Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The year of doing 1,000 things

Holidays bring different traditions for everyone. For me, it's getting a new wall calendar and updating it month by month. I love peeling off the cellophane wrapper and pulling out the square piece of cardboard in the middle. It's a personal process that takes place on my kitchen table. I am particular about my calendar as I have to look at it all year, and am partial to the ones with pretty pictures of faraway places -- Paris, Italy, National Parks of the U.S. We've had them all.

For 2014, it was "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" (really it's only 12 places with 1,000 pictures of those places but it's still exhilarating to think about going to the Seychelles Islands or Nicaragua). This year, however, I chose "Ireland" -- stone circles, pubs, green pastures and names like Limerick and Tipperary.  Haven't been there yet but hope to someday.

My favorite part of getting a new calendar is transferring birthdays or important events from the old calendar to the new one. Lately I've even taken to using colored pens for different events -- red for birthdays, black for work (an omen?) and blue for other family things. There is something about the act of writing that helps me feel connected to the people and events in my life more than my smart phone ever will.

Calendars are like a family history book, page by page and space by space. Who isn't guilty of saying, "the year went so fast!" And yet if you ask someone what they did last year, they might only remember a summer vacation or death in the family. That's why having a visual calendar -- not just one on an electronic device -- is so valuable. It allows you to take a quick stroll down memory lane to reflect on all that happened -- the good, the bad and hopefully, the fun and the silly: My son's graduation, my daughter getting her driver's permit, homecoming, work and volunteer meetings (too many on my part), summer vacations and family visits, along with the mundane like flea treatments for the dogs, changing the batteries in the smoke detector, recycling and whose turn it is to clean the bathrooms.

This year especially, I'm in reflection and resolution mode to have more fun! Amidst all the meetings and lessons and appointments of daily life, how can each of us make more meaningful choices in our lives. How can we live life differently in 2015? Maybe having more blank spaces on the calendar should be a goal. It's those little spontaneous moments of sitting around the dinner table, or going to see a movie on a rainy day at the last minute, or calling up (yes the old-fashioned way) an old friend vs. sending a text.

I know for me, my kids and parents and myself are not getting any younger. Every day truly is a gift. My kids will soon be grown. My parents live a plane ride away and my Dad has Parkinson's. The time we do have together is more valuable to me than anything. Yet like most of us, I spend more time at work than I do at home. Quitting my job is not really an options right now, so I ask how do I want to work differently so it's more enjoyable and optimize the time I have with friends and family? How can I still contribute to the community without sacrificing time I have left with my youngest daughter at home? What things and activities bring me the greatest joy?

Yoga, saying "no" more, drinking less wine, making real time for friends and family and slowing down are all on my list of "the new me," though deep down I know I can't really change who I am only how I behave and react. Plus I need to be authentic and honest with myself and others. Spending more time listening to my kids or just hanging out, and less time on Facebook might sound noble but will I really follow through? What will take up all the white spaces on the calendar this year despite my efforts not to fill it?

I'm not sure of all the answers yet. I am hopeful the people I care most for will still be here on December 31, 2015. As for this coming calendar year, I plan to take it a little more slowly, breathe a little more deeply and take things one beautiful day at a time.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I think it's funny that I have not blogged since 2013. So much has happened in my life since then -- my transgender son going to college, my teenage daughter becoming her own person, my Dad being diagnosed with Parkinson's, and my own history with alcohol abuse and what might be hidden underneath. I also ran my first half-marathon, started plans to build a new house with my husband and led a nonprofit for two years while working full-time. So you see, I needed some help.

Like many women today, I recently started seeing a counselor. Not for any of the challenges listed above but mostly because I need to figure out who I was as a little kid and who I am today. For people with confidence, power to you. But I finally realized that talking about myself for one hour a week and not caring about anyone else is great therapy. It helps me become a better person, mother, daughter, wife and colleague.

My counselor -- we'll call her Mother T. --  is awesome! She has long, flowy blonde hair, wears cowboy boots and offers me tea each week in her light airy loft decorated with beautiful artwork. I adore Mother T. and she helps me be me. Here are just a few things I've picked so far:

  1. Take time for quiet: I'm on the run a lot. When I get in the car now I force myself to close my eyes and take a deep breath. How am I feeling? Do I really need to go to the next place I'm headed? If not where would I rather go? 
  2. Do things that bring you joy: These are numerous but when my counselor asked me to list them I realized I don't do too much of them anymore. I get so hung up on "I don't have a talent" instead of "what brings me joy." So art, Chicago, long walks and plays are on my list again. 
  3. Slow down: That goes back to #1, but it also means literally slowing down. I can't tell you how many times I catch myself running through a parking lot. Or starting a new task before finishing a new one. Slowing down helps me focus and notice things more. 
  4. Speak your mind: By nature I'm a pleaser. I don't say "no" enough and it gets me in over my head and takes me away from my family. So often in our society we are taught that talking about yourself is selfish. But not speaking up for what you want and believe is just stupid. 
  5. Express yourself: For some it may be dance or art, for me it's writing. I've tried writing regularly (doesn't always work) in a spiral notebook before I go to sleep. Which sometimes takes a while. It's good to page back through it as a reminder of how to be true to me. 
So there you go. I'm not sure where it's all going to lead but it's fun finding out. In some ways I'm still that little girl who liked to play make believe in her room and put on shows in her basement with the neighborhood kids. A girl who loved horses and was kind to people who got bullied. And a girl who always wanted to write a book and maybe win an Oscar. 

I'm looking forward to meeting her again.