Sunday, December 29, 2019

Happy 49th Birthday to Me

Here we are in that black hole between Christmas and New Year’s where no one seems to know what day it is, we're feeling sluggish from too many cookies and we've reached our capacity on family togetherness.  So, who wants to celebrate my birthday? 

While December 29 has its challenges, I never have to go to school on my birthday. And its proximity to the end of the year makes my special day ideal for self-reflection and goal setting. Since I'm 49 today, I thought it might be fun to come up with a goal leading up to my 50th birthday that involved the number 50. So I asked friends and family for ideas. Boy, did I get ideas! I've whittled it down to my top 25. How do I choose?

1.   50 connections with friends and family

2.   write 50 letters

3.   50 acts of kindness

4.   50 volunteer hours

5.   donate $50 to a worthy cause

6.   50 mile bike ride

7.   run 50 miles in one month

8.   50 gym workouts

9.   practice yoga 50 times

10.                     50 spin classes

11.                     50 pushups

12.                     50 days without alcohol

13.                     limit screen time to average of 50 minutes per day

14.                     get rid of 50 things

15.                     complete 50 home projects

16.                     limit discretionary spending to $50 per week

17.                     50 dates

18.                     dine at 50 restaurants

19.                     50 adventures

20.                     plan to visit all 50 states

21.                     read 50 books

22.                     write a book with 50 chapters

23.                     try 50 recipes

24.                     letter 50 quotes in my bullet journal

25.                     be OK with 50 things not going as planned

There's time to work on a few goals this year; I have lots of ideas on the list from which to choose. They all align with my core values of relationships, health, and personal growth. I'm sure I'll mess up and life will intervene (see goal #25), but just the act of setting a goal helps me clarify what's important to me. Zig Ziglar said, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as who you become by achieving your goals." 

Considering the suggestions, I realize there is overlap in many of the ideas on the list. Whether writing a letter to someone or a random act of kindness, the items that most appeal to me are the ones that connected me to others.  So, I've decided to make my official goal 50 connections with friends and family over the next year. Catch up over coffee? Or something more adventurous? Let me know. I'd love to see you!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Monday Blues

When I woke up this morning, I was not feeling so good. Immediately my mind went to all the things on THE list. The list that’s twice as long this time of year. And I start to think of all the things I meant to do this weekend but didn’t…the weekend chores that help me feel organized and focused for the week, the wrapping, the shopping, the baking.  It makes me feel anxious. Like sweaty palms-pounding heart-pit in the stomach anxious. The kind of anxious you can’t explain to people because it doesn’t make any sense.  Like, hi, I’m in a really bad mood because I spent all weekend doing fun and meaningful things with friends and family and I didn’t do any chores.

To attempt to cure my case of the Mondays, I decided to reflect on one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”

Survive—check. Despite the lack of a two-hour delay that I really, really wanted on this icy, rainy Monday, I’m here.  Check.

Humor—Someday I’m going to cross everything off my TO DO list. Hahahhahahahaha. See? Humor, check.

Living with passion—check, check, check. Festive holiday party, check. Date night dinner, check. Holiday lights and an amazing performance of Fiddler on the Roof, check.  Throw in the happy chaos of a basement full of college kids and a few too many cookies. I lived with passion; I ate with passion.

Style—Well, I’m definitely crushing it on the style thing this morning.  I’m wearing bright red pants with purple rainbow unicorn socks pulled up to my knees.   I honestly don’t know if I could ever have the kind of job where I had to wear power suits and heels. Elementary school spirit weeks are my kind of style. Style, check.

Compassion—This weekend as I laid wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, I paused before each name to think about this person—someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mom or dad. This Christmas season I will see my family. I have my family. Looking around at the evergreen and red against the white headstones, I remember to pray for those who have lost a loved one or who are feeling lonely during the holidays. 

Thrive—This morning I left a list of things to do on the kitchen table and told my family I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I packed some workout clothes and planned to exercise with friends after school. Because thriving doesn’t have to mean doing it all by myself. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and struggling, I don’t need more productivity to thrive. What I need is a break to reset my mindset and breathe some fresh air. Also, probably more leafy greens and fewer peanut butter blossoms.

How are you feeling this morning? How are you doing with the countdown to Winter Break? Maybe you’re crushing it and you can’t relate to this post at all. But if you are feeling the pressure of holiday to do lists, I leave you with another favorite quote by Anne Lamott:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Giving Gifts to Both of Me

My mom says people generally have two versions of themselves: their ideal selves and their real selves. When it comes to cleaning out stuff, it's an important distinction. Take my cheeseboard, for example. No, really, take it. I don't want it anymore.

