Days 2-6 of the 72 day challenge

September 6, 2015

Catching up on simplifying my life: days 2-6 (hey, who said I’d write on a daily basis!)

 Day 2: Evaluate your commitments. Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those things. Article here.

This one? I’m actually pretty good at (lack of kids helps).  Not being over committed is, in part due to being an introvert.  I combine my walking with fun FitBit challenges with the 9 year old nephew and 10 year old niece.  I group text during football games with older nephews.  Over the years, I learned that being what may be perceived as being “selfish” with my time allows me to fully participate in activities I enjoy.

Day 3: Evaluate your time. How do you spend your day? What things do you do, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep? Make a list, and evaluate whether they’re in line with your priorities. If not, eliminate the things that aren’t, and focus on what’s important. Redesign your day.

The biggest time waster in my day is my commute.  Given the housing prices in the Boston area, I’m locked into the commute.  I’ve started to listening to audio books, pod casts to catch up on my ‘reading’ while spending windshield time.  After doing this list the last time, I realized that by simplifying my wardrobe to similar colors, I reduced the number loads of laundry (yeah!).  I’m still working on teaching the cats to clean the house.

Day 4: Simplify work tasks. Our work day is made up of an endless list of work tasks. If you simply try to knock off all the tasks on your to-do list, you’ll never get everything done, and worse yet, you’ll never get the important stuff done. Focus on the essential tasks and eliminate the rest. Read more.

Um.  I’ve learned that if I go to work early (we have flexible start times), I can take care of most of the daily tasks before being inundated with the unknown.  Unfortunately, my industry is fraught with “emergency” essential tasks. I’ve learned to calendar to due dates, combine tasks.  The important stuff gets done; it is the this won’t take a second stuff that keeps piling up!

Day 5: Simplify home tasks. In that vein, think about all the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home task list is just as long as our work list. And we’ll never get that done either. So focus on the most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks (automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).

One of the downsides of being single is that there isn’t anybody to help with the crazy chores.  I try to meal prep over the weekends.  I have a condo so much of the annoying home ownership is out of the HOA dues.  Bills are paid automatically.  My absolute distain for household tasks has probably saved me here.  If I cannot figure out how to use an item for two or more tasks, it’s doesn’t come into the house.

Day 6: Learn to say no. This is actually one of the key habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no, you will take on too much. Article here.

So, I’m working on this. I’ve decided that in corporate America, no equates with being tagged as a non-team player.  I’ve learned to say “I’d be happy to help X with Y project but can you help me re-organize where you’d like this to fit in?” to something as simple as task swapping among peers and tapping into our strengths.

72 ideas in 72 days: Day One – What is important to you.

September 2, 2015

Make a list of your top 4-5 important things. What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.”

Simple right?  The typical answer should be family, faith, work and exercise (or some non-sense variation).  For me, since I did this project the last time, a lot has changed: some for the good, some for the bad and all of it hard.  The question is interesting what is most important to me is not what I value the most (time, I value time the most).  What is most important to me?

  1. My family comprised of most of the people I’m related to, a few who I should be related to.  The people who I’d drop anything and get on a plane for.  The people who know when my mouth says “I’m fine” that it’s a lie: even over email, texts, and other forms of communication that lack inflection and body language.  There is really nothing better than hysterical texts from 9 and 10 year olds who while wishing you luck on something also announce they plan on beating you at an activity.  Or coming back from a meeting to your phone having been blown up by a crazy debate on what an 18 year old and 16 year old would buy with a million (or was it a billion) dollars for a perfect NCAA bracket.  Or being able to just not pretend everything is OK with friends.
  2. Travel: From wandering through small town USA to taking bullet trains in Japan, there is a world out there.  Most people are good.  Everybody makes salsa different.  Travel forces my introvert self to be more extroverted.  Travel restores me.  Travel decorates my house (seriously).
  3. Exercise: I know.  Who would have thought?  I try to walk between 4-8 miles a day.  The activity decompresses me.  I love the way  I feel afterwards.  I listen to books on tape (www.audible.com) while I’m walking.  My walks are my carved out ‘me time’.
  4. Being selfish with out guilty:  Maybe because I am female, but I feel guilty when I can’t be everything to everybody.  No is an answer that is perfectly acceptable.  It’s ok not to want to go to bridal shower, to spend a weekend visiting somebody you’d met for coffee.  Leaving the office after 9 hours.
  5. My friends: E-friends are great but I need to be a better friends with sending real letters, meeting for meals or coffee.

Dear abandoned blog, we are back at it again: 72 ideas in 72 days

September 2, 2015

So, a few years ago I attempted the 72 ideas in 72 days challenge.  I am going to try it again (call it a ‘cleansing diet’ for those who like Oreos.  There maybe some days I skip, I might do them out of order, and well, I’ll probably fall off the wagon around day 30 (honesty).  Here is the list that I am attempting to follow  (with a nod to whatever list it came from).

th that, focus on the next thing.

