I didn’t think I’d have to post again about running until I finished a race. I figured so much other life would be happening in the eight plus weeks between when I started and when I definitively reached my goal of crossing a 5k finish line that running would be a back burner item until then.
Running is not a back burner item.
This is the first mystery I have unlocked since I began this thing. (I may actually be starting to get these whackadoo runners.) There is a reason Facebook and Instagram are flooded with running photos and running stats and running routes: running is all-encompassing. And it’s hard.
Each time you finish a run, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I haven’t been posting about my progress, but a few friends are getting regular updates. It’s not that I think they care, I just have to tell someone. “Great, Heather, you can run 22 whole minutes in a row. How far did you get?” they ask politely. Let’s not get muddled in details…
So, go easy on the runners who feel the need to share. Yes, they like to tell the world each time they finish another race. It's a solid accomplishment after months of hard work. Other people feel the need to tell the world each time they have another baby. Nobody gives them grief.
Besides how hard it is to actually run, it is also hard to carve a new habit into your schedule and keep it there as life launches time-sucking catapults at you without warning. If I had followed the plan diligently, I’d be finished the eight weeks by now. I’m not. My next run will start week seven. I’ve decided not to be hard on myself for getting off track, though. Instead, much like each individual run, I’m proud of myself for not quitting… even though sometimes I really, really want to.
Here’s the really insane part: sometimes I don’t want to quit. Sometimes I actually look forward to running. My body kind of tingles with excess energy that I have a strong urge to burn. Really, it’s almost like I crave a run. WHAT?! I know, you guys. I know. I’m just as surprised as you are. I can’t account for this lunacy. Maybe all the oxygen hunger has led to brain damage.
Running has not made me skinnier. I’ve lost zero pounds since I’ve started. I don’t even care. Honestly, I think there are easier ways to lose weight. What it has given me, though, is a mind shift.
When I was in my early twenties, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do in my life. (I was in sales and spent a lot of time thinking and not a lot of time cold calling — hence, I wasn’t a very good salesperson.) My list had things like: learn another language, visit Hawaii, speak in front of a large group of people, write a book, learn kung fu, run a marathon... You know, a bucket list. The concept was still new then. It was very exciting.
Sometime in my early thirties, I grew a cloud of doubt about what I was capable of and what I was likely to do with myself. The list made me sad and full of regret for the things I knew I’d never do. I think I threw it away so I wouldn’t keep feeling bad about myself when I read it.
Running a marathon was probably the thing I was most sure I’d never do. (Not “learn kung fu”, oddly.) For the first time since I wrote that list, I find myself wondering if maybe I could. I’m also wondering what else I might be able to do before my time is up.
I may have been motivated to become a runner by seeing skinny bodies and wanting to have one of my very own, but, what keeps me running is how I want to answer one question: Are you capable of doing this?
Yes. I am.
You crazy runners. You’ve done it. You’ve sucked me in to your vortex of insanity.
I have sworn my entire life that running is something I’d never do. No matter how popular it got. No matter how much fun it looks in the pictures of women covered in paint or mud or dressed in matching outfits, smiling from ear to ear. That will never be me, man. Those bitches are crazy. Running sucks and no matter how many people on Facebook pretend to like it, I’ll never be snowed into doing it... I thought.
And then a new breed of pictures cropped up. Pictures of women I knew IN REAL LIFE that were chubby like me, then weren’t any more. What the heck? What happened to solidarity, you traitors? What’s with getting all skinny on me?
Still. Those women must have some attributes that I don’t have because running is suffering. Plain and simple. That ‘high’ everybody talks about must be a lie. Only high I ever felt was that black, starry feeling you get right before you pass out. No. Not doing it.
Then, life kicked me in the stomach.
When I got back up and looked around, I realized my priorities had amplified and come into razor sharp focus. Health and human connection. There they were. My priorities. Big and bold and full of color. Everything else got a little smaller. Some things I thought were so important before, kind of shriveled up and blew away.
Health. Serious problems that I’ve been dismissing for a good year, suddenly developed flashing red lights and a siren. My first instinct was to dive back into the murky waters of weight loss dogma. The relentless swirl of points and writing everything down and weigh-ins and carbs and YOU CAN’T EAT THAT!
I’ve had enough taken away from me for right now. I’m not willing to give up anything else for a while.
But, I am willing to add something. When I looked around for something to add, I saw the smiling faces, the camaraderie, the swag, the fun, the graphs, the maps with routes, the looks of accomplishment. The runners. And I thought, I want that.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m one hell of a starter. I’ve got a good 25 years worth of before pictures to back me up on this one. So, before I stepped foot on the treadmill with an intent to be a runner, I decided I am not letting myself off the hook until I’ve completed at least one 5K. Even if I hate it. Even if it never gets better. Even if my initial thought that you runners are freaks is completely accurate.
