The Greatness of Grayness

I recently had a conversation with a shy teen girl I know – a family friend. She and her dad were in the process of re-painting her bedroom. It had been a light teal blue color, but now that she’s 14, she wants something more mature. I asked her about the colors she chose, including the names of the paints.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at paint chips and admiring the names of them at Lowe’s. The paint section is a patch of colorful creativity where I feel at home among an overwhelming vastness of stainless steel, wooden 2x4s, and white PVC pipe. I never pick a paint unless the name speaks to me as well as the hue. 

The teenager told me her walls would be Fog/a medium shade of gray; her ceiling, Pegasus/a bright white; and her trim, best of all, Zombie/almost black. The names of paint do not get any cooler than this combination! This brief chat set my mind in so many crazy directions as I imagined a fairytale woven from this pallet. A Zombie riding his winged Pegasus through a soup-like Fog toward the Apocalypse. (I’m fascinated by Zombies, as shown previously here.)

This interaction also got me thinking a lot about how much I’ve grown to prefer neutrals myself. Especially in my middle age. Gray is becoming my favorite color in addition to pink, aqua blue, sometimes yellow. But nowadays, I’m definitely tending toward gray. Or is it grey? I’m never sure.

It might sound drab and maybe even a little sad that I have fallen in love with gray. Research shows that people who suffer from anxiety (Guilty!) or depression are drawn to gray. But don’t shed a tear for me. I’m actually doing quite well in this great gray stage of my life — a chapter I call my “Mid-Life Chaos” (not a Crisis), a continuously busy time. Yet, amid the blur, I make rest a priority so I can keep up the steady pace of single parenthood. 

Every wall in my renovated circa 1900 home is painted Worldly Gray by Sherwin-Williams. When we moved into this house back in June 2019, The Precious Pair asked me about painting their rooms. And as much as I enjoy browsing the paint department, I am simply horrible at painting walls. The idea of it made me cringe, so I struck a deal with them. Let’s live in the house for a while and just see how we feel about these walls. Now, a year later, I can say all of us are quite content with them. They provide the perfect clean slate for adding pops of pizzazz throughout the home. My own room? The color scheme is gray and white with blushes of pink. My perfect girly girl sanctuary.

I especially love being tucked away upstairs in my room when the weather is damp and dreary and a fog has rolled in. Nature’s version of gray. As long as you’re not driving in it, there’s little to fear about the fog. It’s a rare, quiet, peaceful weather state where you should just stay put, stay home, stay off the road, and take a nap – one of my favorite things to do. A fog is cool and comfortable – the perfect condition for burrowing in my favorite fuzzy blanket I keep at the foot of my bed, the one I drag along with me to hotels. My adulthood version of a “blankie.” It is, you guessed it, gray.

Yep, give me a foggy day and I’ll give you a couch potato, lazing around with Netflix humming on the TV, probably some ridiculous teen drama series that has its clutches in me. Something like Riverdale or Glee or Cobra Kai. I’ll order Panera. Most likely soup. Probably with one of those sprouted grain rolls. (Try that instead of the default baguette!)  Hopefully, my two dogs will catch on. It’s not a day for their shenanigans. Hopefully, they got the memo about Lazy Fog Day. Lazy requires canine cooperation.

As I explore my newfound appreciation for drabness, it all lines up. In my 40s especially, I’ve come to realize there’s far less black and white in this world than I ever realized before. Rather, there’s an abundance of gray. So much uncertainty in our days. So few clear-cut answers. Especially in 2020, more so than any year in my life thus far. I know it’s the same for many of you.

Remember for a minute when you would go to the doctor as a child. For me, I believed that simply going to his office made me better, as if the visit itself would heal me. In adulthood, one learns that’s certainly not the case. Doctors are doing their best, just like the rest of us. Asking questions, guessing, wondering, problem-solving. There’s a lot of uncertainty to what they do. It’s science, yet foggy. As in the case of “Yes, you likely have a concussion, probably,”  OR “You’ve lost your taste again? That could continue to happen off and on for the rest of your life, after having COVID. Maybe.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our health care heroes! I’ve enjoyed the privilege of their care quite a bit lately. They often work in grayness, and that takes incredible persistence and patience. Toss in a pandemic and their version of daily gray deepens like never before. 

Another example of what gray life looks like is a teenager contemplating college and career. My oldest is a high school sophomore. She’s often thinking aloud about where she wants to go and what she wants to do with her life. Like most of us, regardless of age, she’s torn over her choices. She knows she likes kids, she’s strong in her faith, and she loves thrifting and Mother Earth. That leads her to consider teaching, the ministry, and sustainable fashion design. Quite a range with benefits and challenges to each of these paths, including economic considerations.

But who am I to question her? When I was a teen, I told a family member I wanted to be a high school English teacher. The reaction was not supportive – “Well, you won’t make any money doing that!” That advice stuck with me, and I chose to pursue public relations instead. I spent my first 10 years working in charities and the last 18, with a nonprofit financial institution.

Luckily, my shift in career plans worked out, and I love what I do for a living, but I’m certainly not rolling in the dough. I live in a financial state of gray. Having enough to pay for most of what I want to buy and do, while also struggling with the debt load I carry, for various reasons. But I will not encourage my daughters to allow the earning side of their career choices to sway them considerably. As I tell them, no one really has all the money they want. All the middle-income families I know live in a similar zone where, God willing, we have what we need, yet we’d happily take more. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Living gray, one learns to accept a feeling of contentment and stops seeking more and better everything. Inevitably, there are struggles. There are illnesses and injuries. There are unexpected expenses. There are conflicts. There are hard decisions to make. There are choices that will alter the course of our lives. There are no weather maps showing us a personalized forecast that warns us of the foggy patches ahead.   

With Halloween coming this weekend, many people will set up machines to manufacture fog on their porches and in their driveways. The idea is to create a mysterious and haunting vibe that makes the trick-or-treaters wonder what’s lurking. It could be a zombie, a werewolf, a ghoul, or countless other creepers. Most likely it’s just the creator of the fog himself – the suburban dad with the candy bowl. He’s probably eaten all the Reese’s by the time you find him.   

Then there’s another holiday, where a thick fog produces a different type of ghost:  The Grim Reaper representing Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “Christmas Future.” That part of the famous tale is always good and spooky in any film or live production I’ve seen of it – eek! 

But why is the fog always portrayed as a source of negativity? After all, it’s a patch of beautiful grayness. True, you can’t see through it and you don’t know what’s coming. But isn’t it precisely the unknown that becomes so much of the greatness in our lives? Things, events, people. The lovely gift you didn’t expect. The awesome day that fell together effortlessly. The amazing man or woman you didn’t plan to meet. 

My fog isn’t frightful or ominous. There are rainbows, bunnies, and patches of candy flowers hidden in there! A Skittles Moment. You just have to wait for the fog to clear away to enjoy all the colors inside. Until the gray rolls back in again… 

When we learn to appreciate the in-between and unexciting shades of life, we can discover a truth and a strength that’s pure, calming, and quite comfy. We renew ourselves in these neutral moments. If you’re like me, you might even get to know yourself best while you’re resting in them. Not thinking about what’s ahead and what’s behind you, but truly enjoying the subtlety of your current state and surroundings.

Try it. You might decide you have a new favorite color, too.   

Graycefully,
Meesh

“To be a great fighter, you got to learn to adapt…life’s not black and white. More often than not, it’s gray.” – Johnny Keene, Sensei at Cobra Kai Dojo, Season 2 of “Cobra Kai”

Photo Credit:
Katie Moum via Unsplash; http://www.finaldraftstudios.com; Instagram.com/katherinemoum

Not Your Mom’s Guide to Coronavirus

I’ve gone viral. Not in the sense a small-time blogger wants. I’m not yet appearing in The HuffPost, nor on The Today Show anytime soon. No, I’m talking about “viral load” in a medical sense. Coronavirus.

Disclaimer: I’m commenting here on my own individual health. Protecting the privacy of others in my household, I won’t discuss their health status. If you want to know how they came out of this, you’ll have to know them so you can ask them. 

