NaNoWriMo (huh?)

NaNoWriMo

Yesterday began the month known as “NaNoWriMo.”  Anyone who has delved into the world of novel writing knows that this means “National Novel Writing Month”.

The idea is to, however sloppily, write an entire novel in the month of November.

“Say Whaaaaaa?”

Yes, you heard me…an entire novel in one month.

And the funny thing is, people actually do it.

Yes, they are aware that Thanksgiving is this month. And Christmas is next month.

Yes, they have jobs. And families. And doctors’ appointments. And houses to clean. And meals to cook. And friendships to nurture.

But they also have writing goals. These are things that are important to them. And they are willing to go full force, pedal to the metal in order to meet this goal this month.

For the past three years, I have wanted to take part in this event. But there is always something stopping me.

I usually blame the time constraints of having a big family, a husband whose job requires a lot of time and volunteering on my part, and any other detail of life on which I can hang my convenient little excuses.

But it’s really that I am afraid.

What if I don’t have what it takes? What if I’m no good? What if I spend all this time writing a novel and it is junk (or I think it is good, but everyone else thinks it is junk?)

Well, then, if I let that stop me, then I am going to be no better off next year than I am now…in fact I will be worse.

I have missed the first day of NaNoWriMo, 2014. But there are 29 days left. And so, I am going to quit blogging (for today) and open up a Word document and go for it.

Wish me luck!

The post in which I simply write what came to mind for my daughter

Yesterday morning I was sitting at my kitchen table and my 17-year-old daughter came up behind me and asked “Mom, have you blogged in a while?”

“Um, no”

“Well, you should. I really like reading your posts.”

Now, for those of you who don’t have teenagers, when a teen says something like that, you listen.  When a teen is reaching out and wants to communicate, you respond.

So here I am, trying to think of a brilliant, insightful, meaningful post. Something that will impart some kind of profound life lesson on my daughter and the three other people who read this blog.

And you know what…I got nothin’.

I think the harder I try to be wise or influential, the more fake I sound. And there is nothing I hate worse than sounding fake. I want my family and friends to know that I genuinely care about them, even if I don’t always express it well. My compliments often sound empty, and I am a lousy gift-giver (I’m lookin’ at you, beer-making kit that I bought my husband 3 Christmases ago and has moved to 3 different houses without being opened.)

There are some people who have a way with words that make the rest of us drop our jaws and exclaim “That is exactly how I feel.  I just never knew how to say it!” The late Maya Angelou, who passed away earlier this week, was one of these people.

And there are other people who simply seem born with talent or at least discover their talents early enough in life to develop them into lifelong careers or passions. We all secretly want to be one of these people: someone who knows his or her purpose, discovers his or her talent, and develops it to the level of a divine art.

And yet, we rarely see the struggle, pain, and hard work that leads up to these accomplishments. We see the shiny, polished surface that these people present to the world: the perfectly edited and published book, the magnificently sculpted muscle tone on a fitness model, the perfectly lit and positioned photograph, the amazingly straight and tight spiral on a football . But underneath all these things are years of bruises, headaches, fatigue, arguments with family members, bills that need to be paid, demands from employers, children, neighbors, extended family, etc. Namely, there is life to be lived.

What we often fail to realize is that no one does it all. The folks who excel in one or two areas often failed in many others, or at least they struggled in other areas. I have never seen a painting by Pavarotti. I have never seen Michael Jordan host his own cooking show on the Food Network. I have never read a book written by Mozart or heard of any great military feats that Shakespeare accomplished.

Nobody is talented at everything. But we often compare our own weaknesses with the gifts of others. And we downplay our own gifts as if they were common and that everyone has them.

Please don’t do that. Where would our world of art be if Pablo Picasso lamented that he wasn’t good at chemistry or algebra?  And so what if Einstein couldn’t sing or sew?

Find what you enjoy doing and do that as well as you can. If you know your calling or your talents, develop them, and don’t flounder, wishing you had someone else’s talents. If you don’t know, that’s okay too, even if you are 40, 60, or 80 years old. If you are still alive, you have a purpose and something to give to the world.

But whatever you do, do NOT fall prey to the traps of envy, jealousy, and despair.  YOU are where you are supposed to be. But you have a choice…you can  squander the gifts and talents you were given, or you can develop them into a gift for the world.

