Thursday, December 26, 2013

Journaling for the Health of It ~ a Review

Happy Day-After-Christmas, dear readers. This is the day I refer to as “eliminate the piles” day. Time to take all those little piles of presents I shoved under the bed and in closets and actually find a place for everything.

I’m going to be honest here, I’ve never had a successful “eliminate the piles day.” My gifts normally chill in a corner until February, after my January birthday and wedding anniversary have passed. I’m a “carry it over and eliminate doing the same work twice” kind of procrastinator.

This year’s going to be different. This year I’m going to succeed. This year I’m not going to procrastinate.

Except....

I had to share something with you. A challenge I’ve been invited to participate in. 

Something that couldn’t of come at a better time.

You see, just a few days ago, four days before Christmas, I was a hot mess. I work up early on the 21st and felt like I’d just drank a handle of tequila and chased it with salad dressing. Sound horrific? So was I. I was bedridden, could barely move, and the strangest thing of all? No fever. None. I hadn’t felt so sick in years, yet I knew I wasn’t battling a bacterial or viral infection. No fever = nothing for the white blood cells to attack. So what was wrong with me?

Those bored fabulous enough to read my other posts might’ve caught on to my consistent casual mention of the word “stress”….I’ve had a few long nights….been snapping at my little fam…pigging out on crap food at work…. skipping dinner later because of said crap food…..I’ve not been good to my body. Pretty awful, in fact….which make it hard to deal with stress…..and even harder to write.

I love writing.

So imagine my joy when I learn about the opportunity to join a challenge centered on stress relief and …you guessed it….writing.

The Claim: Significantly increase health and happiness in 27 days…..by journaling.

The Requirements: Full, dedicated commitment to 27 consecutive days of journaling ~ challenge is to complete the short exercises outlined in the workbook, Journaling for the Health of It.

I was given a free copy of the workbook and in exchange, agreed to review the workbook’s content right here, in this post, for each of you to read. What follows is a detailed, personal critique of the workbook from start to finish.

Let me begin by saying I was not paid for this review nor was I given any guidance on what I should or should not say. I approached the workbook from a value standpoint…. meaning, if I’d not been given the workbook, would it be worth its purchase price? I’m a total cheapskate. If the book doesn’t bring anything new, insightful, or creative to my world, I’m not spending a dime.

So without further ado, here’s Jen’s Review of Journaling for the Health of It, written by Mari L. McCarthy:

Introduction:
I’ve read quite a few self-help books in my day. From military deployments to child-rearing, weight control to marriage, I’ve a plethora of “I’m at the end of my rope, someone give me a book” resources on my bookshelf. Almost every resource begins with the reasons “why” you should read, follow the program, and essentially trust in the information you’re about to absorb. The introduction or preface is normally the persuasive portion of the resource…intended to draw you in, link you to the author, make you feel connected to the material, and eager to keep reading.

For me, this portion of the book needs to tell me something I don’t already know. It needs to be applicable to me, my life, and not be the same old tired-and-true information I read about all the time on Yahoo. Don’t start off by telling me I need more sleep, a healthier diet, and more “relaxation time,” for example. I get that part. I need a little more to get me excited.

Mari doesn’t begin this workbook with a ton of cliché statistics aimed at roping you into generalized content and less-than creative journaling mechanisms. She subtly mentions a few scientifically-supported benefits, such as strengthened immune system and decreased symptoms from health conditions, but then gets to the real substance behind the content: she’s living proof.

The author doesn’t sell her workbook from the seat of someone battling with Multiple Sclerosis. She discusses her illness briefly, lightly, in four short paragraphs of the introduction. I like this. One of my biggest pet peeves, from the perspective of one who is not suffering from chronic illness, is when someone tries to sell an idea solely on their illness-specific principles. I think it’s incredible to share success stories, but also easy to fracture your market by exemplifying applicability to only a few, select people sharing the same illness. Mari absolutely keeps me engaged while sharing her story. She shows how journaling has helped her life without segregating me into a pool of not-nearly-as-needy “healthy” people. She maintains the perspective of one who has needed help and successfully received it. Anyone can relate and want the same outcome.

Program Prep and Planning:
After successfully convincing me that I have everything to gain by trying, Mari explains exactly what you need to do to get there. In her mind, it’s not a matter of attempting the exercises. Like many other self-improvement initiatives, you can’t half-arse your way through the workbook and expect results. It takes a solid commitment and the author makes that clear from the start.

I have to admit this part is a bit intimidating for me. About 86% of my stress can be attributed to lack of time. When I take time to do one thing, I need to take from something else. When I want to exercise, I need to give up doing work, spending time with the kids, or taking care of some household stuff…so 27 days straight of making time to write in a journal? Tough commitment to make. That being said, I did just upchuck my guts for an entire 24 hours straight and miss a critically-important pre-holiday planning day because of my poor dedication to self and health. A challenge, yes. Impossible? I’m one of those people who feel nothing is impossible. If you want something bad enough you will get it, period.

Aside from time, the only other items you need for this challenge are a quiet place to write, a notebook, and a pen. Mari suggests you purchase a new notebook and pen, solely for the purpose of journaling. I love getting new stuff, especially stuff to write with, so this is a score for me. A sweet new notebook, even a $1 bin bargain notebook, is fresh, clean, and a sort of physical representation of a pure beginning. Same with the pen.

But the quiet place to write? I live in a two bedroom home shared with three and a half people and two animals (not counting the mice). I do not have a “quiet” place to write, at least not during the day. What this means is I will again need to prioritize my time…..I’ll need to carve out time from an even less-extensive group of minutes, the after-the-kids-go-to-sleep-and-the-husband-is-occupied minutes. If these minutes were an animal they would be the elusive rainbow unicorn, in all of it’s mystical, magical beauty. This unicorn doesn’t always come to visit but when it does, I’m so in awe I often just sit there and stare, catatonic, wondering what I should be doing instead of staring at this precious, delicate creature who at any moment, will jump right out of front room window and race off into the night, maybe never to return, ever.

Like the author said, it takes commitment. Something will need to be put on the back burner. Cringe!

But wait….is there hope for a time-constricted, journal-loving wannabe?

As my concerns about time commitment mounted, I decided to flip through the workbook and really check out what would be required each day. Are we talking an hour-long session with dimmed lights, candles, and flowers? Would five minutes a night suffice?

The answer to my (and most likely your) questions is simple: I decide how much to write.
The exercises do not have time minimums or limits. You can write as little or as much as you’d like. Matter of fact, Mari often peppers her prompts with open-ended statements, telling readers to write until they want to stop writing. It’s refreshing.

She inspires you to work…day by day, leading you into learning more and more about yourself. She maintains a clear connection to the pen and teaches readers how to associate the pen with freedom, openness, a valve with which to drain the stresses of the day, the week, the years. Each day is different and explores another layer of expression through the written word. She explains how to take the lessons learned through journaling and incorporate them into life skills and coping tools to use throughout the day. You’ll face elements of your physical health, like sleep, eating, and dreams, and mental health, such as fears, setting goals, self-esteem, and guilt. Mari keeps it very interesting, flowing from theme to theme in a gentle, calming manner. I haven’t completed the exercises yet, but after reading them through just once, I am excited to begin.

Another one of my favorite aspects of the workbook is the layout. Each page is easy to read, easy to print, and nice to look at. She includes sidebar spaces beautifully adorned with suggestions, quotes, and resources. Each day begins with short narrative to introduce the day’s exercise, followed by the exercise itself, broken down into numerical steps. Never once did I feel overwhelmed…a rare reaction from me!

