Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

The other day Tim came home with a mystery gift for me. Now, there is nothing better than an unexpected gift...a little surprise....a realization that someone thought of you that day. The gift was from his Aunt Kathy, who is incredibly busy, so the idea that she was able to take a moment and put together this thoughtful gift was very touching.

She had taken a moment to let me know that she finds my blog funny to read. Now, I have to say, for the most part when I write a post, it's followed by complete silence. There are a few of you who consistently make comments (thank you!) but for the most part I never know if people think what I write is funny, stupid, boring, or inspiring. The blog is really more for me...to just write down my thoughts but, of course, I do hope that you all find it worthwhile to read from time to time. So, it was great to get this encouraging note.

Kathy remarked how my posts reminded her of her mother's old notes that she has kept...just random thoughts about her feelings on various topics. It made me remember going over to visit "Grandma" with Tim on Sunday afternoons before we were married. She would recall stories of her youth, her colorful relatives, or lessons learned from her days as a young mother of eight. In general, Tim's family are great storytellers, and his grandmother was no exception. We took her out to dinner one night and before we knew it 3 hours had passed in what felt like 10 minutes. She loved to share her life stories and we loved to listen.

Along with the note, Kathy had gifted me a picture that had hung at Grandma's. It was a listing of favorite things just like one I have on the blog. I love the last few lines of the saying, by Maxwell Mays, which says "I believe in families who laugh together and because of this I believe in tomorrow and the day after and the goodness of man and the joy of living." Not only does that remind me of Grandma because I think this line summed up what she believed in and how she lived her life, but it also really sums up what I have been trying to say in my blog posts. That family should come first. That you need to focus on the future, and the possibilities that lie ahead. And that you need to enjoy life to the fullest.

Thank you, Kathy, for continuing to come back and read the blog when you have time (and all of you too!). And more importantly, thank you for thinking of me and gifting me this wonderful memento of Grandma.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Race to Nowhere

Tonight I went to a showing of the documentary "The Race to Nowhere" directed by Vicki Abeles, a parent who has started a grassroots effort to bring awareness to the relentless pressures that our children are under. Each of her three children began to show signs of stress from school pressure, such as constant headaches and stomach aches, but it wasn't until her 12-year old daughter was diagnosed with a stress induced illness, that she became determined to bring change to our educational system.

The film was comprised of interviews with experts, parents, teachers, and many kids, primarily of high school age. The kids talked about the tremendous pressures they face. Pressure to not only get good grades, but to excel in every class. Pressure to be involved in extra-curricular activities, including sports and commnity service projects, while excelling in every class. Pressure to get all their homework done every night, even if you have to stay up until 1 am each night to do that. Pressure to do well on every quiz and test, otherwise risking disappointing their teachers, their parents, and themselves. Pressure to get into the best colleges, get scholarships, and ultimately get high paying jobs. There was an educator who said that high school has become the way to we prepare for college applications...not college itself.

The teachers are facing increased pressures by federal and state regulations to fit in an incredible amount of content in the cirriculmm. Success is measured by test scores, not happy, healthy children. Success is rewarded to schools and teachers with funding and bonuses. The schools that underperform are given less funding and less assistance to improve their schools while those that have the best scores, receive more funding. My guess is that the schools with the highest test scores also have children with the highest stress levels.

The teachers also felt that the reasons they first went into teaching were being compromised. They weren't able to teach they way they wanted to, to use innovative techniques, to give children the time to learn. Instead, they have to push incredible amounts of information in finite amounts of time. Hence the reason homework has increased across America. The teachers can not possible cover all of that material during the school day so they have to assign hours of homework in order to get those test scores up.

The film went on to spotlight the rise in cheating among children in schools. The kids just can not absorb and retain all of this information, despite their best efforts. They have resorted to cheating because "I can't possibly know all of this". There has also been an increase in depression, stress related illnesses, and sadly suicide. The film was dedicated to a 13-year old girl that had killed herself over a math test score.

