This is the story of a girl

Who cried a river and drowned the whole world

and while she looks so sad in photographs

I absolutely love her

When she smiles

Do you know that song? You know how you can hear just the words “this is a story” and you can immediately connect the lyrics and sing the whole song 500 times in your head (or out loud) after that? And then your husband (or boss, or teacher, or friend) says “AS I WAS SAYING this is a story about cattle futures and the stock market . . . ” Or, actually, my husband or boss or teacher (if I had a teacher) would never say that. Maybe “. . . about Edward Gorey” or “. . . about intellectual property, counterfeit product sales online and their crossover into phishing fraud.” Or something like that. Anyway – I LOVE THAT.

I find great comfort in the familiar. It’s soothing to me to hear a song I know and love. The cadence, the words, they all flow through my mind effortlessly and, if I love the song, it makes me happy. Like a hug (because hugs make you happy. Unless your heart is cold, black and shriveled up). The same with my favorite old tv shows or the same books I have thumbed through a dozen times or more. The characters are like visiting with old friends and the familiar words are like a salve to my metaphorical open wounds.

On a recent business trip I had to figure out a book to take with me.

(Yes, technologically adept as I like to consider myself I do still have an overwhelming affinity for actual books. I like to feel them in my hands. I like to dog-ear the corners. I fear the term “dog-ear” will go out of fashion in 2.5 seconds due to all the electronics permeating our society. I’m so conflicted).

I have no less than 7 books on my bedside table that I have barely started or not cracked at all, but when I turned to grab one none appealed. Why? Well, there’s a lot of newness in my work life and I just couldn’t stand the idea of embarking on a new journey with a new author and a new story to work through in my already clouded and over-taxed head.

What if I didn’t like it 30 pages in? What if it was sad and depressing? What if it didn’t hug my soul like a tried and true good book can do?

So I chose an old favorite. Through 4 “please watch the safety demonstration in the event of an emergency landing” monologues while “all electronic equipment is switched off” I plowed through my old favorite, smiling at the words, remembering the characters. I found myself immersed, once again, entirely in the movie in my head – how Amelia’s jetty black hair looked (via a bottle, shhh), her blushing indulgence to femininity in her crimson gowns and fancy undergarments, and her painful need to be right and strong ,and her huge heart and conflicted morality. Ahhhh. There is nothing like catching up with old friends on long plane rides.

Or is it catching up with yourself? I have a theory (supported by nothing except my second Diet Pepsi tonight) that when we connect with something from the past – a book, a movie, a song, even a fragrance – it can take you back to the old YOU. The person you were then, when you first loved it, and it can feel like a comfort because it makes you feel like, or connect with – consciously or not – the old you. That old friend that you knew better than anyone, foibles and all, before you went through the experiences that makes you the YOU of today.

Over the summer I made several long car trips by myself (or with my children, but with THEIR electronic equipment I may as well have been by myself) and I had this odd thing happen. On one trip I was in the middle of the Oregon desert, the boys had their headphones on and I resorted to mindlessly hitting “seek” in hopes of finding something interesting. There were 3 radio stations that came in; one was political news (not on your life), the other was in Spanish (and that gets old when you don’t speak it), and the third . . . just happened to be playing a country song I LOVED when I was in high school (and filled with high school angst, I might add). I found myself singing the words before I could even remember the name of the song or who sang it. I just knew that I knew the words and as I sang each verse and got closer to the chorus I remembered the full song and . . . tears. No kidding. Tears. Because that song comforted me when I was a teen and broken-hearted and here I was, so many years later, and BAM! It pulled at my heart and I was in tears. I don’t remember the who, what or why of that broken-heart – I just remember the emotion the song conveyed all those years ago.

It’s like that movie with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Sleepless in Seattle? And she’s in the car driving and listening to him on the radio, in a bit of a trance, and he just says something that clicks with her heart (something her mother had said, about love & magic) and she’s crying. Just like that. Those things they reverberate in your soul.

