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:

FINISH WHAT I START!

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.





Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas 2014 and the Ghost of Others

Diego wants Xmas eve dinner!
Dear Readers,

Happy Holidays! We ate the food, we opened the gifts, we had the traditional Christmas meltdown, complete with drama and a few tears. (Is it really Christmas without it?) We saw the Christmas Show at Radio City and we got gussied up. The list of what I didn't accomplish still beats out the list of what got done, (if you didn't get a Christmas card - don't hate me, there are still a bunch unsent along with my unfinished Christmas gifts). But in the end, Christmas shouldn't be a to do list followed by checked items. It should be about enjoying time with family. 

Except if your name is Mom. It seems that I am falling into the same trap that the women in my family have been falling into for generations, in which holidays become a frenzy of guilt and fear that dinner will be ruined. Pure to form, I also declared my turkey doomed to death when the potatoes weren't ready to start when they "should have been."

Why can't I just go with the flow? If we are 7 people around our Christmas dinner table, and no one is going anywhere or coming from anywhere, why can't I just take a deep breath, take a sip of wine and let it all just happen? Why can't I bask in my own individual imperfection, but instead strive for some idealized version of Christmases past? They were only perfect in my head. Disappointments of imperfect gifts, family squabbles, gossip, rehashing bitter memories - or occasional other "improprieties" like when my brother passed out into his dinner plate (as a small child some adult told me, "Dino came home late and was very tired." As an adult I'm guessing it he had a little too much fun the night before). 

My mother-in-law predicts we will laugh at the craziness of dragging a 300-pound treadmill from the garage, up the front steps and down our tight stairway into the basement, just as I hoped to serve Christmas dinner. My father-in-law, already dressed for Christmas, had to change back into his jeans and dinner was suddenly delayed indefinitely. Lots of harsh feelings, pulled muscles and bitten tongues later, we were sitting at the table eating turkey - all thankful for different reasons. (My guess is that I wasn't the only one who was plain old-fashioned hungry).

When I talked to C about it the next day, she smiled as she said, "The amazing part is daddy was right!" Somehow we got this monstrosity downstairs. Today he finished putting it together - and C logged the first few miles on a treadmill built for an Olympian! He and my father-in-law spent the late afternoon assembling my rowing machine. Bye bye, gym!

So don't believe the perfect pictures of happy faces you see on Facebook. Of course, many people have unwrapped the perfect present, sat before the perfect table of perfectly matched dishes, glasses, serving plates and perfectly-timed sides, laughing at inside jokes and filled with uncomplicated feelings. But most of us embrace an imperfect holiday... where we swear, cry, complain and spend too much time forgetting how fortunate we are.

For many of us - myself included - there is a silent part of every holiday. Where, among the chaos, we spend a few minutes reliving Christmases past with people who died many years ago. I also spent a lot of time this year being angry - as much as I hate to admit it - because jealousy, spite and anger took over. Talk about the Christmas spirit! Maybe I'm more prone to negative feelings because it's my nature. Maybe it's because on the alternate years when we "host Christmas" it isn't just a meal or two, but we host guests who stay with us for at least 2 weeks. They don't require much beyond a well-stocked kitchen, clean beds and ample towels- but it's a combination of the holiday and the extras. The good, the bad, they ugly, all well shaken into a mixed drink we call the holidays.

But then, somehow, when you least expect it... Christmas peace comes to all.

I wish you all a few minutes, an hour or a week of this lovely respite. Merry - belated - Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Are YOU Running For?

'Cause Everyone Is Running for (or from) Something?

Yesterday as the polls started heading toward closing time and the votes got guestimated first, then called by various news outlets, I couldn't wait for it to be over. But is it ever really over?

The Motherlode: NY Marathon
It's a new day. And while I'm pleased that my board of ed candidate won, there were no surprises in the Senate, making me want to put my head in the sand for the next six years... by which time we'll have elected at least one new president. 

As I was running up Van Holten road yesterday I remembered how it felt to run for a political office. The highs and the lows. I realized that just running for board of ed impacted me in many ways. I thought I knew who my friends were, but there are always surprises. People who stood by me every step of the way, and others who didn't, teaching me that some affiliations trump friendship. Time has healed that, and I have put it behind me, but it left enough of a scar to keep me from running again for any office, ever. If you can't count on friends' support, how can you expect the general population to support you? Like jogging, running for office is largely a solitary venture. Maybe that's why they share the same verb?

If I take it a step further, and think of running more as a metaphor, so many ideas open up. Years ago people would ask me what I did. I was a stay at home mom, but I'd sheepishly say I'm a writer. In the interim, I "ran for" a few jobs. And now I'm a writer. Statement of fact with a salary (and writing samples) to prove it. When my daughter starts applying to college next year, she'll be "running for a place at the colleges of her choice." At work we have this new push to have quantifiable results, so you might say I'm now running for improved metrics. 

