Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Promises!

 I recently came back from a winter vacation at the Grand Strand. Technically, it was "Spring" Break, but the temperatures at the beach were cold enough to make the Canadians blink. I still managed to have a good time and there's something to be said for vacationing alone, although I missed FryDaddy awfully. (His schedule didn't let him come with me, but we talked every day.) It took a few days for me to actually "unlock" enough to enjoy having unstructured chunks of time. I took a stack of movies with me and multiple issues of Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Smithsonian. (Look, I have eclectic interests, okay?) I napped when I felt like it, walked on the cold beach up to the next pier and back - I even visited Fat Harold's Beach Club for a free shag lesson and some dance history!

I took a day trip across the state line back into North Carolina to have tea at the Calabash Garden & Tea Room, which is run by the kindest people to ever boil water. The tea room is in the same picturesque area as Nell's Fine Consignment, which is a sort of Mecca to the "in the know" bargain safari hunter. See, every time I go to Nell's, it's a celebration of being female and being alive. Invariably, I find three or four things I like and Marcy  nods and says, "But what you really need is . . ." and then she pulls out things that I'm positive weren't there before! She pushes my sense of style to get away from well-made, but somewhat boringly traditional, basics, stocking the dressing room with wildly-printed jackets, swirly skirts, and secret items that just make me feel more -- ME! Seriously, going to Marcy's with a whimsical attitude and an open mind is like raiding your big sister's closet. (Wealthy snowbirds consign really interesting things - for example, just for fun, I tried on a full-length Canadian beaver coat.)

I had so much fun that I began planning a "girls' weekend" (it's actually more like 5 days) in about two months. Shag dancing, tea, and shopping are required. I'm hoping for a "pajama day" as well. Secrecy will be maintained - pinky swear!

Oh - and I'm still working on my low-key French lessons - the library at my college has the introductory discs for the Michel Thomas method, which I'm finding to be fun and I'm pleased with how much I'm retaining. For instance, I can now ask, "What is your opinion of the political situation in France?" among other things.

And today I tried my hand at something I enjoy, but rarely take the time to do - baking from scratch. Hello, lemon-lavender cupcakes! That's honey-vanilla frosting on top. Yum, if I do say so myself!

Self-care rules!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lent Trap!

Yes, I know - it's a terrible pun. Bear with me.

March 1 is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the season of Lent. While traditions and mileage vary, many Christians use this 40-day season as a time of reflection and preparation for the Great Mystery of Christ's Passion. Some people give up something that they enjoy - maybe caffeine or sweets, maybe even going so far as to temporarily turn vegetarian or vegan. Other people put other sorts of restrictions on themselves, such as limiting social media time.

I've observed Lent in a number of ways, but one of the best, most meaningful ways for me was to avoid the "Lent trap" of giving up something or imposing restrictions on myself.

Instead - and keep in mind you don't have to observe Lent per se to try this - take up a good habit. Offer alms every day by setting aside a dollar or a quarter and donating that money to a worthy charity of your choice. Make a pledge to offer five strangers compliments every day. Let that other driver merge in (although you're right; they really ought to use their signal). Resolve to let your Beloved choose the show every time you settle onto the couch with the remote. Take the dog for a walk just because it's warm outside and the pup would enjoy spending time with you. Write a series of cheerful notes on sticky notes and put one on the bathroom mirror at work every day.

You see the pattern, I trust. Spread some joy. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but try hard to make it a consistent thing - a habit, if you will.

I've heard it said that in the Bible, God commands His children to "be joyful" SIX HUNDRED times. Maybe we ought to pay some attention to that. I plan to go forth and try my best to take Emerson's advice to "scatter joy" instead of putting so much effort toward feeling that my worth is measured by how much deprivation and want I can deliberately put myself through. Yes, God puts restrictions on our behavior - we're supposed to "love our neighbor as ourself," so let's get out there and smile, encourage, and hug instead of spending so much of our time on this whirling blue ball scolding, shaming, and judging.

Get your kindness on!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Jump Starting Self-Care!

When I was just a wee li'l teen driver, my father made sure I knew how to use jumper cables in case I ever found myself with a dead battery. (By the way, this is knowledge that is extremely useful to have. Don't know how? Click here!) Basically, the idea is that you can "Frankenstein" your dead battery with a jolt of energy from a car that has plenty to spare.

