Friday, May 22, 2015

Finishing

So my husband and I were at the gym Tuesday night...

Do you hate me already? Please don't. I should preface this by saying a few things (I always have a few things to state before I make my main point.)


1. I am not trying to exercise to get a "bikini body," whatever that means. I love a post with the clickbait title: "How to Get a Bikini Body," which when you click through, had these simple steps:

     1) Get a bikini.
     2) Put it on your body.

In THEORY, I completely agree with this. I certainly agree with it for anyone who feels comfortable in a bikini, no matter what their size. I just don't agree with it for ME. I will not be wearing a bikini, this summer or any other. Last year I bought an adorable skirted suit that I feel great in. And since research shows that even liposuction doesn't get rid of cellulite (it's a skin issue, not a fat issue), I'm fine with keeping my thighs covered.


No, it's not about bathing suit season. I'm just trying to be LESS LAME. How pathetic is it that I am just now, after 4 weeks* of the 5K Runner app (which I highly recommend, by the way) huffing and puffing my way through 3-minute runs? But hey, at least I can run that long now--anything over 10 seconds used to make me break out in a sweat. I could run out of a burning building now if need be!


*Actual time to get this far: about 8 weeks, since we keep only going to the gym 1 day a week, then having to repeat the last day we did. WE ARE BUSY PEOPLE, DAGNABIT.


2. I also have two other goals: keep fitting into the clothes I currently own (and lose enough weight that I am more comfortable in them) and not becoming the old woman who can't get up out of a chair without assistance.


I know. Some of us have lofty goals. It is a lonely road we travel. *stares into the distance pensively*


So, anyway, Tuesday night we were at the gym. I don't exactly know why we go together, because a) we spend all day and night together already and b) he is faster than I am, so we only warm up and cool down together anyway. OH WAIT, I do know why we go together--because I would find an excuse not to go if he didn't push me. 


I was huffing and puffing in the middle of one of those "long" 3-minute runs, listening to music on another great free app called Rock My Run, when a boy-teenager passed me going approximately 90 mph. Or, you know, some speed above a walk (I'm pretty sure most people can walk faster than I "run," especially during the second half of my workout.) 


I see these type of runners every week. They're usually very thin and young. They zoom around the track a few times, passing everybody up, and then they're done. And I don't see them there every week--it's seemingly random.


Now, I don't know for sure if this is part of their training regimen, but "run as fast as you can for five minutes every two weeks" doesn't seem like a good way to stay in shape. I have to admit that I'm okay with feeling smug about being better than these roadrunners. Someone weighs 500 pounds and is struggling around the track? More power to them; absolutely no ridicule here. Someone is overweight and never works out? None of my business. Someone is "thin" but out of shape? FIST BUMP, MY SISTER.


But I DO feel superior to these kids (they are all kids to my nearly-40-year-old self). They are in good enough shape to run fast...for five minutes. I could have done that at their age. Big whoop. At this stage of life, what I value most is perseverance. If I have to walk in between my measly 3 minute runs, so be it. I NEED to walk, simply to catch my breath since my lungs feel like fiery lumps of metal that are useless at supplying oxygen to the rest of my body. I love the walks. I welcome the walks. You go on ahead and sprint--but I'll still be here plodding along 20 minutes later while you're off cherishing the delusion that your body will always be this perfectly svelte while you demolish a carton of ice cream and a bag of chips. 


*weeps for my dearly departed metabolism* 


Sorry, I didn't mean to depress myself. I'm back.


What was I saying? Oh, right: perseverance. It's something I've come to value in the last few years, and not merely in regard to exercise. There is something to be said for not quitting even when everything in you screams that you should. Like most people who have been married more than 5 years, I've thought about divorce. But Justin and I made a deal that whoever left had to take the children, and I've never been able to face raising them on my own.


I'm kidding. (Kind of.) But I'm not kidding when I say that I'm so, so glad I didn't take the easy way out. Our marriage may not be glamorous, but it works for us. We never would have gotten to this excellent place if we had zoomed through a few years, then parted ways when things got hard.


Same thing with business. Six years ago, the shop we were renting burned down, destroying $60,000 worth of cabinets that we had to replace out of pocket (insurance didn't cover them) and damaging or outright destroying most of the machinery. We considered closing our doors, but realized that other shops were closing due to the economy, and if we could hang in there, we could be one of the top cabinet shops in the area. Which is exactly what's happened. 


It wouldn't have happened if we had stopped when the going got tough. 