That said, I just finished week three of Couch to 5K and I’m still wondering what kind of fairy dust is supposed to waft out of my phone over the next six weeks that is going to make me capable of running 3 miles when running for 3 minutes feels like my lungs are being scraped over a cheese grater. How can you people claim to enjoy this agony?
The week before last, I made the bonehead decision to run in my forest. My forest is on the side of a hill. Hills are evil. Hills are like satan is reaching into your chest and calves and burning them with hell fire. At one point, I passed a couple walking their dog and they looked at me as if they wanted to call an ambulance. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I was, for them, one of those things you wish you could unsee that ruins the rest of your day.
Shortly after I passed them, my phone died. My no good, lying, cheating, worthless phone that said I had 56% battery went dead. Mid run! I wanted to throw it against a tree, fall to my knees, raise my hands to the sky and scream, “NO!” How was I supposed to finish my timed walk/run cycles? How was I supposed to function without music blaring in my ears? It was a freaking tragedy, I tell you.
(I get it. First World Problem. So is obesity. I live in the first world. That’s where all of my problems are.)
Whatever. I totally regrouped. Unwilling to relent and give up the day’s worth of C25K progress, I started counting. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi… up to 90 Mississippi. Then walked. Then started counting again. One Mississippi, two Mississippi… Three times.
That terrible experience may have been the first inkling that I might have a chance of actually doing this thing. I’m not. *huff huff* Effing. *huff huff* Quitting. *full blown panting*
Of course, that’s why I’m posting my commitment here. I’m counting on you guys to be a source of public shame if I quit. Mind you, I’m not looking for you to throw rotten fruit at me. Your silent knowing is enough. I expect to feel utterly defeated if I quit. Again. In front of everybody. I think that would feel terrible. Like, even more terrible than running feels.
Last week, I didn’t want to run on the treadmill and I didn’t have enough time before sunset to drive to a trail so I just ran on my road (also on a hill). My neighbor drove by slowly, I believe trying to figure out who might be chasing me and whether to call 911 or go home and get his gun.
So, if you see me out in the world, please don’t call an ambulance if I’m still vertical. Also, please don’t try to talk to me because, honestly, I don’t have the spare oxygen for that. And, before you offer, cause I know how you psycho runners operate, no, I’m not ready to run with you. I’d rather suffer alone for now, thanks.
If I do manage to keep going, though, I’m expecting y’all to be lined up next to me one day, with your (possibly fake) *I love to run* smiles and matching outfits, getting a picture for MY Facebook wall.
*I do not represent nor did I receive compensation from C25K or Panera for mentioning their products. I just like them. One more than the other.
Last month my mom died. It was unexpected and devastating. Trying to write about it without getting bogged down by despair has been challenging. However, it would feel cowardly to move forward in this blog without recognizing such a profound life event.
Still, I think most of the post ideas that capture how I’ve been feeling since it happened would not really be in keeping with my usual tone. Some of the titles I’ve considered include: “How can you be so happy while I suffer?”, “I don’t want to hear about how alive your mother is”, “People older than 66 make me feel bitter” or, my personal favorite, “Someone you love is going to die too, just wait.”
Of course, I’m not the only one who has ever suffered a serious loss. The self-involved nature of my grieving reminds me of being a first-time mother. Being pregnant and having a newborn is such a life changing experience you feel like you are seeing the world with unique eyes. In reality, they are just unique to you. Death, just like parenthood, is a shared human experience. Everyone has been exposed, one way or another, to both.
There are things about being pregnant and having a baby that I couldn’t believe people didn’t warn you about: the dark nipples, the line down the belly, how precious showers and sleep are, how much babies cry (really, daily crying is part of your life for YEARS), and how lonely it is to be a stay-at-home mom. There you go, moms-to-be, becoming a mother means your body gets weird and your stress reaches levels you can’t even imagine yet. All the poop will be the least of your worries. (You’re welcome.)
Losing someone close has its own set of insider information. At the forefront is the guilt. The best way I can explain the guilt is feeling bad for not being perfect. Or for still being alive when your loved one isn't. Or for not somehow stopping the chain of events that lead to death. Or for all the times you could have been a better person but weren't. Not all of the guilt is logical, but it's real and pervasive.
There’s also the pictures. There will never be enough pictures. And here’s the thing about losing someone older: that’s not who we’re photographing. At least, I’m not. I take pictures of my kids, my pets, and, embarrassingly, myself.
