Tuesday, January 31, 2012

February-It's The New January

How's your New Year's Resolution coming along?

4 short weeks ago, we tooted horns and kissed at midnight welcoming 2012 as a fresh start and clean slate.  Did you make a resolution?  The topic seemed unavoidable-- magazine covers in the checkout line, online links forwarded by friends, and newspaper clippings all sharing articles about how to make and keep your resolution.  So, how's it going?  Do you even remember what the resolution was at this point?  Don't worry.  You are not alone.  According to a report by FranklinCovey, 77% of people surveyed do not successfully keep their resolutions. 

Don't be so hard on yourself.  Let's face it.  January 1 is not my ideal time to be making big changes.  I'm coming off a holiday sugar coma that affects my rational thinking.  The short days and frigid temperatures are more conducive to hibernating than productivity.  Knowing my self discipline was lacking, the only New Year's Resolution I could muster was to stop buying sweaters with 3/4 length sleeves.  Really, if it is cold enough to wear a sweater, wouldn't I want my wrists to be warm? 

Besides January being problematic, I don't like New Year's Resolutions because a year is just too gosh darn long for me to commit to anything!  I've got this brand new calendar with 366 (it's a leap year) days looming and that seems like an awfully long time.  In school the kids learn how to make SMART goals.  SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.  Rather than a large year-long goal, I would rather set a small goal and give myself a month to work on it.   After all, current research reports that it takes 66 days to form a habit.  So if you can do something for 66 days, your brain's neurons will actually change their firing patterns.  Pretty cool, huh?  And we don't need a whole year to make it happen. 

Another reason I like to make new month's resolutions is that I'm human.  I set goals and then obstacles arise.  I have the best of intentions and then mistakes happen.  Reevaluating my progress and my goals monthly gives me 12 opportunities to start fresh and start over.  I'm feeling positive about my February goals.  But if I mess up, I'm not worried--another opportunity will come along soon.   In a just few short weeks March is the new January.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wanted: Honest Car Mechanic

I am in grave danger.  Not too long ago, I receive a recall notice from my car manufacturer.    The plastic clip that holds the driver’s side floor mat could, at any moment, dislodge and accidentally wrap its way around the gas pedal.   I can picture the scenario: I’m on the beltway at rush hour with both kids in the car on a dark and stormy night when suddenly…
Never mind that I don’t drive on the beltway very often.  Or that I usually avoid driving in the rain and the dark.  And disregard completely the fact that I’ve been driving my car problem-free for the past 6 years in this condition blissfully unaware of the danger beneath my accelerator pedal.  After reading the letter, I schedule my appointment promptly. 
Usually I am skeptical of people who service my car.  This doesn’t mean my car mechanics are not trustworthy…only that I don’t trust them.  But this is a simple recall replacement at no charge to the customer.  I’ll be in and out, right?
Wrong.  As long as my car is in the service bay, the technicians kindly decide to do a complimentary inspection of the vehicle.  Isn’t that just so sweet of them?  That, by the way, was soooo lucky because they discovered that I am driving a death trap with $3,200 worth of accidents waiting to happen.   The front differential is leaking, both sets of brake pads and rotors are in dismal condition, I should replace the timing belt, water pump, drive belt and front seals, and everything that can possibly be flushed needs flushing.
I don’t know a lot about cars.  I remember in high school talking with a group of friends discussing the cars of their dreams.  As they imagined owning Mustang convertibles and Jaguars, someone asked, “What kind of car do you want, Allison?”
“A red one.”
That was back in high school.  Today I favor blue.  Other than that, not much has changed with my understanding of cars.  My ignorance is one of the main reasons I distrust my mechanics.  Since I have no idea what they are talking about, (What’s a differential, anyway?) I have no idea if they are taking advantage of my naiveté.  Are they trying to help me or can they spot a gullible fool the moment I step into their grease-stained garage?  Once when getting my oil changed I got a lecture about the dangers of being neglectful.  Apparently, I was remiss in changing the fluids on the transfer case for the entire life of my vehicle!
“I can take care of this right now if you want,” the technician said, helpfully.
“Yeah, I guess I should take care of that,” I said, sheepishly.
Boy, was that guy embarrassed when he came back five minutes later to report that I don’t actually have a transfer case on my car.  And what about me?  I authorized the work!  Too bad I don’t know of an Emperor in need of new clothes.
When I get this expensive estimate, I do what any self respecting person might do.  I collect my keys and say “thanks.”  I drive away calmly.  And then I burst into tears.   When I regroup, I decide to visit a different auto body shop for a second opinion.    I’m awaiting their recommendations when the phone finally rings.  What will they say?  What is most important and what can wait…the leak?  The brakes?
“Hi, Allison.  We need to talk about your battery.”  Battery?  Turns out, the second shop found an entirely different list of problems.
Hmmm.  Maybe I need a third opinion.  Anyone know a good, honest car mechanic?

