Welcome!

Here at Manage Like a Mother you will find monthly chapters on the overlap between parenting and managing and being a leader to everyone whose environment you shape.

 

If you are returning or have scrolled down you will find entries from TanGreen.  This was my blog for four years as I was “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.”  Still doing that.  Also running my small segment of a 2 billion dollar business – and the overlap is fascinating.  You can keep up with Manage Like a Mother here and using the link at left.  You can explore old TanGreen posts by navigating the categories in the drop down to the left.    Enjoy your time here!

 

Joy, the Giraffe, and Me

So what the heck happened to this blog?  Where did it go?  Like old friends and favorite stories, Tan/Green is often on my mind – even if I don’t do anything about it.  I started this blog as a way to fulfill my need to write.  And because I had so much to say about living a “granola life in a fast food world.”  And because I wanted to share stories and pictures of my children with friends and family.  And because I have important lessons learned to share with my kids.  None of that has changed.

Oh, the dangers of the worlds have moved into the mainstream media and I am thrilled that more and more people are thinking about the price of convenience.  My babies aren’t babies at all and are getting too old and too aware of the world for me to indiscriminately share the details of their lives (excepting important information like how to detect Coats Disease and retinoblastoma through photographs!)  I do still have many lessons learned to share with the boys – though they begin to require details of my and others’ lives be explained and examined which I cannot in good faith do in the blogosphere.  I know, disappointing…

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Certainly, the time I have to dedicate has changed.  And my priorities underwent a shift – many, really.  I have been stating things for years – about toxins in our environment, about first phases of motherhood, about lessons for my children.  As if I have any authority or expertise.  Sometime in the last few months – between work and home and blogging – I have become exhausted of stating things.  How to do this or that.  The why’s behind every “civilized” behavior or procedural decision.  I have been a questioner for years – I like to think things over, research, try to understand deeply.  And – in part through the Tan/Green Living Project – I found myself questioning more than ever, sure of less than ever and less confident about what I “know” than ever.  And that is just fine.  I still have a good head on my shoulders and state what I need to state…and question it all as much as practical. WP_20140128_001 (1)

Then something happened a few weeks ago.

This is a picture of our pet giraffe.  Because, we have a pet giraffe, you know, as one does in the suburbs.  I was out on a jog one Tuesday.  Tuesday is trash day here.  And this lonely giraffe was tucked up next to a garbage can and as I strode by I caught a glimpse and stopped, turning to make sure I was in fact seeing a giraffe.  I thought, “oh, the boys would love that.”  I tried it out for weight.  Yep, I could manage this 20# concrete zoo animal for one block!  And so I hauled her home and planted her out front.  And thinking that randomly finding a giraffe out front might unnerve my sometimes wary kiddos, I better make a big deal about it.  I told them as they dressed that we had a special visitor…a surprise!  It was easier to get them dressed that morning than any day, ever.

We got ready then snuck around Daddy’s car to find…a giraffe!  (Daddy who was with us and had no warning was wondering what in the heck I was up to!)  Dante and Gabriel were delighted and after a little nudging they petted her.  It was all great fun – Nathan mostly laughed at me for how exited I was at finding a giraffe.

Later than evening as I sat with the boys reading and talking I asked if we should name the giraffe since it seemed like she was staying.  Dante calls everyone and everything a she right now – I often go with it.  Now my boys have never wanted to get too creative in naming – the stuffed cat is Kitty, Gabriel’s stuffed dog is Bunny (and would have been Dog if it actually looked like one), cars are Big Car and Van…you get the idea.  I decided to try anyway.  I said, “Should we name the giraffe?  What about Susie or Martha or Joy or…”  I was cut off by Dante, “YES!!  Joy!  We should name her Joy.”  I was so surprised.  And he said this with complete and utter Joy.  I felt true Joy at his excitement – that he stepped out if his box and imagined something beyond Giraffe.  We have referred to her since as Joy.

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Now, this may not seem like much of an event, it’s just that I am not one for whimsy.  I just never have been.  I felt so out of my box doing something so just for fun as bringing home a glass eyed, probably not weather proof, concrete zoo animal.  And it…she…has since become a funny touchstone for me.  Something about my severely limited time being dedicated to what brings me Joy.  Something about digging deep for all the whimsy I can for these early childhood years when it really delights the boys.  Something about shedding the perceived obligations (running 2 miles that morning) for recognizing and seizing the moments that will create a warmly remembered childhood (and marriage and work environment and youth group and…)

WP_20140305_013I have a lot going on in my life – like everyone.  I enjoy my roles as Mother, Wife, Director, Friend, Family Member, Youth Group Leader, Runner, Pilates Student, Knitter, Blogger.  When you push so much into so few hours though, sometimes you need more Joy and less dictating; more whimsy and fewer obligations.  All of this to say that without meaning to I have taken a break from blogging.  I am trying to find more Joy in the everyday.  And I don’t know what that means for Tan/Green.  I still love writing.  I just don’t have the urgency to publish my thoughts the way I have before.  Oh I would love to write up some of my adventures in upper middle management or church leadership…there is just no way to adequately protect the identities of the innocent!  So, something else will strike me – something that brings me Joy.  And then I will start to blog again with regularity.

Until then, thank you to the 100 or so folks that have read along through the years and I hope that you will keep checking new posts when they someday come out.  Feel free to make suggestions, ask questions, seek photos, say hi.  Stay in touch (one of the real, unanticipated, pluses to blogging which truly does bring much Joy) and be well, Reader-Friends!

Our Early Christmas

Christmas indeed came early!  We received wonderful news for Gabriel at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. While his left eye is in stage 4 (of 5) of Coats Disease, his right eye appears disease free!  Truly, we thanked God.  We also thank our doctor and all of the wonderful people in our life praying for and pulling for Gabriel.  Even with this good news, I will never rest easy – nervous of eye injury or onset of Coats in the second eye (which is very rare) – because it is my nature.  But with this news we can focus on daily life again.  And for the first time in more than a month, with pain in check, Gabriel is seeming like himself again.  I forgot how early he wakes up when he is feeling good…

Because I find it fascinating I want to share two images with you.  The first (on right)  is the normal network of blood vessels.  right6This is Gabriel’s alright right eye. And next image is the blood vessels in Gabriel’s left eye.  If I didn’t know what that was an image of I think I would find some art and beauty there.  Even still, though it is the embodiment of an abnormality, it is a unique part of sweet Gabriel.

left6

And with that, let me thank all you for caring about Gabriel on this journey.  Whether you are a praying person or one who thinks good thoughts (are those so different?) – I do believe in the power of intention and that helped to bring about our happy outcome.  To be sure, we have other treatments to attend and issues to monitor but those will go on through the years.

With our Christmas wish granted, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and a happy, healthy New Year to all!

 

(P.S. The derailed Living Project of life lessons will return and wrap up in 2014…see you then!)

Gabriel Update

It took longer to have something to update you on in regards to Gabriel than I anticipated!  Our marvelous local medical team helped us work through some red tape involved with being referred out of network/out of state and we were able to finally see Dr. Lee on December 2.  He and his staff run a tight ship and were very good to us.  With amazing speed, and we hope, accuracy he diagnosed Coats’ Disease.

Gabriel's first selfie
Gabriel’s first selfie

This is a rare disease – Dr. Lee sees hundreds of children every year (every week by the looks of his schedule!) and sees about 20 cases per year.  This is fewer than retinoblastoma which he estimated at 50 per year.  We are thankful that we have had three doctors independently report that they do not think this is a cancer.  We will in the next week, or two, return to LA for an exam under anesthesia where there will be a few different exams done on the unsighted eye to see if we confirm the diagnosis and stop the progress of the disease (Gabriel has since the initial finding had eye pain and increased pressure, being treated as glaucoma, due to this progressing).  They will also re-verify that this isn’t cancer and look at the sighted eye to make sure it is in the clear.  So yes, we still need lots of good thoughts and strong prayers for that…I really can believe it will all be ok if we get good news on his right eye.  Coats Disease is most often unilateral and affects just one eye but can in even rarer cases affect both eyes possibly leading to blindness.