We run for lots of things... we run red lights, we run households, we run meetings, we run for cover. Over the next few busy, pre-holiday weeks I'll be thinking of my next goal. What will I be running for? 

But here's a better question: what will you run for? What are your goals for today, next year or the longer term? Good sneakers are a must for a distance runner. Consider the tools you need to make your goal. Remember that the most important part of running for something isn't winning. It's about creating experiences that will give meaning to you. Running a 10 mile race isn't about the medals. It's about the endorphins.

Good luck newly elected candidates. Serve your pubic well because before you know it, you'll be running again.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why I'm Voting for Barry Walker

A long time ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away...

... I ran for a School Board. It is not a position to take lightly or to vote for "just anyone". 

You've seen the signs...
Barry Walker is running a tough, but honest campaign. It's not easy when your main opponent is an incumbent with strong political ties and a tendency to play by his own rules. In fact when I ran against him years ago, he used the Middle School directory to solicit votes. As an attorney and a board member - or even as a parent who can read - he should have known that this was verboten, since a "not for solicitation" clause is printed on all school directories. Misuse discourages families from including their information in the future.  As the saying goes, "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission." Maybe I'm jealous? Since I wrote the elementary school's directory and had every single email on my computer, I was tempted to do the same - it would have taken me 5 minutes... the difference is, I didn't. 

Barry Walker wouldn't use the directory either. In fact I asked him about this when he invited me for coffee a few weeks ago. I have gotten to know him, and he's what I want in candidate. He's well-versed in the district's issues, and has spent a lot of time volunteering for the PTO. Him, not his wife, him. Why? He's a stay-at-home-Dad and I have a lot of respect for men who chose to stay at home to raise kids. Especially in 08807. Even in 2014, I can count only three men I know who do something that so many still consider "women's work". Think it's because he couldn't work? HA! He's got an BS in physics from Carnegie Melon University and boatloads of work experience. And, before he had kids of his own, he volunteered with youth organizations, including the boy scouts, so he's very kid-oriented. He came out to hear me when I was running for the board and that left a positive impression. Since then, he's continued to be involved in the district in a grass roots way. He attends board meetings, so he knows what he's getting into, and as a parent of a "mainstreamed" kid, he has no agenda with special interest groups and is among the vast majority who make up the middle of the academic spectrum. 

Barry will vote his conscious. He won't intimidate other BOE members to vote a certain way. At the last BOE meeting I attended a few months ago, the other candidate pushed members to vote with the majority because it looked better for the board to vote unanimously, even though they disagreed. Board of Ed members represent the community - and as such, they should vote their conscious and vote in a way that represents their constituents. 

Barry's pushing for increased STEM teaching and he has a special focus on the sciences. He's wants a better relationship between the board and teachers - which is important, as he would be on the board for the next contract negotiations. Barry is very approachable and welcomed hearing my opinions, even when we disagreed (which we did on a couple of things). I respected that. 

It's time for new blood representing me and my family. As I mentioned, the last board of ed meeting I attended was directly hostile (I heard last week's meeting was also rather volatile). I was already rather jaded and felt that many BOE members don't care. Members should want to hear from the community and know how much courage it takes to speak out. Barry Walker understand and will work for families like yours and mine and will listen to you. I encourage my friends to vote for Barry Walker on Tuesday!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Waffles and things

In Praise of Good Work

A Special Treat

So often when I blog it is in reaction to an inappropriate action, a statement - true or otherwise - or an unpleasant encounter.

Today I just want to write something nice.

Every other Monday around 6am we get an update automatically emailed to us with my son's latest grades. Not every Monday starts on a positive note. Thank Goodness for @Evelyn. She talked me off the ledge many a Monday morning.

Yesterday, however, was the perfect way to start a Monday morning. It began by reading three simple comments from three different teachers. "Keep up the good work." "Pleasure to teach." "Is a positive role model." This is always nice to hear about your offspring. By the time your kid is in high school you kind of know what to expect... and while I think N is a pleasure to teach, it's not often I've read, "keep up the good work" so it was a big deal for Mom.

As I often do, I took a walk at lunch. Today I stopped at N's favorite sight in all of the Big Apple: Wafels and Dinges. N's friend B introduced us to this beautiful stand a few years ago, and we've all been madly in love ever since!

This afternoon it served as just the right token: It looks like a square Belgian waffle, but really it's a gingerbread-flavored message that says, "Keep up the good work."

I hope I become a regular customer. Who cares if I go broke spending the college savings plan on high-caloric treats? It's worth every penny to start the week off with positive feedback.