Friday, January 20, 2012

When I Grow Up I Will Be A Princess

"When I grow up, I want to be a mermaid," Isabella announces.

Chloe admonishes her.  "You can't be a mermaid, you don't have a tail!"

Isabella looks momentarily dejected but then she perks up.  "Well then, when I grow up I'll be a fairy!"

Chloe can barely contain herself.  "Isabella, fairies have WINGS!  You can't be a fairy."

Isabella thinks for a minute.  "A princess,"  she asks, hesitantly.  "Can I be a princess?"

I'm not sure, but I think I see an almost imperceptible eye roll from Chloe. "Isabella, your father is not a king.  You can't be a princess unless your father is a king."

"Oh."   It appears that Isabella is out of ideas. 

We have been sitting in a small group talking about community helpers.  After reading about the police officer, the teacher and the baker, I ask the children, "What do you think you want to be when you grow up?"  They share their ideas with each other first, then draw and write in their journals. 

Charlie, who until this point has remained silent, looks up at Isabella.  "You can be a princess, Isabella.  All you have to do is marry a prince."

Isabella's eye's widen in happy surprise.  "When I grow up, I WILL be a princess!"  She picks up a pink crayon and, humming, begins to draw her dress.

I want to hug Isabella.  This is what I want to say to her:
"My friend, listen to me.  You are in kindergarten.  You have years to grow up, make friends, make mistakes, learn from others, make decisions, change your mind, and explore ideas you don't even know exist yet.  As you grow up, there will always be Chloes, telling you 'no' and telling you 'you can't.'  And there will always be Charlies, telling you 'you are special, you can do it, you are a princess.'  Here you are, only five years old, and you are already learning to tune out the Chloes in your life and listen to the Charlies.  You are wise beyond your years, my friend."

I don't say any of that to Isabella.   But I do lean over and give her shoulder a gentle squeeze.  "That looks like a really pretty princess dress," I tell her.  "You are going to be an amazing princess.  I think you already are."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

Has a black cat crossed your path yet today?  It's Friday the 13th.

Now, I'm not a superstitious person and I don't believe in luck.  I believe that life happens, and our perceptions of the events can be both good and bad.  If I go around looking for bad luck, I will find it. It was probably there all along.  So I try to remind myself to look for the good luck in life every day.  Take, for example, my last trip to the grocery store.  Is it bad luck that I accidentally bought cinnamon raisin English muffins (yuck, pthh) instead of my regular whole wheat?  Or is it good luck that I realized my error before I (heaven forbid) ate one?

This week I left Jack home for an hour while I was at a teacher conference.  Just before I returned home, an unmarked beat up white van pulled in the driveway. An unfamiliar man got out of the car.  Jack got scared.  He ran downstairs, out the back door and around half the block in his socks.  There he stopped to phone a neighbor.   As I returned home, my neighbor arrived with Jack to investigate.  They found a box of butternut squash and beets on our porch.   Wednesdays I have a fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to my house.

Is it bad luck that I didn't arrive home ten minutes earlier?  I would have recognized the van and driver and the entire incident would have been avoided.  Or is it good luck to be reminded that Jack has a good head on his shoulders.  When faced with potential danger, kept his cool, left the house immediately and called for help.

Yesterday Paul was driving home from work in heavy traffic.  When the woman in front of him braked suddenly, he didn't stop in time and rear ended her car.  Is it bad luck that Paul was in a car accident?  Or is it good luck that it was minor, no one was hurt and we have insurance to cover much of the costs. 