As any parent out there can imagine even saying (typing) the word “blind” is terribly hard.  That said, I have to say that one of the bright spots in this journey has been the support and love shown us from just about all fronts…family and friends, co-workers, church family, reader-friends…it has been amazing.  And in that support has been far more shared experience than I would have imagined.   “Oh,” says one couple, “our son has a false eye – it isn’t the end of the world.”  I need to hear these things!  A co-worker pulled me aside at a conference to ask with great concern how Gabriel was faring and revealed that he himself has vision in only one eye.  We started to joke that he could actually be a pirate someday – and it helped me see that this is, as noted, not the end of the world.  And I have talked with a close family member about her experience having sight in one eye – it isn’t a big deal, she says.  The verdict is in – it will really be just fine.  And I will totally believe that as soon as I know that right eye is, in fact, right.  What a great Christmas present that could be!  Hmmm…I haven’t done this is a long time:  Dear Santa…

Children’s Eye Exams, and Photos, Matter: Gabriel’s story

Last Friday we took the boys to the ophthalmologist.  Often young children do not get eye exams.  For us, years ago, Dante showed signs that his droopy eyelid was interfering with his vision, or so I thought.  Turned out the droopy eyelid would at some point play into his vision but at 9 months he was already showing signs of amblyopia, or using the dominant eye and allowing the weaker eye to be lazy.  So at 9 months Dante got glasses – loved them – and we have been going back every 6-12 months since then. This was Gabriel’s first appointment at a still young two and a half.  I had noticed earlier in the summer that his eyes didn’t seem to track together perfectly and I thought maybe he was getting a lazy eye as well.   We called to make our appointment for Dante and added in Gabriel.  As there was nothing urgent we didn’t ask to advance our appointments and got to go in last Friday.

Happily, Dante tested 20/20 with both eyes with his glasses on.  Perfect.  His droopy eyelid has been starting to bother him and it is now an appropriate time to have surgery on that.  Also good news and expected.

Gabriel went into a separate exam room with Nathan while I sat with Dante.  We finished up and joined the other boys.  Nathan immediately pointed out how when you covered Gabriel’s right eye he couldn’t do the tests and would brush the cover away.  Hmm, I thought, he will definitely need glasses.  I also showed our doctor a photo of Gabriel.  She looked at it and at me and asked what I was showing her.  That his eyes didn’t seem quite lined – that something was off.  She pointed out that the eyes were parallel but that there was a “different” reflection in the left eye.  We would want to look at that.  Ok…let’s look.

June 2013
June 2013

The ophthalmologist, a fabulous woman from the South who carries a funny old collapsing giraffe toy in her lab coat to check basic vision functions, examined Gabriel’s eyes briefly and then did dilation.  Gabriel was a trooper – trusting us to be there with him and ignoring any discomfort.  Still sitting on Nathan’s lap I was the one to stand over the doctor’s shoulders and whom she showed what she saw.  In the first, right, eye, she told me to look and notice how very dark it was, no reflection.  In the other eye, the left, she had me look and see the white reflection.  Yep, I clearly saw that.  This white tissue reflecting he light was (is) Gabriel’s retina.  A detached retina, if you have never encountered it, is very serious.  I think, in fact, that is what I piped out, “That’s serious.”  Yes, agreed our doctor, we will get you in to see the retina specialist immediately.

I hate medical things that need to happen right now.  The things busy doctors will rearrange their schedules for.  Hate.

The retina specialist had us drive right over but was called into surgery by the time we arrived.  We came back a few hours later and were seen while she took a break from the surgery.  If I hate medical things that encourage schedule changes, I really hate medical things that warrant interrupting surgery.  Really hate.

All this while, Nathan and I are rather clueless about what we might be doing so urgently other than reattaching the retina.  A friend of mine had two detached retinas and I knew the surgery would be urgent.  First there was another dilation (and again Gabriel was a trooper) and a confirmation that his retina was floating in the vitreous fluid of his eye.  Then came the ultrasound, and me asking, what are you looking for with the ultrasound?  Simple, one word answer:  Cancer.  Ultrasound, go.  Tears go.  Helpless plea for prayers over social media, go.

Gabriel was a model patient – still, calm, hands down, so trusting.  The specialist got all the angles she wanted and sat down with a sigh.  No cancer.  More tears, go.  Thank you prayers, go.

December 2012
December 2012

The diagnosis was a detached retina with little chance, if any, for reattachment, second opinion needed.  Currently, though Gabriel may have some shadow and light perception, he is blind in his left eye.  And our retina specialist, who takes on the toughest cases in Nevada, is sending us to Dr. Thomas Lee at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, who takes on the toughest cases in the country.  That is apparently us since Dr. Lee agreed to take us on last week.  We are waiting for insurance and scheduling and all that now.  That said, our growing team of professionals have been responsive, thorough and understanding.  Our ophthalmologist has been taking my calls personally – no voice mail, no wait.  Our specialist called the day after the ultrasound test, a Saturday, to talk more thoroughly about the possibilities and see what questions we had come up with.  The insurance handlers have been calling when they say they will.  I am so thankful that I noticed something amiss and we have had this medical team spring up around us.

This post is partly to just tell our story.  I find I need that catharsis as there is worry, grief and hope all mixed up in our family right now.  More though, I know many if not most of my readers have small children.  And those who don’t, probably know people with small children.  And everyone with small children can easily see if their child has retina problems.  We all take thousands of pictures of our children now, thanks to our smart phones.  Look those photos over and see if you notice a recurring white or yellow reflection in the eye (most likely just one eye).  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest ophthalmologist and insist on a dilation exam.  Our fabulous Southern Belle ophthalmologist did such a fabulous job of remaining calm once I showed her the image of Gabriel though I am convinced in that moment she knew what she would find.  Children’s retinas don’t detach at random.  Though we have not gone through the diagnosis of why this happened or if the other eye is at risk, the best I can tell retinoblastoma (cancer), Coat’s Disease (faulty blood vessel/retina relationship) or a few other fairly serious diseases are often in play.  Or as Nathan keeps pointing out, it could just be a detached retina.  You still want to get that checked out as detached retinas, untreated, will result in permanent vision loss.

October 2012
October 2012

I believe that Gabriel’s retina has been detached for at least a year.  I have found that “different reflection” or glow clearly in photos a year old.   I have scattered images of Gabriel through this post – did you notice that “different reflection”?  I think too many of us would not until we are really looking for it.  And, once you see it, is it possible to look past the glow?

That uber-specialist, Dr. Lee,  that we have been referred to along with a mom in a similar situation started a campaign a few years ago: Know the Glow.  Look into this site and links here to see more examples and more stories (because I think every mom who has received this news has put up a blog post about it!).  Please share our story freely and these links.  Enjoy looking at family photos and see what you see.

Updates to come on our sweet Gabriel!  Seen here in his new, beloved, safety glasses:

October 2013
October 2013

To Tell the Truth

Lying has become common place and largely accepted.  I hate this – lying sad and repugnant.  Seems like a strong statement but it is true.  When I hear in the news about politics, business, religious leaders and (of less concern but perhaps bigger influence) celebrities, lies are used freely under the euphemisms of forgotten facts and misstatements.  What makes me sad is that the mainstream public has become numb to this kind of poor ethical behavior that increasingly it is becoming the norm.  It is so disheartening because the liars lie for self-gain; for covering up bad behavior; and avoiding further discussion or discovery.  No one is out there lying their way to world peace.

