A Failure to Completely Alter My Life

Due to various health issues (I’ll spare you the details), someone recommended a book to me that she purported would change my life entirely.

Boy, she wasn’t kidding. In order to be cured of all my ills, I must do the following, immediately, and all at once:

Do some form of sweat producing exercise for an hour a day, and completely avoid the following foods for the rest of my life:

  • Sugar.

  • All processed foods, including anything in a box, bag, or can.

  • Breads.

  • Cheeses.

  • Condiments.

  • Processed and smoked meats, including bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and sausage.

  • Mushrooms.

  • Pasta.

  • Melons.

  • Potatoes.

  • Dried fruits.

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Gluten.

  • Fruit juices.

  • White rice.

  • Cashews and Pistachios.

  • Breakfast Cereals.

  • Soda.

  • Alcohol.

Upon reading this, I got tears in my eyes and immediately ate a pint of ice cream and fell into a deep, dark depression, as is my wont in moments of despair. Because I know me. There is no way I can pull this off. You may as well ask me to chop off my head and replace it with that of someone else. It’s too radical a change, it’s too overwhelming.

It’s a set up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s all good advice. I’m sure it would be life altering. But it’s too extreme. It’s too all-at-once. And my medical condition isn’t life threatening. It’s just annoying. So the incentive isn’t the kind I’d need to completely do away with every single thing I normally eat, with the exception of salad (without dressing) and other veggies from my garden, and then be expected to get my starving butt off the couch to jog for an hour a day.

I know I’m sounding like a whiney little kid, but am I alone in this? Could you do this? Right this minute?

Apparently this must be done all at once or it won’t work. So… it’s not going to work.

Baby steps I can do. I already don’t drink alcohol or soda. I already hate corned beef. And I eat much healthier than I did 10 years ago. But this… it’s insane.

So, in essence, I bought a book that makes me feel worse about myself than I did before, and I still have the health issue. This does not make for a successful health plan. There has to be a better way.

I’m not asking for things to be made completely easy. I’m willing to make certain sacrifices. I don’t think all life solutions should be to take a pill and continue with your bad habits.

But baby steps, you know? I can’t run a marathon when I’ve barely learned to walk. You can’t expect me to quit my job, move to the country, and eat pine trees, while building my own log cabin. Tomorrow. Or even next week. And anyone who expects that much of me is part of the problem.

The first step in designing a healthy lifestyle system is that it should be at least remotely achievable. Otherwise you’re just selling low self-esteem. Thanks, but we’re already full up on that, here.

sisyphus

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What Do You Want out of Life?

For the bulk of my life, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t able to give a definitive answer. There are just too many possibilities. I found this question particularly stressful when I was between the ages of 15 and 29. I remember feeling as if I were at this great crossroads, and there were so many directions I could turn that I had absolutely no idea which way I should go.

Jeez. No pressure there.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that I shouldn’t be focused on what I wanted to turn myself into. Instead, I should focus on what I wanted out of life. What do I need to be happy? Once I knew that, I could then formulate a plan to achieve these things. My becoming would be a natural outgrowth of my desires.

I’m not talking about material things, here. That’s not high on my list of priorities. Not that there is any right or wrong answer to the big question. If things are what you want out of life, you will take a very different journey than I will, and that’s okay.

What follows are the things I want out of life.

  • Serenity.

  • Contentment.

  • To love and be loved.

  • At least one decent travel opportunity per year.

  • Producing something that will last. A legacy, of sorts.

  • Leaving the planet ever so slightly better than I found it.

  • The opportunity to learn and grow as well as teach.

  • Peace and quiet.

  • A good night’s sleep more often than not.

  • A good hard laugh every once in a while.

  • Self-expression.

  • Access to pizza delivery.

So, dear reader, what do you want?

Serenity

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Making an Entrance

This is probably rather short notice, but have you thought about how you will be entering 2019? Think of it as a crowded room. How you enter it will make a difference as to how the year-long party will go for you.