How It All Went Down
“Who are all these people getting coronavirus?“ I said in a conversation earlier this summer. “Because I sure don’t know any of them.“

And it’s quite amazing how your life can turn on a dime and suddenly you are one of “all these people.“ The phone call with my positive diagnosis came on a Wednesday evening in Mid-August; I’ll call that Day 4. I’m typically not known for answering my phone, but I had been watching for this call for a solid 48 hours. Anxious. Full of dread.

I started feeling a little bad on the prior Sunday afternoon, Infamous Day 1. Tired with a headache I couldn’t shake. I took a nice long nap, one of my favorite pastimes. I woke up to The Precious Pair shouting from downstairs, “Somebody’s here!“ And a few minutes later, “It’s Miss Deanna.“

“Send her up here!” I shouted back. Within a few minutes, there was Deanna sitting on my bed in my smallish room. I covered my face with my sheet and said “I shouldn’t breathe on you. I’m not sure I’m feeling all that great.” And we decided to move out to my front porch where we chatted for a bit longer.

She had kindly stopped by to drop off my work mail since she had recently visited our office downtown. My workplace is awesome, officially one of the “Best Places to Work in Indiana.” Deanna is one of my work BFFs. Yes, I’m fortunate to have a few of those. But she was the unlucky one who got tangled up in the web of this story.

Twenty-four hours after her visit on Day 2, I checked in at an urgent care center to be tested for COVID-19. I woke up that Monday morning just not feeling right. Headache, bodyaches, low-grade fever. I rarely get a fever. And by that afternoon, I could not taste or smell a damn thing. Yes, that part is true. (Maybe the news isn’t so fake after all, Mr. President.) 

“But this can’t be happening…“ I told myself. I had been one of the more careful people I knew, in a community that was taking the risk half-seriously. Frequent handwashing/sanitizing, deliberate mask-wearing, and social distancing were important habits to us and had been throughout this pandemic.

The life-altering phone call I took from the clinic was surreal as I listened to what I already strongly suspected. I had tested positive for Coronavirus. I could only listen half-heartedly to the voice on the line. My mind was too busy racing with the people I needed to tell right away. All the people I had seen in the past week — maybe even the past two weeks? But the few I had just been with on that Sunday/Day 1 became my priority. Deanna, as mentioned earlier. A dear friend of Ellie‘s. Another dear friend of mine. 

And this is a moment I hope you don’t have to experience in this pandemic or ever. A moment of guilt and shame that persists as you wonder and wait to know if you have caused others you care about to become ill. I can only describe it as a migraine of worry.

What Happened to My Body and in My Mind
The actual physical migraine headache was the single worst symptom of my bout with COVID. Yes, even worse than the loss of taste and smell, the side effect that led me to lose 8 pounds. Who knew there could be a silver lining? 

But the headache was what floored me and truly interrupted my life and work. Screens did not help, so it was tough to do video meetings and TV was not enjoyable either. Reading? Not pleasant. That didn’t leave me much in the way of entertainment or passing the time. So I laid around thinking about writing this blog a whole lot.

My headache surely was not helped by my cold turkey approach to coffee. Anyone who knows me slightly knows about my Starbucks fandom. It’s fairly intense and usually daily. But anytime I fall ill, coffee is strangely the last thing I want. The same was true now as it was during my two pregnancies and anytime I’ve caught a bad cold. Why couldn’t I have just caught a bad summer cold?

That’s when all of this is happening, you know. In the dead heat of Late Hoosier Summer when we should have been at a pool or on a boat or at a baseball game. One of the things that carried me forward were my visions of summer giving way to fall, my absolute favorite time of year. One of my best texts during lockdown came from my good friend Rachelle who encouraged me with this: “You are in the house when it’s hot as f@ck anyway. You will be done with it when it’s your favorite season! We have lots of s’more’s and fires and cider and pumpkin lattes to have!!!” 

This lady was speaking my language. And future-forward thoughts like this were crucial to me during my recovery. I daydreamed about so many things… pho soup dates on chilly days; family visits; getting this house scrubbed from head-to-toe to prep for the holidays. 

And there were also my visualizations of my body healing itself. I refer to this part as “The Pounders and The Coders“ – an army of tiny badass bitches working inside me. The Pounders marched to work in sync, wearing bright pink hardhats with sledgehammers flung over their shoulders. Their job was to pound away at the virus. Their hard work was important, but it also created that pounding I felt constantly in my head. Associating the pain with the positivity of healing helped me to cope with it.

The Coders were a second workforce pulling overtime inside my body – developing, troubleshooting, and patching my immunity. Little spectacled super geeks drinking tons of Mountain Dew. I hate that stuff, but it kept them going 24/7 as they repaired my wellness.

My Lungs? I pictured them made of gleaming white metal inside my chest. Like brand-new lung-shaped school lockers, and COVID did not have the combination. I was determined all along not to let it into my lungs.

It Was Sorta’ Kinda’ (Not Really) Like a Porch Party
We celebrated a milestone during lockdown — a Sweet 16 for the oldest of The Precious Pair. Quarantine birthdays are the ones our kids won’t soon forget, either because they were unique and special or because they totally sucked. Either way, we celebrated in our little house filled with germs, but ever more powerful, filled with love. She got gifts left on the front porch, cards, phone calls, texts, Snapchat fame, and dinner delivery from the fanciest restaurant in town, Matteo‘s Italian Ristorante. She ordered salad, asparagus, and bruschetta. Vegetarian delicacies. 

She did not go to school that day, of course. Neither of them did for 14 days due to their exposure to the virus.

Nor did we go anywhere. Porch drops became our lifeblood. Our beloved wraparound took in a bounty of generosity and goodwill, from matzah ball soup to homemade fried rice to Panera; from flowers to balloons to multiple birthday cakes and other sweets; from epically-assembled Corona Gift Baskets full of candy, crafts, coloring books, snacks, wine, and, yes, Corona Beer; from a collection of hot/cold compresses for my head to a specialty bag of dog food. Yes, my two high-maintenance pups, The Pug & The Thug, continued to need care and attention all this time, as always. In fact, I am convinced The Pug caught her very own case of Canine COVID. She had trouble breathing on many nights lying in bed or on the couch with me. Maybe it was just the bad ragweed. 

Toggling between the discomfort of symptoms and the joy brought by the outpouring of support, I was up and down mentally and emotionally throughout the 2+ weeks. Nagging at me constantly, the stigma of it all. 

Curiosity Killed the Coronavirus 
The questions came frequently and rapidly from my circle of people. But I was usually fine with answering them. I’m a curious person myself, known to drill people with questions, so who was I to deny others of the same? I’ve identified my Top 3 Most Frequently Asked Questions to answer here and now… 

“What are your symptoms?“ 
This was THE most popular question. The answer is a laundry list.

  • Fever: mine was low-grade, fortunately. Never past 100F.
  • Cough: minimal, took cough syrup only twice. 
  • Digestion: a problem for a couple of days. 
  • No Appetite: nothing sounded good.
  • No Taste and No Smell: hit me simultaneously, even before I was tested. That’s how I knew. (I still don’t have them back.)
  • Headache: a constant for nearly the full two weeks of symptoms. The worst part.
  • Bodyaches: the second worst part for me. I described it to my girls as “falling off a cliff in the Grand Canyon and landing at the bottom onto hard, hot, red sandstone where I got run over by an ice cream truck driven by a creepy man who also backed up over me, then proceeded to park on top of me.” 
  • Fatigue: definitely, the longest-lasting symptom besides no smell and taste. Even yesterday on Day 19, I had to take a 3-hour nap.
  • Metal Mouth: an odd sensation that overcame me on Day 11 when my nose, throat, and mouth were filled with a burnt metallic pineapple sensation. I don’t know if I will ever enjoy pineapple the same way. Someone else I know described it as “Burnt Fruit Loops.” I had not heard about this symptom before, but I looked it up and it’s a thing for people.  
  • Shortness of Breath?: it never came for me. Luckily. Remember: COVID did not have the locker combination to my lungs!

