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Archive for the ‘Self Improvement’ Category

Well, the world seems about ready to spin off its axis entirely and every time I even so much as glance at the news I start hyperventilating, so let’s talk about MORE FRIVOLOUS STUFF.

At some point last spring, I decided I wanted to Mix It Up a little bit with my hair. For me, a person who avoids change at all costs, this meant asking my hair stylist to add a little red to my normal brown hair dye.

I think I was picturing something like Anna Kendrick’s hair… Dark, but with a reddish tinge…

(Photos, clockwise from Anna, from myhaircolors.net, pinterest.com, and ouchpress.com)

I liked the result okay. But it wasn’t anything like ANY of the above photos. It felt so BROWN. More like… Young Rory Gilmore. Or… Jennifer Garner without highlights. But… Less shiny.

(Photos, left to right, from worldhairextensions.com and allwomenstalk.com)

So I went back to her a few months later and told her that I wanted to change things up AGAIN.

“What was wrong with the last color?” she wanted to know. She was non-accusatory, not hurt in the least; she just wanted to know what the issue was so she could help avoid similar issues.

“It was just too… brown,” was all I could come up with. But she nodded like I’d been extremely explicit and detailed with my criticism and presented me a few alternatives.

She did so by putting together a little board of hair samples. A literal curl of hair in four different colors that I could choose from. The far left was my hair color of last fall. The far right was Really Red. The two center options were somewhere in the middle.

But here’s the kicker. She recommended one of the options. I can’t remember which, all I can remember is that she compared it to Hair of Last Fall and said something like, “This will go much better with your skin tone than what we used to do.”

I trust her and so we went with the option she’d recommended.

You see where this is going, no?

I do not like my current hair color. It’s fine. It’s not bad or anything. It’s closer, I guess, to Anna Kendrick Brownish Red. But it’s lighter than I like my hair to be, and it’s still too brown, and it’s different enough from my natural hair color (mouse brown interlaced with grey) that you can REALLY see the difference now that it’s growing out.

When my husband – who, bless his heart, doesn’t notice these things – not only agreed with my assessment that it was very clear my hair was in need of a color-update, but also said he’d noticed without my pointing it out, I made a hair appointment immediately.

But now I am fretting. I mean, it’s MILD fretting. Nothing on the level of School Stress or What If Writing a Book Is a Huge Waste of Everyone’s Time Worry. But I like to wring every last bit of anxiety out of every possible situation so here we go.

What I really want is to go back to my hair stylist and say, “Let’s go back to how it was last fall.”

Simple enough… Except that she has already expressed a preference for NOW vs. THEN.

It’s like when your friend breaks up with that kind of boring dude she’s been with for five years, and when she finally does it, you can’t help but say, “Oh, I’m so glad you aren’t with him anymore! He really wasn’t bringing out your inner sparkle!” And then a few months later she decides to get back together with him.

Only I’M the one who is getting back together with the dull boyfriend, you know? And my hair stylist is the one who has to reunite us.

I would almost rather find a NEW hair stylist. But it’s so hard to find a good one, and I really do like her, and she does do a good job, and I really like the way she cuts my hair. Plus, my husband goes to her, too. So if I quit, it seems like he would have to quit, too, just for the sake of awkwardness and I’m too tired to worry about any of this.

My husband helpfully discussed this with me (although I doubt he will engage in deeper or additional conversations on the topic) and agreed that a) my former darker hair color worked just fine with my skin tone and b) it was totally reasonable for me to have a different opinion from my hair stylist and c) I could very reasonably ask her to change the color back and all would be well.

But YOU understand my fretting, don’t you?

What if she does it, but clenches her teeth the whole time, so certain is she in the life-altering mistake I am making?

What if she does it, and then it turns out she is RIGHT and my skin tone is Totally Wrong for dark brown and I HATE IT?

What if I can’t think of any other disastrous outcomes?

In any event, I want to go from Reddish Brown to Dark, Glossy, Gorgeous Brown and completely avoid Just Plain Brown at all costs.