Will you enter with energy and enthusiasm, or sneak in the back way and hope no one notices you? Both are legitimate ways to get from this year to next, but they’ll probably yield wildly different results. I suppose it depends on what you want to get out of the months to come.

Personally, I’ve never seen the point of getting roaring drunk and entering the year with a head splitting hangover. To me, that seems like starting yourself off thirty yards deep in your own endzone. But hey, we all make choices.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that you attend a great big New Year’s Party if you don’t want to. I never have. I’m a lot more low key than that. I’d rather not walk into 2019 feeling awkward and uncomfortable. That’s not a precedent I want to set.

No, I’m talking about the party of life in general. Do you have a plan? Do you have goals and intentions? (Forget about resolutions. How many people do you know who have stuck to those?) No, I’m talking about attitude. I’m talking about expectations. I’m talking about seizing the year!

I plan to enter this year with gratitude, joy, and anticipation. I want to have a wide open heart so that all my hopes and dreams can flow freely. I want this year to be one of hope and happiness.

So, Carpe Annum, dear reader! I hope you enter the year with a clear vision. I hope that you take some (measured) risks and have some adventures, and that this year yields everything you wish it will.

wicked_witch_of_the_east
Talk about making an entrance.

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Ambition

It never occurred to me that going to college wasn’t mandatory. My mother had been drumming it into my head since the age of six. You will go to college. College was the next grade after 12th. That was what one did.

I don’t know why, but it shocked me that everyone didn’t feel that way. Many of my high school friends never went for higher education. They had other goals in life. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong with that.

It wasn’t until I met someone with no ambition at all that I realized how important goals truly are. This guy will probably always live in the same city. He’ll always have the same job, and the same struggles. He is so stuck in the past that he never looks toward the future. He works toward nothing. He looks forward to nothing. He never gets excited about anything. He has absolutely no imagination. He doesn’t want anything because he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He never takes risks because he is too afraid of failure.

He is the most boring human being I’ve ever met. Being in his presence is depressing. I feel sorry for him. But I also have no respect for him.

Ambition is what makes life worth living. Striving for something is why you get out of bed in the morning. And your goals don’t have to be financial. That’s no yardstick to use to measure your life. Accumulation of stuff is meaningless. You goals should be about achieving something, or going somewhere, or creating something, or checking something off your bucket list. Those goals should be unique to you.

I’m not telling you what goals to have. I’m just saying, for heaven’s sake, have some. Otherwise, what’s the point?

ambition

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The Winnowing

Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.

I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.

I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.

I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.

Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.

I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).

But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.

So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!

I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.

And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.

winnowing

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12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

I’m getting married for the first time at age 53, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. But I’d like to think that my age is a plus. I’m not impulsive. I believe in doing my homework. I am all about looking before I leap.

Lord knows I’ve seen enough marriages fail to get a strong sense of what kills them off. It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It also helps to know the other person’s hopes, dreams, and expectations in advance, and decide whether you’d be willing to help them achieve them.

Here are a few things you may wish to consider talking about ahead of your big day:

Money. This one is huge. Is one partner bringing a mountain of debt into the union? It’s only fair to bring this out in the open. How will you handle finances? How much credit card debt can you tolerate? What level of discretionary spending are you comfortable with? What are your plans, if any, for retirement? What are your expenses? How will you cope with financial emergencies? What are your long term financial goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Children. Do you both want them? How many? Do you already have some? Who has custody? What is your philosophy regarding discipline, and child-rearing in general?

What goals do you have for your future? Do they align? If you want to travel and your partner simply wants to retire and watch Jerry Springer all day long, that’s a problem. What do you consider to be a successful life? What is most important to you in terms of a future? Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to have? What types of vacations do you like to take? What are your priorities? What are your expectations?