“Oh, but aren’t you glad you’ll have immunity now? You won’t have to worry about it anymore.” 
Big Fat False. Immunity is loosely reported to last 2 or 3 months. That means I MIGHT enjoy antibodies until about Thanksgiving. Maybe. I won’t take that for granted nor will I assume it’s true. In fact, we will be more careful and aware now. If you know me, expect me to be your biggest nag about exercising caution, and I’ll worry even more about my parents, siblings, and friends.

“How did you get it?”
Best question. I’m asking myself the same one. No definitive answer. I’ve traced to the most possible source, from what’s typically a perfectly harmless setting, but there’s no way to know for sure. What’s the point in knowing that anyway, aside from satisfying everyone’s curiosity?

And that’s one message I have to share from this trying experience: all of us are living among an unknown menace. You can think you’re doing everything you can and everything right, and unknowingly, you can still be a target for this virus. 

I pray you won’t be. 

The Things That Helped
If you do fall temporarily to this beast, stock up or I will help stock you up on the following essentials:

Tylenol, Aleve, Advil, any painkiller you can get your hands on.

Gatorade or Powerade or Pedialyte and juice and seltzer water and Capri Sun and your favorite soda and hot tea and basically any ingestible liquid you can get your hands on.

A really great water bottle with lid so you can chug constantly and carry it around the house with you. Did I mention intense thirst as a symptom?

Protein shakes because you’re not going to have an appetite and likely not be able to taste anything, but your stomach will still growl.

A really good lip balm, because life requires it, sick or not.

A chillable eyemask compress (or two or three) to rotate in and out of the freezer and those disposable cold packs, all to use on your forehead when The Pounders are at work. 

Soup. Endless soup. 

Gummy vitamins because they kind of taste like gummy bears, until you can’t taste them anymore.

A little notebook for scribbling down all the things you need to do that you will not be able to do for quite some time. Accept it. You’re a lame duck, but not a dead one, and you feel eternally grateful for that since you did not fare as poorly as hundreds of thousands of Americans before you. 

…This is the porch drop I would make to you if you got the Coronavirus. It’s my mission to pay forward the care I received. Because it’s certainly not something I can ever pay back to my friends, family, and coworkers.

On Day 11 when my mouth tasted like metal, someone in the household borrowed my desk and during virtual show choir class spilled raspberry iced tea on my internet setup and tech cords and fried our connection. This led me to the dreaded step of phoning AT&T tech support, an action that triggers PTSD in me every time. In the Summer of 2019, I burned years off my life on the phone with those people pleading to believe that I had moved. This time and by the grace of only God himself, I got to the friendliest and most compotent call center rep within the monopoly who expedited a new modem to arrive on my porch less than 48 hours later. Add that lady to my list of COVID heroes. In lockdown, you need reliable tech to conduct work, go to school, shop for things, entertain yourself, look up your weird symptoms, and maintain a general sense of sanity. 

Why I Want You to Know
I shared with my girls recently a fun fact I once heard. Wish I could source it here. I think it came from a conference I attended. When you share anything privately with someone else, that person will tell an average of 5-6 other people your secret. So at this point, there’s a mighty number of folks out there who already know I had Coronavirus. So this article is just making it blog-official. 

This illness impacted my life in countless ways. Physically, mentally/emotionally, socially, spiritually, nutritionally, professionally, educationally, technologically, relationally, perhaps even legally. Not financially, but for many others, sadly it does. For these reasons, it’s a heavy load to bare. You have to share the weight of it with others. That’s why I had to whine and cry about it to a lot of people. That’s why I had to write about it, even after struggling with “But I don’t want a lot of people to know.” Screw that. I want everybody to know. 

Maybe God picked me to have this so I could become a spokesperson of sorts. He wants me to tell new and different stories about it. He wanted me to create this guide. I will do what I can to keep leveraging this strange opportunity as I slowly resume my role in our socially-distanced society. I’m well-aware that no one is clamoring to rush into my arms or my home after I’ve suffered from this, so I’ll do everyone a favor and lay low for a little while. 😉

Meanwhile, the guilt is going away. 
The stigma is subsiding.  
The love shown to us is lingering. 

What about those friends I worried about exposing? One tested negative with no symptoms, one never had symptoms at all, and one tested negative yet still showed symptoms. I can only hope the spread stopped with me, but I will never know that.

I want to carry on into this pandemic with a message, a theme, a motto, a battle cry. And that’s likely to be …Think Twice.

Think Twice about hosting social gatherings of multiple people – unless it’s outside; and, if it’s inside, wear masks. Even if it’s awkward.

Think Twice about hosting a sleepover for kids. I will be the parent who has to tell my daughter she can’t go. 

Think Twice every time you leave your house. Do you have a mask? Hand sani? Gloves for the gas pump?

Think Twice about assuming your children are 100% safe at school, even with the schools doing everything they can to handle this. 

Think Twice about making blanket statements on social media. You don’t know what someone else knows. 

Think Twice about spreading stories that this pandemic is overexaggerated and manufactured by politics. When you do that, you’re basically telling sick people to “quit faking it.”

Think Twice about who you’re going to vote for in November. 

Maybe most important…Think Twice about putting your negative vibes out into this world. Pop a pill of positivity and enjoy its healing powers. We can’t buy it over-the-counter, but it’s the daily dose we all need to get through this.

Stay well, 
Meesh

Photo compliments of Unsplash.com @twinsfisch #fischerstwinsphotography
Author’s Note: The photo is not me. But it could have been COVID Me. This is what I looked like for 2 weeks!

How Cracker Barrel Made Me Skinny and Other Lessons from a Healthy Professional by Jake Engel

Note: This is my third installment ever featuring a guest blogger – a dedicated teammate of mine from work! Many thanks for his willingness to share a story here on my site, especially one that features such good advice from me. Ha, ha! Sadly I do not always follow my own wise guidance. But I’m happy and proud that Jake did! Hope you’re inspired by him…

It’s not every day that you receive life-changing advice in a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. But that store is exactly where my story started.

I’m Jake and I am proud to the next guest blogger here on iamnotyourmom.com. While Michelle is most definitely not my mom, she is, in fact, my boss. I’m proud to see her dream of starting a blog has finally become a reality and getting to be a small part of the page is an honor. 

Now that you know me, let’s head back to Michelle’s and my favorite lunch spot. Our offices are located in downtown Indy and are surrounded by many great dining options. However, our favorite continues to be the Southport Cracker Barrel. In the four years that we’ve worked together, we’ve made countless trips there, and it is ALWAYS the site of my semi-annual performance reviews.

I’m here with the story of how Michelle’s performance goal for me has led to awareness and action that completely turned my life around in the last year and a half. 

Back Isn’t Always Better

A couple of years ago, I began taking medication that led to a major gain in weight. Think more than 50 pounds in five months. It sucked because the medication was helping, but the side effects were hurting. 

After reluctantly ending the medication, I played the victim card. I believed the weight gain was the doctor’s fault for giving me that medication. I wanted there to be an easy way to get back to where I was before. But I realized that going back to where I was before wasn’t what I needed. Back isn’t always better. 


Completely unrelated to my recent weight gain, but around the same time, I asked Michelle to give me an overarching goal that I could focus on for the rest of the year. We would discuss it during one of our Cracker Barrel performance reviews. I expected it to be something related to communications, design or branding. But instead Michelle gave me a task that has led me to a new life. 

She challenged me to become a “healthy professional.” And those are two words that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. At that point I realized that I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to feel how I felt before the weight gain happened. I had the opportunity to go forward and build a life that was centered around health and happiness. So, I did.

Avoiding the “About”

I’m a naturally curious person. I ask a lot of questions, want all of the details and always have expectations in my mind before doing anything.

When I began my journey to becoming a Healthy Professional, or “Healthy Profesh” as Meesh has dubbed it, I knew that I was going to have to do things that were uncomfortable, annoying, and just flat out hard to reach my new goals. 

Back on April 15, 2019, I took the first step in my Healthy Professional journey by attending a 60-minute high-intensity interval training class at Orangetheory Fitness Downtown Indy. I remember signing up for the class on their website and wanting more than anything to click the “About” tab and read what would happen during the class. I wanted to ask my coworkers who had attended before how the class was structured. The uncertainty was killing me.