Because Ideal Self is quite the hostess. She entertains effortlessly and always has a wheel of brie in the fridge for an impromptu happy hour.  She even has a little cheese knife with a mouse shaped handle. Adorable! However Real Self has never once used this appetizer platter. Not that I don't like cheese. I love cheese. My friend Chrissy and I went to Milwaukee last summer and ate so much cheese. We also laughed like idiots trying to capture the perfect cheesy picture. Instead, it's the entertaining that's intimidating. Real Self would rather order pizzas than fashion a cheese platter. Real Self is usually in her pajamas watching Netflix on Friday nights.

I'm getting better at realizing the difference between Ideal Self and Real Self and it makes it easier to part with things that don't align with my lifestyle.  Last year I hosted a White Elephant gift exchange.  Traditionally, every guest brings an unwanted item but I had enough stuff to supply all the gifts myself. Some of these were probably teacher gifts. Others were from my dad, who is a notoriously interesting gift giver. (He once gave me a shower head for no apparent reason. Another time he gave me placemats with tractors on them. I actually kept those because they make me laugh.)

Adventure gift to a concert
Once Paul gave me a banjo for Christmas.  I took lessons for about a year hoping to live out the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "My baby plays a guitar, I pick a banjo now." Alas, Real Self discovered playing the banjo is really hard. Maybe Old Crow Medicine Show could change the lyrics to more accurately say, "My baby plays a guitar, I dust my banjo now."  

I recognize that this makes it a challenge to give me presents. Paul has jokingly lamented that other husbands have it easy buying their wives jewelry, while I prefer a handmade coupon book of adventures. Real Self would much rather spend time WITH you than get a sweater FROM you. I struggle with gift giving too. While Ideal Self is a fantastic gift giver and wraps presents like Martha Stewart, Real Self hates shopping and usually relies on recycled gift bags to wrap everything. 

Speaking of music, 'tis the season for hearing holiday music on every radio sation. I've never been much of a Mariah Carey fan--I don't like glitter either but that's a different story--yet I find myself humming this song when I think about gift giving: 

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

Here's where Ideal Self and Real Self agree. Neither of us want a lot of stuff for Christmas. We don't need the perfectly wrapped presents under the tree or a gourmet cheese platter. We both want to spend quality time with our family and our friends.  All we want for Christmas is YOU. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

PSA: Wear Sunscreen!

Three weeks ago, I had surgery to remove skin cancer from my face. So, that was fun. 

Just kidding, it wasn't fun at all. 

But I'm here to tell you about it because skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of it by the time they are 70. The most common type is basal cell carcinoma, which is what I've had three times so far. 

To be honest, I tried to downplay this surgery in the weeks leading up to the procedure. Many people have to deal with a lot more difficult things than outpatient appointment and a few stitches.  Whenever I face a challenge, I try to remember James 1:2. "Consider it pure joy, my bothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance."  I mean, I can't say I was feeling joyous about the whole thing, but I definitely feel lucky to have access to early detection and good medical care. I joked that having stitches around Halloween was perfect timing. 

On the day of my Mohs surgery, Paul drove me to my appointment. Even though it was outpatient, I was a little nervous and was thankful to have the company and a hand to hold in the waiting room. The surgeon numbed the area and then removed the cancerous tissue from the edge of my nose down towards my lip. He cauterized the area (nothing like the smell of burning flesh to remind you to wear sunscreen!) and then examined it in the lab to ensure the margins were cancer free. Then he returned to stitch up the incision and send me home with instructions to wear the bandage for 7 days and avoid exercise, stooping, lifting and alcohol. 

I thought that would be the worst part but I was wrong. I think that's because I was prepared for the surgery but I didn't realize what the recovery would be like. I didn't realize it would hurt to laugh, talk or chew because of where the stitches were located.  I didn't realize how prominent the bandage would look, and that it would start to curl up around the edges and smell funny. I didn't think about how self conscious I would be about returning to work with a giant bandage on my face. Or that not exercising/lifting/stooping for a week would make me feel pretty useless. I didn't think I would start obsessing about every age spot, freckle or mole on my body wondering, "Is this normal?" Or that I would worry about the scar and how prevalent it would look on my face. Did you ever bite the inside of your cheek? And then it sticks out a little so you end up biting it again and again? It started to make me feel depressed. And then I felt guilty for being depressed over some stupid, small cancer on my face that wasn't even there anymore. "Come on, Allison. What about James 1:2? Get it together!"