  1. Make a list of your top 4-5 important things. What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.
  2. Evaluate your commitments. Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life. Everything, from work to home to civic to kids’ activities to hobbies to side businesses to other projects. Think about which of these really gives you value, which ones you love doing. Which of these are in line with the 4-5 most important things you listed above? Drop those that aren’t in line with those things. Article here.
  3. Evaluate your time. How do you spend your day? What things do you do, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep? Make a list, and evaluate whether they’re in line with your priorities. If not, eliminate the things that aren’t, and focus on what’s important. Redesign your day.
  4. Simplify work tasks. Our work day is made up of an endless list of work tasks. If you simply try to knock off all the tasks on your to-do list, you’ll never get everything done, and worse yet, you’ll never get the important stuff done. Focus on the essential tasks and eliminate the rest. Read more.
  5. Simplify home tasks. In that vein, think about all the stuff you do at home. Sometimes our home task list is just as long as our work list. And we’ll never get that done either. So focus on the most important, and try to find ways to eliminate the other tasks (automate, eliminate, delegate, or hire help).
  6. Learn to say no. This is actually one of the key habits for those trying to simplify their lives. If you can’t say no, you will take on too much. Article here.
  7. Limit your communications. Our lives these days are filled with a vast flow of communications: email, IM, cell phones, paper mail, Skype, Twitter, forums, and more. It can take up your whole day if you let it. Instead, put a limit on your communications: only do email at certain times of the day, for a certain number of minutes (I recommend twice a day, but do what works for you). Only do IM once a day, for a limited amount of time. Limit phone calls to certain times too. Same with any other communications. Set a schedule and stick to it.
  8. Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.
  9. Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss. Here’s my guide on decluttering. Here’s a post on starting small. More on purging below.
  10. Get rid of the big items. There’s tons of little clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll simplify your life quickly and in a big way. Read more.
  11. Edit your rooms. One room at a time, go around the room and eliminate the unnecessary. Act as a newspaper editor, trying to leave only the minimum, and deleting everything else. Article here.
  12. Edit closets and drawers. Once you’ve gone through the main parts of your rooms, tackle the closets and drawers, one drawer or shelf at a time. More here.
  13. Simplify your wardrobe. Is your closet bursting full? Are your drawers so stuffed they can’t close (I’m talking about dresser drawers here, not underwear). Simplify your wardrobe by getting rid of anything you don’t actually wear. Try creating a minimal wardrobe by focusing on simple styles and a few solid colors that all match each other. Read more.
  14. Simplify your computing life. If you have trouble with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online computing. It can simplify things greatly. Read more.
  15. Declutter your digital packrattery. If you are a digital packrat, and cannot seem to control your digital clutter, there is still hope for you. Read this guide to curing yourself of this clutter.
  16. Create a simplicity statement. What do you want your simple life to look like? Write it out. More here.
  17. Limit your buying habits. If you are a slave to materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it. I was there, and although I haven’t escaped these things entirely, I feel much freer of it all. If you can escape materialism, you can get into the habit of buying less. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, less freneticism. Read more.
  18. Free up time. Find ways to free up time for the important stuff. That means eliminating the stuff you don’t like, cutting back on time wasters, and making room for what you want to do.
  19. Do what you love. Once you’ve freed up some time, be sure to spend that extra time doing things you love. Go back to your list of 4-5 important things. Do those, and nothing else. Read more.
  20. Spend time with people you love. Again, the list of 4-5 important things probably contains some of the people you love (if not, you may want to re-evaluate). Whether those people are a spouse, a partner, children, parents, other family, best friends, or whoever, find time to do things with them, talk to them, be intimate with them (not necessarily in sexual ways).
  21. Spend time alone. See this list of ways to free up time for yourself — to spend in solitude. Alone time is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It could take practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your inner voice. It sounds new-agey, I know, but it’s extremely calming. And this quiet is necessary for finding out what’s important to you.
  22. Eat slowly. If you cram your food down your throat, you are not only missing out on the great taste of the food, you are not eating healthy. Slow down to lose weight, improve digestion, and enjoy life more. Read more.
  23. Drive slowly. Most people rush through traffic, honking and getting angry and frustrated and stressed out. And endangering themselves and others in the meantime. Driving slower is not only safer, but it is better on your fuel bill, and can be incredibly peaceful. Give it a try. Read more.
  24. Be present. These two words can make a huge difference in simplifying your life. Living here and now, in the moment, keeps you aware of life, of what is going on around you and within you. It does wonders for your sanity. Read tips on how to do it.
  25. Streamline your life. Many times we live with unplanned, complex systems in our lives because we haven’t given them much thought. Instead, focus on one system at a time (your laundry system, your errands system, your paperwork system, your email system, etc.) and try to make it simplified, efficient, and written. Then stick to it. Here’s more. Another good article here.
  26. Create a simple mail & paperwork system. If you don’t have a system, this stuff will pile up. But a simple system will keep everything in order. Here’s how.
  27. Create a simple system for house work. Another example of a simple system is clean-as-you-go with a burst. Read more.
  28. Clear your desk. If you have a cluttered desk, it can be distracting and disorganized and stressful. A clear desk, however, is only a couple of simple habits away. Read more.
  29. Establish routines. The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines. A great article on that here.
  30. Keep your email inbox empty. Is your email inbox overflowing with new and read messages? Do the messages just keep piling up? If so, you’re normal — but you could be more efficient and your email life could be simplified with a few simple steps. Read more.
  31. Learn to live frugally. Living frugally means buying less, wanting less, and leaving less of a footprint on the earth. It’s directly related to simplicity. Here are 50 tips on how to live frugally.
  32. Make your house minimalist. A minimalist house has what is necessary, and not much else. It’s also extremely peaceful (not to mention easy to clean). More here.
  33. Find other ways to be minimalist. There are tons. You can find ways to be minimalist in every area of your life. Here are a few I do, to spur your own ideas.
  34. Consider a smaller home. If you rid your home of stuff, you might find you don’t need so much space. I’m not saying you should live on a boat (although I know some people who happily do so), but if you can be comfortable in a smaller home, it will not only be less expensive, but easier to maintain, and greatly simplify your life. Read about downsizing your home here.