Kids no longer have time to be kids. There was a woman in the beginning of the film that said " I worry that someday our kids will sue us for taking their childhood from them." We all chuckled but the reality is with so much homework, school activities, sports, and all of the other things that our kids are involved in, there aren't many opportunities to go out and play, to be creative, or to have fun. The result is that kids don't build the skills to be creative and innovative and don't have to build their passions and interests. As a result, we are raising generations of children who don't know how to creatively solve problems. They don't know what to do with free time because they have never had any. They are uninspired and don't have any passions that build the fire within them...and passions build dreams.

And as parents, we all want the best for our children. But we also contribute to the problem. You can't help but want your child to get into the best college, get great test scores, and ultimately do well in life. But when we question each other on what schools they have applied to, what private schools they are going to, what their test scores are, we are just perpetuating that competition. I know I have found myself in many situations where the conversation has turned to what level of travel team my son is on, or how many sports my daughter is in, or how they did on a certain test. We want our kids to excel because we want the best for them, but we also put pressure on each other to compete with our children.

At some point, someone has to stop this merry go round. I admire Vicki Abeles for trying to be the first one to stop the madness. I highly recommend you see this film if you get a chance and you can go to www.racetonowhere for more information. I'll leave you with a few key points that I took away from this film:

- Your kids don't need to get into the best college. They need to find the best fit for them.
- Stop focusing your conversations on homework and test scores. Dinner conversation shouldn't center around "Did you do your homework?", "How much homework do you have?", or "What did you get on that test today?" Instead ask your kids how school was, what was the most interesting thing they learned, how their day was.
- Find time to just let your kids be kids. They need to have time to play, be curious, and have fun.
- Encourage your kids to do what they love. We excel and succeed when we love what we are doing.
- Don't define success by test scores in your house. Define it by your level of happiness and personal fulfillment.

There are many moments in life when we are presented with opportunities to be better and do better. I felt like tonight I was handed an opportunity to be a better parent in the future with the education I received tonight. And I am not striving for a straight A in my life long parenting class....I'm striving to raise happy and healthy children.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't Just Sit In Your Recliner

I've read a couple of books lately that have a disturbing theme and really got me thinking. In both "Olive Kitteridge" and "The Corrections" the main characters are older couples who are just existing, rather than being present in their lives. Part of it could be generational....both couples are in their 70's and didn't seem to marry because they were completely in love but rather because they liked each other and the timing seemed right. Their relationships centered around the men being in charge and the women staying home, taking care of the kids, and basically never having a sense of self that was independent of being a wife and mother. I think that is just how it was back then. However, in both books, the couples find themselves in their elder years being completely unsatisfied with their lives and each other. The men just sit in their chairs all day, the women seemed depressed, and the days pass along with no distinguishing events or activities. I was depressed just reading the books and it made me think that I think there are a fair amount of people out there, of all ages, that live a life like this... A life where you let life happen as opposed to taking control of it.

There are people who say no to everything...". I can't because..." or "That would never work because...". They are afraid to take risks and live life. There are people who don't reach out to people to say hi but are the first to complain that no one ever calls them. There are people who work all the time because they don't have a personal life. Work becomes a defensive mechanism when they realize they never made time for friends and family and now no one is there. These are just a few examples of how to recognize people who have given up having a life and are just going through the motions.

When I first read those books I thought "Who lives a life like this?" and then as I got to thinking, I realized I could point to a few people I had met throughout my life that chose this type of existence. I then realized I was looking at everyone I met a little differently. I recently had a series of eye appointments and on visit 2 my radar when up a bit. The doctor was a non-descript man, probably in his 50's. He had boring brown hair, brown socks, brown shoes, a brown suitcase. Let's just call him Mr. Brown. I began to imagine him having a boring life, having the same routine every day, and going back home at the end of the day to sit in his chair. I also noticed that he never looked me in the eye when he spoke but instead he addressed the wall behind my head. He was an eye doctor that couldn't even look me in the eye! I didn't get it. I began to imagine that his wife was bored and they probably hadn't even looked at each other in years. His whole demeanor was very "wah, wah". He didn't seem to have any life in him. It made me sad. I began to look around the train and saw a few people who had that look about them - that pale, lifeless look.

I don't understand why people chose to live a life like this. There are people who die every day way before they should....from accidents, tragedies, illness...these people would love to still be alive....would even fight to be alive. Yet, there are people who don't realize the precious gift of life that they have and choose to just go through life as a routine until their day comes. It makes no sense to me.

