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

 

Deep Questions (aka: One-Sided Conversations)

deepquestions

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good, deep conversation with another human being over the age of 18. Conversations in the workplace tend to stay on the shallow side, which is normal, I suppose, but unfulfilling at times, like snacking on fruit when what you really crave is a thick, juicy steak and a buttery baked potato.

foxtrot-too-deep

While browsing blogs on WordPress, I came across a post by Wendy, at Brilliance Within, which posed ten great questions that can help you to dig deeper, to get to know other people at a deeper level. Since I lack the social opportunities to use these questions in actual conversations, I thought I’d answer them here, should any other wandering souls want to get to know me a little better:

 

  • What are you enjoying most about your life at the moment?

 

At this exact moment, I am enjoying a Netflix Show, called The OA. It is a strange and mysterious program about a young woman who has near-death experiences, and through them is able to reach out and change the lives of other hurting people. But overall, I am enjoying the peace and stability of my life; of raising my children in a decent neighborhood, of working at a job I enjoy, of having good health, and of finding ways to keep learning, keep growing, keep becoming a better version of myself.

 

  • What’s your biggest fear?

 

I have two. One is the obvious and unspeakable fear of something bad happening to one of my children.

The other fear was already realized. My best friend, around six years ago, decided that she no longer wanted to be my friend. Before we parted ways, she confessed to me that our friendship had been uneven. I wanted a best friend, and she did not. She had felt for a while that I was like a dog, following her around. Just writing those words – even thinking them, unleashes such a flood of raw emotions that I am still unable to keep myself from crying, and I am a person who rarely cries. I thought that I had been a good friend, and kind, and generous, and loving, and that our friendship was reciprocal. I never knew that I was being too clingy, or that she had perceived me that way. Her words have haunted me so much, that I feel them any time I start to get to know an acquaintance. I am fearful of calling, fearful of texting first, fearful of reaching out to invite anyone to spend time together, because I don’t know how to keep from crossing that invisible boundary that makes people feel as though I am chasing them. When I sense that someone’s interest in me is waning, I run away, because I don’t want to hear those words again. Because of my greatest fear, I have become skilled at remaining cold and aloof, and skilled at letting people go. I have learned how to be content with loneliness instead of trying to build relationships.

 

  • What do you regret most?

 

This is related to #2, and cannot be expressed here.

 

  • What did you dream about doing when you were a child?

 

I dreamt of being a children’s book author (still working on that one) and a tap dancer (no thanks, haha). I also resolved around the age of ten that I would never get married, and would adopt a bunch of kids and drive a bike instead of a car (which I did until I finally got a driver’s license at the age of 26).

 

  • How do you feel about your job? What would be your ‘dream job?

 

I’m crazy about my job. It covers my favorite aspects of IT (creating, building, and administering computer systems and supporting users of those systems). I also hope to have my young adult novels published someday in the not-too-distant future, but my day job is perfect for me, and I look forward to doing it each day. The only thing that would make it even better is to be in a position where I can use my leadership talent and skills at my job, which I intend to work my way toward.

 

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

 

Hopefully in that position of leadership (see #4). I also see myself as a soon-to-be single empty-nester, as my youngest kid will be on the verge of graduating high school and heading off to university. That is a pretty lonely vision. It is hard to imagine life without my children.

 

  • If you could choose 1 place in the world to travel to – where would it be?

 

Only one? Seriously? My list is sooo long! Okay, then, I will have to choose England, so that I can travel to the places in the Harry Potter and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Shakespeare stories that I love so fondly.

diving_deeper

 

  • What is your ‘vision’ for your life?

 

I don’t have one all-encompassing vision. Just a series of smaller goals. Raise my children to be kind, caring, educated adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are content with their lives. See my future grandchildren grow up. Keep working hard at and enjoying my career. Keep finding ways to learn and grow and experience the good things in life. Share my stories with the world. Travel a lot.

 

  • How could you enhance your relationships/life?

 

I don’t know. Unless #2 magically fades away, I don’t believe that I will ever develop any close relationships beyond those with my children.

 

  • When do you feel you’re happiest/saddest/most in love?

 

I suppose I am happiest when everything feels at peace, like when reading a good book while lying on a warm, sunny beach while my children play nearby. Saddest when the darkness is too dark and the night lasts far too long.

better-conversations

Please feel free to answer questions in the comments below. After all, the point of asking deep questions is to start an authentic conversation, and to get to know other human beings.

 

Never Have I Ever (aka: Stuff I Should Probably Try)

never-have-i-ever

My oldest kid, a senior in high school, did something recently that he has never ever done before. He went to his high school’s homecoming dance.

Yes, I know, lots of kids go to school dances, not a big deal. But for my son, a late bloomer, it was a first. Truth be told, he didn’t enjoy it all that much, thanks to a group of party-pooper friends who bailed halfway through. But he saw the value in attending, if only once in his lifetime. Now if I can just convince him to go to prom, too…

Have you ever played the game, Never Have I Ever? Here are the classic rules:

  • Friends sit in a circle with ten fingers pointing in.
  • Someone makes a Never Have I Ever statement, such as, “Never have I ever played Chinese Fire Drill at a stoplight.”
  • Those who have actually played Chinese Fire Drill remove one finger. Those who have never done it do not remove one finger.
  • The winner is the one who still has fingers remaining in the circle when everyone else has been eliminated.

drinking-gamesThis game sounds an awful lot like The Purity Test, which I used to play back in college and win every time, with a score of around 95% pure. And apparently, Never Have I Ever is also a popular drinking game, which I wouldn’t know, because Never Have I Ever played a drinking game of any kind.

While I’m trying to guide my kids toward taking calculated risks in life and trying a few things they’ve never tried before, I become glaringly aware of how many Never-Have-I-Evers are still on my own list. Of course, there are plenty of Never-Will-I-Evers on the list, too, like sex with a stranger, smoking cigarettes, or inciting a riot, but let’s just ignore those.

 

NEVER HAVE I EVER…


…caught a fish
(and likely won’t, unless I actually try going fishing one day).

…been intoxicated (What can I say? I’ve never had occasion to overindulge with alcohol. Once I drank three glasses of wine while relaxing at home alone, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t too affected).

…traveled somewhere that required a passport (unless you count those teen missionary trips to Mexican border towns back in the no-passport-required days).

…gone out dancing as an adult (Well to be fair, I did get to dance at a couple of weddings around 20 years ago, and once at a conference party for writers. But I’ve never been out to dance at a club, which is probably weird for someone who loves dancing as much as I do).

dont-judge-me-meme

…been on a cruise (unless you count those 1-hr. ferry tours around the San Francisco Bay, but that’s not really the same thing).

…fired a gun (And to tell you the truth, I kind of have a phobia of guns and even the idea of holding one freaks me out. Can I play the girl card?).

…played golf (Seeing as I’ve played soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and a slew of non-ball sports, too, it’s probably just a matter of time before I get sucked into golf world).

…been camping in the desert or on the beach (one of these days…).

…gone wine tasting (which is strange for someone who enjoys wine and lives less than two hours away from Napa Valley, California. But wine tasting just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one does alone).

…been to an NFL or NBA game (another thing that sounds fun to do, but not by myself. Maybe I’ll take the kids one day, when I can save up enough money).

i-have-never

This list could go on and on. There are just so many things I’ve never done which many people have by my stage of life. Some things I’m not sure I’d really want to do anyway, but others I would absolutely love to try. Some of these things I could totally choose to do at any time. Others seem just out-of-reach, either due to a lack of financial resources or a lack of social companions to do them with. In just reviewing my personal list of Never-Have-I-Evers, there are two things I can say for sure:

  1. I still have a lot of things to look forward to experiencing in life.
  2. I would totally win the game of Never Have I Ever. Which I have never played, by the way. I guess I should add that to my list.

 

My Two Cents (and Other Worthless Things)

penny

 

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before. I gathered up a bunch of our family’s old junk — rusty bicycles, worn-out camping gear, pieces of wood from a dilapidated IKEA bed — and took it to the city dump. Yes, the dump. You see, I grew up in an old-school family, in which the women-folk did things like bake meatloaf and scrub floors, while the men-folk did the heavy, dirty jobs like hauling junk. So, other than drop off our family Christmas tree each January, I had never had the experience of loading up our family minivan with household trash and lugging it to the dump.

It was not a pleasant experience.

However, it had to be done, as our shed and closets were bursting with useless things that couldn’t be tossed in a normal trash can. During the big tidy-up, I kept coming across these tiny, annoying little disks that, in my opinion, are about as worthless as rusty bicycles and 5-year-old IKEA furniture.

Most people call them pennies. I call them pests.

It never fails. Every time I sweep the floor, there they are. Whenever I stoop down to clear out things from beneath the beds or couch, I find at least a dozen. When vacuuming the house, one must steer the vacuum cleaner around these seemingly harmless, machine-clogging landmines. And most parents, at some point, have had to fish these shiny, toxic toys out of the curious mouths of babies.

A penny for my thoughts? I’d rather keep my thoughts to myself, thanks.

Really, I don’t see why our nation doesn’t just do away with the penny, like Canada did a few years ago. You can’t buy a single thing with a penny. You can’t even buy much for one hundred pennies, unless you’re shopping at the Dollar Store. Nor can you put pennies into a vending machine to pay for parking or buy a pack of Cheez-it crackers. Sure, there are other ways to spend your pennies. You can stand at the checkout, carefully counting out every little cent while the impatient people in line behind you shake their fists. Or you can buy some of those brown coin papers and spend your precious time rolling stacks of pennies into spendable rolls.

Or you can be penny-wise, like me, and scrap your pennies at the city dump.

Once upon a time, shiny, coppery pennies were useful little coins. But today, their face-value is less than the cost of the metal it takes to make them. Okay fine, pennies are great for making wishes at fountains. Also, if you find one face-up, then you may have a day filled with good luck (debatable). But for the most part, the good ol’ penny is an obsolete form of currency. It is time for our nation use our common cents — to let go of nostalgia and embrace new ideas, like rounding up to the nearest nickel.

That’s my two cents.

Connection! (aka: Unexpected Encounter on Aisle 4)

 

human connection contact

Connection.

After food and water (and, some would say, sex), connection may be the greatest thing we crave.

It’s why we become slaves to our cell phones, eyes glued to the tiny glowing screens, anxiously awaiting word from our contacts. It’s why we flock to social media. Our comments and Tweets, likes and shared memes are like drops of water, filling our empty cups. We need to reach out, to have meaningful conversations, to belong.

Connection used to be a simple thing. People rose in the morning and connected with family around the breakfast table. Or exchanged greetings at the local market, met with customers face-to-face, shared personal struggles and successes with neighbors, with coworkers, with fellow churchgoers. You were a member of the community – not a virtual one artificially contrived to group together the like-minded, but a real life community of people with real names (not user names) and real faces (not avatars).

Remember those days? Neither do I.

Imagine! Working side-by-side in a community garden while chatting with a human being instead of chiming in on a gardening forum online. Going for a jog or walk with a regular group instead of running alone, then posting your milestones on social media. Arguing with your local book club discussion group about the finer points of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World instead of tossing your personal review into the virtual soup.

Connection – real connection, is intimate. It has eye contact, and touch, and awkward pauses. It is the surprise of saying the same words at the same time (jinx!). It is the smell of someone else’s cologne, the sounds of sighs and tongue clicks, the inflection of voices.

It is ironic that I write of these things, since I am a writer and deeply introverted, and enjoy my time alone more often than time interacting with people. But once in a while, I actually crawl out of my cave to explore the human world. As I happened to be doing just the other day, during a somewhat routine 10-minute stop at the supermarket.

supermarket aisle shopping cartAs I pushed my cart down Aisle 4, an elderly woman leaned forward on her walker and complimented my dress. “It is so pretty, and it goes so nicely with your skin. You have lovely skin,” she added. “You are so lucky that it doesn’t burn easily.”

I flashed the woman a grateful smile, and nearly continued on my way, but stopped. What if this woman was not just offering a compliment? What if she was reaching out, seeking connection? “That’s true,” I told her. “But the trade-off is that it is harder for me to absorb Vitamin D from the sun.”

“It is?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “I never knew that.”

The conversation continued, revolving around the challenges and benefits of my toasty brown skin and her pale, Irish complexion. We spoke of race relations throughout the generations, and of travel, and of the ups and downs of relating to siblings. My 10-minute shopping trip stretched out an additional 30 minutes. But that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the mini-miracle of two complete strangers having an actual, meaningful dialogue about life right there in the aisle of the supermarket. Connecting. Just as everyone used to do, I imagine, in the days before cell phones and the internet.

At last, we said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the unexpected and strangely satisfying experience. Who knows if we will come across one another again? Maybe that is the sort of thing that only happens in small communities. But still, my cup was filled, and I imagine hers was, too. Now, of course, I ironically must relay the experience here in the virtual world. But perhaps in reading these words, you, too, may decide to pause when the opportunity arises, put your cell phone away, and connect with a real, live human being.

community

 

Onward! (aka: Your Amazing Journey)

lifes journey

Life is not just a journey.

It can be like a journey though. It starts when at last we leave the nest, empty-handed, fluttering our barely-tested wings. Life is not so new anymore, and yet, everything is fresh. Like babies, we toddle into the vast unknown, swiveling our heads to take in everything around us. Our hearts are open to love. We blaze with light, high on new ideas.

Onward!

journey toward sun

It doesn’t take long, though. Somewhere in those ten years, we forget the steps. Our wings droop, weary. Our lights burn lower now, a candle’s flicker, shocked by the splash of sudden responsibilities. In our hands, we carry sacks, heavy with disappointment. Sometimes, we stop in our tracks, compass spinning wildly. Maybe we retrace our steps, searching for the safety of the nest we left behind.

But there is no nest. Not anymore.

So on we continue. When we are lucky, we find others journeying in our direction. We take turns carrying the load for one another, emptying sacks with laughter, with words. Candles together, we shine, lighting the path ahead. We remember our wings. We soar.

candlelight people lights

But luck does not always last. Those moments will come. Our paths may split, companions scattered. What was once you is no longer you, but an empty hole that fills with salty rain and empties again. The light is snuffed, the darkness overwhelms. We want to stop, to curl into the darkness, wrap our wings around us and forget.

But there is this wonderful thing called time. You will hate that word, but you must trust it. Time will gently unfurl your wings, lift you from the darkness. Time will open your eyes to the good ways to be you once again. Time will reveal a great truth to you: life is not just a journey.

Life can be your very own novel. You are the protagonist, fresh ink on each new page. You can begin the dialogue, write the verse, and when you aren’t happy, you can change the plot.

Life can be your canvas. Sketch your plan. Add your own splashes of color where you can. Or better, make yourself the canvas. Trade your jeans for polka-dot skirts and wild, artsy jewelry. Grow the longest beard you’ve ever seen. Sculpt your form like clay, love your softness.

Some say that life is a spiral. You move onward and upward, but the climb brings you around to where you began. But now, you have grown, learned, hovering above the steps you once climbed.

No matter how you see it, there is one thing that remains unchanged. This is your one and only life. No matter where you are in the journey, no matter which page you’ve reached in your book, you have the power to choose what happens next. Who will you be when the sun rises next? Where will your next steps take you?
remember your wings and fly

I hope that your baggage will grow lighter as you travel. I hope that you remember your wings and fly.

I hope that time and love will seep into your cracks and heal your hurts. I hope that when you wander from your path, you will find your way back. I will be here, waiting for you, my fellow traveler. My candle is lit, ready to share my light when you need it.

May your journey be long and filled with great love.

Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.