my silver linings playbook for the new year

new-years-ball

Here we are again at the start of a year that will, from the looks of things, be full of changes and challenges. I see some good things on the horizon, like paying off a big loan this year, and I see some things that could be horrific (I already touched on that back in NovemberBut one thing I would like to accomplish this year is being more grateful and in being grateful, I cannot focus on the negative. I must find those silver linings even if I have to look through hundreds of dark clouds to do so.

How this year will be different:

  • I will write at least one blog post each week, and I will end one posting with three things I am thankful for that happened that week, even if it’s that the cats only threw up three times or that I was in line at the DMV for forty minutes less than usual.
  • I will explore my city more and enjoy the great things it has to offer. In other words, I’ll appreciate what is available to me. I live in a part of the country that people fly and drive to from all over to visit, but I sit at my desk and work in my house day in and day out, some weeks barely getting out more than a couple times and within a five-mile radius of home. I choose to go someplace fun each week. Even if I have to take my laptop with me to work there, I will get out and see this city.
  • I will not belabor bad things I have no control over. The dilemma of anxious control freaks such as myself is we worry about everything, much of which we can’t control. Unless ruminating over the horrible consequences of something that may or may not happen is actually going to help put a plan into action, I choose to not waste my time and the finite space within my brain worrying about it.
  • I will not feel as though everyone’s life is so much better than mine and be envious of the good things that happen to them. I have a terrible habit of doing that: I’ll hear something positive that a friend of mine has accomplished, like she got a new job or a new kitchen or a new car, and I’ll compare my crappy sporadic paychecks with hers or my fifteen-year-old vehicle to that shiny new one sitting in her driveway and feel bad about myself. Well, no more of that. I have been trying hard to get more and better work and I could afford a new car and a kitchen if I wanted one, but it’s not all that necessary right now. So no more comparisons. I will feel happy for her, and that’s all.
  • I will realize that others’ lives are not all they appear to be and be thankful for what I have and when things go well. A friend of mine who I never think has to struggle as much as I do told me a story of something frightening that happened to one of her children when he tried to do the right thing a few weeks ago. On the outside, her life looks better than mine, but I went home that night and thanked the heavens that I don’t have a child struggling with such an issue right now. My kids may not have the greatest jobs or be in fulfilling relationships, but at the same time, they’re not in difficult, dangerous situations either.

And that brings me back to my premise of feeling grateful for the things that are good in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for and this week, for me, it was:

  1. Having my healthy, well-rounded, smart kids around me over the holidays and getting to reconnect with friends and family members I don’t get to see all the time.
  2. Getting to enjoy a nice lunch with a view and a walk with my husband on New Year’s Day.
  3. Being alive and well.

Goodnight.

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october mornings can make you feel this way

fall-leaves

I heard that the simplest prayer is to say “thank you.” I like that.

Walking today on what is a fairly crisp fall morning (by Southern California standards, anyway), I took in long shadows, leaves falling from a sycamore tree, the smell of breakfast sausage wafting from a home or two, and a golden retriever by my side. I thought, “This is pretty nice. This is all I need.” The simple things in life, for sure.

I looked up to see the bare hills that pass for mountains here and a bright sun breaking through a distant marine layer. I said my thank-you prayer before my mind started drifting to things that are challenges in my life: the lack of a steady paycheck, the worries that parents of teens and young adults tend to have even when their kids are the “good” ones,  my deceased friend whose second anniversary of her death is next Sunday, and her teenaged daughters, one of whom turns sixteen the following day. Before I could hit up the rest of the list, like the fact that Donald Trump could possibly become our nation’s president in another month, I stopped myself, took a deep breath, looked into the distance, and said “thank you” again. I have a way of dwelling on the negative so much that the dwelling has turned into a permanent home, with a fierce dog chained in the yard and a “This Property Is Condemned” sign posted on the door.

But today is not for those thoughts. Actually, no day should be. I must look at the positive: I’ve a roof over my head that will be paid for in another so-many payments, I’ve enough money in savings to tide us over in case of emergency, and I’ve a loving family and a gaggle of friends to boost my spirits. I may not have granite countertops or memories of trips to the Bahamas, but I do have all I need.

I must remember that next time my mind wanders to the negative. A thank-you is all it takes.

missing my friend on her fiftieth birthday

I should be out to lunch, raising a glass, giving a toast, and celebrating one of my dearest friends’ fiftieth birthdays today, but she is no longer here. She passed away one year and nine months ago, leaving behind a husband and two darling teenaged daughters.