The same is true for our spiritual lives. We are all going to face valleys and dry spells--it's just part of being human, and we are fallible even though we love Jesus. No wonder the Bible says, "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11 NIV). 


Let's look at the second part of that verse first: you're not going to be successful just because you're talented. Time and chance (i.e. luck) have a lot more to do with it than we think. Now, that may sound almost as depressing as my realization that I can't maintain my weight while eating that same amount in chips and queso, but bear with me. 


The comforting part of the verse is to realize that just because someone starts with an advantage, it doesn't mean that they finish with an advantage.


Because finishing is the REAL reward. They don't give medals for "fastest starter." If you run a marathon, your time isn't important unless you run all 26.2 miles


(Which is why I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that I'm never going to run a marathon. Can you imagine how long it would TAKE me to finish?)



Just ask the hare who decided to take a nap while the tortoise kept plodding forward. Slow and steady wins the race. 

Anyone can start well. How well will you finish?






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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Comfortable, Flattering, Cheap: Pick Two

I got the idea for this post when I read Patience Crabstick’s post Building a Professional Wardrobe Part 1: What Doesn’t Work. She was a SAHM for 19 years after graduating from college, and then wore scrubs every day when she re-entered the workforce. When she became an analyst, she had no professional clothes, because if there’s one thing mothers do well, it’s neglecting to buy clothes for ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary. And sometimes even then we moms manage to scrape by without buying enough clothes for ourselves. The kids always need something! 

It’s hard to shop when you feel you have to buy everything at once and money is an issue (money is always an issue for me). I do best when I accumulate pieces over time. This means I have to weed out some of the items I thought would work (or that my mom, my own personal shopper, found at a thrift store) but ended up not being comfortable or flattering. I almost added “or don’t work with my wardrobe,” but let’s face it, if it’s comfortable AND flattering, I WILL make it work in my wardrobe. It’s amazing how often I talk myself into letting clothes take up my precious closet space when they aren’t either one! 

However, it’s easy to understand why we keep things that are only one or the other. When something looks amazing on me and doesn’t cost too much, HECK YEAH, I buy it! Then wear it once and never again, because ugh, it didn’t feel good on, how soon can I get rid of this? Unless I wait long enough to forget how much I disliked it...wear it again, take it off as soon as possible… lather, rinse, repeat. 

For things that are are comfortable but not flattering, it often takes a moment of revelation to make me toss them. My husband takes his life in his hands if he suggests that those pants might be a little saggy--”I DON’T CARE, I’M WEARING THEM ANYWAY,” I have been known to snarl. I like to have a lot of clothes. I am not like the people who wear a variation of the same clothes every day--a capsule wardrobe, or “uniform” if you will. I respect their choices, I even envy them, but I wore a school uniform for 12 years as a kid and I don’t want to wear the same clothes every day. Yet I am also cheap (I believe I mentioned that) and will wear things that were a good deal if they feel all right on my body even if they make me look like a heap of discarded rags. So yeah, sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror, or see a photo which I can’t excuse as just a bad angle, and shudder. About twice a year I purge my closet, filling bags to donate to the local resale shop, and wonder why THAT made the last 20 cuts.  

I meant to discuss my current wardrobe issue, which is the opposite of Patience’s dilemma--needing to create a more casual work wardrobe, but I see I’ve rambled on enough that I would rather save that for another post. Readers (male or female), what wardrobe changes have you had to make when you made changes in your lifestyle? 

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

For the first book in my “Classics Challenge,” I chose The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, reasoning it would probably be a page-turner. When I picked up the unabridged version in the bookstore, I almost second-guessed myself. It may be a page-turner, but there are a LOT of pages--which makes sense since it was first published in serial form. When you’re getting paid by the word, it makes sense to use as many words as possible--and Dumas certainly did that. I've never approved of abridged versions of Great Books, but in this case, I think a lot of the description and some of the subplots could have been cut or shortened. In fact, I think I read a version abridged for children when I was around ten--and it turns out that I still think I remembered the best parts.


The story begins this way: Edmond Dantes is on the verge of seeing all his dreams come true. The nineteen-year-old sailor receives a promotion to captain as the book opens, allowing him to plan his wedding to his sweetheart, the beautiful Mercedes. Unbeknownst to him, other men are jealous of his good fortune, and anonymously denounce him to the authorities as a dangerous supporter of the exiled emperor Napoleon. Dantes never receives a fair trial and is imprisoned in the Chateau d’If. He almost goes mad, but connects with the Abbe Faria, a gentle priest of great learning who teaches him everything he knows and helps him deduce the men who caused his downfall. The Abbe’s death allows Dantes to escape from the island prison, while the secret of the immense treasure of Monte Cristo goes with him, to aid him in his quest for revenge.