Or is that just me? Bah. Maybe. But that’s okay. I can own it.

So – if you find me listening to the soundtrack for The Sound of Music in my headphones please don’t mock because I’m probably a major stressball and I’m just reverting to my childhood happy place as a coping mechanism. Back when my mom and I used to pop popcorn and watch this movie every year around the holidays when it came on tv and I felt loved and when I watched Julie Andrews sing and I could breathe and I knew ALL THINGS IN LIFE WERE POSSIBLE.

Ahhh. Sigh. Breathe. Repeat.

Mucho amor, mes amis!

Stef

(No, I don’t speak Spanish. Or French. It’s Frenish. Just go with it).

Stress, baby – it’s a killer

I had planned to post about books next (today or otherwise soon-ish). There’s a books post coming – because I really do need some ideas for what to read next – but before I could write that post I got sick and I’m pretty sure the major culprit is stress.

I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but I can tell you that I firmly believe that overall emotional health can affect physical health. Obviously, when someone is stressed they can do things that negatively affect their health – binge eating, drinking, drugs, and other unhealthy decisions. But I also think stress can just slowly eat away at your overall health like a gigantic, parasitic leech.

Nom nom nom = die die die.

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” report (2010) the common effects of stress are:

Body: headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach upset, sleep problems.

Mood: anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger, sadness or depression.

Behavior: Overeating or undereating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, social withdrawal.

So let me see here – headache: check, muscle tension or pain: check, fatigue: check, stomach upset: check, anxiety: check, lack of motivation: check, irritability, sadness, anger: check, check, check.

Under behavior I would say social withdrawal simply because I’ve been less than social lately- less FB, less Twitter, less blog, and less social, in-person chitchat – but that could be due to time constraints more than anything. Or not. What do I know?

So what is the freaking dealio here?

Well, in a word, WORK. The entire month of September I worked some crazy long hours due to a staffing shortage (freaking people and their honeymoons) and, at the same time, an increase in workload. Then I was given even more work. Then I went on a short vacation last week in an effort to take a FREAKING BREAK but my first day back I worked a 12 hour day because I’m so behind from the 2 DAYS I took off. So how does that help? NOT AT ALL.

Now I could really go into quite the violent rant right now about my job, but this isn’t the place for it and if I did it could potentially get me fired (hmmm) so I won’t do that. Suffice it to say – I’m perpetually short-staffed and I do the job of about 3 different positions so I’m always pulled in 15 different directions at one time.

Monday – first day back from vacation and a 12 hour work day. Seriously didn’t get up from my desk to pee and grab some lunch until 3 pm.  Ridiculous. Came home at 8 pm, made dinner, promptly developed a headache – a headache that has not abated since Monday night.

Tuesday – headache all day. General feeling of malaise. Slammed at work, but determined to not work a 12 hour day again so I worked a typical day – 9-6. Felt marginally better at home when I was making dinner, but after dinner I sad down for bit and began to feel an overall ick. A little achy and shaky but not full-on FLU ick. WTF?

Wednesday morning – woke up with the headache, still have the ick. Stayed home with the intention of working just a little and then resting but, instead, I can’t catch a break and I’ve been working ALL DAMN DAY. At least I’m in my yoga pants, yo. (On a conference call as I type this).

Allergies are an issue, for sure. But this is MORE, and I’m pretty sure it’s stress.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know, but I think working more towards a healthy work/life balance is the best first step. I try to do this a lot but sometimes I execute it better than others. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a lot of control over it.

I can’t slack off on my job otherwise I’ll lose it. I can’t request to do the “mommy schedule” without it negatively impacting perception of my work ethic/goals. (I know this. Just trust me on this one. LAME.)

I’m the primary breadwinner at my house (my husband works freelance and is the primary at-home parent) but I have to be mommy too. I sacrifice going on the field trips, being room mom, working on most of the homework, etc., but I try to be there for them when they need me and I take time off as needed. But as my work demands it I’m there for them LESS than I wish I could be. Yesterday my little dude called me when he got home from school and asked if I was going to work late again. I hate that.

