2018 Check-in

charles-deluvio-651962-unsplashRight around the start of the year I wrote about my intentions for 2018.  Blink your eyes, and somehow it’s already June! Gretchen Rubin is credited with saying,

“The days are long but the years are short.”

Although she was talking about child-raising, I suspect this is a truth we all come to realize with time. Don’t ask me where the days go, but I can tell you this: they will zoom past us whether or not we pay attention, whether or not we live deliberately.

That said, I have always tried to live deliberately. And the universe laughs at me because I think I do, but you learn a few life lessons along the way that show you how you haven’t been doing that. Life events with life-long repercussions have a way of shocking you out of complacency. That’s life events, plural.

GO AFTER WHAT YOU WANT. It doesn’t get hand-delivered to you because you’re entitled to it…it doesn’t happen because you’re a nice person or whatever. It always involves effort. Often times more than you want to give, or more than you think you should have to give. It’s the universe’s way of testing you to see how bad you want it.

Trust me: don’t tempt the universe on this. Don’t tell yourself, “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” You’re being too passive. And sometimes the doors of opportunity shut permanently. The point is, I would coach every single soul to embrace and enjoy as much of life as you can. Most times – most times – you get one chance. You get other chances if you’re damn lucky. Most of us aren’t that lucky. Again: GO AFTER WHAT YOU WANT.

Sooooo easy to say. Much harder to do!

So now’s as good a time as any to take stock of how well I’m faring with respect to my intentions. My rationale is that just enough time has passed that, if you were serious about your intentions, some real progress may have occurred and you can celebrate and double down on your efforts. And if you weren’t really serious, then you have a chance to reaffirm your intentions. There’s plenty of bulk left to the year, if you’re one to align your personal clock to the calendar, to reach your goals.

It also gives you good opportunity to determine whether the goals you set for yourself still resonate with you or even better, decide if there’s something new that has tugged at your heartstrings.

Yep, as good a time as any to check in.

My three big themes this year were breathe, nest, and connect. I’m feeling pretty good about them today.


tim-goedhart-334149-unsplashBreathe – this was my shorthand for focusing on health, everything and anything health-related including those things to help manage stress a little better. Good news to report: I have lots of positive momentum here.

For starters I write in a gratitude journal every day, where I pick out three things big or small to be thankful for. Frankly it’s become really easy to do. We practice this with the kids too…we ask them to name four things they are grateful for every time we hold our weekly family meeting and it’s likewise become very easy for them to rattle them off, even if all they do is thank someone else in the family for something. I hope this is a habit that sticks with them forever.

So while it’s easy to come up with things I’m grateful for, what I really wish was for a way to block negative thoughts from entering my head in the first place or a way to release them in some kind of effective way. I totally get that’s what meditation is supposed to do for you, and it’s true that meditation has helped. I am now able to immediately identify when a thought is negative…it’s just the volume of those thoughts is astounding!

I still spend entirely too much time dwelling on negative thoughts, especially heartbreaking things from the past I simply cannot change. It’s like I’m kidding myself into thinking that if I dwell on something long enough, I’ll recognize when I face a similar crossroads so I don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Time and perspective has shown me that you don’t always know when you’re at a crossroads and faced with a choice or a decision point. Sometimes I just want to go back in time and make different choices, and well, needless to say that’s not an option.

Wasn’t it Einstein who explained in his relativity theory that time is a construct that is relative to us being on this planet? And wasn’t it Donald Neale Walsch who said that everything that has ever happened, and ever will happen, including right now is all happening NOW (a certain way of explaining time from God’s perspective) and this explains why we have deja vu moments, because we have already lived out certain scenarios? Maybe just maybe me dwelling on things from the past make sense because then IS now as is tomorrow.

Eh….I’m not a very good part-time philosopher, am I? Now I’m just making excuses for behavior that isn’t all that productive. Even still, that’s a bump on the road of breathing….maybe a permanent speed bump but still a bump.

Slowly but surely I am changing the way I eat to something that resembles a bit more paleo. Everything and anything processed and sweet isn’t appealing, period. I drink far more water now. I’ve cut the soda, drink decaffeinated tea and I often skip the added sweeteners. Even those days when you just can’t pull together a meal for the kids in between all their functions and you make the quick McDonald’s run? I can’t eat the food anymore. It’s always gross. It’s never worth it.

