Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 39: Awesome Self-Talk

When I received this as a suggestion for an awesome challenge, I was puzzled. Probably because my self-talk tends not to be terribly awesome – at least not in a positive way.

So to face this challenge, I decided to spend a couple of days becoming aware of the type of self-talk that actually goes on in my head. The results unfortunately confirmed what I already know: I am often my harshest critic.

Lose a glove in the dryer? “Idiot!”
Trip over a box in the hallway? “Klutz!”
Forget to make a phone call? “Moron! You are always f***ing up!”

If anyone spoke to the people I love the way I speak to myself, I would have to hire a hit man. Yet I allow myself to continue unabated.


It’s perfectionism, I think. That all-or-nothing attitude that says if I didn’t get it right this time, I will never get it right. It’s either perfect or a piece of crap. Black or white, never a shade of gray.

Once aware of my tendency to castigate myself over even the simplest human foibles, I determined to turn this behavior around … at least for a day. Every time I heard that nasty little bitch in my head (see? Even that’s an insult!) chiding me for some actual or perceived error in judgment, I would replace her with a kinder, gentler version, reminding me that I’m being the best me I can be today. And that is good enough.

I didn’t realize how much work this would be. Or how often I’d have to stop myself from negative self-talk. Pretty much my whole morning routine was spent with the tape playing in the background that said, “Hurry up, you’re gonna be late, you don’t have time to do that, you shouldn’t have knocked the alarm off the second time …” I found myself having to stop, take a deep breath, look at the clock and remind myself that there was plenty of time, the deadlines I was concerned with were more or less self-imposed, and the world would not end if I walked into the room five minutes late.

As I brushed my hair, I heard her again. “Ugh, another bad hair day. It’s flipping OVER instead of UNDER. It did that last night too for the party. It never looks the same as it does at the hairdresser’s. You must be doing something wrong …” Stop! My hair is fine. I am grateful I have so much of it, and I’m pretty sure not one single soul at the party last night went onto Facebook to tell everyone that Joni’s AWFUL hair absolutely ruined the festivities.

When I started my workday, my stomach did a flip. “Oh my God, there’s way too much work here to finish on time!” Never mind that EVERY time I’ve thought that, I’ve somehow managed to complete my assignments promptly. That is still the first thought to pop into my head – “I’m not good enough. I’m a phony. Someone will eventually catch on to me and reveal my total inadequacy.”

By mid-morning, I had already caught myself talking negatively to myself over a dozen times. I felt like the guy with the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other, having a constant tug-of-war over which of them was in charge. Eventually I gave up trying.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ”No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” Yet I give myself permission to do so many times every day. And I wonder if I even have the capability of stopping it.

Who knows? Maybe that nasty little bitch in my head will someday leave and be replaced by that “still, small voice” I’ve heard so much about … the one that loves me unconditionally. Even if I lose a glove, trip over a box or forget to make a phone call.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 38: Awesome Music

I’ve been working through my list of awesome ideas offered by some of my Facebook friends, and just in time for the holidays I see the next topic is “Awesome Music.”

Where do I begin to describe my love/hate relationship with Christmas music?

First let me say that there was always music in my home when I was growing up. My father was a recording engineer with Capitol Records in the Big Band era and beyond, and our house was filled with the sounds of the great singers of the 40s and 50s: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and the like. And just about every one of them recorded one or more Christmas songs that have become American standards.

So when I think of Christmas music, I think of Nat and Frank and Peggy. Not church choirs, not doo-wop, not rap, and certainly not doltish ditties about grandmothers being run down by antlered animals.

It would be way too easy to say that no good Christmas music has been composed since World War II, but that would be a lie. Some of my more recent favorites include “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey, “Another Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg (that one has made me cry every year since it was released in the early 80s), “My Grownup Christmas List” by Kelly Clarkson and “Santa Baby” by the irrepressible Eartha Kitt. (I spent long, tedious, pointless hours making that last one into a ringtone for my iPhone.)

Then there are Christmas songs that should never have been made, such as that travesty by Paul McCartney & Wings, “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time,” the agonizingly grating version of “Silent Night” crooned by barking dogs, and of course the previously referenced “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by those one-hit wonders, Elmo and Patsy Shropshire. (To my dismay, while researching the artists’ names, I discovered that this horrid tune had actually been made into an animated TV special. I can’t make this stuff up.)

Although I do not appreciate hearing piped-in Muzak Christmas songs in the supermarket and the mall in October, and have no desire to listen to 24/7 radio broadcasts of holiday music from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, I do enjoy hearing my old favorites while decorating the house, trimming the tree, baking cookies and opening gifts. But somewhere around 4:00 on Christmas afternoon, enough is enough. I’m holly-jollied out, overdosed on mirth and merry-making, and want nothing more than to hear the usual assortment of forgettable hits on top 40 radio.

So jingle your bells, make your list and check it twice, and be good for goodness sake. And whatever you do, tell Grandma to be careful! It’s a jungle out there! 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 37: Awesome Food

It’s that time of year again! Diets begone! Bring on the holiday celebration, complete with foods we would not dare consider eating during the other 11 months of the year!

Today’s challenge is a relatively easy one – make a list of the awesome holiday foods I want to serve this Christmas. If you have a special favorite, please let me know what it is and include a recipe or a link to one online. The best thing about holiday traditions is adding new ones every year!

Christmas Eve (Seven Fishes):
1. Shrimp Cocktail
2. Stuffed Clams
3. Octopus Salad
4. Oysters on the Half Shell
5. Scalloped Oysters
6. Baked Stuffed Lobster
7. Crabmeat Stuffing (for Lobster)

We are usually so busy eating our seafood dinner on Christmas Eve that we don’t bother eating any side dishes. However, I usually make some rice and salad just to keep things in balance.

For dessert, we eat one of our chocolate-covered apples, which I ordered this past weekend from Sweet Creations in Branford. We also have Godiva and Guylian candies.

Christmas Day:
1. Turducken Roll (stuffed)
2. Pheasant (purchased at the Otis Poultry Farm on our way back from the Berkshires)
3. Creamed Onions
4. Broccoli Casserole
5. Sweet Potato Pie
6. Mashed Potatoes
7. Salad (that we did not eat the night before)

For dessert, I’m putting in a special request for a pistachio cake from Santa Mike.

The day after Christmas, we’ll be traveling to Long Island to visit Joe’s mom. I’m sure plenty of leftovers will come along with us, plus the second of the two chocolate-covered apples.

And on December 27 … I will probably fast. Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 36: Reflect Your Passion

OK, I’ll admit this sounds very New Age-y and has probably elicited more than a few eye rolls. But bear with me a moment. I can explain.

When we first moved to our home 13 years ago this December, I immediately set up my home office in its current location on the second floor. At the time, just having two windows was a vast improvement over the dark basement I’d worked in for the better part of a decade. Over the years in our new home, we repainted, wallpapered, improved, enhanced and tweaked just about every room in the house … except the one where I spend the most time – the office.

So this year when my son asked if there were any projects he could work on to earn some spending money over Thanksgiving break, I quickly suggested revamping the office. I spent a couple of days taking down pictures, clearing off shelves, cleaning out files, removing the items I’d slipped under the glass top of my desk. To my dismay, I discovered a calendar from 1998, a phone and answering machine circa 1987, and photos of my children in preschool (they are now 23 and 20).

Now the job is finished. The walls are painted a peaceful sea green (guaranteed to give me bliss, according to the Feng Shui book I consulted). There are no more slips of paper or old photos under glass. I have a new digital cordless phone that came with a 73-page instruction manual. And I’ve only filled one shelf of the five-shelf unit.

What to do next?

It would be easy to just put everything back. Too easy. And it would be just as easy to keep everything stark. And cavernous. I kinda like the way my voice echoes when I holler at the latest computer malfunction.

But instead I’ve been thinking about how this room should really reflect who I am. Today. Not in 1987. Not in 1998. Not when my kids were in preschool. Who am I today? And therein lies the challenge: to Reflect My Passion.


Last night my hubby brought me a bamboo plant in a silver vase, decorated with ornaments for Christmas. Supposedly, even I can’t kill it. And, according to the little blurb attached to the plant, “Lucky Bamboo … is used to enhance Feng Shui – the flow of ‘Chi’ or positive energy in any environment.” Perfect! This morning I watered it and placed it in the right-hand corner of my desk. Positive energy. That’s something I can get passionate about.

I also ordered a tea-light candle holder with one of my favorite sayings by Gandhi engraved in it: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It, too, is silver, which my Feng Shui source assures me, when combined with white, will generate a calm atmosphere. Calm. Now that’s something I’d like to reflect.

I’m also pretty passionate about the healing power of humor in my life. So, to add a little levity, I returned most of my frog collection to one of the empty bookshelves. I took many of the small plastic, paper and ceramic frogs and arranged them in a fishbowl-like glass container to keep dusting to a minimum.

Tomorrow I’ll be putting up my watercolor of Mt. Chocorua – our favorite mountain to hike in New Hampshire – as well as my autographed poster from Jekyll & Hyde. I am passionate about my memories of the past as well as my plans for the future.