Guilt and stress? Check.

My husband put his arms around me this morning and said, “I just want you to be healthy.” Me too, dear, me too.

Does it come down to working less and possibly sacrificing the security of my job at the same time?  Is there a happy medium?  Sometimes I think I find it and then it all goes woefully wrong.

I’m trying to get my work/life balance figured out so that I don’t have more health issues. I’ve been putting off going to the doc knowing that I’ll have to face that reality of a few things I need to change or start on some meds. I started working-out this summer to get healthier – but with the increase in work that has fallen by the wayside as well.

Sometimes the idea of working on my health just seems like so much WORK and it’s easier to just push it to the back of my mind. Please tell me I’m not alone in this feeling.

The whirlwind of life at it’s finest.

So do you all have any bright insight into how to manage life and stress more effectively? I would love to hear it. What do you do to keep yourself healthy? How do you deal with stress?

Yours,

Stef

Thankful Thursday: I’m thankful for PTO

PTO?? Paid Time OFF. Thank heaven, Allah, Gaia, the sun, and Maude (whoever she is) for paid time off. Time off? And my bills still get paid? Awesome. 
What makes PTO so awesome? Let’s see:
Because of PTO, on a Thursday, I slept in until 7:45 this morning.
Because of PTO I get to stay home with my little guy on his first 2 days of summer break.
Because of PTO I have a couple extra days to think through some work stuff that’s got me all discombobulated.
Because of PTO I sat down and played the new Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game with my son this afternoon. And I might go take a soak in a bath. On a Thursday afternoon. All because of PTO. 
Because of PTO, on a Thursday afternoon, I’m writing a blog post and watching my boy ride his bike outside my office window. 
What is that saying? You have to relax to reload? I’m going to relax. Today, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.

Off to take my bubble bath now. Thank you, PTO, thankyouveryveryverymuch.

Slacky McSlackerton here

Hi, it’s me. Remember me? I used to try to post a couple times a week but lately not so much and I feel badly about it. There is life happening here, you see. And life takes precedence over blogging. It must otherwise I wouldn’t have anything to blog about, right? 
It’s after midnight on a school/work night and I’m going to have to make this brief. And full of pics. Instagram, to be more specific. Because I can’t find my real camera again. For reals. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME. *sigh* Moving on. 
So these things have been happening:
We had a mini-twister hit our backyard. It was the weirdest thing. Knocked one tree down, and lifted and twisted a small tree nearly off its stump. And killed a duck. Sad. So this is the big tree that fell:
It leaned like that for a week before we got a tree service out to chop it down. For mucho moolah, might I add. Grr. But they left the rounds for us so we can use them as firewood next year. Can I just say that’s some pretty dang expensive firewood?
Since the weather has finally started to get Spring/Summer-like we’ve also been doing a lot of work in the yard. We’ve planted a few plants and have just been cleaning up some of the beds. I love that my kids get involved now so much more than they used to. I took this 2 days ago and the light was just perfect (you can see our oldest sweeping on the right):
We’ve also had a lot of this going on:
But this Saturday was the first time he actually made it home during a game so it was monumental. He has batted last in his previous two games, but on yesterday’s game he batted first. He’s doing great and getting better each game/practice we have:
I love that pic. Great light. But, because of that light I developed a sunburn. Unexpected and weird. I was wearing a cap and v-neck t-shirt so I have half a face sunburn and v-shaped redness on my chest. Weird. (I won’t torture you with that pic.)
After that game was over yesterday the rest of the weekend was about getting ready for my sister’s visit. My (step)sister from Australia, to be more specific.
She’s awesome. I first met her in ’98 and I’ve seen her maybe 2 or 3 times since then. The funny thing is, she went to my high school 5 years ahead of me but I never knew her. I didn’t meet her until after her mom & my dad had been together for quite some time because she had moved to Australia. She met an Aussie in SLO in the early 90’s and followed him back to AU and stayed. I like her a lot and we get along great. I wish I had known her a long time ago. Not that I wish my parents had split earlier than they did, but it would have been cool to have an older sister like her. She has a pretty awesome husband and two kids as well. Every time the kids speak I think they are going to sound like Americans and then they sound totally Australian and it’s too freakin’ cute.
So, interesting side note, my sister worked at the Australia Zoo with The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, and his wife, Terri. Terri is an American – she’s from Oregon – and she and my sister became friends. My sister has always been an animal NUT and the Zoo was an ideal place for her to work. Don’t believe me? BAM!:
That’s my sister feeding Harriet – a 166 year old tortoise.
So the cool thing about their visit tonight is that our husbands never met before and we hadn’t met their son (though my sister and her daughter were here a couple years ago). I was excited.

