Taking A Break

I saw it coming.  In fact, I mentioned last week that life was about to get very busy. . . and it did.  

This past week was the first of many that I will be working my paying job, editing my novel,  and serving as both Mom and Dad.  Which is really excitement enough for me, but, we are also about to add two of the busiest (and my least favorite) holidays to the mix.  So I am going to take a break from creating my blog posts.  

I let go of a lot of really bad ideas and habits when I entered my middle-age crazy.  One of them was my Super Woman persona.  A younger me would have thought that I could do it all or felt obliged to do it all.  Age gives you the perspective of priorities and the chutzpa to say no to some things.  I don’t feel like I am saying no to my blog.  I still love creating it, but I am saying no to being overwhelmed.

So, my final post of 2013 (today’s) is about letting go of my Super Woman persona, being honest, and putting all this Christmas crazy stuff in perspective.  Let me start with a big dose of honesty:  I hate Christmas.  Just saying that put me in the same category as axe murderers for some people, but it is the truth.  

It is a holiday FULL of obligations that make it short on fun for a lot of people.  People whose voices no one wants to hear.  It’s not that I want others to hate the holiday, my goal is to make it OK to not want to participate (or seriously limit your participation).  

If you think about it, it is the only holiday where you are pushed and feel obliged to participate AND be happy about it.  Those who don’t are put in the same category as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch.  The message being that anyone who doesn’t like Christmas must be completely evil, all year long, and in all aspects of life.  Those images silence those who might want to say, “no thanks” to so much overwhelming holiday “cheer.”  

It’s all really overwhelming to me.  And as I have come clean with my dirty secret, I’ve found out it isn’t at the top of the fun list for a lot of other women too.  Most of the additional work to make all that “fun” falls on women.  For some, it is a joy, for others, it is the straw that breaks the camels back, with the additional pressure to keep smiling through it all.  

I have made so many positive changes in my life this past year, this blog just being one of them.  Ironically, changing the way we celebrate Christmas is going to be one of the hardest.  For hundreds of years expectations have been established.  My family, and so many others, believe that the only way you can celebrate Christmas is with cards, and a certain number of gifts, wrapped in a certain way, and the house decorated in a certain way, and certain foods all completed by the designated due dates.  Anything less and you (Mom) have ruined Christmas for everyone else.  

A Winter Holiday I Can Get Behind – Winter Solstice – The Beginning of Longer Days!!

I’m not sure what changes I want to make. It will be a trial and error process.  But I will be making changes.  For one, I am going to do less and try not to feel bad about it.  I want what’s best for me and my family, and I don’t think blindly following traditions and pretending to like them is on that list.  My first action is being smart enough to see when I have too much on my plate and letting go of some.  I will be back to my blog in the new year.  I am beyond excited about 2014 and I want to keep writing and share with you all the fun, exciting things that will happen.  Until then, I hope all of you find peace during the holidays, and that you make them into something beautiful and meaningful for you.  

TFS Wednesday: Thanksgiving

The good news about Thanksgiving in diet terms is that it is only one day.  Even if you go hog wild and consume everything you can get your hands on, you are unlikely to send your weight loss efforts back more than a few pounds. 

The first great Thanksgiving advice I always remember, don’t make “diet” food.  No matter what the magazines say, no one will be excited when you switch out the traditional creamed potatoes for some creamed cauliflower.  This is one day when traditional is better, especially if you are cooking for a large group.  (Creamed cauliflower will only guarantee tons of leftovers).  Most traditional Thanksgiving foods really aren’t super high in calories/points.  White meat turkey is an easy choice, as are sweet potatoes and there is almost always at least one plain vegetable, like carrots or green beans.  As for the heavier traditional foods, if this is your one time a year to have them, by all means, do.  Just go with a smaller amount.  1/4 cup of creamed potatoes, green bean casserole or anything will not kill you (it might even make you happy).  

