39 new things

I thought about my neglected blog today and decided to seize the moment.  So while I should be paying bills, washing dishes, folding laundry, exercising, and doing almost anything else, I’m going to write about turning 39.

I turned 39 in January, and while it is not 40 it is close. Close enough to have me thinking about mid-life crisis type material. The things I’ve done. The things I haven’t. Who am I and what should I be doing? What’s the meaning of all this?  Am I living my dream?  Why do I STILL not know what I want to do with my life? Etc.

I don’t feel like 39, physically or mentally, but I sure do look it.  I just dyed my hair for the first time in 15 years, and it wasn’t because I wanted to try a new color.  I wanted to cover the gray. I suddenly care about moisturizers that erase fine lines and hide dark circles. I wonder that despite all the exercise I do things still won’t go back to where they used to be.  All of this makes me to feel like a big cliche, and that is the last thing I want to be, at any age.

I certainly can’t turn back time. But rather than think myself into a great big depression about the past and the future, or spend down our savings on skincare products and Botox, I’m going to focus on doing the things that make me feel young.  Which leads me finally to the title of this blog post,”39 new things.”

I’d like to try at least 39 new things this year (before my next birthday). It seems like an ambitious number, but not impossible.  If I don’t hit 39, I’m okay with that.  It’s the process that counts. It’s the “I think I can, I think I can” mentality that I want from this process.  It’s that feeling of invincibility you associate with youthfulness. If it scares me, challenges me, pushes my limits, pushes my buttons, or overwhelms me, I want to say “yes” this year, instead of “No, I can’t because…”

On my list so far is a sprint triathlon. I am a terrible swimmer, and I hate biking, but I’ve always wanted to try a multi-sport race, so why not?  Life isn’t getting any shorter. And then maybe a marathon…just because I think I can’t.  In the kitchen, in the garden, on the ski slopes, in the woods – there are opportunities for changing things up everywhere.

I’m on a quest for empowerment, confidence, and answers. I’m hoping that action, rather than inertia, is the key to unlocking the answers to all those questions that really do seem to start nagging at this time of life.  Worst comes to worst, this approach will have me too busy, and probably tired, to think about the next 39 – 50 years.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” -Unknown

 

 

 

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Getting from Here to Happier

I like to think that most days, I am a happy, or at least content, person.  Most things in my life run along smoothly.  I’ve got a loving husband and three happy, healthy daughters; I am on good terms with my extended family, I’m generally in good health, I have enough money, I occasionally get to indulge in my hobbies. But there’s always room for more happy, right? That is the premise of a book I just finished reading called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

Gretchen Rubin seems herself to have a wonderful life.  She lives in New York City, she’s a full-time writer with two young daughters, and she is a bestselling author.  As I read her book, I had to wonder what someone like Rubin, whose life was pretty close to perfect (she readily admits this), could teach me about increasing my happiness.

But teach me a few things Rubin did.  I don’t think I would ever go about making the pursuit of happiness as complicated as she did, with resolution charts and a set of commandments, but she’s got me making a few small changes that do seem to be making me more mindful, if not happier.  And mindfulness is indeed supposed to lead to greater inner peace.  Here are just a few ways I am trying to put some more happy into my life:

1.  “Spending out” and indulging in a “modest splurge.”  Rubin comes to the conclusion that money really can buy happiness.  I am sometimes (okay, often) resistant to spending money, even on small things that will make me happy.  No more (sorry Glop).  I just bought not one, but two pairs of shoes.  I could have just “made do” with my practical brown LL Bean comfort mocs in size ugly, as I have for the past two years, but no way would that make me as happy as having two adorable ballerina flats to choose from this spring.  Not a life-changing or world-changing purchase, but sometimes it really is just the little things that contribute to daily happiness.

2.  “Paying attention.” I am trying to make a real effort to pay attention to my little people when they talk.  It’s really hard sometimes, because they’ll prattle on endlessly about fairies, princesses, school lunch, playground rules, imaginary friends, bad dreams, you name it.  But on the flip side, you never know when they are going to say something super cute.  For example, on the car ride to school the other day, A. was amazed by how many brothers and sisters my late grandmother had.  It being St. Patrick’s Day, and my grandmother having been Irish, she said, “Wow, that’s a lot of Irish in our family!  We’re really Irish.”  It was lost on her that we’re really not, because my grandmother is our only tie to Ireland, but it was funny. Paying attention is both entertaining and, as a bonus, much appreciated by my children, who always sigh with exasperation when they have to tell me something they already told me earlier.