I got up Sunday morning and did a few things in the yard and then started the food prep for 10 of us. We were going to BBQ, but my husband has had performances (he’s an actor) both afternoons this weekend so a lot of the prep was left in my hands and it was a LOT of freakin’ work. I started the food prep about noon and didn’t finish until 4 pm. At which point I still needed to clean the house and shower before they got here at 6:30. I started to PANIC. Then I died. No, not really. Just felt like I might.

Food prep consisted of marinating both chicken & beef for kebabs, cutting up and marinating all the vegetables, making a greek spinach, feta & pasta salad with a homemade dressing, making a fruit salad and strawberry cheese fruit dip, and making cookies. 4 flippin’ hours, people, with nary a break – except to make lunch for the kids and occasionally play referee to their bickering:
But, thankfully, it all turned out lovely and oh so yummy:
And my boys got to play with their Australian boy cousin for the first time – as only boys do:
Once the wrestling stopped we got the older girl cousin to sit down with the stinky boys and we clicked a few pics of them:
Love it! Love them. Great night with fun people. Now I’m utterly exhausted and apparently I have to go to work tomorrow. Really? Because I feel like I’ve been working all bloody weekend. I guess it’s not the same. 
Off to la-la-land for me. G’day, mate!

What in the H – E – double hockey sticks is wrong with me??

I can’t get any freakin’ work done! I don’t wanna. 
I don’t wanna pay the bills.
I don’t wanna work on the stinkin’ IEP paperwork. Seriously, kill.me.now. 
I don’t wanna wash the dishes or fold the laundry.
I don’t wanna do my work work. Even when I’m at work. Cuz, you know, I’m kinda over this whole working for living thing. I wanna be home with my babies – see. (Who aren’t babies, but they’re MY babies so, whatever).
I wanna write. I wanna be creative. I wanna bake stuff. 
I wanna read blogs and play on Twitter all day and marvel at all the awesome women out there. Can’t I get paid (an exorbitant amount) to do that? Why not?
It’s 8 pm – do you think the kids have noticed they haven’t had dinner yet? I don’t hear yelling, screaming, or painful starvation moans. In any case, I need to get my freakin’ arse off the internets and do something productive. 
SO THERE. 
BYE. 
(I’ll be back – don’t worry. I knew you were worrried). 

P.S. I CAN say hell. See? Hell. But H – E – double hockey sticks is more fun, don’t you agree?

Why isn’t it Friday?

I have seriously lived a week in 2 days. Now, I consciously know that it isn’t Friday yet, but I just feel it should be considering everything that’s gone on the last few days. But then I thought, “At least it’s Wednesday. Only 2 more days.” Dude, it’s Tuesday. TUESDAY. 3 more days. 3. 
See, the problem is my work. It’s different this week and that throws me off. We have 2 clients visiting. One from Brasil (as he tells me to spell it) and the other from Argentina. The one from Argentina doesn’t speak great English and, I think, understands even less. Fun. The one from Brasil speaks Portuguese, English fairly well (except for the occasional, “uh, uh, how you say _____”), and some Spanish. Today I spent 6 hours talking. Like non-stop. Tomorrow we have another half day, at least, with them. 
The thing is, it’s just constantly being with them, entertaining, socializing, being positive and blah, blah, blah. My people bucket gets too full. We spent hours out to dinner last night. Tonight I had to go to a school function for Bubba. My people bucket has runneth-the-hell-over.
Buenos noches amigos. Hasta mañana!