But walking into the studio with no expectations is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. And since then, I’ve claimed a personal motto in uncertain situations: “Don’t think, just do.” 

That method goes very much against everything that my mind naturally says to do. I’m a thinker, sometimes an overthinker. I make informed decisions, and I’m known to elevate ideas to the next level because of my high expectations. But sometimes, painting a picture in my mind leads to a negative mindset or, worse, makes me avoid doing difficult things.

If I had read the “About” page of the website, I know that I’d never be writing this blog right now. I would’ve been terrified of being surrounded by 45 other people while running, rowing and weightlifting. But I avoided “About.” 

Now, I go to Orangetheory nearly every day and have lost about 75 pounds. With every pound that I’ve lost, I’ve gained confidence, strength and happiness. My advice? Never allow your mind to create expectations that cause you to avoid doing the tough stuff.

The Agent of Awareness

There’s no doubt that the “Healthy Professional” goal led me to Orangetheory, which led me to a major life change. But working out alone doesn’t lead to a balanced life. 

The next task on my “Healthy Professional Checklist”?  To better understand my eating habits. As an avid fan of mashed potatoes and pizza and a very anti-fruit and vegetable guy, my diet was pretty shocking. I was working so hard at Orangetheory that there was no way I could let a horrible diet cancel out the daily hour of breathless cardio, heavy weightlifting and intense mental pressure.

I knew I needed help, so I met with a Registered Dietitian. I went into the meeting as clear minded as possible, using my “don’t think, just do” method. I knew I was going to get advice I didn’t want to hear. But usually the advice that you don’t want to hear is the advice you need the most. 

I expected Dietitian Kate to tell me to count my calories, join Weight Watchers, or completely kick McDonalds to the curb. But that wasn’t the case. She asked me to spend three weeks handwriting a list of my food and drink consumption in a notebook. I never listed the number of calories or ingredients. I just casually wrote everything down.

She gave me suggestions on eating less each meal, choosing healthier options and avoiding foods that really canceled out my goals. But there was never the expectation that I was going to completely limit myself. The only goal was to make me consciously aware of what I was consuming.

And awareness was the agent of my change. After handwriting these lists filled with horrible carb-loaded meals, large desserts and excessive snacks, I’ve retrained my brain to no longer crave these foods. By no means am I a “healthy eater,” but I’m highly aware of the impact of food consumption and often turn down items that go against my goals. Simply writing down my meals for three weeks led me to a new mindset. Try it, I dare you.

Moving Forward

If I’m being honest, I worry every day that something will disrupt this pattern of healthy change in my life. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. People ask me all the time, “how did you do this?” or “what’s your secret?” when they see my significant life changes. There’s no secret, but if I had to give you my best advice, here’s what it would be: 

  • Back Isn’t Always Better: Don’t approach your goals thinking that you want to return to a place where you previously were. No matter how happy or healthy you believed yourself to be then, there’s always better in the future. Think ahead and craft the version of yourself that’s best for today.
  • Avoiding the About: Stop screwing yourself over by setting expectations that lead to poor outcomes. Take a risk and do things that scare you. Sometimes you don’t need the whole story to get started. 
  • The Agent of Awareness: You can’t do much about things that you fail to admit or understand. Grab a notebook and start writing. Whether you’re looking to change your eating habits, finances, workout plan, or relationships, writing in that journal for three weeks will boost your awareness and retrain your brain to support your new goals. 

And when all of the COVID craziness is over, I can’t wait to get back to that life-changing Cracker Barrel with Michelle. My meal might just look a little different this time.

Desperately Seeking Calm

calmThis is a throwback piece I wrote in January for a different blog, at a time when the year ahead of us was much more promising than it is now. I recently re-visited this entry and with school starting soon, a lot of it resonated with me, so I wanted to share it now. The mornings are going to get chaotic again…good luck to us all! 

In Middle Age, I’ve grown tired. Not so much in a physical sense; although, I don’t really get the best sleep at night. Naps with the Hallmark Channel humming as background noise carry me through this single parent stage of my life. But actual sleep aside, the type of tired I’m talking about here is much different.

I’m tired of chaos.

On a recent morning car ride to high school, my freshman daughter experienced multiple crises. First, it was her zits. Next, it was her makeup covering her zits. Then, it was her outfit: “I don’t want this to sound conceited, but my outfit determines how I feel on any given day. If I don’t like my outfit, I don’t feel as good,” she explained.

(Yes, I do get this. Don’t you?)

Then, it was her water bottle spilling all over the floorboard and onto her shoes and her backpack. This entire time I am offering up solutions, suggestions, and advice about how to handle each source of stress:

“But I can’t even see your zits.”
“Here, try using some of my makeup”
“Oh, it’s just water. It’ll dry.”

And lastly, as we approached the drop off point at high school, I exclaimed, “Just be confident!”

What? Why would I offer that as a solution? Obviously, my wisdom fell completely flat.

“But I’m not. I am NOT confident!” she responded with exasperation

Then I screwed up, even more royally by sharing with her a phrase I share commonly with others, mostly adults, “Then fake it ’till you make it!”

“What?!? No way. I’m not going to be fake.”

But that’s not what I meant by that… and it was too late. The lesson abruptly ended as she exited the car, without any more time for me to make my brilliant point.

And my point was this: “Fake it ’till you make it” is a mantra that has always meant something significant and helpful to me. It does not mean to pretend like you are a different sort of person nor should you manufacture any traits nor show insincerity of any type. What it really means in my own unique context is to fake yourself out; to force yourself to dig deep and find that scrap of confidence buried inside you and to wear it proudly, like a teen wears her favorite pair of ripped jeans.

I guess I will have to wait for another car ride to share this lesson in full.

Yes, mornings like this one in my example are typically chaos in my household. Pure, undiluted, sheer nuttiness. When you take five females (three human + two canine) and combine that with the daily rituals of grooming, fashion, and breakfast, a whole heckuva’ lot is going on.

The getting up part is always the worst of our struggle, especially when each of us is not designed for mornings. We are natural night owls. We become our best selves in the dark of night, like the little raccoons that dumpster-dive into my trash cans in the alley behind my house.

But back to that lesson in the car where I started…what on Earth was I thinking by offering confidence as a concept to a 15-year-old? Because I’m 30 years older and I still haven’t mastered it. I’m still practicing it and getting better at it every day. I am still seeking that sense of calm that true confidence brings. It takes a lifetime. And I will never stop in my quest to feel it, completely and consistently.

What I have only recently uncovered is one of the secrets to getting there. I’ve got to stop trying so hard. When I stop desperately seeking it, calm comes to me in nice doses and sometimes even in waves.

As an example, on a recent typically chaotic morning, I headed straight to a meeting in a neighboring suburb. The location was the office of my executive coach, JoDee Curtis at Purple Ink, someone who is assigned to help me identify workplace challenges and ways to improve my overall professional presence. Since May when I first met her, I have grown fond of her and her sense of style, and her genuine warmth, friendliness, and wisdom.

At this particular meeting, I shared with her some recent stories about how I had handled myself at work, either falling short of what I should have done or, on the flipside, succeeding. I spoke with her honestly about some recent wins and just as many losses I had experienced. And toward the end of the conversation, she stated how much she was noticing a new sense of calm and confidence within me. Wow, I thought to myself, I wasn’t even trying to project that. It just came through me, even after the daily morning chaos I had just endured.

This moment taught me a valuable lesson. Stop trying so hard. Let things happen. Listen. Think. Breathe. And when you blow up, be done with it. Don’t carry chaos buried in your belly. Feel it, acknowledge it, then release it. That will leave room for the calm to settle in and with that will come the confidence you’ve been searching for since you were a young teenager.

Something I’ve been desperately seeking for so many years cannot be faked or won or achieved. Calmness can only be absorbed when you release the things in its way.

So, what am I going to do about these mornings and their multiple challenges? I’m going to stop trying so hard to make them less stressful. I’m going to go with the flow. I’m going to hope for the best. Some days will end up better than others, that’s for certain. But my gut knows I can’t control which of these days will be better or worse. The forces that control that are far beyond me. The forces that control ANYTHING are beyond me and you and ANYONE. Why do we fight against the grain of these forces? It’s a waste of energy; it burns our candle down to the bottom of the 3-wick jar; it knocks us down on our tailbones (ouch).