Bottom Line:
The price of the electronic workbook is $18.97. I am a broke mother of two. This is a bit of an investment for me, especially since I’d need to pay for the book and then print it myself if I wanted something on paper. She does have a 20% discount going on right now, which drops the price down a few dollars. But almost $20 for an electronic copy of a workbook…..? How can I justify it?

I’ll tell you how.

I would’ve paid double that to feel better a few days ago.

I have paid much, much more for anxiety and sleep aids.

Heck I’ve paid more for a cheap meal from Portillo’s.

This is me we’re talking about here. This is an investment in me. In my strength, my health, and my life. Worst case scenario, the journaling doesn’t stick and I am out another drive-thru dinner. Best case, the journaling changes my nightly routine and allows me to finally make consistent time for myself. No guilt. No pressure. Just me. That idea alone  -  the idea of that kind of freedom  -  makes me blessedly happy. That’s the kind of happiness that’s worthy of six-digit price tags.

Luckily, Mari offers an option for only two J

I invite you to commit to the 27-day challenge with me. It begins on January 1st. For details and to sign up, click here:
http://www.createwritenow.com/27-days-of-journaling-to-health--happiness-sign-up

One final note, this one for the author:

Thank you for devoting yourself to a resource and mission as important and pure as this one. Helping people find their voice is an incredible, rewarding experience and I can feel your passion in every page. I look forward to joining you in January and until then, like you always say, writeON! J

Friday, December 20, 2013

Finding Beauty...and Not the Random, Weird, Floating-Plastic-Bag Kind

I'm one of those moms who feels guilty about working all the time. When I get home from my 10-12 hour day, I'm in no mood for play, or stories, or any other kid-friendly crap. I just want to get through the basics...eat, be clean, go to bed. Maybe check homework. I make an effort to ask my big girl about her day and hold my little girl for at least five minutes before whisking them through the nightly routine and tucking them into bed. It sucks. It's not that I don't want to do fun stuff with them. Quite the contrary. I am dying to do fun stuff with my kids.

So naturally, this desire to make up for lost time pushes me into doing crazy things. Things I would, in a clear frame of mind, rethink and realize are way outside my capabilities....both from a time/energy and financial standpoint. 

What could I possibly do to generate such insanity?

I volunteer.

It's the ultimate, the dreaded, the most foreboding form of self-punishment available. 

I notice sign-up sheets for classroom holiday parties ~ Wow how great would it be to visit my big girl at school?! Sign me up!

I get an email about putting together goody bags ~ Awww goody bags! How cool would it be for me and the big girl to sit around after the little girl goes to bed, pull out the craft supplies, and really wow the kids with awesome goody bags?! Sign me up!

I see a note from Girl Scouts ~ Ooooo I can be as involved as the other moms! Sign me up!

Lofty dreams, made loftier by an intense, consistent yearning to see my kids more. I want to soak up every moment before it's too late. So off trots Jen to sign up for yet another volunteer activity.

And then reality sets in. 

Those classroom sign up sheets mean nothing, I tell you - nothing! I have yet to be chosen as an in-person party helper...but am frequently asked to contribute snacks, plates, water, toys, trinkets, crafts, and anything else that requires a four hundredth trip to Target during the holidays. You know what they should do? Can the "Holiday Party Helpers" sign-up sheet and replace it with a "Money, Supplies, and Shopping Wench" sign up sheet. Let's call it what it is people. Let's just call it what it is.  

That scenic image of me creating cute, Pinterest-inspired goody bags with my big girl? Replace it with the sight of me, at Target (imagine that), grabbing $.99-cent plastic Christmas bags, stuffing them under a box of diapers and who knows what else (I mean really....legit question....who really knows what they bought once they've left Target) and then forgetting about the bags until just last night. No big deal, the party was today. 

Me, last night:

ANYA! Get over here and start stuffin bags, kid!

AARON! Where the hell is the stapler??

This GD stapler is broken!! Why is everything in this house broken!?? Can I not just have one unbroken thing ready for me the moment I need it?? 

OOOOOOOOUCH I just stapled the crap out of my finger! If it starts bleeding on the bags I'm gonna freak out. Nobody has time for bloody bags!

EVERYONE STOP. THERE IS A STAPLE ON THE FLOOR. FIND THE STAPLE! FIND THE STAPLE OR ELSE THE SMALL KID WILL AND THEN IT'S MERRY CHRISTMAS TO THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!

Ahhhh...nice and peaceful. Just Jen and her craft supplies, making homemade goody bags to make up for working so much. Showing her family some love. Livin the dream.

And then there's Girl Scouts. I am, officially, the Field Trip Coordinator. I am awesome at planning stuff and even better at making phone calls. I don't normally get to attend the events I plan because they rarely fall on Saturdays, but that's ok. I'm planning something fun for my big girl. There's fairly little work involved and I feel like I'm helping. Score. 

December's event was a caroling trip to a local nursing home. I was over-the-moon at the idea of my big girl singing to the oldies and I volunteered to come in person and chaperone girls who needed a ride from school. I would take off work, no biggie. I rarely leave early so it wouldn't be a problem.

...except then my day-job's year-end items were pushing me further and further behind. Leaving work early meant setting myself up for a longer day later in the week or, even worse, the loss of a day off around Christmas. But to miss the caroling?? It's caroling - at a nursing home! My big girl had practiced all week and was so excited. I had to make it happen.

So I left work early, leaving a stack of to-dos on my desk and praying my boss had everything he needed for the next couple hours. I drove home like a bat out of hell, worried I wouldn't get there in time, arriving waaaaaay too early and waiting, waiting, waiting for school to let out. The wind was whipping something fierce and when I got out of the car to meet the girls, my "cute, but classy" sweater dress blew up around my hips, fully exposing my rear end, which was luckily covered by a pair of $3.99 Menards leggings. Still embarrassing.

I nabbed the girls and realized I didn't have a snack. I'm the chaperone without a snack. I'm the crap car....the one without yummy food and cool music playing. Luckily my big girl distracted her fellow scout with some insightful conversations about the hideous Hair Cuttery billboard out the car window. I was minutes away from the nursing home, feeling excited and hoping my iPhone battery didn't geek out on me. And then, out of nowhere, this adorable, blonde cop jumped out of her car in the middle of the road, turned to me, and held up the halt sign. I secretly crept closer to her squad car...the girls and I got a good view of what was going on. Someone had accidentally driven off a four-foot road construction ledge (think super thick highway with one lane removed....pretty intense height difference between the intact and removed lanes). The car was balancing precariously with the driver and passengers still inside, its rear end about 45 degrees off the ground. 

WHOA! the girls shouted.

Heh heh heh. Back to being the cool car.

So we waited, traffic backing up, the cop lady running back and forth between her squad car and the ooops car. After a few minutes, I began to realize this chick wasn't going to direct traffic. But she'd told me to stop. Should I go? I had enough clearance. The guy behind me was a hott shot and I could see him getting all jacked up on road rage. The cop didn't look at me. I crept closer. No response from copper. I rolled down my window and started yelling at her...

HEY OFFICER, I'M SORRY BUT THE GUY BEHIND ME....

She walked away, out of hearing range. 

Alrighty! I'm goin for it!

We drove the 50 feet to the nursing home. 

The other chaperones were close behind and everyone piled out of the cars, into the wind and cold, clutching their hats. One of the leaders was trying to take these huge, gigantic paper snowflakes out of her trunk. The wind was literally ripping them from her grasp and finally, after what seemed like an hour, we were able to get the things wrangled through the front door.

