ideas, thoughts and beliefs. And to multitask. I'm writing this in my living room between trips to the kitchen - and the front porch, where Diego is soaking in the vitamin D.

I'm writing this on a beautiful - in fact, almost perfect - Sunday morning. My family is all upstairs sleeping despite the sounds of mixing, chopping and pre-heating, with beep-beeps chirping from my oven. I am trying a recipe I found on pinterest. This is the second time in a week that I'm creating something inspired by this online bulletin board. Where was pinterest when I was a stay-at-home Mom with time to cook, bake and otherwise create? Ah, progress. When I retired there will be an app or other yet-to-be-dreamed solution to make a commute more fun.

Last Sunday was almost perfect - the only thing missing was my family. I woke on Long Beach Island and started the day with beach yoga. There's no beach yoga right now - but there is coffee. The kind I make for myself - hot, fresh, with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom, which give it a taste of fall. Tomorrow morning I'll pour myself the leftovers over ice as I run to the train. I'm already looking forward to it (the coffee more than the train).

Baby's Ready for Bonding with Daddy
Lately when I do blog - or speak to people in person - it tends to be a venting session on what is stressful in my life. But have I focused on what's going well? Not lately. It might not be in my nature - as Gloria and George's daughter, stress and drama may be embedded in my DNA - but I am focusing more on simplifying. As I mentioned, I had signed up for the Wineglass Marathon in October, but I decided to defer. Now when I see the countdown - currently 34 Days, 23 Hours, 23 Minutes and 9 seconds (when I checked a few seconds ago) - I don't get panicked. I don't get excited either. It's ok. 2016 here I come! That's not necessarily "going well" but running for the love of it, without the pressure of a deadline, is a step in the right direction. I've also rediscovered the fact that I have an hour for lunch. Almost every day last week I spent time taking advantage of Lower Manhattan. Running along the Hudson, biking near Battery Park and walking from City Hall almost to the West Village.

But back to Sunday. It's now 9 am. I've taken my "To Go Baked Oatmeal" out of the oven, impatiently waiting for it to cool. When I tested the concoction before placing it into the oven. I found it to be too sweet - so if you are copying me, I'd suggest cutting the brown sugar by at least half - I ran out of brown sugar and only used 3/4 cup. The apple sauce and fruit give it plenty of sweetness. I also used coconut oil instead of the canola (?) in the recipe. Finally, since I had it out, I added a pinch of cardamom. To counteract the sweetness, I'm planning to "serve it" (to myself) with plain yogurt. The aroma is lovely. Can I actually wait until it cools enough to prevent third degree burns on my tongue??

Shower Gift
Yesterday was also a chance to test my creativity under pressure. Weeks ago I was invited to a colleague's baby shower. At 45 it isn't often that my friends are having babies - luckily most of my colleagues are a bit younger.  I don't know the mother-to-be very well, but from my few encounters I think we'd be good friends given the opportunity. S is warm and intelligent and artistic. G (my colleague) has the nickname Webbie around the office - although Wiki would work, too. He knows so much, and probably 30 times a day I find myself interrupting him with a, "G---?" Not only does he give me an answer, he jumps out of his seat and comes over to my cube to provide assistance. Often he ends with, "Let me try to do it (for you)." Taking from my to do list and adding to his own is really kind. It sometimes means that he'll stay late to finish something that was on my plate. So I am grateful for the opportunity to do something nice for him and his growing family.

Anyway, I knit the football hat - also found on Pinterest - for G and S's shower baby shower. The hat was finished on Tuesday, save for the lines. Those proved a challenge - and give it a homemade look, instead of the "did you buy this??" I was hoping for. The pressure was on - let's just say I couldn't actually wrap the gift until I got to New York because I was sewing in the ends on the train, even as the train pulled tunnel into Penn Station. Last minute... indeed. But I love it. So much, that I've cast on a similar hat - in the same yarn. Instead of a football, it's got hearts. This time, it's for a friend (who actually is my age) having a baby next month. Anyone else having a baby? I'll happily make another.