I still have plenty of clutter to clear out of my closet, one more box of stuff to sort through that may or may not find its way back, and a stack of Christmas gifts in a corner that need to be wrapped and put under the tree – but so far I’m pretty happy with my new environment. I finally feel like I’m taking care of myself in the place where I spend the most time … and that’s pretty awesome!

Day 36: Reflect Your Passion

OK, I’ll admit this sounds very New Age-y and has probably elicited more than a few eye rolls. But bear with me a moment. I can explain.

When we first moved to our home 13 years ago this December, I immediately set up my home office in its current location on the second floor. At the time, just having two windows was a vast improvement over the dark basement I’d worked in for the better part of a decade. Over the years in our new home, we repainted, wallpapered, improved, enhanced and tweaked just about every room in the house … except the one where I spend the most time – the office.

So this year when my son asked if there were any projects he could work on to earn some spending money over Thanksgiving break, I quickly suggested revamping the office. I spent a couple of days taking down pictures, clearing off shelves, cleaning out files, removing the items I’d slipped under the glass top of my desk. To my dismay, I discovered a calendar from 1998, a phone and answering machine circa 1987, and photos of my children in preschool (they are now 23 and 20).

Now the job is finished. The walls are painted a peaceful sea green (guaranteed to give me bliss, according to the Feng Shui book I consulted). There are no more slips of paper or old photos under glass. I have a new digital cordless phone that came with a 73-page instruction manual. And I’ve only filled one shelf of the five-shelf unit.

What to do next?

It would be easy to just put everything back. Too easy. And it would be just as easy to keep everything stark. And cavernous. I kinda like the way my voice echoes when I holler at the latest computer malfunction.

But instead I’ve been thinking about how this room should really reflect who I am. Today. Not in 1987. Not in 1998. Not when my kids were in preschool. Who am I today? And therein lies the challenge: to Reflect My Passion.


Last night my hubby brought me a bamboo plant in a silver vase, decorated with ornaments for Christmas. Supposedly, even I can’t kill it. And, according to the little blurb attached to the plant, “Lucky Bamboo … is used to enhance Feng Shui – the flow of ‘Chi’ or positive energy in any environment.” Perfect! This morning I watered it and placed it in the right-hand corner of my desk. Positive energy. That’s something I can get passionate about.

I also ordered a tea-light candle holder with one of my favorite sayings by Gandhi engraved in it: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It, too, is silver, which my Feng Shui source assures me, when combined with white, will generate a calm atmosphere. Calm. Now that’s something I’d like to reflect.

I’m also pretty passionate about the healing power of humor in my life. So, to add a little levity, I returned most of my frog collection to one of the empty bookshelves. I took many of the small plastic, paper and ceramic frogs and arranged them in a fishbowl-like glass container to keep dusting to a minimum.

Tomorrow I’ll be putting up my watercolor of Mt. Chocorua – our favorite mountain to hike in New Hampshire – as well as my autographed poster from Jekyll & Hyde. I am passionate about my memories of the past as well as my plans for the future.

I still have plenty of clutter to clear out of my closet, one more box of stuff to sort through that may or may not find its way back, and a stack of Christmas gifts in a corner that need to be wrapped and put under the tree – but so far I’m pretty happy with my new environment. I finally feel like I’m taking care of myself in the place where I spend the most time … and that’s pretty awesome!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 35: Say Thank You

On Thanksgiving morning, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of words of gratitude for a kindness I never even realized I gave. It was a humbling experience. And it reminded me again of how important our actions can be – especially the ones we don’t think about.

So I decided that in the spirit of Thanksgiving, my awesome challenge would be to write letters of thanks to a couple of people who I never formally thanked … for things they were likely not aware that they did. Or that they never realized had such an impact on my life.

I sent out two letters: one to a friend who guided me through a particularly rough patch in my personal life, and the second to another friend who helped me navigate a rough patch in the life of someone I love.

The response I received from the second letter was one of complete astonishment. Like my experience earlier in the day, my friend had no idea that what she had shared with me had had such a positive effect. I could practically see her smile through her email, and the next morning I was lucky enough to see her in person and got to share a heartfelt hug.

Both instances – my thanking and my being thanked – took only moments, but their impact continued for days. How easy it is to say thank you … and how seldom it is done! We are taught to thank God on Thanksgiving, and that of course is good. But I believe it is just as important to thank the people who reflect God’s love in our lives.

Just because Thanksgiving is over, giving thanks doesn’t have to be. I challenge you to take five minutes. Make a phone call. Send an email. Thank somebody. Someday you may just thank me for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 34: Reach Out and Touch Someone

This challenge is similar to “A Friend in Need” from Day 16, but with so many people hurting this holiday season, when I saw this suggestion from a friend on Facebook, I felt it was appropriate to revisit it. And perhaps that’s what makes it so much more difficult to figure out what is appropriate to do.

From “Stuff-a-Bus” food drives to Small Business Saturday, it seems this week kicked off a flurry of holiday giving opportunities. I always struggle with who to give to, what to give, how to give it. In the end, I usually end up writing a check, buying a turkey, giving a gift card. But it all leaves me feeling inadequate.

One year we tried in vain to “adopt” a family in need. But no one would tell us of any. I understand the pride thing; no one likes to admit they’re hurting. And it’s not like the local newspaper publishes a list of the Bottom 100 Family Incomes in Milford so we can choose a recipient for our generosity. Even when I was a member of a social services group at church, we were hard-pressed to know where to deliver our gift baskets. For all we knew, the person hurting the most could have been sitting in the seat next to us.

And that’s the point. We just don’t know.

So when I’m feeling uncomfortable about selecting “one” recipient or “one” cause to devote all my energy to, chances are it’s because it should be everyone. And the giving itself shouldn’t be limited to a financial or even a food donation.

I recently read a meditation about “spontaneous giving” – that little thrill that we experience when we give a gift without premeditation. It usually doesn’t involve a big check or lots of gift wrap. More often, it means stepping up to the plate when you see a need. Lending a hand – or an ear – when someone needs help. Sometimes all we can give is support, encouragement, a smile, a nod … and sometimes that is enough.

There are so many people hurting this year … I’m sure I won’t have to reach out very far at all. Just farther than myself.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 33: Pamper Yourself

A few years ago, after being beaten over the head with the idea that “you can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself,” I looked into the concept of “extreme self-care.” I think it appealed to me merely because it had the word “extreme” in it. And of course more must be better, right?

In reality, the sad truth was that I always put myself last. Except when I was putting myself first. I was either playing the martyr by not taking care of myself at all, or I was saying “FU!” to the world and focusing only on me.

Over time, I’ve gotten much better at balancing my needs with those of the people around me. Maybe that’s a function of my kids growing up or maybe it’s a function of ME growing up. But whatever the reason, I’ve vastly improved.

So I liked this challenge, and it came on a perfect day since I’d already scheduled a massage for late afternoon.


For anyone who has never had a massage, you are missing a wonderful experience! I am pretty convinced that a lot of the aches and pains we suffer can be alleviated by simply getting a full-body deep-muscle massage once a month. Imagine how many pills we wouldn’t have to take, how many outdoor activities we wouldn’t have to miss, and how many sleepless nights we wouldn’t have if we just gave ourselves this one hour a month!

The first massage I ever had was in response to a literal pain in the ass. I had decided to demonstrate to my then grammar school-aged children how flexible I was despite my “advanced” age of 42 by showing them how I could put my foot behind my head. (Yes, I was sober when I did this.) The result was predictable. After several days of limping and having to lift my leg with my hands in order to get into my car, I decided to visit a massage therapist I knew from the gym.

She worked for a full session on the muscles in my butt, which were knotted and twisted in frightening ways. When she was done, she said I would be sore for a day or two but that the pain should be gone. And indeed, that was the case. I was hooked! (I also swore off placing my limbs in places God never intended them to be.)

Over the years since then, I’ve had a variety of massage therapists, some who worked out of a room in their apartment, others at high-end spas. Because I have a sedentary job, I get a good amount of lower back pain. That is also the spot where my stress tends to settle. For a long time, I’d wait until the pain, that great motivator, got bad enough to call and make a massage appointment. But over the past year, at the suggestion of a friend, I’ve made a commitment to monthly massages. This way, I can be proactive and hopefully shortstop the worst of the pain.

As always, my massage was fabulous and relaxing. Because my massage therapist and I are also friends, we spent most of the session catching up and chatting. Sometimes I choose to be quiet and use the hour for meditation, but today conversation was just what I needed, and I left feeling renewed, energized … and quite satisfyingly pampered.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 32: You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

The gym to which I occasionally drag my reluctant ass declares itself to be a “Judgement Free Zone.” Aside from making me cringe every time I see this slogan misspelled, it also makes me think about how often we make snap judgments in the course of a day. And not just at the gym – where it’s easy to judge exercisers by their age, weight or general appearance. Out in the real world, we continually judge people by how they’re dressed, what they drive, where they live. We judge situations by what we know, what we don’t know and what we think we know. And even though these judgments are wrong about 99% of the time, we continue to base the majority of our actions on what we assume to be reality.

So today’s challenge was to be aware of how often I judge people, places or situations. How often I make assumptions about someone’s insides based on what I see on the outside.