3. Trying new things.  I’ve always noticed I get a bit of a charge from trying a new fitness class, taking up a new hobby, or even trying out a new recipe.  Now that I’ve read The Happiness Project, I’m going to make an effort to try new things even more often.  Ditto meeting new people and going to new places.  I foresee knitting lessons, a chocolate making class, and a turn at making homemade soap in my future.

4.  “Be a treasure house of happy memories.”  This one involves the source of a lot of mommy guilt for me:  take lots of photos, organize said photos, create family traditions, keep your kids artwork, throw family parties, send pictures to the grandparents, record the school play etc.  Preserve and make memories!  But it truly does make you happier in the long run.  I am happy every time I open a photo album, read a journal entry from a long time ago, or come across a keepsake from my childhood.  I kind of abandoned my record-keeping for a while, and haven’t made a photo album since I got pregnant with J.  Poor thing does not even have a baby album.  Rubin has me making more of an effort to be a keeper of my children’s memories and my own.  I try to write in my journal every night, even just a list of the happy moments that occurred during the day. I am finally going to get professional photos taken of the girls this summer, and bring my albums up-to-date.  I will thank myself some day, and so will the girls.

The Happiness Project has me taking actions, and making plans, to lift my mood every day.  Sometimes what I do really works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But it is the momentum I’m creating that has my overall happiness quotient going up.

Another blogger I follow recently put together a very comprehensive collection of quotes on happiness (you can find it here).  One that resonates with me:  “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. ” ― William James.

And one I always need to remember:  “The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.” ― Louisa May Alcott

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The Best Family Trip That Almost Wasn’t

Last Wednesday night, my oldest daughter started throwing up at 2 AM.  I thought our trip to Laconia and Gunstock Mountain was doomed for sure.  Even if S. recovered quickly, one or all of us were bound to come down with the stomach bug in the next 24 hours.  That’s usually how it works.

As I cleaned up vomit, I waited to see who would get sick next.  But S. stopped throwing up by sunrise, and no one else started.   I found some uncharacteristic optimism.

Instead of throwing in the towel and cancelling our weekend trip outright on Thursday morning, I proceeded to pack up as though nothing had happened.

All day long I stuffed overnight bags, toted skis to the car, and rounded up diapers, lovies, blankies, snacks, books, games, toys, and…well, you get it.  Basically the whole house.  That’s sadly what is involved in taking my family of five away for two nights.  Actually, even for an overnight trip.

It was touch and go for sure.  In between trips to the car I checked on my sleeping S. for signs of fever or stomach pains.  I waited for J. or A. to complain of a tummy ache or to suddenly vomit mid-sentence.  Glop came home from work and I expected him to say he wasn’t feeling well.  But it didn’t happen.  I was both grateful and flabbergasted that such luck should befall my family.

We did alter our plans for downhill skiing at Gunstock Mountain on Friday because S. wasn’t really up for it. Instead, we decided to go snow tubing, which was new for all of us and required a lot less effort.  We ran into another little snag, because J. was not really old enough to tube.  We thought about letting her try, but realized that as capable as she is, the toddler still isn’t ready to jump into a giant tube and get towed up a big hill by herself. Luckily, Gunstock gave us a refund.  Glop then discovered that he could take J. on the bunny hill for free, so her grabbed her skis and they had something to do while I went tubing with the girls.

Tubing was so much fun!!! So much fun because the girls and I could ride down together. Also so scary because we could ride down together.  At first, I assumed that there was some fancy mechanism by which the attendants would attach our tubes together.  Nope.  It was all up to me to HOLD all three of our tubes together by the handles.  I did not for a second let my mind explore what might happen if I let go of a tube.  But it was a battle of wills not to go there, for sure.

We were at Gunstock on what I thought was the most glorious winter afternoon.  The temps were in the twenties, there was very little wind, and the sky was a blazing, robin’s egg blue. Not a cloud in site.  The view from the top of the tubing hill was amazing.  The cold air was invigorating.  And I was out there, enjoying it all with my girls.

So what could possibly top such an unexpectedly fun start to a trip I thought would never happen?  Another new adventure, of course.  One involving all five of us.

