Hats Off! (aka: Graduation Day)

My 17yo son has graduated from high school.

Hooray!

My Kid on Graduation Day

The end of 13 years of homework struggles, 13 years of report card anxiety, 13 years of parent-teacher conferences and dropoff/pickup arrangements. The end! Woohooo! *Throws hat in the air*

Of course, the end of one era often signals the beginning of another era. For my son, this marks the beginning of his years as a young adult, and the start of college. Which of course, means a few more years of homework struggles and report-card anxiety (for him). It also means, hopefully, his entry into the workforce as a scrub, like the rest of us had to do at some point in our youth. Yes, kid, I want fries with that. Welcome to the Real World.

As my son and his class marched along to Pomp and Circumstances in their flowing green robes and tasseled hats, I was filled with pride, relief, and excitement about my son’s next phase of life and what it may bring. I was also filled with thoughts about the very idea of graduation. According to Merriam Webster, one definition of “graduate” is: to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one. We all graduate numerous times throughout our lives. We graduate from high school and begin college. We graduate from childhood to become young adults. We graduate from university to begin our careers. From single-hood to married life. From being green, inexperienced neophytes to experts in our field.

Graduation ceremony

Our graduations, as we ascend the staircase of life, don’t always come with flowing robes and tasseled hats. We don’t always celebrate each rite-of-passage with parties and hoopla. But maybe we should. Maybe, each time we accomplish an important, long-term goal or achievement, we should celebrate just like graduates on the day of their high school or college graduation. You did it! You passed! Your hard work and dedication has paid off, and now you have the reward of entering a new phase in your life. Drink up friends. Let’s cut the cake and throw our hats in the air, and celebrate our life’s successes together.

Graduation throw hat in the air

Playlist for Graduates of All Kinds

Unwritten– Natasha Bedingfield

Graduation (Friends Forever) — Vitamin C

It’s Time — Imagine Dragons

Ain’t it Fun? — Hayley Williams

School’s Out — Alice Cooper

It’s Good to Be Alive — Andy Grammer

The Climb — Miley Cyrus

On Top of the World — Imagine Dragons

I Hope You Dance — Lee Ann Womack

Don’t You Forget About Me — Simple Minds

Closing Time — Semisonic

It’s My Life — Bon Jovi

100 Years — Five for Fighting

World — Five for Fighting

Titanium — David Guetta (ft. Sia)

Best Day of My Life — American Authors

Celebration — Kool & the Gang

Hall of Fame — The Script

 

 

Last week, my 17yo son graduated from high school.

Hooray!

Be! All That You Can Be! (aka: Personal Mission Statement)

got purpose

I grew up with one foot on each side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. During the week, my brother, sister, and I lived in the east bay with my mom and stepdad. And every other Friday evening, our mom drove across the bay to drop us off at our dad’s house in the city.

 

emeryville mudflat sculpture

 

That meant a lot of time stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A lot of time munching Happy Meals in the car, admiring the Emeryville Mud Flat sculptures through the window, and trying not to drive Mom bonkers. Once in a while, our favorite commercial would come on the radio, and we kids would belt out the jingle at the top of our lungs.

“BE! ALL THAT YOU CAN BE! YOU CAN DO IIIIT! IN THE AAAARRR-MY!”

No, none of us had future aspirations of joining the military. There was just something about those lyrics. The excitement. The passion. The promise of possibility. If you just do this thing, then you can grow to become all that you can be.

Be all that you can be. Just like I can’t forget singing that jingle at the top of my lungs as a kid, that idea has stuck with me throughout life. Each one of us was born with a certain measure of potential. We all have talents — some well-honed, some raw, and some yet undiscovered. We each have gifts, whether they are the skills we gain from developing our talents, or some special spark in our personalities just waiting to catch fire. And every one of us is capable of growing, of taming those gifts and using them to enrich our lives, and the lives of others. To achieve excellence. To be all that we can be.

Mission-Vision-and-GoalsEarlier today, I attended a leadership class in which we explored our strengths and weaknesses, passions, goals, and values. Then we took those pieces we identified and spent time crafting our personal mission statements. For many, this was a very challenging exercise; one that may take much more time to complete and get just right. For me, the pieces of the puzzle linked together almost like magic, until my personal mission statement appeared on the page; the phrase which captures who I am, what I value, and what I hope to achieve in life.

“To share my gifts with others, to live as a positive example and inspiration to those around me, to be all that I can be, and to find joy in the journey.”

That’s it. Me in a nutshell. My life’s purpose, in one neat quote.

Steven R. Covey, author of the iconic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, considers a personal mission statement “like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.” Others who tout the importance of a personal mission statement suggest memorizing it, or hanging it up in one’s home or office as a daily reminder of your sense of mission.

So how do you go about creating a personal mission statement?

