Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happy New Year!

This year I’m trying a different approach to setting resolutions. In the past I would make lists of things I felt I needed to work on or to change. After a month or two life would just get in the way and I would soon forget about what was actually on my list.

My new approach this year is to come up with three words that I can use to measure my actions against to keep on track, to help identify my areas of weakness, and to help measure any goals up against. I got the idea from another blogger I like to follow: Reading Risa. Last year, rather than come up with a list of resolutions for 2009, she identified three words to help her attain measureable goals. At the time I didn’t think I would be able to reduce my usual list of resolutions down to three words – but after mulling it over for a year – I found I was able to come up with my own set of three words to use to measure my actions and plans up against for this new year.

SIMPLIFY | FRUGAL | EVOLVE

One of the reasons I think I was able to come up with my three words is because I have wanted to make some major life decisions for the past two years – but have found myself stuck in a place that prevented me from doing so. I started thinking about what types of things I could do – or would need to do – that would help me get beyond this wall I’ve run smack up against.

Simplify came first. I need to make my life less complicated so that I can focus more on the things that are important to me. I am working to reduce the clutter in my life both figuratively and literally.

Frugal was next. Over the past several years I have not been financially responsible. Nor have I managed my time well. Time to make a change.

Lastly – and this is the hardest one – was Evolve. I finally had to admit to myself that I need help moving forward and being productive. I started therapy last week.

I am looking forward to this new year and the new changes it will bring with it as I work on these three areas of my life. I do want to acknowledge two important women in my life – whom I have never met in person – but whose writings have taught me that it’s okay recognize when you might need help, that you are not a failure when setbacks occur, and that less is more. Thank you Risa and Kristi!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bad Boys

Some days everything falls into place perfectly.

It is illegal to sell or purchase fireworks in New York State. In Pennsylvania, however, it is not. Over the summer my husband took my son to a Lacrosse tournament in Philadelphia. Guess what they came home with.

When they came home from the tournament, my son tried to discretely bring into the house, and into his bedroom, something concealed in a large plastic garbage bag. When I asked him what was in the bag he wouldn’t make eye contact with me and just said it was nothing. Of course I immediately assumed it was a present for me and he was simply hiding it in his bedroom.

A few weeks later I learned they had bought fireworks while at the Philly Lacrosse tournament and had every intention of setting off those fireworks during a birthday sleepover with two of my son’s friends. I strongly stated my objections to my husband but they fell on deaf ears.

The morning of the birthday sleepover, my husband took our son and his two friends to a local water park for the day. Chance would have it that my daughter was invited to a sleepover as well and so I had a rare day to myself. The weather was beautiful that day – sunny, warm, not too humid – and I was enjoying working outside. My quiet afternoon was suddenly interrupted with loud sirens going off! These sirens sounded like the air-raid sirens you hear in WWII movies. After about a minute the sirens stopped and a loud announcement was heard: “This is an emergency. Ithaca College campus is under a state of emergency. Please go to a designated shelter immediately and stay inside until further notice.” The sirens would then resume – with both sirens and announcement repeated several times before stopping. Ithaca College is about two miles from my house – and I later heard from friends that the sirens and announcement were heard up to 5 miles away. This emergency notice was repeated at least 2 more times until early evening.

My husband and the boys got home about 9:30 that evening. The four of them immediately grabbed the fireworks and headed out to a nearby field. We live in the city – but on the outskirts so we are in walking proximity to a lot of open fields and wooded areas.

I heard one, two, three sets of loud bangs as the ‘boys’ had their fun. After the fourth firework went off – guess what? A loud air-raid like siren went off for about a minute. Then a loud announcement was heard. Of course, if you happened to be in the act of setting off fireworks in a state where such an activity is ILLEGAL then you might be so scared and running home so quickly that you might not have heard what the announcement actually was. So an announcement stating an end to a campus emergency might sound like something entirely different - it might sound like the police with a bull horn coming after you. And when more sirens went off you would probably start running even faster.

Within minutes the ‘boys’ came bursting in the front door. Did I hear those sirens? Did I see any police? Any patrol car lights? How could the police have known so quickly? Did I think that the neighbors may have called them?

Oh what a sweet moment.

They told me that they were so startled at first that they simply ran and left my son’s backpack (which has his name in it) and all the fireworks behind. My son rushed back to grab them. Then his friend realized he left his jacket (with his name in it) behind and rushed back to grab it. What a slap-stick comedy skit it must have looked like. I was so enjoying this.