  35. Consider a smaller car. This is a big move, but if you have a large car or SUV, you may not really need something that big. It’s more expensive, uses more gas, harder to maintain, harder to park. Simplify your life with less car. You don’t need to go tiny, especially if you have a family, but try to find as small a car as can fit you or your family comfortably. Maybe not something you’re going to do today, but something to think about over the long term.
  36. Learn what “enough” is. Our materialistic society today is about getting more and more, with no end in sight. Sure, you can get the latest gadget, and more clothes and shoes. More stuff. But when will you have enough? Most people don’t know, and thus they keep buying more. It’s a neverending cycle. Get off the cycle by figuring out how much is enough. And then stop when you get there.
  37. Create a simple weekly dinner menu. If figuring out what’s for dinner is a nightly stressor for you or your family, consider creating a weekly menu. Decide on a week’s worth of simple dinners, set a specific dinner for each night of the week, go grocery shopping for the ingredients. Now you know what’s for dinner each night, and you have all the ingredients necessary. No need for difficult recipes — find ones that can be done in 10-15 minutes (or less).
  38. Eat healthy. It might not be obvious how eating healthy relates to simplicity, but think about the opposite: if you eat fatty, greasy, salty, sugary, fried foods all the time, you are sure to have higher medical needs over the long term. We could be talking years from now, but imagine frequent doctor visits, hospitalization, going to the pharmacist, getting therapy, having surgery, taking insulin shots … you get the idea. Being unhealthy is complicated. Eating healthy simplifies all of that greatly, over the long term. Read about how to simplify your eating habits.
  39. Exercise. This goes along the same lines as eating healthy, as it simplifies your life in the long run, but it goes even further: exercise helps burn off stress and makes you feel better. It’s great. Here’s how to create the exercise habit.
  40. Declutter before organizing. Many people make the mistake of taking a cluttered desk or filing cabinet or closet or drawer, and trying to organize it. Unfortunately, that’s not only hard to do, it keeps things complicated. Simplify the process by getting rid of as much of the junk as possible, and then organizing. If you declutter enough, you won’t need to organize at all.
  41. Have a place for everything. Age-old advice, but it’s the best advice on keeping things organized. After you declutter. Read more here.
  42. Find inner simplicity. I’m not much of a spiritual person, but I have found that spending a little time with my inner self creates a peaceful simplicity rather than a chaotic confusion. This could be time praying or communing with God, or time spent meditating or journaling or getting to know yourself, or time spent in nature. However you do it, working on your inner self is worth the time.
  43. Learn to decompress from stress. Every life is filled with stress — no matter how much you simplify your life, you’ll still have stress (except in the case of the ultimate simplifier, death). So after you go through stress, find ways to decompress. Here are some ideas.
  44. Try living without a car. OK, this isn’t something I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces expenses and gives you time to think. A car is also very complicating, needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas and more.
  45. Find a creative outlet for self-expression. Whether that’s writing, poetry, painting, drawing, creating movies, designing websites, dance, skateboarding, whatever. We have a need for self-expression, and finding a way to do that makes your life much more fulfilling. Allow this to replace much of the busy-work you’re eliminating from your life.
  46. Simplify your goals. Instead of having half a dozen goals or more, simplify it to one goal. Not only will this make you less stressed, it will make you more successful. You’ll be able to focus on that One Goal, and give it all of your energy. That gives you much better chances for success.
  47. Single-task. Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time.
  48. Simplify your filing system. Stacking a bunch of papers just doesn’t work. But a filing system doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful. Create a simple system.
  49. Develop equanimity. If every little thing that happens to you sends you into anger or stress, your life might never be simple. Learn to detach yourself, and be more at peace. Read more.
  50. Reduce your consumption of advertising. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it works. Find ways to reduce your exposure of advertising, whether that’s in print, online, broadcast, or elsewhere. You’ll want much less.
  51. Live life more deliberately. Do every task slowly, with ease, paying full attention to what you’re doing. For more, see Peaceful Simplicity: How to Live a Life of Contentment.
  52. Make a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list each day. Set just 3 very important things you want to accomplish each day. Don’t start with a long list of things you probably won’t get done by the end of the day. A simple list of 3 things, ones that would make you feel like you accomplished something. See this article for more.
  53. Create morning and evening routines. A great way to simplify your life is to create routines at the start and end of your day. Read more on morning routines and evening routines.
  54. Create a morning writing ritual. If you enjoy writing, like I do, make it a peaceful, productive ritual. Article here.
  55. Learn to do nothing. Doing nothing can be an art form, and it should be a part of every life. Read the Art of Doing Nothing.
  56. Read Walden, by Thoreau. The quintessential text on simplifying. Available on Wikisources for free.
  57. Go for quality, not quantity. Try not to have a ton of stuff in your life … instead, have just a few possessions, but ones that you really love, and that will last for a long time.
  58. Read Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James. One of my favorite all-time authors on simplicity. Read my review here.
  59. Fill your day with simple pleasures. Make a list of your favorite simple pleasures, and sprinkle them throughout your day. List here.
  60. Simplify your RSS feeds. If you’ve got dozens of feeds, or more than a hundred (as I once did), you probably have a lot of stress in trying to keep up with them all. Simplify your feed reading. See How to Drop an RSS Feed Like a Bad Habit.
  61. But subscribe to Unclutterer. Probably the best blog on simplifying your stuff and routines (along with Zen Habits, of course!).
  62. Create an easy-to-maintain yard. If you spend too much time on your yard, here are some good tips.
  63. Carry less stuff. Are your pockets bulging. Consider carrying only the essentials. Some thoughts on that here.
  64. Simplify your online life. If you have too much going on online, here are a few ways to simplify it all. Article here.
  65. Strive to automate your income. This isn’t the easiest task, but it can (and has) been done. I’ve been working towards it myself. Article here.
  66. Simplify your budget. Many people skip budgeting (which is very important) because it’s too hard or too complicated. Read more here.
  67. Simplify your financial life. Article from a financial planning expert here.
  68. Learn to pack light. Who wants to lug a bunch of luggage around on a trip? Here’s an article on using just one carry-on.
  69. Use a minimalist productivity system. The minimal Zen To Done is all you need. Everything else is icing.
  70. Leave space around things in your day. Whether they’re appointments, or things you need to do, don’t stack them back-to-back. Leave a little space between things you need to do, so you will have room for contingencies, and you’ll go through your day much more relaxed.
  71. Live closer to work. This might mean getting a job closer to your home, or moving to a home closer to your work. Either will do much to simplify your life.
  72. Always ask: Will this simplify my life? If the answer is no, reconsider.