I scrolled through my photos to see the most recent one I had taken of my mom. It wasn’t on her birthday, or Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or even Halloween with the costumes she had sewed for my kids. She was there and I had my camera out, but I didn’t turn it toward her. No, the last picture I took of my mom, she was actually in the background of a picture of my cat. You can’t even see her face. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
The thing about losing your mother is she is the one person who has literally been there since your day one. The idea that she would ever be gone was inconceivable to me. Worrying about losing her would have felt like worrying about losing air to breathe or sunshine. Fear of losing my children has been with me since before they were born. Fear of losing her was something I never even considered. Hence, it didn’t occur to me to take her picture that often. It felt like she would always just be there.
Also, the clichés are true. The people you love will never truly be gone. My mom left her mark on every cell in my body. Vestiges of her are sprinkled throughout my house, most of my memories, and on the face of my daughter. She will always be a part of who I am. Not a day goes by where something doesn’t remind me of her. Right now, all those memories come with a sting. I hope, in time, the pain will be outweighed by the happy feeling thoughts of her also brings.
And finally, the people who love you can really help pull you out of the dark sadness that comes with loss. Because, much as it doesn’t make sense, part of you wants to stay sad. When my mother died, I wanted to curl up in my grief and shut everything else out. It felt like I was closer to her there in the darkness, clinging to memories of her. Your people know that isn’t good for you. They want you back in the light where living takes place. They want you to keep going.
Ironically, it is the same thing when you have your first baby. Everyone who has been there knows how hard it is. They pool around you because they want to soften the blow and encourage you to hang in there. (Once you are on to your second baby, however, you’re on your own.)
Just as there is no way to truly prepare for how life changing a new baby will be, there is no way to really prepare for a loss. In both cases, there will be pain and suffering. There’s no getting out of it. However, just as you try to prepare yourself for a child, you can try to prepare yourself for losing someone.
You do that by showing them you love them as much as possible. You forgive easily. You say ‘yes’ to plans or make some. You remember birthdays. And when they are walking out the door, you give them a hug and tell them you love them because you really don’t know if, like me and my mom, that will be the last time you get to talk to them.
The day my mother died, my sister’s mother-in-law was cleaning out my sister’s refrigerator in preparation for "the food". I thought she was being a little overzealous — until it came.
Unannounced, a stream of southern women came in carrying the predicted food. First, there was the biggest box of donuts I have ever seen. There was soup and chili and a meat and cheese tray and fried chicken and Pinterest inspired breakfast biscuit things. There was a basket of snacks for the eventual car ride north for my mom’s service. One woman, knowing how much food was coming, brought stacks of paper products so we wouldn’t have to worry about doing dishes. It was like an army of kindness came marching through my sister’s kitchen. Turns out southern hospitality is no myth, and its reputation as the pinnacle of graciousness is well deserved.
I’m from the north. But for a few exceptions, like, Italian families, up here people ask, they offer, they have the best intentions, but our northern culture generally gets in the way of follow through. The polite thing for us to say is, “thank you, but you don’t have to do that.” I was talking to one of my sister’s southern friends about it and she said, “Oh, you don’t ask if people need help, they’ll say no. You just have to show up.”
Death, like colic, happens. The same way you get through night after night of walking your screaming infant while patting him on the back, longing for sleep, is the same way you get through a loss. You keep moving knowing that this moment of pain won’t last forever, knowing that people who love you are depending on you to keep your shit together, knowing that, in the end, human connection is the whole point and sometimes you suffer the most for the people you love the most.
I'm no expert on loss, just as I'm no expert on raising children. In fact, I tend to assume I’m doing it wrong in both cases. But the real secret is you don't have to be an expert when it comes to being a mom, or moving on after losing one, or, in general, being a loving and loved human. You just have to show up.
When I was a little girl, I used to fall asleep in the bathtub. I wasn’t a baby being neglected by some crack-whore mother, mind you. I was totally old enough to self-bathe. I just had a habit of submerging my body until only my nose was above water, closing my eyes, and drifting off… then waking up to my hysterical mom who didn’t particularly like seeing her daughter in drowned position. I did this countless times. (I’m not sure my mother ever got used to it.)
I’m still a big fan of bathing. Only now, I use it for sensory deprivation. When chaos peaks, I run for the bathtub. It’s my escape pod. It’s hot, wet meditation.
This past Fall saw a lot of bath hours.
Being back in school is both wonderful and, you know, crazy stressful. There’s the *I’m totally moving toward some huge goals! Yes! Where is my cape because I am totally awesome!* part that comes from simply being enrolled in school. Then there’s the part where you actually have to do all the work. You have to write the papers. And take the tests. And talk IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE SKINNY AND YOUNG.
Then there are the deadlines.
Oh, the deadlines.