I’ve started walking almost daily and I’m trying to stand at my desk versus sitting since sitting is the new smoking. I’ve picked up yoga again and feel myself getting stronger. It feels like I gave myself a massage when I do yoga. It simply feels fantastic to move.

The good news is I can’t go back to my old habits. The needed shift has happened.

Over the last several months I have had a standard nighttime routine that prepares me for bed, a little ritual where I properly cleanse and nourish my skin. Being blessed with good skin forever, it wasn’t something I took much time to bother with but now I’m older and know I need a boost. It’s working…my skin is glowing and I even think some the fine lines and wrinkles are a little less pronounced.

So while that’s all good, the whole nighttime skin care routine has become this ritual that helps me in other ways. The process is long and short enough to put me into sleep mode somewhat quickly. Don’t all the parenting books talk about rituals like that with your kids to signal a shift in their body? Why wouldn’t we do the same?

I have taken to reading real books before I nod off, or if I really must check my devices, I use “night shift”, a cool feature that blocks the blue light. And for a few months now, I have successfully powered down all the electronic devices in the room and make my husband do the same so we both sleep without the electromagnetic radiation. I even sometimes diffuse essential oils. It’s made a huge difference. I feel well rested in the morning and my eyes pop open around 5:30 or 6am, no problem. I can’t tell you what a huge win this has been for the quality of my sleep.

Granted my focus on health and success with it could be a combination of many things moving in the right direction, like the deliberate combination of vitamins I take each morning to supplement my diet, but I am well rested with plenty of energy to get through the day. It’s become easy. When in the world did all of this suddenly click to become easy?

I’ve even cut back on unnecessary purchases like new clothes. You may ask what this has to do with breathing, but this is just another form of stress management. Who needs the drain on finances, not to mention the bustle of shopping and returns, etc. when you go overboard? It’s so easy to go overboard.

I love fashion, it’s true, but I have a wardrobe I’m relatively happy with. I’m really just trying to save money for when I actually need new, smaller clothes. I have a vision for myself which involves me being lithe and strong. Once upon a time I used to be a tiny girl, but whatever strength I thought I had in me was in my head, not in my muscles! This will change. I can feel it.

Every password I’ve created this year has had something to do with health…and I made one of those My Intent bracelets with “Choose Health” as the mantra. It’s working.  I’m pointing everything I am toward my own personal, health-focused north star.

If you can’t tell, I can dissect the goal to “breathe” and the focus on health 1000 different ways. It’s only taken me half a century to figure that stuff out but…I’m a late bloomer on certain things.

And just to punctuate the conversation, I actually sat down the other evening to watch the final game of the NBA playoff. The Cleveland Cavaliers were playing, we live in the Cleveland metro area, and even though I had a feeling the Warriors were going to sweep the championship, it still felt like the right thing to support the team. I almost never watch TV otherwise.

But there it was: a commercial for a local assisted-living facility. It was supposed to be a happy, uplifting spot featuring these senior citizens enjoying themselves where they lived, listening to someone play piano, playing board games, and whatever. All I saw were frail old grannies and it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: I don’t want that for my future. I don’t want to be frail, hunched over, living in a tiny bedroom of a place with a bunch of people I don’t know when I’m in my elder years. Uh, no. I want to be Ernestine Shepherd…

I even have a fitness journal that I started writing in every day. It forces me to dissect my excuses, identify my role models, plan how I want to move through the day, and examine what I appreciate about the journey. It was such a tiny change to adopt but now I’m hooked. It was the accountability partner I needed.


landon-martin-269065-unsplashNest – No kidding, I finished remodeling our laundry room last month and the strangest thing has happened since then: I now have a ton of free time on my hands. Let me explain: it wasn’t like I spent every spare moment of my day for the last five years working on that room. But mentally? I was thinking about it constantly. So now that it’s done, is that why I feel I have a ton of free time?

This weird phenomenon started in May which is usually a month of total overload, “mayhem” some of us moms call it with all of the end-of-school events and birthdays for two of my kids. Once that laundry room was put together, I suddenly had what felt like hours available to me in the evenings to dedicate to the day’s activities.  I am struggling to understand how my evening and weekend hours stretch out before me and feel as though they pass at half the pace they used to.