But for now it's a beautiful Sunday and I'm going to milk every second of it. This time, with my family. They are stirring now. Guess that means it's time for me to get dressed and seize the day!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Decisions, Decisions

Option One: Rutgers Prep
It's never easy for me to make a decision - I'm always second-guessing myself. Even "do you want fries with that?" gives me pause. Fries: the evil of all food. No nutritional value, no actual potatoes, lots of salt - even sugar (probably) and God only knows what they fry them in. But...

Fries - YUM, YUM, YUM!

The ultimate in "no means yes". I say no, the kids say yes and I steal some anyway, much to their chagrin - "If you wanted fries, you should have ordered your own!" True, dat!

But, it was the right decision to say no.

Looking back on the last 25 years you might think I confidently made a series of quick decisions leading to drastic changes. Some were. Let's get married. Ok, we survived a couple of years of marriage. Let's have a baby... Ok. We did that. Let's quit our jobs and move abroad....

Option Two- stay in district with kids he knows
Many of the biggest decisions, though, came from mitigating factors and happened to me more than me choosing them: moving for T's job across the country, then for another, on the other side of the ocean (which is how we ended in 08807).

For years I've pondered the choices I'm making regarding my kids' education. How many emails have I sent to teachers and administrators trying to make improvements to what seemed to me like cracks in the system? How can I facilitate them to get the most out of their education?

With my daughter we made the decision to pull her out of pubic school to put her in private after an administrator convinced me that BRRSD didn't consider her worthy. If her own guidance counselor (who would be writing her college recommendation) was willing to tell a 15 year old (in front of her mother) that she wasn't needing to worry about taking the right classes, why keep her at that high school? ("It doesn't matter what classes she takes, she's not looking at competitive colleges, anyway.") I was livid. I drove straight from the high school parking lot and never looked back. A relatively easy decision.

Originally the thought of private school originated with our son. He really is smart, but just hasn't ever thrived in school. If there is something a parent can do to lower the wide gap between his aptitude and his output, I've tried it. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent speaking with teachers, leaving with tears of frustration. (If you read the archives of this blog, you'll get an idea). 

Now that we have finally made the decision to send him - and a small fortune - to private school, I find myself constantly second guessing. There was no final straw. Just two forks in a road. We picked the more expensive one.

Was this a mistake? A year from now, will I sit on the same 6:24 am train and wonder if it would prepare him better to attend a high school with 3,000 students or 400? Will increased debt give me sleepless nights and accita?

I guess part of many people's mid life crises includes wondering if choices you made 20-25 years prior were right. It seems implausible that my kids will look back and ask "why did they send me there?" But will I continue to second guess myself?

With a bit of luck, they'll see choosing private as I see many of my big choices: the best I could make with the information I had. At any rate, it's too late now. That's the thing about big decisions. For better or worse, you live with them.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Morning musings

The sun rises as commuters head to "the city that never sleeps"
Guess what happened? One of my friends read that I'd blogged and she sent me a card. She sat down (presumably) at the table in her bright and welcoming kitchen and took pen to paper, wrote an update of what she's up to and sent it in the mail. And guess what else? When I received it, I was thrilled!! I felt loved. Tangible proof that a friend was thinking of me.

Recently, I knit an infinity scarf for a friend who is facing so many daunting challenges that I've almost lost count.  Parkinson's Disease tops the list. Last week she mentioned on Facebook that she'd lost control of her hands. I hope that there's more than a little karma here. 

From time to time I feel overwhelmed. This morning is one of the times when I feel the angst growing in my breast. It feels like a hint of bronchitis, except unlike with illness, if I breathe deeply, the air flows unimpeded. It might be lack of sleep. Diego (our mutt) had me up at 2 am. He was constipated... And still is, despite a middle of the night walk. 

I was planning to get up at 4 am to enjoy the meteor shower. Up anyway, Diego and I waited impatiently for the elusive streaks in the sky. Alas, even with most of the area sleeping, light pollution prevented us from the show we should have seen. I think I saw one, but maybe it was my brain tricking me? Elusive light. It happens so quickly that you "just know" that you've seen it. "Did you see that?" At one point, I asked Diego. With no reply we returned to bed. 

So I head to work with too little sleep and thoughts of an insurmountable to do list. Perhaps instead of using such a negative term, I should remember that my friends care. Whether I complete my work or not, they still feel the same way. 