The core principle can also be a good idea as you work to develop and put into place good habits. Now, you need to be careful - just as you wouldn't try to jump start a running car, there's nothing to be gained from overloading your personal system. In other words, don't make the all-too-common mistake of trying to change six habits at once. Pick one thing and work on that one, get that ingrained into your life, then move on to the next.

Being a big believer in taking care of yourself so that you can then take care of others, I wanted to work self-care into my everyday routine. (Yes, I know on the surface that sounds shallow and selfish. I blame the Puritans.) This is a goal that regular readers of this blog know that I've worked on pretty much since the very beginning of Mockingbird's Nest and it's a key focus on mine for this year of  "being kind and finding delight in my days." So I was delighted to be recently handed (on the proverbial silver platter, no less) the nigh-perfect opportunity to work on this habit.

Old and dear friends (like the kind you'd get on a plane to see on the strength of a phone call saying, "I got into a touch of trouble. Please come to Pocatello.") live out in the Beehive State. FryDaddy and I had visited over this past summer and pretty much fallen in love with the vastly-different-from-North-Cackalacky terrain, climate, wildlife, and lifestyle. Well, lo and behold, we were invited back for the world-renowned Sundance Film Festival. (Details about that side of the experience can be found over on the other blog, UnfetteredBrilliance.)

Imagine a week-plus of relaxing, eating, talking, playing, and just being. It was glorious! There was the cold night spent in the outdoor hot tub as snowflakes drifted down. There was standing at the kitchen window seeing a small herd of mule deer twenty feet away. There was seeing four-foot snowbanks and realizing that the town shrugged and went on. (There was also nearly running over Woody Harrelson in the Whole Foods parking lot, which has to be the most "Sundance Festival" sentence I've ever typed.) There was the afternoon spent experimenting with mass and acceleration as we went snow tubing. And there was the afternoon spent at the Utah Women's March (My sign had messages on two sides - one was "Trump Cancelled Firefly." I was surprised at the high-fives that got me! A favorite of mine was "Trump Skis in Jeans," which is apparently the ultimate diss in snow country.) Every day brought new adventures and there was so much love showered upon us throughout the trip.

Furthermore, this is a family that enjoys cooking - and they pulled out all the stops. Homemade (from scratch!) chocolate birthday cake, complete with buttercream frosting. (Note - this must - MUST - be eaten for breakfast on at least one morning to count as decadent. I counted it.) Amazing beef fillets grilled outside surrounded by pristine snow and served with a warm berry sauce that made me moan just a little. Tim Horton's coffee! I could go on and on, but that would simply create envy in you and that would be unkind.

I felt like a duchess, only without a uncomfortable corset or social obligations regarding finger bowls.

And I came back with my compassion tank reloaded.

Jump starts work!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What's Up, Doc?

 A super-quick recap - in the fall of 2014, a routine mammogram turned up some "iffy" areas. Several more tests and three biopsies later, I spent Christmas of 2014 in the talented hands of skilled surgeons and then in a medically-indicated tube top to hold everything together. (Painkillers and the holidays. It ought to be a country song.) The first part of 2015 was spent having post-surgical radiation and the resulting fatigue kept me pretty much sidelined. 2016 was all about getting back to a "new normal," and now we're here.

I just had my most recent check-up and the report is a good one. My scars are barely noticeable, I don't have pain (although fatigue is still an occasional issue) and they've decided to scale back my check ups to every six months, rather than every three. This is awesome news, indeed! Oh, I'm still dealing with side effects from Tamoxifen, a drug I'm on for another three-plus years and we talked about some methods to handle that. Uptown Yoga Loft will be seeing me, as both yoga and acupuncture have been prescribed to me. (In fact, I just left this post to make my first acupuncture appointment - cross your fingers for me on Wednesday the 18th!)

However, there is one area that simply has to be addressed. While my doctor did not lecture me, nor did she wag her finger in my face, well - sigh. Overall weight and fitness must be tended to, thyroid notwithstanding. I'm surprisingly okay with that. I'm doing well with my dedication to self-care (I really do encourage you to jump into the 31-Day Self Love Writing Challenge), and I promise to not do anything totally stupid like eat only cabbage soup for three straight weeks.