  • Determine your core values. What is most important to you in life? Family? Faith? Creativity? Generosity?
  • Identify your contributions. What do you want to do? What are you passionate about? Giving back to your community? Climbing the career ladder? Raising happy kids?
  • Set your goals. Be sure that these are tangible and attainable. Which goals matter most to you?

Finally, take what you have discovered about yourself and use this to create your own personal mission statement. It may help to read some examples of other mission statements, for inspiration. Remember that there is no right or wrong mission statement. This is your baby. You own it. Also keep in mind — your personal mission statement is not set in stone. It is okay to revisit it and refine it from time to time, as your goals, priorities, and values may shift.

personal mission statement example

You will know that your personal mission statement is just right when you believe in it; when it expresses the core of who you are.  Now write your phrase on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror. Add it to a bookmark. Repeat the words to yourself when you need to get back on track to achieving your goals. Or shout it at the top of your lungs like a kid on a road trip. Whatever works. Let your personal mission statement be a lighthouse to guide you home, and to help you in your quest to be all that you can be.

Just Do It Already! (aka: Workout Time)

exercise

 

Okay, everyone — grab your sneakers, pull on your leg warmers, get your water bottle ready. It’s time to workout!

No way, many of you will say. I’m too tired to workout. My schedule is too busy to fit in exercise. I’m not in the mood to workout.  I can’t afford to join a health club. My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line, but not now.

Never now.

It is astounding to me to hear the many excuses that people scrounge up when trying to avoid exercise. It is as though moving their bodies is as dreadful a chore as organizing the garage. Now in some rare circumstances, I can understand why exercise must be put on hold. If your doctor gives you a red light for health reasons, for example. As for the other excuses?

I’m too tired. You’re in luck! Science tells us that exercise gives you a natural energy boost. When you do a moderate workout, your mitochondria kick into high gear, pumping out more energy for your body to use.

My schedule is too busy. As a single mom of three busy kids who holds down a full time job, and, until a few months ago, was also a full-time student, I know all about busy schedules. But I’ve also learned how to prioritize important things, like my health. On those days when I just can’t squeeze 30 minutes at the gym into my schedule, I break up the exercise by taking 10-15 minute walks during my breaks. One of my favorite quick workouts on busy days? Climbing the many stairs in the building where I work. On purpose.

 

Every workout counts

 

I’m not in the mood. Good news — did you know that regular exercise can ease depression and anxiety and generally improve your mood? It can also help you to sleep better, take your mind off worries, and help you to cope with stress in a healthy way.

I can’t afford a health club membership. It is true that gym memberships can be costly. On the other hand, so can health care costs associated with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ailments than can often be avoided or alleviated by a healthy diet and regular exercise. If a gym membership really can’t be worked into the budget, however, consider some free to low-cost forms of exercise, such as daily walking, bike riding around town, gardening, or at-home aerobic exercises with a video.

 

personal trainer

 

My back/knees/hips are too bad to exercise. These can be legitimate reasons to avoid high-impact workouts, like running, for example. Even my own chronic health issue, cholinergic urticaria, used to be an exercise-stopper before it was treated. But having physical ailments doesn’t have to exclude you from all forms of daily exercise. Many people with bad backs or joint pain have discovered that there are forms of exercise that can benefit them, too. Try low-impact aerobics classes, yoga, or swimming. The strength you gain and the weight you may lose may also help to alleviate discomfort.

I’ll start my exercise program sometime down the line… If not now, then when? You don’t need a New Year’s Resolution or a medical crisis to be your starting point. Nor do you need to start big, by trying to tackle some big exercise program at once. Start your change with small baby steps. Pull in a friend, partner, or coworker for social motivation. Turn that zero minutes a day into ten minutes, then fifteen minutes, until you eventually can follow the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. That’s around 20 minutes per day.

 

no workout regrets

 

Not sure where to start? The web is packed with great workout ideas, both moderate and vigorous. If you belong to a health club, consider hiring a personal trainer to design a personalized workout just for you, and to coach you through your routine. If going solo is going nowhere, consider group fitness classes or adult sport leagues. If you hate running, don’t run! Not a swimmer? Try cycling. My current favorites, by the way, are Zumba, tennis, and 20-minute walk/runs. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and switch it up when the workout gets old. Now let’s get in shape!

 

 

Barefoot is Better (aka: Online Pairing)

Two days ago, I decided it was time to go shopping for a package of socks. It’s not that I really felt that I needed to wear socks. I’m quite content to pad around the house in my bare feet. There’s a lot of freedom in going barefoot, in fact. My feet are always cool and comfortable, and my toes have all the space they need to wiggle around. I can dig my toes into the sand, or let the grass tickle the soles of my feet, just like when I was a little girl. I can even get creative with my own feet, painting my toenails any fun color I want, without an oppressive pair of socks coming along to cover them up.