My second tip is to keep your diet to yourself.  The more people who you tell that you are dieting, the more people who will be in your plate.  When you announce that you are on Weight Watchers, or any plan, it invites others to comment on everything you are eating.  Nothing sucks the fun out of your once-a-year piece of pie than having 5 or 6 people ask you if you should be eating that.  If you’ve lost a lot of weight since the last time your family saw you, it might be obvious, but in general, the more low key you are about your diet, the more you can enjoy your food.  

Finally, exercise.  This has so many uses on Thanksgiving day.  First, if you go for a walk after eating, you will offset that over-stuffed, ill feeling and wave of sleepy.  Second, it gets you out of the house.  It’s a chance to clear you head or bring your favorite relative along for a walk to catch up on the juicy family gossip.  Mall walking counts, but know that you will be stopping every 5 to 10 feet due to crowds.  I’m signed up for the 5 mile Turkey Trot with a few other family members. 

My final advice — and this goes for all holidays– wear tight, uncomfortable clothes.  This is not the day for the stretchy pants and over sized sweater.  Nothing inspires you to keep your portions small like a pair of unforgiving jeans and a muffin-top revealing top.  It’s a good reminder where all those extra calories will end up.  

The Magic Dream House

Year ago, when my kids were toddlers and I was one massively overwhelmed mom, I drove past my perfect house.  I was running errands and I just happened to look through some trees and there it was — a white sided, two-story with a huge wrap-around porch and dormer windows with dark green shutters.  Had I not been on a two lane road, I would have stopped and taken a picture or just sat and admired it.  It called to me.  

Not the actual house — but you get the idea.

 It was so Norman Rockwell.  I just knew whatever family lived there spent their days calmly and happily frolicking about, raising lots of super-happy, perfect children.  We needed that house.  Never mind that it wasn’t for sale and it was appraised for over $500,000 and it was in a part of town that was in a rapid decline.  We needed it.  I was sure that it contained some sort of magic that would transform me into a Norman Rockwell Mommy.  And that house would make my kids sound sleepers who didn’t climb on everything and put everything they found into their mouths. 

Yes, I was riding on the crazy train, but in my defense, I was at least three years sleep deprived and not functioning well.  On the other hand, that is the exact logic people use everyday when they decide they must have some item; that the item will give them something that they don’t already have (but want desperately).  It’s usually status, or prestige, or perceived good looks; but people pay way too much for things that don’t fit in their lifestyle everyday.  

I could have obsessed about the house and set goals to get it (or one like it).  That sounds like a great goal, to get this totally sweet, old-fashiony, house.  But if I would have achieved it; I would have spent years (and a boat load of money) then really felt let down and disappointed.  But, it dawned on me when I was doing a drive by one day.  (Yes, I used to drive by just to see it like I was some love-sick teenager.)  I pictured me and my family in the house, and hard as I tried, we couldn’t fit into the Norman Rockwell molds.  I would still be overwhelmed and short on sleep, my sons would still be super curious kids who had to be watched and monitored more than most, and we would also have a huge debt load and more house to clean.  Reality bites.  

No one wants to admit it, but we make over-the-top purchases every day, secretly hoping they will be magic. From designer purses to luxury cars, we buy things we can hardly afford hoping they will transform our lives into those we wish we had.  It seems like an easy fix, a way to transform the lives we have into the life of our dreams.  Losing weight can carry the same illusion.  We believe (or wish) that traits we don’t like would magically disappear along with 50 lbs. of fat and better ones would appear in their place.  

Personal transformations can happen, but they take time, and introspection and usually walking through some pain to get to the other side.   Sometimes the catalyst for a transformation is the lack of fulfillment we get from a dream house, or car, or whatever.  The magic is actually there, is just in the disappointment, not the satisfaction. 

Sephora Love

It took me a couple of years to get on the Sephora-love bandwagon.  I saw the stores in the mall, and knew they sold make-up, but I couldn’t understand why magazine editors and friends were so excited about the place. 

Of course, I was deep in my dumpy-mommy years and wearing minimal make-up.  Then, somewhere in my midlife crazy I decided I needed to update my look and getting a makeover was a big part of that.  So, I followed all the magazine beauty editors’ advice and checked out my local Sephora.  