Fall semester finals? Two weeks before Christmas. That was hard enough back in the day when I was childless and my only job was as a cashier at 7-Eleven. Throw in my big girl job, my three kids, and my pottery business that is busiest when? Right before Christmas, of course. And what do you get? Insanity. Sleep deprivation. An upper respiratory infection…
But, you know what, Christmas has passed. Santa came. Pottery was made and sold. I kept my day job. And every last thing on all three of my syllabi were completed. I just kept chugging along until the to do lists were done. At times I was so under water that I felt like I was drowning, but I wasn’t, ‘cause I was still breathing.
So why am I telling you this? To toot my own horn? No. I don’t even have a horn.
The whole point is I’m not special. Well, I'm special in that everyone is special, but I'm not special-er. It's goal-setting season, you guys. If there are goals you want to achieve, here's the trick to getting stuff done: do it. BAM! That’s it. That's the magic. Enroll in the classes. Open the online store. Sign up for the race. And then do it. Doing it can be painful, I'm not going to lie. But, having done it, I'm here to tell you, feels wonderful. Kind of like a nice, hot bath.
Happy New Year, y'all!
It’s finally here! The animals are back at the zoo. Mothers everywhere have been watching buses pull away with their little darlings, then dancing back up their driveways (after perhaps shedding an obligatory tear or two for the new Kindergarteners) singing *Hallelujah!*.
January 1st? Please. The first day of school is the day that should start with fireworks. Can I get an AMEN?!
For this mama, amidst the bliss of fall freedom lurks a nagging little cloud of anxiety. Not because my youngest is a lunatic who is likely to drive his teacher crazy, hey, that’s her problem. She’s the one who went into teaching. Life is full of challenges. Meet Charlie. Good luck!
Nope, the countdown has been with mixed feelings this year because this mom is going back to school too.
I don’t talk about my day job much here because people get awfully twitchy about nurses publicly discussing their work. People like bosses, whom I don’t want firing me. But I’m pretty sure it’s okay to discuss the field of nursing which is a tricky thing. For one, I am an RN. There are also CNAs, LPNs, CRNAs, NPs, CNMs, DNPs...
Currently, there are (at least) three paths to gain enough education to allow you to sit for the nursing boards. You can get a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, or a nursing diploma from a hospital based program.
Regardless which path you choose, if you pass the test at the end, you become an RN. As you might imagine, the bachelor’s degree (BSN) is preferred by most of the larger, more academic hospitals. Me, I have a diploma.
To be honest, I kind of fell into nursing. I went to college right out of high school, acquired a rather useless (but for the expansion of my mind, of course) liberal arts degree and proceeded to not really use it at all in a completely unrelated field. Time passed. A child was born.
Then, one day, my husband posed the question, “Would you rather go back to work or to school?” Which, in retrospect, is kind of like asking a child if he wants a bath or a shower; there seem to be choices, but remaining on the couch watching t.v. is not one of them.
It just so happened, the hospital where my husband worked at the time offered a “Future of Caring” scholarship for relatives of the employee which, if you received it, paid IN FULL for their nursing school. All I had to do was show up. Well, and, you know, learn how to be a nurse.
Did I mention it cost me nothing?
That diploma opened the door for one of the best part-time careers there is for a young mother. (I could still call myself young seven years ago... young-ish, anyway, I was still older than most of my classmates.)
The catch has always been that while my free diploma has gotten me into a great job, it’s done all it can do. While advancement in this field is possible without more education, the way I want to advance is not. So, with my last excuse heading out to school, it seemed time to make a plan.
I’m not going to lie. It was kind of a painful decision. All of my children are finally in school. I have been waiting YEARS for this moment. I want to be free, not tied down with papers… in APA format.
Plus, I always thought nursing would be a temporary thing. I was never "called" to be a nurse. It just seemed like a good idea while I raised my kids. My deepest desire, way down in my heart is to be a… I don't know... something else.
Also, like naming a child, everyone has an opinion on your decision and have no qualms telling you it's wrong: “You should do an RN to MSN bridge program if you already have a bachelor’s.” “You should do it online.” "I heard that program isn't very good." “Why bother, it’s not like you're going to make enough money to make it worth it.”
It’s hard enough working up the gumption to go back to school; hearing that you might be going about it the wrong way is enough to freeze a person’s momentum by stirring up their ample supply of self-doubt. (Which isn't very nice.)
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost”
Of course, much as I like to complain about the people in my life being full of unsolicited advice (as I often am), most of them love me and have been crazy supportive. (Even if I do end up obsessively Googling nursing programs after talking to them.)
Honestly, if it weren't for my people, I probably never would have applied. I had completely talked myself out of more schooling, deciding instead to wait for my dream job (whatever that might be) to magically appear on my doorstep.