The lady I had talked to when arranging the event was nowhere to be found. The girls were gettin fired up, dancing around with the huge snowflakes, being loud and kid-like, essentially making my head hurt. I walked to what I thought was an information desk and introduced myself to the lady sitting behind it. She kinda looked at me funny and for a second, I thought maybe this was a resident just hanging out behind a desk. She gathered her thoughts or whatever and told me the girls could "just come on in." 

Hmm. Ten loud, excited girls with jingle bells and gigantic paper snowflakes. Just "comin on in" to a room filled with people who tend to tip over and have heart palpitations. 

I went to break the news to the scout leader. Then, like the most beautiful dream, the activity director appeared. She saved the day and ushered us in. 

We were surrounded by a few residents, chairs parked, ready for action. The girls were nervous and started to hand out the huge snowflakes. My big girl tried to give her snowflake to an old man and he turned her down flat. "Don't want one," he said. My big girl looked at me, terrified. A lady a few chairs back raised her hand and yoo-hooed..."I want one! Over here dear!" Exhale.

The girls started to sing their songs. I was relieved. Let's get this show on the road, people. I hung off to the side, near the elevator. Good vantage point for taking it all in. 

And that's when it happened.

I stood there, looking at my kid, with her cute new glasses and pink boots, singing loudly to the songs she liked and not-so-loudly to the songs she didn't, glancing up every now and then from her song pages to check out a lady who kept falling asleep. The residents started coming out of nowhere, trucking in from the hallways, wheeling off the elevator, puttering in from the lunchroom. They took calculated movements, careful, slow....but eager. Eager to hear the girls sing - my kid sing. They gently rested their heads back, some closing their eyes, listening. Remembering, I'm sure of it. 



Winters and Christmases of years past, when they could stand on ladders to adjust tree toppers, or nimbly move their fingers over a set of tangled lights. I pictured them dancing with spouses, sons, or daughters on their wedding day. I imagined the old man without a snowflake speeding down the road in a souped-up hot rod, thinking about a girl, dreaming about a new job, feeling free and fast and all of the things he no longer was. 



The peace on their faces as they listened, as they were reminded of days long gone...it was absolutely, positively, undeniably, beautiful

The girls sang to the assisting living residents first, but then were given the opportunity to visit the memory center. These were the residents who suffered from Alzheimer's. They had to live behind locked doors so they didn't run out into a world they didn't know or understand anymore. I was nervous at first, always the protective mommy first and foremost, rational human being second.

The activities coordinator explained a few things to the girls...these are normal, wonderful people who just don't remember much anymore. They aren't scary, they just need a little extra help and love. They loved one thing ~ music.

So in the girls went.

They were met by a few confused faces, a few smiling faces, and one incredibly friendly resident who insisted she sit in front. The girls again started signing and this time, I purposely sought the beauty. I scanned the eyes of the residents, looking for signs of recognition, hoping we didn't frighten anyone. 

It was when the girls started singing "Jingle Bells" that the place really picked up. The girls had all eyes on them, full attention their way.

And then, ever so softly, probably one of the most amazing things I've witnessed to date, the residents started to sing. They were singing. My baby girl had the joy, the blessing of singing a song with people who, in any other circumstance, couldn't even remember their names. 

They remembered these songs, though. They remembered the words, the tune, practiced over years and years of holiday gatherings, school choir performances, church services. The songs passed over their lips the same way they had decades ago.....tying them to who they were, who they still are at the very soul of their being, for a few brief, soft moments. Not lost residents. Mothers and sisters, sons and husbands, lovers, friends, soul mates. 

I felt tears sting as I watched them slowly clap along, reciting the words they knew in their still-beating, forgetful hearts. The staff even stopped, watching, smiling at the recognition and happiness that simply saturated the place. 



Breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty.

I left the nursing home with a deep sense of peace and pride. My girl had brought joy to someone that night, however fleeting it was. The stress I'd felt earlier seemed so far away. It was a wonderful moment of clarity and perspective. I knew it would end soon, as life always has a way of giving you short glimpses of beauty amid the chaos. I think perhaps the reason why these moments are so special is because they are so rare. Like little diamonds.




So while you're stressing about holiday plans and money and all the other necessary elements of life, try to take just a minute, just one, to find a little beauty. Sometimes it will catch you off guard, but other times, it simply needs you to look up.

Merry Christmas everyone and much love to you and yours :)






Thursday, December 12, 2013

#1 Guilt-Free Tip for Thawing a Thankless Spirit

I've read countless blogs focused on self-improvement and how to "be better" and "more grateful" and "live every day like it's your last." These blogs share perspective-encouraging, heart-wrenching stories meant to enlighten readers and help them see how blessed and beautiful their lives truly are. The intention is to uplift and shed light on the positive....but for me? For me these blogs just make me feel guilty.

I have a hard time with guilt. It follows me around, weighs me down like a stone.

I've been told I'm very self-aware. I can't argue with that - I always know the moment I start screwing up. When I yell at my kids. When I snap on my husband. When I overreact with friends or family....when I lose it because of an old man glaring at me on the street....when I start to say something really nasty about someone or something or some place. I know, in that moment, I'm totally messing up. I'm awesome at realizing my mistakes. Not so awesome at preventing them.

So for me, the self-aware reader, blog posts centering on self-improvement almost always affirm what I've known the entire time: I'm thankless. I am not nearly grateful enough. I don't dash around with a big enough smile, a joyful enough attitude, paying it forward enough. I'm certainly not living every day like it's my last.

Don't get me wrong, I have moments of thanks, and gratefulness, and free-spirited living...but overall, I tend to sweat the small stuff. I get real annoyed with bad drivers. I'm easily overwhelmed with stupid crap like housework and money and holiday dinners. When people asked me what I wanted for my last birthday I replied with, "to be left alone." Yea so there's Jen, the ungrateful. I know this about myself. It's painful to read words that further drive this point home.

So imagine my surprise when I receive a random email from a lady named Heather Von St. James:

Hi there!
I am reaching out today because of your blog! My name is Heather and I am an 8-year survivor of mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure.  When I was diagnosed, I had just given birth to my little girl and was told I had 15 months to live.  Because I beat the odds and am one of few long-term survivors, I now am on a mission to spread awareness of mesothelioma by sharing my personal story.
If having cancer has taught me anything, it’s the value of life and the value of gratitude. My diagnosis was in November, and every year during the holiday season, I am reminded of this difficult time. Therefore, I have set out to acknowledge something in my life that I am thankful for every day throughout the month of December.
This year, I decided to take this idea to the blogosphere. I've been so lucky to meet some incredible bloggers who have helped me in my journey to spread awareness and I was wondering if you would do that same. This December, I’m asking bloggers to post about something that they are thankful for, along with sharing a little bit of my story with their readers.  I hope you are interested!
Here is the link to my blog page where you can learn more about my story: mesothelioma.com/heather
Let me know what you think!

Heather

My first thoughts? Awesome. Another person who's struggling with more than I can even imagine, asking me to find something to be grateful for, while she's obviously trying to live her life to the fullest each and every day and I'm still grumbling about my cottage cheese being too watery (true story).

I didn't even know where to begin. I watched her incredible story on YouTube and just sat back, wondering how I could ever blog about something as inspirational and motivational as her story.

I'm the girl who blogs about being a royal B.

I'm the girl who told a coworker she'd rather have the $40 than some stinkin' ham from corporate leadership.

I'm the girl who literally just ate half a container of ice cream after complaining about her weight (again).

