Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 50: Awesome Anniversaries

I just looked back at the starting date of my blog and realized that tomorrow I’ll be celebrating an anniversary! Hooray! One year since I began my 100 Days of Awesome!

Oh, but wait … that means it’s been 365 days since I actually began my 100 days.

And I’m only up to Day 50.

So what happened to the other 50 Awesome Days? Not to mention the 315 days over the past year that apparently weren’t terribly awesome . . .

Um, gulp.

I guess I could beat myself up about not being disciplined, not achieving my goal, not being the best damned blogger in the world. But that wouldn’t do any good at all. And it certainly wouldn’t be very awesome.

Instead, this got me thinking about anniversaries in general – since there just happens to be another anniversary this week. One day after the anniversary of my blog is our wedding anniversary. 27 years. 

It’s actually hard to wrap my head around this number. There are days I feel like I’m still that 25-year-old Brooklyn girl, impatient to get started with her “grown-up” life. And other days when I feel like I still haven’t started. There are days when I am overjoyed that I’ve had an opportunity to spend more than a quarter-century with my best friend. And days when I don’t want to spend even another quarter-hour in the same room with him.

Time is a funny thing. The good times go so fast. The bad times go on forever. When our children were babies, the crying seemed like it would never stop. Yet today it feels as if they became young adults in the blink of an eye.

So here is the obvious question (and one that satisfies my somewhat obsessive need for parallel construction): Were those 27 years always awesome?

Um, gulp.

I guess I could beat myself up about not being perfect, never getting the hang of all the domestic arts, not being the best damned wife in the world. But that wouldn’t do any good at all. And it certainly wouldn’t be very awesome.

So I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. Fifty awesome days in a year is good enough. And 27 years of marriage … well, that’s pretty awesome. Period.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 49: Awesome Nature: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Irene

The neighborhood dogs are still skittish. As I walked my usual route this morning, two days after Hurricane Irene, I heard more frantic barking than I’ve ever heard before. Dogs, much like me, need the comfort of routine. And for the past week, life has been far from ordinary.

I won’t bore you with the details or the videos or the photos. You’ve heard and seen them all before, as well as all the superlatives that go along with them: worst, most devastating, biggest, strongest, most ferocious, etc. Instead, I am reflecting today on the lessons learned from Hurricane Irene. What we did wrong, what we did right, what we’d do differently next time (and please God let there not be a next time anytime soon).

Unlike tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, hurricanes come with plenty of warning. So the first thing we did right was prepare. The utilization of technology on the state and local levels was top-notch. Communication both pre- and post-storm from government, utilities and telecom providers was smooth and relatively glitch-free. And we can’t discount the impact of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to keep everyone informed minute-by-minute. If there was a better place to get the “real” story, I can’t think of any! 

People for the most part seemed to handle themselves with grace and dignity, both before and after the storm. Neighbors helping neighbors, some whom we’d never even spoken to before. Trying to be patient with long lines at stores and sold-out essentials beforehand, cold showers and yet another day of powerlessness afterward. And reminding each other that “it could be worse” and “everyone’s doing the best they can.”

On the flip side, however, the constant weeklong media frenzy leading up to the actual event created a state of anxiety that could take weeks or even months to wind down from. I’ve heard it called PISS: Post Irene Stress Syndrome. And I can assure you that it is real.

So for the future: preparation, not panic. 

