Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Age is Just a Number

I think this video is pretty spectacular:

It's a reminder that age is just a number and not a definition of the person within. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Where's my International Coffee Moment?

When I was an impressionable teenager there were these commercials for General Foods International Coffee. Don't tell me you don't remember this:

They had names like Cafe Vienna, Hazelnut Belgian Cafe and Suisse Mocha conveying European sophistication (remember to keep the pinky raised as you sip). Although, I'm not exactly certain these cosmopolitan Europeans were downing such crass ingredients as: sugar, nondairy creamer, sodium caseinate, dipotassium phosphate, mono-and diglycerdides, instant coffee, and less than 2% of natural artificial flavors but who cared what the label read; it's the image that sells.

The coffee was of little interest to me. I was sold on the commercials. There was always a woman, in her thirties, gazing at the horizon as she peacefully greeted the new day sipping on her International Coffee French Vanilla Hazelnut Mocha Cafe concoction. The views often changed- the beach, the lake, the mountains but the same mood of peace and calm prevailed. Somewhere in my teenage-addled brain I envisioned this as the essence of adultness. Someday, I too, would greet the day, brow as smooth as a baby's bottom, no cares in the world, while I sipped my coffee and gazed at my amazing view, thankful to be alive.

Cut to Reality.

My mornings are spent cajoling and badgering. "Please get up", "Get up now!", "What are you doing? The bus is two houses away, you don't have time to change your jeans!" I'm making breakfast, packing lunches, dealing with the last minute permission slips, money for some fundraiser, and logistical details. No matter how organized I am we still end up in this frenzy of morning activity.

I try waking up before the kids for my international coffee moment but my daughter is up at 6am. This means that any meaningful bliss time has to happen sometime between 4:45am-5:55am. Did I mention we have a toddler who sleeps with us? And a dog? The toddler kicks and the dog scratches. When I do manage to get up somewhere around 5:30, my body is still in denial (It's still dark. It's night. I'm going back to sleep.)

So I've decided to throw away my long-held image of the "perfect" morning and embrace my chaos and absurdity where children fall back to sleep after you shake them, force them into a seated position and shine bright lights into their faces (hey, I wonder if I'm breaking any international human rights laws here?), only to stare at you with innocent bemusement as they say "I didn't know you wanted me to get up now."

I love that moment when they're whisked off to school and the house quiets down (even my toddler heaves a sigh of relief). I grab my lukewarm tea and some left-over bread crust, he grabs his sippy cup and we gaze at the scattered breakfast dishes, spilled miilk, and discarded and I toast the gift of a new day.

So what are morning like in your house?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Have My Room!!

What started as a plea for sanity has been transformed into reality. I am writing this entry from my new office.

Back when I made my announcement, it seemed like something I'd have someday in the far distant future. There was so much moving around to do and reconfiguring of "stuff" (sorry, there's just no better word for it) that I couldn't imagine this happening any time soon. Plus the perfectionist in me wanted to make it my perfect oasis which would require new flooring, paint, shelves, and a new sophisticated closet organizer with a place for my yarn, fabrics, sewing supplies, and stationery. Maybe I'd even make a brand new rug for the room. This would mean creating a design and purchasing the material but then I'd have to rethink the paint colors. And while I was at it, I'd need to paint my imposing office armoire to make it fit in with the decor. Following this line of thinking, I wouldn't have an office until my toddler was heading off to college.

It was my husband who pushed me forward saying, "Let's do it!" I had to let go of my fantasy and accept the reality. We started the slow progress of moving things out of the room this past weekend to the grumbling of the girls who didn't like the idea of moving the television and computer to the living room. This also required taking all of our books from the bookcases in the hallway and moving the book cases out of the way (let's just say, it's a heck of lot of books). We'll call this process Phase I. Phase II would have to happen this coming weekend.

But ho! The universe bestowed upon me a beautiful gift in the form of snow, freezing rain and dangerous ice accumulation. And as an additional bonus, the power went out. The kids were home from school, the driveway was an icy nightmare, my husband couldn't get to work, what ever were we to do? Hey let's move me into my office!