Maybe what I do is pretend that I am NOT going back to my old hair color… and ask for a NEW hair color?

Something like one of these?

(Photos, left to right, from pinterest.com, hairboutique.com, hairstyles123.com, and pinterest.com)

Yes!!

I could totally go in and say, “I want my hair to be a bit darker for fall. Let’s change it to Katie Holmes brown please.” And then see what happens.

Perhaps I will even bring her this photo as an example!

Hair dark brown 1

What do you think?

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First, Carla has begun referring to limes as “green lemons.”

Second, I don’t think you will be surprised to learn that I don’t adjust to change easily. I mean, not THAT many people are all “Woo hoo, change!! Let’s tilt the world on its axis just for the hell of it!” so I am probably not the anomaly here.

I like to think of myself as a loyal person – once I find something that works, I stick with it. I like to think of myself as adaptable and flexible; I don’t need things to be perfect all the time! I can work with non-perfect! Also, I like knowing what to expect. I like routine. I like to be able to depend on something. My aversion to change is why I stuck with my first job for seven years, even after it became clear that we were no longer as great a fit as I’d hoped. It’s why I’ve kept my same Honda for nearly 15 years, despite the fact that it needs increasingly expensive “fixes” to keep it in running condition. It’s why I have a hard time imagining ever moving out of this house, even though it’s a little small and even though I DESPISE our tile floors and even though I would LOVE to have an actual mud room.

My philosophy – because it’s always been that way – is that if we’ve always done something a certain way, there’s probably a good reason for it and therefore NO REASON TO CHANGE.

All of this to that I have a hard time accepting – despite my advanced age and extensive experience – that sometimes, changing something – ON PURPOSE – can make things BETTER and/or EASIER.

Example 1: When I was… ten, maybe? my mother gave me the occasional responsibility of cooking for the family. She got me a cookbook – Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual – that I loved and remember fondly. For my chosen meal, I always made spaghetti with meat sauce. I always made it the same way: brown a pound of ground beef, add diced onion, minced garlic, and diced carrot, add pasta sauce, add Hunt’s tomato sauce, add dried basil and oregano, add splash of Tabasco, cook until you can wait no longer. THAT was just The Way to Make Meat Sauce. There were no deviations.

Until I met my husband. And the first thing he helped me change was the (store bought, jarred) pasta sauce I used. I’d always used Prego; it was the brand my mother used, I was accustomed to it, it was just how it was done. But it had tomato chunks in it, and so I had to put it through the blender before I added it to the meat and veg. My husband pointed out that Ragu is completely smooth. So – with great trepidation – we made the switch. Instantly better and easier!

And then I admitted to him that I hate the carrots. I dislike cooked carrots as it is. Plus, they are super annoying to dice. And I ended up picking them out of the sauce every time we made the meat sauce. So my husband suggested that I just not add them. What?!?! But… carrots were an INTEGRAL PART of the sauce! What about the flavor profile?! What about tradition?!

I stopped adding the carrots. Instantly better and easier.

Example 2: When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners, I bought a potato masher.

When the potato masher wasn’t in use (you know, 364 days a year), I would stow it in the Random Utensil Drawer. Do you have one of those? It’s not the silverware drawer, where you keep the forks and spoons and knives. No, it’s the drawer where you stuff all the other random things you use rarely or never: the lemon juicer, the grapefruit knife, the zester, there must be some non-citrus tools as well… oh yes! The whisks, the garlic press, the can opener, the pizza cutters, the offset spatula, the regular spatulas, the miniature spatula, so many spatulas. What the hell else is in there? There are WAY more things cluttering up my RUD. Who knows. Anyway. That’s where I kept the potato masher. It was very cranky and easily offended. I mean, if it got twisted at all, it would prevent the drawer from either opening or closing. Worst was when the drawer wouldn’t open. Then you’d have to stick your hand in as far as you could and try to maneuver things around in the drawer to see if you could get the masher to lie flat. It was very frustrating.

But that’s WHERE THE MASHER LIVED. Its home was in the RUD. That’s just how it was done.