At heart Monte Cristo is a revenge fantasy in which the author gives his character unlimited resources with which to work the demise of the people who destroyed his life. After the Count appears in Paris, the author dwells heavily upon his vast wealth, the better to establish that nothing can stop his intricate revenge plot. I got tired of reading about how rich the Count is, as well as the frequent use of Oriental imagery and comparison to the Arabian Nights.. I was ready to move on, to see how these people (some of whom are not immediately connected with the conspirators) would be dealt with. Some of the offenders are easy to recognize; others have changed their names when they earned titles, and of course there are their children to keep track of. Dumas certainly keeps the reader’s interest up with the multiple subplots, and underneath it all, we can feel the Count’s indefatigable purpose marching inexorably onward. This is probably why the novel “works” for so many readers despite the implausible elements of the plot. Dumas does not disappoint in wrapping the whole story up neatly; no modern ambiguity for him, which I appreciate. If I’m going to commit to reading a 1,300 page book, I want resolution by the end, and I got it here.


Since the sections after the Count appears in Paris do not allow us into Dantes’ thoughts, we must figure out his plan for ourselves.  Toward the end of the novel, we learn that the Count thinks of himself as the tool of God’s justice. Only when one of his plans ends in tragic, unintended consequences does he wonder if he was wrong:


"Monte Cristo became pale at this horrible sight; he felt that he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say, 'God is for and with me.'"

Soon afterward, however, his self-doubt vanishes, and he sails away with his beautiful young former slave, returning to the East where he found her. This addition of a May-September romance may have been to help the reader feel that Dantes was fully recompensed for his lost love, but I thought it would have been a far stronger ending to have the Count, the ultimate Byronic hero, sail away into the sunset alone, the way he entered Parisian society, while his friends watch thankfully and the few enemies who are still alive try to comprehend what happened.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

No Fair

Sometimes it is very trying to have an adolescent, but I don’t mean trying in the way you’re thinking.

Here is this...person who inhabits a body 27 years younger than mine, which functions perfectly with no everyday aches and pains and not a hint of cellulite. Plus, she works out just because.

If I hadn’t been present for her birth, I’d say there’s no way she’s my child.

The other day, I mentioned that at the gym, I had done some of those walking lunges. We were walking down the hall toward the living room, and she was behind me.

“How many?” she asked, interested.

“I didn’t count. I only did the length of the track once. I’m really sore now.”

“You only did one straight side? One time I did 100 of those in my room just because I was bored.”

A second later she was laughing hysterically. “Right after I said that, I fell down!” (We have a sunken living room and she missed the step.)

“Serves you right!” I said. “Making your mother feel old and decrepit goeth before a fall!”

She was gracious enough to understand my reference and laugh at herself.

(And the oh-so-graceful falling? Yeah, she is my daughter after all.)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Designing My New Identity

I just love those “All About Mom” questionnaires that teachers have young kids fill out before Mother’s Day. You learn so much! In my son’s case, I learned that his favorite thing to do with me is read (yay!) and that I am best at “jogging and yoga” (this is not even remotely true, but bless his heart). One question and answer, though, triggered some thoughts.

Here’s how he completed the sentence “My mom’s job is”: Cabnet desiner.

This is also not correct, but I didn’t tell him that. I do work for my husband’s business, which builds custom cabinets and furniture, but I don’t do any of the design work. I am a very verbal former English teacher with almost no capacity to create a mental image of, well, anything. I look at floor plans and can’t envision how the cabinets are going to look in the room. After four months, I’m still not entirely sure what “full overlay inset with a bead” means. Trust me, no one wants me designing (or desining) their cabinets, much less building them. But of course I didn’t tell my son that, because I try not to nitpick. He knew it wasn’t really correct, though.

A "cabnet" I had nothing to do with. You're welcome, homeowners!
“I don’t actually know what your job is,” my son confessed. And honestly, I wanted to say, “Honey, neither do I.”

Up until December, it was easy: “My mom’s a teacher.” Oh, a teacher! That’s a profession everyone has a pretty clear understanding of, since most people have attended school at one point or another. When I told people what I did, I heard a lot of, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t teach school.” And I would laugh and say something like, “Well, you really have to feel called to do it.” I still believe that. I’m thankful for all the amazing teachers who are fulfilling their calling even under the current educational conditions (don’t get me started!)