Every day, weather permitting, I take a mid-morning walk. (This allows me to skip the dreaded visit to the aforementioned gym.) Although the route differs somewhat from day to day, there are just so many variations of streets in my neighborhood, so I inevitably end up passing the same homes once or twice a week. As I walked this morning, I recognized a whole lot of judgments that I make based on external environment: I know the people who live in that house with the religious statues – what hypocrites! The occupants of this small cape must have a lot of money to burn because they’re having a built-in pool dug. The woman who stuffed birdfeeders into her planters has got to be pretty eccentric. OMG, look at the mess in that backyard! Maybe I should call A&E and get them on the next episode of “Hoarders”!

Then I started thinking back to the time when I was a little girl. I used to love driving home with my parents after dark because I could look into people’s windows and try to imagine what their lives were like. I guess that was my way of judging back then, although I remember my assumptions were always pleasant ones. The families were never dysfunctional. Dinner was perfect every night. Everyone was always smiling and laughing. There were no fights or tears.

As I continued my walk, I began to think about the secrets each house held. The dreams, the fears, the hopes, the frustrations. All the stuff that makes up life. Maybe the people I thought of as hypocrites were trying to turn their life around with a good dose of spirituality. The ones digging up their yard might have saved up for years and were finally giving their kids the pool of their dreams. Since the birds ate the seeds she planted anyway, the lady who owned the birdfeeder house might as well just welcome and enjoy her feathered friends. And the messy backyard might have gotten that way because the occupants were too burdened by trying to fight their way out of financial or health problems.

Then I passed a large piece of property that was once a farm but has now been marked as the site of a new cemetery. I thought of how short our life’s journey is, and how every human being throughout time has experienced the same dreams, fears, hopes and frustrations as the occupants of those homes – and the occupants of mine. If the emotions are all the same, there’s really no room for judgment. But if I’m going to judge anyway – and let’s face it, it’s hard not to – I might as well assume that we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 31: Forgive Someone

They say that harboring a resentment is like taking poison and hoping someone else dies. You’re the only one you are hurting. In fact, the other guy probably doesn’t even know you are angry with him.

But how do you get rid of a resentment? One way, they say (and who the hell are ‘they’ anyway?), is forgiveness.

When I first pondered this challenge, my initial thought was that I had no one to forgive. I patted myself on the back for a moment, thinking that I was free of resentments. All was right with the universe. I had cleaned up my side of the street and was free to … oh, wait. There’s him. He is complicating my life right now, making the logistics of an already-stressful holiday season even more so. Therefore, he deserves my anger. Doesn’t he?

The acidic taste in my mouth reminded me that I was still ingesting poison. Methinks I have a bit of forgiving to do. But how does one go about the process of forgiving … really forgiving? For that, I went to my therapist, Dr. Google.

From my search, I determined that forgiveness always take five steps. They’re not always the same five steps, but every site I visited listed five. So that must be the magic number!

According to eHow, one should:
1. See the positives.
2. Express yourself.
3. Let them explain.
4. Let your pride go.
5. Understand that everyone makes mistakes.

Yahoo suggested these five steps:
1. Acknowledgement.
2. Be the bigger person.
3. Be patient.
4. Forgive yourself.
5. Set limits.

And finally, laid out these ground rules for forgiveness:
1. Express yourself.
2. Look for the positive.
3. Cultivate empathy.
4. Protect yourself and move on.
5. Get help if you need it.

I saw right away that no one list was going to fit this situation exactly. eHow wanted me to actually dialogue with the person, which in this case was not only inadvisable but pointless. Yahoo’s step 4 suggested that I needed to forgive myself; however, I hadn’t actually done or said anything requiring that. Yet. And seemed to imply that the situation was dire enough to require both protection and professional help, which it does not. So I created an amalgamated list, which went something like this:

1. See the positives: We were going to all be together for Thanksgiving for the first time in years.
2. Cultivate empathy: The person in question is old, crotchety and selfish but in the past has been supportive and caring in his own way. I can understand the limitations he has and try to be more willing to accommodate them.
3. Be the bigger person: The steps we need to take are inconvenient and more than a little annoying, but we are able to do them in the name of being together, and that is more important.
4. Set limits: We’ll make concessions this time, but not every time.

And then I added a fifth step, one that was not on any of the websites I visited, but one that I’ve heard works wonders:

5. Pray for the person you’re angry with. Not that he changes or sees the light or admits that you are right and he is wrong. But that he has happiness, abundance and love. And after all, isn’t that what the holidays should be all about?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 30: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Fear is a funny thing. We can deny we have it, disguise it as other things (like anger and pride), and claim to be courageous despite the gnawing in our stomachs, but the bottom line is that we’re all afraid of something. Usually lots of things.

However, on this particular morning, I couldn’t think of anything that I was specifically afraid of. So, as usual, I threw it out to the universe. And – also as usual – my Higher Power, who has an incredibly twisted sense of humor, smacked me right upside my head with situation that never fails to evoke raw fear in my gut: a technology issue.

Let me start by saying that I am a writer, editor and proofreader by trade. My undergraduate degree is in Communications with a minor in Psychology. Nowhere in my educational or professional history is there even a hint of any knowledge of computer science. None. Zip. Nada. And yet many consider me to be “computer literate.” This is akin to claiming to be fluent in Italian because you can make spaghetti sauce.

Over the years since I started freelancing, evolving technology has changed the delivery method – though not the nuts and bolts – of my job from fax and FedEx to attachments and zip files. Thanks to lots of expertise and encouragement from my husband (who DOES have a degree in computer science), I have been able to keep up with the changing demands of the high-tech environment. But there are times when the technology just doesn’t work and there are times when I have to fly solo. And sometimes those times collide. The result is never pretty.

The result is fear.

If you’ve ever seen a dog expend endless, pointless effort chasing its tail, you have a fairly good idea of what I look like trying to solve an unsolvable computer problem. Let’s visit my mind-chatter room for a moment: “Every time I input comments on this file, my program shuts down.” “There’s probably something wrong with the file.” “But maybe if I break it into several smaller files, that won’t happen.” “It’s happening again. You’ve now spent an hour trying to do a page worth of work.” “Maybe if I rename the file, it will work.” “That isn’t working either, and you’ve just skipped your workout and your lunch.” “If I don’t figure this out, I’m going to look like an idiot. … I’ll miss the deadline. … My client will hate me. … There will probably be a billboard placed on I-95 saying ‘Joni Aveni is computer illiterate. She’s a fraud. Don’t do business with her.’ … I will lose my business, my house, my car, my kids, my husband, I will live out of a cardboard box and die a lonely, broken woman.”

Or … I could just admit that I don’t have the answer. Ask for help in figuring out the problem. Maybe offer one or two suggestions, including the old reliable fax and FedEx options. Have faith that this will all work itself out without any dire consequences.

Ah, faith.

It’s said that fear and faith can’t live in the same house, but I get the distinct impression that they are both under my roof, barricaded in separate bedrooms, vying for my attention at any given time. The choice I need to make every day (every hour, every minute) is: Which door am I going to open?

So after having jiggled the doorknob of the fear room long enough, I turned my back on it and walked through the faith door instead. I said I didn’t know, couldn’t figure it out, was throwing in the towel, but here are a few workarounds I came up with. Within minutes, one of the workarounds was accepted and I was back in business. No billboards. No cardboard box. Just another opportunity to conquer fear with faith. I’m pretty sure there will be plenty more.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 29: P.A.C.E. – Positive Attitude Changes Everything

I have spent the past few days consciously trying to put positive thinking into action. And for the most part it has worked. I’ve been able to defuse a couple of situations that had the potential to disintegrate rapidly. I’ve been able to walk away from others that were hopeless. (“Do not engage! Do not engage!”) And I’ve been able to turn negative conversations into positive by injecting just the right degree of humor into the mix.

And then we set the clocks back.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if I had to rank the seasons in order of preference, winter would fall about 10th. That’s because I suffer from what used to be called the Winter Blues, but is now referred to as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For those who do not suffer from SAD, the best way I can describe it is continually swimming against the tide … a cold, dark, overwhelming tide. The mind chatter I experience when faced with waking up in the dark, going outdoors in the cold, or doing anything requiring large amounts of energy and enthusiasm goes something like this: “You have to do it.” “I can’t.” “You can’t just lie around till spring.” “Why not?” “It’s just [cold] [snow] [ice] [darkness] [cold snowy icy darkness]. You’re acting like a baby!” “Screw you!”

SAD creates in me an overpowering urge to curl up on the living room couch in front of a roaring fire with a cup of hot cocoa and my Great Dane. (OK, I have a Tibetan Spaniel, but a Great Dane is much more iconic.) It fills me with a craving for carbohydrates that is so strong that the only thing keeping me from getting in my car and raiding the bakery is sheer ennui.

For SAD sufferers, the fact that Christmas is in December is a cruel joke. Surely we cannot be expected to add all the gift-buying, party-going, and merry-making to our to-do list during this, the most slothful of seasons! Wouldn’t we all be better-served – not to mention better able to travel to the homes of distant relatives – if Christmas moved to the summer?