Look, in life, there will be times when you need to tell someone they look good when they don’t or maybe you will want to throw a surprise party or maybe there is something embarrassing you don’t want to talk about.  White lies exist.  There is tact to consider.  There is discretion.  That said, lying only works when no one is looking.  Having character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.  If having good character isn’t enough for you, it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind that more than ever, someone is always looking.  And most likely electronically encrypting…

There is a theme in what I have been saying – the people you associate with will make a difference in your behavior.  Anyone who encourages you or pressures you to lie is acting in their own interest, not yours (even when they claim otherwise) and eventually, if not consistently, they will lie to you.  And it feels awful to be lied to.  The bottom drops out of a relationship where there are lies uncovered.  And that loss is virtually impossible to regain.  This is what you do to others when you lie.

In reading research about why kids lie I see it is because they tell their parents and teachers what they think they want to hear.  No, I wasn’t smoking.  Yes, I did my homework.  That evolves to bigger things as you get older – with similar rationale.  Saying what you think the other person wants to hear, not what is true, the liar hiding behind lies – trying to get away with something or avoid dealing with an issue.  No, I am not addicted to pain pills.  Yes, I put all of those funds in the company’s account.  (And yes, I know there is a huge space between undone homework and embezzlement bot, oh, the slippery slope!!)

I want you to know that what I want to hear is what’s real.  You dad wants to hear what is real.  Most people do, even when it is hard to hear.  Just work on being tactful.  Honesty is the best policy.  This means being honest with yourself too and facing problems head on – lying to yourself is just as bad as lying to someone else.

I am thankful routinely that I was taught the value of honesty early on; that I work for a company that emphasizes ethics, including honesty; and that the friends and family in my life are honest, up front folks.  (Note: honesty also cuts way back on “drama.”)

Pinnocchio
Pinnocchio; Source: vpzone (flickr)

It may seem complex but it boils down pretty simply:

  • Don’t behave in a way that you later need to lie about
  • Don’t plan behavior that will require you to lie.
  • Don’t associate – work or play – with those who expect or accept lying.

Lies weigh you down – you need to keep track of what really happened and what version you offered up and to whom.  It wastes energy and adds risk to your relationships.  Simply, it is ugly behavior and isn’t worth it.  Be your best and you won’t need to lie about a thing.

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, about ages 15-30. **

Developing Yourself

I was flattered this week to be asked, as a local female leader, to speak at the Women’s Development meeting for my company.  The topic was, aptly, development and the talk I gave was well received – and fun to give.  I thought I would share it with you, Reader-Friends – I hope you find something interesting here.

The wording of the invite to today’s event [Where do you want to be in 3 years? 5? 10?] got me thinking…but in reverse.  Where I was I three years ago?  Five?  Ten?  What do I think played significantly into my “development” to be where I am today.  For those of you who don’t know me that is the Director of Show Site Operations for FAV ROC, a mom, a runner, a wife a church goer and a few other things here and there.  At work, I oversee five departments whose work happens in show prep and on show site, as opposed to in the office or warehouse and our work takes us from Denver to the Pacific Ocean.

So where do you start?  What is development?  I feel like development is the process of getting ready.  The trick is you don’t really know what you are getting ready for.  You just want to BE ready.  Opportunities show up – like FWD, like CES, like our Heart Association activities, like promotions.  Be ready.  How did I get ready?  What made me feel prepared to take on four distinct roles in 8 years with Freeman?  Or even presume to stand here speaking to 60 people about something I have never spoken about before?  In what I imagine as a lens zooming out, here are some things that I believe are key to my continuing development.

First, is attitude.  This is completely under your control.  You decide how you respond to challenges and people every day at every turn.  And as a colleague of mine would say over and over, perception is reality.  Cultivate your values and attitude and find out how you are being perceived.  Make sure those things line up how you want them to.

Ok, so you have figured out how you want to be perceived and are working towards that.  Next, figure out what you impact from where you sit.  A great way to do your job well is to understand the system in which you fit.  And it is a good way to get ahead.  Something I have found valuable in all the organizations where I have works is learning what happens in all the departments and making some contacts scattered throughout.  I love solving problems across divisions and when I have the chance I ask the folks with whom I come into accidental contact the hows and whys of their job.  They remember me – I increase my value to my division – and I have resources when I need to get things done.  Win. Win. Win.  Learn about the systems you are part of.

And systems don’t start and stop here at Freeman.  I find the best employees to be the most well rounded – outside and inside the office.  Everyone should have interests outside of work – and if you are looking to develop your leadership skills or your speaking skills or your planning skills find ways to do this in your community groups as well.  There are opportunities at church, as the coach for little league or in any charity that sparks your passion.  This is an engaging way to get ready with immediate rewards since, let’s face it – we don’t get too many hours away from work.  Find something you really enjoy.

So here you are – you have cultivated your attitude, you are figuring out how Freeman works and you are, say, running for local office…do you see how we are zooming out?  From you to Freeman to the community.  Now the world.  What?  Well, I have found that smart business people – the people I want to emulate and follow – know what is going on in the world.  From a business perspective, when you are paying attention to a wide array of messages and issues it means you can talk to just about any client about things relevant to them or their field of work.  From a personal perspective this keeps you well rounded and for me helped me think about a variety of issues from a variety of perspectives.  This is always appreciated by people you are interacting with.  Just ask your significant other.

Here you are – all zoomed out – you have honed you “personal brand,” new employees seek you out to learn about Freeman, you have hobbies that keep you active and engaged and you have solved the crisis in Syria.  It is a vision.  But what gets you of bed in the morning?  These are all important elements to being a well-developed adult.  None of it gets you out of bed.

Let me circle back to my own story here – I came into this company as a Production Manager.  I love live events – I love the truck pulling up to the dock.  I love wearing my steel toe boots and being on the floor for 15 hours.  I love watching an empty ballroom become a show. You can see why I am in the AV division.  These were the things that got me up in the morning.  I am also an achievement junkie and found myself on that path you are supposed to take…go to a good college, get a good internship, get a nice job, get a promotion.  So when my boss came to me with a promotion opportunity I jumped at it.  And then after I got it, I thought:  What am I doing?  Where are my shows?  Did I take this management role because it is the next step or “promotion” with no other reason?  Friends, ask yourself these questions BEFORE you change jobs!  Soon after I took this new role I was able to help someone create a way to work with a family emergency.  And I saw in a blinding moment of clarity what bosses impact in the life of an employee and that my role is making the best work life possible for my team.  That.  That is what gets me out of bed.  No one but me could have decided that this was the underlying meaning to my work.  Not every manager will find this to be the meaning in their work.  What provides meaning in your work, just like the attitude you cultivate, will be yours alone since we all arrive where we are with different skills and values.

Developing yourself is a piece by piece, step by step journey that takes seeing your own specific attributes clearly; understanding your impact here and how things around you work; growing your own interests; seeing what is happening in the world and then applying all of that, with an understanding of why you do what you do, to your everyday life.  People will notice this and you will grow, learn and develop every day.  I hope you will be as fortunate as I have been and enjoy that journey – it is time well spent.  Thank you.

 

Read

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, about ages 15-30. **

You will know in your bones how important  reading is to your father and me.  By example, we read all the time…to you, to ourselves, whenever we can steal a moment.  We read the news, magazines, blogs, and books…oh the books!  Non-fiction on topics ranging from religion to the New York garment district to photography to social research to sports and crafts…fiction works from spy thrillers to travelogues to cozy mysteries…instructional manuals on engineering and Pilates…it all reigns on our shelves.  We love books as much as we love reading.  What’s up with books?  What’s up with reading?

All I can say about books is that they are magic.  Books are an experience, to me, beyond words.  My very first goal in life was to publish a book, a mystery.  I was six when, inspired by Nancy, I started writing “The Mystery on Hail’s Road” (a charming interpretation of the name of a crazy curvy dark road near my grandma’s house that was actually called, ahem, Hell’s Road…).  With two thesis projects and years of blogging and other, paid even, writing projects I haven’t made it yet…but I haven’t given up either!