It’s possible that all this happened because I have stopped watching the news. No lie, I’d come downstairs each morning and my husband would have “Morning Joe” broadcasting on the TV…every single day another outrageous story would emerge from the White House and the anchors would dissect every last angle. I told him it had to stop. It consistently washed a wave of anxiety over me every single morning to start my day. I have become so infuriated, I’ve actually become numb. I just can’t listen to outrage day after day. Was that it? Is this why so much calm has overtaken me? I like to be informed as much as the next guy and I admire my husband’s interest in politics – I’ve even become more attuned to what is happening than even he is at this point – but I also think we have a right to serenity in the home.

Or all this free time – which can be channeled into home improvement, or nesting – is it now available to me because the mental or physical chaos of an unfinished laundry room is past? I don’t get it. But now that the laundry room is fully functional not to mention CUTE, I’m operating like a well oiled machine.

I wanted to plant flowers for our front porch. Boom! It was done within the space of an hour including shopping for what I wanted and cleanup. I wanted to re-stain our family room cabinets and mantel. Boom! Done. What in the world has happened?

This is encouraging. You see I do have a whole backlog of home projects to work on, much, much smaller items than tackling the laundry room, and while I haven’t made a dent in them, I know I’ll get to them. Our house will be cozy and beautiful and functional like I want it to be. I love home renovation and decoration…I love returning things to their former beauty, or sprinkling beauty in spaces that weren’t, until the magic happens. I miss the time I used to spend on home renovation. The good news is I have seven more months of the year to make good on the remaining goals here. But no matter how much or how little I get done at this point? It’s all good.


pavan-trikutam-1660-unsplashConnect – Although writing this blog and reading more substantive books are smaller steps I’m taking to strengthen my connection to people and spirit, my biggest goal here was to connect far more on a social level with people whose company I enjoy. To be honest, this has been really difficult for me as I battle some social anxiety demons on a regular basis.

But I’ve made good on my efforts. That list of 20+ of the most important people in my life, people that have been huge, positive influences, has been drawn up and I started reaching out to the ones at the top of the list, the ones I have had the least contact with over the years. I’m only about 25% through the list, working my way down to the folks I talk to or see relatively more frequently, but I’m making progress. I am blown away by how emotionally satisfying it has been to go through this process even if the results aren’t always what I envisioned. Most of the time, the results are better than I expected.

It has been downright frightening to conduct this outreach, for fear of it being awkward after all these years. I wondered whether my efforts were silly and fruitless. I wrote to one of my friends and just poured my heart out to her. I heard from her in response. We’ve traded voicemails so far and while her message back to me was short, it seems like she received the letter favorably. We haven’t had a chance to chat as she’s in the midst of a major move and job change, and it may be several weeks before we do. I don’t know if she quite understands just how much I bared my soul in that note, or if our friendship will ever be reinstated to the status it once had, but the fact is I did it: I stuck my neck out, I was vulnerable and just told her what was in my heart….how much I admire and love her, how I wish I had been there for her when she needed a friend the most, how I will always cherish her, and I’ll miss her now that she’s moved.

We’ve hosted a couple of picnics at our house over the last month too. I used to throw parties a few times a year – the more people the merrier – but I haven’t been as open to having people at the house. For years the kids were small, I couldn’t keep up with the housekeeping, our entire home was a toy box, and I was too exhausted to play hostess. It’s gotten better. The nesting has been a deliberate attempt to make our home look a little more put together and elegant, the way I always wanted it to be, and the breathing has restored my energy levels to enable more connecting.

One of the picnics was a neighborhood picnic – I traversed the neighborhood with an invitation to 30 houses and we ended up hosting nine families. Our neighborhood is a little bit older and many of the people have lived here for 30-40 years and their kids have grown and moved on. Some of the houses are turning with a few younger families here and there. Even still, many of the neighbors didn’t know each other. Everyone was so appreciative of the opportunity to gather and break bread. One elderly couple was THRILLED to be invited over. They were charming and gracious and lovely, lovely people. It warms my heart that we played our part to foster a sense of community.

Don’t we all need a stronger sense of community? Yes. Yes, we do.

It’s been heartwarming in every sense to see positive things come out of my efforts to connect. It makes me wonder why I was scared to do it. It seems so silly now. But I’ll tell you this:

I’ve learned, over and over again, that some of the things you want most in life live on the other side of your fear.