Then, I was sitting on a friend's couch late one night, talking about life, and told her, "I know I should, but I just don't want to go back to school." (There may have been some serious whining in my voice.) To which she replied, "You are a grownup. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do." SLAP! Golly. She might be right.
In my experience, regrets tend to hover around inaction like a cloud of gnats. So rather than waiting to be inspired with the perfect plan, I’ve decided to be a grownup, go with this good enough plan, and hope for the best.
“All The Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
And who knows, I might learn a thing or two. After all, isn't that why we are sending our children back to school?
*wink, wink* Sure it is.
It is almost summer. We’ve made it.
As I’ve mentioned, winter here is long. And cold. And long. Invariably, people who can afford to, escape for a week or two to someplace tropical. They come back all brown and relaxed and remind the rest of us how cold and poor we are. So, we like them a little less for a while.
Summer is the great vacation equalizer. You don’t need to have disposable income to luxuriate in the sun. All you have to do is go outside. Everywhere is vacation.
Without the oppression of unforgiving coldness, with leaves on the trees and flowers sprinkled everywhere, the WHY AM I TRAPPED HERE?! hysteria that winter drives me to each year, gets replaced with geez, I’m so lucky.
Even if you don’t have time off work, summer is still more vacation-y. At the end of your day you go out to your car, put on your sunglasses, roll down the windows and turn up the music. And there you are, enjoying your sunny commute. Ahhhh. Life is good.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself because I haven’t planned any big vacations for my family this year.
The thing is, like most Americans, we have debt. Not all of it is the good kind (if there is such a thing). I see our debt as a large, soul-sucking monster perched on my shoulders, digging its talons into my skin and breathing down my neck. I want it gone. Feeding the beast with a high-priced beach trip seems counterproductive.
Still, the idea of not going anywhere during vacation season kind of had me bummed until I visited a Marylander friend of mine, recently.
For breakfast, she took me to a restaurant called Miss Shirley’s Café. (I still think about that meal, by the way, weeks later.) She said it was the place she recommended to friends visiting the Baltimore area, her stomping ground.
She then took me to a nearby community that had a huge, resident-funded tulip garden.
It occurred to me on the drive home that I have no idea where I would tell people to go when visiting my area. We moved into our house when my daughter was three months old. I’ve spent the last ten years going to Target and the bookstore.
As my children got older and I was able to steal time for myself, I added Starbucks and my forest to the list of places I go.
The problem isn’t that I didn’t want to explore my own stomping ground, the problem is small children make going pretty much anywhere not fun.
It’s the ugly truth. When three members of your party are perpetually hot, hungry, and tired of walking, whining happens. Whining that could make your ears bleed. A trip that should be leisurely and relaxing becomes a PLEASE MAKE IT STOP! living hell.
When my youngest was not quite two, I took my children on a beach trip with my extended family. Having no fear of getting lost or stolen, little Charlie would run full throttle down the beach without ever looking back.
I spent the entire trip chasing him. Which is to say, I spent the entire trip running in hot sand. Yelling. In my bathing suit. In public. And, I’m not skinny. Can you say spectacle?
In the meantime, I had to depend on the rest of my family to make sure my older two children didn’t drown. I can’t even begin to explain how not relaxing that trip was.
But, now that my little angels are older, the fact that we live in an American tourist destination mecca is suddenly more valuable to me. We can take day trips to four major US cities*. We can take a day trip to the ocean and to the mountains. (Not big mountains, but still.)
I no longer have to fight with strollers and diapers and drippy cups and nap time and HELP ME FIND YOUR BROTHER!
Suddenly, the world around me has opened up again.
It’s no wonder every day feels like a vacation as long as it’s warm. Without really noticing, a weight, much heavier than the debt monster, has been lifting.
It occurred to me when Charlie learned how to make himself a peanut butter sandwich that there should be some sort of parenting badge for that. Come to think of it, each step toward preparing your child for independence, starting with the mack daddy of parenting hurdles: toilet training, should garner at least a gold star, if not an embroidered patch.
I guess the real reward is one more task I can sit out. Or, when it comes to vacationing, one more moment I have to relax. (And, yeah, yeah child development.)
This summer, I’m making it my mission to find my favorite (inexpensive) local spots. If I only make it as far as my deck, well, at least the sunshine is free. I can be brown and relaxed, too.
*If you were curious, the four major U.S. cities I can day trip to are Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and New York. I've never actually day tripped to New York, but I know other people around here who have. So, it's possible.
I have never considered myself a creative person. My evidence: doodling. I have been drawing the same things for forever. Daisies (or string of daisies). Sun. Swarm of bees/gnats. Weirdo man with eyes that are too big and a nose that looks like he’s been in a terrible accident. That’s it. That’s my repertoire.