Genetics Exhibit, San Jose Tech
Source: Thomas Hawk (flickr)

Reading is everything – you can learn and experience so much through reading.  You will know this because you both at ages 2 and 4 already love reading.  Dante, you amaze us every day on your reading progress (you sounded out the word ‘cobra’ last night to our amazement).  Gabriel you love letters already.  I hope you keep that love of reading.  There is more reading in the world today than ever before thanks to the internet.  As I have mentioned you need to vet what you read, assess the bias and the content.  Read thoughtfully.

Some things I have read in my life have stayed with me…made impressions that have shaped me.  These are suggestions for you, I hope you find something of value here as well.

The first academic reading I remember enjoying was in second grade, the poems of Robert Frost.  I often think of The Road Not Taken.  We read lots of things between second and tenth grade but the next reading assignment I was changed by was reading novels by Ken Follett.  Learning that historical fiction was a real way to learn history was mind blowing.  Also in high school I discovered Shakespeare and the rich challenge and reward of reading the language and seeing that people have struggled with the same weaknesses for all of time.  Nona bought me a Hemingway novel about that time as well and the modernization of those struggles equally captured my attention.

Non-fiction grabbed me in college as I learned how to work with people.  My communication reading of course was central to my communication degree, but even within that Influence by Robert Cialdini and But I Thought you Meant… by Julia Wood were particularly eye opening. 

I could write for days about books I love, authors I admire and works that have spoken to me.  But it is all so personal.  What has spoken to your dad is not what has spoken to me even though there are many books we have both enjoyed.   I look forward to seeing what books you choose and what speaks to you.  In fact, I look forward to borrowing your books and getting your recommendations.  It will help me learn about one of the most important people in my world, you.

 

I’m Biased…Like All Media

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, about ages 15-30. **

Of the many things that are so very different already than they were in my youth media tops the list.  A mere 25 years ago there was broadcast TV, cable TV, radio, newspapers, and books – aside from those, and a few derivative things, that was about it.  Now the world runs by constantly available, almost infinite media.  Thank you, Internet.  Thank you, Smart Phone.  I can hardly imagine what another 10 or 20 years of technology will bring.  There is no way that I can really speak to all the media and information sources you will know.  What I can speak to is how to approach those things.

Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange
Source: Paolo Tonon (flickr)

One of the best classes I ever had was in high school, 10th grade Global Studies.  It was my first exposure to many of the world’s current events – and strangely as much as media has changed, many of the world’s conflicts and hot spots are the same.  We had to stay abreast of the news.  And we learned about bias.  Every piece of media is biased.  Everyone has an angle.  There are fewer and fewer information sources that even attempt to remove bias, especially by percentage, than ever.  From actual news, to ads, to entertainment to your friend’s social media story telling…it is all colored by the perspective of the teller/media stream owner.

I have made the point here a few times that you need to surround yourself with right-for-you people, experiences and messages.  You may think my point here will be the same.  It isn’t.   I feel that media – especially informational media – is a great way to learn about other perspectives, widen your understanding of issues, learn new things and experience in a virtual way things you won’t experience (or are thinking about trying)…as long as you keep bias in mind.  Sure, choose main sources of info from those who share your world view but look for opposing information too.  From there be analytical and know where you stand…only then let yourself be persuaded to adopt a new viewpoint.  Do not let this happen subconsciously (as much as that is even possible).  Look for quality of content – research, references, grammar, and acknowledgement of bias.  Learn.  There are so many new ways to learn about the world it is amazing and exciting and I think will be more so as technology evolves.

The flip side of informational media is entertainment.  Entertainment is where fact and fiction blend. [Dear Reader-Friend, depending on your stand point, you may think the news today is where fact and fiction blend…]  Movies, shows, songs, and books about people experiencing trauma, disaster, chaos, illicitness, struggle, despair, pain, dissatisfaction…these all make for more gripping entertainment than relatively happy, balanced, loving, employed people living a good life.  Often entertainment is the heightened depiction of some societal extreme.  It may be gripping; it may even be influential – it still has bias and it is still fiction.  In my own media selection, I try not to support any entertainment that glorifies or encourages poor life decisions – drug use, irresponsible sex, abusive relationships, and the like.  This seems to get harder and harder and if you choose that path will be your call.  Regardless, do not mistake entertainment for social norms or lifestyle aspirations. 

Added to the sort of traditional news and entertainment are unconventional non-news, non-entertainment pieces of media. Like, ahem, blogs…or, say, YouTube.   It is just wonderful that people everywhere can find outlet for their creative, educational or profiteering sides without the pressures of editing or proving the worth of their ideas to producers or publishers.  That doesn’t mean they all earn your time or interest.  Guard yourself from Time Vampires ™.  There are gems out here – media streams that speak to your interests, provide the answer you are looking for the second you are looking for it, connect you with old friends or create new connections. 

This can all be useful, healthy, fun.  And just like everything that can be fun, it can get you in trouble too.  Remember to vet your sources, choose what to embrace and what to question, and intentionally pick where you spend your time and energy (and money!).  And that’s what I think…not that I am biased.

 

The Writings on the Walls

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, about ages 15-30. **

By the time you see these letters to you, you will have seen the items pictured here a thousand of times.  Have you looked at them?

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I loved this piece when I was little (and that polar bear who has also been with me 35 years).  I loved that my mom made it; I loved the message – I was reminded that happiness is a decision whenever this caught my eye after, like so many things we see every day, it had been invisible for awhile.  I think the messages that surround us – what we surround ourselves with – slip by osmosis into our minds and become our world view.  So I added this to your room:

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And we were wisely gifted this:

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And this completed our New House wall hangings:

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Every message here can apply to everything you do.  And should, I think.  The words and images you surround yourself with should bolster and improve and evolve your approach to the world.  These things sink in and stay, I believe some people call it brainwashing.  It works.  Living in, dwelling in the Right messages is as important as living in, dwelling in the Right circles of people.  You will decide for yourself what Right is.  I am positive you will decide well.  And until then these messages are meant to give you a strong place to start.

Dante Turns Four!

Today, I am stepping outside of my usually writing for a moment to say how happy we were to celebrate Dante’s 4th birthday this week.  Four years has gone so quickly and, personally, I understand more every day what my mom used to say “the kids get older but we [the adults] never do.”  Right?  I still feel 23 someplace in my brain (or maybe I just wish that to be the case since I way more to take care of these days!).

Pumpkin Head!!

Four seems to be an amazing age.  A daunting one too.  There is NO baby left in Dante.  There isn’t any toddler even left there.  He is a little boy – and all boy at that.  He is clever and can be funny.  He is concerned about things and takes time to examine tiny details, a real old soul in those ways.  People have said that about him since he was born.  Something “old soul” just radiates from him.  Still, as any four year old should, Dante still loves trains – I was just commenting this morning on how much brain space I now have dedicated to knowing who the number three engine is on the Island of Sodor (Henry, for those you who don’t know).  Dante loves building, coloring…anything that can be deemed a project.  Especially one he can do with Mom or Dad.  He likes to be outside and likes to run – twice these week he have run for half a mile without stopping at a fast four year old pace (thank goodness I can keep up!)  And reading, I am thrilled to report, is a top activity.  I LOVE listening to him read.  It is the most amazing thing to see him piece together the story, interpret pictures and words his own way and, now, actually reading a whole lot of the words correctly.

What could be so unnerving about four years old, you say?  This is the year.  I can feel it.  The world will open up to Dante and he will start to really question and understand it.  The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  I can only take so much of the news these days – yellow journalism does me in.  I seek out good stories and business stories and stories about parenting and crafts and leadership and AV.  I let stories about Eygpt and the NYC mayoral race wash over me – acknowledged and released.  I get to be overwhelmed by the complexity and failings of the systems of our world.  Perhaps, just maybe, that is why I started this year’s blog project…in hopes of warding off the inevitable influence of a complex, often crass and cruel and totally off balance world…that Dante is going to start comprehending.