In addition to – or perhaps as part of – SAD, I am also blessed with a sensitivity to severe weather changes. Just yesterday – a beautiful, crisp, sunny fall day – I felt my mood begin to plunge in mid-afternoon for no apparent reason, though I tried valiantly to blame my husband for it. My educated guess would be that my body was attuned to the low-pressure system that was approaching. And sure enough, this morning I awoke to the sound of sleet, hail and freezing rain on my roof. Muttering an expletive, I turned off the alarm clock and went back to sleep for two hours.

So it’s time to break out the arsenal of SAD-fighting gear: the light box, the dawn simulator, the St. John’s Wort and Vitamin D. Those are the basic tools that allow me to keep swimming against the tide of winter, that enable me to do the other things the experts suggest – like exercising, going outdoors, and surrounding myself with as much positive stimuli as possible. Because a positive attitude does change everything … except winter.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 28: Stop Procrastinating!

I can honestly say that I am not much of a procrastinator. If anything, I tend to jump impulsively into most activities, often before I’ve carefully considered what I’m about to do. (“Ready, fire, aim!”) If there is something unpleasant that I need to do, I’d rather get it over with than brood about it. Such things have a tendency to gnaw at me, interrupting my sleep at 3 A.M. with the inevitable committee meeting to discuss it at length. In some cases, if the task at hand is something distasteful but not urgent, I find that putting it off by writing it on next month’s calendar page is a good way to practice “positive procrastination”!

But there is one area in which I am guilty of extreme avoidance behavior: all things medical.

There was a time when I dutifully went to the doctor every year for a checkup (usually my Ob/Gyn during my childbearing days). I had my teeth cleaned at the dentist annually and my eyes checked every year or two since I wear corrective lenses. But as I got older, health care got more expensive, insurance harder to come by, and “required” tests more common, so I began to slack off. At about the same time, I began to notice more and more cases of “CYA Medicine” being practiced – stressful tests and unnecessary, expensive procedures being done just so doctors could cover themselves against any future threat of lawsuits. This was also when it became common knowledge that too much stress could negatively impact one’s mental, physical and emotional health. So if doctors were requiring pointless tests that put undue stress on patients with little or no benefit, wasn’t that counterproductive? That’s when I began to develop a severe aversion to all things medical.

But the seeds of that distaste likely had their origins in my early childhood – like everything else – in the days when the doctor made house calls (yes, I’m THAT old) with needle in hand and ultimately in my butt cheek. I was the kid who had every childhood illness – measles, mumps, chicken pox, German measles – usually just in time for some major life event like graduation or First Holy Communion. Just about the only ailment that turned out beneficial was the stomach virus I picked up in the summer between grammar school and high school that allowed me to shed 15 unwanted pounds.

In my college dorm, I lived on the floor below the pre-med students. After a couple of months of witnessing their antics, I made a conscious decision not to visit any doctors once they had graduated. And in my junior year, suffering the after-effects of too much grief, booze and toxic relationships, the doctors I visited seemed incapable of diagnosing – much less treating – my panic attacks despite repeated visits to some of the best clinics in the Boston area.

After figuring out and treating my anxiety on my own, I began to put more faith in healthy food, vitamins and exercise than I did in the medical profession. Of course I sought the appropriate medical care when I got married and had my children, and I took them for all the required checkups and shots when they were growing up. But little by little, I began to distrust some of the advice I got from their doctors.

Like when my infant son caught the flu that all the rest of us had two days shy of three months old and the pediatrician insisted on drawing blood from his tiny little arm at the hospital to test him for meningitis – just because that was standard procedure. Even the phlebotomist was crying. I finally stormed out, baby in arms, called the doctor and told her off. (She was gone about a month later from the practice.)

Or when another pediatrician suggested that because my daughter was short, I should give her growth hormones. (Have you ever given blood? They ask two questions: Have you had intimate contact with anyone who has AIDS and have you ever received growth hormone?) We changed doctors right after that.

As I got older, it seemed that more and more tests were “required”: an amniocentesis, should I get pregnant after 35; a mammogram annually once I turned 40, and a colonoscopy at the mid-century mark. Of course every one of these tests was extremely costly for someone like me – self-insured with a high deductible. So some of them I argued successfully against, others I reluctantly endured, and still others I avoided altogether.

Which brings me to the present. Right now I am behind in getting some follow-up blood work done (it requires fasting, and I can’t drive without my morning cup of coffee), having a mammogram (last time they screwed up and scared the crap out of me) and scheduling an eye exam (I hate having my pupils dilated and driving home half-blind). Having just finished up with a root canal – something else I put off, due to the distance and time involved – I am not in any hurry to make these appointments. And yet I realize I am procrastinating. Out of fear? Perhaps. Out of distrust? Most likely.

But for now, the best I can do is to practice some of that “positive procrastination” and write a note to myself in my calendar. Maybe after the holidays.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 27: Explore Another Culture

When faced with this challenge, I went to my trusty dictionary, which defined “culture” as “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.”

Having just survived another election season, I decided to explore the cultural divide that makes politics so nasty. What is it that makes people resort to backstabbing, mudslinging, and mean-spirited behavior when it comes to making a political choice? Aren’t we all striving for the same things, just traveling different roads to get there?

My news feed on Facebook is a good place to get a snapshot of an America divided. Although some of my friends are fanatically right-wing while others list completely to port, I’m pretty sure that if I created a questionnaire and distributed it among my Facebook friends, all would agree on the same basic needs. The Declaration of Independence sums those up pretty well: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Despite ideological differences, in the end most of us will buckle down and work with whatever the process throws at us. So if we all agree, why is there a cultural divide? What makes the left the left and the right the right?

To answer that question, I decided to go to extremes. For my cultural journey, I chose what I felt to be the farthest right website ( and the farthest left website ( to see what they “regarded as excellent” in America – and how they felt we should achieve it.


Upon opening up the Rush Limbaugh website, my senses were immediately assailed by a dizzying explosion of color, movement and confusion. This is a busy place! Determined to sort through what was advertising, what was content and what was shameless promotion, I checked that my anti-virus software was up-to-date, then began carefully clicking on the various sections of the home page.

The first thing I noticed was that the date was wrong: It was still listed as Tuesday, November 2 (Election Day) although it was now Wednesday, November 3 at 9:30 AM. This concerned me. Nevertheless, I clicked on the first link: “Go Vote, Then Sit Back and Wait.” This appeared to be a transcript of yesterday’s radio program, the gist of which was: “Remember the Limbaugh Rule. Any candidate with a (D) next to his name on a ballot, you vote against . . . when you see an (R) next to a candidate's name, you vote that candidate. You do not seek compromise with those who believe this country is immoral and unjust.”

Okey dokey, that’s crystal clear.

Next, I clicked on the big graphic in the center that invited me to “REESTABLISH CONSERVATISM STARTING TODAY!” along with the slogan “YES, WE CAN!” (Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?) The page opened up to yet another transcript of one of Rush’s shows, this time discussing the Republicans’ chances of regaining the House and the Senate. The most interesting part of this page was the photo of President Obama swimming against the “Tea-Nami."

Finally, I opted to view a video clip entitled “A Time for Choosing,” which was a speech given by Ronald Reagan in October 1964, while campaigning for Barry Goldwater. (Barry Goldwater? Voting for Barry Goldwater was nearly grounds for divorce in my home. My father voted for Barry Goldwater because he was a fellow ham radio operator. My mother was appalled.) I discovered in this video that Ronald Reagan used to be a Democrat. Who knew? I also discovered why he was labeled “The Great Communicator.” The guy definitely had a gift.

It really was quite fascinating to listen to some of the issues that were going on in the early ‘60s. In fact, if it wasn’t for the crackly black-and-white video and the references to Vietnam, Mr. Reagan could have been discussing the talking points of today. One segment of the speech immediately caught my attention, when he stated: “There is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down. Those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on a downward course.”

Definitely food for thought.

I clicked on a few more links, hoping to find a simple, bullet-point list of exactly what principles Rush believes in. I found them in a section entitled “Flashback: The CPAC Speech That Started a Conservative Resurgence.” Here, Rush defines who conservatives are: “We love people. … We see human beings. We don't see groups. We don't see victims. We don't see people we want to exploit. What we see -- is potential. … We believe [a] person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government. … We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty … and the pursuit of happiness. … We conservatives think all three are under assault.”

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There they are, those basic needs. Seems like the far right wants those pretty badly, just like the majority of Americans do. But does the far left agree? Time to “move on” to the next website.


The first thing I noticed when I landed on the home page of was that it, too, seemed to think we were still in the pre-Election Day period. Is there a time warp that has affected both right- and left-wing websites? Or is it just wishful thinking now that the votes are counted and neither side has gotten exactly what they wanted?

Their first, most prominent link, “Save the Future,” had this lead-in: “We just received an urgent message from the future. It's about next week's election, and it's pretty bad.” I clicked on the video link and was instantly directed to a screen that wanted to link to my Facebook profile. Sorry, Charlie. I believe that’s an invasion of privacy.* But there was an opt-out button so I clicked on that. The next screen wanted me to at least give them my name and email address. No dice. Again, I found the opt-out button and was finally able to view the video.