I'm the girl who decides to start a business, put her family through heck while working out the details, and then whines all the time about not having time to do anything.

I'm the girl who's close, dear friends have lost siblings to tragedy and yet still finds a way to get frustrated with her own family.

I feel I am the last person, at least at this point in my life, who should be trying to support a cancer survivor with my words. I'm not worthy of such a task. But she asked, so I will do my best to deliver.

Before I divulge what I am thankful for, however, I think it's important to share how I brainstormed my response. My number-one, guiltless tip for recovering your thankfulness?

Stop and think.

That's it. Just stop, focus, and think.

What are you thankful for?

BLAMMO ~ What's the first thing that pops into your head? Hold it.

Don't think beyond the gratitude. Don't think I should be more grateful. What if this goes away? I should do this more. Other people have this very thing ripped away from them all the time. I should think about this every single day, I can't believe I am too busy worrying about other crap. I should Facebook and Tweet this. I need to get my camera so I can take pictures of this thing I am so grateful for in case it goes away. Gosh what if it does go away? Will I have loved it and been grateful enough? I should be and do so much more, more, more. Stop.

Just focus on the object of your affection. Think about it. Picture it. Surround it with a halo of light if it helps....just don't stop focusing on that one thing, that one idea. The warmth will spread. Push away the fear of loss. Immerse yourself in the pleasant perfection of having something to truly be grateful for. 

My Thankful Thought to Share with Heather:

I am grateful for the winter. I know it's not a huge, inspirational thing. But it's my thing. My thing for today.

I live in the Midwest and absolutely love the change of the seasons. They promise hope, new life, a time to rest, and a consistent, cyclic, dependable rhythm. It will get dang cold. It will get dang hot. It will be dang miserable. It will be dang gorgeous. Then it gets dang cold again. See? Cyclic.

Some people despise the winter...but not me. Learning how to stay warm during life's coldest days is a passion of mine.

I love the restful, quiet, simple beauty of winter.


Yes, the driving sucks. Yes, I'm not too attractive in my huge coveralls and boots...but nothing compares to kids in the snow....horses in the snow.....trees covered in snow.....a snowy, frozen sunrise.....rolling down snow-covered hills.


One of my favorite sounds of all time? The absolutely, astoundingly quiet hum of a car engine as it passes over freshly-fallen snow. It's creepy and incredible all at the same time. The snow muffles even the most atrociously combustible human innovations.


So there you have it. I am thankful for the winter....in all of it's raging, freezing glory.

I may never get to a point where jerks on the highway and rude cashiers don't make me want to punch someone in the throat. I may never fully live each day like it's my last. But you know, I don't think that's really the point. Heather and I may not share much, especially when you take into account her extraordinary strength, determination, and passion for life. But we do have one thing in common....we want to share our struggles with the world with the intention to include, surround, and support.

So you won't find a guilt-inducing paragraph on what you should be grateful for on this blog, not now, not never. You won't feel terrible about yourself after reading and watching Heather's story, either. She exudes only warmth, an absolute drive for Mesothelioma awareness, and a completely guilt-free way to share a positive perspective.

I invite you, my dear readers, to join in discovering the simple, guiltless joys of your life and the lives of others. I've never met Heather yet I can feel her dedication through her words.... and it gets me all amped. I love to find passionate people. Have you ever looked at someone when they're all jacked up, rambling on about some crazy thing they love with every fiber in their being? It's the most beautiful sight in the world.

Enjoy the beauty this weekend, lovelies, and thank you, Heather, for sharing your story with the world.

Jen
jen@jenniferludwigsen.com

Friday, December 6, 2013

It's Not Them, It's You.

Ever had one of those days when you're exhausted, sensitive, and generally just acting like a crazy B? That's me. Pretty much all last month. Maybe about 6 days into this month, too....it is the 6th of December, right?

I've got the patience of a starving monkey in a house of bananas. I am easily unsettled ~ when this old man glared me down today for accidentally squealing my tires at an intersection I cussed him out for about 15 miles. He had continued along his crabby jerkface way and here I am was, literally calling him every name I could think of while daydreaming about how I should've rolled my window down and fired off an incredibly witty insult while triumphantly blazing off in my Chevy Malibu of Glory.

The chaos doesn't end with strangers. I cried last night because I couldn't get the lamp plug to reach the outlet. I'm not talking a short, whiny little cry. I mean I let 'er loose. I did that horrifically ugly cry, with the snot and puff and red and sobbing. Aaron asked if he should grab an extension cord from the garage. 

A normal response? Oh sure honey, please do. That would be such a big help. Thanks! 

JenJen response? Well do you WANT to go get the extension cord? Because if you don't WANT to go get it and help your WIFE who is just trying to get some WORK done after working ALL DAY.....THEN BY ALL MEANS, JUST KEEP SITTING THERE PLAYING VIDEO GAMES.

Reaaaaal nice, Jen.

I've had three different people, all people I deeply care about, go nuts on me recently for my behavior, my choices, my attitude, my words, my lack of words, my thought process, and my reactions. One right after another, I've been taking their words, absorbing them, and trying to turn myself around. Trying to keep a cool head and be realistic. Trying to remember these people care about me and deserve love and kindness. I know all these things - am very aware I need to be more positive - and yet I can't seem to shake myself out of this rut. It's not them, it's me. 

You see, I'm a bit burned out. Everyone goes through it and I have no right to complain. I put myself in this situation, starting a new business while working my full-time job. Dedicating myself to new clients during the holiday season. Choosing to put effort and time into writing instead of relaxing, exercising, or taking time for my family and friends. I'm losing a battle at all times. If I don't write, I get behind during my critical start-up phase. If I don't spend time with my kids I become more detached from them than I already am. If I don't make time for my relationships, be it my marriage, my family, or my friends, the same thing happens. If I don't make time to sleep or just sit and be still, I turn into a huge B. Guess which priority is sitting dead-last right now?


Like so many other things in life, few can truly empathize until they experience it themselves...and even then, everyone reacts to life differently. Someone else could live my life and consider it the easiest thing they've ever done. After all, I have a roof over my head, money coming in, beautiful kids, a patient spouse. I have so many wonderful things. So why can't I break out of this negativity? Why is that old man's mean ugly mug still bothering the crap out of me right now?

I think the answer lies in a Disney story. DON'T STOP READING!!

I promise this will be good. Just hear me out.

I saw the movie Frozen with my big girl. Story of two sisters, one with magical ice powers....the big sister, Elsa, harms her younger sister with her magical powers by accident one day when they are very young. Elsa is forced to hide her powers. She isolates herself from those she loves, especially her little sister. She makes the choice to stay away from everyone because of the harm she can cause...because of her fears. One day, many years after the accident, Elsa and her sister get into an argument. Elsa's powers are set loose. The town is terrified. Elsa flees. 

She finds herself at the top of a snowy mountain, all alone, and she just goes nuts. She completely lets her guard down and her powers swirl around her in snow and ice and wind and glittering crystals. She builds herself an ice castle while singing "Let it Go"....


....and while I won't ruin the ending for those who haven't seen it, I will disclose she eventually learns to harness her powers for good instead of being afraid of them. She learns to love herself and luckily, her sister loves her just the way she is and they go back to being a family.

So here's my thought....be the Elsa after she's let it go. I'm so wrapped up in my stress...I'm focused on my guilt for being stressed out and my guilt for not fitting everything in, not doing everything at 100%. I'm pushing myself farther into negativity each day....my confidence is shaky and my self-esteem is experiencing technical difficulties....not because I think I suck at writing, but because I think I suck at everything else. I cannot balance it all. People are getting mad at me. I'm hurting those who love me. I totally suck.