So we did.

I have this massive office armoire. It's large and imposing. On some days I love it, on other's I'd like to turn it into firewood. This behemoth had to be moved. My dream of a room of my own rested on this one question "Would it fit in the back of the house?"

I know the suspense is killing you and..... and.... yes, ladies and gentlemen, it just did fit (Although part of me was thinking we could sure use that firewood since the power was off).

I write this while sitting on my couch. My door is open and my little guy is fast asleep on me but I'm in my office. I'll get around to all those decorative improvements eventually. Right now my office is very much like me, a work in progress.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Serendipity at Work

Lately, I've taken to escaping the house on Saturday's alone- by myself, no one tagging along asking where we're going or when we're going to eat. This Saturday past, I decided to be practical. I needed to go to the library and do a little research on being a real estate agent (no I haven't given up on writing). My main character is a newbie real estate salesperson and I'm barely literate in the world of real estate. I also decided to take a bag full of books to the used bookstore attached to the library.

I adore this little book shop which is crammed from floor to ceiling with books and old records. Hardcover books are $1 and paperbacks are $.50 with all the proceeds going to the library. Now for those of you who don't know me, I'm a book-a-holic. There are books in every room of my house. I feel physically uncomfortable without books. So this book shop allows me to cart off a pretty good haul without putting a dent in my wallet and to feel good about my purchase- a win-win situation all around.

I had a sober conversation with myself in the car on the way to the shop. I would donate the books in my bag and I would only buy a couple of paperbacks by P.D. James and Ngaio Marsh and then I would leave. I forbid myself, upon pain of foregoing a trip to Borders for a Caramel Latte (I swear there's some kind of addictive chemical in these things), to not fill up the empty bag with new books.

I handed over my books, walked purposefully to the mystery section found a couple of James and Marsh books and was ready to leave but then I couldn't help but stop at the massive bookcase of "New Arrivals" and this wonderful book found me.

And it really did find me. It was right behind the head of the little girl who was jumping up and down screaming to her mother that they had to leave the store and get to the library before it closed. She bobbed right just as I moved to avoid the tantrum that was ready to explode and there it was sticking out just a little bit more than its neighbors. I picked the book up and I smiled. It was one of those moments of pure serendipity.

I've been walking around my house for years feeling that something wasn't right but unable to do more than just grimace. I'd started borrowing books on decorating from the library and scanning decorating websites with this vague notion that something needed to be done but nothing made sense. But then I read,
"It's simply not enough to think of our domestic spaces as design statements or as dumping grounds for our stuff. We need to approach our homes in a new way: as environments that actively affect us and our quality of life. Stressing the home's substance over style, House Thinking is a surprising look at how we live-and how we could,"
and I knew I'd found the explanation for which I'd been searching.

I love these moments. I love when you find yourself in the right place at the right time. So far my $1 purchase has given me more insight into what I've been floundering to articulate since we moved into this house. I'll have to offer a full review once I've read the entire book. Of course, I had to go to celebrate my find with a couple of Caramel Lattes.

Take a moment a share a moment of serendipity that happened to you.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Running on Air

I had a perfect run today. I was fast. I ran without effort. I was one with the air. I had an outer-body experience watching myself and feeling nothing but awe at the the wonders of my human body. Crowds were cheering somewhere in the distance or maybe it was just the sound made when I broke my own speed barrier. It's not always like this.

Often, I've felt I was simply shuffling along forcing myself outside because I should. The stresses of life crowd my thoughts and I lose touch with the marvelous world around me. Instead of experiencing the joy of the landscape and wildlife, I'm worrying about time, the day ahead, and wrangling kids. When it's a particularly terrible run people die. I've had runs where the body-count was up in the double digits. I'm running and killing off characters left and right, even the good ones. But today there were no deaths. There was no stress. It was just me and the rhythmic sound of my breathing and the crunch of my sneakers on the road. This was my moment of Zen.

