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.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 11: Practice Makes Better! Or … Progress Not Perfection.

The challenge today was to take something I did yesterday and repeat it, trying to improve my performance. Since yesterday was my meditation day, I figured I’d focus on that. After all, I’ve been trying to improve in this area for years.

Yesterday I had a pretty successful walking meditation, but today’s rain wasn’t going to permit me to use that method again. So I’d just have to carve out a 15-minute period to sit quietly instead.

Easier said than done.

8:00 – I begin my workday. Lots of emails and jobs to review. If I try to meditate now, all I will think about is what I have to do, so I decide to wait a bit.

9:00 – The doorbell rings and it’s the salesman from Andersen windows to give us a quote on a new sliding glass door. Dog begins to bark madly – no work OR meditation is possible.

10:00 – The window guy leaves and I go to the gym. I figure maybe I’ll do some walking meditation on the elliptical. The first machine I get on keeps shutting down every five minutes so I move. Then a couple of old guys on the stationary bikes behind me decide to have a loud conversation. I finally give up and read my book.

11:00 – I go back to work. If my husband goes ice skating, I will have the house to myself and be able to meditate. He doesn’t.

1:00 – I break for lunch. I’ve heard that one can practice mindfulness meditation while eating, becoming aware of the food one is eating, bite by bite. This sounds dubious at best, bringing to mind the idea of chewing 20 times before swallowing, a practice that makes the texture of the food resemble the stuff I feed Oreo every morning. Somehow this doesn't seem likely to improve my spiritual condition any. So I turn on City Confidential instead and chow down a leftover piece of chicken while watching a story about a murder in a small Texas town. The day is obviously deteriorating.

1:30 – Back to work. I hint to my husband that if he’s going to the gym, he might want to go early since I’m making dinner for 6:00. No response.

3:00 – Falling asleep at my desk so I heat up a cup of coffee.

4:45 – Hubby goes to the gym. Here’s my chance … but it will soon be time to start cooking dinner so there’s no way I can just sit somewhere quietly without thinking of what I’m supposed to be doing. But wait … cooking is one of those things that I love to do. Something I can really get into … something that calms me down after a long crazy day … something I can actually practice MINDFULNESS while doing!

So that’s what I do. I work on creating a spaghetti frittata (except I use leftover penne pasta instead of spaghetti). I assemble my ingredients, chop onions and tomatoes, mix eggs and milk and cheese, add the pasta. I set aside the bowl.

I have a few extra minutes, so I decide to clean a little. Cleaning is another thing that – strange as it sounds – relaxes me. Puts me in a contemplative mood. There’s nothing like shiny small appliances and clean counters to make me feel satisfied. Must be the ghost of my 1950’s mom being channeled through me. I clean the coffee pot till it gleams, brush the crumbs out of the toaster oven and wipe it down, and spray Windex on the backsplash.

I think about my house, how excited I was when we moved here over 12 years ago. The dreams I had, the relief I felt getting off our old block, how OCD I was about organizing my cabinets and drawers. Oh, and how much SPACE I had in this kitchen compared with my old one! And although the appliances have aged and some have been replaced, I still get the same feeling of satisfaction when I enter the kitchen every night to cook dinner.

Kitchen meditation? Maybe I’ve invented something new. Which could be pretty awesome.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 9: The Sounds of Silence

Today’s challenge was: Do something by yourself, all alone. … Turn your phone off and go! Be unreachable to the world and reacquaint yourself with yourself!

I figured this one would be a piece of cake. After all, I am alone pretty much all day, every day, at least while my husband is at work. I work for myself, and that works best when there is silence. Hard to focus on editing or writing when music is playing or the TV is on.

But the true question remains: Is that really “quality” silence? Am I ever really “disconnected” – from the Internet, the phone, reading material or (most of all) the committee in my head? (You know the one I mean, the one that meets at 2 AM to review all the things you could have done, have to do, wish you could do, etc.)

And that brings me to the topic of meditation.

Meditation is something that I’ve never quite mastered, like skiing only not as likely to cripple me for life. I have tried it in yoga classes, alone in a room, walking, sitting cross-legged, listening to music … and still I can’t seem to get the hang of it.