It is liberating, being sock-less.

barefoot is better

But every so often, I glance around at the feet of other people. And I realize something — many, many people wear socks. And the ones who are not wearing socks are often out shopping for socks, or lamenting over their lack of socks. Some people even seem to wear a different pair of socks every day.

Sole-Mates Socks

Going barefoot all the time, it seems, is rather unusual in the world of grownups. Everyone else acts like the purpose of life is to find a sole-mate. (See what I did there?)

I have also noticed that there are certain things that one doesn’t do without wearing socks. At least, not as well. For example, I do not ever go out to restaurants in my bare feet. Nor to concerts, or live sporting events, or out-of-town fun trips, or wine-tasting, or a number of other things that sound like they would be really, really fun to do one day. But not barefoot. That would just be…awkward.

And so, I signed up to go shopping at a popular (and expensive) virtual store that specializes in socks for the sock-less. Just as advertised, after I answered a series of questions ranging from silly to deeply personal, the site’s algorithms selected a variety of socks for me to consider, some of which were selected as being highly “compatible” with my feet.

At first, it was amusing to sift through the socks. They came in every imaginable size, and lots of patterns. There were some with serious, no-nonsense pinstripes, some with goofy, rainbow-colored polka-dots, and even a couple of plain ones filled with so many holes, I wonder how on earth they made it past quality assurance to wind up on my dashboard.

lots of different socks

I even got a couple of messages from some of the socks, and responded politely (because apparently, exchanging polite chit-chat is something socks can do on online stores). Some of the messages made me smile, and a couple, well, made my bare feet want to run away. I wondered, though, what was supposed to happen next. Was I supposed to utter some magic words in order to check the socks out of the store? Is there some point when I’m supposed to wear them around once or twice, maybe to a restaurant,  or a sporting event, or a concert? Or is it up to the sock to make that happen?

And would it be frowned-upon to write “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing,” on my profile? I feel clueless, like a child who has just wandered into a casino, and is overwhelmed by the loud, clanging, buzzing machines, and choking on the smoke of cigarettes.

It also occurred to me that a large number of the socks were silent. No polite conversations. No peeks at my barefoot profile. Part of me understands that this is normal. That it’s all part of the sock-and-foot matching world. And that its only been two days. But another part of me feels indignant, certain that it has something to do with the toasty-brown shade of the skin on my feet. Because, I’m guessing, not a single one of my chosen matched socks has ever been worn by a toasty-brown foot before. Peachy-tan feet, probably, or rosy beige, or creamy ivory. But perhaps they see toasty brown feet and get nervous, their little sock minds filling with all kinds of ignorant ideas about what I must be like, due to my brownness.

I am halfway tempted to create an identical profile to my own, but put up pictures of a woman who looks similar to me, but with lighter skin, just to test that theory. But I won’t. Because if that really is the issue, then whatevs. Any er…sock who is unable to look past the color of my skin in order to see the kind, intelligent, thoughtful, witty, talented woman I am does not deserve to grace even one of my feet.

Sim Tiare

White Sim Tiare

And anyway, it’s okay if nothing comes of my browsing around the online sock store. In fact, it would be a bit of a relief. Then I will not have to reveal myself as a fraud — one who is so perfectly comfortable going sock-less, and so horribly out of her element with socks on her feet. They will be expecting me to love wearing socks and shoes, like so many other people do. Then I will have to wear them, because I am committed to do so, and will have to go back to tiptoeing around my home in discomfort, my poor toes squeezed and pinched, my feet blistered from friction…

It is oh-so-easy for me to talk myself out of visiting the sock store. Maybe it means I am still not ready, even after years of being sock-free. Maybe it means that I will never be ready; that I am a rare individual who simply was not meant to wear socks. I guess I will go and take a nice long, barefoot walk in the grass and think it all through. Because that is what I do best.

The Truth is Out There (aka: Happy Alien Day!)

At last! An official day to celebrate the visitors to this planet — those of the the third kind instead of the first kind. The ones the rest of you usually forget all about, thanks to that mysterious flash of light from the men in black suits. But not today. Today, the world is aware and in awe of the aliens who walk among us.

Yes. Today is Alien Day.

Sorry, immigrants. Not that kind of alien. Today is for the beings from galaxies far, far away. And also this galaxy, seeing as how some of us are from Jupiter. (Trust me folks — if you could meet my family of origin, you’d probably agree that I must be from Jupiter, too). So what shall we do to celebrate the rest of this glorious day? Sing Katy Perry songs? Paint our faces green? Watch The Martian? (Okay fine, Matt Damon played an immigrant to Mars who got stuck on the planet, not an actual martian).


I know — how about a list of the Top Ten Best Aliens? Starting with:

10. The aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s the earliest alien film I can remember, and I used to walk around humming the music they played to communicate.