Perspective. Whether you're looking at an envelope with handwriting you're straining to recognize, out a window with a landscape constantly moving - as I see now on the approach to Newark - or across a sky filled with stars, planets, planes and satellites, keep in mind that you have the power to impact how others see things and what they feel. And you even have a power to change how you see things.

Yes, Diego. I think that was a falling star.

Reached Newark. Have a great day!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

5 Opportunities in Summer 2015

Quality, Not Quantity - A Quick Ride Along the Hudson at Lunchtime
In the past four months, I have started seven blog posts... and completed none. I'm a little disappointed with myself. In light of this I'm going to challenge myself to write and post an interesting blog by the time the train I'm riding arrives in Somerville. We are somewhere between Union and Cranford.

My world seems to be in a state of flux on almost all fronts. Some aspects of my life might be different in a year, others definitely will.

Next August, I can assume, my daughter will be preparing to leave for college. Life will surely change without my lovely girl.

The company where I work is also undergoing changes. As is often the case, this had meant new challenges and an increased workload. This week I spent at least 5 hours learning new skills. In addition I am collaborating with a team called a "center of excellence." It is unclear how I fit in with this group of (mostly) designers, but I enjoy seeing how creative my "new" are. It's invigorating. The "head"'of this center holds a weekly meeting where each of us has to present our 3 main tasks for the week, one challenge and one opportunity.  That's the plan for tonight's blog.

In light of all the changes, I'll skip outlining challenges as there are many ahead. My tasks hold little interest to my readers, either. Instead, let's focus on the fun part. The opportunities.
Here are my top five opportunities:

  1. Train for a marathon. I'm up to 15 miles and the race is on October 5. Stay tuned...
  2. Turn the dining room into a library. We don't use the dining area for much other than storage.
  3. Go to the beach. I've only been once this summer and M invited me. Time to get that on the calendar.
  4. Focus on the positive: healthier eating, relaxation techniques, good movies/books, knitting, whatever... Low stress: I never regret going for a walk.
  5. See friends. I have so many meaningful people in my life whom I rarely see. This summer has been exceptional for reconnecting with loved ones - starting when my father turned 90. I want to keep this trend rolling.
There you have it. Five things I have the opportunity to accomplish this summer. What's on your list?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Winter Rut

I'm just going to have to admit it. My commute is getting to me. Life seems to have turned into an endless train ride broken up by work and " nighttime naps at home". I truly wonder if my kids are getting fed leftovers. No, not day-old meatloaf, but the sloppy seconds of Mom's attention. Even in my mid 40s I still need the positive feedback of my dad, my boss, my in-laws, friends and lots of people. So, why shouldn't my teenagers?

Perhaps worse than "neglecting" my kids, I'm not making good choices for myself. Yesterday's lunch was healthy, but pretty much everything else I ate gave the instant gratification to the tongue, followed by feeling bloated and guilty. (I don't regret the raspberry bar for my lunch-dessert, calories be damned!).

Haven't run in more than a week.  Haven't folded laundry in even longer. Haven't seen most of my friends in many weeks. Didn't even call MR on her birthday. 

Clean clothes are a necessity, but for me fresh air, exercise and friendship matter even more.

So just know that while I ride NJ Transit's Raritan Valley line, I'm thinking of you. Long walks, warm skies and the constant chatter... interrupting one another when we are talking so fast that our minds can't keep up, and we suddenly remember a tangent, or have a strong opinion. That's my favorite kind of vitamin.

I know Spring is coming. Longer days, warmer air. Happier times.

They're heading your way, too. That makes me happy.

And to my kids: I'm so proud of how well you're handling everything... but please be better about letting the dog out!

You can dress me up like a working woman, and put me on the train with (what looks like) every tired IT guy on Wall St, but in my core, I'm still the same nagging Mom. And I feel better now...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Combating Stress in 2015

New Year Begins with Plenty to Do and Here's How to Do It (Or Not)

Yesterday's Cardio = Shoveling

Our guests left weeks ago, yet 2015 has hit me hard. My workday and the pressure of "women can (read: should) have it all" continues to challenge me.