So for today’s challenge I thought I would try it again.

I opted for walking meditation, which is the type that’s come closest to working for me in the past. The basic idea, according to the website I consulted (see below), is to “use the experience of walking as our focus. We become mindful of our experience while walking, and try to keep our awareness involved with the experience of walking.” It also suggests that we be aware of the things outside ourselves, such as “the wind, the sun, and the rain; and the sounds of nature and of humans and machines.”

(See - This website is nothing if not practical. For example, they remind me that I should practice walking meditation with my eyes open. Good point, just in case I forgot.)

I turned off my cell phone (though I did slip it into my pocket) and set out. For the first half block my mind was on not getting hit by the speeding cars, so I decided to really start meditating when I reached the quieter side street.

Then I met a friend who stopped to chat. No sweat, I will start meditating right after we finish talking.

Once I was alone again, it was time to focus. In order to quiet the committee, which was already brooding over tonight’s dinner, my Christmas list, and (of course) writing this blog, I decided to use a mantra. One of my favorites is, “Breathe in faith; breathe out fear,” so I began consciously repeating this in my head to drown out the meeting attendees who were busily discussing holiday shopping.

Ah, this is good. Notice the gray clouds rolling by, notice the geese gathered in the field, notice the fallen autumn leaves, notice the stiff breeze … notice the raindrops on the ground. Uh-oh. The raindrops on the ground. I am at the farthest point of my walk – about a mile and a half from home – and it is starting to rain. BREATHE IN FAITH, BREATHE OUT FEAR. It’s only rain, it’s not going to kill me. I have a hat on. I am wearing a hoody. My iPhone is protected in my pocket. All is right with the universe.

Should I turn around or go to my usual stopping point? Turn around now! No, don’t be such a wuss. Turn around – your luck it will start to downpour. No, the sun is trying to poke through the clouds. Turn around … NO. BREATHE IN FAITH DAMMIT AND BREATHE OUT F***ING FEAR!!!!!!

Calming myself, resuming my mantra, and slowing my speeding pace, I went to my usual turnaround spot and headed back. The rain stopped. I smiled. Got back into the rhythmic breathing. Geese. Clouds. Leaves. Breeze.

I started thinking about being by myself. How I pretty much grew up thinking that being alone was the norm, as the only child of an only child and the granddaughter of two strong-minded, independent, entrepreneurial women. And how hard it is for me to understand people who find being alone not only a challenge but a fearful undertaking.

I found myself being grateful for the ability to be comfortable enough in my own skin to spend long stretches of time alone. And about the difference between being alone and being lonely.

There’s a song called “Everywhere I Go, There I Am” that talks about a woman’s attempts to escape her situation by moving elsewhere … except that when she does, she finds that she still has herself to deal with. I think about that feeling – one I’ve had in the past but not for a long, long time. And again I am grateful.

And then I find myself thinking about God (or Higher Power, or Spirit of the Universe, or whatever you care to call him/her/it) and about how God didn’t create us to be miserable.

And that if it is true that we are made in his image, then we are meant to be comfortable with ourselves.

And that being comfortable with ourselves then logically implies that we are comfortable with God.

And that, I believe, is called meditation.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 7: Surprise! Surprise!

In the original Day 7 as introduced by Ryan, the task was to surprise a friend.

But for some reason, this task makes me very uncomfortable. Maybe because surprises have usually not had positive outcomes in the past. I used to amuse myself by trying to thwart the efforts of my friends trying to plan surprise parties for me. Until one night it blew up in my face and I didn’t speak to my friends for about a year.

Maybe because the thought of “dropping in” on someone makes me squirm. It calls to mind the time we dropped in on my aunt and she was serving pea soup to her family. She “stretched” the recipe so the three of us could join them for dinner. The resulting experience can only be described as Dickensian. (“Please sir … can I have more?”)

So I brooded and thought hard about what kind of surprise I might feel comfortable with and that could turn out to be totally awesome.