But this week I can put that aside and reside the joy of Dante being four and clever and funny and loving.  At his checkup today he wowed the doctor by identifying Neptune on the planet poster and surprised me by hugging me and telling me he loved me after I told him he had to get two shots and they would hurt but he would be ok.  (Be ok and get a lollipop.)  He grimaced but didn’t cry.  He showed surprising maturity.

This is perhaps just what I need to keep in mind this fourth year.  Dante is capable of things I can barely imagine.  He will be just fine figuring out the world we live in.  And chances are he will keep surprising me.

Drink

drinking water
Source: Darwin Bell (flickr)

 

Drink lots of water, filtered not bottled.

Drink everything else available in true moderation.

Look, coffee and tea have been around forever.  A cup of either a day is great. Don’t add sugar.  Don’t get dependent on the caffeine.  Don’t drink soda and have juice in moderation.  Beware anything processed, contained in plastic or touting extraordinary health, wellness or energy benefits.

Hmm, maybe addressing “drink” wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  Oh wait…alcohol.

The basic principle is easy: don’t drink too much.

Don’t drink too much at dinner and think you can drive.

Don’t drink too much at a party and think you can make rational decisions.

Don’t drink every day.

Don’t drink to feel better about yourself, forget about a problem, feel more social, to fit in, to stand out, to attract someone, to have a hard conversation, to maintain a relationship, or to end one.

Drinking is fraught. It is SO simple to have too much.  And you will need to learn what too much for you is without anything bad happening.  What is bad, you ask?  Oh, fist fights, car accidents, rapes, a night on the bathroom floor, arrests, hospital stays.  Yes, those things happen.  In fact, they happen with more frequency than I realized in my college days when I was figuring it out.  And they leave huge, lasting scars, and not only or even primarily on the drinker.

You will know that your dad and I drink socially.  Yep, we have been drunk a time or two.  We walked home, or were home those times.  I have never had so much to drink I forgot what happened (why do anything you don’t want to remember or own up to?)

Here’s the thing…bad things happen in an instant.  They also happen over years when you can’t or won’t control your alcohol consumption.  The people you love and who love you don’t want to love a drunk man.  They want to know your lucid mind and live through all the joys and problems of life with you.  My dad is someone you will never meet. His struggle with alcohol brought him to an early death at age 45.  Only in recent years can I grasp how very young that is and how very much he has missed out on…you two are just the tip of that iceberg.  I don’t know how to explain what I learned by example, how to impact upon you what was so very clearly impacted upon me.  I don’t know that I would want you to understand so very well really.

So I will just say again:  Drink lots of water, filtered not bottled.  Drink everything else available in true moderation.  Do not drink too much alcohol.

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, about ages 15-30. **

Eat

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, about ages 15-30. **

Rainbow chard
Source: Happy Sleepy (flickr)

With a jolt I realized I hadn’t planned a post or two on eating.  This is advice for life here….how could I not include this in my “wisdom?”  Well, because initially it feels a bit micro-managey to say more than eat a nice balanced diet including your vegetables.  That was about all that folks my age got.

But then food became an industry and social changes created voids people increasingly fill with food and consuming all day came into fashion.  So, yes, there is a little more to say.  Mostly, I think Michael Pollan has nailed it: “Eat whole foods. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

Look, eating is one of life’s pleasures.  I used to think of myself as flawed for having that view but it is so widely shared I think now perhaps, just maybe, it is part of being human.  Here are things to keep in mind…

Food is not love.  (I just heard the hearts of Italian and Jewish mothers cracking in half.)  Food can be made with love, given with love, eaten with love.  But food itself isn’t love.  Moreover…dairy doesn’t show more love than cauliflower.  Cakes don’t show more love than carrots.  Time and effort in preparation.  Warm intentions of long life and good health.  Taking real time to connect around life giving food.  Those things are love.

Food is nourishment – meant to be full of energy and nutrients.  We live in a crazy world where science and technology make it possible to create all sorts of edible products with dubious processes and chemicals that provide calories (lots) and nutrients (few) and crazy shelf life (just past nuclear holocaust).  They don’t nourish the body and no one is really sure if they may, in fact, cause harm.  I like to live by the precautionary principle…let’s know the outcome before being test subjects, voluntary ones at that, through what we eat.

Food is complex in its makeup, its use and its emotional connections.  So I know I risk oversimplifying when I add to Pollan’s advice and say bluntly: don’t let yourself gain too much weight, it never goes away and gnaws at your esteem and health.  Don’t eat when you are bored or out of stress, it doesn’t solve the root problem.  Don’t forget to eat, you need replenishment.  In short: eat for health and when you are hungry.  Make exceptions for holidays and traditions.  Share meals with people whose company you relish.

Next posts: Drink and Be Merry, of course…

 

 

 

 

Family Pushes Us

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls at The Skate Park Creative Commons
source: D. Sharon Pruitt (flickr)

 

Unlike friends, you don’t get to select your family.  You are born into and stuck with us.  Not just me and Dad but all the extended family too.  Know that life is lived in seasons and you will have times where family is physically close, times when they are emotionally close and times when they just don’t feel close at all.  All of this this ok.  It is ok because at the end of it, family is still there.

Family sets your norms, what you think it right and regular in the world and family has provided you with both your nature and what has been nurtured into you.  There is no escaping the value structure and beliefs of your basic family unit.  There is great potential that you will go through a time of deeply questioning all of that, probably in adolescence and early adulthood.  There is a tension, a push-pull, usually about the values and beliefs that you just aren’t sure you hold.  That is growing up.  But don’t expect – in this family at least – that you will go unchallenged.  Family pushes us.

Unlike friends and coworkers who will accept you at face value, family will see you through your early years and will push back if you change too much, will question if you make perceived poor choices, will warn you about bad romances and unhealthy decisions.  You should always listen.  You should always weigh this advice, these warnings, these concerns.  There will always be something valid in what you are told.

And you will then make your own decisions.

There are many choices I have made that Nonna questioned.  Deciding to work in theater; moving to Las Vegas; changing religions; living with your dad before we were married.  And I heard her opinions – and Grandma’s opinion and my uncles’ opinions (second hand) – and I listened.  And I made decisions that didn’t always sit well with my family.

You will face so many choices in life and have so many relationships, financial dealings, matters of health.  Especially in those formative 15-30 years, every day, every turn seems have big decisions, habits that get formed and new influences to contend with.  Family is the touchstone – even when we are a pain in your rear.  You will see what those values look like played out, and judge for yourself how all of our decisions have turned out, and question, and listen.  Above all, appreciate that family will have opinions and that they come from the deepest love and concern for you – and not wanting you to make mistakes we made and wanting you to be your best self, living your best life.  I see many young people turn away from their families because they are being questioned and critiqued and know their decisions aren’t backed.  This is one of the jobs  (and not a fun one, by the way) that family takes on.

Listen first, and know we will always support you.  Do not turn your back on family or feel belittled or worry about disappointing us.  Love and family will remain no matter what you do.  And know we expect the same from you.

Longtime Friends

beach feet
Source: Micah A. Ponce (flickr)

Keep your good friends a long time.  Make the effort.

This is something I wanted to tell you boys in this series of posts but wasn’t sure how to start off.  During a lecture at William and Mary the lecturer said, “How do you get to know friends?  Over time.  You don’t share the whole story over the first coffee or the first dinner.  That’s too risky.”  That resonated so strongly because I was in this lecture visiting a friend…a friend whose story I had been getting to know for over fifteen years.  My thought in that moment was, “And the story gets bigger.  Our stories get jumbled together.”