It was quite a show! A fictional warning from the future to vote in the November 2 election … “or we’re doomed,” the video features a frantic woman (probably a famous actress – she looked vaguely familiar) who has just managed to contact the people of 2010 (that would be us) from the future (maybe there really IS a time warp) in order to give us the frightening facts about what life would be like 5, 10, 25 years from now if we don’t vote the Republicans out of office. These included making the government into a giant corporation (RepubliCorp—a fictitious merger between giant corporations and the Republican Party), replacing social security with motivational emails, and having Sarah Palin declare war on Norway. (I can’t make this stuff up. Watch it for yourself: It was amusing in an SNL way, but I was really looking for something with a little more substance.

Another link on the home page led to’s 2009 Agenda (more evidence of the time warp). Their top five items included universal health care, economic recovery and job creation, building a green economy/stopping climate change, ending the war in Iraq, and improving public schools. Not too much to argue with there, except – as usual – the means to those ends, which was suspiciously absent.

But I still wanted to know what they were doing NOW. So I clicked on “About” to see if I could get some current facts, preferably without the rhetoric. The only solid information I could get about the organization was this sentence: “ Political Action, one of the largest Political Action Committees in the country, brings real Americans into politics to fight for a more progressive America and elect progressive candidates.”

To my dismay, other links in the “About” section caused the time warp to grow, this time plunging me back three years with a video entitled “2007: As Told By MoveOn Members.” Not terribly interested in history, I tried clicking on “News About Us.” This was yet another attempt to get my personal information, as the landing page was simply a form to fill out that said, “Please enter your request to our Press Office - A real person will review your email as soon as possible and get back to you if necessary.” A real person? If necessary? And who makes that decision?

I was beginning to get a very creepy feeling. I checked my antivirus software again. So far, so good.

Returning to the home page, I was gratified to see that they had finally changed their banner (at 1:30 PM). It now read: “Thanks for all you do, now tell us what you think” and acknowledged that the election, indeed, had already occurred. Thank goodness, we were back in today! It also included a message to members, the synopsis of which was toward the bottom of the page: “We can't stop fighting because we carry in our hearts a vision of Americans coming together to take care of each other and make our country work again. And if we don't fight for that vision, who will? Today, we should all take a breath. Tomorrow we need to get back to work."

That message is certainly commendable. It sounds to me as if the left, like the right, realizes that in order to get anything done, we all have to work together. And while there was no actual mention of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the vision of “Americans coming together to make our country work” sounds an awful lot like the same thing to me.

A link at the bottom of the letter invited readers to visit the members’ bulletin board, so I clicked through. A few comments there – which, for the most part, were thought-provoking and intelligent – really brought home what pretty much everyone in America is feeling in these tumultuous times:

One member wrote: “This is a time when even very intelligent people are feeling afraid, and this election is a good opportunity for us to critically think about how we can better understand and informatively address the economic fears of our fellow citizens.”

And another stated: “Too many progressives are simply [too] sound-bite driven, flighty, and lacking in real patience and perseverance to really get the change we want. If you want real change, stick by your champions, and realize it's going to take *decades* to get this country back on track.”

But this one was my personal favorite: “It's easy to be misled when average Americans spend nearly 8 hours each day in front of the TV or on the Internet. It's difficult and time consuming to hunt for truth.”

You can say that again!

*Ironically, I later found this paragraph on their “Success Stories” page:
“Facebook: Protect Our Privacy!
In December 2008, Facebook took purchases its users made on other websites and made them public on Facebook without permission-- great advertising for corporations but horrible for basic privacy rights. MoveOn formed a pro-privacy group on Facebook that grew to over 80,000 members and was covered by media worldwide. As a result, Facebook reversed its policy—preserving its own integrity in the process.” Where I come from, we call this “hypocrisy.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 26: Through the Eyes of a Child

For the past few days, I’ve been contemplating what it means to see life through the eyes of a child. To have that “child-like faith” that the Bible speaks about. And I’ve discovered that as an adult, it’s a lot harder than I expected.

First of all, there’s a big difference between child-LIKE and child-ISH. I can be the latter quite easily. You know, the stamping-my-foot, everything-isn’t-going-my-way, two-year-old behavior that seems to be my fallback response whenever the defecation hits the rotary oscillator.

No, “child-like faith” puts the emphasis on the “faith” – which is where my jaded adult outlook falls short.

Halloween brought this idea home to me. That once-a-year opportunity to be someone else, which in childhood evoked feelings of great potential but in adulthood tends to foster feelings of regret. What happened to the days when every morning meant new possibilities? When every night brought sleep filled with sweet dreams? When did that all change? And can it ever come back again?

I tried for several days to see things through the eyes of a child. I kicked through piles of leaves (until I started worrying about tripping on an unseen rock and twisting an ankle), breathed in the crisp fall air (at least till the mold spores started my allergies up), and dug into the Halloween candy bowl (but just one bite-size Snickers at 90 calories apiece).

When faced with some bad news, I thought about how I would have handled it as a child. I think I would not have even recognized it as bad news, but if I did, I would have assumed that my parents or some other adult would fix it, and then I would have just gone about my merry way.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe that’s why seeing things through the eyes of a child is so hard to do as an adult. Because there isn’t anyone left to fix it. We’re the grownups now, and we know the dark secret that our parents never told us: They couldn’t fix it. Not then and certainly not now. No one can fix it.

The leaves disguise hidden rocks and the air holds invisible allergens and the Halloween candy will make you fat and clog your arteries and eventually kill you. And once the genie is out of the bottle, once the truth is revealed, it’s not really possible to readjust your vision and go back to the way you used to see life. We are no longer children. And we can no longer pretend to be.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 25 – Honesty Is the Best Policy

It feels like it’s been years since I blogged, but between my miserable experience with a root canal and the fact that Ryan (my awesome prompt-meister) has been bogged down with work, I just haven’t had the energy or the encouragement. But this awesome stuff has become important to me, and a week without awesome is like … well, like not very awesome. So against my better judgment, I’m going to create my own prompts until Ryan is able to get back on the blogging bandwagon.

“Honesty” is a topic that’s been on my mind. I’ve always considered myself an honest person, but when I thought about challenging myself to go through an entire day without telling even one little white lie, I kept putting it off till tomorrow. Seemed there was always some reason why I wouldn’t be able to follow through. Which led me to believe that maybe I’m not quite as honest as I thought I was.

So today’s challenge is to practice rigorous honesty. To try to stop myself before saying anything that isn’t 100% true. And if I can’t say something that’s true, not to say anything at all.

Sadly, the first interaction I had with someone resulted in a lie. A person I am not particularly fond of asked me if I had a pen and I automatically said no. Basically, I didn’t want to lend her a pen because it would probably result in having to converse with her. So it was easier to just lie. My bad.

My next opportunity to be honest went a little better. When considering attending an event, I spelled out the concerns I had about going and offered some options on how I could get through it more comfortably. Whether or not the other person took my suggestions seriously is not my problem. I was honest and that’s what counts.

I must admit that it was a relatively easy day for honesty. Not too many instances of moral ambiguity or difficult decisions to make. Just the usual work and life stuff.

When evening rolled around, I honestly stated that I was just not feeling well enough to go out. I got some push-back, but I stood my ground. In my experience, I’ve found that if I’m not true to myself, I can’t be honest to anyone else. As it turned out, I fell asleep on the couch at about 8:00. I would definitely not have been good company at any event!

And that’s the truth!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day 24 - Make a list, check it twice. What can you improve?

So today I’m supposed to list the things about me that are in need of improvement – what my Catholic school teachers used to call an “examination of conscience.” This process immediately brought to mind early memories of weekly confession – waiting in line in front of the ominously draped wooden box with other second- and third-graders, making up “sins” so I’d have something to say when it was my turn. Gradually it dawned on me that making up the sins was, in fact, a sin (lying), creating a vicious cycle that appeared endless as well as pointless.

Nonetheless, it is said that confession is good for one’s soul. And that self-examination can reveal truths about oneself that can eventually lead to improvement. So I’ve created a list of my shortcomings in the hopes that someday they might be removed – or at least lessened in their severity.

Since no number was suggested, I’ll just keep listing them until I’m either finished or ready to jump off a bridge in total disgust. Here goes:

1. I am a control freak.
2. I am either too passive or too aggressive. Although I understand the concept of assertiveness, I can’t seem to get there. I go from zero to bitch in 10 seconds.
3. I am overly sensitive (see yesterday’s blog).
4. I tend to isolate from people when I am upset.
5. Once I isolate, I fall into that most dangerous of all places: self-pity. I’ve been known to get a ring around my ass from sitting on the pity pot for too long.
6. I rationalize my bad behavior.
7. I am distrustful of institutions (this may well be a genetic consequence of being Sicilian, over which I am powerless).
8. I am vengeful when wronged. (See #7.)
9. I get unreasonably angry and overreact impulsively when frustrated or fearful. (Ready, Fire, Aim!)
10. I am impatient.
11. I am intolerant of stupidity.
12. I tend to be an all-or-nothing individual. I often say that my modulating control was never installed.
13. I have an addictive personality. Right now I am addicted to geocaching. And blogging. Tomorrow … who knows?
14. I can be bitingly sarcastic (in case you hadn’t noticed).
15. I am a perfectionist. (This is probably a good thing, given my profession.)