Save yourself the exhaustion of desperately seeking calm in 2020. Let the lightness of life in on its own. You and I are sure to have a good year if we can learn this.

Calmly,
Meesh

P.S. – (7/27/20) – Although life is much different now than when I first wrote this, I’m not giving up on my goal for a calm year. For me, I need to start yoga again, take more walks, eat much healthier, enjoy more coffee breaks, and do some good daily reading. (I need to get off my iPhone!) These are a few goals I’m shooting for with what we have left of 2020. Don’t chalk up this year due to those things you cannot control. We don’t get enough time in our lives to justify letting any of it slip away. Make something happen for yourself, sooner rather than later…and Quarantine or Not!

Summer Lights

fireflies

I don’t like Summertime. There. I said it. I know it’s an unpopular opinion, so I ought to explain why.

Summer is bright and shiny and even blinding at times. It’s full of light. And for this night owl, I find that aspect of it a bit annoying. I’m somebody who likes mood lighting and watching TV in the dark, and I might be the only person I know who doesn’t mind when the sun sets at 5 o’clock in the wintertime. I was born on a Wednesday evening in December, so maybe that’s why.

Summer Lights. There are so many types. I admire some. I dislike others.

The Sun – It’s hot. It makes me sweat. It burns me. People say to me “Do you ever tan?” No. I turn from white to pink back to white. I need fake tanning lotion to achieve even a hint of summer pigment. I wear my sunglasses constantly. Often indoors (because I forget I have them on.)

Fireworks – They’re loud. They hurt my ears. I try to like them, but I don’t. They’re boring.

…I’ll never forget the year the youngest of The Precious Pair turned 2, and we went to a fireworks show, and she clung to me as if her life depended on it and quietly murmured the whole time how much she hated it. She likes them now. I still don’t. They’re bombs for fun, basically. How dumb.

Fireflies – They’re cool. They’re the nighttime version of a ladybug. Nonthreatening. They don’t bite. They don’t sting. They just flash. On & Off. They’re consistent and silent yet emit a natural magic that can launch just about any middle-aged person straight back to childhood. Back to a mason jar with a metal lid punched with bug breathing holes and filled with grass. Several simpler summers ago.

Campfire – I love the smell. I love the crackling. I love the multi-colored flames. I’m not great at building them. I cheat and buy those fake logs! (Yes, like my tan.) I don’t believe in being a fake person, but sometimes you gotta’ fake it ‘till you make it. But, wait. It’s way too dang hot for a campfire…

Tiki Torches – I’m a fan. They’re festive. They serve a noble purpose in warding off The Evil Mosquito. However, the value of them is lost on my teenager, the oldest of The Precious Pair. She fights with me about them. Says they look trashy in our yard. Thankfully, I’m at the glorious age where I’ m over caring if someone thinks something looks trashy in my yard. So I have two tiki torches.

The Grill – I love to grill out. Chicken. Salmon. Burgers. Veggies. An Occasional Steak. The black charcoal burns into orange embers, hot and bright, until they turn to a dull ashy gray. Then you know you’re ready to cook! I love the smells and tastes of grilled food, maybe one of the most redeeming qualities of summer, in my opinion.

Lightning – It’s generally scary. I don’t appreciate a good storm like many people I know. Streaks across the sky are fine, but I don’t want to see one strike anywhere close. A few years ago, a blinding bolt hit practically on top of our house at the time. Everything electrical the neighbors owned got destroyed. We were lucky and only got spooked.

Starlight/Moonlight – They’re lovely. They’re mild. They glow. They’re never too bright. Never intense. I like them year-round, especially when there’s some crazy lunar event I can witness from my porch, like a big ass Harvest Moon. (I love the fall.)

There is one light I’m missing this summer that’s not here on my list. It’s the kind I generate myself, on the inside of me. My light is feeling a bit off, a little dim. I need to fire it up. I’m not quite sure how.

I have ideas. I need motivation. Get more exercise. Get organized. Write a book, maybe…one that’s kinda’ like this blog?

I’ve got to get out of my daily robotic slump. Sleep until 9. Awake until midnight. Working. Taking a nap. Making dinner. Watching Netflix. The Groundhog Day effect of quarantine and my extended remote work situation is rough and it’s real. And it’s making me a little grumpy.

I like to be out in the lights of the world. Stoplights. Overhead lights at the office. Trendy lights hanging above a restaurant booth. Ballpark lights at a minor league game. Stagelights at a concert or the symphony. A backlit movie theatre screen and the butter-colored warming light of the popcorn machine. Headlights both passing by me and guiding me to all these places.

Normalcy might light me up again. But what is normal now? Not the Old Normal. The New One requires us to hide our smiles behind our masks – and if you choose not to, WTH is wrong with you?!? One where we fear the places that used to bring us joy. (Shopping even at Target is stressful, not a mini vacation like it used to be.) One where we see our coworkers – some of our best friends – only via a cold digital screen.

Summer Lights! Shine on me. Convince me. Make me see my own shadow so I will know I’m the same person in this New World. I can’t control what happens around me. I can only control how I handle it. And I’m typically a Handler, so why am I not handling things better? Conflicts. Emotions. Struggles. They swirl around me. But that doesn’t make me special. They swirl around all of us.

If only we could catch all of it in a mason jar. Seal it up. No breathing holes. Trap the hard stuff that we don’t want to handle. And toss it in the river under the light of the moon, or at least in the glow of a good-quality flashlight.

Or maybe we just learn to handle it. Wear the damn mask. Stay home, be safe, and enjoy it. (After all, I do like grabbing an afternoon nap when I would otherwise be commuting an hour home from work.) Make those plans for hanging out with coworkers socially-distanced outdoors while the weather will allow it, under the flames of your tiki torches.

If your light is flickering, it’s okay. So is mine. Even with all these Summer Lights shining all over the place. Bring me cooler and dimmer days, and, ironically, that might brighten my flame. Until then, I’ll be soaking up the A/C.

Shaming Summer,
Meesh

A Sweet and Simple Summer

BA0ADD93-A0A8-4051-999C-44DD956D0AC8Of course, it has felt like summer for weeks because there’s no such thing as a decent springtime here in Indiana. Officially though, summer started last Saturday, June 20th.

I decided a great way to greet summer head-on would be a river adventure with a few friends. “It will be fun!” they said. My choices: canoe, kayak, or tube. Based on my frequent canoeing as a college girl, I easily decided to rent a canoe for The Precious Pair and myself. “It will be fun!” I said.

Everyone else on the field trip went with a kayak. This is important to note and will become an important detail later in this story. But first, my general thoughts on summertime…

It’s actually my 4th pick of the seasons. I’m not a summer person. Never have been. Never will be. The heat and the sun and I do not get along. Bugs like me far too well. And I’m not a big fan of the water – pools, lakes, boats included. So why in the hell would I go canoeing?

Cabin Fever. That’s why. I’ve been working remotely since St. Patty’s Day. And my situation will likely not change until around Valentine’s Day 2021.

If you just did the math, you’ll know that’s almost one full year. I’ve always enjoyed working at home here and there. But I’m learning I’m not meant to be a full-time home-based professional. The walls tend to cave in on me while the constant video meetings exhaust me. So, I’m seeking good reasons to get out of my home-office when I can, away from that computer staring me in the face for hours on end.

The latest opportunity came when my friend Lynne mentioned the river trip. It instantly reminded me of my college days when we would go “Brewin’ & Canoein'” every spring. It was always the big last hurrah of the school year – and it was an epic event for my friends and me. We’d grab a guy, a cooler, and a canoe, and the rest became history! There were no cell phones to worry about getting waterlogged, and we certainly had no responsibilities whatsoever in those days. The main objectives were “Drink your Busch Light. Don’t tip your canoe.” – simple enough, right?