Sex, Intimacy and Fidelity. It’s okay to be who you are. But it’s only fair that you spell it out. If one person is asexual, and the other expects a high degree of intimacy, that’s a problem waiting to happen. If your philosophies regarding fidelity don’t align, it’s a recipe for disaster. If one person hates public displays of affection, and the other feels rejected if her partner won’t hold her hand, this is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Is pornography a big part of your life or do you have any sexual habits that your partner might find unusual? Discuss what you need to feel loved and sexually satisfied now, or your marital ship will sink like a stone.

Individuality. You don’t have to be joined at the hip. You don’t always have to like all the same things that your partner likes. You don’t even have to have all of the same friends. Becoming a football widow isn’t a big deal if you have interests of your own. Are you both comfortable doing things alone? If you have different expectations in terms of togetherness and attention, it’s best to work that out now.

Vices. If you smoke and your partner does not, you should find out if that will become a deal-breaker. If you have a drug addiction, your partner has a right to know. How much do you drink alcohol? How much is too much? You should even put your quirky habits out there. One person’s quirk might be another person’s intolerable oddity.

Health. Does your partner take health as seriously as you do? Are there any ticking time bombs with regard to family health history that you need to be aware of? How will you cope with a medical catastrophe?

Religion. What are your spiritual philosophies? Atheists and Fundamentalists can marry, of course, but they’d have to be extremely tolerant of their differences. If one is expecting the other to make a dramatic, very basic shift, and the other person isn’t willing to do so, then that will be a problem. Also, what holidays are important to you, and how do you celebrate them?

Politics. I’ve seen couples thrive in spite of political differences, but if politics is a huge part of your life, it rapidly becomes a definer of the content of one’s character. And in this current atmosphere of division, it’s not like you can ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will you be willing to agree to disagree on the issues? It’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with expectations that your partner will change and come to his or her senses.

Family. Unfortunately (or luckily, as the case may be), when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family, too. Everyone has a few nuts in the family tree. Having insane in-laws is not necessarily a problem unless you discover, to your horror, that your spouse expects said crazy relative to live with you in his or her dotage. Will you be okay with that? What does family obligation mean to you? Best to figure that out in advance.

Communication and Conflict Resolution. How do your resolve disagreements? If one is a shouter and the other tends to withdraw, you’ll never be able to meet in the middle. It’s all about respect. Talk about issues before they get out of control. Listen to what your partner is saying. Nip things in the bud as often as you can. Don’t stuff things. Don’t get hostile. Don’t just hope things will go away on their own. Take the initiative. How do you plan to talk things out?

Cleanliness. Can you tolerate your partner’s level of clutter? Can your partner stand your obsessive compulsive need for a spotless home? And how will the cleaning tasks be divided? This is 2018. You can’t assume that both of you are on the same page regarding basic chores. Talk about it.

Communication about all of the above is key. It’s important to know as much as possible about the foundation on which you are building your relationship. A solid foundation leads to a long-lasting home.

Are there any other topics that I’ve overlooked? Please share them in the comments below!

marriage

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Beware Abundance

I absolutely love buffets, so I try to avoid them. I am frugal by nature, so when I’m charged a fixed price in an all you can eat situation, I tend to try to get my money’s worth. In other words, I gorge myself. I don’t think I’ve ever left a buffet without feeling slightly sick to my stomach and at least moderately ashamed.

Abundance is not something I’ve experienced very often in my life, so it’s not surprising that I tend to overdo. It brings out the worst in me. I can’t imagine who I’d be if I lived in a constant state of abundance. I suspect that this is why the super rich are, for the most part, despicable human beings. If they exhibit even a shred of decency, they’ve no doubt had to work extremely hard to maintain it.

When you have to work for what you need, you appreciate it much more. When you aren’t completely sure you’ll get what you want, it inspires you to strive toward your goals. Achievements are so much sweeter when you’ve actually had to achieve them.

It’s the struggle that defines us. I don’t think pride is such a bad thing when you’ve seen a hurdle and have managed to clamber over it. Yay, you! Victories are all the more delicious for having been hard-won.