One of my personal motto's is "You get one life...make it a good one". I would love to shake these people sitting in chairs, these people waiting for the phone to ring,these people who hate their jobs and complain about them every day but do nothing to make an attempt to get out of these life sucking roles, these people refusing to try new things or go out of their comfort zone...get up people and enjoy your lives! I'm not saying you are one of these people but I do want to remind us all to embrace life and enjoy it.

Have friends over even though your house isn't clean. Say yes to something this week, even when your first reaction is no. Call someone you haven't talked to in awhile but keep thinking about. Cross one of your bucket list items off this month. Remember that life is a gift and it's here for us to enjoy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

$78 Capris

The other day I wore one of my favorite shirts....it's a cream colored tank with lots of ruffles. I bought it at J.Crew for a ridiculous price for a tank top...I'll admit it. I wear it a lot because it is a great layering piece...under my cardigans, of course. But how do you justify a $48 tank top? (Tim, if you are reading this it cost "like $20 dollars"). The answer is simple....I figure out the cost per wearing to justify my purchases.

I used to buy more clothes at lower prices. What I realized is that the quality of those clothes often meant that I was actually spending more because the clothes didn't last as long. I then shifted to buying higher quality clothes that last longer, but that very often means paying higher prices...and sometimes the sticker shock is just too much to bear.

As I was marveling at my cost per wearing on my $48 tank top the other day (which at this point, cost me pennies), it reminded me of a shopping trip I took several years ago with my friend Lynne. I had "won" (aka, paid for it at a silent auction) a private shopping experience at my favorite store, Ann Taylor. I got to bring 2 friends to the store once it closed, they served us wine and cheese & crackers, and we had a personal shopper who selected outfits for us to try on. It. Was. Awesome!

We had a pre-meeting with the personal shopper about a week before our night out so that she could assess our styles, sizes, etc. When we arrived for our big night, our dressing rooms were filled with outfits to try on. I was giddy. That is until I tried on a shirt that was too small and I couldn't get it off. We have all been there...you know that moment when you realize the shirt is just not going to come off with regular methods. You start by trying to contort your body like Houdini to get your arms out somehow. Then you breathe deep and try again the conventional way. Still no luck. Then you start to sweat. You get frantic and don't care if you rip the shirt or dislocate your shoulder...you just want it off you. And then usually you can figure out a way to get it off. Well, I realized my shirt was just not coming off without assistance. I had to ask my friend Lynne to come into my dressing room and take it off.

So, here I am with my upper body exposed....flab hanging, bra showing, arms in the air with the shirt covering my head...and Lynne has to come in and pull the shirt off me. And it didn't come off easy...there was some tugging involved. So embarrassing. We had worked together for years and were good friends but we had never been this "intimate" before. This could have been a work-friend relationship ender but instead it was a recognition that I had a friend for life.

She went back to her dressing room and came out wearing an adorable pair of capris and a ribbon belt. Adorable. She looked cute and she loved them both. BUT the capris were $78 and the belt was $14 for a thin piece of ribbon. She kept saying "I can't buy capris for $78!" I had to admit...the price was silly, especially knowing you could go to Old Navy and get a similar pair for $29. I told her about my dollar cost averaging theory and after another glass of wine she said "You know what? I AM going to get the capris AND the belt!"

To this day, we talk about the $78 capris and if she is wearing them enough to lower that cost per wearing. I think she could get her price down even further with some real focus and commitment but overall she has done pretty well with them. So, the next time you are making a clothing or accessory purchase, follow my simple rules:

1. No matter what the cost of the item, you MUST love, love, love what you buy. If it "will do" or "it's kinda cute" don't waste your money on it. You won't wear it in the long run.
2. Buy a mix of bargains and better quality clothing. You can't live on either alone. I find some of the cutest shoes and jewelry at Target and I mix them up with my J. Crew finds and voila! adorable, affordable outfits.
3. When you do spend the money on a piece, it's easier to justify the price when you employ the cost per wearing and you get the price down to mere cents! That is after you tell your husband "No, that's not new...."

Lynne, I hope you are unpacking those $78 capris now and getting them ready for spring!