When my mother came to stay with us after Carla was born, she noted that the masher was really irritating, and I agreed but sort of shrugged because what can you do, right? It’s just how it was.

My mother, bless her bravery, MOVED THE MASHER. She put it in the little bucket that holds all the tongs and the ladles and pancake turners etc. that lives on the counter near the stove. And lo, the RUD opened and closed, and lo, the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west, and life was instantly better and easier.

 

I think about these lessons a lot. A lot a lot. Whenever something annoys me about the layout of my house or about how I’ve set up my cupboards, I think, “It doesn’t HAVE to be that way! I can CHANGE THINGS!” I haven’t actually made any changes, but I know that I CAN, should I choose to.

Like sometimes, I think about how great it would be if we could get rid of 85% of the cups on the top shelf of the cups cabinet. We use about 5% of the cups up there, and then there are 10% that we use on a very occasional basis. But the rest are just… sitting there, taking up space. I could get rid of them! Or move them into a box!

Or! Carla’s crafts (workbooks, sticker books, crayons, drawing paper, paint supplies, play-doh) live in two separate places: an armoire in our dining room and a curio cabinet in our kitchen. The armoire has some other things in it and the curio has a bunch of odds and ends in IT. I don’t know if those are the correct furniture names, but whatever. Sometimes I think about how I could totally consolidate ALL of Carla’s craft supplies into ONE of these furniture items! And either pack away, get rid of, or move the other odds and ends!

Even the prospect of changing things from the way they’ve always been is truly liberating.

Of course, the actual effecting change is not quite as simple. But still. LIBERATING.

 

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Not yet 10:00 a.m. and this is already one of those days where I am feeling like I am not a good parent and, in fact, never will be a good parent because I just don’t have What It Takes. Blah.

It was an early day today and we had a service person in our house which automatically makes things Extra Difficult. So right off the bat, we had two things working against us.

Carla’s ability to listen had completely vacated not only her body but the tri-state area and I was trying Very Hard to keep my voice upbeat and cheerful while also having to bodily remove her from the exact five inches that the service person needed to occupy. AND get her out the door to school.

So I lost my patience. Which is code for yelling at her. Which results in copious tears and the pervasive feeling that I Am Not Cut Out for This.

Listen, I fully believe that The Upper Arm Grab and The Mean Mommy Voice have their place in parenting. I mean, maybe they aren’t technically THE BEST EVER parenting, but they certainly aren’t BAD parenting. I recall my own mother using both on occasion (hmmm… perhaps I have to rethink my core belief that I’ve ALWAYS been a Rule Follower…) and I get it, that they are necessary and important tools to have in one’s parenting tool kit. Your child won’t stop kicking the back of someone’s seat in an airplane? Fine. Your child hits/spits on/kicks another person/creature/piece of non-sporting equipment? Yep. Your child wrenches away from you and starts running across a parking lot? DEFINITELY.

But this morning, I just don’t think they were the right tools for the job. Like using a hammer when what is really called for is a screwdriver. The sad fact is, I tend to reach for the hammer more often than I should. (We are all clear this is a metaphorical hammer, yes? Yes.) I don’t know if I even OWN a screwdriver. (Metaphorically.) I think I have a hammer and some needle nose pliers and okay I am abandoning this line of comparison now.

What I’m saying is, I certainly don’t enjoy using The Upper Arm Grab and The Mean Mommy Voice before eight in the morning. But, at least today, I don’t feel EQUIPPED to handle things otherwise.

I have a whole shelf of parenting books that I turn to on occasion, and some of them have legitimately good advice. But I usually end up crying my way through them, because they all seem to be saying, loudly and clearly and cheerfully, that I am doing it all wrong.

I struggle so much with how to get my particular wonderful child to acquiesce to my own needs. How to get her to listen and follow directions and get out the door on time and stop bothering the service people and get dressed when I ask you the first time and just eat your dinner already… without squelching all of the things that make her her – the independent spirit, the creativity, the effervescent joy, the desire to help, the capability to notice and take delight in everything from a line of ants in a crack on the sidewalk to the enormous tractor trailer on the road to the sliver of moon sailing along with us on our bike ride down the street.