Well, you would think so. Until your date ended up as clumsy as you are, and you both capsized and suddenly watched all your stuff floating down the river. If I remember correctly, it happened that way for me every year. That’s why it’s so puzzling that I picked “canoe” for the excursion last week, 25-ish years after those sorority days. For whatever reason, I remembered myself to be an “experienced canoer.”

My experience did not prevent the capsizing of our canoe the other day, within five minutes of launching from the shore. We didn’t see the huge rock coming. But we did nail it, and that was enough to dump the youngest daughter and me into the river along with our lunch cooler, my friend Julie’s floral tote bag (with daughter’s cell phone inside), and a large beach towel. And the canoe was instantly wedged, not budging and quickly filling with water. Luckily, the river came only to our knees, so there was never any true threat of drowning. Well, until the current grabbed me and took me down and underwater. That’s why they want you to wear the handy orange life jacket.

You know the vintage song “That’s What Friends Are For”? That explains the rest of my day. Lynne & Julie dumped the water out of the canoe (after recording the humorous tipping incident on cell phone video for posterity!) Then I was re-assigned to a kayak for the day, first a tandem; then a single. Who knew a kayak was EASIER to operate than a canoe? Certainly not me until now. My youngest stayed put in the canoe all day, but with assistance from our friends who took turns guiding her safely down the river while my teen daughter skillfully handled her own kayak. We all made it to shore in one piece. 

The only sacrifice was my shoe. Yeah, that happened. They were my cute black glittery “jellies” I ordered last summer from Amazon. They seemed like a good shoe selection that morning – waterproof, covered a good portion of my foot, and “summery fun” – also easy to slip off and float away. Oopsie.

(It’s tough to maneuver jagged river rocks wearing only one flimsy shoe.)

This is the story of how our sweet and simple summer has begun. Why do I describe it this way? Because we’re embracing the basics, of course! Swimming. Board Games. Porch Time. Grilled Dinners. Cold Drinks. Berry Picking. Pie Making. Walking to Town Square. Hand-Dipped Ice Cream. And some days, just soaking up the glorious A/C inside with a nice Netflix binge. (We just finished 76 episodes of “Riverdale” – highly recommend!) 

No big events or parties. No baseball. No concerts. No vacations on our calendar, aside from a few days we’ll stay with grandparents in a woodsy cabin only 90 minutes away. 

Before we know it, August will here too soon, and a new and very different kind of school year will start. One where The Precious Pair will become a high school sophomore and a 6th grader in middle school. Already.

And that’s exactly why the sweetness and simplicity of this summer are so important to me. Because in this strange year, I’ve both appreciated and resented the status of life. Can you relate? Can you decide? Which is it – a good thing or a bad thing that we were stuck in our houses and sent home from work and school and banned from dining and most shopping and socializing? If I was a betting woman (and I am, but only on the Kentucky Derby!), I’d say that most of you discovered good things about yourself and your time and your family during Quarantine. I don’t want to lose sight of those good things, including the value of the extra time I’ve had with my girls throughout 2020 so far, coupled with the joy of now getting to see some of the family and friends whom I’ve not seen as much as I would like this year.

My day on the river allowed me to enjoy both together – family & friends. And it gave me new experience as a kayaker. My canoeing days might be over, but never forgotten. And there’s a jelly shoe out there to prove I left the river having lost something, but I left with much more gained: memories made, adventure discovered, and laughter still lingering.

After the unusual and challenging first half of this year, I wish for more of the sweet and simple things during Summer 2020, not only for myself, but for all of you out there. Someone just reminded me that the first official day of summer is also the longest day in any given calendar year. That means with each passing day of summertime, we’re losing minutes of sunlight. So don’t let them float away without a trace. Yep, like my shoe. 😉

Enjoy your simple summer!

Meesh

 

 

 

Who Has the Key to Room #32?

69B098B3-2E67-4CC9-A114-1DF56F445D69Show & Tell. Everyone knows what this means and remembers it from childhood. Typically though, it’s not an activity for grown professional adults. But that was before the new remote work lifestyle of 2020 turned normalcy on its head…

So the other day I participated in Show & Tell to kick off a video meeting with my coworkers. It was Jake’s idea. He’s the fun one. He encourages us to play a little in between a lot of work. Hopefully all of you out there have a Jake at work.

The challenge to everyone was to bring something we own with an interesting backstory. This is when I realized I don’t possess many things that fit this criteria. But the meeting was about to start, and I hadn’t settled on an item, so I grabbed a key from the hooks on my kitchen wall. But it was no run-of-the-mill key.

When my turn came, the story went like this:

My dad gave me the key a year-and-a-half ago when I visited my home state of Nebraska for his 80th birthday. We were in his big basement full of books and stamps and historic Omaha postcards – all the things he would bring for Show & Tell. He was sifting through some items when he came across the unique key. It looked like something from Hogwarts, and it came with a yellowed hotel receipt that detailed its background. From the Hotel Stadion in Vienna, Austria, dated November 10, 1969 – a full three years before my birth.

Apparently, my dad had stayed there for 5 nights, as the receipt showed and as he recalled, and it had been a pleasant experience. After enjoying his time in Vienna, he decided to take what sounded like an impromptu side excursion to Budapest, Hungary – a mere 2 ½ hours by train. He asked the innkeepers if he could leave his luggage behind in a storage closet for a brief time while he traveled, and they gladly obliged.

Upon return to the hotel to pick up his belongings, he paid his bill and discovered an unexpected surcharge for storing them. No one had mentioned a fee to him previously. He felt wronged. He paid the extra, but he wanted to send a message against the grievance, so he snatched his room key, as both a statement and a souvenir.

His gesture caused no one harm, but it likely resulted in an inconvenience. His action was rich with principle, yet caused no true pain. The innkeepers should have been open, honest, and transparent rather than seeking to make an extra Euro-dime from their energetic and friendly young traveler.

What would you have done? Kept a blind eye to the injustice, complied, and turned in the key, according to protocol. Or might you have kept it, too? (Remember, it’s a beautiful Old World key!)

Regardless of how you answered, think about the keys you carry. Not the physical ones in your pocket. Not the lackluster plastic hotel keycards of modern day. I’m talking about the keys of your character.

– Are you using them to open up new, different, and foreign doors?

– Are you exploring rooms and rummaging around, starting conversations, asking tough questions, taking books off the shelves, learning new things?

– Are you passing along your experience, curiosity, and wisdom gained through those doors and from those rooms to others in the form of mentorship, encouragement, and inspiration?

Admittedly, I do not do these things enough. But I am never hesitant to provide a commentary, and I have the blessing of this blog to do so.

So let me publicly thank you, Dad, for keeping the key to Room #32 fifty years ago and giving it to me. I display it proudly on those hooks on my kitchen wall. I should frame the receipt because it’s a precious little piece of art. Your key with the interesting backstory gave me something to “Show & Tell” to my coworkers.

And now – just like life itself – the tale of that key has morphed into something new and different to me in only a matter of days…

Gestures.
Actions.
Principles.
Honesty.
Transparency.
Experience.
Curiosity.
Wisdom.
Encouragement.
Inspiration.
Legacy.
Show.
Tell.
Ask.
Comment.
Change.

These are the keys I want to carry on an obnoxiously oversized keychain that keeps them together and pleads “Love More.”

Ironically, I’m one who is prone to losing my keys. The Precious Pair and I have locked ourselves out of our house and my car on more than one occasion. I need to keep better track of my keys – the actual ones that let me into my own doors and the symbolic ones that will lead me to different doors that don’t belong to me.

I have The Key to Room #32 as a precious reminder – make a statement, even if it causes someone else discomfort or an inconvenience; stand for principles, not pain.

Rattle your keys,
Meesh

 

Facing the Fear on the Wall

john-cameron-l6Mb-CwYoKs-unsplashI grew up afraid of a lot of things. Burglars. Bullies. The Dark. The Boogie Man in The Dark. Thunderstorms/Tornados. For starters. I had plenty of other fears.

That last one still bothers me, but I have good reason. When I was 4, we heard a tornado rip through my hometown in Nebraska. It sounded like a freight train as we huddled in the neighbor’s basement, since our house didn’t have one.