Because leaving is the answer to the Lenten riddle

March 15, 2015

This year has been an odd Lenten journey.  With an early Easter and the snowiest winter in Boston history, I know the grey piles of snow will abound on Easter morning when for (I think) the first time in my life, I will not be attending an Easter service.  I’m not sure if I’ll return to the church (that being said, I know I will go with a few people on specific occasions) as a member.  A few reasons, if only to clear my own mind:

  • You asked for membership dues. No, I am not kidding.  I pledged.  My pledge is my offering to the church for the operating budged.  The membership dues should be a fixed line item on the budget.  I understand the need for campaign funds, grant challenge funds; I gave to those as well.
  • I need ritual. Yes, this is a “free” church tradition but free-church does not mean the absence of ritual.  The extended dance version of the passing of the peace is not the only ritual.  Our liturgies are full of rituals.
  • Ok, look, I get gender inclusive language is a thing in the church right now. But like changing the national anthem, the changing of the words of The Lord’s Prayer ranks among one of the “traditions” that will make me scream internally or on social media.  Maybe I just have an advanced degree in feminist thought, but as a lesbian, I am not oppressed by the prayer.  Just don’t ask my Greek professor to relate my translation (it was pretty funny).  There is something sacred and holy about saying the words that your great-great-great grandparents said in worship.
  • I watched you embrace people into your church: you know, the young, married couples with/without kids, the couples, those under 30. I understand that churches (in general) see these as “growth” opportunities.  But I am still me:  I’m not sorry I come without a child, some days I wish I had a partner.
  • Every year, I checked the boxes saying where I was interested in serving in the church. Every year, I’d read about the nominating committee having a hard time finding people to fill positions (often ones I’d learn at the annual meeting, I’d expressed an interest in).  I was never asked to participate.  The one time I did participate, I was not re-appointed.  No reason given.  No feedback.
  • The extended dance version passing of the peace is the singular most hellacious experience I forced myself to endure for over 150 weeks. It is not introvert friendly.  It is not visitor friendly.
  • I have been to church twice maybe in the past six months. The minister called, we set up a time to talk.  The minister cancelled.  We rescheduled.  This went on for a few times.  I gave up: none of the reasons for cancellation were for pastoral or personal emergency.  It might be unfair on my part, but I felt like I was not valued.