A few other updates:

The Kangaroo Pouch Challenge - well, I did manage to lose 2 pounds in the last two weeks...but it hasn't progressed much beyond that. I still haven't been able to get up earlier in the morning but I have found other times to fit exercise into my day. I am now walking 3-4 times a week for an hour so that is good! And my clothes do feel a little loser, even with a minute amount of weight loss. For all my friends on weight watchers, keep up the great work!! You guys are doing great!!

The Train - I had yet another interesting interaction. An older man sat with me last week. Immediately I was repulsed. First, he was breathing heavy...through his nose. Yuck. The breath coming out through his nose smelled like pickles. (insert gag here). Then he kept "adjusting" himself and then squirming in his seat. I began to get nervous he had crabs or something. He was clearly "itchy" and uncomfortable. It was almost too much for me to handle. While I conducted silent conversations with him in my head, he continued to adjust and squirm. Just as I was getting up my nerve to say "Is there a problem?" he got up and left. This is to all the people on the train....Cut. It. Out. What is wrong with you people? Stop ripping newspapers and stuffing them in your pockets. Stop touching yourself in public. Brush your teeth. Stop breathing through your nose. Holy Crazyness....Stop it, stop it, stop it!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Kangaroo Pouch Challenge

Train Update: Good thing I didn't wait around for the train yesterday....apparently it took 3 hours to get in. But that wasn't the worst of it...the train I normally take home took FOUR hours to get home yesterday. They "fixed" the broken down train from the am and that's the one they ran at 5:00...which broke down again. I think I would have gone kooky nuts if I had experienced both, or either, of those rides yesterday.

Today I saw an Outfit Mullet. A man was wearing a suit on the top...suit coat, shirt, tie, with a dress coat over it...and on the bottom half he was wearing running pants and boots. What the what? Okay, I understand the boots...but the running pants with the suit? He was all business on top and party on the bottom. That folks, is an outfit mullet.

Now, let's get to the meat of my blog post today. A few weeks ago I said I was going to try and work out 2-3 days a week and eat better, in my quest to get rid of my muffin top. How did that go, you ask? Well, since I haven't blogged about my fantastic success, I'm sure you can guess the answer to that.

The day after I blogged, I felt really committed, especially since I SAID I was going to do it and even went so far as to challenge you guys to do the same. I should mention that I am NOT a morning person so getting up even earlier, especially in the cold and dark, to exercise is about as pleasant as having paper cuts on my eye balls. Day 2 rolled around and still no exercise. I definitely was eating better but I was starting to sweat just thinking about my commitment to exercise. I had only 5 days left to go and still no attempt to get on that treadmill. By day 4 I knew I was all done...it wasn't going to happen. I really wanted to but couldn't drag myself out of the warm bed in the morning and when I get home it's all about cooking dinner, checking homework, kids activities, and trying to take a few minutes for myself before starting it all over again. I decided not to get mad at myself though...at least I had made headway by eating healthier foods. By this I mean replacing a diet coke with water for lunch...replacing chips at lunch with a salad, no snacks after dinner...that kind of thing.

Well, since I worked from home yesterday I actually had time to walk on the treadmill at 5, when I would normally be on the train. It was great! So great in fact that I set my alarm to get up this morning and do it again at 5:30....but I couldn't drag myself out of bed. I decided at 5:45 am that I need some more positive experiences under my belt before I can do that. But tomorrow I am working from home and will be able to walk when the kids leave for school in the morning. I'm looking forward to it! And then if I walk on both Saturday and Sunday, I will have exercised 4 times this week. I figure that will get my mo-joe going and by next week, getting up at 5:30 in the cold and dark should be easier. That's what I am hoping anyways.

My goal: to get rid of my kangaroo pouch by May. My marsupials left the pouch some time ago and I can't keep walking around like this. I have tried to tuck it into my pants, smooth it down with shapewear, and even tried to just let it all hang out...but I don't like any of those options anymore. I don't want to put on another shirt and have to do the sit down test...you know the one where you check to see how your stomach would look when you sit down....and then you see those rolls. No more pouch! Mama wants her abs back! So, I'll try this again...attempt #2..wish me luck!