9. The aliens from Men in Black. Loved how easily they disguised themselves as humans. Most of the time.

8. The aliens from Aliens, for scaring the heck out of all of us with their tendency to hibernate inside of people’s bodies, then hatch from their abdomens like little demon babies covered in goo.


7. The aliens from Toy Story. Who doesn’t love their passionate worship of The Cla-a-a-aw?

6. The aliens from Independence Day, for looking exactly as we all imagined the Roswell aliens must look.

5. Seven-of-Nine. I know, I know, she started off as a human. But once she was assimilated into the Borg, most of her humanity was stripped away. Eventually, she became a highly intelligent badass who was more alien than human, but learning to embrace more of her humanity every day.


4. E.T. With his adorable weird face and love for chocolate, how could he not worm his way into our hearts? Glad you made it home safely, buddy.


3. The aliens from The Arrival, for having such super-amazing technology and learning to communicate so well.

2. The aliens from the Star Wars franchise. Especially Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca. I’d totally count C3P0 and R2D2 if I knew whether droids could count as aliens or not.

1. Superman! Especially as portrayed by Tom Welling in Smallville, followed closely by Christopher Reeve. Other than his alienness and unfortunte allergy to Kryptonite, Clark Kent is pretty much the perfect man. Plus, he can fly.


Well, I hope you all enjoyed this brief Alien Day blog party. May you always treasure the strange who walk among you, and never stop believing that The Truth is Out There. Now, if you’ll all just look in this direction and face the rod I’m holding in my hand…

IMG_0065

A Hole-in-Eight (aka: Anything But Mini-Golf!)

“Ugh, I can’t stand mini-golf!” I groaned as my kids and I pushed open the heavy wooden castle doors and stepped outside. “Anything but mini-golf!” The sky was filled with dark, billowing clouds, giving the mini-golf kingdom an ominous appearance. Someone was going to suffer a round a bad luck on the course today.

Me, probably.


My kids, however, did not share my sense of foreboding. Brightly-colored golf balls in hand, they raced over to the first hole, eager to face the challenge. It had one of those loop-de-loop obstacles, then a straight line to the hole. My kids each stepped up to putt, giggling as the ball bounced off the loop-de-loop or returned to the beginning. I shook my head in amazement. How were they able to be so at ease when they had played so poorly? Sheesh…almost like I had raised them well.

I stepped up to putt, already accepting my certain defeat. It had been many years since I had even bothered to pick up a mini-golf club. Even now, my mind was filled with the pitying laughter of the ghosts of mini-golf past; a remnant of those futile attempts which resulted in a hole-in-seven, or eight, or ten, when the par was like, two. I placed my neon yellow ball and took my usual backwards stance, as I am a left-handed golfer, and therefore cursed, as putt-putt courses were clearly designed for the right-handed crowd.


Then I swung.

To my disbelief, the ball swirled around the loop-de-loop, then made a beeline for the hole. It dipped around the edge, teasing, then rolled off to the side. On the second putt, the ball went in. A hole-in-two. My mini-golf unlucky streak was broken!

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then, I began hitting an almost-perfect game. A hole-in-one on the second hole, followed by another two, then another one. With every great shot, I was starting to hate miniature golf a little less and less. My kids, meanwhile, were producing quite the comedy of errors. My 12 year-old son, who plays actual golf, kept overshooting every hole at least four or five times. My 17 year-old son kept getting shut out by the automatic doors on the little buldings. And my 15 year-old daughter, who has never played golf in her life, magically learned how to chip the ball. Which apparently you’re not supposed to do in mini-golf. She chipped her ball into the bushes, into a pond, and over a windmill. She might have chipped one right onto the head of one of the guests playing on a nearby hole if her aim had been a little better.


I did experience one hole that made my newfound love of the sport falter a bit. It looked deceptively easy – a somewhat straight shot toward a small hill, with the hole hidden in a dip in the center. My kids finished their shots, then for the next ten minutes, gloated as they watched me struggle. “Come on, Mom! This hole is simple!” They taunted, clearly pleased to unthrone the queen, if only for a moment.

After a round of 18 mini-holes, I had achieved the impossible — a total score of 57. I had conquered miniature golf! Whether it was due to a serious streak of good fortune, or a course designed by left-handers, I have no idea. I’m also not sure whether I had so much fun due to so many sub-par holes, or due to the fantastic company I was playing with. I just know that I would totally play mini-golf again, and without the moaning and groaning.

“Okay, Mom,” my kids said as we put away our golf clubs. “Now it’s time to go play lazer tag!”

“Oh no,” I said, as my kids shoved me back through the heavy wooden doors of the arcade castle and led me toward the battle arena. “I can’t stand lazer tag. Anything but lazer tag!”

Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS