Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm thinking I may have been the cat?

As it is Halloween today - and I have about 9 minutes available to write this blog - just let me tell you a quick story about one of my most memorable Halloween nights. I was 6. Earlier in the day at school, I began to feel quite ill. I was lethargic and feverish and had all the early symptoms of the flu or a cold. But it was one of the biggest and most exciting days on the calendar for a six year old and I was damned if a little fever was going to stop me from heading out that night to go trick-or-treating. When I got home, I avoided my mother like the plague, lest she place a hand on my forehead and discover my raging fever. When it came time to get into my costume, I realized things were getting worse, but I plowed ahead. It was the first time in my life my mother had given in to my request for a store-bought costume. You know the ones with a plastic mask with 3 small holes cut out for eyes and mouth. I don't even recall who or what the character was, but I knew I had to wear that mask. That mask was like a sauna on my face within minutes. I remember I was still too young to go out without my father and he escorted me from house to house. With each set of steps and winding sidewalks I was becoming more and more ill, weaker and weaker, and the sweat dripping on my face beneath that mask was more than I could bear. I finally had to ask my father to take me home before I collapsed and to this day I cannot believe I didn't. I ended up in bed for three days, unable to eat a single piece of candy. But it was worth it! Happy Halloween to all of you who still enjoy it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creating Space for Growth and Change...it's Free

Want and need. Want or need. This is the question. Once you start to ask yourself this question when considering a purchase, it is amazing how much less you actually buy. I work in a world where want usually wins out over need more often than not. Two weeks into my new job where I am surrounded by beautiful things all day long, I wondered if I would be drawn back into my old desires to own them. Sure, it would be nice to see some of these things in my house, but do I need them? No, of course I do not need them. A woman I will call Jewel, came into the showroom today, full of desire to own some more beautiful things for her own home, that admittedly was already full of gorgeous things. She told me her husband did not understand why she needed more things. She told him, "Honey, it has nothing to do with "need", and everything to do with "want". I understood her. I understood her husband. What makes us so illogical? What makes the wanting win out? Why can't we just enjoy looking at the beautiful things and resist the urge to own them? And once we own them, how long before they lose their meaning? We live in such a consumer driven world. Despite the state of the economy, despite the recent consumer caution to spend, the desire to own the beautiful things still drives most of us. It was only a matter of time before the wanter's wants drove them back into the stores in search of that next beautiful thing they felt they just had to own. I am not saying there is anything "wrong" with owning beautiful things (god knows I spent a good portion of my own life in pursuit of them), I'm just asking why? I am at a stage in my life where I want to rid myself of "things". I want to pare down and de-clutter my space, my mind, my body. I crave a sense of simplicity that can only be attained by empty space. Space in my mind, space on my walls, space in my closets, space in my stomach. It is in that space that I will find some room for contemplation, serenity, ease and room for growth. So, as I spend my days surrounded by endless temptation to add, rather than subtract, want, rather than need, I will remind myself that giving into the temptation will not point me in the direction I crave and that inner growth requires room, not more "things". It does not mean I cannot enjoy the scenery along the way, I just don't have to "own" it. I've been heading down this path for some time now, much to the surprise of some people around me who have always known me as a "wanter". Many of those people expected me to be heading into a world of free-fall spending when I took my new job, but I knew the opposite was true. They all asked me - "So, Deb, what kind of staff discount do you get on all the beautiful things?" It had not even occurred to me to ask that question when I was hired. It did not matter to me. It was not why I took the job, nor was it a consideration. This is the new me. The old me would have been anxious to know such information. My biggest concern was how much time I would have for vacation. Their less than satisfactory response was nearly a deal-breaker for me, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. In time I may discover if vacation time is a want or a genuine need. Besides, it may help me. If I have no time off, I will have little time to spend. A win-win I'd say. Maybe.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sea Shells as Metaphors for Life?

Scanning my bookcases a few days ago, I came across a little book an old friend from Vancouver had given me for Christmas one year when I lived there called Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I recall when I received the little volume that I read it, liked it and tucked it away, knowing it would be a keeper - end of story. Over the years, I would notice it tucked in amongst the rest of my precious books, always noticeable not for it's largess, but for the fact it was so small compared to the other hard cover books I have saved. It never conformed to the rest of the books on the shelves that dwarfed it in size, but I always knew it was a giant in terms of meaning. The dust jacket design is a photograph of sea shells lying in the sand, the hard cover of the book a serene shade of ecru, with a delicate lavender coloured ribbon marker attached. I had not re-read Gift From The Sea since my first pass through 17 years ago. Knowing it would be a quick read, I took it to bed with me a couple of nights ago and read half of it before falling asleep the first night. I was struck by how relevant it seemed to my life right now, more so perhaps than it had the first time I read it. Lindbergh's book was originally published in 1955. How could a book about one woman's "meditations on youth and age, love and marriage, solitude, peace, and contentment," written by a fifties housewife possibly pertain to my life in 2009? Incredibly - her book, with it's timeless validity, will likely remain a classic well into the next century as it has in this one. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, if you didn't already know, was the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator and the mother of five children. She raised her family in Connecticut and summered on the Maine coast. In one of her solitary escapes to their rustic beach house, she penned this book using various sea shells and their unique shapes as metaphors for different stages of life. Her insights more than fifty years ago could apply to any woman today, surprising in their uncanny relevance to middle-aged moi. Perhaps because Morrow Lindbergh was about the same age as I am now when she wrote this book, I find it so compelling. The final chapter of the edition I have was added by the author exactly 20 years later as a new edition was being published. Her reflections two decades later were described as "embarrassed astonishment" that her essays had spoken to so many women. Just as her book was still valid to a new generation of women in 1975, trust me when I say, it is equally valid in 2009. Gift From The Sea, required reading for - "Mid-life Crisis Coping 101".

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And a voice from the heavens bellowed..."LOWER YOUR STANDARDS"

OH - MY - GOD! I had no idea. I sort of did, but not really. My first week of full-time work is behind me and I am in serious shock. I knew it would be a big adjustment going from running my own show to being accountable to a "boss", but what I hadn't counted on was how little time would be left over for my life outside of work. How do all you women who work full-time ever get anything done??? In a mere five days, my life as I once knew it vanished. I had no time for my family, no time for my house and no time for myself. I spent the week immersed in a learning curve that took up 12 hours of my day. That includes getting ready for work, driving to work, working, and then driving home from work. Terrific! After that I had a whopping 4 hours before collapsing into bed just to do it all over again the next day. Two of those hours were spent cooking, eating and cleaning up after cooking. After that I spent approximately one hour planning wardrobe, food and other details for the following day for myself and my daughter and my husband. The remaining hour was spent doing various things like reading, watching TV, grooming, laundry and ironing. This cannot be happening to me. When am I to play tennis, power-walk, exercise, shop, run errands, go for a massage or a pedicure, or socialize? Maybe I am a lousy time manager I started to think. In my defense, I was under the weather with a virus all week, so my normal energy level was low. But I got to thinking, I was going to have to make some changes if I was going to survive this new way of life. And today, it came to me like an epiphany as I was folding the third load of laundry on my "day off". LOWER YOUR STANDARDS! It was like a voice from the universe. It was so loud and so clear, it made me wonder why I hadn't thought of it already. As I pulled six pillowcases from the dryer, the voice got louder and louder. Normally, I would toss the pillowcases into the "iron" pile. I like my pillow cases ironed, the cotton is softer afterward and I have a wee anal thing about how nicely they look all folded and stacked in nice piles in the linen closet. "Hmmm, " I thought, "is this really necessary?" Will anyone in my family die if the pillowcases are not ironed? I reached into the "iron" pile and pulled them out and started folding them. Forget the ironing, they would be fine the way they were. I had just effectively "lowered my standards". Then I started thinking about all the other ways I could eliminate chores and tasks I once had time for, but were not entirely necessary. I won't carve pumpkins for Halloween, I'll just plug in one of those fake electric ones. I won't fill vases with fresh flowers or bowls with fruit, I'll use fake ones. (OK - not the flowers - I just can't go down that road, but the fake fruit looks pretty convincing these days) I will reduce ALL ironing to the absolute minimum and the whole family can look a bit rumpled - who will notice? I will start buying pre-washed and torn lettuce (oh yeah - I already do that) and I will try those little packets of already sliced and diced veggies. I will hire a lawn service to cut the grass, a gardener to clean up the flower beds and rake the leaves and get my cleaning lady to come every week, instead of every other week - one week for cleaning, the next for ironing and laundry. Now I was on a roll. I will use the treadmill while I am watching my one hour of TV and kill two birds with one stone. I will enlist my daughter to start doing more chores - a long overdue notion anyway. I may have to play more singles tennis rather than doubles as getting four together is harder work than finding one partner and it will have to take place either super early in the morning or late in the evening. I will never again venture into my daughter's room to gather laundry. Eventually she will run out of clothes and do something about it....that is my hope. I will hire someone to string up the Christmas lights, put up a fake tree, buy ready-made urn inserts and shop on-line for the gifts. I will become the anti-Martha. It was never possible to compete with her in the first place, now I have an even better excuse. I will book standing appointments for hair, nails, massage, naturopathy and mine and my daughter's other assorted health care visits for early mornings on my days off and maybe, just maybe, all of this will give me enough time leftover for writing my blog, writing my novel and reading. Now I just need to figure out if I will have any money leftover after I start paying people to do everything around here. The windows need washing, the car needs detailing, the living room needs painting.....the list goes on. Let's hope the new job feeds my need to be creative - that could make it worth the sacrifices. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I'll be "lowering my standards". So - get used to it. Martha has left the building.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Clearing my throat - literally!

This is likely to sound a bit ranty and whiny so if you're not up to it - stop reading right now. You know how when everything is going your way and the stars seem to be all aligned and you have that overwhelming feeling that nothing could possibly go wrong and then it happens. Shit. As many of you know, I landed a new job a few weeks back and my start date of October 13, at the time, seemed like an eternity away. I had what seemed to be all the time in the world to get organized, psyched, and generally ready for the HUGE shift in my life that was about to take place. I had more than three weeks. Week one sort of slipped by filled with lunches, tennis matches and general celebrating with friends. Week two approached and I had decided to start purging my office and do some shopping for a few new duds to wear to my new job. That's when it happened. The shit. It started innocently enough with a sore throat and a little cough. I immediately upped my Vitamin C intake to 3000 mgs. a day and carried on. I kept up my fitness routine, even thought it seemed to take a bit out of me, I ignored the fatigue. Within 3 days my little cough turned into "Holy shit - I think I just hacked up a piece of my lung!" By day 8, I wondered if I had any lungs left at all. I envisioned wobbly chunks of reddened swollen raw chicken encased within my rib cage and every time I felt a coughing spell coming on, my entire body would stiffen with fear of the onslaught of pain that was about to accompany the fit. I reluctantly paid a visit to a doctor at this point thinking I either had H1N1 or some other form of the flu that could possibly be treated with drugs. No luck - "It's probably viral," he says. He took a swab anyway and sent me home with a recipe for chicken soup. By day 11, I started getting really pissed. I had 3 days before my new job was to start and I had done none of the things I had planned. My workout routine had been reduced to tossing phlegm filled tissues into the trash can (2 points each) and lumbering back and forth between the kitchen (where the chicken soup lived) and the family room TV. I never actually retired to bed for a day and in retrospect, I probably should have, but I had things to do and places to go and as it now seemed I would never get well, I figured I may as well get used to my new seemingly chronic condition. Thanksgiving weekend arrived and I was still not getting any better, in fact, it seemed I was getting worse. On Tuesday I had to be better. I just had to be. I was not. When I got up in the morning, my voice was practically gone, my throat was nearly completely closed and the coughing was as deep and disgusting as ever. I had to ignore it all and go to work. I went armed with throat lozenges, tissues, an assortment of herbal teas and the hope that they would think I actually sounded better this way - sort of all raspy and Demi Moorish. At least I looked nice in my new outfit - maybe they wouldn't notice my tuberculosis-like hacking. I managed to get through the day fairly well - and fortunately they did not allow me to interface with clients - I would be training - sitting at a desk all day, watching videos and reading manuals. Thank god for small miracles. Just got through day 2 and I hesitate to get too excited, but I detect a slight shift in my lungs. (god knows there can't be much left in there to expel) and I ALMOST feel like doing a few bicep curls. However, I won't. I'll wait at least one more day before I push myself and see what happens. Hopefully - no more shit.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Turkey Flu - catch it if you can!

Thanksgiving. Thanks and giving. The perfect opportunity for me to thank and give. This particular Thanksgiving will be fairly low key for my little family. My parents are out west visiting my brother and his family in Kelowna, so any traditional get together is not going to happen. It is at times like this that the small size of our little family really hits home. Three of us. My daughter has no idea what large families are all about and unless she marries into one, she may never find out. When I hear about some families horror stories of family get-togethers, maybe that is something to be thankful for. Whenever I watch movies with large family dynamics played out before me on the big screen (Family Stone comes to mind), I am envious and thankful all at once. At least I don't have to deal with quirky or annoying personalities that are only part of my life because I am related. The truth is, and this is just a hunch, we all have family members that we would never choose as friends, but because they are blood relatives we have to put up with them a few times per year. Being the only daughter in my own family of origin made me value my girlfriends - aka - surrogate sisters, even more so, as I have had the luxury of choosing every one of them. For that I am thankful, once again. On this particular Thanksgiving I am also thankful I do not have to entertain and cook a big turkey dinner as I have been struck with this godawful virus that is going around and my usual energy is completely depleted, so another thing to be thankful for has been presented to me inadvertently I suppose. That's 3 thankfuls. Moving on to the giving part. Hmmmm, let's see, Oh - I know - by being under the weather, and not having to cook a big feast, I am giving myself and my family the opportunity to sail through a long weekend (that is usually marked by copious amounts of mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and whipped cream), without gaining 5 pounds. That's a pretty good gift when you think about it. Yeah, I know, I'm a hero, don't mention it. I will give my daughter the gift of sloth. Since she need not be anywhere at any certain time, she can sleep in as late as she wants every day of the long weekend. I could score big points with that one. Still, it is a gift, sort of. For my husband, I give him a break from his share of the cooking (sometimes a larger share than mine) and also a solid 3 day break from any obligations whatsoever. And.....as I am not up to a round of golf either, his bank account will get a rest as well. I am such a cheap date when I'm sick. So - that's 3 gives. My virus is really resulting in lots of thanks and lots of giving. Maybe I have the turkey flu - an apparent close relative of the swine flu. It only strikes at Thanksgiving and possibly again at Christmas. Or is that just wishful thinking?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Just Plain Sick of it All!

For many years of my adult life I have enjoyed the changing seasons and the opportunity to decorate my house according to the holidays. For example, the obvious ones like Christmas and Halloween have always been my chance to really go all out with lights or wreathes or floral displays, but I find the whole thing more of a bore now than anything. I used to worship at the altar of Martha Stewart in the 90's. I relished the arrival of her magazine every month and although I never actually copied her ideas, I was inspired by them. I preferred to use my own imagination and did. For the last couple of Christmas's and Halloween's I have found the whole push to deck the halls and carve the pumpkins just another chore versus something I enjoy doing. I have tried to analyze my disinterest and I have come to the conclusion that a big part of the problem is not the erection of the displays, but the eventual need to take it all down. Sometimes I have received a helping hand from rowdy teens with a penchant for smashing pumpkins or light bulb thieves with nothing better to do than snatch my spotlights or unscrew little coloured bulbs. Once I actually coated all the low lying bulbs with a thick coat of petroleum jelly (an idea a neighbour suggested) to prevent the ability to grip the little bulbs. (it worked by the way). I just wish these holidays were less frequent so I would have enough time in between to actually miss them. It's the notion that time seems to go faster as we get older I think. I vote we only celebrate each holiday every three years, so it would seem fresh again. And of course, there is the whole commercialism aspect of it all that really annoys me. I have been through strings of fat coloured bulbs, clear strings of mini lights, massive swaths of net lights, rope lights, and the most recent creation - those dull-ass LED lights. Even those have been through a couple of incarnations now. When people complained they were too dull compared to their old twinkly lights, they came out the next year (after we all bought them) with the "new improved, brighter version". Landfills must be piled sky high with tangled masses of lights of Christmas's past. And what of pumpkin carving? Whatever happened to a jack-o-lantern with triangle eyes and noses and a bunch of jagged teeth? Oh no - that is no longer good enough. Now we have to spend 3 days with stencilled templates creating detailed witches flying past the moon or exact replicas of the entire cast of a Harry Potter movie. I used to do all that, but now I suffer from Halloween and Christmas burnout. Not only did I carve intricate scenes on pumpkins, but I created and sewed costumes and erected elaborate fall displays with gourds and scarecrows and autumn flowers. No sooner would all that come down and the Christmas extravaganza would begin in earnest. I suppose part of my current lack of enthusiasm has to do with the fact that my daughter is no longer that little girl who was fascinated by all the holiday hoopla. Although I was never quite totally Griswold, I came pretty close. Now, I am leaning toward Scrooge. If I didn't risk being egged and soaped, I would just be one of those creepy houses that turns their lights off on Halloween night pretending not to be home, but I will inevitably give in to the pressure to shell out despite my secret desire to just forget the whole damn thing. It would be great if the kiddies were all cute and polite, dressed up as fairies and pirates, but now I also get these roving bands of 16 year olds carrying pillow cases, not wearing costumes, ringing my doorbell and expecting candy. Who the hell are these kids? They are scarier than the ghost and goblins. I have to wonder what their motivation is. They can't possibly be interested in mini-chocolate bars and tiny bags of chips....can they? I think they are more likely casing the joint, so they can perhaps come back later and get what they really want. It does beg the question, doesn't it? Shouldn't they be at a house party getting wasted with all their other under-aged peers? - not out trick or treating like 5 year olds? That's where I would have been at their age. Anyway - I digress. I got to thinking about all this as I drove to Stratford yesterday past some lovely old farms in the country. There were several farms with large displays of pumpkins for sale. Normally I might have stopped to pick up a few, but I just couldn't muster up the enthusiasm. It bores me now. What we need are some new ideas - some new holidays perhaps. Or....how about we combine all the holidays into one? Make one big effort for one a year and have it done with. We can call it "Gonutswithdecorations Day". I'm in.

Friday, October 2, 2009

You're all goddesses to me.

I have a bone to pick with just about every female I know. It's time we stopped being so hard on ourselves. I am surrounded daily by some of the most impressive, talented, vibrant women anywhere and I am continually amazed at how self-deprecating most of us are. We are truly our own worst critics. Take my friend Cindy for instance (aka Halifax Broad - see link to her blog at the end of my sidebar). If you are a regular reader of her blog (and you should be) but don't actually know her, you might have the impression that she is a fat, unattractive booze-hound with a chip on her shoulder the size of Nova Scotia, but you would be wrong. Far from it, she is a tall, blonde (natural blonde), athletic, statuesque pretty gal with a disarming smile, and possibly one of the most creative and funny women I know. (and a devoted and loving mom to boot). Don't let her caustic, bitter blog delivery fool you. This woman has it going on and it's just a matter of time before the world figures it out. (and some fortunate man discovers the passion of his lifetime). And that's just one. I have other friends who think they're too fat or too skinny or too unaccomplished, too old, too unfocused, too, too, too. It matters not what their individual complaints aimed toward themselves are, the point being, they are all wrong. We are all wrong. We need to boost our own egos, blow our own horns, speak our own truths and stop the negative self talk once and for all. Life is hard enough, the challenges a constant and our time here short - too short to waste one more minute focused on our supposed flaws. We need to do it for our daughters, our sons and ultimately for ourselves. In the meantime, I plan to remind my circle of amazing women how great they are and maybe in doing so, will help them believe it too. Let's all just stop the madness. Perfection is an illusion. Be yourself ladies - it's all good.