No wonder that grumpy old man pissed me off so much. Misery loves company and boy, do I ever love to be company to misery these days.

It's absolutely time to let it go. It's not them. It's me.

I can't control people's perceptions of my actions any more than I can control the number of hours in a day. Can I tell you a secret? Something I didn't need a Disney movie to tell me?

Those who are meant to stick around, will. They will love you for who you are. They will call you out for being a B, but then offer their help. Give you a hug. Let you know they love you anyway and it's ok. They will not always understand and that's alright, very few people can. Let it go. Don't expect them to get it. Don't expect anyone to emphasize ... you'll end up second-guessing yourself.

By the time I figure out how to balance my life I'm fairly certain I'll be dead. Balance = you're dead, Jen. It's just not in my nature to be de-stressed for long periods of time....I always have a number of things on my to-do list, both realistically and figuratively. I'm a royal B sometimes. I need to explain myself sometimes. I need to let it go when my explanations fall on deaf ears. It's not everyone else I need to worry about all the time. It's me. I need to worry about me.

For all my fellow stressed  B's:

~ Recognize time is fluid and this period of anxiety will undoubtedly be replaced with something else a few weeks from now. 

~ Try to be cool, but when you lose it, apologize and move on. Those who love you will forgive you and those who can't aren't worth it.

~ Go to bed five minutes early. Spend five minute staring at the wall. Get up from your desk and walk two and a half minutes in one direction, then walk back. Just do it. Five minutes a day. Do it. 

~ If you can't live your life according to far-reaching cliches like "you only live once" and "live every day to the fullest"....don't feel bad. Sometimes it's a Thinking With Beautiful Perspective day. Sometimes it's a Sweating the Small Stuff day.

~ Acknowledge and remember those who stay by your side. When you break out of this funk you will have the opportunity to be there for them. Don't waste it. Like I said....not many know how to empathize. Be one of the few without having to join the Marines. 

~ Accept yourself. So you're a B right now. Could be worse. Don't try to please everyone, just try to get yourself where you need to be. One step at a time. One day at a time. Until you're there

Much love, readers. Make your weekend as happy as you want it to be. 





Friday, November 29, 2013

She Gets It From Her Mama, Christmas Edition

Thanksgiving is over and you know what that means....everywhere you look, Christmas is going to be throwing up all over you. Commercials. Stores. Radio. People's reindeer cars. Coworker sweaters. School field trips. It doesn't stop. It's a complete and total bombardment of holiday paraphernalia and far-reaching correlations intended to either sell you or put you in some fake, guilt-induced state of pure bliss.

And do you know how I feel about all this?




H-to-tha-ell YES!



I am that annoying person who hears Christmas music before Thanksgiving and wants to skip right past the turkey. I am infatuated with snow and I love the cold. My idea of a vacation is a secluded cabin right smack-dab in the middle of Podunk, USA, between the elk herd migration trails and a widespead chain of snowy mountains. I crave the peace of a morning after snowfall....where the sound of cars and animals and people is completely muffled by pristine white powder, fluffy and cold, almost beckoning for footprints.

Toss in some colored lights and the opportunity to sing along with Harry Connick Jr and you've got yourself a Christmas-crazed woman with stars in her eyes and never enough mittens.


I must give credit where credit is due, however....if I'd been raised by pop culture, the reasons behind my love for the season would be quite different, and not in a good way. Lucky for me, I had a Christmas influence of another kind.

My mom raised my sister and I with very little money and even less time. She worked full time while going to school and raising her babies. She didn't date, didn't drink, didn't smoke. I have no idea how this is possible. I don't know how she stayed so strong, for so long, putting her kids first always always always.

Every year we'd hear the same thing: "Now girls, this Christmas isn't going to be as big as last year because, well, I can't afford a ton of presents this year..." and yet every year, I was awestruck by the sight of boxes wrapped in the funny pages practically overflowing from under our tree. She made it magical. wrapping new socks and undies, presents she purchased on sale months ahead of time. I remember my sister and I were recipients of The Salvation Army Angel Tree on more than one occasion. One Christmas we were lucky enough to be selected to Shop with a Cop.....but at the time I was "too cool" to be getting free stuff with a cop. My sister came home with a truckload of stuff she picked out - I'm talking BAGS of stuff - I regret not going to this day!


We were lucky girls and never once felt needy or deprived. Our house was always fully-loaded with Christmas cheer. Each year we'd put on the same holiday CDs and drag out our perfectly-packaged Christmas decorations. We had a nativity that sparkled like ice and ornaments made by our grandmothers. My mom would almost always get pissed off and tell us to go away when she was putting the lights on the tree and without fail, my sister I would end up underneath that tree once the lights were untangled and glowing. We'd look up through the branches and oooo and ahhh with color-filled appreciation.


When the snow fell my mom would bundle us up like the small kid from A Christmas Story, the one who couldn't put his arms down. We'd fly outside and she'd pull us around on sleds, flopping on the ground to make snow angels and more snow angels and even more snow angels. She'd take "the long way" home so we could stare out the foggy car windows, wiping circles into the glass, trying to see every last Christmas light on every last house on our street. She was never afraid to slow down for the really good ones...the huge, intense displays of gold and green and red and blue lights with moving deer and sleighs on the roof. The three of us would simultaneously chime, "WWWWOOOOOOOWWW!" and my mom would stop the car, right there in the middle of the road, and we'd all gaze at the house for a couple seconds before puttering to the next one.

She always took us to church so we could learn about Jesus and Mary and Joseph, Angel Gabriel and the Three Wise Men. Our church had the best Advent Fair and every now and then, she'd have time to bring us down on a weeknight so we could smother a pinecone in peanut butter and birdseed, or cookie-cut a gingerbread man made out of cinnamon-scented clay. We had new, fancy Christmas dresses every year and let me tell you, walking into a packed church on Christmas morning, with the alter completely lit up and bursting with garland, two huge Christmas trees on either side of our Savior, hundreds of poinsettias dotting the aisles, carols streaming from the mouths of hundreds....well, there was no other feeling like it in the world.



We'd sit together at night, reading stories, having milk and cookies while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol, later listening to the sweet sound of my mom singing Silent Night before bed. Sounds like a storybook, ya? That was the magic of my mother. She could pull joy and special out of thin air.

Simple, sometimes irritated, always beautiful holiday memories. I want the same for my kids.

I get a thrill out of Christmas because of the way it makes me feel. Between nostalgia, more time at home with the kids, high hopes for snow, and absolute, heartbreaking joy when I hear the girls say "woooooow!" ......I'm pretty much a wintertime fanatic.

Happy Day After Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you each have a wonderful, colorful night.



~ Jen
jen@jenniferludwigsen.com

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stressgiving to Thanksgiving Week 4: Take it Easy on the Turkey

Almost there! Thanksgiving is next week. Are you ready?

Now, when you read my post title, you probably think I'm going to chat today about eating turkey, or cooking turkey, or, if you've read my grass-fed tirade, how to purchase a turkey.

This is not the case.

Today's post is all about taking it easy on the turkey - turkey being the safe, kind word I'll use to describe the crappy, insensitive person you're bound to encounter at some point or another during your holiday. It could be a stranger at the gas station who's soooooo important they just MUST cut in front of you and steal the only remaining gas pump in sight. It could be someone criticizing your cooking or cleaning or wardrobe. It could be a toddler who really just can't stand the thought of you touching her. It could be a sibling, uncle, daughter or spouse. Somewhere, somehow, you will run into someone who says the wrong thing, at the wrong time, with the wrong audience.....someone who doesn't think before they speak, or consider the implications of their actions, or generally acts like a royal turkey.