I should probably add that I am hard on myself, but that should be obvious if you consider that I listed three good qualities about myself yesterday and 15 bad qualities about myself today. Guess I’m not headed for sainthood anytime soon!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Days 21, 22, 23: Past, Present & Future

When I read over the challenges for the days I’d fallen behind, I realized there was a pattern. One task asked me to list three of my happiest awesome moments so far; one asked me to list three awesome things I’d like to happen over the next year, and the last asked me to remember the reasons I’m awesome right now. Past, present and future. Why not take some time today to look at all three?

Task from the Past: Make a list of your three happiest AWESOME moments! (So FAR!)

1. The births of both my kids: There is nothing quite like it, and it pretty much can’t be described to anyone who hasn’t already gone through it. So I’ll leave it at that. Totally awesome!
2. The first time I climbed Mt. Chocorua: That mountain had taunted me for all the years we’d vacationed in New Hampshire. One summer we’d tried to climb it but chose a trail that was too tough for our skill level (and our kids’ ages). Other summers held other obstacles. But finally – victory! – and the feeling was incredibly awesome! Since then I’ve climbed mountains that were higher and harder, but have never quite experienced the same thrill as the first time at the summit of Chocorua.
3. Our 1000th geocache: OK, I know some of you have just thrown up a little (hi Liz) but let me explain. There is something amazingly awesome about hitting a milestone (#1000) on the date of a personal milestone (our 25th wedding anniversary), being the first-to-find (first person in the world to find this geocache), in a foreign country (Sicily, Italy) AND at the Temple of Venus. Talk about the stars aligning!

Task for the Present: Remember why you are Awesome! Small things matter the most in this exercise.

Although there was no numerical instruction, I decided to stick with three. Because I’m just that way.

1. I am loyal. Sometimes to a fault. And then I’m done. I’ve been known to stick it out with people, places and situations for years after saner souls would have left. But once I say “Enough!” there’s no going back. Another part of this is that you can say pretty much what you want to or about me, but mess with the people I care about and you are history. I was a Mama Grizzly when Sarah Palin was still figuring out how to tie her mukluks.
2. I am genuine. I actually had to search for a word that means the opposite of “hypocritical” and the closest I came was “genuine.” I have no tolerance for hypocrisy. Probably why I don’t play well with people who are political, and why I come away from uncomfortable social situations with pain in my jaw from clenching it for hours.
3. I am sensitive. Again, this can be both good and bad. I keep hoping that as I get older, my skin will get thicker, but it hasn’t happened yet. There hasn’t been a Disney movie made that hasn’t brought me to tears. The latest Subaru commercial (you know, the one with the little girl driving) sends me running for the Kleenex. And there are certain songs that I have to turn off if I hear them while driving, lest I cause a major accident. And if I try to stuff that sensitive side, watch out! It will come out backwards, sideways and usually nasty!

Task for the Future: Make a list of three things you would like to happen by next year this time.

I think this is the hardest task of the three. Goal-setting has never been one of my great strengths, although my follow-through on New Year’s resolutions has actually been pretty good. So here goes:

1. I’d like to have a solid plan of where and if we want to move. (Leave it to me to make “having a goal” one of my goals.) Having something definite to work toward will definitely help me to feel more grounded and might even keep me from bitching as much about my present circumstances.
2. Travel, travel, travel. We have our sights set on some interesting locations, including a possible cruise. There’s nothing that gets me more motivated than vacation planning. Except perhaps the vacation itself. Stay tuned.
3. Feel more spiritually connected. Less stressed. More able to let things go. I don’t know if this is something I will ever achieve, but the day I stop seeking is the day I know I’m in trouble.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day 20 - The Quest for Rest

The challenge to "REST!" couldn’t have come at a better time! Despite the Monday holiday, it’s been a helluva long week! The combination of dental work, poor sleep and the promise of a rainy Friday created the perfect storm for a day of rest. Relatively speaking, of course.

I started my quest for rest at around 8:15 PM on Thursday night. Right after I finished watching a clip of Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar storming off the set of their own TV show, I felt an overpowering sense of “who gives a shit?” and my eyelids got heavy. This type of contrived drama certainly could not compare with the previous night’s rescue of 33 trapped Chilean miners. So I decided that an early-to-bed night trumped crap TV and headed into blissful slumber.

Of course it’s been many years since I’ve actually had sleep I’d call “quality” – I’m pretty sure that once I chose to share my body with a fetus, that possibility was erased from my bucket list. But be that as it may, when the alarm rang at 5:30, I happily turned it off and rolled over for another couple of hours.

As part of my rest day, I decided I would take a break from my usual exercise routine. Although I did do 30 pushups, I did not clip on my pedometer. Progress, not perfection. It was sort of dreary outside, so I didn’t feel like walking, but I did entertain the thought of some afternoon geocaching if it didn’t rain. With the extra time I saved by sitting on my ass, I pondered my Christmas list, Googled some new geocaching adventures, and paid a couple of bills. I looked up the TV schedule for “Sister Wives” and watched a few minutes of “Animal Hoarders” online. Then, feeling sluggish, I went downstairs and cleaned out a drawer. (Not terribly restful, nor terribly strenuous, and it really did need cleaning.)

I finished the work that was on my desk at a leisurely pace and considered extending my Memorial Day to Columbus Day half-day Fridays to Veteran’s Day. Or possibly Thanksgiving. A girl can dream, can’t she? On my lunch hour, I went to the supermarket so I wouldn’t have to do it over the weekend. (I call this “planning to rest.”) And after work, I resisted my urge to find some woods to get lost in, and went to see a movie with my husband instead, followed by a sushi dinner.

All in all, it was a fairly restful day – at least as restful as any of my days tend to be. When you’re a Type A like I am, rest doesn’t come easily. There is a certain element of guilt at the end of the day when I look back and see how much activity I didn’t do. I’m not sure where the thought comes from that if I miss a day of exercise, I’m going to wake up 20 pounds heavier. So it’s important for me to remember that tomorrow – as Scarlett O’Hara reminded us so eloquently – is another day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 19 - Spend time with someone you haven't spent time with in a long time!

A long time ago, I extended my hand to a woman I exercised with and suggested that she and her husband might go out to dinner with us sometime. Although we were gym buddies and had shared the usual intimacies that go along with that type of friendship (seeing anyone in a leotard can potentially spell blackmail in many places), she kindly rebuffed my offer, explaining that “It just takes too much work to cultivate a friendship” and she simply didn’t have the time.

I was admittedly taken aback – by both her refusal and her honesty. But it certainly did give me food for thought. At the time she was raising three small boys, both she and her husband were self-employed, and they were in the process of moving to a larger home in a new town. She obviously recognized that she was already spread too thin and that taking on a new friendship was not something she had the energy for.

Her words have always rung in my head whenever I contemplate that mysterious bond we call “friendship.” How much work am I willing to put into a friendship, how little can I get away with and still expect a healthy relationship, and where is the line between an acquaintance and a friend really drawn? Although my Facebook profile claims that I have 433 friends, there’s probably only a handful who would drop everything and run if I needed them – or vice versa.

Today I had lunch with a friend. We’d been trying to schedule this date for months, it seems, but life just kept getting in the way. (See yesterday’s blog for my feelings on how life should NOT be getting in the way of what’s important!) Although we’ve seen each other here and there, and have spoken on the phone frequently, this was the first opportunity we had to sit face-to-face and talk about life without any interruptions (unless, of course, you count her Great Dane puppy as a BIG interruption).

Nothing fancy was on the menu today since she was just getting over a bad cold and I’d just had dental work. Just reheated leftovers and some quality face time at the kitchen table. And slurp time, courtesy of the aforementioned Great Dane. (Did I mention that this “puppy” is nearly as tall as I am?)

While juggling the needs of the dog as well as a cat, we had a chance to talk about some human needs too. Like the things that scare us, the things that make us feel spiritually connected, and the times when we need to set boundaries with the people (and pets) who love us. We did our fair share of gossiping too, of course, and offering our suggestions for saving the world from its current condition … if only someone would listen!

After an hour and a half, it was time to return to the tasks at hand – she to make a pickup at school and I to proofread some work that was on my desk. The dog went back to drinking out of the toilet. And the cat … well, she just jumped up on the table, stretched out, and gave us an expression that told us she thought her life was just plain awesome.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 18: ROI (Return on Investment)

Here’s the challenge: There has to be something or someone you have invested in over time. Well, why not take stock of where that is and what it does for you?

I had plenty of time to think about this subject while driving down I-95 to a dentist’s appointment. A ride that should have taken 20 minutes took an hour and 20 minutes in rush hour traffic. But that’s what happens when I wait too long to follow up on a broken tooth and have to take the only appointment available. The main reason I’d put it off (other than the universal dislike of dentistry) was that work was insane all summer and I simply felt I couldn’t “afford” the time.

This has been a recurring theme over the past couple of decades. Working for myself means always living with a certain degree of uncertainty. My work ethic is such that I attempt to always make myself available for my clients whenever they need me. And insane deadlines are unfortunately the nature of my business.