The best you that you can be

Every day when I drop my oldest at school I tell him, “Remember, be the best Poohbear you can be today, ok?”

To his credit he doesn’t sigh or roll his eyes (maybe 8 (almost 9) is too young for that), but he says, “Okay Mom! Love you!” and bounds out of the car with nary another thought for me or the message I’m trying to impart.

As I drive away, I often think about all the good things I want for him (to be honest, I often think of Starbucks and how conveniently located it is to his school as well).

What does that mean – be the best you that you can be? Let’s think about that for a minute.

Does it mean to be kind, understanding and attentive to others? Yes, obviously.

Does it mean to listen and learn and be present (in all senses of the word) to what happens during the course of the day? Yes, absolutely.

That’s what I want for him – my clever, cute, quirky son.

If I turn that around and put the focus on myself – what does that mean for me? My expectations for myself extend far beyond the expectations I have for my son.

Am I being the best Stef – mom, wife, woman – that I can be? The answer is a resounding NO.

These are the steps I think I need to take to get there. Bear in mind this list may be revised. Often.

  1. Health. I need to work on my health. I don’t know if I am brave enough to go into more detail than that, here – yet – but I need the strength, the confidence, the determination, support and encouragement to do it. Please. I’m starting already – baby steps.
  2. Outlook. Positivity. Glass half full-ness. Looking on the bright side. Finding the silver lining. Because, when it comes down to it, does bitching about something help? At all? The negativity weighs me down and I’m not having it anymore. Dunzo.
  3. Self-awareness and positive personal growth. Focusing on the me-ness. Really knowing who I am – what makes me tick, sets me off, calms me down, etc. What I excel at and what I suck at. Then embracing the me-ness and the stuff I love about me. This blog is going a long way towards that goal.
  4. Love. Give it all, to everyone, in abundant boundless bundles. To my family, to my friends, to strangers. I don’t know anything, any situation, any problem – ANYTHING – that isn’t improved with a little love and a big, open heart.

So that’s it. For now. That’s my challenge to myself.

Tomorrow, when you check your face in the mirror – at home, driving to work, or in a passing car window reflection – just pause for a second and ask yourself, “Am I being the best me that I can be?” I hope the answer is yes; if not, make your own list and get on with it, sister!

A half-baked idea is okay as long as it’s in the oven.

Do I shirk my duties and dive into the blog thoughts swirling around in my head? I could literally write volumes right now if given the proper time and space to sit and think it all through. 
Alas, that’s not even an option! Too much freakin’ work.
I got home from my trip very late on Friday night, or extremely early Saturday morning – depending on your point of view. I was delayed an extra 6 hours in the Denver airport after sprinting to my gate only to find out I missed my connection. Also, I DON’T SPRINT. I don’t even jog. Seriously. I think I almost died. But then I had to spend 6 more hours there and I truly knew what death was.
Oh.My.Goodness.Was.I.Bored.
Spotty internet connection and limited charging capabilities meant I couldn’t stay online or watch a movie to bide the time. I read some but I was completely distracted. Too many people hustling and bustling all over the place.
Saturday morning I woke up stiff and sore. I sort of decided then and there to take the rest of the weekend off. We celebrated the hubby’s 41 years young, I hung out with the boys and caught up on some of my Tivo’d stuff. 
Back to the grind today and, wow, do I have a lot to do. Plus, at home, there’s so much kid STUFF to deal with – Invention Convention, dentist appointments, IEP appointments, Katie Beckett Applications, laundry, lunch money, etc. I feel like I might never come up for air.
When I do, indeed, come up for air then I hope to put together some great blog posts around what I’ve been reading. I’m absolutely loving Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I seriously want to take a highlighter and go back through and mark all the poignant passages. In fact, I think I may do just that.
If you are married you should read this book. If you are thinking about getting married you should read this book. If you are divorced you should read this book. If you at any point in your life plan to live in a committed relationship you should read this book. No lie. 
The thing is – it’s all the stuff we learn after 10-15 years of marriage. It’s the distance and experience. The plain ‘ole knowledge we don’t have when we are all in L.O.V.E. and dying to get married RIGHT.THIS.MINUTE. 
It’s the things our mothers (some of them) or our grandmothers (a lot of them) went through and thought about and dealt with without actually giving it a name. They just lived it. Sucked it up and dealt with it. It’s the angst wives go through – the sacrifices, challenges, juggling we all do and learn to deal with some way, some how. It’s all about finding that happy medium for us “modern” wives.