(And I’ll tell you a little secret: even if you squander them, you still have a chance to live an important, meaningful, fulfilling life. Have you ever heard of the “prodigal son”?)

So, dear daughter, I blogged for you this morning. This is just an unedited outpouring of what came to mind as I started writing. Hopefully there is a nugget of value here for you.

And if not, that’s okay…there’s always next time.

 

The Resume

By most military and even civilian standards, my husband has an impressive resume. In the civilian world, he worked for a time as a Chief Financial Officer and served as a County Commissioner. His military career includes several combat missions in Iraq, to include commanding a Cavalry Squadron (and bringing home every one of his Troopers). He flies two different types of attack helicopters. He has obtained two Master’s Degrees and has been awarded more medals and ribbons than I can count, to include 4 Bronze Stars and a Legion of Merit. And soon he will be taking command of a Combat Aviation Brigade which has anywhere from 3000-4000 Soldiers.

I can’t find the words to describe how proud I am of him.

The funny thing is, he is just as proud of me, even though I don’t have an official resume that matches his. I have always struggled with this fact, but I don’t think that I really understood it until a conversation we were having this morning.

We were talking about the concept of “legitimacy” in life and in careers. So often, as a stay-at-home-mom, I get caught up in wondering if my choices in how I spend my time and money are “legitimate.” Shouldn’t I be earning an income that will help put my kids through college? Shouldn’t I have a more “professional” wardrobe at my age? Shouldn’t I spend more time discussing politics or investing or world events?

Instead, my days often consist of wearing yoga pants and bleach-stained t-shirts, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (not even organic!), and spending too much time on Facebook. I have a mile long list of books to read, a longer list of blog posts and books I’d like to write, and I daydream about places I’d like to visit “someday.” This is not exactly the partner that one would envision for the Soldier I described above, is it?

But real life is not bullet points on a resume. Real life is messy. Laundry will never be completely done (especially with 6 active kids). Furniture will get broken and worn out. Home décor will become outdated, and we may not be able to afford to update regularly. And handling this messiness takes skills that cannot always be reduced to bullet points. Does that make them any less “legitimate” than the skills required to fly an Apache helicopter or lead an air mission to support an Infantry unit that has come under attack? Absolutely not.

And my amazing husband has been trying, for nearly 20 years, to get me to believe him. To believe that my skills are just as legitimate as his. That my role as a wife, mother, Family Readiness Group leader or advisor, volunteer, etc. are just as important to our lives and the greater community as his roles are. That my lack of an “official” resume does not make me any less valuable to society than his “real” resume.

Now, I still want to earn a paycheck. I still desire to obtain a master’s degree. I still want to have a “career.” But I am finally realizing (in my core, not just intellectually) that my role as a wife, mother, and volunteer has been just as legitimate as a doctor, lawyer, or whatever. The point is not to value the title, but to value the person behind it.

That is why I am so proud of my husband. It is not the insignia on his shoulder that I value. It is the man underneath the insignia. In the same way, it is the woman underneath the baseball cap and yoga pants that my husband respects. He would not respect me any more if I had a title in front of my name. And I must continue learning to do the same.

My resume cannot be typed on a single sheet of paper. I am living it, and even though it cannot be seen in black and white, I pray that it can bee seen by those who are truly important…my family, my friends, and any other people I serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Celebrating Ourselves Fat

Catchy title, huh?

This brilliant insight occurred to me last week, and I have been mulling over ideas for a blog post about it.

The thought came to me while I was in the shower (isn’t that where most of life’s most profound ideas occur?)

Now, this idea is nothing new. Magazines give suggestions of ways to stay on track with exercise regimens while traveling. They begin printing tips and tricks to avoid holiday weight gain as early as October. They print “lightened up” recipes for our favorite holiday treats and alternatives to high calorie cocktails.

One thing that I think these recipe alterations omit is the importance of tradition. There is just something, especially during the holidays, about making that spaghetti sauce just the way your Tuscan grandmother used to make it. No ground chicken or turkey sausage. No apologies for using plain white spaghetti noodles instead of spaghetti squash. And if Grandma used to put a dash of sugar in her sauce, by golly, then so will you.

(The same goes for Abuela’s tres leches cake or Babcia’s pierogies.)

The mistake that we Americans tend to make is beginning our holiday celebrations around Halloween, carrying them through Easter, and then making a mad dash in May to try to prepare for “swimsuit season” only to be bombarded with graduation parties, Fourth of July celebrations, backyard barbeques and lapses while we are on vacation.