And while I think I need to be less rigid about my needs, I also worry about the needs of others: her teachers, her classmates, her future employers, society at large. For her to be effective and un-intrusive and, let’s face it, safe in the world today and for her whole life, she has to learn how and when to suppress that urge to Do It Her Way. That’s part of my job – a big, huge, important part: teaching her how to be a constructive, productive, functioning member of society.

It just doesn’t feel like I’m doing any of it well.

 

 

One of the books I’ve found most useful is called Positive Parenting. It’s got some specific techniques and suggestions. And when I model those techniques, I see a real difference. But it is SO HARD. Being upbeat and using positive language and redirecting and offering choices – it’s exhausting. Sometimes I just need to get out the freaking door.

Of course, I recognize that this is MY failing. We don’t actually have a hard and fast time we need to be at school. She goes to preschool for Pete’s sake; if she’s 10 minutes late, no big. If I start writing 15 minutes later than I wanted to, the world won’t end. If Carla doesn’t put her own clothes on and I have to do it for her, the stars won’t drop out of the sky. If she wants to pick up 35 worms on the way into school and move them into the grass and then choose one special worm to use as a visual aid during the worm-saving lecture she issues to every single person who passes us, Earth won’t be sucked into a black hole and destroy us all.

It’s my stubbornness, my desire to be done with it already, my inner impatience to keep moving smoothly from one task to another that builds up inside me like a clogged pipe until Carla’s perfectly reasonable and even admirable insistence on buttoning her own coat somehow bursts the entire pipe and there’s filthy water everywhere.

And then tears.

 

 

 

I hope this doesn’t come across like I think poorly of Carla. I don’t. I am sure every mom thinks this, but my child is wonderful. She is a joy and a delight and I feel grateful every day that she’s here, that she’s my daughter, that I have the privilege of knowing her and snuggling her and watching her learn and grow. She is loving and bright and fun and energetic and inquisitive and all sorts of wonderful things.

She’s also three and a half, behaving as a three-and-a-half-year-old does. I mean, I am all for having high expectations of your child, but sometimes I wonder if the problem is that I expect too much.

 

 

 

What I am going to say next, well. Let me start by saying that I get it. Yelling happens. If you told me that you yell at your kid/s on occasion, I would hug you and buy you some coffee so we could discuss just what led to the yelling and how deeply I empathize it.

But I HATE yelling. Hate it. It makes me feel out of control and mean and unsuited for being in charge of a small human.

It’s one of those paradoxes, I guess, wherein I would never think those things of YOU, if you yelled at your child occasionally. But I know how angry I feel, when I get to that point of yelling. And it scares me. And it… makes me feel out of control and mean and unsuited for being in charge of a small human.

When I do actually yell – which, as I noted, I hate hate hate, but which I nonetheless do, much more frequently than I want to – I apologize. I let her know yelling isn’t okay. That it’s something I have to work on – that I am working on it. That even though she isn’t behaving in a way that she should, she doesn’t deserve to be yelled at. She and I talk through things I could have done differently, to express my feelings in a more productive way.

I hope this sort of conversational break-down of the yelling helps. Helps her deal with the shock of being yelled at. Helps her learn how to prevent her own outbursts.

But I also know that my actions are way more important than my words.

Today, after the tears had dried, I told her I was sorry. I told her I lost my temper. It wasn’t okay. I told her I was frustrated, because I like to be on time. I told her that it was okay to be frustrated, but that yelling about it wasn’t.

Then – and probably this isn’t the right way to handle things, but I did it – I told her that even though she is a big girl and wants to be able to make her own choices and do things her way, she still has to listen. She still has to follow directions. When mommy and daddy and her teachers need her to do something, she has to do it. She is only three and a half, and that’s just part of being three and a half. And, in fact, she will have to listen to mommy and daddy and her teachers for a long time. Probably until she is eighteen.

Carla has no concept of what that means – being eighteen.