There's actually a name for this. BrenĂ© Brown says "unwanted identity" is when we take on characteristics that undermine our vision of our ideal selves. So if you think of yourself as healthy and independent, being sick and dependent on others is really frustrating.  

Intermingled with my feeling sorry for myself was a renewed appreciation for my life. I felt like Emily Webb in Our Town, " Oh, earth you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!" Friends gave me a get well gift and I cried with gratitude at their generosity.  Family called to check on me. Paul was my rock, and loved me through every step of the emotional roller coaster.  

And so, the days passed and the bandage came off. If I wear a little concealer now, you can barely see the scar. It's a part of who I am and what I survived. I don't mind seeing it in the mirror in the mornings because its a visual reminder that we are all less than perfect and that we all have some scars. And I have a new quote hanging next to James 1:2. It says, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Freshman 15

George and Susan sit either side of a table, with coffee. 
There's a definite lack of sparkling conversation. 
George forces a smile at Susan. There's a long pause, broken only by Susan sighing. 
George finally thinks of something to say.

GEORGE: I, uh, oh, broke a shoelace today.

SUSAN: Oh, I can get you shoelaces tomorrow.


SUSAN: So, what color?

GEORGE: Brown.

Susan nods her comprehension, as George muses for a moment.

GEORGE: Maybe a black.

It’s been about 6 weeks since our kids left for college.  While some things are definitely different, other aspects of my life remain unchanged.  I’m slowly learning to navigate this new stage of life and I’ve come up with a list of 15 things I’ve noticed about being an empty nester.

1. We’ve got our Friday nights back.

2. And our Saturday mornings.

3. And Wednesday afternoons. After years of filling them with football games, Cross Country meets, plays, and little league games, it seems weird to look at the calendar and see nothing on the schedule so…

4. We’re making plans together. Last month we took some long bike rides. We went to a book signing and saw a show at the theatre. This month we are signed up for a cooking class. Data shows a slight increase in the number of days I was voluntarily NOT in my pajamas by 8pm.  

5. We’re making plans apart. Paul’s playing tennis a few times a week and I’m taking a class on Tuesday nights. Paul sings in the choir and I love my Friday morning cycle workout.

6. We’re talking. but now it’s less about parenting logistics and more about tennis and class and choir and cycle workouts. One of Paul’s favorite quotes from Seinfeld is when George Costanza is having a mundane conversation with his fiancĂ© and says, “I broke a shoelace today.” We don’t want to be that old couple you see in the restaurant staring at each other or their phones because they have nothing to say.

7. We are cooking less... Without the structure of family dinners, our eating patterns are less regular. It’s easier to spontaneously go out when there’s fewer schedules to coordinate. So, we’ve spent less on groceries and more on restaurants and that brings me to my next point:

8. …And eating more. No, I haven’t gained the “Freshman 15” since Katherine left for college, but I’ve put on a few.  The good news: When you squeeze into too tight pants, it smooths out all the wrinkles. No ironing!

9. Tackling home projects. Katherine told me that college freshmen worry that they will come home to find their rooms have been repurposed. The bedrooms are untouched, but we did replace an old vanity and toilet in our hall bathroom. Today I’m going to pick up tile for a backsplash and we have plans to replace the 20 year old wallpaper in our kitchen.

10. Traveling. I’ve got good kids. And yet, leaving them alone for a weekend wasn’t easy.  Remember all those funny stories of the stuff we did in high school? It’s funny until you have teenagers and then it’s a little nerve wracking.  After a weekend away with friends, it was good to come home and not feel like I was playing detective looking for evidence of foul play.

11. I have clothes! And shoes. And jewelry. And it is all in my closet right where it is supposed to be because no one has borrowed anything.

12. I’m wearing sunscreen.  Being old enough to have two kids in college means being old enough to see the aging effects of my own teenage years. The Hawaiian Tropic SPF 4 was replaced with Neutrogena SPF 50 years ago, but the damage was done. Next week, I’ll have a small surgery to remove a skin cancer from my nose.  Luckily it is October and I’m sure I can work the stitches into some sort of Halloween costume.

13. I’m still parenting.  I’m glad they still call and text for advice. I’m proud of their growing independence but it’s still nice to feel needed. And when Jack wants to know how to make tuna noodle casserole (cook the noodles first!) he could google it but I’m glad he chose to call his momma.

14. I’m still worrying. There’s an expression—If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. But I think that’s backwards. If Jack or Katherine is having a tough time or a bad day, my heart hurts for them. And I worry.  I’m hoping it will be a funny family story someday.  “Remember the time you were sick and you called mom and told her you were dying and then she couldn’t get in touch with you so she called campus security to check on you?”