When I was a production assistant at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, I stayed in the home of a very lovely woman named Jan.  She was invited to the home of a longtime friend to enjoy wine and cheese around the kitchen island with a group of friends who had known each other over twenty years.  She generously included me on the invitation.  The night was so impactful because it was so clear that these longtime friends had lived life’s adventures together and were visibly, tangibly close knit.  They supported each other in a way unique from casual friends or even family.  In that moment and moving forward, I wanted those kinds of relationships on my life.  I was 21. There was no way to know then but I had collected most of my best, longtime friends already.  Over these last nearly 15 years I have gained a few more.  In this way I am truly blessed.

These friends and I haven’t been so fortunate as to spend our everyday lives together and there isn’t a defined “group.”  There are no nights as special and visits as great as those with old friends, though.  It just takes time to get there.  Even in our Vegas home we now have friends whose stories we have been getting to know for five, six, seven years.

I didn’t know who out of all the people I met over time would stick as friends.  It is just one of those things you don’t know until later – and one of those things that is easily taken for granted.  This message to you isn’t about making longtime friends – it isn’t something you can set out to do.  This message is about keeping longtime friends and that you need to value those relationships…even if you don’t know which ones they are for a decade (or two). In that spirit treat your friends well and cling to those with whom your conversation and laughter flows freely, those who are willingly with you through the hard times, those whose decisions and accomplishments you admire and those who don’t bring drama and conflict to your life.

Why 15-30 are the Worrisome Years

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

self-control in green and black
source: flickr (stratoz)

This was not a post I planned.  In some ways though it should have been the first post I wrote in this Living Project series. Why do I think ages 15-30 are the challenging years for boys? Because I see, again and again, men in this age range making poor decisions that result in sad, devastating…deadly outcomes.

Last week I received an email with a link to the news. One of our union guys…his son died in a car crash at age 24. This on its own is tragic.  I have recently learned of two associates loosing brothers in their twenties to car wrecks.  In this case, more tragic is that the crash involved alcohol and a car driving up to 80mph in a residential area.  These things are profoundly controllable.

Last August as a group of us returned from the annual leadership conference, we got word that a coworker’s son was swept away in a flash flood. Again, tragic news.  More tragic was that he jumped a fence to retrieve a cell phone from the wash during monsoon.  He knew the water was coming and took a wild risk.

These are the worst, but there is range.  Another coworker has a son in and out of jail on drug offenses; I can count handfuls of young men who have unintentionally fathered children; I see technicians with great potential unable to get it together enough to show up to work on time (they get fired).  These things break a parent’s heart and derail young mens’ lives.

The truth is I just don’t hear about as many young women involved in these sorts of poorly considered situations.  There are cultural reasons for this – men are encouraged to take risks, act indestructible, have no fear and be bold above all else.  There are psychological reasons for this – the area of the brain able to assess risk isn’t fully developed until something like age 25 and takes longest in men.  There are social reasons – there are times when peer pressure is strong; and we all try to “get away with” certain things in our youth.

I cannot imagine or predict how your brain will develop or what US culture will emphasize fifteen years from now.  And as hard as it is for me to accept, I will have, over time, less and less control over what social situations you are in.

You.  You, my sons, have all the control.  You decide if you will drive or ride drunk (please, never).  You elect with whom you will spend time and therefore what kind of social pressure you will face.  You will know yourself better than anyone and only you will know the limits of your self-control and decision making.  Do not put yourself into situations where you know bad decisions are easy to make.

In high school, that situation may be going to a party without any known safe way home (heck, that can be at any age).  In college, it may be hanging out in dorm with known illegal drug use.  In adulthood, it might be meeting with an old girlfriend when you have a wife.  It might be something that seems mundane like trying your first camping trip in Death Valley in July.  There are smart ways to do pretty much anything you want to do (assuming it is something legal and moral you set upon).  Arrange a ride with me. Find a different place to hang out.  Research how to do something new. Bring your spouse to meet the old flame.

Or maybe you will be that amazing guy who never overdid it even while everything crazy was going on around him.  That takes a huge amount of self-control, acting methodically and knowing yourself.  If you can, aspire in that direction! More realistic is this:

Take the time to be aware of yourself and your situation.  Know thyself and act accordingly.

Small Fights

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

Boxing Glove Wind Chime?
Source: Jpott (Flickr)

Last night we had a fight.  The three of us.  I wanted you to eat dinner and you did not want to eat a new food, either of you.  So I yelled and you cried and I slammed dishes and you got sullen, both of you.  None of us were our best selves.  And this morning you opened the front door for me when you heard me return from my run, bright eyed and happy to greet me, both of you.

In life there are big fights and there are small fights; there are fights that leave you raw and unsure of a relationship – fights that change the very fabric of a relationship.  Far more though are fights like we had last night.  Small fights.  These are simple clashes of will, annoyances that have reached their peak or even – often – totally unrelated feelings coming to bear in the safe environment of a strong relationship.   In these common small fights know these things:

You may be a yeller (I am) or you may be silent (like your father).  You may say things you regret and you can never take back your words.  If you are a yeller, beware.  You may need to say things that you don’t.  If you are silent, also beware.  Our closest relationships – family, usually – are safe havens for these fights.  On my side we are loud, we yell, we cry, we slam, we make obscene gestures.  We are, after all, Italian.  We forgive.  This leads to more crying and kinder gestures.  This red hot anger flames quickly and passes with grievances aired and emotions reset to zero. We don’t always resolve anything, change our behavior or have a plan to move forward. On your father’s side, there is stoicism, quiet hours, dispassionate talk.  There are Nordic and Northern European roots there.  There is forgiveness, also done quietly.  And all of this is completely valid.

You will fight how you fight – influenced by your parents, friends, media…the weather.  We all mix our reactions up.  We all have good days where we are our best selves even in the face of confrontation reacting to conflict with logic and a plan for resolution (this usually isn’t called a fight at all).  We all have bad days where we overreact to even the smallest perceived conflict avoiding the conversation or exploding.  Around here, we always forgive.  Lots of times we forget.  When your dad and I went to our pre-marriage classes at church one exercise involved talking about your last fight – we had a hard time recalling what that was.  We fight but we move on.

Do not be afraid or embarrassed or too proud to say you are sorry.  Apologize for only what you are sorry for – “I am sorry that we fought” or “I wish I handled my emotions differently” or “I am sorry you are upset.” That word goes a long way.

Be empathetic.  Why was there a fight?  Was it about what it seemed or is there something deeper?  What has your counterpart been experiencing?  Do not sink to ad hominem arguments.  Think about what might actually get through to the other person your point of view and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Consider not fighting.  Let the small things go.  Recognize when you aren’t able to be your best self and “take a lap” instead of engaging.  Don’t fist fight.

Set up a time to talk about the real issue.  Bring notes if you need to; bring solutions that are win-win.

Know above all else that fighting does not change love.  Family and friends – and even co-workers – who love you (or value you in the case of a peer) do not abandon you because if a fight.  A few fights, even.  Many petty fights? Dirty fights? Ugly, drawn-out, repetitive fights?  Drunken fights?  Yes, you lose people that way.  First your peers, then your friends and finally everyone but your mom and dad who will love and need you until we cease to share this Earth with you.

Fight fair. Don’t fist fight (though you should practice your right hook just in case).

 

Cleanliness is Important

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

Cleanliness matters.

Why?

We are blessed and lucky to have possessions and to live in part of the developed world – taking care of our things shows gratitude and reverence.

Cleaning is a way to practice discipline and order and mindfulness.

Keeping a warm, welcoming space is important to your own mental well-being and those you live with.

Clean just feels good and contributes to good health.

How?

Do a little every day and nothing will get overwhelming – don’t be lazy.  This is good advice for tasks that need to be done routinely and big projects alike. Cleaning is a fine way to create good habits that will affect other areas of your life.

Luckily you both have already started to internalize that clean is good and important.  Dante, you like things “nice and clean” – you have enjoyed sweeping and a clean floor since before you could speak.  Gabriel, you ask for “wipe up” and “bath time” and even help out already…keep it up!