But I won't kid you, either. I want fast results and I know that doesn't work. So it's slow plodding for me. Cut out the junk food (bye, Goobers!), more water every day, and yes - even in the gray of winter, it's time to exercise. I have to remember that losing a couple of pounds a month is perfectly fine. This is going to be hard. Very, very hard. I think this will go better with a goal in mind, so here goes - by the end of 2017, I will complete a 10K. I might walk a big ol' chunk of it, but the Dancing Sloth is on the comeback trail!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hi, Ho, Here We Go!

New Year's Lights!
As I said on Christmas Eve, I'm bypassing most of the resolution aspect of the New Year. Instead, I've chosen one overarching goal for this trip around the sun - I want to be kind and find delight in my days. Not only do I think it's a worthy aim, I'm pretty sure it's a tall enough order to suffice for the entire year. But hey - I've already started!

I've seen this a number of times in my life - once I commit to a certain course of action, odd things begin to happen. I run into someone at the coffee shop who has some piece of information I need, or a student mentions something that triggers a cascade of thoughts, a chance comment overheard in the lobby of the movie theater ultimately leads to a brainstorm that boosts me over a creative dry spell, or someone here in Cyber-Land posts a link that directs me to exactly what I didn't know I needed. What I'm fumbling here to say is that there's much to be said for committing to an outcome and then being open to what the Universe is trying to give you.

In my case, just after Christmas, a friend sent me a link to a very interesting experiment. The idea is that each day for one month, I'll receive an e-mail writing prompt and that I'm supposed to set aside a few minutes each day to thoughtfully answer the prompt. I can share my responses or keep them private, as I wish. This particular one-month writing is all about self-care and breaking the hold negative thoughts have on my headspace and, five days in, I can report that it's incredibly refreshing! It's a wonderful, supportive community and, if you think you could benefit from it, please use this link to check them out! Start whenever you want and skip prompts that don't "work" for you. This is, I think, one of the most important lessons to take from the activity - it doesn't have to be perfect.

I know her all too well . . .
On that note, I'm also working on a simplified "bullet journal" to keep track of actions that I hope will lead to concrete habits. I've been keeping a brief journal since September, but only this week have I adopted more of a bullet journal style. Some of these bullet journals that I've seen (especially on Pinterest, which is both great and greatly to be feared) are magnificent, but they can also be intimidating. While I want to take a few minutes every night to reflect and play with colored pencils, I know that I can all too easily fall into the "perfectionist trap," so I can't compare mine to anybody else's. I will admit that I really enjoy doodling a little picture to go with each day. I don't draw particularly well, but it's relaxing to just moodle around with things without it having to be perfect.

Last bit for this post - one of my "actions that I hope will become a habit" is really making a conscious effort every single day to treat myself better. In order to do this, and knowing that I have to be accountable to the journal at the end of the day, I'm constantly on the lookout for ways to bring little luxuries into my everyday life. Yesterday, for example, I made a real effort to dress up for work - jaunty scarf, high heels (with super-comfortable slippers under the desk!), a discreet puff of my "good" perfume, red lipstick - very French. You get the idea. And I certainly had a sense of confidence that day due to my experiment in "dressing up." Then today, I definitely dressed down, since I had to take Spooky to the vet, then go to work, a schedule that certainly dictated some of my wardrobe decisions! After work, I needed to run an errand to the Clinique counter (look, FryDaddy doesn't stay that pretty without some effort!) and I took the time to have a consult with the clerk about my foundation. Together, we tried a couple of different ones and I left with a free ten-day sample. Felt like a duchess in sweatpants at that point, which is not a bad thing at all!

So that's what's up with me these days. How about you? Are you making time for yourself? Saying nice things to yourself? Tell me about it!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

More Light!