In the beginning, when documents were exchanged by fax, FedEx, courier and – gasp – the mail, there was a little more wiggle room. But as the Internet and email grew, the time allotted to complete each job shrunk until the norm became “I need it yesterday.” And despite my best efforts at time management and pointed reminders that for proofreader, “RUSH” is a four-letter word, there is not much sign of things getting better.

Lately the lyrics of the Pink Floyd song “Time” have been going through my head:

“So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”

Depressing, perhaps. (It held a lot more charm when we were all lying around the college dorm listening to it with the lava light on.) But really: Where is the great reward? What’s the return on my investment? If I keep choosing work over the things that really matter – like my own health – what am I going to have in the end except enough money in my bank account to pay the medical bills?

Don’t get me wrong: I love what I do. I just need to do it smarter. And I need to focus more on that elusive “work/life balance” that the HR folks talk about all the time. Let’s put it this way: If I worked for a company that was making the same demands on me that I make on myself, I would be floating my resume. That should tell me something.


Sitting in traffic for an hour and 20 minutes also made me contemplate where I’m living. Seems every time we go anywhere these days – or nights or weekends – there is heavy traffic. It makes traveling extremely unpleasant and often makes us think twice about going anywhere at all. So what’s the return on my investment in where I live?

When we first moved here, it was still very much a small town, even though it boasted just enough of a population to technically make it a city. But with rampant housing development, the expansion of the mall and the arrival of the big-box retailers, it has become busier, louder and more impersonal. At least twice a day, we hear sirens screaming by. We have car accidents on our road about four times a year. Sometimes it takes five minutes to turn out of our driveway onto the road. And we don’t dare back out.

Moving is an option, though not a particularly pleasant one. My job is portable. The same features that have made the deadlines insane have also made it possible for me to work remotely from any location with Internet access. My spouse’s job is also portable. So why are we here? (Other than the fact that selling the house would probably take forever in this economy… and that real estate transactions make the aforementioned dentist’s visit look like a rollicking good time.) Why not go somewhere a little quieter? A little slower-paced? And maybe without quite so much winter.

Perhaps it’s time to get serious about studying our options. Researching other towns, making a five-year plan, visiting some of the places we think might offer us the quality of life we desire. Putting one foot in front of the other even though it’s easier to just sit on our butts and complain.

Well, the novocaine is just wearing off, and popping a few ibuprofen is feeling like a good idea. I’m sure I’ll have more time to think about other heady subjects during my next two trips to the dentist to complete a root canal. Which is really not awesome in the least.

Day 17: 'Tis More Blessed to Give

Lately, I’ve been approaching most of these challenges the way I really ought to be approaching the rest of my life: throwing the idea out into the universe and asking for an answer to fall into my lap. This sure beats wracking my brain to come up with the answer myself, and the great thing about it is that when it happens, my heart knows it immediately.

I admit that when I saw the “give to a charity” challenge, I groaned a little. Not that I am not a generous person. It’s just that there comes a time when you get charity burnout. Seems that everywhere you turn, someone is doing something for a cause. No one just does stuff for fun anymore. They run for a cause. Walk for a cause. Swim for a cause. Breathe for a cause. Make love for a cause. (OK, maybe not that. Yet.)

And the methodology behind fundraising has become more pervasive as well. Just take a look at your Facebook page, the banners on websites and iPhone apps, the checkout counter at your local supermarket. Not to mention the solicitation phone calls … though these days they have to compete with politicians for the honor of disturbing dinner.

The other fundraising turnoff for me is the fact that I am a Catholic school survivor – having been a student for 12 years and a parent for more than 20. And let’s face it, the Catholic schools have taken fundraising to the level of an art form. Who can forget the army of small uniformed salespeople that set out to ring neighborhood doorbells each year with “Crap-in-a-Box”? Or the cartons of candy that the students lugged home just after Halloween? (Whose bright idea was it to sell candy for $1 a bar AFTER the kids had just gotten four pillowcases full of it for free while trick-or-treating?) Bake sales, Mission Day, pasta dinners, “dress-down days” … between rising tuition rates and year upon year of fundraisers, most of us got to graduation either burnt out, broke … or both!

Still, there are a lot of needy people out there. And so many worthwhile causes. Especially these days, those of us who are lucky enough to have an income – no matter how small – feel almost compelled to give to our neighbors who are not so fortunate. How to decide? Today the universe would have to let me know.

By early afternoon, I’d still not received my answer from the universe but I had received plenty of messages on what NOT to donate to. Like the news that only 3% of the money sent to victims of the earthquake in Haiti had actually reached them.

Then, as I was checking my friends’ status updates on Facebook, I saw what I was looking for. A friend posted the amount she and her 4H group had raised at their BBQ over the weekend to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project. It just so happened it was a little less than a nice round number. And it also just so happened that the amount needed to reach that nice round number was right within my budget. I had wanted to attend this event, but had been out of town the day it was held. And as an added bonus, the Wounded Warrior Project is something I firmly believe in.
With its slogan “The greatest casualty is being forgotten,” the Wounded Warrior Project began – and I quote from their website – when several individuals took small, inspired actions to help others in need. One night while watching the evening news, a group of veterans and brothers were moved by the difficult stories of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq. They realized then and there that something needed to be done for these brave individuals beyond the brass bands and ticker tape parades. Read more:
The first time I heard about this organization, I was reminded of the story of my paternal grandmother. My father had returned home from serving in World War II extremely ill with tuberculosis. In those days, that was pretty much a death sentence. Yet miraculously the antibiotics that cured him were introduced in time for him to make a full recovery. Nevertheless, there were repercussions, health problems lingered, and the Army was none too eager to pay for them. My grandmother began a one-woman campaign to get Uncle Sam to rectify this situation – and eventually my dad was able to receive disability payments for the remainder of his life. So I see the Wounded Warrior Project as Grandma to the nth degree. Sicilian lady vs. the US government. Sicilian lady wins. Pretty awesome stuff! My check is in the mail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 16: A Friend in Need, A Friend Indeed

Yesterday's challenge was to help a friend, and it just so happened that we were scheduled to pay someone a visit who had indicated she was facing a daunting decluttering project. Since I have been told that I’m very organized (as well as totally OCD but hey, I choose to view the glass as half full …) it seemed only natural that I offer to assist.

“Stuff” is fascinating to me. Every week I DVR “Hoarders” and “Hoarding: Buried Alive” and marvel at the new levels of nastiness some people manage to live with. There was the woman who stored her own feces in trash bags. And the home where they found flattened cat carcasses under piles of garbage. These shows are like a gruesome car accident you just can’t help gawking at. And the fact that they invite camera crews to depict their “lifestyle” on national television makes it that much more fascinating.

Of course there are varying levels of clutter. Most people’s messes wouldn’t sell much ad time on TV, so it’s easy to watch “Hoarders” and say, “I’m not that bad” as you head out to another tag sale. (“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is the hoarder’s common rationalization – equivalent to the alcoholic’s “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”)

But most homes are not piled floor to ceiling with “stuff” that leaves only enough room for a narrow walkway. Most people do not keep their own feces or cat carcasses. (For this, we can all be grateful.) But pretty much everyone has some dirty little clutter secret. Kids’ art projects, old magazine collections, recipes, dolls, you name it. “Collecting” can turn to “clutter” in the blink of an eye. Many hoarders claim they “just don’t know” how the mess got so bad. And the more years you’ve lived somewhere, the bigger the “collection” can get.

Which brings me back to my friend’s house, which I’d say is fairly typical in the degree of clutter that has accumulated. She and her husband have lived there for over 20 years, so a lot of the stuff stored in closets, wedged onto shelves and tossed into the basement and garage is mutual. Right off the bat, we determined that those areas should be off-limits since he was not a willing participant in our decluttering mission. And since we had a limited amount of time, we decided to focus on a utility/pantry/laundry area where there was a wide variety of items ranging from detergents to miscellaneous bowls to dozens of boxes of pasta, rice and crackers, all arranged haphazardly on a couple of wire shelves and on the surfaces of the washer and dryer.

Moving methodically from top to bottom, left to right, we unearthed packages of dry goods from as far back as 2006, parts of appliances that she no longer owned, and enough plastic bags to store food for a decade. (Or feces or dead cats, if one were so inclined.) It took about an hour to reclaim an area that had taken years to get to its present condition. But the best part was that while deciding what to toss, what to keep and what to give away, we also got a chance to talk. About the past, about the present, about organizing not only our “stuff” but our lives. We laughed, we cried, we dreamed and we reminisced. In the end, there was a neat and tidy utility area and a greatly enhanced friendship. Who knew decluttering could be so awesome?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day 15: Indulge!

I forgot to check the morning’s challenge before setting out on our hike Saturday, but even if I had, I doubt I would have been able to do much more to indulge myself than I did. Especially if you define indulgence as doing what you want when you want and how you want. Which is pretty much exactly what I did all day.

Starting with breakfast – a meal I rarely eat but which was included with our hotel room – I planned to pay no mind to the number of calories I was consuming today. Totally reasonable since I also planned to take a 7-mile hike on a fairly challenging trail. As it turned out, the breakfast choices were limited, so I opted for a bowl of raisin bran and some coffee. Not terribly indulgent, but probably better than syrupy pancakes or waffles for giving me the long-term energy boost I’d need.