It didn’t take long for me to get hooked.  If you haven’t been there, Sephora solves all the problems with buying make-up (and so much more) from either a drug store or a department store.  Because you can’t try on the make-up at a drug store, I am sure I am not the only one who has blown hundreds of dollars on bad shades of everything.  For a while (a long time ago) there were samples to try at the drug store, but, ewwww!  So now it’s a big guessing game as to which shade of base or lipstick will look good on you away from the fluorescent lights of the store.  At Sephora you can try on all the make-up.  They have lil sponges and applicator sticks and cotton balls all over the store so you can safely find the best color for you.  

The big drawback to department stores (for me) is that the sales person at each counter is commissioned to sell the make-up from that counter, and only that counter.  A make-over there will be all Lancome or all Chanel with the sales girl suggesting as many products as possible, whether they really work for you or not.  The girls (and some guys) at Sephora sell every line in the store.  And, they are knowledgeable about every line.  They can and will put together the products that work best for you.  

The Lovely Isabelle

The stars were aligned, or fate was on my side, or something; but Isabelle was there and did my make over.  Nothing against the 20-something girls working there, but Isabelle is closer to my age, so she understood all they subtle (and some not so subtle) changes you need to make in make up as you age.  She taught me to use just enough of the newest colors to look stylish, but not silly.  She also understood that my skin needs were different than a 20-year-old.  The result was astounding.  Really!  The receptionist at a doctor’s office I was going to about once a month didn’t recognize me.  She had to look twice.  And more importantly, I felt better.  I felt less like I was trying to hide in plain sight and more like I was highlighting the best of me.  

It’s a beautiful fall Friday and possibly a great day (right before the holidays) to check out Sephora.  It is pure girly fun.  And if you are in or near Memphis, an insider’s tip, ask for Isabelle. 

TFS Wednesday: The Same But Smaller

I have my great-grandmother’s arms.  I never met her but I have lots of pictures.  She was a big woman with a sweet smile and proportionally larger upper arms.  I may not be the same size she was in the photos, but the shape of my arms is the same, but smaller.

I think it is important to have realistic goals when you are trying to loose weight or generally get in shape.  Most of us have images in our minds of what we would like to look like.  We see (usually airbrushed) photos of celebrities and decide that we will diet and workout till we have abs or legs like that person.  The first problem is the massive over use of airbrushing on celebrity photos.  With Photoshop, editors are doing so much more than covering over fine lines and blemishes.  They stretch and erase and create a body for the celebrity that doesn’t really exist in this world.  

The Photoshop diet and exercise program.

The second problem is that diet and exercise cannot give you what nature didn’t (or did).  As you shrink, you will get a smaller version of you and you will generally shrink at about the same rate all over your body.  So you will loose in some of the places you want to and maybe in some of the places you don’t want to.  If you have thin legs and wide hips, you will have the same hip to leg ratio when you loose weight.  

I’m pointing this out to hopefully save some people a lot of frustrating time and effort.  I have seen many clients who loose a significant amount of weight, then become hyper focused on fixing one area.  For women it is often their bellies.  After several babies and possibly menopause too, they feel like they would reach some sort of body nirvana if they could just have flat abs.  For most of them, short of surgery, it isn’t going to happen.  They will get a nice muscle layer under the soft spot or a smaller version of the soft spot, and they would be closer to a peace-of-mind nirvana if they could live with that.  

My arms are just not my favorite feature.  I’m aware that they look much flabbier and weaker than they are. (I have nice triceps somewhere under the soft stuff.)  Sometimes I consciously dress to cover them, and sometimes, I just ignore them and dress to highlight all the parts I do love. 

The Half Way Finish Line

Today I am crossing the finish line, half way to the end of writing a novel.  I am adding the last few pages to my 170-page first draft of the romance novel I am writing. 