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Stay Organized

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

Card File
Source: Mr. Ducke (flickr)

 

Some lessons learned in life are simply more straightforward and less emotional than others.  So let me say this: stay organized.

  • You will not waste time.
  • You will feel more relaxed.
  • You will be more successful in school and work.
  • You will create a better impression of yourself.
  • You will have pleasant and welcoming living/working/playing spaces (physical, digital and mental!).

I see organization in two halves.  First, there is the physical organization of stuff – important papers, files, household items, tools, and so forth. And then there is mental organization – ability to plan your day, accomplish tasks, show up on time, meet commitments and create long range goals.  Both halves of organization are important and provide tangible benefits.

Let’s start with stuff.  If you have a reasonable amount of stuff then it is easier to keep it organized.   Clutter and excess are currently being shown to add to mental stress because you have to manage your possessions – where do they go? How do they stay maintained? What is required to clean them?  Has this thing become obsolete?  By keeping physical possessions down to those things that you love, bring you joy and are used routinely, you to are on the path to staying organized.  Figure out where an item goes and put it is there, unless it is in use.  This is all there is to keeping things organized and it saves an amazing amount of time and frustration.  Also, it is a common courtesy to put things “where they go” when you are sharing space with family, roommates or coworkers.  

Organizing your thoughts can be trickier.  Though, if you can organize your things you can organize your thoughts and vice versa.  You will develop your own logic and your own way of understanding the world.  Know there is no right or wrong way to organize your thoughts – your goal is to be consistent and logical in your framework.  You like to plan your day in the shower?  Great.  You love “to do” lists…that works!  Whatever it is, your mental system should help you accomplish goals and just get done what has to get done in a day. Flexibility is also important here as when you find yourself working or married you will need to be able to merge your way of understanding and seeing important information with someone else’s way.  (Work, family and love shouldn’t be hard because you see the world differently – the right fit for you will be people and groups that complement your way of thinking and keep both sides engaged, not frustrated.)

Bridging the physical and mental spaces, the world has fully entered into the digital age…digital ideas and digital stuff…and that may well need more organization than anything.  You can be a digital hoarder much easier than a physical one – you will never trip over a Word document the way you will a misplaced book.  And you can record your thoughts in all sorts of formats.  Use the same principles…be consistent and logical in your digital work then store data “where it goes” when it isn’t in use. 

Few of my attributes have served me as well as being organized.  I really do not think I would have been able to earn my college degrees or be promoted in my career as I have without a strong base of staying organized.  Organization makes everything easier and gives you time and mental energy to focus on doing, being, thinking, living more fully.

 

My Faith Journey

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

Autumn Road
Source: msn678 (Flickr)

While I am on the topic of religion and faith, I can think of no better way to encourage you to question and seek than be an example.  What is below is the story I told at church about 4 years ago.  This was hard to tell at first but in review it still captures what the important parts of my journey have been:

My story is one of both religion and faith. [See…I have been thinking of these distinctly for a while!]

My faith journey started as a kid growing up – I was living in a small Massachusetts town where 110 out of 120 kids went to the SAME Roman Catholic Church, then there were a couple that went to other Catholic churches and 1 Jewish kid.  So, there wasn’t much questioning – you did what seemed like the absolute regular thing to do.  When we moved to Pittsburgh I was in 8th grade and I was interested to see how many Protestants there were but still there were many, many Catholics and I never really questioned my religion much.  I was interested in learning other faiths more as a matter of education and breadth than in terms of living in those traditions.  I attended Mass weekly with my mom – it wasn’t really negotiable.

But during college, like many people I stopped acting out a religion…I worked at the theater where they held Mass so often I got to experience two per Sunday.  Not that we paid much attention…what I learned there though, in seeing the Priest and the lay-person assistants before and after Mass was…they were very human.  The priest was a very mean man actually and that not only turned me off to him but opened my eyes to the reality that organized is run by imperfect men. This is a point of departure to the very traditional catholic view that the Catholic Church was established by God.  Initially that may have been true…but these hundreds and hundreds of years later I think other influences have moved in.  I started to doubt the Catholic Church but at the same time felt comfort in the familiarity there.  Still my eyes were being opened to inequalities in how various groups of people were treated – at what levels they could be accepted by the church.  Having moved really into dissatisfaction I spent several more years being distant from the church – attending on holidays and when visiting home.

While I felt a growing disconnect from the religion, I always felt close to God.  I always felt I had a personal relationship there that I valued.  And I really do think that I have a path before me set by God…so many times in my life I feel like things could only have turned out a certain way or that some things were just meant to happen.  I like that feeling of a guiding hand and being cared for.  And for a long time I was OK with just feeling that on my own.

But having moved out to Las Vegas with Nathan and knowing only two other people in town…I started wanting community.  I knew that in order for us to marry in the Catholic Church we needed the classes and so we become members of St. Thomas Moore and did our pre-Cana thing.  My family is very Catholic and because I know that God will care for me whether I wear the Catholic banner or some other label I knew that to have our wedding in a Roman Catholic Church would maintain the peace in my family and bring Nathan and I the most joy on that day.

After recuperating from a big Italian Catholic wedding…I set about re-discovering religion. And while I feel blessed to have had faith throughout, I wanted community.  I wanted to feel connected to people with similar beliefs and to know that I had support in my faith here in Las Vegas.  So I approached this the way I approach most things…I went to the library and I read up on all my options.  I also read many primary Catholic documents written by Pope John Paul and his close associates.  And these confirmed to me that remaining in the Roman Catholic Church would make me feel hypocritical and that if I wanted to pass faith and religion on to my children, I needed to find a religion that gave me the same peace that my faith did.

Though I gave Buddhism and Shintoism their fair time in reading, I knew that a Christian tradition would be the best fit.  And as I had really suspected all along, I though that Episcopal would really be the best fit.  Maybe Lutheran but probably Episcopal.  There are so many similar traditions here, but so much more openness and acceptance – of people, of political views, of questioning everything.  And there is a so much more accessible governance – that transparency and ability to fully participate also called to me.  I thought maybe I could try it.

Like I said earlier, I often feel that I have a path to follow and that God’s hand guides me…well, despite all my misgivings, I thought maybe the Catholic churches here in Las Vegas are just too big…6,000 families is a lot of people (over 20,000 in a parish?  That is a town!).  Maybe, I thought, I should give it one more shot.  Maybe I should try a smaller church.  But where would I find one?  Well, I like Boulder City and that is the closest thing we have to a small town, so off I went.  One weekend, I bravely go to Boulder City.  And I say bravely because my years of not only Catholic guilt, but also the years of Italian guilt – and knowing that I would be challenging and disappointing my family by leaving the Catholic Church – were weighing upon me.    I had been to St. Andrews in Boulder City before – I had happened upon as I adventured through the town previously and went inside to see it.  So I should have been able to attend Mass with little difficulty.  But I got all turned around and couldn’t find the church.  I didn’t see any churches, but I kept driving.  And then I saw a very sweet looking church – clearly about to start its service.  There were a few people heading inside.  As I got closer I saw that it was St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church.  Like I said sometimes, God’s hand guides me – sometimes it shoves.  I took the hint.  I enjoyed the service – led by 2 women!   I did give St. Andrews another go, but I really knew in that moment I could make this change.  We started attending Epiphany a week or two later and there we are.  Religion and Faith aligned.

Religion is Important – Even if They are All Wrong

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world. Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most worrisome years, ages 15-30. **

slow day
Source: Robert Bruce Murray III (flickr)

I am a person of faith and I am a person practicing a religion.  And I see those things as different.  This message isn’t about faith – though there are important things to say about faith.  This is about practicing a religion.  About how religion is important – even if all of them are wrong.