Here at the end of the year, holidays galore are celebrated. (This is the origin of the "Happy Holidays" greeting - retailers don't want to risk offending anyone with cashy money. It's not so much a "war on Christmas" as it is "please, come spend!") When you stop amid the hustle-bustle and think about it, it seems that every holiday centers around the concept of Light. This makes astronomical sense, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, since we've just passed the marker of the winter solstice. Our part of the world is hunkering down for the long, dark nights of winter - perfect for reflection and pondering, but also perfect for the winter blues as our span of daylight is short.

So - Christmas lights, Hanukkah menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, Yule logs - and I'm sure there are many others at this time of year. Bring the light that we're missing from our shortened days inside to our homes and hearths, along with the scent of pine, fir, cedar, mulled cider, fresh-baked bread and sweets - seriously, no wonder we're more inclined to be a touch nicer to each other! (Side note - based on this, yes - we certainly SHOULD try harder to keep this holiday spirit all the year round!)

I'm looking forward to 2017 - some wonderful things are going to happen in this shiny new year. Oh, there will be bumps as well; that's how you know you're moving forward, but it's going to be a good, GOOD year. While I'm tempted to make resolutions galore (pretty much all the usual suspects there), I'm resisting. Well, except for one. In 2017, I want to be kind and find delight in my days. In short, I want to reflect more light.

That's it. But I think it's enough.

I'm a reader and I've collected quite a few books on self-care, decluttering, being the change you want to see in the world, creating an oasis of calm, downshifting, and so on. All have good advice in general, but it's time to get specific. What works for me? What doesn't work for me? In short, how can I put on my own oxygen mask so that I can help others with theirs? I've discovered a number of things that work, and sharing those, along with my efforts to find more, will be the focus of this blog in the next year. I hope you join me for that journey - it's going to be a fun one!

See you in the New Year and - however you celebrate, may this final week of 2016 be what you most delight in!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My "Get Up & Go"

As the old saying goes, "My 'get up and go' has 'got up and went.'" This fall has been difficult - my energy level has been in the basement. This low-level, lasting fatigue I've been experiencing actually goes back further than just this fall and, when I look at that, I realize how often I've been making excuses for not feeling up to going out, or needing to crash as soon as I got home from work. It's been a long week at work, it's been just so sticky-hot, FryDaddy and I were swamped with finishing up the book draft, then . . .

Well, you get the idea.

I've been feeling this way for so long that I had just decided that it was part of the post-cancer treatment "new normal." You know, like my choosing the sloth as my personal mascot was just one of those things. (And I still loves me some sloths!)

But then last week, I had my regular physical exam with my doctor. I'm pleased to report that most things look shipshape. However, my bloodwork (vampires, I tell you. Vampires.) indicated that my thyroid gland isn't doing what it's designed to do, which is -- well, an awful lot. This little butterfly-looking gland in your throat is responsible for releasing hormones that regulate everything from metabolism and energy levels to breathing and heart rate. Low thyroid function can result in a laundry list of symptoms including sensitivity to cold, low energy, difficulty losing weight, joint pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and depression.

See, I could rationalize all of these symptoms. I've always been one of the "cold people" who are fine with fall crispness, but keep a blanket in the car. Plus, the tamoxifen I'm on for the next several years has certainly played merry hell with that equilibrium. The low energy, well, lingering fatigue from the radiation treatment. Difficulty losing weight? Well, I'm not blowing out fewer candles on my birthday cakes and I love sweets a bit too much. Joint pain? I had taken up jobbling and see above re: birthday candles. Fatigue and trouble sleeping? Just age. Depression? Well, not so much deep-seated depression, but I've had the blues (pretty much in the navy saturation range), and you would to, with all this other stuff going on.

Fortunately, this condition is easily treatable with medication, although it may take a few months to figure out the precise dosage. I've only been taking medicine for my weakened butterfly gland for about a week, so it's too soon to tell much. However, just knowing that the way I've been feeling has an actual cause is enough to make me feel like celebrating. (And then taking a nap.)

All of this is to say - if you haven't had a physical in more than a year, call today! Let them take a good look at you and see what's up. Hypothyroid function runs in my family, and I still didn't think about it. (Click here for a basic overview of symptoms that I ignored.) So really - I urge you, if you're not feeling quite like yourself, even if you can't put your finger on it, let the docs at least take a crack at it. Not everything is simple, of course, but you deserve better than feeling as if life is beige drudgery.