I still think you are nice people.  I also think you are a clique.  It is sad.  I had hopes for you.  But as an introvert, you’ve left me with a few scars.  I use a lot of energy to attend church (probably due to number 6 above) and what I’ve found in this year’s Lenten journey is that my faith was not nurtured by your organization.

If you see something, say something: just few random thoughts on Robin Willams

August 12, 2014

At the cube farm today a few people passed judgement on Robin Williams and suicide. For various reasons (ok, mostly one), I didn’t bother to speak up about the lack of maturity. I chewed on my lip and thought how lucky they were.

Yeah, you read that right. Lucky.

Only somebody who has never watched another struggle with major depression would say something that stupid.
Only somebody who has not felt the smothering lack of energy where even brushing teeth seems like a monumental task would say something like that.
Only somebody who has not curled up looking for a sliver or a moonbeam to cling to would say something like that.

The absolute tragedy, is, of course, that yesterday thousands of people yesterday killed themselves. One person’s death filled social media spaces. We do a lousy job about talking about mental health. We talk about it after a tragedy for a few weeks and clamor for more funding and less stigmatization. Nothing happens.

Probably because we don’t want to admit it’s us.

We don’t want to admit we are the ones who have fought demons with the help of medication and professionals.
We don’t want to admit that there are times (still) when the mountain seems to be without a trail.
We don’t want to admit how hard the battle was because there is still shame in the battle.
We don’t want to admit that we know it could have been us.

I don’t know what drove Robin Williams to suicide. I know what its like to sit in that darkness and not feel. I only hope he has found his peace.

244 Days to go: the Road to Paris

August 10, 2014

I don’t think.  I mean I REALLY don’t think at times.  Win a bib, enter a marathon, plan the trip around Europe AFTER the marathon.  I forgot something in all this.  As in oh, damn.  I have to TRAIN for said marathon.  It will be an adventure.

Right now? Uh.  Turns out a screwed up my back during the Hyannis Half in February: I’m just now recovered to  the point where I can’t cause any further damage (comforting words).  My shoulder is stuck with the reality of the cortisone shot not working, the damage of arthritis means I can kick, swim breast stroke or walk.  I’m at the point of being frustrated with life time of orthopedic issues (as in SERIOUSLY OVER IT) combined with normal sprained ankles.

I told somebody a few weeks ago: I am going to Paris.  I may not walk the marathon.  But this is about me being selfish and setting a goal.  I have the Columbus, Philadelphia and (get this) Surf City half marathons on the calendar.  I am going to work on being ready.  I’m just at the point for the first time that I’m not sure if my body has enough duct tape, bolts, pins, wires and artificial parts to hold myself together.

Yes, I know this is a first world problem.  Yes, I know people who are facing far more daunting issues than joints that like to destroy themselves.  I know that I’ve lived with this far, far longer than I’ve not lived with it.  Here is the deal: it doesn’t get easier.  I just get less frustrated.  Except for today.

Today was a day of frustration.  I tried to do some yoga to stretch out my lousy hip flexors.  Sort of worked (disclaimer: cats and yoga).  Spent 45 minutes on specific shoulder exercises.  Grateful for ice.

I know that marathons are mind games.  I know that I can rise to the challenge.  Right now, I’m frustrated.  Tomorrow, I’ll re-lace my shoes and go for a few mile walk.  I’ll remind myself that the human body is an amazing creation: and that duct tape works well.  And I’ll try to remember what my niece told me after I had to bail on a 5K in July: at least you tried. 

At least I survived the eating of kale.

Happy #FathersDay to my favorite feminist

June 15, 2014

I was raised by a feminist: but not the one you think. Truth be told, my dad was probably a better 70’s era feminist that my mother (and she was a feminist). My parents raised three children in the chaos that was the era of bad car seats, no helmets and toys with lead. Amazingly, we all survived (although sometimes my sister and I wonder if feeding my brother lead based paint because we were told kids liked the taste explains some of him).
My dad has never found it necessary to use a monosyllabic word when an uncommon polysyllabic word sufficed. More importantly, after stating whatever SAT worthy sentence he was discussing, he’d then explain the statement in normal human language (it’s because xxx). He never spoke to us as children: he translated adult into kid. One of his favorite stories is about a toy I had as a toddler: it had various shapes (circle, rectangle). My father taught me alternate words: rhombus, parallelogram, trapezoid. My grandmother played it with me once asking me the shape and instead answering rectangle, I provided ‘parallelogram’ as the answer. My mother said it was the last time my grandmother played the name the shape game with her daughter’s children.