This “revelation” occurred to me while on the elliptical trainer. Matt Lauer from the “Today Show” was interviewing actress Kirstie Alley. Ms. Alley has spend decades on a weight-loss roller coaster. As a celebrity, she has faced more criticism about her struggles with weight loss than most of us can imagine. In the interview she mentioned that she was taking steps to lose weight again and had done a lot of soul searching. One thing she had discovered about herself was that she had an “extra-long” definition of the “holiday” season. This was a huge “Aha!” moment for me.

Looking back over the past year, I found that I had allowed myself the same type of leniency. Last year I worked hard physically and nutritionally to prepare for a race that I really wanted to run: the Army 10-Miler in Washington D.C. After months of training, I did it. On October 20th, 2013 I ran the ENTIRE TEN MILES without walking for a single step until I crossed the finish line.

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And on October 21st, I decided it was holiday time. I hung up the running shoes, snarfed down the nearest package of “Ho-Ho’s” and began my slide back into feeling overweight and unhealthy.

I allowed myself far more leniency that ever before because “it was the holidays.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until well after St. Patrick’s Day that I realized what I had done. Oh, I was well aware of the fact that my clothes were fitting tighter (or not at all) and that I just didn’t feel as energetic as I had felt in the Fall. But I had buried my head in excuses:

“It’s Halloween.”
“It’s Thanksgiving.”
“It’s Christmas.”
“It’s New Year’s.”
“It’s the Super Bowl.”
“It’s Valentine’s Day.”
“Hubby is going out of town…I don’t have time to work out or cook healthy meals.”
“The kids’ schedules are crazy-busy.”
“It’s so-and-so’s birthday.”
“We have company…I don’t want to force them into my diet.”
“My friend wants to go get coffee.”
Etc., etc., etc.

Then, all of a sudden:

“It’s swimsuit season!”

AAARGH!

And then I heard the little nugget of truth from Kirstie Alley. And it really resonated.
We are “celebrating ourselves fat.”

As I said before, I am all for keeping traditions, and passing down time honored recipes. But here in the United States we make a food-related celebration out of EVERYTHING. Big meals used to be reserved for truly special occasions. Going out to eat was indeed a treat, not a convenience.

So I decided that this little phrase would be my mantra: “I will not celebrate myself fat!” Now, I am not afraid of a few extra pounds. But I AM afraid of having no energy, feeling depressed, and not living this life that God gave me to the fullest. I have spent enough of my life that way and will not do that anymore.

When I celebrate, I will truly celebrate. I will enjoy my mom’s cookie recipes at Christmas. I will baste my Thanksgiving turkey with real butter, and lots of it. And I will savor every bite of Eagle Brand Lemon Meringue Pie at Easter. But I will not allow fast food Tuesdays, and macchiato Mondays to determine my health, my moods, or my wardrobe.

Celebratory food will be for celebrations. And the rest of the time, food will be fuel, not entertainment.

If I am carrying a few extra pounds, I won’t beat myself up. I will still work to get healthy again. I will even celebrate my fat self.

But I will no longer celebrate myself fat.

“The Happiness Project”

I tend to be “late to the party” when it comes to getting involved in social movements, new ideas, and popular trends. With that in mind, I expect that you may have already heard of, and may have already read and implemented, the newest book on my bookshelf: “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.

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This book is the record of Mrs. Rubin’s attempt to inject more happiness into her life. She does not suffer from depression or have any glaring “issues” to work through. She just wants to bring more happiness, more appreciation, more joy into her life.

I think many of us in the Western world can relate to this feeling. We know that we are living blessed lives. We don’t have to wonder where we are getting our next meal. We have roofs over our heads. We are not living in the middle of a war zone. And we have the freedoms in this country to  pursue our own goals and desires (although it seems these are being eroded by the government…but that’s for a different post!) I digress.

We know that there are many, many people out there who have it far worse than we do. So why do we tend to feel the same level of discontent when making $100,000 as we do when we make $30,000? Why do we feel just as frustrated when we have been married for 15 years as we do when we were single and hadn’t had a date in 6 months? Why do we feel just as overwhelmed with the demands of life when we have a job and three children as we do when we are just starting out as adults?

I don’t think that there is a definitive answer to this, although this has become a popular topic of study in the world of psychology. And maybe the “why” doesn’t really matter.