And I'm here to tell you......

I can't stand those turkeys.

I've been cussed out for not moving my (apparently large) butt out of the way while strapping my child into her car seat in the grocery store parking lot. I've had someone plow past me with their bags and laptop cases on the train on Christmas Eve and not even pause on their way to steal my seat. I've had family members tear me down over the holiday ham because of my weight. Quips about my profession, my kids, my marriage, my body, my choice of eyeshadow.....you know what I'm talking about. There's always something that sticks out in your mind - something you could have gone without. Something that really threatened to jack up your holiday. Always a turkey to be found.

Well, after thinking long and hard about how I can decrease my sensitivity to said turkeys, I've devised a plan.


You see, I can't stand those turkeys......but I've also been that turkey. I've been the lady screaming at people to move out of her way because she really wants to get where she is going. I've threatened people under my breath with more expletives than a TuPac album. I'm the daughter who whined to her mom about making sure there was enough for leftovers because Mommmmmmmmy I really want them so bad! I've said snappy things, done stupid things, and lost my temper on more holidays than I can count. I could've been crowned the Queen of Turkeys on multiple occasions, each for their own very, precise reason.

Sometimes I acted crazy because I was sad. Sometimes because I missed someone or something. Sometimes I spoke without thinking because I was too exhausted to remember how to think. Sometimes I truly just felt like being a brat. But more often than not, I acted like a total turkey because I was struggling with something. I'm not inherently evil...at least I don't think I am? (heh heh heh).....

I don't purposely mess up someone's day or jack up their meal. I certainly didn't intend for my whining to cause my poor Mama to go on a Tupperware-purchasing spree and buy more food than she can probably afford. I was just being a turkey. Not thinking. Acting like my brain isn't capable of empathy and understanding and insight. All those things that slip away when I'm two seconds from really losing it and doing everything in my power to just keep it cool.

So my plan is this. When I encounter a turkey this Thanksgiving, instead of devouring it with judgement and annoyance and outright rage at the injustice of a bad attitude during the holidays, I will picture myself in the turkey's.....um........shoes (Turkey shoes?).

I will take myself back to a time where I snapped at someone I cared about.

Or made an offensive comment.

Or dismissed someone's feelings for my own benefit.

I will think back to how I felt when I realized what I was doing. The shame, the irritation with myself, the clean-up and attempts to resolve the consequences of my bad behavior.

I will think all these things and I will look the turkey right in the eye and I will push a ridiculous, wild smile out of my face. I will smile and wish them a happy holiday and pray it sticks....because in most instances, people who say and do hurtful, insensitive things are doing so because of their own issues, their own problems, which are undeniably seven times as destructive as the comments they are spewing at you.


Turkeys have it worse. So take it easy on them. Take it easy on the turkey.


Jen
jen@jenniferludwigsen.com

Friday, November 15, 2013

Stressgiving to Thanksgiving Week 3: No More Surprises

We've all been there.

The house, after hours of screaming at the kids and alternating between rum and water, is finally clean. The table, after daydreaming over Pinterest and stocking up on clearance WalMart decor in January, is perfectly set. The guests, after rearranging times and places and potluck responsibilities, have all confirmed their attendance. You've put on makeup and your kids are wearing full, complete, clean outfits.

And then. It happens.

SURPRISE.......

the weather chucks a few feet of snow on the roads.
the power goes out. It comes back on. It goes back out. It comes back on. For now.
the dog pukes up his dinner and then, after returning from his backyard banishment, tracks mud all over the house.
the cat walks in the sink full of turkey gizzards and then walks all over the table and plates.
the kid poops in the toilet seconds before the first guest arrives.
the toilet clogs seconds after the first guest arrives.
the sweater you painstakingly chose for the night lands itself in a bowl full of gravy.
the fire alarms start screaming because the oven sucks like that.
the guest in charge of vegetables forgets to bring a dish.
the best goblet ever meets its doom on the kitchen floor.
the kids decide now would be a good time to really want Mommy.
the turkey is burned on the outside and raw on the inside.
the words "food poisoning" are mentioned.
the kids' table becomes a moving food truck, complete with a ride-along mini-chef.
the dog pees out of excitement or fear, at this point who cares.

All of your best-laid plans, annihilated by lovely, wonderful surprises.

It happens so frequently, I find myself actually planning for the worst. How awful is that. From the get-go, I plan not only the cleaning schedule, meal, and seating arrangements, but also what to do when the cleaning schedule fails, the food falls apart, and the seating arrangements end in huffy family members....

I essentially expect myself to do double-duty. Twice the work. Plan for best-case and then plan for the surprises. How exhausting is that? I know some of you do the same thing. It's exhausting....and frankly, ridiculous.

So here's my thought. Enough with the double-planning. No more nail-biting, last-minute trips to the store, or freaking out about the amount of food to prepare, or worrying about who sits where or what guests bring or don't bring. You can't control surprises any more than you can control people. Shit happens, as do crappy attitudes and flaky mindsets.

The point is to be happy. Everyone, including the host, deserves to be happy. This means learning how to roll with the punches. This means relinquishing control. This means letting go. This means learning to embrace the unexpected. All things I. Am. Terrible. At.

....which is why I think the Good Lord gave me a few surprises this week....each of them unexpected, but oh-so incredible.


1. It was Veteran's Day and I left work early to spend it with Aaron. I started my long trek home and the snow began to fall.
Gut reaction:
Well isn't this just great. Of course it would unseasonably snow on the one day I want to get home early. 
No More Surprises:
It was gorgeous. The snow didn't impact my commute in the least and by the time I got home, Aaron and I literally got to sit there and stare at the snow fall. It was the best afternoon I can remember.


2. My kid came home from school and had a huge, fat, overflowing take-home folder.
Gut reaction:
Dammit. That's a TON of homework and I really don't feel like dealing with it. 
No More Surprises: 
The kids in Anya's class had written a stack of letters to me and Aaron for Veteran's Day. It was so beautiful I literally cried. Not the panicky, weird cry of a woman in need of rum, but the sweet, astounded cry of someone who's just been swept off her feet.



3. I had the remarkable opportunity to get in bed before 11PM and within moments of grabbing my latest edition of Better Homes and Gardens, I felt the annoying prods of cat paws on my stomach.
Gut reaction: 
Great. Now she's going to come barge into my magazine, or sit on my head, or somehow shoot her hair into my eyeball like a projectile missile of pain. 
No More Surprises:
She curled up behind my magazine, with her head poking out, and purred. She was warm and fluffy and perfectly behaved. Not a single hair flew into my eye.



I'm well aware my initial reactions are often trigger-happy, exaggerated representations of the panic I feel when I don't have control of a situation. It could be something as huge as a promotion-worthy project at work or it could be something as tiny as cat versus magazine. No matter the topic, I find myself jumping to worst-case scenarios more frequently than best-case scenarios. It's a flaw of mine....and I need to work on it. What better time than the holidays!

No more surprises, only opportunities. Opportunities to make it the most memorable, most crazy, most innovative, most creative holiday there's ever been.