Having daughters in the early days of Title IX meant that we could participate in the various sports leagues. Let me be clear: participation was playing the minimum, as catcher in T-ball because we had a tendency to pick flowers in the outfield or otherwise be disinterested. And we were bad: really bad. Our team didn’t lose – but that was not due to the contributions of my family. My dad would spend parts of each weekend playing 2-1 basketball games. Dad is 6 5. We were under 5 feet. He blocked our shots: he didn’t let us ‘win’ per se: if we scored before time was up we ‘won’. He also shot sky hooks (seriously). Barbie dolls, baseball bats, books: all were fair game. He taught me how to keeps score at a baseball game, he let my sister have peanuts and whatever else she ate. He didn’t view one over the other: he nurtured our interests and spent time with us.

Once, somebody made the comment to my father about how my dad had to ‘babysit’ the three of us: my dad said, you don’t babysit your own children: unheard of 30 years ago. He gave quirky advice as we headed to college “don’t ever call home after a night of drinking”. We would call my mom for the idealism: we would call my dad for the pragmatism. But the pragmatism wasn’t gender based: it was reality based. Take an economics class, take statistics. He raised two daughters and a son who work STEM based careers before it was trendy (and the one with a history degree finally figured out math).

I’ve always thought fathers receive the short end of the parenting stick. My dad cooked, did some of the housekeeping, gardening, helped with the canning. He avoided the laundry (budgetary reasons) and wisely stepped away from the decorating the house for Christmas. I’ve been told ‘most’ men don’t do this. The feminist ones do: and they are responsible for many of the cracks in the glass ceiling.

Love you Dad.

Why #cancersucks, the #TracyMafia rocks and the past month (or so).

April 17, 2014

In the most obvious statement, cancer sucks. I hate it. Aside from the most isolated research biochemist who has the social skills of a dead tree on the planet, who is going to run around saying yeah cancer! (The idea of doing that reminds me of a professor at Hollins who mocked Nancy Regan and her “Just say No!” Campaign because where we really going to tell our kids to go get high? He then paused and said that might not be a bad f’ing idea). I digress.

Tax day was the anniversary of The Marathon Bombings. Like many who live in and around Boston, I’ve begun to grasp what New Yorkers went through on September 11, 2001. The interwebs crawled with the more than normal narcissism of Bostonites and how other towns did things one way versus another. Whatever. Even growing up in the Chicago ‘burbs, the Boston Marathon has its aura. I mean, we run 26.2 miles to celebrate starting a country. We are slightly crazy. We don’t go through Lexington and Concord. Nope we wind through a few towns and turn left on Boylston to finish mid-block on the third Monday in April because you know, that makes sense. Oh, and you have to qualify by running an aged based time and even then you have to win the lottery. Uh, yeah ok, like I said it was the more than normal narcissism of Bostonites. Basically, we want to have a 26.2 mile drinking party and created an event that involves a baseball game getting out as the “commoners” are making that turn. That, my un-Boston friends, is the Marathon. And last year, 2 jackasses killed 4, injured hundreds and basically made this town turn into a giant how can I help on twitter feed. And ok, we’ll stay inside when you want to find the terrorists. (Seriously, it was strange, but live through a New England winter, it was a Nor’easter minus the snow complete with whackadoodle TV coverage). So yesterday when everybody started to descend on the city, I found myself in tears a few times.

I realized later that night: April 15, 2013 was the last time my mom was my MOM in that nothing can fix this but I need my mom sort of way. I was a few days out of a major shoulder surgery, in a bit of a narcotic haze and then they blew up our block party. And I freaked and started doing a lesson learned of 9/11 in texting, tweeting, facebooking: Mom and I are safe, didn’t go to the Marathon today. I played a twitter find shelter give directions with a California friend, called my sister to tell her to TELL the medium sized girls before turning on the car. And I cried, I was angry, I was scared. And I spoke in the strange half sentences like “Omg that is right by the place where, I don’t get it, I mean, it’s the Marathon” and my mom just watched the news and said they’d catch who did it. She could not say much to console me; she didn’t even try and for one of the rare times in my life, I was glad my mom was here because my mom told me they’d get the bad guys so everything would be ok (I’m going with the theory that the Percocet haze helped this work because the idea that I fell for it is lunacy!).

Somewhere along the line late last summer, I knew my mom’s cancer was back. I cannot pinpoint it, she said her reports were good but I did not like the way she looked. Or coughed. There was something off. And because I’m insane I saw a friend posting on FB about running his first marathon …. After picking up running as a lifestyle change after his second surgery for cancer and did anybody want to run the Philly marathon with him. Not for a cause but just to train and run. I laughed a bit as Tracy was pleading in his Tracy way and I finally said, hey I just registered for the half to walk it. The response from just about everybody: you’re NUTS. (Ha! I said nuts!).