On Saturday, downhill skiing was again not an option, this time because we could not use the free passes we had for the girls (of course they were valid every other day), making it it prohibitively expensive.  It was another gorgeous sunny day, so we wanted to spend it outside.  Yes, I know, we are obsessed with getting outside in the winter.  We threw around some ideas and ultimately decided that we’d try taking the girls cross country skiing.  On a whim, I’d thrown our (Glop’s and mine) hand-me-down nordic skis in the back of the van with all the downhill gear just in case…I don’t know what. I guess it was a good thing.

Earlier in the winter, we’d made the choice to go all in on alpine skiing because we thought cross country would be too hard for the girls, or they’d find it boring.  Certainly toddler was not old enough to enjoy trudging through the woods on skis.  That was our view of it, at least, because we’d only ever skied on ungroomed terrain, sometimes breaking our own trails through the woods.  We thought of it as great exercise, not really great entertainment.

So our misgivings were understandable as we undertook this “what the hell, why not” cross country skiing experiment. For starters, it was a little expensive, because we needed to rent skis for the kids, a pulk for Juliet, and trail passes for all of us.  We weren’t sure what kind of return we’d get on our investment.  We were thinking 15 minutes max.  The kids seemed more enamored with the warming yurt where we ate lunch than with the skiing we were about to do.  J. was a napless little lunatic, running amok in the yurt and wiping her balogna on every table she could find (that was probably all the cleaning the yurt had gotten all weekend).  And I thought for sure Glop’s back wouldn’t last very long pulling our pretty substantial toddler on skis.

Around noon we finally extracted the kids from the yurt and, after three trips across the parking lot with all of our stuff, made it to the trail head.  Despite the glittering snow all around, a hint of spring was in the air.  The sun gave off real warmth, for once.  After a few complaints about getting in the pulk, which were assuaged by promises of a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin, J. settled down and we snapped her into the little red sled.  The girls clicked into their skis and we were off.  Well, they were off.  It took me a little longer to click into my skis.

As I struggled with my boot, I watched down the trail for the first signs of disaster.  I winced as A. fell, then picked herself up and rallied.  S. was further up the trail, chasing Glop. J seemed content to rattle along behind him.  I couldn’t believe it.  The girls were cross country skiing like pros, no one complaining that it was “too hard” or “too boring.”

I finally started down the trail and instantly realized why the girls were whizzing along so happily.  It was my first time skiing on groomed trails, and wow was it a game changer for me.  It took almost no effort to catch up with the rest of the family.

I glided up to  A. and asked her what she thought about cross country skiing.  “Ohh,” she said with a big smile on her face, “I like it.”  We skied along together for a little while, talking about the beauty of the day and the scenery, how to use the poles, and how cross country skiing and alpine skiing were different.  We reached S., who also seemed to be enjoying her first time nordic skiing.

A. cross country skiing for the first time.

A. cross country skiing for the first time – a natural!

Glop had a huge smile on his face when I pulled up beside him.  “This is awesome,” he said. “I can’t believe they like it.”  And that J is sitting there so patiently, I thought to myself.  She was happy as long as Glop kept moving.

Cross country skiing Gunstock's Brookrun trail.

The girls pull ahead on Gunstock’s Brook Run trail.

It was a magical afternoon.  We wound through the woods on the novice track for well over an hour before the girls reached their limit.  As we took off our skis and pulled J. out of the pulk, we agreed the experiment was a complete success, and that there will be more cross country skiing in the future.

I could say a lot more about our mini-vacation, and all the fun stuff we crammed into it, but these were two of the highlights.  I could finish this post with an avalanche of sappy comments about family time and being in the moment and having all the stars align.  But I think I’ll hold back, and just say everything was perfect, and how I wish it could be that way all the time, whether I’m on vacation or at home.

 

 

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Growing Pains

On Monday, with the kids home from school yet again (this time for Presidents’ Day), I thought I was facing another long day full of fighting, messes, and the inevitable ennui that sets in when you’ve been stuck indoors together for too long.  But miraculously, the stars aligned and all three of my girls were simultaneously engaged in activities that did not require my time or attention.

My middle daughter had a rare, four-hour play date at a friend’s house.  Rarer still, I did not have to drive her to or from the play date.  My toddler took a two-hour nap that coincided with this play date.  And my oldest, who had a friend over, disappeared into the basement to practice back walkovers.  The house was quiet, I was caught up on chores and there was no carpooling to do. Usually I have to pay for this kind of down time.  It was an unexpected boon.