The next day my husband reads to me from the paper that there was a state of emergency on Ithaca College campus and that was why the sirens went off. Really, I said?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Enough!

I have issues. I keep putting off posting because it's been a while and then I have to think of the perfect post to start back up again but keep putting that off and in the mean time - well - time just keeps going by. So. No segue. Tomorrow I start again. Just like that. I'm also looking for a good therapist to help me with my procrastination and perfectionist issues. Any recommendations?

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Bigger Picture

It’s been a while. I took on an overload of classes last semester and it ended up consuming all of my time. I would equate the extra courses to picking up a 20 hour part-time job on top of a 40 hour full-time job. Why did I do this? I’m struggling to answer this question.

I have a very difficult time maintaining balance in my life. I tend to embrace one thing and pursue it single mindedly – to the exclusion of other things. In an attempt to prevent myself from these single minded pursuits, one of my last posts before I disappeared was a list of daily goals – all of which were designed to help me strike a balance between work, family/friends, and me.

It is just like me to recognize what I need to work on, make lists of where I need improvement, make schedules to factor in time, and then go about doing everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t happen. Hence the list of daily goals and then taking on such a work load that there was no way I would be able to actually DO any of those daily goals.

Then I started making a list of resolutions for this New Year – and realized I was making the same old resolutions all over again. Yes – I did accomplish some from last year – and I don’t want to ignore those accomplishments. I did do three triathlons – which kept me exercising. I managed to maintain my weight loss – but I hit a plateau and did not lose any more weight this past year. I did not eat very healthy. I did not take care of my health - nor my personal or my spiritual growth. I feel as if I just let my relationships coast this past year. And all this came to a head last fall by taking on so much at work that it prevented me from having to do anything but – well - work.

Once I realized my resolutions were repetitions of years gone by, I started taking a good long look at myself. I THOUGHT I already did this two years ago with my whole “I’m turning 50 and the next 50 I’m turning my whole life around” rhetoric. I think that I hit a plateau not just in my weight loss but also with my own personal growth and how that extends outward in my professional, social, and family life.

As I’m reflecting on my struggle to maintain balance and realizing I’m not really making the kinds of changes I want to in my life – I’m hit with a huge realization. I’m an Avoider. I create situations where I have to “this” (“this” being something I HAVE to do) before I can do “that” (“that” being something I might really WANT to do or would ENJOY doing). I’m not afraid to take risks; I’m not afraid of learning or experiencing new things; I’m not afraid of failure. This avoidance behavior prevents me from maintaining any kind of healthy balance in my life. I understand this intellectually – but I need to work on the reality of it.

Then two seemingly unrelated events occur as I’m struggling with my resolutions. The first was when talking to a friend about a course she teaches about the cognitive behaviors of different cultures. The focus of the course is on how Asians and Westerners (us Americans) think differently. We think differently I asked her? How do we think differently? And I was fascinated with the answer she gave me. So much so that I ordered her text book to read for myself. It’s called “The Geography of Thought” by Richard E. Nisbett. I didn’t even get through the introduction before I saw some parallels to my struggles with balance in my life. I never look at the whole picture! I look at problem areas as if it were an isolated issue to be “fixed” and devote all my focus to that area. I need to start taking a holistic approach to the whole issue of balance in my life.

The second event is in regard to my husband deciding to lose weight. Diets are very difficult to sustain with our lifestyle. So he decided to try counting calories as a means to lose weight rather than try a diet. His intent was not to deny any certain foods but to just watch how much he ate. He found a website that tracks your weight loss with a graph – and calculates a daily average weight based upon your actual weight from day to day. The philosophy behind this is to show overall weight loss over time. Since your weight might fluctuate up or down from one day to the next – the chart is a visual demonstration that over time you are indeed showing steady progress in losing weight. I read everything the author wrote about this approach on his website and realized this was putting into practice what I started reading about in the book “The Geography of Thought.” Again – looking at the bigger picture. What a concept!

These two events have changed my whole approach to my next 50 years. I’m going to try a more holistic approach and look at the “bigger picture” in all aspects of my life. I’m examining my avoidance tendencies and trying to determine why I have them and how to eliminate them. I have much to work out. My first step is to rework all my resolutions – but with a very different focus now.