You have to understand Tracy: he married a college classmate of mine. He then voluntarily attends class reunions. Of hundreds of screaming women who drink too much wine and act like idiots. I don’t think he’s missed one: our college doesn’t have a mascot. But our class has Tracy. We get our hair and fashion tips from him (and so do lots of other people). And bacon reviews. And there is something about not liking pie. As in the dessert but Whopie Pies are trick pies because they have frosting. Basically, he is the younger brother/older brother/best friend/half of the most positive couple you’ve ever met type of person. We chatted in Philly about his cancer, my mom’s cancer and how much cancer sucks.

And then my mom died. Who starts to reach out? While quietly finding out his own news? T and his wife. People who’ve walked in the shoes I stood in who had EVERY reason to make a quick hang in there, I’m here for you post and allow what they knew would come out to stand as the reason because we’ve known each other that long. But they didn’t. That’s why cancer sucks. Cancer doesn’t go out and use natural selection. Cancer can be so random, so unfair.

I think we both did a half marathon (I use the word ‘both’ so liberally) the weekend he let people know of the cancer returning. I was sick, I was pissed and the smart person wouldn’t have been at Hyannis. I do not know how he was feeling but there was a lamentation on not being under 2:00 in Rhode Island that same weekend. I will lay money there have been tears and anger and all of that: but the quintessential New England response was FU cancer. I have my family, friends and my very own mafia. I have to travel. I have to run half marathons (while trying to con my wife into one on FB) and I really want to run NYC (and probably secretly qualify for Boston because you know, I’m a Sox Fan).

I remembered Steven Colbert’s opening remarks on 4/16/2013: after running a marathon they went to give blood. That’s the type of person Tracy is. That’s the type of person his wife is. That’s how my mom was. There are people like me who float around in corporate America and then there are people out there advocating against the injustices that we layer or are layered upon us by genetics or circumstance. And when a person who works for the greater good is dealt such a blow, you want David Ortiz to say and FU for them. Because it hurts. It hurts where you don’t know it can hurt just when you thought you were done with the hurting.

Then you look back at the reaction to the news: Ok, I’ll deal with it. I’ll have surgery and in-between finding out and surgery, “squeeze” in 4 half marathon’s (including under the 2:00 barrier!) and a few 5K’s. And the other way: curl up at 3 am wondering if there is sleep, wander through a half marathon in a time that a snail would be embarrassed by and say it sucks as a mantra.

Today is not going to suck. Today the mafia don kicks cancers ass. Tomorrow, he starts training for Richmond (where we know he’s secretly going for a Boston qualifying time, a Ranger’s Stanley Cup and some free hair conditioner). And I’m wearing a blue shirt with tan pants. I will think about all of my friends whose shoes I’m standing next to in fighting the fight. I love you all very much.

When Extreme Liberalism Finds the Touching Point of Extreme Conservatism in a Church Function

March 31, 2014

Hopping mad. Like the Easter Bunny had nothing on me. That was how I drove home last night in the pouring rain. I attended a book group meeting. I had not been for the past few months (for obvious reasons). We are reading Saving Jesus from the Church which I happen to like. Like as in I haven’t stopped reading it out of boredom or over reliance on dead German theologians. I left about ready to punch a wall. Preferably brick. Preferably hard.

Why? I was lectured on “white privilege” by a white, heterosexual male who is working on his PhD at a university that starts with H and has a yard you (can’t really) park your car in. Excuse me? If anything defines white privilege MORE than an Ivy (or Chicago or Stanford) degree, I’m a bit surprised. Somehow we wound up on the topic which basically brushed up against a personal example of shibboleth. And that is where the extreme left met the extreme right in the Christian realm. I mostly kept quiet: I’m in that state of having beliefs challenged and rethought. I’ve always questioned the dichotomy of heaven and hell and the idea of forgiveness then mix in my mom dying? I was pressed a bit. I said, I’m not out to question anybody’s religion. I’m Christian because I was born to Christians, raised in a fairly liberal church but if I was Jordanian, I’d probably be Muslim. Shrug.

It doesn’t bother me. I lost track of the conversation as it was veering to the point that my lack of interest became apparent to the host. It isn’t fair when the host is a law professor. She asked me what I was thinking. I said the words that REALLY aren’t welcome in a lot of gatherings. I’m not sure it really matters to me if Jesus was a real person or merely an archetype or a narrative of a movement. Silence. What? One person said but the gospels were only written something like thirty years after Jesus died. (Never mind life span, the fact they contradict each other and John I swear was written after drinking some wine). I said it didn’t bother me if Jesus was real: it’s the message. I don’t know about works versus deeds. Or predestination. Or the bazillion interpretations we have all seem to come up with when reading one part of a correspondence and how the structure of the church doesn’t have the entire sacred text read in a 3 year cycle. It doesn’t matter to me. I can very easily profess my faith without having to know that.

You would have thought I had traded David Ortiz.

The PhD in ethics want to be said something like “how can you not feel called to seek justice” (uh, I didn’t say I didn’t) and how can I be ok with not being bothered by religions that are not tolerant to women or LGBTQI people? I said, well, if that bothered me I couldn’t be a Christian.