Next I indulged my senses by spending several hours in my absolute favorite environment: the woods. I’m pretty sure just about every sense was indulged today: the sight and smell of the autumn leaves, the feel of the crisp cool air, the sound of the wind whistling through the trees, and the taste … well, that was still to come, seeing as I didn’t eat anything I found in the forest. Though I did have a pretty decent turkey sandwich for lunch!

There is nothing quite like the tiredness you feel after a long hike, and after about 5 hours of hiking, I was there! So back to civilization we went, where I indulged in a LARGE caramel latte at the local coffee shop. While there, we asked a Williams College student for a dinner recommendation … after all, no one knows more about indulgence than a college student, right?

She suggested the Water Street Grille, so that’s where we headed for dinner, visions of a juicy cheeseburger dancing in my head. (Sure beats sugar plums any day!) They had a choose-your-fixings option, so I selected cheddar cheese, fried onions and mushrooms. Mmmm-good! And the sweet potato fries I ordered on the side were awesome too! I usually don’t eat fries, but I polished off about three-quarters of these babies, guilt-free! And then, because it was my day to indulge, I ordered a slice of key lime pie that was out of this world. (I did, however, split this with my husband.)

Sadly, I paid the price with somewhat of a restless sleep. Guess my body just isn’t used to so much indulgence so close to bedtime. Perhaps I need to indulge more often … that could indeed be awesome!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 14: Drive to Succeed (or Life in the Slow Lane)

I waited till the weekend for this challenge since about the farthest I drive during the week is a couple of miles downtown. And since our previous weekend’s getaway plans had been kaboshed by Mother Nature, I was hoping that we’d have a chance to sneak off for a little R&R in honor of Christopher Columbus. I was not disappointed.

Hiking has been one of my favorite things to do ever since my husband and I started dating back in 1982. He was the one who introduced me to the concept of doing something with my feet other than walking rapidly through the streets of New York City to catch the express bus. For a girl from Brooklyn, the great outdoors offered a whole new world that I’d rarely seen before.

Add in the geocaching hobby, which we’d started in 2002, and we had a recipe for outdoor adventure in just about any season.

On Thursday, once we were sure the weather was going to cooperate, we looked for some likely places to choose as our destination. After considering our usual New Hampshire location and finding only overpriced hotels left available, we turned our sights nearer to home and discovered a relatively close (3 hours) and relatively inexpensive hotel in the Berkshires, right at the corner where Massachusetts, Vermont and New York meet. Better still, there was a power trail of geocaches on one of the most scenic hiking trails. Perfect!

The goal was to leave at noon on Friday, and we were only 15 minutes late. (Not that I’m counting, of course.) Oreo looked at us with those big black eyes and we had a momentary pang of guilt as we shut the door behind us. Then it was time to hit the road!

The trip to Williamstown, Mass. was mostly along country roads, much to our surprise … and delight. Interrupted only briefly by the Mass Pike, we went from just a few trees changing color in our part of Connecticut to the colorful but muted hues of the foliage in the Berkshires in just over two hours. We were even able to find some fairly decent radio stations … always a plus!

Of course we participated in our favorite sport/hobby/obsession once we got within shouting range of our destination. We picked up four geocaches: one at a town park, one along the side of the road, one in what passed for a “beach” in summer but was obviously drained in winter, and one overlooking a beautiful pond. Two out of the four were in unique, picturesque locations we never would have seen if not for geocaching – which is the main reason we enjoy it so much!

At the end of our drive was Williamstown – a place with an archetypal New England college feel. (It is home to the eponymous Williams College.) So much so that a number of movies have been filmed here, most notably “The Human Stain” (2002) and “A Change of Seasons” (1980). At our destination – the Magnuson Hotel, a.k.a. the hotel time forgot – the third millennium met the 1970s. Quirky and retro, it boasted high-speed wireless Internet while still featuring stainless steel bottle openers on the wall and pull-chain light fixtures. But it was clean and comfy, which is all that mattered.

After a satisfying dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we were ready to rest up before hitting the trail in the morning. A very successful drive and a pretty awesome destination!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 13: Reading Is FUNdamental

Today’s task is a pretty simple one for me since I do it just about every night: Read before bed. Something for fun and something for growth.

As most of you know, I read for a living. So in a way reading probably isn’t a challenge in the true sense of the word – although people have expressed amazement that I can still read for fun after having read for work for eight hours. Still, it is something that always has the power to relax me at the end of the day.

Reading was my first addiction. I can remember the excitement I felt in grammar school when the book order form came home every month. It was nearly impossible to decide which ones I wanted, so I just ordered all of them! I vividly recall walking home from school with a pile of books as high as my head, then choosing one and curling up in the corner of the living room sofa while my mother cooked dinner in the kitchen. This is one of my fondest childhood memories.

I also remember the Library on Wheels – a mobile library bus that used to come to our neighborhood every Monday afternoon in the days before we had a library building in our section of Brooklyn. I loved the smell of library-bound books and the sight of rows and rows of them just waiting for me to discover their contents! And I recall how offended I was that certain sections were off-limits because I was too young to read the books they contained. How dare they!

My childhood can be defined by the books that sparked my imagination: Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz and the Nancy Drew series. There were the coming-of-age books of adolescence, the books we giggled over in high school (anyone else remember page 27 of The Godfather?), and those God-awful romances that I read on the bus (who can forget that paragon of literary excellence, Sweet Savage Love?). And of course the two books I read in college by Ayn Rand that molded my worldview: The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

As I entered the “real world,” books helped me navigate the emotional turmoil of relationships, the confusion of being a new parent, the devastation of bereavement and the hopefulness of starting new personal journeys. Even today there’s something fundamentally gratifying about visiting a book fair, a library or a bookstore and coming out with an armload of new adventures, new worlds to explore within the pages of books. I doubt that I will ever own a Kindle or download books to read on my iPhone. For me, the smell and the texture and the promise of a book simply can’t be equaled by an electronic replica.

So tonight, as always, I will end my day with an inspirational reading from one of my meditation books and a polar opposite reading from my latest true-crime selection. And feed my head.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 12: Stand up for yourself!

Now here’s a task that I can definitely sink my teeth into. The directive: “Stand up for yourself! If only for today, tell people how you feel.” Whoa! This is truly awesome! Permission to vent, to kvetch, to bitch and piss and moan to my heart’s content.

But wait … that’s not what it said, is it? It said to stand up for myself. And while I don’t want my “self” to be a doormat, I don’t really want it to be the dragon lady either. Sigh. It’s more of this balance stuff again, isn’t it?

So let’s rethink this task. A friend of mine once rattled off this one-liner she learned in Al-Anon: “Say what you mean but don’t say it mean.” At the time I thought it was totally lame, but it was one of those things that stuck in my head. Kinda like Taylor Swift songs. “When you’re 15 … somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe him …” (See? Now you’ve got the ear worm. Told ya!)

But back to the subject at hand:

Is there a way to stand up for myself, to tell people how I feel without going from zero to bitch in 10 seconds? Today I am going to find out …

My first opportunity turned out to be a missed one, in a way. Without going into detail (name withheld to protect the guilty), a person who has been causing a lot of grief in my life and the lives of some of my friends once again decided to create drama. Although I had a chance to say what was on my mind, I chose to remain silent, basically because I doubted that anything I had to say would be received well. Or even rationally. And it probably would have resulted in harsh words, raised voices and very possibly a felony. Sometimes standing up for myself means sitting down and shutting up.

The next opportunity came when my son (the one who will not friend me) called me. This is a fairly uncommon occurrence, and as luck would have it his phone died mid-conversation and we finished our “talk” via text messaging. Ours is a relationship filled with sarcastic humor, but today I had something serious to impart. So after our requisite banter, I texted him some parental advice about looking for a job. It’s amazing how silent a phone's texting function can get! But at least I did not miss my chance to remind him that the First National Bank of Mom & Dad was not planning on extending him any more credit in the near future. Sometimes standing up for myself means I don’t get to win the popularity contest.

And my last opportunity to stand up for myself came when FedEx failed to pick up a package I’d scheduled for pickup the day before. More than a little angry, I called the 800 # and went through their menu of five billion options that didn’t fit my situation before finally being offered a customer service representative. Of course that person was not located in America – is anyone? And of course, although she was most apologetic, as CSRs are trained to be, there was nothing that could be done to get the package there on time without incurring more expense, even though I escalated the problem to the supervisory level (this time someone in Cincinnati, praise God) and from there to tech support. The bottom line is that the person who wrote the instructions for the FedEx website undoubtedly does not claim English as his or her mother tongue. I do this stuff for a living. If I can’t follow the instructions, they are obviously unclear. And probably designed to create new “revenue streams” for FedEx when missed deliveries occur. After about 15 minutes on the phone, I could feel my blood pressure rising and my inner bitch screaming to get out. So I cut the conversation short with a promise to take my business elsewhere, and hung up. Sometimes standing up for myself means recognizing a lose-lose situation and walking away.

So what have I learned about standing up for myself? That it's not always easy, that it doesn't always have a happy ending, and that it doesn't always result in everything going my way. But it still feels good to know that I exhausted all the options, took care of myself, and can now leave the outcome up to the Big Guy.