Friday, September 27, 2013

Nine Month Check In!

A few new things to report.  September's been an interesting month, with the Wanna Cook? book project entering overdrive for the final push - by the next check-in, the entire book will have been drafted and the final bits will have been turned in for editing.  Breaking Bad wraps up its broadcast run this Sunday and next week, I have a paper to present on Saul Goodman and legal ethics at a conference (said paper is still - ahem - in a state that can most kindly be described as "rough draft" form.  Saturday's a busy, busy day!).  FryDaddy is also presenting and we both have school/work obligations.  As you can imagine, that's a lot of plates to spin.

This is the very reason why routines matter so much.  By now, housework has (mostly) gotten to a groove - laundry and dishes are caught up and the house is reasonably free of dirt (although pet fur is a constant accent to our decor) and that's a comfort in the busy, busy days that have been September and that will continue for another two weeks or so.  I scaled a few things back this month - I realized I was overdoing it and then beating myself up for not hitting every goal, every day.  A "star" day right now is exercise 30 minutes total (doesn't have to be in one fell swoop at 6:45 in the morning), drink 70 oz. of water, eat 5 servings of fruit/vegetables, limit the junk food (twice a week and only reasonable portions then), and do something positive for my overall mindset (I've discovered short guided meditations just before bed to help my crazywhirly brain settle and unwind from the day).  That's enough, I figure.  I'm a little less stressed, even though I'm in the midst of a very stressful period, so I'm marking this down as a win.

The big change this past month is that FryDaddy and I got serious about a very taboo area - finances.  Like many Americans, we have credit-card debt and were working from a budget that was more of a glorified checkbook balance than an actual plan.  We'd gotten tired of the stress associated with constantly being on a shoestring and we knew that we ought to be doing better - our income is decent and, while I still have a big chunk of debt from law school (and he'll soon have grad school loans to pay - but not undergrad, thankyouthankyouthankyou Mom Squared), we don't have car payments and our mortgage is quite reasonable - but it took us a while to commit to change.

Now we have.  We're just at the beginning, but already, I see a difference.  We've got a budget that tells our money where to go, instead of wondering helplessly where it went.  Any change in the budget (like when I forgot to include a couple of items and when we underestimated the amount we'd need for grocery money) requires us both to sign off on re-jiggering the columns, which still have to zero out so every dollar is accounted for.  We've committed to not using credit and throwing every extra dollar that comes into our paws at our debt.  It won't be short, and it won't be easy, but it's going to be SOOO worth it!  I hesitated to bring this up here (while nearly every American has debt, it's not something I find easy to talk about), but the point of these monthly check-ins is to be honest and accountable and, for me, debt is a dirty little secret.  It feels great to have a plan, instead of just drifting along, hoping that I get lucky with Powerball or some fairy dust hits my retirement account.  (For those interested, we're using the Dave Ramsey "Money Makeover" system.)  Again, it's not a quick fix, but we didn't get into this mess overnight, so it stands to reason that it'll take a while to sort out.  Journeys start with the first step, right?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Importance of Kindness

Today, FryDaddy and I met our friend Barefoot for lunch.  Nothing big - it was at a place where you unwrap your food as opposed to white tablecloths.  But the company was stellar and the conversation sparkled.  All of which reminded me of a few things.

See, life has been a little too hectic lately.  I know it's not the Universe being Out to Get Me, but pressure has been coming from enough different angles to make me feel a bit "squozed" lately.  Too much work, in too little time, with too little rest will do that to me.  Add to that the fact that the news stories lately have been dominated by accounts of humans acting as if they had been raised by rabid hyenas, and a certain world-weariness had begun to creep into my everyday thinking.

Things just aren't that bad.  Not really - not the Big Stuff.  So with the changing of the seasons, it seems like a good time for a short list of things that show me that humanity still falls on the "worth saving" side of the scale and that I've got it pretty darned good.  For instance:

  • I live in a neighborhood where most people wave back at me when I'm out on my almost-daily walk with Spooky.  Or even when it's just me.
  • On the tragic anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of the prayer of Father Mychal Judge, who believed so wholeheartedly in the basic goodness of humanity that his desires were summed up as, "Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what Your want me to say, and keep me out of Your way."
  • For my vocation (from the Latin vocare, "to call"), I do work that matters that I usually enjoy.
  • For my avocation, I do work that I enjoy.  FryDaddy and I are partway through the final push on the Wanna Cook? project and, not only do we manage to write together without getting our egos bruised by the other's editing of our work, we have a book cover!  And a pre-order page on Amazon!
  • There are entire Websites devoted to spreading news of people doing good things, often anonymously.  They remind me that I can do that, too.
  • Postsecret - a great site that reminds me that humanity is silly, soulful, caring, whimsical, and sometimes in desperate need of a hug.
Most days, I remember that I'm worth taking care of and - here's the shocker - other people seem to agree with me on that point.  It's weird how willing most of us are to take care of other people, while treating ourselves pretty much like three-day-old fish.  Kindness should flow inward, as well as outward.  Now I know that not every problem in my life - or in anybody's - can be solved with a hot bath and a well-brewed cup of tea, but those things seldom make things worse and so often (so very, very often) it's all about realizing that every day comes with an ending, that situations are temporary.

It's certainly true that you can't control your circumstances - you may well have ridiculous work deadlines or asylum-ready co-workers or a deeply-hurting shoulder or more errands to run than you have time/money and the kitty clearing off your nightstand might be the final straw that day.  What you CAN control is your reaction to those circumstances.  Accept that things seem off, that the pressures are mounting and a release is necessary for the mental (and quite possibly, the physical) health of you and those around you.  Then go take care of yourself, in whatever way doesn't involve destruction (no fair scaring animals, children, or adults who live with you) and start over the next day.  Some favorite suggestions:

  • Gorge on dollar store candy while glaring at a salad (I recommend Sugar Babies or Red Hots, although I wouldn't sneer at a package of Reese's Cups)
  • Watch a favorite movie or TV show (I find Firefly and Casablanca to be strong medicine)
  • Take the phone off the hook (short term only, otherwise people who love you worry)
  • Shut off the e-mail and texting devices (again, short term only)
  • Take a break from the 24-hour news cycle
  • Go on a long drive up to the coast or out to the mountains with Motown blaring from the radio.  It doesn't matter if you don't get wherever "there" is, just change your scenery for a bit.
Life is worth living and it's worth living well.    Make it a personal mission statement to do just that - especially in the times of turmoil.