This is a HUGE milestone, even though I am actually about half way though the process it takes to get it to market.  It’s such a big deal because this is the step most (hopeful) writers never make it to.  The first draft is the basic framework, the story, full of weak points, grammatical errors, loose ends, etc.  Somewhere between a great idea and a full framework is where a huge number of authors get lost.  And I completely understand why.  Sitting around, playing out make believe scenarios in your head, takes time.  That is time when it looks like you are doing nothing, and it might go nowhere, and there are a thousand other things to do around your house that call out to you.  I would guess that there are many potential authors with very clean closets and drawers.  When the writing frustrates you, it is often easier to give in to those tasks. 

Hemmingway – “The first draft of everything is shit.”

So, I have the frame work on paper, now what?  I had to look online, but luckily someone (lots of people) have done this before me and, being writers, they wrote about it!  Next, I will fix all those grammatical errors, the ones that I can see, and I will analyze my work for weak points, and illogical story lines, and superfluous characters, and sub plots that go nowhere.  Once I complete that, I have to get brave, really brave, and show my work to others.  I plan to have around 10-15 readers help me look for more grammatical errors, lame story elements, etc.  Then I fix/rewrite again.  Then (and it’s hard to see this far into the future) I will look for an agent.  OK, we’ll stop there. . . for now.  Sometime next year I will let you know when I get to that step and the results. 

One final thing I have to do this week is brace myself for the let down.  It is inevitable and it is coming.  I’ve spent the past two years (loosely) and 6 months (intensely) working on this story.  I have been living with these characters and we have had a blast.  I don’t have to completely let them go yet, we still have work to do, but for me, this is like finishing reading a book.  The story is over.  I know the ending.  It was a fantastic ride and, in a way, I don’t want to be here.  (Yet another reason so many don’t get through that first draft).

I’m telling all of you this today so I can celebrate, but also so that I am accountable.  So that someone might ask me how it’s going or where I’m at in the process.  Then I will hopefully get myself back in gear if I have fallen out. 

Many factors are going to make this next step more challenging (but a I love a good challenge).  This Friday I officially go back to my part-time job after several months off.  The holidays are coming (run away!), and there is always extra work involved in them.  My parenting-partner-in-crime also just got super busy so I will be the lone Chick in Charge more often than not.

 OK, enough about later this week and beyond.  TODAY is about celebration.  Today is a big, woo hoo, I did it!  Thank you all for being a part of it with me.  Woo Hoo!!!!

Art Fail

An article about a failed Kickstarter project caught my attention this week.  For reference, Kickstarter is a web site where creative projects are funded by everyday people.  Artists (and other creative sorts) put information about their project on the site and anyone can contribute.  Since most projects will accept donations as low a $1, it is possible to be a ‘supporter of the arts’ even if you don’t have a trust fund.

The project was a digital printer.  The creator was asking for $150,000 and received almost $500,000.  Then his project failed.  The prototype didn’t work. 

There were more details that contributed to skepticism about how the money was used, but it made me think about the fact that art, creative processes, by their very nature are prone to fail. Creativity is about taking risk, trying something new, giving a new perspective.  If it’s been done before and you have guaranteed results, it’s manufacturing. 

I have funded projects on Kickstarter and I would  not be surprised if any of them failed.  I’m not looking for a guarantee when I contribute, I’m looking to give someone willing to take a risk a little boost, a chance, to try and possibly fail.

I’m still plugging away on my novel.  (Possibly only two chapters to go!!. . .on the first draft).  There hasn’t been much money invested (yet), but there has definitely been a time investment.  I’m not sure of the actual odds, but I plan to throw it in the ring with the approximately 10 million books that are published every year.  (But that covers all categories).  There is a chance that me, 20 of my friends and a few strangers will be the only ones to ever read it.  And if that’s the case, fine.  Writing it was a huge learning experience.  It was definitely not time wasted.

So, that is my message for today, Art fails, often.  But it’s never really a failure, it’s a lesson.  I hope the digital printer guy picks up the pieces of his failed project and puts his creative mind to work and makes something even more revolutionary. . .I’d fund it.