When I started selling pottery, people would refer to my work as art and me as an artist. I laughed at these foolish people. They were so easily snowed by what is obviously a craft not an art.
My first pottery instructor, who has a Masters in Fine Arts degree, who has been featured in magazines and museums, and who does workshops in Italy for crying out loud, would not be laughing with me. She is an artist.
By comparison, I am not.
Some people just seem to have so much more natural talent. My husband can draw all kinds of things like cars and dinosaurs. My daughter can draw birds and angst ridden girls. I have a cousin who sprawled on the living room floor with my kids during a family function one evening, and while sharing a coffee can of markers, drew an alligator.
What I’m saying is: I can’t draw alligators. I therefore have logically deduced: I’m not a creative person.
I’m wondering how many other people are as boneheaded as I am. Nobody would look at a child and say, “boy, you better stick with math because you are not creative at all.” Well, I might say that to be funny, but then I would regret it because four-year-olds suck at grasping sarcasm.
The point is, we are born creative. It is part of being human. The market isn’t cornered by people who can draw things besides daisies. Unless there is a neurological impairment, we can all imagine something then make it exist. It’s our superpower in the animal kingdom.
My mother retired a couple of years ago. As a former government employee who is a CPA with a Master of Science in Taxation degree, artist isn't the first thing that would come to anyone's mind while reading her resumé. Well, we can’t all be summed up in one or two pages, can we? She knits and does watercolor paintings and pastels now. Because she's old. Kidding! Because she has the time.
That’s right, folks, creativity takes time. There it is. The rub. The catch. And I can already hear all the, ”Heather, I just can't because: lots of important sounding excuses.” I get it. Tapping into creativity sometimes means learning a skill that takes years to develop. Yup. Years.
When life is so crammed with obligations that we can barely breathe, being creative becomes something we just don’t have time for... like exercise, or eating healthy, or spending time with people we care about...
I don’t know a crazy amount of people, but, amidst those I do know, there are people who sew, photographers, painters, guitarists, knitters, cooks/bakers, scrapbookers, singers, gardeners, and graphic designers.
I’m willing to bet hard cash that NONE of these people consider the time they’ve spent learning their craft/tapping into their creativity was wasted.
On the contrary, most people I know light up when showing off their work and it is a source of their greatest pride. They make the time because it’s worth it.
Sure, it’s great to have a good job and pay the bills, but, when you dig deep inside, unless you are Hugh MacLeod, the core of who you are will not fit on a business card. It would be a real shame for all the creativity that’s locked inside your brains to stay there because you didn’t take the time to wrestle it out with hours of practice and determination.
Think of how dreadfully boring the world would be if no one made time for artistic expression.
My name is Heather Shuker, and I can't draw worth a damn, but I am creative. So are you. Do us all a favor. Show us.
There is no need to explain why winter is horrible. It is understood that being cold is an uncomfortable situation; much like being hungry, being unfulfilled professionally, or being locked in a dark basement. The point is, nobody likes it. Even the freaks that like to play in the snow don’t actually like feeling cold or being inconvenienced/wounded by the perils of treacherous driving conditions.
Why on earth in this large country that has places in it where “winter” means: *long sleeves every once in a while* would people put up with intermittent tundra? Well, because of all the knuckleheads we love who also put up with it. Home is where your people are and my people enjoy suffering. Apparently.
Sure there are pesky things like jobs keeping people here, but, people in Florida have jobs. People in southern California and Hawaii have jobs. And when they leave them at the end of the day, they can go to the beach.
As this past Christmas season (AKA the only redeeming thing about winter) ended, I decided if I was going to suffer through a mini ice age every year to stay close to my people, I was going to spend more time with my people.
I proceeded to fill my calendar. I’ve hostessed people at my house. I’ve gone to breakfasts and coffees and movie dates. I even had a photo shoot date with my photographer friend/cousin. (Which was AWESOME, by the way.)
I’d love to say, “It worked! My people are worth it!” Well...
Of course they’re worth it. What did you think I was going to say? I love my people. But I can’t muster the enthusiasm or exclamation points. I see no reason why we can’t all move about six states south (or nine states west) cause this whole winter thing is ridiculous.
It’s like a huge psychology experiment studying learned helplessness. All the scientists in the warm states are shaking their heads at us pityingly wondering, why don’t they just leave?
Cause our people won’t leave with us.
The obvious solution is to become a snowbird. Those brilliant souls that enjoy their people all spring and summer and then say, “that's it, I'm out” once the cold weather hits. My dream is to one day rub my loved ones’ noses in how warm I am while they’re shoveling snow. *Sigh* Beautiful, isn't it?