Now that it is mid-way through the year, I have to admit I haven’t given a ton of thought to course corrections. If anything, it’s time to step on the accelerator for each of my big goals. I like what I’ve done and the plans I set out. It’s simply time to ramp it up.  I can’t say I went into the year wanting to be Ernestine, but I do now. I have a visual to latch onto.

nathan-dumlao-592018-unsplashIf there was one thing I would add to my list without fear of losing my focus, maybe it would be Create. The artist in me is screaming to create. Maybe that means more singing, writing, hosting gatherings that foster connection, painting, decorating… I don’t know how it will manifest itself, but you’ll hear about it here.

What about you? Did you set goals for yourself and have you checked in? Did this post give you something to think about? It’s never too late to start.

Here’s to the dreamers and go-getters…

 

Photo credits from Unsplash.com, in order of appearance: Charles Deluvio, Tim Goedhart, Landon Martin, Pavan Trikutam, and Nathan Dumlao.

 

 

Facebook Farewell?

william-iven-19844-unsplashI do believe my love affair with Facebook has come to an end. The latest news about the misuse of user data is among the final nails in the coffin of what was once a fun online community.

This week Mark Zuckerberg finally broke his silence over the news that Facebook user data was provided to Cambridge Analytica inappropriately, and it sounds like that data was then ultimately used to target undecided voters in some midwestern states in the US during the last presidential election to sway those same users to vote for Trump.

Put aside for a moment that so many people were gullible enough to be swayed to vote for him. I’m not one of them. He has proven himself to be exactly what I knew he was all along, an erratic buffoon, a bully, a fraud. A narcissistic, misogynistic racist. A chaotic coward backed into a corner and lashing out at everyone. The adjectives are endless. He is everything I despise in a human, and somehow he was elevated to leader of the free world. That says everything you need to know about the state of Earth these days.

But Facebook? I’m just so tired of it all.

Once upon a time, I got a huge kick out of the banter and posts that my friends, family, and acquaintances shared. I loved their pictures, even the ones of cats that I’m allergic too. I loved reconnecting with the friends I had made all across the country from my work travels and those who lived nearby but ultimately moved away. It was so nice to reconnect with people from all walks of my life. It was the place where I developed my love of writing and where I got a lot of encouragement from friends in doing so. For that I will be grateful.

Every once in a while someone jumped the shark with their posts or comments and you realized who to avoid, for so many reasons. Some were drama queens seeking endless attention. You had the Negative Nellys who complained about something – everything – with every single post. How on earth can people live their life that way? Do they hear themselves talk? Do they have any ability to self-reflect and self-correct? Oy.

There were the past acquaintances from my hometown whose language, humor, and outlook on life was just consistently crass and crude, and while I can be good-humored and accept people for exactly who they are, I am reminded that I have a choice about who I hang with, who I let influence my life, even if it is just words on a page. These people remind me why I moved away and don’t visit. Not to mention the people who are flat-out crazy. Maybe it took seeing their personality in full bloom online but you know you’ve met these same crazy people. Stay away.

Of course there were the ones who befriended you that you barely knew 20 years ago, and others who befriended you and then never interacted with you whatsoever. Ok, I suppose I’ve been guilty of the same thing. It happens. You live and learn.

For the longest time I kept my circle of friends online pretty tight. I was sharing pictures of my kids, after all. I’d go through cycles of expanding the friends list and then cutting back because I felt too exposed. Once we decided that we were staying put in our current community (I had seriously raised the possibility of moving back to my beloved Pittsburgh with my husband for a solid 10 years), I finally began to open up my circle to include the people I met in this town. But every now and then I felt the need to draw the wagons a little closer and unfriend people when my circle got too big and superficial.

Ok, maybe I waxed a little too long about the crazy people on Facebook. If I had to guess, there are people who include ME among those crazy people. That’s only fair.

I’ve been on Facebook for nine years already. Nine years! Other than being married, that’s the longest stretch I’ve done anything. What an evolution we’ve witnessed, those of us long-time users.

First it started with the short little posts about what was on your mind. Those early posts seem so quaint now. Then there were endless viral games delivered via apps that lured people to “discover your personality!” and then share the results. In reality, these were endless apps that collected data about Facebook users and their friends but it wasn’t obvious to people at the time.