On a personal level, there are quite a few things I think we did right:
  • Bought and froze lots of water ahead of time. This kept our freezer freezing effectively for the 35 hours we were without power.
  • Charged up the phones and the laptop. I don’t know what I would have done without my iPhone. It kept me online, in touch and sane. (Well, kinda sane.) It also kept my business running post-storm despite our power outage.
  • Gassed up the cars for the possibility of a quick getaway. We also made fully refundable hotel reservations outside of the “cone of uncertainty” just in case we needed to evacuate or just couldn’t deal with another day without a hot shower.
  • Printed out the helpful lists we found online of things to have on hand such as batteries, flashlights, lanterns, candles, head lamps, propane/charcoal grills, etc. And then checked the items off, one by one, as we purchased them or brought them to our “ready station” in the kitchen.
  • Shopped for fresh fruit and veggies at Trader Joe’s instead of joining the hordes of shoppers at the local supermarket. The place was busier than usual, but low-key and fully stocked. And why eat Chef Boy-ar-dee from a can when you can have fresh melon, mango and Caesar salad?
  • Brewed two 12-cup pots of coffee ahead of time and stored it in the fridge. I cannot fathom starting my day without coffee, so this was a lifesaver. The milk and ice stayed long enough to make plenty of iced coffee.
  • Set the refrigerator/freezer for Max Cold about eight hours before the storm was due to hit. Most newer models have this feature; it’s worth digging out the manual to find out if yours does. After 35 hours without power, our freezer only rose to 20 degrees. Pretty amazing!
  • Stocked up on propane and charcoal. We have both a charcoal grill and a propane stove, both of which we put to good use once the storm passed. Although we had cold pasta salad (made in advance) while the storm was still roaring through, it was good to have hot options the following day when “Mother Nature’s scrubbers” were done and a glorious sunny day followed. And despite not being able to use our electric fire starter for the charcoal, the storm provided us with more than enough wood for kindling!
  •  I’m still not sure why we were told to fill the bathtub with water, but we did. Although we never had to use it to flush our toilets (which is what the advice suggested – and perhaps for those with well water, it was well heeded), it did turn out to be handy for refilling the fish tank daily. Our poor goldfish was oxygen-deprived without the electric filter cleaning his water.
And there are a few things I’d do differently:
  •  I’d like to think I’d limit my media exposure in the days leading up to another storm. However, try as I did to adhere to a “weather fast” when I realized my anxiety level was entering the red zone, I found it nearly impossible to resist.
  • Get a generator. We toyed with the idea a few years ago, then abandoned it for other priorities. Now we’re in the market for real. Having a refrigerator and stove and being able to run my business would take away a good deal of stress. And, although we did not get flooding, we know plenty of people who have perfectly good sump pumps and shop-vacs but can’t use them to bail out their basements because they have no power.
  • Have some tree work done. Oddly enough, we’d lost a big branch off an old sugar maple close to the house several weeks ago on a perfectly calm, warm day. When the tree guy came to remove it, we had him cable the remaining tree and cut off some limbs that looked iffy. Doing so might very well have saved us from major roof damage during the hurricane. We have two more old trees in front of the house that could use some pruning, so once our guy is done taking care of folks who have real emergencies, we’ll have him over to do some additional work.
  •  Look into communications options like a data card for Internet access or tethering the iPhone to the laptop. As I said earlier, the iPhone was a lifesaver, but looking at a tiny screen, especially for things like hurricane tracking, grew tedious.
  • Face down the fear. I’m not quite sure how to do this, but I do know I need to work on it. Although I had many rational moments, there were other times when the committee in my head was chattering so loud that I wanted to scream. Then, at one point, a thought (that still, small voice?) came to me and said, “God knows what He’s doing” – and that calmed me down for awhile, but there were still times of doubt. I kept putting Hurricane Irene in my God Box, but she kept getting out! Maybe more duct tape …
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Hurricane Irene was gratitude. As we hesitantly left the safety of our homes once the storm had passed and began venturing out to survey the damage, we realized there were so many people who had it so much worse than we did. Houses that floated out to sea, homes that looked like full-size dollhouses, roofs cut in two by trees, basements filled with water. After our first foray around town, I came home and cried. Whether with gratefulness or sadness, I really couldn’t say. I think it was a combination of the two. And a little bit of survivor guilt … wondering why we were spared and feeling wrong for feeling so relieved.

So in the future -- through the storms of nature and the storms of life -- I’ve got to have faith and believe what I was told: God knows what He’s doing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 48: Pet Project

As any pet owner will tell you, being asked to share a story about your pets is akin to being asked to tell someone about your children. No matter what their faults, they are always the best, the brightest, the cutest, the most adorable in the world. Never mind that they pee on the carpet, poop by the fireplace, chew up the antique table in the dining room and whimper to be let out at the crack of dawn. (No, not the children. The pet … Try to follow.) 

But like becoming a new mother, becoming a first-time pet owner can be quite a crash course. 

As a child I never had a pet … unless you count the goldfish or the turtles, which were just not lovable enough to qualify for “real” pet status. I did babysit a cat once over winter break in my second year of college. The thing hissed at me when I locked myself out of the house and had to break in through the kitchen window. And it scared my cat-fearing grandmother out of several years of life when it escaped from the locked basement and rubbed up against her leg under the table. I never saw Nana jump that high before or since!

My husband, on the other hand, always had dogs growing up. So when we were given the opportunity to buy a puppy from a new litter of Tibetan Spaniels a friend’s dogs had just had, we jumped at the chance. It would be a surprise Christmas gift for the kids, especially my son who had been rallying for a dog unsuccessfully for a couple of years.

I always say that our dog chose me, not the other way around. We went to look at the four puppies and while all the others ran chasing each other around the house, this little fluffy black-and-white guy jumped right up into my lap and snuggled in. And thus began my love affair with the aptly-named Oreo. 

In the heart of a cold snowy winter, Oreo and I bonded in the backyard as he learned to let us know when he wanted to go out. He defied the experts who said all dogs love their crates (he hated it) and would NEVER do his business in there (he did). Despite our best intentions, he found his way into our bed at night and successfully begged for scraps at every meal. We learned that when he was too quiet, it was probably because he was chewing our furniture. And we learned that the big clump of matted fur on his head was just that – matted fur – not Oreo growing a third ear. (I kid you not. I still have a hard time walking into the vet’s office after calling in a panic about that one.)