But oh Internet. More than fourteen more years of this? Will I ever get the hang of it? Am I just temperamentally unsuited to being a parent? How oh how can I work around my personality flaws so that I don’t scar Carla for life? Or, worse, so that I don’t turn her into me?

 

 

I don’t know if I can handle any more parenting book recommendations, although I suppose I should do MORE reading of parenting books rather than avoiding them. But if you have any techniques or ideas or… anything. Well, I would welcome it all.

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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I am sitting here embroiled in all the humiliation and frustration of an Unsatisfying Interaction… Only the Unsatisfying Interaction took places EONS ago, so all my eloquent speeches and clear, reasonable explanations are useless.

Why does the brain insist on doing this? There are DOZENS of times when I have a thousand other things to do/concentrate on/worry about/binge-watch on Netflix, but CANNOT FOCUS because I am busy replaying the events of the Unsatisfying Interaction on repeat.

I would list a few of them, just as examples, but I don’t want to because they will earworm their way back into my brain and next thing you know I’ll be calmly explaining myself or making the perfect (heretofore unsaid) retort or reacting in a totally uncharacteristic c’est la vie way that will erase the Interaction from my memory for good and I’ll have just replaced The Useless Mind Churn of the Moment for another.

WHY does the brain do this? I could try, I suppose, to make an argument FOR this functionality: perhaps the brain thinks that if I turn The Past over and around enough times, I can prevent the same thing from happening in The Future. Which makes some sense! But… in this case, I highly HIGHLY doubt that this Unsatisfying Interaction will repeat – or even come close to happening again. And it’s not like all this internal practice has helped me to now; I still have Unsatisfying Interactions; I still fumble and say the wrong thing and am obtuse when I mean to be clear and am gauche when I mean to be funny and am tearful when I mean to be strong; I still come away flustered and wanting a re-do. And I am STILL spending countless hours thinking and fretting and stressing over things that have already happened and therefore CANNOT CHANGE.

So I’m coming down firmly on the side of USELESS.

It’s like a hysterical jaw, just gnawing and gnawing and gnawing away at the past. But instead of easily crumbling like a cookie, or even gradually giving way like a rawhide bone or a piece of wood, The Past is a many faceted diamond, and at best (at BEST!) the jaw is chipping off microscopic shards of the memory, which, instead of disappearing, simply lodge themselves more deeply in the humiliation centers of my mind.

Anyway, if you spot me having a very earnest conversation with the air later, this is why.

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Sometimes I think one of my love languages is Buying Gifts. That’s probably not the right term but I don’t feel like walking down the hall to get the book and read it. Also, I think “love language” refers to how you prefer to be treated, not how you treat others – and I don’t particularly like receiving gifts, so maybe love language is not the right term at all.

Let’s start over:

I LIKE TO BUY GIFTS FOR PEOPLE.

However, I also possess a distinctly challenging personality trait that makes it difficult to actually BUY GIFTS FOR PEOPLE. What I’m saying is that I have severe gift-giving anxiety (undiagnosed). So what happens is I get all excited about buying someone a present… and then I get all weird and hand-wringy about it.

Here’s my normal thought process:

1. This is the perfect occasion to buy a gift for Person In My Life!

2a. Yay! I have a great idea for what to get PIML, too!

2b. Crud. I have NO IDEA what to buy.

3a. Is it too expensive? Maybe I shouldn’t get it.

3b. Nothing seems right. Maybe I shouldn’t get anything.

4. No! Don’t be like that! Allow yourself to give in to your positive intention!

5a. You’re totally right! The gift is in my shopping cart!

5b. You’re totally right! Spend way too much time finding the perfect gift and then finally adding it to my shopping cart!

6. Wait a second. What if PIML doesn’t like the gift?

7. What if PIML feels uncomfortable that I got a gift at all? Maybe it’s for a weird occasion or the PIML doesn’t think we’re that close or the gift itself is weird?