The real question is, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

With this question in mind, I am working my way through this book and implementing some of the habits Rubin suggests.  I am looking forward to seeing if there is a “change” of sorts. I figure it can’t hurt, and if nothing else, it gives me more fodder for blog posts…and that makes me happy!

Have you ever tried a “Happiness Project”? If so, I’d love to hear if and how it changed things for you.

Have a great day, and don’t forget to leave a comment and to follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

Vision Boards

This post is going to be a quick one…for some reason the kids have this crazy notion that they need breakfast.  Psssssshhh…what’s up with THAT?

Anyway, one of the things I have heard goal-setting “gurus” and self-help professionals espouse is the benefit of creating a “vision board”. Essentially this is simply a collage of images, words, phrases, etc. that mean something to you for whatever reason. These images can come from magazines, newspapers, postcards, whatever. If you are making a goal-related vision board, the contents  should represent the things you hope to have in your life.

(An aside: many people have a new-agey approach to this type of activity. They talk about thinking things into existence, the law of attraction, and the power of the energy that we put out into the universe, blah, blah, blah… I do not subscribe to this type of belief. Anything that plays around with the spiritual realm without acknowledging God and His plan for my life is dangerous. I do not believe that God is a puppeteer pulling all the strings of my life. He allows me to have choice and make decisions. But when I spend time with Him in prayer, I can feel my soul relaxing into a profound sense of peace. It is within this framework that I work. )

The book I am currently reading, Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson, talks about creating a board that represents your life as it currently is.

I think this is a great idea.

It is all well and good to set goals. But we must have a clear idea of our starting point. If you want to go to Disneyworld and plug it into Google Maps on your computer, you will find its location perfectly, along with links to local attractions, travel accommodations, and hotels.

What you will not find is a set of directions. There is no way Google, however advanced the technology, can tell you how to get there if it doesn’t know where you are starting.

In the same way, we must know where we are starting before we can follow any kind of map, guide, or set of directions.

In that spirit, I am going to attempt to create one of these collages myself…kind of a grown up arts and crafts / therapy session. This should be entertaining!

(This ended up being much longer than I expected. But you probably are not surprised, if you know me at all!)

Have you ever created a vision board? If so, how did it help you to clarify your goals?

Finding My Focus

This might be stating the obvious, but I have not solidified the focus of this blog yet. Many fellow bloggers have laser focus on a particular part of life. For example, one of my favorite bloggers writes about food and life as an Army wife. Therefore, her blog is called the TheFoodieArmyWife.com. Another writes about kids and mothering. Hers is called RantsFromMommyland.com.

So, I am trying to narrow my focus as well. Up until now, I have really just written about anything that happens to be on my mind at the time. I’m sure I will continue to do that a bit. After all, its MY blog.

But, I want you to get something out of it as well. I want you to be able to take something away and not feel that your time spent on my  intellectually stimulating, professionally astute articles is well-spent. (Did you catch the self-deprecating sarcasm there? Oh good.)

So, in the interest of providing something of value to you, I will start sharing things that have proven valuable to me in my pursuit of what I want to do “when I grow up.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. I have never read any of his work, but I often hear him quoted by one of my favorite authors/speakers, Dave Ramsey.  Jones says ““You are the same today that you are going to be five years from now except for two things:  the people with whom you associate and the books you read.”

So what are you reading? I think it is important to always be reading something inspirational, something professional, and something fun. Each of these areas of life is important to helping us stay whole and balanced. It doesn’t matter how fast you read, just read.

Audiobooks are a great resource as well. For a busy taxi mom like me, audiobooks allow me to “read” while doing housework, picking up kids from school, and waiting for them at practices (Just please don’t listen to the 50 Shades series with your 10 year old in the car. I don’t know why I felt the need to write that last sentence, but there it is. Just don’t do it.);

I digress. Right now I am listening to Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson. I had never heard of this guy and just stumbled upon his book while perusing Audible.com. But apparently he has a crazy huge following from TED talks.

I’ll let you know what I thought of the book when I am done. But it seems like a great inspirational read so far.

As for “fun,” I am reading Insurgent by Veronica Roth. I am not as enthralled with it as my teenage daughters (and apparently the rest of America) were, but it’s an easy read. Still trying to decide if I am going to finish it.

So, I would love to know what you are reading that is helping you reach your personal goals. Do you read to learn? To relax? To be inspired? All of the above?