Every evening when we eat dinner together as a family, we say our "thankfuls."  Some days they come easily.  It seems like good luck is all around us and everything is going our way.  Other days are harder.  After experiencing a particularly difficult day, we say, "Tonight I'm thankful that every day is not as bad as this one."  As much as we're kidding around, there's an element of truth to that statement.   After a bad day, I think it's good luck to have a family who loves me, food on the table and the knowledge that tomorrow is just a day away.

Friday the 13th.  I haven't seen any black cats yet.  Just a big black dog.  Isn't that good luck!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Meditations on Yoga

This is the story about how I (who am not a yoga person AT ALL) have a new hobby and it is, of all things, yoga.

I still don't think of myself as a "yogi".  I'm not a touchy, feely person.  I'm not a hugger.  So the thought of being in a room with a bunch of people saying "ooommm" a lot doesn't appeal to me.  And what's the deal with the third eye on the forehead?  My son already thinks I have eyes in the back of my head and that's quite enough extra eyes for me.  Also, for some reason, I think of yoga and vegetarians as going hand and hand.  I know, I'm generalizing. Some of my best friends are vegetarians.  Still, I can't imagine giving up bacon and somehow I think that means I am not a candidate for yoga.

Another reason I never tried yoga before: I thought it was all about stretching.  I know stretching is good for you, just like flossing is good for you and a whole host of other things that I should do to improve my health.  I've even read articles about red wine, coffee and chocolate being good for you, which is just awesome.  Really, I'm waiting for an article that says bacon is good for you but I haven't come across it yet.  If you see one, let me know.  Anyway, for some reason, I have an easier time drinking wine and eating chocolate on a regular basis than I do flossing and stretching.  

Here I am, living peacefully in my yoga-free existence when along comes my friend Debbie.  She keeps talking about yoga and how it makes her happy.   Debbie invites me as a guest to her class and, in some lapse of my normal judgement, I agree to go.  Now, Debbie and I have been friends for a long time and I've known her to eat a piece of bacon or two.  I figure I'll keep quiet about that so the people in the yoga studio don't ostracize her.

I learn that there are about as many types of yoga as there are religions.  We are going to do Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga.  It was founded in the 1940's by a man named Walt Baptiste.  It was further developed by his son Baron Baptiste in the 1980's.   The ninety minute class is in a room where the temperature hovers around 94 degrees.   At Debbie's advice, I pick a spot near the windows where it is a few degrees cooler. 

The class begins and I discover that I am really bad at yoga.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I am pretty good at child's pose at the beginning, and corpse pose at the end.  It is everything in between that needs work.  The class seems to follow a certain rhythm.  First we do a bunch of poses that have funny names like Chaturanga Dandasana but I am not fooled.  You call a push up by any other name and it is still a push up.  I am breaking a sweat, my heart rate is up and I am fully aware of my pathetic lack of upper arm strength.  Next come the balance poses, and I realize that I don't favor one side or the other--I am equally uncoordinated on both sides.  After wobbling about trying to stand on one foot for a while, we move into the exercises for core strength and I discover abdominal muscles I didn't even know I had.  Finally, we move to stretching and I concede that my lack of regular commitment on this front has not helped my flexibility in any way. 

Each time the instructor calls out a new pose, I glance around to see what everyone is doing and then I attempt it.  But as horrible as I am, I actually like it.  Everyone is so focused on their own progress, no one is looking at my feeble, unskilled attempts.  The class is fast paced and I feel like I'm getting a great workout.  But the best part is the teacher.  Along with her instruction, she gives us a pep talk, cheering us on as we go, pushing us to try a little harder and go a little further.  It's like I signed up for a yoga class and they threw in a 90 minute motivational seminar for free.   I decide to take advantage of a deal for new students and purchase a discounted class pack.   "What the heck," I think.  "I'll try another class or two."

My family took notice of my second trip to the yoga studio.  Be it coincidence, fate or just plain luck it was shortly before the holidays.   My gifts this year include a yoga bag, yoga towel, yoga shirt and book about yoga.  I look like a walking advertisement for Lululemon although I feel a bit like an imposter.  I look like a yogi and dress like a yogi but I can't hold a tree pose for more than three seconds and there's too much sweat in my third eye for me to see anything clearly.  I still don't like hugs and I still love bacon but I'm beginning to rethink my opinion on yoga.  I think I kind of like it.