But, right now I have school-aged children. And since they don’t have a while-you’re-away pellet feeder for kids like they do for fish (Hello? Business idea!) looks like I’m stuck with this whole winter thing for a bit longer. Nothing to do but make the best of it with the rest of the crazies. Stay warm fellow sufferers, winter will end eventually. (Probably.)
For the last two years, I had the same conversation with my now 9-year-old son about valentines:
ME: Do you want to make or buy valentines this year?
HIM: I want to make them. I don’t want to have the same ones as everyone else.
Oh yeah, I think, smugly, I’m not raising a lemming. He wants to be unique! I then dig out my large tote full of rubber stamps. (For a while, I was expressing my creativity through rubber stamping -- yes, I get the irony.)
ME: What do you want on your valentines?
HIM: I don’t know. What are they supposed to have?
ME: It doesn’t matter. You can use anything! How about a fish?
HIM: I don’t think they’re supposed to have fish.
That’s when my smugness evaporates. Supposed to? That’s the lemming mantra. I’m a failure!
Each year I explain that there are no rules to valentines. When you slap a Kit Kat on the back and give it to your classmate on Valentine’s Day, BAM!, it’s a valentine.
My son wants to be unique but not TOO unique. 'Cause then you’re weird. Well, isn’t that tricky? The spectrum between unique and weird changes with each person you meet! To some people, everything that’s unique is weird.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible to be interesting if at least a few people don’t think you’re a bit weird. Following every cultural rule is a great way to be bland.
“Yes! My kid fits in perfectly. I'm so proud of how bland he is.” Who says that? Nobody says that.
But, people suck at tolerating weirdness. We want to stand out, but in the right way. Fear of standing out in the wrong way has us not standing out at all. Better to hide in the masses than be singled out as a weirdo.
This year, my son again said he'd prefer to make valentines but when it came time to do them, he decided he'd help with his little brother's cards. "I'll just give the Kit Kats, mom, that's all anybody cares about anyway."
Well, that's true, but I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to be that cynical at nine. It took me years to work up to that. (Hooray! He's advanced!)
My favorite part of everyone I know is the part that makes them unique, because that's how love works. People capture our attention with their quirks, without them, what's to differentiate any of us?
So, today, I'm celebrating all the weirdos in my life. Thank you for being interesting enough for me to notice you!
The holidays can be such a wonderful, joyous, cinnamony, delicious time. You get all kinds of mail that isn’t bills and everybody is constantly trying to push cookies and alcohol on you. There should be no reason not to love this season. But, sometimes, the season bites back. You find yourself overwhelmed by all you have to do to celebrate.
That really sucks. I’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time (proof can be found here, here, and here) and I think I’ve pretty much figured out the top reasons the season turns to crap. So, here are my top seven spirit dampeners and how to avoid letting them suck the spirit out of you.
1. This holiday is expensive, yo!
First of all, if your giftee determines how much you love him/her by how much you spend, you need to find someone new to bequeath your love upon. Quickly. You know what really shows someone how much you care for them? How you treat them the rest of the year. And vice versa.
Gifts are a way to hand someone a scaled down physical representation of your bigger feelings. Just as the word ‘tree’, or even a picture of it, doesn’t really capture the real thing, so is your gift meant to be a symbol that you care; it isn’t meant to match up leaf for leaf (or dollar for dollar).
2. But my kids would be so disappointed if there aren’t a zillion presents under the tree!
There is nothing in this world as dazzling to the eyes as a Christmas tree enveloped by a wall of presents.
Well, except for all of nature.
Seriously, though, I get it. You want to create a BAM! factor Christmas morning for your kids. Lots of presents under the tree feels like magic. Who doesn’t want to give their kids magic? Bad parents. That’s who.
But, after the Christmas carnage is over, how many of those presents are either trash or shoved into the back of the closet within a month? What you’ve created is a future trip to Goodwill for yourself.
Chances are, there a couple of things your kids really want and everything else is just noise. You can teach some pretty good lessons about consumerism and respecting resources by turning down that noise.
If your kids are upset, just explain to them that Santa was watching and he was disappointed in their behavior all year... especially their ungratefulness.
3. I can’t find the perfect gift!
You want your giftee to be blown away by how completely thoughtful, insightful and downright brilliant your gift for them is. Something that says, “not only does she obviously love me, but she’s got mad gift giving skills because this gift is perfect.” Don’t be ashamed, it’s not a bad legacy to want to have.
Here’s the thing ONCE AGAIN: who it’s from is more important than what it is.
Regardless, the best way to deal with this issue is to give handmade. This sounds self-serving, but, as someone who not only makes gifts, but who goes to craft shows and Etsy shops to buy things handmade by other people’s hands, I’m here to tell you, the more human involvement in an item, the better it is.
Humans don’t like to feel like cogs in a machine, we like to feel like unique snowflakes. The best way to show someone how much you appreciate them as a unique snowflake is to give them something handmade. (Your hands: optional.)