Spontaneity: That was what I decided would be a better goal for me to shoot for. Especially after yesterday’s difficult time following directions and letting someone else drive the bus.

So even though I had intended to push for a hike at Sleeping Giant today, we ended up doing three awesome things instead:
1. Buying our fall mums, pumpkins and other decorations and sprucing up the outside of the house.
2. Attending the Southington Apple Harvest Fair, eating pizza at Connecticut's #1 wood-fired pizza restaurant, and watching a parade.
3. Finding out about the Fall Renaissance Festival’s Pet Day on October 24 and making plans to buy the perfect costume to embarrass Oreo.

It actually turned out to be a great day, one without a bit of planning, which just may be the biggest surprise of all!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

100 Days of Awesome Day 6: Follow the Directions Because You Are Not in Control

Ah, a lesson in control. Always appropriate in my world! Although Ryan chose to follow the directions of a recipe to the “T” I realized that this wouldn’t work for me for a couple of reasons. First, I’m on vacation and I won’t be cooking tonight. And second, I am an avid cook and pretty much follow the recipes specifically anyway. So the recipe angle would not present much of a challenge.

However, that is not to say that I always follow directions. Far from it! And following directions that someone else suggests (that is, a real person sitting next to me and not some anonymous person at Google Maps, for example) is definitely not my forte. I’m pretty sure the definition of “Back Seat Driver” has my picture next to it.

Today’s plans, now that the sun is finally out, are to bicycle and geocache along a rail trail from Moosup, CT to Greene, RI (approximately 23 miles round-trip). This should provide me with plenty of opportunities to relinquish control, follow directions and let someone else take charge. And since my geocaching partner and I have been known to have some nasty disagreements in thickly wooded places, that should add yet another interesting layer to this awesome day. Wish me luck!


I learned some interesting things about following directions today:

1. The directions are not always right.
2. The people who write directions tend to inject their opinions into what should be objective.
3. Doing things someone else’s way can make you crazy if that person’s mind keeps changing.

Just like everything else in life, following directions is not a 100% foolproof method.

If we’d followed the directions given by Google Maps to reach McDonald’s, we would have made an illegal left turn and driven into oncoming traffic (see #1 above).

By following the directions given in one of our caches (a hint that read: “3 feet high”), we failed to find an item that we found out later required one to climb a tree (see # 2 above). I have no explanation for that except that the person writing the directions must have been having one of those Alice-in-Wonderland moments when he wrote it.

And as for #3 … well, it would appear that “balance” is once again the operative word.
So my conclusion at the end of this awesomely confusing day is: When all else fails, read the directions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

100 Days of Awesome Day 5 & Day 10

Day 5: Just (Don't) Say "NO" and Day 10: Positivity

First a quote from Ryan’s blog:

“It's so easy to get discouraged with everyday stress and third party negativity. If you forget to let good thoughts be your sword and shield then you are going into battle unprepared.

“It's so AWESOME to be positive! Misery loves company, but you don't have to be its date!”


Since I’m still in catch-up mode, it makes sense to me to combine “a day without no” with a day of positive thoughts. And the line from Ryan’s blog that I quoted above has given me inspiration.

After 12 hours of sleep, punctuated by a 1 AM upset stomach, no doubt stress related (though I have my doubts about the Whole Foods rotisserie chicken – when I shock my body with foods that are free of all impurities, it tends to rebel), I awoke to a miserable, rainy day. Still mourning my lost vacation, I wanted to just roll over and shoot for another 12, but my dog was doing that dog thing. You know: Staring. Whimpering. Pacing. Everything short of saying “Yo, I’m hungry and I’ve gotta pee! Get out of bed!”

So I reluctantly did my morning routine: Stretch. Pee. Brush teeth. Wash face. (Not a lot different from the dog, now that I think about it.) Went downstairs, poured coffee, shoveled out dog food. Hubby was good enough to brave the rain with Oreo so I got to check the computer and be alone with my thoughts for a while.