I should have grabbed my smartphone and caught up on emails and Facebook, or read a magazine, or planned a party I’ve been meaning to plan, or, well anything fun.  Instead, I chose to analyze what such a sudden pocket of free time might mean…is my tenure as a stay-at-home mom close to an end?  What will I do when these moments of freedom turn into days?

The girls are getting bigger.  Not just physically taller, but more independent, more social, less mommy-centric. They don’t need me as much.  Even J, a mere two.  Especially her.  I get a lot of doors slammed in my face by that one.  “Just leave. Me. Alone. Mommy.” Just a few weeks ago, J climbed off my lap for the first time ever at library story time and went to sit with the bigger kids.  And I’ve noticed that there are fewer calls for “Mommy!” throughout the course of any given day.

Watching the girls grow into themselves slowly but surely is magical.  It’s what I stayed home for.  All the hard work is starting to pay off as they do more and more without me. But the days when the house is empty more often than full are not far away.

Next fall, J will go to preschool and A and S will both be in school all day.  I like the idea of being home for them after school, but not so much the idea of trying to fill all that time without them. Or the loneliness. Even now, the pool of stay-at-home friends I have has shrunk.  I’m past wanting to join mothers’ clubs or hang out on the playground trolling for new ones.  I have outgrown the new mother’s scene.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I belong anymore.

It may be time for me to think about branching out and moving on a bit myself.  A scary thought for sure, when you’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over eight years.

Where will my growing pains take me?  To a full-time job?  A stint at a local retailer?  To more Y classes?  A marathon?  Volunteer work? It is not lost on me how lucky I am to have choices, but such a luxury has its challenges.  One thing is for sure: there are no more babies coming.  So if I do decide to stay home for a few more years, I’m going to have to redefine what that means once there are no more diapers to change or tantrums to diffuse.

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Snow Day Number Four…Going Stir-Crazy

The snow is closing in on us.  Or rather, closing us in.  My driveway is shrinking, with piles of snow four feet high on either side and snow banks the size of small mountains blocking my view of the street.  There’s got to be two feet of snow on my roof.  Driving the kids to school, I feel like I’m in a labyrinth. The streets grow narrower and more dangerous with each storm. There is no where left to put snow, and yet it keeps on coming.  Physically and mentally, it’s wearing me down.

At the start of this winter, I viewed having a snow day as a welcome break from my hectic routine. I was happy to have a day off from the morning rush, carpool, after school activities and other obligations that had me dashing hither and yon at breakneck speed.  I was eager to spend a little extra unscheduled time with my girls (I posted my more Utopian views on snow days here a mere two weeks ago.)

Well, now I’m done.  But apparently this winter is not done with me.  School is cancelled yet again today.  Snow day number four for us.  When you’ve already had three snow days in two weeks, it’s hard to muster enthusiasm for yet one more.

Don’t get me wrong – the girls are really good at entertaining themselves.  The big ones, anyway.  They craft like crazy, play with their pet shops, put on shows, and practice gymnastics.  Sometimes they even sort laundry to make a buck.  They’re amazing. Toddler is a bit more of a challenge, as she mostly interrupts her big sister’s games and wreaks havoc on their projects with markers and safety scissors.  Having all three of them home for a full day can be a real experience.  The mess can be catastrophic.

It’s sad that I’m feeling like a snow hater, when I have done my utmost to embrace winter.  I went so far outside my comfort zone as to take up downhill skiing, for goodness’ sake.  Yesterday, I went for a walk on slushy roads in my neighborhood, a true adventure when there is a plow at your back and you’re wondering where to hide out while it passes.  Because there is no “side of the road” anymore. I even shoveled a path through my backyard so the kids would go outside for more than five minutes (there were many complaints about the snow being too deep to play in…sigh).

But still, I’m feeling fidgety and restless.  I understand why they close down the whole world when it snows like this, but I don’t want another break in my routine tomorrow.  We missed school, gymnastics, and swimming just last Monday. We’ll miss it all, plus a dentist appointment, again today.  I won’t be able to get out to the Y for a class or go to story time at the library.  Doing all these things is how I survive being a stay-at-home-mom.