I miss Anna so much at times that my heart hurts. I’ve lost parents (both of them) and parents-in-law (both of them too), but nothing has wrenched my heart as much as losing my dear, dear friend. Not only do I lament the days I personally didn’t get to spend with her (and her fiftieth birthday would have been a big one, at that), I am saddened for the stuff she is missing, like seeing her daughters ace the SATs or watching them drive off for the first time on their own, brand-new driver’s licenses in their wallets. She’ll never get to see them collect their diplomas or their degrees, or walk them down the aisle for the last time as single ladies. She’ll never meet her grandchildren, call them by name, or see what color their eyes are or who they favor in appearance, their beautiful daughter or the putz she married. She’ll never get to spend her husband’s retirement traveling or doing the things one just can’t do when there’s a full-time worker in the household and he has a schedule to keep to. She’ll never get to age gracefully or die naturally.

I, of course, am especially sad for the girls. They’ll never get to do spa days with their mom or listen to lectures about boys and fast cars and what to not do on grad night. From October 2014 on they’ve been without the one woman they should have been able to rely on for advice, support, and love for the rest of their lives.

And I’m sad for her husband, my friend, who wakes up to an empty bed in the morning and sees the same image when laying down his head every night. He turns fifty tomorrow too, but since that fateful day in 2014, there has not been any celebrating on these two days in June that used to be so joyous.

I know if there is a heaven and if God lets in those good folks who are not card-carrying members, which I hope is the case, Anna’s up there watching her family and friends carrying on. She’s whipping up her magnificent eggrolls for the lord above and planning the day when we can all again sit around the table as she blows out candles.

I miss you and I love you, Anna.

 

weight loss is possible in menopause and i’m proving it

It creeped on over the years until I thought I was stuck. I couldn’t move down, just up. In weight, that is. Then I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “if not now, when?” Oh, wait, that’s what Oprah says in the ad for this weight-loss program.

But she’s right.

If not now, when? When you’ve put on more weight? When you’ve had to buy yet another, even larger pair of pants? When your lower back starts to ache from walking because of the strain your bulging midsection is putting on it? When your doctor prescribes a half-dozen different pills to thwart a heart attack? If not now, when?

I took the bait and off I ran. And you know what, it’s working!

I started reducing my food intake and exercising more on April 6. It’s now May 18 and I’ve dropped 3.5 pounds. I wasn’t huge to start with, but I definitely was starting to see a woman in the mirror I had never seen before and barely recognized. Every angle was now rounder. Every body part was now looser or wider or just plain bigger. My BMI was embarrassing. I shouldn’t have been in the high 140s at all. I should barely be in the high 130s even. But every year, eating basically the same diet as forever, the pounds kept adding up and were miserable to get off.

This losing pounds and getting more fit and healthy is still a work in progress, but I’ve read that it takes twenty-one days for an activity to become a habit. I’ve surpassed that time and I’m now in a routine of watching what I put in my mouth and upping the minutes on the treadmill or in walking the dog. I’ve increased my pace too. And on days when I don’t think I can fit another walk in, I’ll jump on the tradmill for ten fast minutes while the water for the pasta is boiling for the night’s supper. Or I’ll stick my feet under the wing chair in the living room and do twenty-five sit-ups.

I haven’t added up the calories I’m taking in, but I’d say it’s about 1,500 or 1,600. I stick to my basic toast and coffee  and sometimes an egg for breakfast. I eat a light frozen-food lunch and a cup of my favorite Greek yogurt and fruit. And dinner is my usual stirfry or pasta or whatever I make for the family. And there are always veggies. I’ve just cut back on quantity, especially of carbs, including my number-one favorite item: white Jasmine rice.

Thinking about what goes into your piehole prevents you from, say, shoveling in another slice of banana cream or piling in chips one after the other. It makes you reach for a mandarin orange instead of a cookie. And when you do treat yourself–and that’s perfectly fine–you’ll probably not want a double serving of ice cream or a generously sized piece of chocolate cake. You’ll savor that cookie or that cake and actually taste your food.

I plan to keep this up until I reach my goal and then stick with it as best I can. I don’t ever want to get to the high 140s again, because just around the corner are the 150s, and they’re waving me on.

 

 

week one weight update

vector-of-a-cartoon-fat-woman-trying-to-trick-the-scale-while-weighing-herself-outlined-coloring-page-by-ron-leishman-24874[2]

I’ve been on the weight-reduction and -maintenance program, the one in which you get points for food and can take them away with exercise, and I’m doing OK. I was hoping to have dropped two pounds by week one, but I’ve dropped just one. Still, I am putting on muscle weight–I can feel it–and I’m noticing my cheekbones are coming back into definition, my chin is getting smaller, and my girth is reducing.

I understand that weight loss is more apparent in the beginning, but because mine so far is slow and steady, and I have a history of putting muscle back on the more I exercise, I’m taking this as a silver lining and that my weight loss will be gradual but obvious.