15. I still wake up every morning determined to be the best me I can be. And I still screw up. I still take time to thank God for this new stage of my life and I’m still living with a grin, some grit, and a bit of grace.

Cheers to being an empty nester!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Sober Curious

The Sober Curious Movement
Being sober on a bus is, like, totally different than being drunk on a bus.” -Ozzy Ozbourne. 
When I first heard the term “sober curious,” I was confused. I mean, we all know what it feels like to be sober…what is there to be curious about?  In case you are not familiar with the expression, someone who is sober curious is choosing to abstain from alcohol for an undetermined amount of time. The idea has been gaining traction on social media and has recently been featured in several news stories such as NPR and The Washington Post
At first, I admit I was a tad bit judgey and I rolled my eyes a little.  I’m thinking, “If you don’t want to drink alcohol at a bar, order a soda water with lime and be done with it. Sheesh. You don’t need to post a picture of your drink on social media with a hashtag announcing this decision to the world.”  But after reading more, my thinking has shifted.
A Sense of Belonging
Wanna find out who your true friends are? Get sober.
In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow rates love and belonging right after food, water, and shelter. As humans, we need to feel a sense of deeper, more meaningful relationships. Identifying as sober curious is gaining traction because it fulfills our need of belonging. We may not realize how prevalent alcohol is in our social lives until we make a conscious decision to not to partake.  It’s easy to fit in when you drink. While we all have experience with sobriety, what might be harder to envision is a social life without alcohol. I have a friend who recently completed an amazing weight loss and fitness challenge. Later, she remarked that she was often lonely—choosing to avoid temptation and stay home when her friends were out eating and drinking. I’m not so fond of being stone cold sober in a bar full of drunk people either. I just don’t feel like I fit in. So, the challenge is to find other activities where alcohol isn’t the focus.  One function of #sobercurious is to provide a platform for like-minded people who share a common interest. 
Breaking the Stigma
Avoid using cigarettes, alcohol and drugs as alternatives to being an interesting person. -Marilyn vos Savant
Let’s face it. Sober people don’t have the best reputation. Society thinks sober people are boring. Even the dictionary definition of sober includes the terms restrained, serious, and sedate. Are you not drinking because you are a teetotaler, an alcoholic or a Sober Sally? Often people who choose not to drink pair the decision with some kind of excuse. 
Reasons I have used not to drink:
·         I’m not old enough.
·         I’m driving.
·         I can’t mix alcohol with my medication.
·         I don’t want the extra calories.
·         I don’t sleep well after a few drinks.
·         I’ve been drinking for the wrong reasons.
·         I’m pregnant.
·         I have too much to do tomorrow to feel sluggish or hungover in the morning.
·         I want to be a good role model for my kids.
·         I’m trying to save money.

The #sobercurious movement is a PR team coming in to revamp the image of sobriety. It is breaking the stigma that being sober is no fun. #sobercurious lets people choose not to drink without having to offer up some excuse.  Sometimes I love a glass of wine and sometimes I don’t. Lately I’ve been choosing not to have one more often. Do I have to have a reason why? Or justify my choice to explore the physical and mental effects of abstaining from alcohol? I hope not. Whether I’m holding a cocktail or a mocktail, I’m still me.
So, if you are ever interested in hanging out sober, text me. I’d love to be sober curious together. We can even post it on Instagram. #sobercurious #partofthemovement

Enjoying our mocktails

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fargo? You betcha!

To be honest, I was a little worried about creating the itinerary for three days in Fargo. 

Whenever I mentioned my trip, people would say, "Oh, you have to go see the woodchipper," referring to the infamous movie prop. Well, OK, but we couldn't spend three days staring at a woodchipper. Was there anything else to do in a small town in North Dakota?  You betcha!

First stop, the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor's Center for a photo op with a movie prop.

Fuel up with a delicious latte at Youngblood Coffee or a bagel at Bernbaums...or a donut at Sandy's donuts.

Shop along Broadway and Main Street

Keep an eye out for the painted bison 

scattered around Fargo.

Go on a mural hunt. How many can you find?

We found them all!

Catch a movie at the iconic Fargo Theatre.

Check out regional art at The Plains Museum 

and The Rourke Art Gallery & Museum

Sample a beer at one of the three local breweries...

...or sip a local cider at Wild Terra. 

Be sure to save room for cocktails and dinner at the Toasted Frog.

Walk or bike on the trails along the Red River.

Cross the bridge into Moorhead, MN

Tour Hopperstad Stave Church

See a replica of a Viking Ship

Cheers to a fun adventure in Fargo!