8. What if PIML thinks the gift is too expensive?

9. What if PIML thinks the gift is too cheap?

10. What if PIML feels beholden to me after receiving a gift? Or now feels obligated to buy ME a gift?

11. What if this changes my relationship with PIML?

12. Okay, there’s no real need to buy the gift right this second. Just take a step back and think about it.

13. ** time passes **

14. Crap. Now it is way too late to send a gift.

I would like to say, in a non-blaming way, that my husband plays a role in this process as well. He is usually of the opinion, “You don’t NEED to get a gift for that person!” Which is true! Always! No one needs a gift! But then I start doubting whether I should get a gift for that person, if it’s weird or overstepping or whatever (see Steps 6-11) above. When the gift is from both of us, that also adds a wrinkle to the gift-giving process, because then I feel like I should consult with my husband about what the gift should be, how much it should cost, etc. And that takes time, and some back and forth, and so Step 13 stretches out and out and out until we crash right into Step 14.

As long as I’m confessing things, I might as well let you know that sometimes I actually DO purchase the gift. And THEN I go through Steps 6-11. And the gift just sits there, forever and ever. The same can be said for cards. I buy them, then never send them. WHYYYYYYY.

This is a trait that I really dislike about myself. It is a variation on one of my other Most Reviled Personal Traits, which is procrastination. It has prevented me, in the past, from sending wedding gifts and baby gifts and sympathy cards that I really SHOULD HAVE. Missed opportunities that probably made a negative impression on or caused hurt feelings for the would-be recipient. Which causes me anxiety as well, plus embarrassment and guilt. I have dabbled with the idea of being A Person Who Doesn’t Send Gifts, which is a fine, perfectly reasonable person to be. But that hasn’t really STUCK.

So! Brisk clap! I am trying to combat my gift-giving anxiety. And this summer, I have had some success, I think!

  • Wedding gift for my cousin and her new wife
  • High school graduation present for my cousin
  • College graduation present for my other cousin
  • Birthday present for my daughter’s best friend
Birthday gift 1

I think it was this one. May have been something similar but not exact, though. (image from amazon.com)

  • Birthday present for another of my daughter’s friends
Birthday gift 2

Again, I can’t remember if it was exactly this one or not. (image from amazon.com)

  • Cute his and hers barware for a friend’s engagement
Engagement Gift

I do wish they were the same size/type of glass because it kind of seems like it’s insinuating that the woman should drink LESS than the man, although I admit I don’t know whether they hold the same amount of liquid that’s what it SEEMS to be saying, judgmental much glasses? but WHATEVER. They were cute. My friend and her fiancé drink beer. The end. (image from katespade.com)

  • Baby present plus older brother present for a friend’s new baby girl

(clothing image from nordstrom.com; book and Melissa & Doug puzzle set images from amazon.com)

  • Baby present plus older sister present for another friend’s new baby boy

FOX IN SUNGLASSES SWEATER. (clothing images from nordstrom.com; book and princess castle tent images from amazon.com)

  • Interesting bookmark for a friend
Bookmark

The one I got is NOT this one, but very similar. (image from mitercraft.com)

  • Housewarming gift for a friend
Housewarming Gift

Not exactly this, but CANDLES from WickHabit. (image from etsy.com)

  • Thank-you gifts for my daughter’s daycare teachers (cute personalized tumbler plus a $5 Starbucks gift card)
Teacher Gift

These are from the LuckyLilyDesigns Etsy shop and they EXACTLY as cute in person. I love them. (image from etsy.com)

  • And I am planning to (once I talk to my husband about it and help him move beyond his [possible] [likely] inclination to NOT do it) get cookies or chocolates or doughnuts or something for the entire daycare staff on my daughter’s last day, but I haven’t gotten beyond the Step 2b fretting-about-the-gift-possibilities stage on that yet.

So. I think I am making some progress, considering that I am TERRIBLE AT GIVING GIFTS.