The weather chucks a few feet of snow on the roads? Tell everyone to stay home and go outside to make a snowman.
The power goes out. It comes back on. It goes back out. It comes back on. For now? Candles = sexy.
The dog pukes up his dinner and then, after returning from his backyard banishment, tracks mud all over the house? Great excuse to use your dusty Swiffer Wet Jet because let's face it, your cleaning spree didn't include actually washing the floors. 
The cat walks in the sink full of turkey gizzards and then walks all over the table and plates? Mismatched, country-chic table linens and platters are so in right now. 
The kid poops in the toilet seconds before the first guest arrives? Hey hey! The kid is pooping in the toilet!
The toilet clogs seconds after the first guest arrives? Better now than during dinner!
The sweater you painstakingly chose for the night lands itself in a bowl full of gravy? Chance to give your man a sneak-peak at some skin while you change clothes :) I know I'm not the only one who loves those nights following a house full of people where the two of you simultaneously remember how delicious it is to be the only ones actually living there!
The fire alarms start screaming because the oven sucks like that? Hey hey! The fire alarms work!
The guest in charge of vegetables forgets to bring a dish? Who likes vegetables anyways. 
The best goblet ever meets its doom on the kitchen floor? Another chance to do the deep-cleaning you undoubtedly skipped while trying to make the whole house somewhat presentable.
The kids decide now would be a good time to really want Mommy? Take two minutes to enjoy your kids. You will soon be begging them to come home for the holidays.
The turkey is burned on the outside and raw on the inside? Microwaves are glorious boxes of delicious innovation. 
The words "food poisoning" are mentioned? Sounds like someone just volunteered to cook the turkey next year! SCORE!
The kids' table becomes a moving food truck, complete with a ride-along mini-chef? A child's memories inspire their dreams. Keep them safe, but for the sake of childhood bliss, let 'em keep on rollin'.
The dog pees out of excitement or fear, at this point who cares? You do, because as much as your dog annoys you, he is your wubby bubs and he should get the chance to enjoy the holiday, too. Treats all around.

Jump to best-case with me. I want to know...

What are the worst surprises you've encountered during the holidays?


Jen
jen@jenniferludwigsen.com


Friday, November 8, 2013

Stressgiving to Thanksgiving Week 2: Arming Yourself Against Crappy Holiday Drivers, Including Myself

Ahhhhhh Thanksgiving travel. One of the most frustrating aspects of Thanksgiving. Everyone jams onto the roads, tailgating, crawling, swerving......some attempting to get there as fast as possible, some attempting to just get there safely, and some just not attempting at all. I mean really. Some of those holiday drivers might as well be sleeping. Or driving with no head. The Headless Hyundai.

You've got the manly men, veering in and out with pointless precision and driving down your friendly neighborhood street like it's a tollway. You've got youngins with permits trying to look cool in their mom's minivan, bumpin to jams on stock speakers and leaning to the right as much as they can. And then you've got the old ladies with round, poofy orbs of hair, barely peeking over their dashboards, drifting around like the road is made of ice and monsters and all the bad things ever created, ever.

I think that last group scares me the most.....I can see a manly man's blackened taillights coming from miles away and the young kids almost always have a parent in their passenger seat. But the oldies? You never know what you're getting with them. It's like a demonic box a chocolates. Will she be a Fast-Breaker? How about a Brake-for-Absolutely-No-Freaking-Reason? An Uber-Slow Poke? The Speedy Starter? The Simultaneous Head/Car Turner, who glances to the right and therefore, steers to the right? God forbid you're following the worst of all - the Combo Oldie. She can whip out a lane drift, fast-break into an imaginary accident, and then take off before you even realize what just happened.

I had the unfortunate pleasure of following one such lady on my way home from work yesterday. She was in front of me on a four-lane, kinda just puttsin' around, speeding up, then slowing down, then speeding up, then slowing to an incredible 15 miles under the speed limit (40mph). We approached an intersection with a left-hand turn lane and I remember screaming THANK THE LORD IN HEAVEN ALMIGHTY REDEEMER as her left turn signal started to flash.

The intersection was crowded with traffic and as soon as I spouted my dramatic praise to Jesus, I knew I had celebrated too soon. The left turn lane was clogged and sure enough, the oldie in front of me began to brake and swerve around like a crazy person. Slowly, slowly, she started to ease over into the left turn lane, slamming on the brakes one minute and easing over an inch or two the next. About 2/3 of her vehicle was still in my lane and I made a break for it. I checked my rear view, glanced back at her rear end, and swerved around her.

BLAMMO

What the...? ???  ****thump thump thump**** racing heart and panic

I hit my brakes, looked at the old lady, now on my left side. Her car looked ok, I didn't hit her...what the heck was that noise??......ohhhhhhhh........I stared into my rear view and found a guy in a BMW, screaming what was obviously the f-word.

Man's Beautiful Black Beamer, Bent

I hadn't checked my blind spot and sure enough, I'd swerved right into the driving space of another vehicle.


It was a perfect addition to a perfectly terrible week. Work was insane, my new business needed way more attention than I had to give, and I was exhausted.

I had been on my way to a girlfriend's house to get my hair cut. Thought it might break me out of my funk a little. Was planning on giving her a little extra cash for a new blow dryer from her beauty supply store. My current blow dryer sparks when I fire 'er up. Talk about ampin up the volume.

You know what else blows sparks.....A tire. A tire when it crashes into the curb after trying to avoid a Jen who just couldn't keep her temper and her patience.

Didn't take long for my mental state to dip pretty low on the "Yay Life!" scale.

I remember thinking about Christmas and how I still needed to get presents...and not those "only if you can" presents for your siblings and parents....no, I still need to get presents for my kids. Here I was thinking I could afford a new freakin blow dryer. Pshhhh. Chyea rite Jen, ya jerk. Captain Swerves-A-Lot's hair STAYS crazy, didn't anyone tell you?

I got home two hours later. Plenty of time to drive in my own loathing and really let it seep in.

She was just a little old lady, trying to get around. What if the kids had been in the car? That guy's BMW is going to cost a billion dollars to repair. Guess you're goin' broke, Jen. No Christmas. No blow dryer. No clothes without holes in them. No house. You're done. Toast. Better grab a nice cardboard box and start coloring on some windows.

I felt about 20 pounds heavier when I finally climbed out of my car. I had to walk around to the passenger side to get into the house. I closed my eyes to avoid looking at it and walked into the trash can, jostling the lid open just a little bit and enveloping myself in a cloud of putrid poo smell.

Great. Now I smell like I feel.

I opened the door, walked into the house. Aaron set down the spoon he was using to stir our dinner and came over to me, expertly avoiding the baby, dog, high chair, and three pairs of shoes. He reached out and scooped me up, squeezing me tight, telling me it was ok. I'm ok. It's all O.K.

As we parted my youngest came running over, screaming MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA over and over. The dog was circling behind me, his whole butt wiggling back and forth. My big girl, quietly waiting for the chaos to calm, looked at me with her very best and most precious, "Poor Mama," face.

Aaron headed back to the stove and said:

We're all ok and that's all that matters.

Yes, I breathed. Yes. We are all ok. Thank God for that. It's ok. 

I'd become so wrapped up in the stress of my week I'd forgotten the basics. It's not about a silly car accident, which will be a blip on the memory radar 50 years from now. It's not about Christmas presents, I've always tried to give my kiddos experiences over stuff anyways. It's not about feeling overwhelmed or impatient or caught up.....nope. When push comes to shove and you strip away all that chaos and insanity of everyday running, it really is about love and life and all of the simple things.



It's impossible to live in this heightened state of awareness all the time.....and to do so would diminish the power of reaching rock-bottom epiphanies. I'll continue to stress about the car...but in the moments following Aaron's statement, I felt all that guilt, all that self-loathing, roll off like raindrops on an umbrella. It was a beautiful feeling, regardless of how fleeting it was.