I haven’t cheated at all, unless you count a Costco sample of Chicago-style popcorn cheating. I also went to the movies this past week, Friday, and I had a smallish bag of Target popcorn there, plus water. I figured it was about 6 cups of popcorn. But that’s all I had in the middle of the day between my usual morning meal of an egg and sourdough toast and a small evening meal. And I took my morning walk and then a longer, 45-minute walk at the nearby lake with my son in the afternoon. It was a great day. I love going to the movies and am glad the 6 cups of popcorn didn’t hurt me much. I also liked that I was able to make up for the calories by walking more than usual later in the day.

I don’t have a long way to go in my goal. Fifteen pounds isn’t 50 or 150 and I feel for people who have that much to lose. I can only imagine how discouraging it is to give up stuff you love, add in more exercise, which is often hard to accomplish when carrying extra weight, and not get the results. My weight gain has been gradual over the years–four babies in a thirteen-year span and then middle age and a desk job following directly afterward–so I assume my weight loss will be as well. It’s basically about being cognizant of what you put into your mouth and adding movement to help take away the calories added on.

It’s possible to shed the pounds one day at a time and I’m happy with my results so far.

will watching weight work ?

So I never thought in a million years I’d join a weight-loss and -maintenance program, but I have. Since one can do it from the privacy of his or her own home, I gave it a shot. I signed up for the three-month initial program and will track my progress on these pages.

I don’t know what to expect. Will it be difficult (I assume it will be) and will it impose on my lifestyle (I would guess it would)? I still cook for a family of four, so I can’t eat what I want when I want for dinner without having to prepare two separate meals, so the program I’m following allows participants to eat real food as we count points for food totals and exercise. It sounds like a reasonable plan, I don’t have to attend meetings (there’s online support), and I don’t have to buy prepackaged meals, which I’m sure would taste like cardboard and the portion sizes would suit no one bigger than Barbie.

My niece (and Oprah) signed on to this program recently and my niece has already shown improvement after just a couple months. Of course she’s in her early thirties and has yet to have a baby, so her body can’t be compared to mine apples to apples, but it’s nice to see her results. Like me, she loves to play board games and this is a game of sorts. Participants go onto their personal web dashboard and type in what they’ve eaten for the day and what type of exercise they’ve gotten. The dashboard will tally the points, letting participants know how much more exercise they may need for the week or how much less food they should sock away. More exercise equals more food and vice versa.

It might be fun to see if I can meet the end-of-week totals and reach my goal weight. My goal is to lose fifteen pounds–those nasty fifteen that, honest to God, seemed to materialize overnight once I hit fifty. I also want to stop looking like a dark-haired female Michelin Man. As I uploaded photos from the past year to my computer today, I was shocked to see–on a 22-inch HD computer screen no less–just how big around the middle I’ve gotten. We don’t carry weight well in my family at all. It all settles around the middle and under the neck. (Why couldn’t we have gotten saddlebags and big thighs instead?) The estrogen from menopause sends fat to the midsection already, so I didn’t need my family’s apple-shaped physique to add insult to injury, but what are ya gonna do? It is what it is. And hopefully, it won’t be there for long.

I never thought these “diets” worked. I was a busy young woman who had trouble finding time to eat and therefore had no trouble keeping off the pounds, but I would watch other coeds and coworkers struggle through these programs. The weight would be lost, then come right back on, and the women would be miserable while trying to stay on course and not cheat. They would talk about the weigh-ins as if they were comparable to being sent to the guillotine. I was happy I was able to regulate my weight by eating well or not eating enough in college, with two or three part-time jobs at a time along with a full course load to deal with. That was followed by multiple jobs after graduating and then by running around after the babies and being too poor to buy goodies in my mid to late twenties. When my thirties hit, the weight began settling in, but I still could fit into a size small or medium. By baby number 4, I was in my late thirties and it was harder to lose the pregnancy weight and then keep the pounds off.

Throughout my forties, I and a couple friends would do a weekly three-hour hike up and down mountains and I was able to maintain my weight sufficiently. But by my fifties, menopause made weight loss much harder and my friends became too busy to go on a weekly hike. Now we’re lucky to get two in a year, while we used to go every Wednesday morning, come rain or come shine, for years on end.

I’m still a bit cynical that this program will work, but I will try my hardest to stick with it. Once in a while it’s good to be proven wrong.

work-at-home depression–yes, it is a thing

Some people–a lot of people, actually–would think that the perfect job is one in which you get to stay home and still earn money. That sounds good to me too, but working at home is not all it’s cracked up to be. And here’s why.

Working from home can be awesome, especially if you have children at home or have a difficult time commuting, for whatever reason. It’s also great if your schedule is ever changing, say, you’re a student. Or if you have a partner with a full-time job and benefits and your income helps out but isn’t the big moneymaker in the family. And there are work-at-home situations that offer the same benefits (monetarily and otherwise) of working outside the home, such as if it’s a full-time gig for one employer or it’s contract work for an employer that had to downsize, reduce its payroll, and pay its people on a per-project basis. There, the same amount of work is available, but the terms of “employment” have changed.