The first day of spring is only six weeks away, but I think we’ll be buried in snow until June or July, at this rate.  Time for me to dig deep and unearth a bright side…and put on the dreaded television.  At least we’re not snowbound with the stomach virus. We have all the right tools: a snow blower, a roof rake, helpful neighbors, plenty of firewood and wine. We don’t need to be anywhere but with each other.  Before I know it (I have to hope), these feelings of unrest will melt away, along with all this snow.

 

 

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Feelin’ the Burn at the Barre

No drinks at this barre.  Just a bunch of moms looking for tighter buns and firmer abs.  Me included.

I took my first Power Barre (aka Booty Barre) class at the local Y last Friday.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had heard from friends that there would be squats and leg lifts and other strength training moves I detest.  Still, I held out hope that the class had something to do with ballet, and that maybe I would even like it.  I really need to strength train, but I feel the same way about it as I used to about math in high school.  Not a fan. So I’ve been trying to find a class that does a good job disguising the fact that I’m doing any actual work.  When it comes to cardio, I’ve had lots of luck.  I love Zumba because it’s fun.  Ditto spin class.  R.I.P.P.E.D? Synergy?  Not so much.

I wish I had gotten to my first Power Barre class on time.  For many reasons.  The first one being that I would have been able to hide out in the back of the room, instead of having to take the class almost beside the instructor at the front.  Not an enviable position for anyone, and certainly not for a newbie like myself.  I also would have been able to snag a yoga mat, instead of doing bridges and planks on the cold hard floor.  But, my fault for being tardy.

Luckily, not a whole lot of coordination was required.  A passion for burpees and lunges would have been helpful.  I hate burpees so much I pretended I couldn’t do them (shame on me!) and followed the instructor’s modifications for those and other moves. To be honest, I was not shy about modifying moves on my own when formal alternatives were unavailable.  “And I thought I was in shape,” I whispered to the woman closest to me (which put her almost directly in front of me, poor thing).

So did we use the barre in Power Barre? Well, of course. For about 10 hellish minutes, during which time we leaned over the barre, bent one leg back at the knee, placed a small plastic ball behind said knee, and pulsed our feet to our butts. Yes, my ball escaped and bounced through the room more times than I care to remember.  I felt like I was part of a circus act.  All I needed was some face paint and a big red nose.  After that, class was a blur of burpees, slow-motion squats, lunges, jumping jacks, planks and bridges.  We did a few pliés and went back to the barre at the end of class to stretch out our quads. That’s about as close as we got to ballet.  Our playlist was far from classical.  Britney and Maroon 5 were in there somewhere.  Thank God, because I don’t think violins and oboes would have provided the motivation I needed. Between the music and our upbeat instructor, who constantly reminded us we were all earning our happy hour margaritas, I got through the 50-minute class.

“Now,” said the student closest to me after the final hamstring stretch, “if you liked this class, you should try Pi-Yo on Tuesdays.”  Pi-Yo? “Combination pilates and yoga!”  Of course.  She must have mistaken the smile on my face for something other than the relief I was feeling that Power Barre was finally over.  It wasn’t that I didn’t get a good workout – I certainly did.  I didn’t realize how good until I woke up the next day and could barely shuffle to the bathroom.  For that reason, and that alone, I might go back to Power Barre.  No pain, no gain.  At some point, I have to face facts:  I’m never going to like strength training, whether I’m using kettle bells, free weights, resistance bands, or my own body weight to tone up.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Fitness Yoga or Synergy.  I’ve tried it all.  I might as well belly up to the barre again.

 

 

 

 

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Snow Day January 27, 2015

The view is of the Blizzard of 2015 ripping through my backyard this morning (just kidding, we haven’t really seen any high winds.  At least not yet).  More snow than we’ve seen in one go in a long time, though.  It’s a little overwhelming and unsettling. Apparently, we are still not to the mid-point of this storm  Home with the kids, and Glop, all day today.  Of course ALL the girls got up very early, so now we can really maximize our unstructured time together.  Yikes!  What’s our game plan?

Yesterday, it all seemed clear to me. I bought Perler beads and supplies for making t-shirts and Valentine’s Day cards.  I made lists.  We can bake muffins.  We can grow Lima beans in a bag.  We can make ice cream out of snow.  If we all get really bored we can clean out the basement.  Or, I can just let it all go and see where the day takes us.  That’s really what snow days are for, right?

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