Let yourself get stressed. Heck, you can even let yourself get burned out. If nothing else, it will likely culminate in some sort of mental breakdown and you'll be forced back to the basics...where terrible old lady drivers and bad decisions mean nothing compared to the simple, straightforward, gut-wrenching beauty in front of you.


When you feel your knuckles tighten on the wheel and your fury rise to critical boiling point levels, remember why you are driving. Remember where you are going. Picture each old lady as your grandma and look out for lane-swerving Jens in silver Chevy Malibus. Save the stress-induced, eye-opening breakdowns for dinnertime. Much cheaper that way :)



Jen
jen@jenniferludwigsen.com




Friday, November 1, 2013

Stressgiving to Thanksgiving Week 1: Sharing Sucks

This is Week 1 of my November "Stressgiving to Thanksgiving" series. Each week, I'll be dedicating my posts to finding the "thanks" in Thanksgiving again.

No, this isn't going to be one of those guilt-inducing, you-should-be-more-grateful blog series. I will not be filling my posts with ways to host a better dinner or somehow transform your table into a Norman Rockwell scene. This month, I'll be focusing on my flaw-filled perception of Thanksgiving - and week by week, I'll detail how I'm working to hopefully gosh dang willing quiet the incessant attacks of Sir Stress-A-Lot.

Halloween ended about 14 hours ago and already, I see thousands of  headlines jumping out at me~

Stress-Free Thanksgiving for Whole Family
How to Prepare a Feast They'll Never Forget
Cozy, Creative, and Comfortable Thanksgiving Tablescapes
Craft Your Own Turkey Tablecloths, Runners, Napkins, and More

Where's the resources for those of us who just want to make it through the day in one piece? Those of us with multiple houses to visit, work schedules to coordinate, and aging family members to consider? Where can I find out how to keep my sanity when yet another family argument breaks out over dinner rolls? How in the world do I stop setting the bar at the seemingly-glorious experiences I see in the magazines?

To answer these questions, I guess I have to start at the beginning.

When I was a little girl, my mom, sister, and I would all head to my Grandma Bonnie's house at the same time, every year. Dinner would be on the table by 4PM, dessert approximately 45 minutes later. We'd sit in egg-shaped, 60's-mod dinner chairs and talk quietly, my Grandpa Ray and Great Grandma livening the conversation with their colorful personalities and my Grandma Bonnie fluttering around and pushing people to eat more of this, more of that. My Grandpa Bill would read a prayer off a notecard. I'd answer questions about my grades at school, what I wanted to be when I grew up, and how I was liking the weather. We'd spend at least ten minutes talking about the turkey...how it tasted, how it was cooked, how much it weighed, where it was purchased. It was small, useless chitter-chatter but it was my family and I looked forward to it every year.

Flash forward a little bit. My Great Grandma, our lovely, 1st-generation Norwegian ball of energy and joy, has passed. My Grandpa Ray, while still feisty, is starting to wear the signs of old age like a heavy blanket. Our family is very small and when he too is taken to heaven, our table seems to lose its light. My Grandma Bonnie and Grandpa Bill continue to host Thanksgiving and soon, I have a baby with me at the table. She's hope and new life and love.

A few short months after that first Thanksgiving with my wee one, Aaron, Anya, and I move to Germany. You'd think the holidays would be sad and depressing while you're away from home, but you know what? They were surprisingly enjoyable. I learned how to cook, and bake, and make Thanksgiving crafts to decorate the home. It was nice to sleep in and not leave the home all day. I missed my family dearly, but I also really enjoyed having that time to ourselves. I didn't have to share a thing about the day with anyone - we did exactly how we pleased, wearing PJ's until noon, picking out our favorite foods and desserts, putting our baby down on time and drinking wine together in front of the TV. It was very relaxing, the Thanksgivings we didn't need to share.



When we returned to the states a few years later, we were greeted by the arms and kisses of those we'd missed for years. It was a sparkling, glorious feeling and when I noticed a few new laugh lines around my mother's beautiful blue eyes, I realized just how much I'd missed while living overseas. My family was getting older. Age and time didn't stop and wait for me and I'd missed so much. I couldn't wait to get to the holidays.



And then came the sharing.

I had a new job and two extended families to juggle. Gone were the days of sitting around the house in our PJs and doing exactly as we pleased. There was an unspoken expectation...whether I placed it upon myself or had it placed upon me by my family is irrelevant. I felt pressure - enormous pressure - to make everyone happy....and often, at the expense of my own comfort and convenience. I'm not saying it wasn't worth it.....I'm saying it was hard. The contrast between our German Thanksgiving and American Thanksgiving was inescapable.



As I type this, three years after that homecoming, I am still surprised by how much things have changed. My Grandma Bonnie, bless her heart, became exhausted by the time dinner was served. I knew it was her last year hosting when she served on paper plates. To my Grandma, this was the equivalent of throwing up the white flag. I surrender. Too tired. Too much. Done. It was the end of dinners in the egg chairs, little feet on the brown, marbled carpet, and scanning the yard for the deer that frequented Grandpa Bill's garden.

My mom's first Thanksgiving was last year and...It. Was. Awesome. She had the most adorable setup, with beautiful placecards and a huge turkey and a special high chair for my newest addition. It was a delicious meal and for the most part, a drama-free day. I remember, though, agreeing to stop by my in-laws afterwards for pie. I felt bad for missing dinner with them and absolutely could not say no. So with a six year old and a six-month old, we made the 90 minute drive from my mom's house to my in-laws. I remember exhaustion. I was happy to see everyone, but it was shadowed by fatigue, two tired kids who'd been around people they rarely saw all day, and a deep longing for my home, my comfort, my PJs.

So here comes my huge, giant, Stressgiving admission.

The desire to please has bubbled into resentment. Call it selfishness, call it realism, call it whatever you like. When I think "Thanksgiving," I think impossible choices. Who will be eating with who? Can we fit in two dinners? What if my long-lost dad wants to get together? Can we make everyone happy and walk away with our minds intact?

The answer, simply, is no. I will miss out on someone's dinner. I will have to share a portion of what should be a peaceful day driving on the road with a bunch of non-commuters... people who fire up the old Lincoln three times a year, Thanksgiving being one of those times. I will fail to make everyone happy....and I will fail to make myself happy if I continue to base my joy on the approval and acceptance of others.

This is my life. I share it closely with my husband and my kids. What's best for them is what's best for me....and this year..... it will have to be what's best for everyone else. I can't let the fear of losing my extended family, both literally and figuratively, deteriorate what could be a most joyous day. So onward I go, with a commitment to alternate the holiday with my mom and my in-laws. My in-laws are heading to another town so we're going to double-down and go to my mom's again this year. Next year we'll be with Aaron's side of the family.

This is the normal way to go about it, right? Why was this so hard for me to figure out?

My family was 100% supportive when I explained our decision to alternate holidays.....another fear of mine *poof* dissolved to dust. I really am surrounded by love. What was this horrible argument I concocted in my head?

I guess the bottom line is, sharing sucks....but only when you're trying to share with everyone. There's a delicate balance to doing what's right for you and doing what's right for everyone else. A give-and-take. A compromise. The whole objective of the day is to bathe in ceaseless gratuity and thankfulness for all the blessings we've been given. And I've been given so, so many.

So as you're working out your dinner plans for the 28th, remember your happiness is important. Don't try to do it all. Don't agree to things that are guaranteed to leave you exhausted. Find a compromise, a balance, and stick with it.

Jen

jen@jenniferludwigsen.com