More than my 9 hours at the office, plus 3+ hour commute and coming home to a messy kitchen needing to be used to make dinner (you know the drill: gotta get the clean dishes out of the dishwasher, before you can put the dirty dishes in, wipe down the space to prep dinner only to make more mess cooking, rinse and repeat), it's the outside world permeating in my thin skin: world news of hostility in so many places I've lost count, domestic politics (don't get me started), unfinished business of 2014 that everyone seems to have forgotten (e.g: where the hell are those Nigerian girls???) and stressful undertones in the home I share with my husband and two sometimes-moody teenagers. January is the most stressful time at T's job, N&C both have midterms and the fear of C driving on slick roads makes my hair gray and my heart palpitate and, um... who left the milk out? Who left the back door open (and what if the dog gets out)? Where are my shoes, where's my wallet, my keys, my sanity... the voicemail that was left sometime in December, the Christmas cards that didn't get sent (um, I don't even remember who I didn't send to...).

One day last week I actually left my wallet in my car and I didn't figure it out until I was half way to work. My commute is something like this:

  1. House to train station 10 min
  2. Somerville train to Newark Penn Station, via NJ Transit - 47 minutes = express or 60 min = local
  3. Newark Penn to World Trade Center, via PATH train - 20 minutes
  4. Walk from WTC Path to office 5-10 min (then "where's my ID card" - can't get into the building without it)

The first part of my trip I have an app as my ticket so I didn't realize I was missing my wallet until 47 minutes into the commute. My PATH pass resides in my wallet. A stranger paid my way ($2.70) into the city and kind colleagues made sure I could get home (and eat lunch), but I couldn't confirm my wallet's safety after work. Thankfully it was "right where it should (not) be." On the floor of the car. Waiting shotgun.

And I think I Have a Stressful Job?
Work has been stressful too. In the beginning I felt guilty pangs because I wasn't doing enough. Everyone around me swarmed about, overwhelmed with projects while I bopped around like a little girl, did my daily tasks and went home. Not anymore. I love that I have more interesting challenges, but that means more deadlines and higher expectations with just as many hours in my day. I usually work on the train, which used to be my break - time to knit, listen to music or NPR or read - and watch the world pass by. Now I edit, catch up on email and tweak the website, removing the downtime that was the perfect overpass between work and home. Now I often recheck my email after dinner, completely removing the home/work separation.

But don't misunderstand me. It's not all gloom and doom here at Casa Poppet. (And I'm very cognizant that many people have much bigger challenges). But I have found that I need to step up what I'm doing in the 'just for me' category to make things manageable.

These seem to be working:
  • Friday night "sushi with the ladies"... Once a week - usually Fridays - I've met up with a friend or friends for dinner. No expectations. And no dishes...
  • "Me time" is a must. Lately I've tried these mini miracles: 
    • A trip to Dr. Chris at Functional Health in Somerville to fix my rock-solid shoulders plus this time I had a 20 minute massage - instant heaven
    • A manicure or pedicure at the every-wonderful Paradise Nails
    • A hot bath 
    • A "Saturday Matinee Nap" (yesterday I slept from 1:30 pm -3:30 pm)
    • Turn off the news, turn off Facebook. They'll still be there...
  • "Meditation" - I don't actually know what I mean by this. So we'll just say that every few days I've lit a candle, blocked out the world and just listened to my breathing for about 5 minutes. As I've read a little, I'm hoping I won't losing my wallet anymore.  
  • Eating better - Earlier this week I started to use a health app to keep a food log. I'm eating much better because of it - of course, I'm still me, so my log includes traditionally "no no" things like "raspberry pudding cake," "molasses cookies" and "fried plantains."  But it is a good reminder that you are what you eat.
  • Haydn, Debussy, Bach or other classic faves with no lyrics. Anytime for instant brain rest.
Here are a few more I need to try:
  • Stay in the city if I need to. For under $100 I can get a hotel room 5 minutes walk from the office. Cutting out the commute once it a while helps. 
  • Ask to work from home when I need to. I already do this when I absolutely have to, but sometimes when I need it for my mental health I should ask.
  • Journal
  • Use the weekends to recoup. Today - despite the would-be-perfect day for it - I said no to go skiing with a friend. Let's start the week with my batteries at 100%
  • Limit travel on weekends. Appreciate being at home. 
Recently my wonderful boss let me change my hours to an earlier schedule. I now am home by 6:30 pm. (That means, of course, that I have a very early start, catching a 6:23 am train). But the morning bird wants more time with her chicks and this gives 5 additional evening hours per week with the kids

You have your own pluses and minuses, stress-inducers and methods for decompression. Do what's right for you... and feel free to share them. I'm always excited to learn. 