Another thing that has always terrified me — scary movies. And the worst one I’ve ever seen is “Silence of the Lambs” during my senior year of high school in Kentucky. My friends knew I hated horror flicks, so they brilliantly convinced me this one was “a drama.”

As I recently Googled this movie during a conversation about it (with someone who LOVES scary movies), I learned it’s the only “horror film” ever to sweep the top Oscar categories. So, my friends indeed lied to me about the genre to get me to go. And go I did. And sleep that night, I did not. Pretty sure I sat straight up in my bed wide awake all night – thinking about that creepy guy who sent the lotion in that bucket down to that girl he kept in that hole in his basement. Is this movie coming back to you yet?

Needless to say, I was PISSED at my friends for taking me to that movie. Not even my tub of buttered movie popcorn, probably my favorite food on this planet, could make the experience better. (Man, I miss movie theater popcorn these days.)

Fast forward to the summer of that same year, right before I left for college in Indiana…I received my roommate assignment. She lived in Oklahoma. This was long before email and texting and “Insta” so we connected the old-fashioned way a few times – on our teen lines by phone. This reminds me how much I used to talk on the phone. Maybe that’s why I really don’t care for it now.

The roommate-to-be and I bonded on those conversations as we both anticipated what college would be like and what our dorm room would become. She was bringing a mini-fridge and a microwave and all kinds of stuff I didn’t have. And since she was working at a video store, she could score us some fun movie posters for our walls. Cool, right?

(A lot of you already know what happens next…)

The new roommate beat me to college where she was completely unpacked and settled into 75% of the room by the time I got there. I made my way to my 25% of the room in a corner where I found a bed and a desk. I looked nervously around at what was to be my home for the next 9 months. Mind you, I had several friends in high school, but I was definitely a nerd and a bit of a homebody. I was feeling major anxiety about college. This room only intensified my nerves from the get-go. I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach about the vibe that was engulfing me.

Yep, as promised, I found several movie posters hanging on the walls, just as we had agreed upon that summer. At no point though had we discussed actual movie titles or even genres. Then I spotted the poster hanging on the wall directly in front of my bed. To give you better perspective, imagine lying on your pillow at home. When you wake up in the morning, what do you see on that wall straight ahead of you?

Well, at this moment in my life, I could look forward to waking up to one of my worst recent nightmares – THAT movie. “Silence of the Lambs.” Straight ahead of my extra long college dorm room twin bed.

It was an omen. College did not go well for me for the first three months, in large part due to the rocky relationship with my new roommate. Everyone else seemed to become BFFs with theirs, joined at the hip. That was, at least until Greek Rush Week in October, when the dynamic shifted and everyone bonded with people beyond their roommates. I ended up becoming close friends with 4 other girls on my dorm floor, and we did everything together. From that point forward, I was set for the rest of college, and I loved it as much as a girl possibly could.

Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time in that freshman dorm room. I didn’t feel welcome in there. I didn’t feel at home in there. I ended up spending most of my time in the study lounge across the hall with those 4 friends or in one of their rooms, when I wasn’t at class, at the library, or having meals. (My college had great food!)

For the longest time into my adult life post-college, I kept a floral blue armchair that became my favorite spot to sit during my freshman year. It belonged to my dear friend Luci in her dorm room she shared with the nicest roommate ever named Karen. I always felt welcome in there. That dorm room felt like home to me. Luci let me have that chair after we shared an apartment for that first year after college. I took it with me to another apartment, a condo, and two houses over the course of 20+ years. I would often read in that chair, feed babies or read to them while sitting in it, and place towels for guests on it. I miss that chair, as raggedy and worn as it became.

This summer is my 25th Reunion Year since graduating from college. We were all set to have an incredible time at Reunion Weekend on campus in June. That, too, has been postponed, like a lot of life right now. Luckily and hopefully, my friends and I will get to go to a rescheduled event in Summer ’21. No word on whether or not that roommate will be there, too. (Ugh.)

As a middle-aged adult now, I’m quite selective about many things mentioned in this story, including – 1) the movies I watch; 2) the art I hang on my walls; and 3) the friends I keep. Age leads you to be much more selective and even exclusive about what and who you allow into your brain, your home, and your heart.

But even back then, when I was 18, I didn’t let that poster get under my skin (no pun intended if you’ve seen the movie!) I woke up seeing it all of my freshman year, but I didn’t let it instill fears in me or start my days off badly. I learned to stare Hannibal Lechter in the eye and not think twice about it. (He’s actually not on the poster, but I wanted to mention him!)

There are times, especially the current, when we have to decide how we will let our external environment impact our psyche. There’s so much information swirling around our heads, in front of our faces, and staring us in the eye every morning. And what we do with it and the sense we make of it can feel burdensome and downright exhausting. That’s why I find it helpful to stay in touch and in tune with the outer world right now, yet I’m allowing myself to “hunker down” away from the range of opinions and emotions, especially of the negative variety.

Thank God this pandemic waited until my middle age to hit – a time in my life when I know who I am, what’s most important, who’s most important, and what I think about most things without needing to think too hard. My instincts have kicked in, and I use them daily. My preferences are well-established, and I lean on them hard. My beliefs are solid, and I don’t let others sway them. My gut speaks clearly to me daily, and I listen. Who out there can relate to this glorious stage of life? Who out there is still working on getting there? I suspect there will be a blend of both out there reading, and if so, I say to all of you THIS…

All of us are afraid of something. Embrace whatever that might be. Quit trying to conquer it and rationalize it away, just because you’re an adult and you’re “not supposed to be afraid.” That’s bullshit. Own your fear(s). I’ll always be afraid of bad weather, the type that starts brewing at this time of year. And, just like when I was a kid, I don’t have a basement here in my home. If a tornado comes this way, you’ll find us sheltering in the interior hallway. The place The Precious Pair and I fondly call “The In Between Spot” because it connects many important areas of the home. (It also makes a great place to trap our two dogs when we need a little space and time between us and them.)

I’m still afraid of horror movies, too. No, thank you. I’ve tried many times to watch them. I don’t make it through them. Even with that person I named above who really likes them. It’s fine. He understands. (Luckily, we’re both drawn to “ridiculous comedies” as a genre that’s mutually entertaining.)

A lot of us are afraid right now. We can’t pretend that we are not. Balance your fear with your instincts. Even at age 18, even after the sheer terror of experiencing “Silence of the Lambs” against my will, I knew the chances of me being kidnapped by a serial killer and trapped in a basement hole were slim. Not impossible, yet highly unlikely. That’s why I could wink at that poster on my dorm room wall every morning and say “Nice try, Boogie Man, but you’re not getting to me today!”

Be smart out there. Narrow the odds of landing in a hole. Heed the posters on the wall. Follow the rules that jive with your gut and your preferences. Continue to shelter in place, if that’s what makes you comfortable in a storm. Cover your eyes if the scary movie is too much. But keep them open. You owe it to yourself and everyone you love to keep your eyes open … and your face covered.

Pandemically yours,
Meesh

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

 

 

Counting Stuff During Quarantine

hopscothOne thing we’re getting during this strange time in our history is a whole lot of numbers. I’m not a numbers person. Never have been. I write a blog, after all. Words are what I do.

But lately with all the numbers bouncing around and some time on my hands to read about them, I’ve started thinking about my own data set from this past strange month…

244 – the number of dollars I spent on my Instacart order from Kroger yesterday. I’m confident this is a new record in my entire 47 years. The threat of becoming ill makes everyone feel very snacky.

80 – the age my mother turned on April 1 in Florida. No one made it to her party. She understood.

45 – the number of real school days we will lose this year. e-learning is fine, but not the same…said Captain Obvious.

28 – the number of days typically required to form a new habit. I’ve developed some that are quite good. (better patience, kinda’-sorta’-maybe?) Some that are not much good. (wine!) This is also the number of miles between my home and my office downtown.

25 – the number of days since I’ve been to my office downtown.

23 – the last date I had Starbucks. As in March 23. The struggle is real. Anybody who claims that the coffee they make at home tastes just as good is lying.

18 – the number of days I’ve been trying to make my coffee at home taste just as good as it does from Starbucks. #failing

13 – the number of ways to control feelings of panic that I wrote about for work (on a day when I was panicking).