4. I'm out of time!
We all know those jerks that brag in, like, August, that they’ve finished their Christmas shopping and then smugly sit back and laugh at all of us who are flailing around like headless (organic, free range) chickens.
Here’s the thing: you are not going to find the perfect, handmade, soul-feeding gift on Christmas eve. Rushing to the mall and panic shopping is not the answer. If time is up and you aren’t finished, let it go. Either shorten your list of giftees or get gift cards and move on with your holiday.
If you are a helpful, loving, fantastic person the rest of the year, a gift card is more of the same from such a generous person. If you are a horrible person, save your money, nothing you give matters.
“But, Heather, I can’t give my mother (sister, wife, girlfriend) a gift card.” Really? She wouldn’t love a bouquet of gift cards from her favorite places to eat and shop? Do it, and if it doesn’t work, well, there’s no pleasing that woman so just give up trying.
5. I’ve baked 80 batches of cookies, sewn 15 quilts, knitted 24 pairs of socks and hot glue gunned 40 ornaments and I bet those ungrateful bastards (aka loved ones) won’t even appreciate all the effort I’ve put into this!
Yeah, this would be the downside of a handmade Christmas (when using your own hands). If time isn’t plentiful, bitterness can sink in. If you find yourself holding the gifts you’ve chosen to make/buy against the person you're giving to, well... I’m not judging, but, you’re doing Christmas wrong.
Gifts are a token of love, not a demonstration of wealth or your culinary/crafting skills. Along with this, if you’ve ever had the thought, “Well, I spent way more on her than she did on me...” RED FLAG! Step back and re-evaluate. You might be a crappy person.
The point is, you don’t have to do it. Any of it. You can decide RIGHT NOW to be a gift card person. Or even a person that only does gifts for her immediate family, or not at all. Done. You’re welcome.
I have a certain close friend who happens to make the most delicious caramels that I have ever placed on my tongue. I look forward to them every year and brag to all of my other friends that I have perfect caramels in my life and their lives pale in comparison for not having the experience of such culinary magic.
That said, if my good friend ever decides she’s done, (*please don’t be this year*, *please don’t be this year*) my holiday won’t be ruined and I won’t think less of her for not spending hours upon hours of her holiday season in the kitchen. If I did, I wouldn’t be the kind of friend that’s worthy of perfect caramels.
6. These stupid Christmas cards are an expensive hassle!
Personally, I love Christmas cards. I go all out. SilverPixels takes gorgeous pictures of my kids and designs beautiful cards for me. I get to pick my quote and everything. My cards are a treat for myself as well as a little gift to the people I send them to. ('Cause who doesn’t want a picture of my kids? Hello?)
But, if cards are nothing but a chore for you, bail. Don’t do it. Throw up a Facebook post and call it a day. If it doesn’t add joy, what’s the point? You are not going to make or break anyone’s holiday by sending or not sending a card and it might just save yours to not do it.
7. I need to make traditions for my kids like I had or there will be no magic at all!
I’m guilty of sitting down when my kids were still babies and making a list of all of the things I should do each Christmas to create traditions for them. Things like: a handmade ornament with their name on it every year, an advent calendar with little toys instead of candy, baking cookies for Santa, making cards to send, stringing popcorn, etc.
You know what most of these things have in common? They require effort on my part. And while each thing seems small, add them together, then add that effort with all the shopping and holiday parties and regular old household chores that still need to get done, and it starts to feel like a whole lot of work. Christmas spirit fading...
I do the advent calendar. I buy store bought candy (Little gifts? Yeah, right.) and sometimes I forget to fill the drawer before I go to bed. (I filled all the drawers at the beginning of December once... ONCE.)
I tried stringing popcorn once and I kept stabbing my thumb with the needle I was using. It was painful and the popcorn was bloody. I gave up.
It turns out, the best tradition is the one where you are cheerful and relaxed for the Christmas season. If, in an effort to make Christmas perfect for everyone else it is ruined for you, well, that’s a crappy tradition, and it’s one you certainly don’t want to pass on to your kids.
Will following these steps save Christmas for you? I don't know, but it worked for me. I could be frantically trying to get a kiln load together so I can make more gifts right now. I'm not. I've told my people I'm out of pottery and I'll try to hit them up for their birthdays. I don't think I've ruined anyone's Christmas but I'm sure I've saved mine.
Just like oxygen on an airplane, you need to put on your own Christmas cheer before you can help those around you with theirs. Merry Christmas, you guys, and thanks for reading. Your attention is a lovely gift.
**Picture of calm chicken is a pastel drawing my mother did for me for my birthday. Because she gets it.
I like to throw things.