My Work in Progress. Just Like Me!
One piece of advice: pack away the issues you can't face. Like the news, it's not going anywhere, but I can't handle everything at once (so why can you?). You'll note that unlike many years I am staying away from school politics - pushing PARCC testing outside my attention span - and I'm doing my very best to find forgiveness for (or at a minimum, forget as much as possible) someone who broke my heart with her batsh*t-crazy antics this fall. It's hard to fight a mental war when you have limited energy - so I just keep putting that pain on the back burner until it eventually resurfaces or dissipates - and it will - sometime between now and May.   

But for today, Sunday, I'm "being Sunday". Doing what I can around the house. Hoping to see a friend or two. Cooking good food. Maybe baking something yummy (kneading bread is therapeutic) and mixing work and with rest. It's a beautiful day - I will definitely get a run in.

Just remember to be grateful for your small things: for me: the sun is shining. The house isn't too messy. And I'm drinking coffee from my favorite mug in my new pink flannel PJs. 

And treat yourself to yummy PJs. It's the little things in life that make me most happy. Find your simple comforts, too. 

And maybe knit.... it's therapy with a final product. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Off to a Running Start

Look Familiar?
If you're like me, your New Years resolutions last about as long as your dying Christmas tree. With every passing day more needles fall off and eventually you have to admit defeat and hide the body (aka the dead tree or my 16-pack abs). The same goes with my resolutions. Out of sight by Epiphany.

This year I'm not making any resolutions. I have more than enough on my plate. All I want to do for my 2015 resolution (and God help me if I'm cursing myself just by writing it down, AND hitting publish) is very simple:


Even this, is just an echo of the Ghost of Resolutions past. "Live more simply"? Ha - since that blog was posted I went back to full time work and changed jobs to one with a 1 hour 40 minute (on a good day, each way) commute. I don't live life simply, I don't think I can.

But finish what I start - why does that scare the hell out of me? Finish a book before starting another. Send my Christmas cards that I put in envelopes weeks ago. Finish cleaning a room before going on to straighten up another. Finish a thought before getting distracted. Finish whatever goal I set for myself...

The biggest of these is a challenge that I've been pondering for years. A marathon. For years I've been saying I could or would never run a marathon. Marathon runners are a different breed, I thought. Marathon runners, eat (well, actually they don't seem to), breathe and sleep running. I love to run. I love the endorphins, but I'm not as committed or as disciplined as "they" are.

Late last summer I talked to someone who was a marathon runner. I realized that I really respected that. It takes commitment and I envied this commitment to a goal. Other people run marathons. Why can't I? Here are my excuses and the reality:

I'm not thin enough. (It's true - I'm not thin) --> You don't have to be thin if you are in generally good health.
I don't have time to run 4 hours at a clip. --> You don't run for 4++ hours every day. You don't even do it every week. Yes, I'll have to commit a chunks of time each weekend as the race gets closer, but I can do that.
I give up too easily --> That is choice. Keeping in mind that many people can't do this, I should honor the fact that I can.
I could get hurt --> I'm fortunate enough to have good insurance, a great primary care physician and a chiropractor. 
I don't like to run in the rain --> Too damn bad. C got a treadmill for Christmas and after the misery of bringing it into the house, I should be motivated to use it daily. And, running in October in the Southern Tier of New York State means that I have to be like the post office: neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor ice... (all possibilities)

So dear readers, look for more blogs about running in 2015. If you see me pounding the streets, send encouraging thoughts. (And feel free to give me some song suggestions for my playlist. It's quite overplayed and needs new life).

In return I send encouraging thoughts to you for your own 2015 goals - or lack thereof. May you be successful in your endeavors.