OK, so how to salvage this un-vacation weekend. First of all, I do not want to be in the house another day. So we discussed lunch and a movie. Sounds good for starters. I didn’t say no to either idea. And thinking of both did wonders to raise my spirits. Starting off on a good foot …


We decided on an 11:30 AM show. Two benefits: Cheaper seats and an empty theater. While Joe waited for overpriced popcorn, I noticed a Starbucks counter and availed myself of their overpriced caramel latte, smiling positively the entire time.

Sure enough, we were one of only three people in the theater. Sat down and five minutes later another couple came in … and sat down two seats away from us. Immediately negative thoughts flooded my mind: Are they going to try to rip us off? Why would someone sit two seats away from us when there is an entire empty theater? I whispered my concern to my husband, who just shrugged. I decided to think positively. Perhaps they were agoraphobic and didn’t like the feeling of being in a big empty room.

The movie was a good one: The Social Network. All about the early days of Facebook – a subject I could definitely relate to. Afterward, we went to lunch at the Black Bear Saloon. Also a good pick. The positive mood is going strong. Not much reason to use the “N” word either, except to say “No thank you” when asked if I’d like to order dessert.

When we left the mall, the rain had stopped so we decided to engage in our favorite pursuit: geocaching! This would surely be a test of my positivity!

Our first attempt netted a DNF (that’s “Did Not Find” for those of you who are not geocachers). Poking around a wet bench in a very public area of West Haven, looking for a small magnetic container was bad enough. The fact that it started raining again was worse. Feeling a small bit of nasty coming on, we returned to the car.

On to cache # 2, this time at a popular park that we figured would be empty in the rain. Wrong. A bunch of teens and their dogs were hanging around the spot we needed to be, so again we returned to the car without even searching. Now my inner bitch was seething. Screaming “NOOOOOOOOO!” loudly in my head. So as I got into the car, I slammed the door shut and said, “I’m angry and I have to vent! I’m angry that we didn’t go to New Hampshire. I’m angry that we’re geocaching in West Haven instead of the White Mountains. And I’m angry that it’s still raining!” There. I managed to say all of that without saying “no” even once. And getting all that negative energy out also let me turn my attitude around and get more positive.

From there, the rest of the geocaching adventure went a lot better. I even knew when to call it quits and go home. And we were able to choose a restaurant for the evening and plan tomorrow without argument.

This was definitely one of my more successful and awesome days thus far! But importantly, I learned that it wasn’t enough to put on a happy face and “stuff” the negative feelings, but instead to express them quickly and move on.

100 Days of Awesome Day 4: Compliment Everyone

I am feeling anything but awesome today. Our vacation plans were thwarted by Mother Nature, and I am having a hard time accepting. I am angry as can be, but it’s that kind of anger I can do nothing with. (Yell at God? Yeah, that’s effective.)

So the last thing I wanted to do today was spread cheer among my fellow humans by peppering my conversation with compliments. Ugh. But I committed myself to this path, and no matter how hard the trudge, I must forge ahead. (I would rather be trudging up a mountain in New Hampshire, but I’m not … see paragraph 1. But I digress.)

First thing this morning, I had the opportunity to moderate a meeting of about 20 people. Rather than tell each person individually how wonderful they were (or that they were wearing nice clothes or their hair looked good or whatever), I just made a blanket statement at the end, telling them how they helped to make my day better.

When I got to the gym, I noticed someone had left their car headlights on. Remembering the hard time I had yesterday with random acts of kindness, I made sure to alert the front desk staff about the lights. Figured that made up for yesterday’s dog-walking disaster.

On the way home from the gym, I decided to stop at Dunkin Donuts for a large iced caramel latte. (When life gives you lemons, get one of those. It’s a lot better than lemonade.) I recalled that one of the items in my “100 most awesome people” list was the person who makes the best DD coffee, so when I was handed my cup, I thanked the cashier and told her that this location makes the finest coffee of any DDs. She seemed genuinely thrilled to hear that, and it made me smile.


Sadly, this was my last brush with civilization for the day, so did not have any more opportunities to compliment anyone, except online. Does that count? I probably said a few encouraging things via email. For the record, I was in bed by 8:30 and didn’t get up till 9 the next morning. I will attempt to incorporate some compliments into my next awesome day.