You really would have thought I had traded David Ortiz to the Yankees.

I pointed out he was ordained Southern Baptist and they don’t allow the ordination of women, let alone non-heterosexual individuals. How could he stay in the church (apparently he’s working for change which since he works for on UCC church and attends the same UCC church I do, I’m NOT really sure how he’s going to change the SBC)? I said it wasn’t my place to call somebody out for being a member of a tradition I disagreed with: maybe that is my deep belief in The Constitution. I don’t care if somebody holds different beliefs than I do: I do care if they seek to harm another. But I’m not going to go up to an Amish person and criticize their beliefs as much as I’m not going to say to a Catholic friend how I don’t see how she can stay with her church to a Muslim friend, you know, your sister shouldn’t have to wear a head scarf. The wide swath of the middle of really almost any faith tradition is fine with me. Fringes cause the problems.
I know I’m cranky. But I don’t need a guy telling me I need to be offended because something oppresses women: I think I can navigate that one on my own. I don’t need to be told I should work for the tolerance of LGBTQI individuals (no, really, I LIKE being a second class citizen with the perks and all).

Madder than a rabid Easter Bunny? Yeah, that is where I was when I left. And I am still irked today: we don’t get anywhere by telling people WHAT to believe. We only get there when we work to removing barriers. And I don’t know of a tradition that call for oppression of people. But then again, I won’t have a degree from that side of the river.

Peanut butter sandwiches and other strange things I’ve heard

March 23, 2014

I sat at my desk and tried to book a flight to Knoxville around two storms that were about to converge on the greater Boston area. A few co-workers were checking various options when it became apparent to everybody something horrifically had gone wrong. As tears streamed down my face, a friend said her mom died and we are trying to figure out the best way to avoid flight delays. One of the guys I work with looked at me, he’s about 24, and said I don’t know what to say. But I can make you a peanut butter sandwich because you might get hungry and not want to talk to anybody at the airport or something. I think I shook my head. I know I didn’t leave with a peanut butter sandwich.

I wish more people offer peanut butter sandwiches. Like anybody who has had a loss that isn’t quantifiable, dumb comments abound. I wish I could say “oh, they’ve never experienced the loss of a parent, spouse or somebody intrinsic to their life, they don’t understand the numbing feeling that fluctuates from time to time.” But when a 24 year old knew that he didn’t know what to say? I’m short on giving people a pass. Especially those who I know have had such a loss.
Most of these were met with blank looks or uh-huh comments. But if somebody reads this out in web-world, just think before you offer advice:

1) I said I was going to my parent’s the first part of next month. A co-worker corrected me. “You mean your Dad’s since your Mom is no longer with us.” (Ok, note, my mother NEVER MET THIS PERSON so she was never with ‘us’) Give me a break. My parents were a couple for over 50 years. This one is going to take a while. Sometimes, I can catch myself and say dad where I’d normally say parents. It’s hard: and it is like turning a screwdriver in my gut. If I’m low on energy, I let whatever form of nouns fly.

2) “Wow. Your mom’s death doesn’t seem to bother you that much. I’d be devastated.” COME AGAIN? Let me describe my time since I came back to Boston. Go to work. Go home. Sleep for a few hours. That’s it. I made it to church once. I did a half marathon once. This is the first weekend I’ve even attempted to make my place not look like an episode of hoarders. I’ve been known to cry my entire commute. But when I’m at work, I try get myself into auto-pilot. Why? It’s easier. I’m devastated. I went to text my mom about Dayton upsetting OSU on Friday and caught myself.

3) “Your mother wouldn’t want you to be/to do x.” Ok. Probably. My mother didn’t do mourning much. But she also understood that people are different. My mother would understand that I would understand that things upcoming on my calendar would cause trepidation. The Final Four in Nashville, my nephew’s high school graduation, going to New Orleans. Places and events that she should have been present (or would have had a few texts about) but won’t be. It will be hard.

4) “Rely on God and His Plan”. Ok, that just stands on its own: my mother and I had the same views on “God’s Plan”.

5) “It could be worse.” Your right. I could have lost a child. (Ok, I don’t have one). I could have caused the death of a child. Wait. Fuck that idea. Just take that statement and shove it. Or if your are going to be so damn moronic as to say it IN my presence, you had better not BITCH about one DAMN thing for a year.

I know people don’t know what to say at times: I’ve seen the panicked look on faces when I say the word “Mom”. I remember probably looking the same way at times. The entire process is hard: life moves on; the good, the bad and the ugly. The healing comes in phases. And it is revisited from time to time: that is the nature of the beast. It’s just the re-visiting is less painful (or so I’ve been told). I know I’m less numb. I can’t decide if that is “better” (I know in the long run it is – I also know that being less numb is also making me less tolerant of stupidity). I know I can hold conversations with my siblings and my dad without dissolving into tears which was not possible for the past few weeks.

Luckily, most of my friends have offered various forms of peanut butter sandwiches. I try to remember that when the advice columns start.