Then Facebook further evolved to surface news articles but it didn’t feel like serious news. It felt like you had a direct link to the National Enquirer headlines. Eh. There’s only so much celebrity news I can handle, ya know?

Then came the ads for every store under the sun…shops I frequented and brands I had never heard of but felt lured to try. This is when I really started to get turned off. I missed the fun updates from my friends. Facebook became a giant ad book, and they implemented algorithms that chose whose posts you’d see routinely instead of you choosing whose posts you’d see. That was clearly a turning point for the worst. That’s when I started losing touch with people online.

I tried deactivating my account a couple of times. Once or twice I knew I was spending too much time online, and at least once I logged off temporarily because I could tell I was feeling bad about myself and my life relative to what everyone else was presenting online.

I couldn’t stick with it. Somewhere along the way, Facebook became a way to connect with the events and issues at my kids’ school district, and to learn what was happening in our community since I don’t get the local paper. It became integrated with my daily life….and very hard to break away.

This is particularly true for me because I have been an online geek forever in internet years: since 1996. I gravitated first toward AOL, then iVillage, then LinkedIn, and ultimately to Facebook. And sure, I have a Twitter and Instagram account but naturally those don’t have the same appeal to this writer.

As if the commercialization of Facebook was the end of it! Oh no….it kept evolving, and people figured out they could use Facebook to sell product: tote bags, health supplements, leggings, skincare. I was one of them for a hot minute last year even as much as I disliked seeing those sorts of posts from my friends. I wanted to hear what was going on in their LIFE, not be a target for a quick buck. On one hand, it’s been good to get exposure to products I would otherwise never discover but this wasn’t what I wanted from an online community.

I wanted friendship. Information. Laughs. Connection.

So you see, I already had this love/hate cha-cha going on with Facebook as it was these last few years. And then the last presidential election cycle heated up, and I was disturbed by the people who seemed to blindly support Trump. The rhetoric online was raw, ugly, vitriolic. I saw sides of people I never knew and was horrified to see.

It hasn’t improved. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten worse and I’ll admit that I’ve contributed to the tone because I cannot let people forget what a mistake I think they’ve made voting for that fool. And more friends have taken a break from being online because they just can’t take what Facebook has become as a result.

So this latest revelation that user data was misused is really no surprise whatsoever, and only serves to confirm that this online community was used by wholly bad actors to exploit people’s ignorance and vulnerability in the worst possible way. Kinda crazy that this social media platform had a hand in politics the way it has.

I’m completely frustrated by Facebook and its approach to privacy, accountability, and commerce. It no longer delivers what I came to that community to find. I’m sitting here wondering how now to streamline the news I want to hear about the people and organizations I’m interested in and nothing more. I suppose I’ll remain a user for a little while longer, but I am long past the point of wanting to share funny little snippets of my life or lobbing out prayer requests those rare times I did over the last almost decade. I feel like taking down my pictures, that’s for sure.

That place has SUCKED the good humor out of me, and I feel like it has spilled over into my writing. Zuckerberg can apologize and make amends all he wants, but the damage is pretty much done, isn’t it? It took even him a week to figure out what the hell happened right under their noses. What started out as a fun, college community app was left relatively unchecked with some real-life, world-wide consequences that the bad guys figured out how to exploit first.

Time to get my kicks and giggles from something else. I don’t really want to be part of that experiment, ya know?

Yep, a dull sense of real grief is washing over me, like it has for so many other events of the last few years, yet I can’t cry. I’m at an inflection point for sure, but I’m just numb to it all. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Vegas, and Pulse shootings. The massively disruptive weather events that are the new normal. The killer flu. The passing of the guard as so many boomers retire and die. The American self-mutilation at the hands of Trump….endless administrative chaos and resignations and increasingly serious talk of Russian meddling in our election with no recourse whatsoever. The war-talk with North Korea. The sad realization that so many of my fellow Americans cannot understand the chess game that is our economy and society. And now the loss of Facebook as a fun online community and past time. It became painfully obvious and real this week.

What’s an online geek to do?

PS – All that said, I’m pretty sure Facebook and I are like those Brokeback Mountain lovers when one said to the other: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Image by William Iven on unsplash.com