I have much more respect for those who try and don’t always succeed than I do for those who have had everything in their lives handed to them on a platinum patter. For most of us, life is not a buffet. But there’s a certain dignity to being figuratively lean and hungry, all while maintaining your integrity.

Buffets

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Feng Shui Lite

Recently, a friend pointed out to me that, according to the feng shui bagua, my “marriage, relationships, and partnerships” region is located in my guest room. My guest room isn’t particularly welcoming. It has become the dumping ground for all the stuff I have yet to unpack. It kind of looks like the front yard in Sanford and Son, if I’m honest. This can’t be good. That is, if you go for all that feng shui stuff.

I do and I don’t. I’m not a feng shui extremist. I don’t believe, for example, that if I leave my toilet lid up and my bathroom door open, then I’ll lose all my money and energy. But I know, based on experience, that some spaces feel comfortable and welcoming, and some set me on edge.

I also agree, in theory if not in practice, that clutter is a bad thing. Neat and orderly rooms allow one to relax and breathe. They’re also a lot easier to keep clean and dust-free, and makes it actually possible to find stuff. That can only positively impact you.

Feng shui also teaches you to focus on your goals in life. It has you examine your existence in minute detail, and encourages you to make changes therein. I’m all for that.

So, if I organize my guestroom, do I believe that I’ll find love again? Not directly. I don’t believe in magical thinking. But while I’m doing all that organizing (if I ever do), somewhere in the back of my head I’ll be thinking about improving my love life, and setting that intention may cause me to make changes in the way I present myself to the world. Who knows what might happen as a result. At the very least, I’d have an uncluttered room.

Feng_Shui_Bagua

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Arbitrary Stress

I like to have at least 7 blog entries in queue, waiting to be posted, one per day, when the clock strikes twelve. Right now I’m one behind and it’s stressing me out. I can’t come up with anything to write about.

But for heaven’s sake, what difference does it make if I have 6 or 8? I mean, my adrenaline is pumping (well, a little bit, anyway) because of a random yardstick I’ve chosen to measure myself by. Yeah, it’s good to have goals, but this is truly absurd.

What’s going to happen if I don’t write that 7th entry today? Will Donald Trump jump out of the bushes and grab my nasty bits? (Now, that would be something to write about! Once I was bailed out of jail and he got out of intensive care, that is.)

I think that in some ways, we were better off back in the days when we were chased by saber-toothed tigers. Now that was a legitimate cause for concern. You’d run like hell, and either be killed or survive, and then move on to the next thing. But lacking tigers, we feel the need to make shit up. And in this modern world, the pickings are mighty slim.

I need to practice determining which of my unmet expectations are actually worthy of my anxiety, and which are random constructs that my tiger-craving mind is conjuring up for lack of anything better to do. Perspective. It’s a beautiful thing. But for me, at least, it seems to be fleeting.

But, oh look! I just wrote my 7th blog entry! Yay, me! I deserve a cookie.

Smilodon_Knight

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Those Popcorn Moments

I was talking to a friend the other day and she said that as a single mother money was always tight, so she didn’t get to travel. Even though she didn’t really consider it a major regret, that kind of made me feel guilty because I’ve been to 22 countries. It’s been a while since I was able to afford to even buy a plane ticket, but I want to get back to that point eventually. I live in hope.

I never had kids. I’ve never even had cable TV or a smart phone, so it’s all about priorities. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make sacrifices and you’ll work toward it. You may or may not be successful in reaching your goals, but you’ll make the effort. Child rearing was not an effort I was willing to make, but I admire anyone who happily takes on that responsibility.

Another friend said she didn’t regret not being able to travel because she got just as much pleasure from sitting on the couch with her daughter, eating a bowl of popcorn and watching a movie. I think that’s a wonderful attitude. You should make the most of what you have, and have a clear sense of what makes you happy.

Make plans, sure, but make your popcorn wherever you happen to be sitting in life. Don’t wait. Because when all is said and done, you shouldn’t deprive yourself of those popcorn moments. They count for a lot.

Popcorn