And once I get my house clean I’ll be ready to get started on the New Year!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Different Points of View

Yesterday was the first day of classes for me. My husband stayed home with the kids since they don't go back to school until tommorrow. He also watched two other kids in the neighborhood as there are no camps this week for working parents to send their kids to before school starts. My 13 year old son greeted me when I got home. As I was walking up the driveway with him, I looked all around the yard and the front patio – and saw baseball bats, baseball gloves, baseballs, footballs, bikes laying on their sides, bike helmets, lacrosse rackets, scooters, etc. I turned to my son, sighed, and asked, “What do you suppose the neighbors think when they see this mess in front of our house?” He looked at me and said, without pause, “They think healthy active kids live here.”

He won that one.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Teamwork

Two weeks ago my husband and I took the two youngest kids white water rafting on a 5 mile Class 1 (the easiest) stretch of the Genesee River. This was designed for beginners – and there were families there with children much younger – and smaller – then ours! It was the first time for all of us – and we had a blast. In reflecting back on the experience, there was something about the excursion that I enjoyed just as much as the thrill of doing it. It was the teamwork needed to navigate the river.

Everyone who had signed up for this (about 40 people) had the choice of navigating their boat with or without a guide. I leaned over and whispered in my husband's ear that maybe we should opt for a guide in our boat. You know, since it was our first time and we had two kids with us and all. My husband gently whispers back "NO (insert swearword here) WAY!" So – if you opt out of having a guide in your boat then you need to appoint one person as the leader. This person sits in the back of the boat and tells everyone else what to do. My husband thought I’d be good in this role.

However, at my insistence, my husband was appointed the leader of our boat. I grew up in central New Jersey. I have no experience with boats in water. He grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York. He has lots of experience with boats in water. It turns out I made the right call.

Everyone needed to work together to get through the spots where the water ran faster and rougher. Everyone also needed to listen to the boat leader – who had the more global perspective of maneuvering through the water from the back of the boat. It was these two factors – listening and working together - that made this event such a great learning experience for each of us.

My youngest daughter is a natural leader – only at age 10 she hasn’t yet refined this skill enough to add diplomacy to it. She had to learn not to be on the lookout for what her older brother might be doing wrong, that it wasn’t her role to correct him if she thought he was doing something wrong, and not to contradict the boat leader’s instructions if she disagreed with him. Simply put, she had to learn she couldn’t be the boss (or bossy – whatever fits).

My youngest son does not like to be told what to do. Nor does he like to be wrong in any way. He is 13. He had to learn to not be defensive when being told what to do. He also had to learn that just because he was being told to do one thing and then – quick – do something else instead (as in “paddle FORWARD – now BACK, HOLD!) didn’t mean he was doing something wrong - just do it.

This was an eye opening experience for me. I loved how we had to work as a team to negotiate the river – and had to depend on each other to do his or her part. I loved watching how my two youngest had to get over their desire to constantly annoy each other and instead work together. There was no time for arguing, no time for blame, no time to monitor who did more or what wasn’t fair. No arguing at all – just learning to work together.

I’ve always tried to work on teaching my children how to work as a team – but being kids and all – they are more interested in monitoring what the other one is doing. And reporting loudly about the unfairness of what each one got stuck doing. You can’t do that when your raft is stuck on a rock and you’ve all got to work together to get off the rock.

I saw my role as a parent in a whole different light. I also saw what I was missing. It isn't just about teaching your children how to navigate rivers on their own. It's also learning/knowing what baggage you need to get rid of in order to work together to accomplish a goal. I'm struggling to put this in words - but I do know that I need to provide more of these type of real life experiences to help them.

~Swingset

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daily Goals

The fall semester starts next week. As I prepare the goals for the classes I'm teaching this next semester, I started thinking about setting some personal goals of my own. One of the issues I've been examining for my next 50 years has been how to find balance in my life between my career, my family, and my self. So I came up with a set of daily goals for myself:

1. Write every day.
2. Draw every day.
3. Exercise every day.
4. Listen to music that I want to listen to every day.
5. Encourage my children every day.
6. Let my family know that I love them every day.
7. Do not work after 5:00 pm on weekdays.
8. Do not work on weekends.

I don't have any answers yet - but creating this list might get me on the right track. I'll work on why I have a tough time finding balance tomorrow.

~Swingset