On my way back home I thought about the days when I decided to take up running. I'd been going to an all-women's gym near Grand Central Station. I worked out on the stair master, the bike, the treadmill, lifted weights and took step classes. I'd race to the gym from work desperately trying to get there before it got crowded and you had to wait on the dreaded lines while the sound system pumped out its generic club music which had been focus-group tested to keep the mood light and the bodies moving. I tolerated the crowds, the lousy music and the constant smell of intensified ladies' sweat; after all I was doing the right thing for my body.

What I couldn't tolerate was the abuse my fellow women heaped on themselves. They would pick apart their bodies in front of everyone-

"Isn't this disgusting, have you ever seen anything like this?"

"I'm a pig, a pathetic pig. Do you know I ate an ice cream cone this weekend?"

"If I don't lose ten pounds by the end of this week, I'm scheduling the surgery."

This kind of talk was too much for me. I hated the way women would stare at each others bodies with this intense jealousy which would be manufactured into self-loathing. It was corrosive and when my contract was up, I was out of there. I went to the bookstore searching for something and found running.

I wish I could say my first steps were without ease. Hey, I was the kid who ran everywhere. I was like Laura on Little House on the Prairie. I was actually afraid that this whole running-thing wouldn't be challenging enough. I woke up early for my first run. I'd start out with an easy ten minute jog and then push into a harder workout. I could do this; I'd taken Advanced Step Classes. I'll spare you the gory details but I was horrified in the aftermath to discover I could barely manage two minutes. How did this happen? Something happened to me as I headed home out of breath and sore, I refused to accept these two minutes, I pledged to work my way up to running 20 minutes straight and a runner was born.

It wasn't always easy or fun but I did it. I reached 2o minutes and aimed for 30. Each time I pushed myself a little more. Soon the homeless guys in the East River Park were waving and calling me "Flo-Jo" as I whizzed by. I started running races in Central Park. I even completed the marathon in 1997. I ran through pregnancies and through a divorce. No matter what chaos swirled around me I could always lace up my running shoes and go.

I don't compete anymore. I haven't run a marathon since and sometimes I'll let life intrude and go days, even weeks without running. Then I come back to it and have a run like today and I am filled with this one pure certainty- I am a runner.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Paper or Plastic?

I'm trying to stop using these because of their effect on the environment and because they take a hell of a lot of energy to create. Once confronted with the evidence of the blight created by the lowly plastic bag, I can't justify accepting them anymore.

Like most Americans, I want to be environmentally conscious. I want to try and do my part but often that wanting lingers in a state of perpetual inertia. I want to do something but I don't want to inconvenience myself too much; then our local A&P made it easy for me. For just $.99 I could purchase these 100% recycled pretty cool bags

Plus every time I use one of my nifty new bags two cents per bag is taken off the register. How cool is that?

I'm doing my part for the earth, end of story right? Nope, I feel like I'm chipping away at the Great Wall of China every time I shop. I just can't seem to get the cashiers to understand that I don't want their plastic bags anymore. I don't want to place my meats in plastic bags before I put them into my re-usable bags. No, I don't want to just put the eggs in the plastic bags. Is there some scientific evidence proving that eggs will not break if placed into flimsy plastic bags? Do cashiers get paid based on the number of plastic bags they manage to use?

When I've had someone help me bagging the groceries they only want to place three items into my bags, fearing that these re-usable bags will disintegrate. Then they whip out the plastic. I beg them to please load up the bags pulling at the straps to illustrate how sturdily constructed they are only to be greeted with skepticism. I'm beginning to feel like Galileo telling the church that sun does not revolve around the earth.

During the holidays, I took my trusty bags to the mall. Why come home loaded with evil plastic? Granted, people wouldn't be able to see a visual display of my shopping itinerary but they would get to see a wonderful photo of an Amazon tree frog. I felt good about my decision until I reached the check-out at Old Navy and announced proudly that I didn't need a bag. The cashier began putting the clothes into a plastic bag, like a robot, asking me if I'd like to receive a 10% discount by applying for an Old Navy credit card. I said no and repeated that I wouldn't be needing a bag. He smiled at me and handed me a receipt and the plastic bag and wished me a Happy Holiday.