More to come.

Don’t forget your doubt

I have a story for you.

(I love to tell stories. They are the patchwork of our life-quilts).

As you read here, I have insecurities. Those insecurities are a big part of why I haven’t shared this blog with a wide audience. I’m testing the overall response, but I’m also finding my blog voice (if you know what I mean). I want to see what value, what information, what anecdotes (that are relevant), that I can share with an audience. Will I be funny/witty or serious/educational? I hope to be somewhere in between.

I’m slightly introspective. Perhaps you can’t tell.

Here’s the story part. My boss and I are sort of friends. As much as bosses/employees can be that are male/female without any hanky-panky going on.

To be clear: no hanky or panky occurs – at all – ever.

I had not mentioned my blog to him. It’s something I normally would have mentioned but I felt odd about it.

One of my boss’s favorite activities is to psychoanalyze why people do and say the things they do. He’s a student of human nature and figuring out what makes people tick is something he and I both think about and enjoy. (Woe to our co-workers, right? Ha! Not really – we’re more theoretical.)

He was recently gone on a trip and we were really busy immediately before and after that so we hadn’t had a chance to just chat in a while. Last week I went into his office and he said, “tell me a story.”

So, I told him.

I told him I started this blog last year and how I felt about it. I told him about Joni’s blog and how it had influenced me (good and bad) and I told him about connecting with Joni and the blog she wrote on sisterhood.

So my boss said to me, “Why are you so nervous about this? You’re telling me this very hesitantly. Why?” Why, indeed?

Well, because I don’t want to be judged! I am trying to get over that though. I mean, part of blogging is being real, right? Putting yourself out there – telling stories – and hoping they resonate with other people. I need to be brave and stop worrying about being judged. I’m trying.

In the end my boss was very encouraging. He pushed me to keep doing it and to really think about an overall message. What I want to convey. What’s the point to my stories. Confound the man. (Let’s see: empowerment, honesty, sisterhood? I’m thinking along these lines. Work in progress. Moving on.)

The next day when my boss came in to work he sent me the following lyrics to an Avett Brothers’ song, Weight of Lies:

I once heard the worst thing
A man could do is draw a hungry crowd
Tell everyone his name in pride and confidence
But leave out his doubt

He said he had been thinking about how Joni’s blog made me feel and then what Joni had written about in regard to sisterhood. He said he went back and listened to this song and the words clicked.

We should show our insecurities as well as our strengths. Be real. We can’t create an emotional connection through shared experiences without admitting our insecurities and our doubts. Everybody has them and that is where we have the power to bond.

So this is my promise to you: I will always be real.

(And I’ll work on being brave too).

I’m traveling

I’m on part one of my travels – hanging out with my BFF in the Boston area. Tomorrow is part two; I’ll head down to Washington DC tomorrow for a few days of work. 

I have lots of blog ideas percolating in my head and hope to post in the next day or two. I bought a book at the airport and, wow, it’s giving me lots of good food for thought. The book is the follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert called Committed: A Love Story.

I don’t want to write today anyway. My heart and thoughts are with my sister-in-law, nephews, and in-laws who are marking the first anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death today. All the love in my heart going out to them today.