Oh, yes. Looking specifically at the teacher thank-yous and the baby gifts up there, I realize ANOTHER aspect of my gift-giving issues: Sometimes, I start to go overboard. I get Christmas Stocking Syndrome, and start panicking about “what if it’s not enough?” and “maybe I should just throw this last little thing in here” and “oh look at this cute little extra that would be so fun!” That is how the Starbucks gift cards got added to the teacher presents (what if they hate the tumblers? what if this is a case of “you should have just given a gift card”?) and how the little board books got added to the baby presents (oh but they are under $6! And this is Carla’s FAVORITE story when she was a baby!). (And also how I added a bottle of nail polish and a tub of EOS lip balm – which is the same duo I got from a dear friend after I had Carla – to my Amazon order so I could add a little mother-self-care giftlet to each baby gift.) Giving in to Christmas Stocking Syndrome feels good at the time, but then afterward makes me worry – yet again – that I’ve been too flamboyant or overly aggressive with my gifting.

But! I am going to ignore my CSS Panic about the baby and teacher gifts and MOVE FORWARD!

In the interest of full disclosure, the engagement gift, baby gifts, and bookmark have all been purchased but not actually wrapped or sent to the recipients yet. The housewarming gift (which will be candles, from Wick Habit) has not yet been purchased. And two of the three teacher gifts are wrapped but won’t be handed out until my daughter’s last day at daycare.

PHEW. Now that I see that list, I feel both happy and relieved and also a little bit ACK! because that is a lot of money. BUT. I think each of those gifts was appropriate and I don’t think any of them was too expensive if taken singularly. And anyway, one should not think too much of TOTAL COST lest it dampen the generous impulse!

I am going to go wrap the engagement gift and then put the bookmark in the mail RIGHT NOW!

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What I want to talk about today is having something in your life that is deeply meaningful to one spouse but not the other.

I think this could take various forms. Let’s say you are very religious, and your spouse is not. I imagine that not having the same level of interest in religion could present some difficulties.  You might be thinking, well, that seems like something you should have talked about before you got married. But maybe there wasn’t such a vast distance between you at first; maybe you were a moderately religious person, and accepted that your spouse was an atheist… and only over time did your religion grow in importance to you, while your spouse remained an atheist. While people DO make this work in their marriages, I see how it could be potentially very difficult.

Or maybe when you were first married, you were both politically moderate. But over time, one of you has begun to edge into more conservative territory while the other has become more and more liberal. I cannot continue with this as an example because it’s stressing me out.

So: what about something that sounds less like it might cause a marital crisis?

What if you are really passionate about CrossFit, but your spouse just can’t get too excited about it? Maybe you can get your spouse to do a Paleo cleanse every now and again, but your spouse has no interest in exercising and really doesn’t want to wake up early to go to your CrossFit events and would rather watch Game of Thrones than the CrossFit Games. Even if you have friends who are also in CrossFit, I could see how it could be frustrating if your spouse did not share your interest.

Or what if your dream is to visit all the major league ballparks in America? But your spouse has zero interest in baseball. Your spouse might indulge you by planning vacations in cities  that have major league teams. But maybe your spouse has no interest in touring yet another ballpark, or going to yet another endless baseball game in the full glare of the sun. I can see how it would be lonely to attend a game by yourself, or frustrating to be pushed to do other tourist activities when all you want to do is walk among the bleachers of some historic field, imagining the crack of the ball against the bat, and the roar of the crowd.

I think we can all agree that spouses can and may – and even should – have different interests. And maybe we can agree that it’s important for spouses to respect one another’s interests, even if they don’t understand them or like them. We might also be able to go one step further and say that it would be in the interests of the marriage to at least try to support the other spouse’s interest. And, on the other side of things, for the spouse-with-the-interest to be respectful and understanding of the disinterest on the spouse’s side, and not to press to hard or get too bent out of shape.

My example of this is kind of frivolous, and really only becomes an issue about once a year. But I spend a lot of energy fretting about it and wishing VERY HARD that I could force my husband into not just respecting my interest but into LOVING it as much as I do.