If Oreo could talk, he would have oh-so-many secrets to tell! And so many family comedies and tragedies to recall. I think all of us have at some point sat with him, face buried in fur, crying and confiding and being comforted by those big soulful eyes and a lick or two. Oreo was even my perfect companion during 9/11. While everyone else was panic-stricken, he alone had what I needed to make my tumultuous world feel grounded again . 

Oreo is 11 now – fairly old in dog time, but not terribly old for his breed. And being a small dog, he has always maintained the look of a puppy. But although I’d like to deny it, I see the signs of his aging. Panting heavier and sooner when we take him for hikes. Climbing slowly up the stairs. Making sounds in his sleep that seem more like whimpers and less like playful puppy dreams. 

But every now and then, he seems rejuvenated. He’ll bound up the stairs, chase after a squirrel, run around crazily after his bath. Once in a while he’s that new puppy again … the one who bounced onto my lap and into my heart.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 47: Pay Close Attention!

I eagerly touched my “DoGood” app this morning to see what the day’s mission would be. I was prompted to devote all my attention to “one lucky person” – and being the sarcastic, negative person I tend to be before my first cup of coffee, I immediately wondered just how lucky he or she would really be. After all, the suggestion did not say whether my attention should be negative or positive.

The most likely recipient (victim?) of my attention today would of course be my husband. 

Over the course of the day, I was conscious of just how often I had the opportunity to be more attentive to – and less irritated by – the little things that make up an ordinary day in a married couple’s life. Making sure his tie was tucked correctly under his collar. Reminding him not to forget his (keys, lunch, wallet, honey-do list, etc.) as he walked out the door. Making direct eye contact when I asked how his day went instead of half listening as I checked email or the latest Facebook posting. Nothing big. But it was amazing how this changed the tone of the day. How the little things turned out to make a big difference.

The exercise got me thinking about the very nature of marriage – how two people leading separate lives are supposed to get together, agree on the “big stuff” – like buying a house and raising kids – and the not-so-big stuff – like what to eat for dinner and which movie to rent from Netflix. Looked at with a critical eye, this union should never work … and while 50 percent of marriages do indeed fail, what about the ones that don’t? The ones like ours that last a quarter of a century or more? What is it that keeps us together for better or worse, richer or poorer, sweet or sour, bewitching or just plain witchy?

The “long-timers” I’ve spoken to usually don’t have an answer to that question. I know I don’t. We certainly are no more spiritually fit, economically secure or romantically adept than other couples. We fight, sulk and go to our separate corners just as often as anyone else. Our real estate transactions and child rearing were definitely not exercises in perfection. 

So if it’s not the “big stuff” that kept us together, then it must be the little stuff. Like fixing that tie, serving steak when you’re craving a quiche, watching Road Warrior for the hundredth time when you really want to settle in with a Lifetime movie. And biting your tongue when he returns to the house – again – for the keys, lunch, wallet or honey-do list – that he forgot despite your calm, patient reminder. The difference, I think, is paying attention. And smiling anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 46: Time Alone

I’m Baaaaaaaack!

I was fairly appalled to see that I haven’t blogged since February, but that probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering my aversion to winter and the fact that my job gets insane every year at that time.
I also needed to find some new inspiration for my awesomeness, and my friend Susie was kind enough to turn me on to a free iPhone app called Tonic’s DoGood, which offers a prompt every day. Although it took me about a month, today I found and installed it – and was amused by the prompt I was given: “Spend a day by yourself today.”

Well, that’s actually pretty funny since I am self-employed and probably spend more time alone than most folks do. However, the irony is that I’ve been fighting the feeling of being alone ever since Sunday when our son left for his summer job at college. This will be the first summer he isn’t at home. Also the first summer we do not take a family vacation. And with my daughter having moved out – gradually, tiptoeing, but inarguably not living here anymore – the empty nest thing has become a reality. And I’m not too sure I like it.
But then, I’m not too sure I don’t.

Slowly but surely, my husband and I are realizing that there are perks to having an empty nest. We can come and go as we please without having to rush home to cook dinner for anyone. Our house is relatively clean, except for the occasional dog fur, dog pee, dog poop, dog throw-up … OK, except for the dog. The TV is likely to stay tuned to the same channel we watched the night before – not ESPN or the America’s Next Top Model Network (I know that’s not a real network but it sure does seem to be). No one complains about what I cook for dinner, what time curfew is, the fact that I sing show tunes with the radio now and then … loudly. Requests for money tend to come in text form rather than accompanied by that hang-dog look and those big brown eyes and a deep mournful sigh.

But I miss the laughter. 

I miss the silly jokes around the dinner table and making fun of the people on ESPN and America’s Next Top Model and the relief of hearing the front door open at 1 AM. I miss being ribbed about my belting out Broadway, I miss planning a special day for each family member during vacation, and yes … I miss handing over the cash to a grateful recipient. I miss the noise. And I miss the messiness. 

So, OK, new iPhone app. I’m willing to spend the day by myself today. But maybe not tomorrow. And surely not the summer. And definitely not forever. 

No, this empty nest stuff is definitely not for the faint of heart.