But by the end of 2014 I knew I had to walk away from teaching. It was draining away too much time and energy and I no longer had enough for my family or even myself. My husband saw how miserable I was and offered to let me work for him, once our partner okayed it. It was a big step of faith and I was ecstatic for the first three months. “You mean I can watch TV after the kids go to bed instead of grading more papers? I don’t have to try to make anyone else do their work? I can go to the bathroom whenever I want? THIS IS AWESOME!”

All of those things are still true, but for the last month or so, I have been struggling. My title is “Office Manager” but what am I actually managing? Both partners have been taking care of things on the fly for so long that I’m having to figure out as we go what they can have me do instead. Some of my days are full while others are not so much--but I need to be available. For example, when the crew needs materials, I can go pick them up. “Going to get things so the owners can do more important things instead” is not exactly what I’m used to. I think what I’m wondering is, “Am I actually useful?”

No. What I’m REALLY wondering, deep down, is “ Am I good enough, just in and of myself, to be on this planet, to be taking up space?”

I’ve been trying for so long to earn my right to be here, to matter, to feel I was making a difference. Many people feel teachers do make a difference, so that seemed to be my answer. Looking back, I’m still not sure if I made a true difference with my high school students. Most of my former students are happy to see me and say sweet things, but basically it could just be that I was nice to them and not that I actually inspired them to do anything meaningful.

Whether I was inspiring or not, I do believe I was supposed to teach for those years. I did my best because I was called to be there.

But that was then. And now I’m starting to understand that I’m called to be somewhere else. In the office of a dusty cabinet shop, shaping order out of chaos a little bit at a time, making things work a little more smoothly, solving minor problems so they don’t become major ones.

And then I get to drive home and spend my evenings more involved with my kids and husband than I used to be. My son also said he knows his mom loves him because she snuggles with him (and reads to him). Not that I never did that when I was teaching, but it’s easier now.

Whatever my job description is, I now have some super-awesome perks and a great boss.

Why I do what I do.
And let’s face it, it’s also nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I want.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's Good to Have Goals

The last day of March! Less than 10 weeks of school left--woo-hoo!

I am really looking forward to summer. Although I will be going to the shop several days a week, it will still be fun. C was trying to talk about a summer schedule with me the other day, and I had to say, "Dude, stop. There's no way I can know right now if you can spend the night with your friend every Sunday so you can go swimming on Mondays, and if we can always go to the shop on Tuesdays" (I have no idea what her plans for the rest of the week were).

Our salesman has a son who is a senior in high school. He is here vacuuming, and I enjoy that I am not in charge of the cleaning just because I am, you know, a woman. I have done a little bit of cleaning in the bathroom, but haven't volunteered to vacuum or wash the dirty dishes (not dirtied by me) because I didn't want to set a precedent for being the "mom" who cleans up after everyone. It's good that the boy knows how to do these things--a sign of a kid who's being raised right. His dad says he's a good worker, you just have to tell him what to do. This is a lot like my son. He doesn't complain and does a good job; but he has to be told what you want. Come to think of it, that's like a lot of guys. I actually don't mind that. Some women feel like, "I don't want to have to tell him what to do--I just want him to notice it on his own and take care of it!"

Well, that doesn't bother me IF the man is willing to pitch in when it's brought to his attention. Justin has even told me to ask him to help when I need it. I try to ask in a nice way because flies and honey and all that. He usually takes care of it right away. There are some repairs/cosmetic fixes that have been unfinished for years but luckily that is not the kind of thing that bothers me--I'm able to tune it out just like he has. When we have guests coming over, he gets in gear and takes care of those details.

I once saw a saying: "When a man says he'll do something, there's no need to nag him about it for two years!"

There are a few things that will probably not get done until we sell the house. I'm okay with that. But I should make a list of easy fixes that will improve the look of our home with little effort.

1. Hang pictures in our room and L's room. Ours were taken down when he painted our room--I don't even know how long ago. My dad gave L a picture of a beautiful golf course when he semi-retired and downsized his office. It turns out I had originally given him that picture, so it's cool that he gave it to my boy since they play golf together. I'd like to hang the picture before my 9 yo graduates from high school.

2. Buy and put up curtains in our room. Before we painted, we changed the color scheme and the old curtains didn't really match. But we do need curtains as the current miniblinds are not very pretty.

3. Paint the kids' rooms. L's just needs two of the walls repainted--I guess Justin just stopped in the middle of the job. C's needs to be completely repainted because it currently doesn't match the furniture and bedding at all. The problem there is how heavy her furniture is but it does need to be done. We have considered hiring a contractor friend of ours. I should probably just schedule it when he has time to do it.