But for those of us whose work is piecemeal, working at home can be a drag for a number of reasons, including it can bring on depression. And here’s why:

1) Who’s the boss? Most people would think not having a boss is a good thing, right? But when you freelance for a number of different companies, you are at the mercy of their very different rules and requirements, and although you run your own company per se, the clients are the ones who direct your work. Many times too, projects can overlap and deadlines can conflict, meaning you have to take on two or more jobs at once, working crazy-long hours to get everything done, and oftentimes the work suffers. If that happens, you run the chance of not getting called on for more work.

2) Whose line is it anyway? Because of the Internet, e-mail, and smartphones, most workers would say there’s a fine line between work and home. But with freelancing, there’s no line at all. If people are forced to leave their offices and workplaces at a certain time because a shift ends, they do so. Salaried people too are able to walk away from work, get in their cars or hop on the bus or train and go home. They may take their work with them via a laptop or running through work scenarios in their heads when they get there, but there’s a line of demarcation between work and home. Freelancers don’t have that luxury. They can work at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. They work weekends, weekdays, and holidays even. They work when the work is there or, as stated at the end of point number one above, they may not be working at all.

3) Show me the money! Unless you’re JK Rowling or someone equally fortunate and talented to have made it big while doing something without a regular paycheck, the money from freelancing or contract work is not as lucrative as working for an employer. Polls have shown that people doing the same amount of work and who have the same education as those in a full-time job are paid woefully less for the same work. A small percentage can make more, but I guarantee you they are working many more hours. And yes, you can pay for your own health care and it is a tax deduction, but take it from someone who has had health care plans through an employer and plans through a self-employeed situation, without a workplace plan the premiums are higher, the benefits are lower, and you have to earn enough to pay for those premiums. It’s not a win-win situation at all.

4) I’m so lonesome, I could cry. Sitting in a room for hours on end and staring at a screen, a canvas, or whatever work tool you use can be isolating, to say the least. Whether you like ’em or not, people need other people. We’re social animals. So’s my dog, of course, but I can only have a one-sided conversation with him. We crave human interaction and if you’ve raised a family and are a freelancer simultaneously or in succession, years and even decades can go by without being able to stand by the watercooler chatting about last night’s episode of 60 Minutes. (Do offices even have watercoolers anymore or have those been replaced by water bottles? Well, at least 60 Minutes is still around.)

5) Risky business. Even big corporations shut down entire plants and office complexes at times (now more often than ever), so there’s not a soul who isn’t at risk of losing his or her job at any time these days. Long gone are the companies that hire men or women straight out of school or the service, employ them for their entire working lives, and send them off into retirement with a nice, fat pension.Though they’re few and far between (and oftentimes government agencies), there still are some employers like that. Freelancers, however, can’t count on steady work, let alone steady paychecks, ever. And there’s no pension, not even a 401(k) to fall back on one day. Sure, you can squirrel away a few thousand a year into an IRA, but there are limits to how much you can contribute and it’s all after-tax, not pretax money.

6) Happiness is a warm gun. The hot-and-cold of freelancing is extremely difficult to handle especially if you’re a lukewarm person. I like things I can count on. I’ve been married for 30 years and have had some of the same friends for decades. I hold on to my cars (the one I drive turned 14 last month), and I eat the same breakfast daily. I’m a very consistent person, so having a job without a consistent workflow is really difficult to bear. I am trying to supplement my freelance career with a “regular” job outside the home just so I have something to count on on a weekly basis–even if it pays half as much per hour–but finding work outside the home is difficult if you don’t have a regular employer to vouch for you. References are really hard to come by. Yes, you can use as a reference the client for whom you did a bang-up job on a recent project, but if you go after the steady, outside-the-home job, how are you going to look to that client? He or she may think you’re no longer interested in the occasional project and not call on you again, whether you got the regular job or not. He or she may think your time will be limited now, little does he know that you were juggling gigs while doing work for him too.

There are ways to get around the feelings of isolation (take your work to Starbucks, take a walk, go to the park, join a group either virtually or in person with other freelancers) and there are times the money is good for the work done, but there’s no getting around the rollercoaster of workflow that freelancers have, which in turn can affect one’s mood.

I try to look at the positives of working from home (being “there” for my kids, being in a comfortable place, not having to fight traffic in a big city–that one’s huge in my mind, and not having to dress up or even shower–OK, that one can be a big negative, actually). And I do realize that there’s good and bad with both scenarios and, truth be told, I’d rather work at home. I am fortunate that my husband earns bigger bucks in a steady job. But there’s no getting around the fact that there are negatives. Now if only I had someone to discuss them with.