My parents live in the middle of a picturesque forest in a wide valley between two mountain ranges. It is indescribably beautiful, so I will post a photo of it to give you the mere glimmer of an idea.

cropped-holland-lake1.jpg

I didn’t grow up there, in the mountains. But my dad spent summers there as a boy, and so we visited the area every summer. At one point, my parents bought a swath of land and built a little one bed/one bath log cabin powered by a generator, and my whole family would go there for weekends or weeks throughout the summer. There’s a little lake nearby, and my parents have a boat, and we’d water ski or tool around the lake or lie on the dock in the sun. We did lots of hiking, even though hiking isn’t really my jam, we played Scrabble in the evenings, and we spent many, many hours reading in the clear mountain air, with only the sounds of sandhill cranes, the thrum of hummingbirds and industrious bees, and the distant whir of a motor boat to disrupt the pure calm.

But this idyllic beauty comes at a price: My parents’ home is difficult to get to – most of a day of travel from my home. And it’s isolated – there aren’t any bars or movie theaters or malls or really many restaurants you can get to without a long drive.

To me – and to my parents, who live there – these are pros rather than cons.

For my husband, who was born in a city and has lived in a city of one size or another his whole life – at least I think that’s the defining difference between us, here – they seem to be more con than pro.

He goes, without hesitation or complaint. We book our flights each year, and he talks about looking forward to taking a break, and about how nice it will be to see my parents. But I don’t think the idea of being completely off-grid is as appealing to him as it is to me. No cell towers anywhere nearby. No cable television. Nowhere to drive if you get bored (!) by the beautiful scenery, unless you want to spend an hour or more in the car. (We do, now, have electricity; my parents eventually built a two-bed/three-bath home with all the amenities.)

To me, having grown up with this space in my life, it has become synonymous with peace and relaxation. So I just don’t get why my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. I want desperately for him to love it. Not just tolerate it. But to LOVE it, to feel the pull of the tamaracks and Ponderosa pine, to long for the brush of ice-kissed mountain breezes on his face, to ache for the enormous wide-open skies and gleaming silence.

It has recently occurred to me that maybe I am being unreasonable.

If I were to be a passionate marathon runner, I can envision wanting my husband to be supportive of my efforts to get into shape and eat a healthy diet. I can envision wanting my husband to make every effort to attend the actual marathons, to cheer me on and to be there at the finish line. I can even envision myself wanting him to share with me the exhilaration of pushing my body to its limits, and the euphoria of accomplishing such a physically and mentally punishing goal. But I cannot envision asking him to get up at 4:00 each morning and run 10 miles if he doesn’t want to.

I am a writer. Some of what I write is poetry. My husband is supportive of my writing, even proud. He has been to readings with me. He tolerates it when I read him poems from the New Yorker. He has bought me books of poems he thinks I would like. But he does not love poetry, or even like it. I cannot envision asking him to read books of poems just because I love it.

These things seem like reasonable deviations in our interests. So why am I so fixed on trying to get him to love visiting the mountains?

I have gone through stages. The wheedling stage: just try it, please please for me, and maybe you’ll like it! The petulant indifference stage: well, I’m going to have a good time whether you do or not. The placating stage: let’s do exactly what YOU want to do, and maybe you’ll enjoy it more! The frustration stage: there must be something wrong with you; what’s not to like?!?! The despair stage: how can I spend the next fifty years trying to get you to love something you just don’t love? The melodramatic stage: does this incompatibility mean we are destined for divorce?

Maybe the next stage is acceptance. Maybe I have to finally realize that my parents’ magical forest hideaway is just not my husband’s kind of thing. Maybe I will have to get to a point where Carla and I go visit my parents by ourselves, and don’t pressure my husband into making the trek. (Although I don’t necessarily think he’d like THAT; he doesn’t like to be away from me and Carla, for one thing, and he also wants to see my parents.) Maybe I just have to let him support my interest by coming with me, even though it’s not his idea of The Best Time Ever, and allow him to feel slightly bored and slightly uncomfortable. Maybe, over time, he will come to enjoy it more, and maybe I just have to stop pressuring him. Or maybe not. Maybe it just shouldn’t matter. After all, he may not LOVE it, but he Shows Up, and that should count for more than I’ve been counting it. And I guess I have to respect and support that as much as he respects and supports my need to have this kind of retreat in my life.

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