11 – the age the younger half of The Precious Pair turned earlier this week.

10 – the date I was supposed to fly to Phoenix with my girls to spend Easter Weekend with family. As in April 10. As in today. I ordered a DQ ice cream cake to make me less sad about it. Dessert vs. Desert.

9 – the number of family-friends who surprised my sweet kid mentioned above with a Birthday Parade. They dropped off signs and gifts and a plastic flamingo in the yard. It was the most heartwarming thing I’ve experienced during Quarantine.

8 – I can’t think of any significance for this numeral, but I needed to list it. Otherwise there woulda’ been a hole in the countdown from 10.

7 – the number of days since I’ve seen one of my favorite people. This number will grow for I-don’t-know-how-many-more-days. It’s the right thing to do for our families.

6 – yes, of course, the number of feet we must maintain. Also, the number of people in my department at work, counting my boss. I miss these folks. They bring out the best in me.

5 – the number of cloth facemasks I luckily now own, thanks to the mad sewing skillz of a few people I know– including a talented 13 year-old!

4 – the number of weeks I’ve gone without filling my gas tank.

3 – the number of bottles of red wine from Aldi currently on my kitchen counter. And the same number of nights it will take me to drink them. This is also the age both my little nieces just turned! Photos of their cute mugs make for some great therapy.

2 – the number of dogs in my home who might send me off a cliff before this Quarantine is over. The barking, bickering, and begging never stops. They are the canine equivalents of toddlers, like those cutie nieces of mine who are driving their parents bonkers.

1 – the number of mice I’ve caught in a toaster during Quarantine.

0 – the number of toasters I currently own.

These are my stats. Until they change. And as I say all the time right now “It’s a day-by-day world, and we’re just lucky to be living in it.” Check back soon, and I’m sure to have an entirely different set of numbers for you. Or better yet, I’ll stick to the words from now on…

Numerically challenged,
Meesh

The Difference Between Space & Distance

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You know all those emails you’re getting? Those communications from your favorite brands reassuring you about what they are doing during these super strange times – I write those.

So I just spent a week of home-based work staying calm and focused so I could channel that vibe into what I’m telling customers. This weekend, I’m so glad to take a break from talking about adjusted business hours, digital banking options, and “stay tuned for updates.” As you all know, the story is changing, not just by the day, but by the hour. It’s exhausting to keep up, isn’t it?

But all this week I’ve had a sidebar of thoughts running through my head – things that “Real Meesh” has been wanting to say versus “Professional Michelle.” Thank God for Saturday so I get this chance to say them…

It’s quite ironic that the last time I wrote for this blog, I preached about the importance of disaster preparedness. That was more than a month ago when my primary concern was a 24-hour boil water alert here in our hometown: I Want to Talk About Water. In this entry, I talked about how I was embarking on a plan to plan ahead. I had a list. I had goals. What I lacked was action. I didn’t follow through with the preparing.

Now here we are, only 6 weeks later, and we’re all living in a state of disaster or something as close to that as most of us have gotten in our lifetime. There was very little time to prepare for life as we know it right now. There is very little time to process what’s happening before the next thing happens. As the older half of The Precious Pair explained the other day through tears, “It doesn’t feel real to me.” Join the club, my dear.

I’m not here to share any hygiene tips. I’m quite confident that’s been well-covered by now. If you don’t know you should be washing your wands while singing the ABCs, well then, you must be living in a deep, dark hole. And, if so, you might want to stay down there – but only if the hole is at least 6-feet deep.

The tips I’d rather share in this Coronavirus blog – that now joins the massive reams of commentary on the subject – are the random thoughts in my head about all of it, probably of no practical use to anyone at all. Yet if my ideas can bring levity or hope or even a crooked half-smile to anyone feeling downtrodden, disappointed, desperate, depressed, or any other not-so-great mood at the moment, then I will have accomplished what I’m setting out to do…

Now, remember, I am NOT your Mom, even though some of this will likely come out sounding quite motherly:

Wait with great anticipation for the things you love — whether it’s baseball season, the Kentucky Derby, or just hanging out with a group of your favorite people on a Saturday night. If you’ve had events postponed, feel glad and grateful for that. That means your good time is coming. I feel the most right now for folks and especially kids who are getting their lives cancelled. The school days. The Prom. The weddings. Potentially, the graduations. That’s the heart-wrenching stuff.

As for me, I have an awesome Porch Party Season lined up for Summer/Fall 2020, and I hope you will join me!

Hug your household. The other day, I made the mistake of saying to my oldest in front of my youngest “If one of us gets it, all 3 of us will.” That sent the soon-to-be 11-year old into a panicked frenzy. Once I talked her off the ledge, she understood. And it helped that I could make the case for hugging – “This is why we can keep hugging each other all we want! There’s no limit.” The younger one is my hugger. But it’s funny how the older one wants a lot more of them these days herself. Don’t have any huggers in your house? Hug yourself. It’s okay. Do it when nobody’s looking.

Breathe like a yogi. I did start yoga this year. It was one of my goals early on, and I was doing it fairly consistently until the studio closed, of course. But I haven’t given up on the practice of intentional deep breathing. Whenever someone in our house is facing a meltdown, I point her straight to her own breath. I remind myself to do the same, all day, every day. Especially if I’m outside. Nothing feels better than getting that outdoor air into your indoor lungs.

Make some homemade soup. Yesterday, on a Zoom meet-up, my friend Julie mentioned some soup she had made. Sausage, veggies, beans. I couldn’t stop thinking about how good that sounded, so I copy-catted her soup and made a huge pot of my own today. Pretty sure I poured my soul into that steaming pot of soup. So I recommend you go make something, too. Soup. Lasagna. Cookies. Whatever sounds good to you, but try to make it from scratch with the extra groceries you’re likely to have on hand. There’s something therapeutic about crafting food slowly and thoughtfully; then sitting down and slurping it up.

Spring is never cancelled. Did you realize the First Day of Spring was March 19? I am taking solace in the hope that Spring always provides. The bulbs pushing up through the soil. The birds chirping cluelessly yet reassuringly. The lucky ladybugs showing up in my kitchen most days. That weird spring smell in the air – a fresh blend of rain and flowers and mud. These are a few of my favorite things right now. Mostly because they are not digital.

My thoughts on social distancing. I believe in it. I’m doing it. I’m guessing most of you are, too. But as the Word Nerd that I am, I wish they had chosen to call it something else…Why?

A few weeks ago, before we all began living this way, I had a conversation with someone I care about very much about the difference between giving someone their space and allowing someone to become distant. They are vastly different scenarios, yet there’s a fine line between the two. From an emotional standpoint and in any type of relationship – romances, families, and friendships — space is a good thing whereas distance is not.

Social spacing would have been the better label for what we’re practicing right now. No one wants to create distance between themselves and their loved ones, especially at a time like this. So, yes, thank goodness for technology – texting, phone calls, FaceTiming, Zoom meetings, Marco Polo video bits, and more. At the same time we’re grateful for it, I sense we’re all equally tired of tech, too. The constant nature of it takes a toll. (I say as I type on my laptop.)

The person I mentioned above has a birthday coming up on Tuesday. What a crappy time to have a birthday. You can’t go out to dinner, people aren’t able to shop much for your gifts, and the grocery might be out of your favorite things. Heck, if there’s suddenly a state or federal lockdown, you might even get stuck at home on your birthday.

In fact, several of my loved ones have birthdays coming up – my mother turns 80 on April Fool’s Day, and my girls and I had to cancel our trip to Florida to celebrate with her. On April 6, the younger half of The Precious Pair turns 11. I had planned to take her out to do several fun things that day. On April 26, my stepmother will celebrate her birthday, and my girls and I had to cancel our trip to Arizona to celebrate Easter with her and my dad.

I stand by what I said above. The things and people we love are worth waiting for. The hardest part is not knowing how long the wait might be. I hope to develop new virtues – maybe even Patience – as positive side effects of this crazy quarantine. What do you hope to get out of it, once we get out of it?

“Stay tuned for updates,”
Meesh