I'm just going to stop there because there isn't that much more that can be classified as "not too much effort." As a cabinet builder, Justin has plans to remodel the kitchen and I think we can all agree that is major, even though he swears that once the cabinets are done it will only be a couple of days to install the new ones. Up till now, I have been saying, "But how long am I going to be without a stove?" I should probably just take advantage of the opportunity not to cook, but the truth is I'm actually more apprehensive about not having a sink. Even if we use paper plates, I'm not wanting to wash a million dirty glasses in the bathtub.

Oh well. Given his track record, it will probably be a couple of years before this proposed kitchen remodel even happens.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Frustrations Resolved

First day back at the office. After being gone so long, my work area was a mess of papers, so I sorted everything that needed to be done, made a to-do list, and did part of it but not all of it (after all, some of it needs to be done tomorrow.)

I also discovered that one of my roles at work involves listening to Justin vent when he encounters something frustrating. The last couple of days have been more full of frustrations than usual. I don't know if it's simply due to being gone so long and under pressure to catch up, or if it also involves some emotions related to his mother's death, but either way, he has gotten pretty mad a few times in the last two days. Today the biggest issue was the new computer program he's mostly learned to use to draw the cabinets, but he couldn't get it to do something he needed it to do. He explained in detail, passionately, what it was supposed to do, and what it was doing instead, and it was all Greek to me. Something about "layers" not working right and the dimensions not printing even though they showed up on the screen. But I was appropriately empathetic and he went back to messing with it (and figured out how to make it work later on, after I'd left. Wait, maybe I'm the jinx?)

Speaking of frustrating technology, I have started to rely on being able to use the Bluetooth link in my car to a) talk on the phone while driving; b) listen to audiobooks and Pandora. Today I could do neither. When I pushed the Bluetooth button it showed that my iPhone was connected, but at the next screen it said "No Data." I checked to make sure the Bluetooth was on on my phone (it was) and I tried turning the phone off and on again. Nope. I had to drive all 45 minutes listening to commercial radio. First world problems, I know. When I got home from picking up four kids at three schools, I called tech support. Did you know they have tech support for cars now?

To make a long story short(er), the very nice young lady helped me delete my phone's connection, then reconnect it. None of this was in the Technology Reference Manual or the car tech support website, I might add; but she was great. I hope she is making an excellent salary for her ability to help the technologically incompetent, and not sounding condescending even once.

Oh! I was proud of myself tonight for improvising dinner. Usually I have my recipe ingredients, and if anything goes wrong, oh well, we're eating out or it's everyone for themselves. Some things that can go wrong: a) I forgot to buy an important ingredient; b) I forgot to defrost the meat; c) I ruined the food; d) I'm too tired to cook.

d) hardly happens anymore now that I'm not nearly as stressed. c) is rare since I don't experiment as much as I used to and I have better cooking skills. Also, one of the reasons I don't cook when d) happens is that if I'm that tired, I'm probably going to ruin the food anyway. Now, b) can still happen and if the meat can't be quickly defrosted and there's no other quickly defrosted option, then I find it hard to improvise. I know many people have no issues with a); they just substitute something else, or leave that ingredient out. It blows my mind that there are a lot of people, my brother included, who DON'T COOK WITH RECIPES. They don't buy specific items to cook a specific dish. This means that they are always able to put something together from what is available, but the downside is this: they may produce something exceptionally delicious, and because they are not measurers, they will never make the dish the same way again. I have gotten a LITTLE less married to exact recipes and know what substitutions might be likely to work, but even that is usually planned in advance and specifically shopped for.

Well, tonight was headed toward d). I had planned, with it being St. Patrick's Day and all, to make a shepherd's pie, because that seemed vaguely Irish and I don't know how to make corned beef and cabbage. Well, I was going to make a cottage pie, actually, as it was to be made with beef and not lamb, but that's neither here nor there. This evening once the kids I watch after school were picked up, it all just seemed like too much effort to cook the meat and vegetables and mash the potatoes and then have to wait another 30 minutes while it baked. It's possible I was just hungry. Whatever. I didn't want to make the cottage pie although it's delicious. I remembered making meatballs and gravy from a book called, appropriately enough, I Hate to Cook. I had all the ingredients except bread crumbs, so I used buttery cracker crumbs (improvising!), and the meatballs were delicious. We had the mashed potatoes and some green beans on the side and no one was frustrated.

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