Each store seemed shocked by my request to hold on to their bags. One woman at Zumiez, actually got a bit defensive, telling me that mall security would have the right to stop me if I didn't have a bag. I guess I was supposed to quake at this. I smiled and told her that was fine and I still wouldn't need a bag. She hesitated before handing me my purchase. I assured her that other stores did allow me to use my own bags but she seemed full of doubt and mumbled something uncomplimentary. Whatever happened to days of "the customer is always right"?

It's scary when the rest of the world (even China) is cutting down drastically on plastic bag consumption while we American's are proudly walking around with one pack of batteries and a Snickers bar in a plastic bag as we leave the store clueless to the cost of that bag. Sometimes I feel the rest of the world is passing us by. I'm waiting to see which presidential candidate sports their own re-usable shopping bags. I think they might just get my vote.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Multi-tasking Blues

I sat down this morning at my desk. It was early and everyone else was still asleep. This was the perfect moment to enjoy some quality uninterrupted time. I decided to write in my journal. There I sat with my journal on my lap and my email on the computer screen. I'd write a couple of sentences and then check my email. I was doing it again. I was multi-tasking. I have a problem.

Multi-tasking has become the sub-prime of my life. Just as economists and journalists connected the sub-prime debacle to every conceivable societal ill, I can trace the major problems in my life to multi-tasking. I'm suddenly feeling the desire to stand up in front of a group of people, introduce myself, publicly declare myself a multi-tasker and receive a round of applause and hugs for making this valiant admission.

How did mult-tasking become such and insidious part of my life? I don't recall a light-bulb coming on as I realized I could do several tasks at the same time. And I wish I could blame motherhood but the truth is I've been doing it since I was a young child. I'd play with my toys while watching Sesame Street or the news (yes, you read that correctly, I was a news-hound at an early age). I'd watch television and read a book. In high school, I could work on homework while holding a conversation. Instead of anyone taking me aside to warn me from this habit, I was praised.

In my work-life, I was the go-to-girl. If you needed something done, I'd do it. When I'd start a job the description of responsibilities was pretty cut-and-dry- answer the phones, type letters, and file. By the time I left a position that job description stretched to several pages. I was proud of the fact that often they would need to find two people to do the job I handled on my own. And I didn't stop this once I became a stay-at-home mother. If anything, it escalated. I write in the bathroom while my little guy is in the tub. I stop when the splashing gets dangerously close to my precious lap-top. Is the writing any good? Probably not. How could it be when I'm sitting on a bathroom floor typing away while singing the alphabet song and telling my child not to throw things out of the tub.

I could say I'll stop but that would be ignoring the fact that I'm an addict. I crave this busyness the way an addict craves their next hit. And just like an addict, the behavior is destructive. Scientists have done imaging scans of the brain and discovered that muli-tasking lowers our cognitive ability, it also leads to the increased release of stress hormones, it takes more energy (no wonder I'm always so tired) and it just generally dumbs us down. Armed with these facts, you'd think I'd quit cold turkey but I have a feeling it's not going to be so easy.

I'm imagining a support group for former multi-taskers. We'd be sitting around a circle. Some people would find themselves surreptitiously fingering their cell phones or blackberries, their legs shaking from the effort of controlling the urge to check their messages. Others might consider getting a cup of coffee and wonder whether this would constitute multi-tasking and so they'd stay in their seats gazing longingly at the coffee machine. We'd clap enthusiastically as Yvonne declared that she drove to the supermarket without listening to the radio, talking on her cell phone, eating or putting on her make-up. Of course, I'd be busy writing down some idea I got for a story and wondering what I should make for dinner joining in on the clapping late when I realized that Yvonne had stopped talking.

At least I can proudly admit to only writing this entry despite the fact that my email message is flashing. I'll just have to take it one day at time. Stay-tuned as I become a single-tasker. Hey, there's a great t-shirt here, "Single-Tasker and proud of it!"

Are you a multi-tasker too? Is it sucking the joy out of your life? Come join me as we collectively slay the beast.