American society in the 2010’s is seeing the rise of the individual over the family or community.  Right now more people by percentage are single, living alone and living away from immediate and extended family than ever in American history.  Yet, humans are not meant to be solitary.  All manner of studies – and common sense and observation – tell us that humans are happiest over the long haul when they are connected deeply to others, give of their time and talent, and live in community.  Sadly, for many reasons, selfish behaviors, with their immediate rewards, are slowly becoming the bedrock of our society.  There is a lot of pressure in society to act selfishly and as in so many ways what is quick and easy in the short run conflicts with what is takes longer and more effort in the long run – even though the ultimate rewards are greater.

So what does this have to do with religion?  Religion puts you back into community living even if you are on your own or far from family (which you may be geographically but I will never let you get too far away from me!!)  My only experience is in Christianity and while I pray that you find the same values in being an Episcopalian I do (ahem, that would be to say the liberal side of Christianity), I know that you will have to seek and decide for yourselves.  So while I can only speak to belonging to a few churches, I imagine the benefits of belonging to any other church, synagogue, mosque or temple are similar.

What does a church provide?  It is a place for:

  • Accountability
  • Humility
  • Gratefulness
  • Graciousness
  • Grounding
  • Empathy
  • Fellowship
  • Celebration
  • Grieving
  • Reflection
  • Support
  • Acceptance
  • Advice (to receive and provide)
  • Asking what you should do in the context of your faith

These things are all real keys to real long term happiness.  And they are harder and harder to find as families are more and more spread out.  Your Grandma Leslie had a wonderful church home.  Her parish made your dad, me and Aunt Hannah feel so welcome and feel the love the community had for Leslie when she passed away.  Her life was marked by periods of great joy and times of great emotional struggle.  I know that Grandma Leslie’s hardships were so much easier to bear when she felt connected to her church community and her faith and I know they were as ready as she was to celebrate Dante’s birth with her.  I feel those things at our church – I am accepted and at the same time know that there are friends and parishioners seeing how you boys are being raised (accountability); our priest just spoke about our role as Christians in a capitalist society (reflection); friends brought us meals when you each were born (support, fellowship); we have heard amazing faith stories (empathy, grounding) and I have been asked to conduct leadership meetings (which humbles me).  This strong community has eased being thousands of miles away from our extended family these past few years.

It is so very hard to put into words the benefits of finding a good church but they are there and are real and are important.  And they are real and important regardless of whether or not you have chosen to believe in God’s one true religion (which I don’t think exists) or there turns out to be no God at all (which I don’t imagine to be true) or if you deeply and continuously question religion (many of us do).  I deeply wish for you a life where religion and faith play a strong part – knowing yourself, believing faithfully and living religiously contribute greatly to the happiness and inner peace I feel day to day and which I believe will carry me over the years.  And that is the comfort I want for you, too.

Reader-Friends – are you religious? Why or Why not?

In your Head and Heart is Everything You Need

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.” Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, maybe ages 15-30…and maybe beyond that. **

Dante and Gabriel Jan 2013

With death coming in threes, we have experienced more loss in our family.  One of my great aunts passed away at age 90.  I anticipate that you will be reading this around age 15. At age 15 you will have that many years five times over before you get to age 90.  That is a somewhat unlikely way to say that life is long and even from where I sit now at age 34 it is impossible to know what those years will bring.  I couldn’t have imagined my life…attend graduate school at Yale? Make a life in Las Vegas? Leave the Roman Catholic church? Unfathomable at age 15!  That is the unnerving yet exhilarating thing about living.  I have no idea what the future will bring even now.

And that is really the underlying reason I am writing this “Living Project” for you – it is only the strong foundation of ideals, values and beliefs that carry us through the many years, the ups and downs.  I chose to write to you now because I am in one of those good times in life – you and your dad, our home and my work, our church and my relationships bring me great joy now.  There are challenges – because life is boring without challenges – but they are the kind that work my mind and provide me opportunity to stretch myself and my abilities.  I am writing to you from that place – and in a way I am writing to myself as well.  Witnessing death, or a series of deaths, brings ideas like this into focus.  You (and I) need to know that within you is everything you need to handle the good times and the bad.  Over 90 years, there will be days where you are elated, thrilled with the prospect of what life holds; there will be times – possibly long stretches – that are trying, sorrowful and make you fear what could come next.  The thing is you just never know what is around the bend – you cannot predict the bad times or the good.  Those times and everything in between are part of a very long journey.  In your head and in your heart is everything it takes to live life – use logic first, then double check with your emotions.

Seeing how our elders have lived out their lives I am impressed at how they have borne the hardships and celebrated the joys of life – and amazed that no two people handle life in the same way.  There are a million jigsaw pieces that add up to a life lived.  My great aunt…she worked when women didn’t work.  She wrote plays and sneaked out for ballet lessons when immigrant Italian families had no use for such frivolity.  That may seem irrelevant to someone decades later – but it isn’t at all.  The things you do over all the decades of living make you who you are.  She and others have made the best of their circumstances and above all they have made it through.  Life takes fight – gusto – and you both have it in spades, from the beginning.  Dante, when you were just a few days old, not receiving the proper nourishment from me, your body and mind protected itself by shutting down all extraneous activity.  A few days later you emerged from a comatose state with a wail and a strong will that clearly carries on.  And Gabriel, you suffered through horrible allergies for months in your first year – a painful rash covered you and yet you laughed easily through discomfort that you didn’t understand.

And in addition to having what you need for life all on your own, how blessed you are to have each other.  Be friends and a support to each other…God willing, the journey will be long and winding and you will share the many highs and lows.

Reader-Friends – you have what you need too.  Many recent events, from a sad focus on death and the survivors’ reactions to friends fighting to change sex trafficking laws to the recent winner of the Intel science prize…they have reaffirmed that each person is strong and complex…and that most make great use of their head and heart.  The human spirit has amazing capacity and it endures.

Work for the Right Company

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.” Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, approx. ages 15-30.**

All work and no play
Source: dharmabumx (flickr)

Right now is a very work intensive time for me – I have been gaining responsibilities and duties at a steady pace over nearly two decades, with a swift bump in the last year and a half.  Most immediately, I have been working late nights and been on call on weekends and been thinking about work in lots of my “free” time.  I have close connections to a few dozen employees on my direct team whose lives I care deeply about and who I want to see successful and happy.  It weighs on me.  But here is the thing about work – it is work, not play.  It should be hard and challenging and inspire dedication, commitment and caring.  It should also, most of the time, allow for a healthy balance between work and everything else.

What makes it tolerable?  Working for companies that are worthy of all that effort and personal investment.  Those good companies have good bosses and co-workers and teams and they inspire everyone to work to a common goal.

Not every company is fantastic.  Not every boss is helpful or appreciative.  Not all coworkers come together as a team.  Keep in mind that you should never feel entitled to anything – you need to work, to strive for what you want and get from life.  That said you still should seek the best employer possible.  You may not know enough about a company until you are on the inside.  You may not have a choice of employer all the time – there will be recessions and bubbles and other financial swings that will affect your work life. Eventually, you will also have chances to target good companies in your chosen line and align with them.  Over time I have been blessed to work for companies that have treated me well, paid me on time and helped me learn – more than that I have had mentors, good leadership and chances to grow (which, by the way, include chances to fail).  Not every boss was perfect; a few bosses were role models.  These good organizations have attracted great people to work with – perhaps the biggest day to day factor in happiness at work.  Many of the institutions themselves have promoted ethics, family values, quality of work, pride, humility, service and strong leadership.

Just as the people you choose to spend your time with reflect on and help shape you, the organizations you work for do that even more.  I don’t know what “work” will look like when you enter the job market – but you will have to work.  If you are like most of us you will have to work for decades.  It is too much time – and too much effort – to work for a group that doesn’t take care of its employees and share your values.  Make work a great experience by working for the right company and giving it your all.

What about you, Reader-Friends?  What makes your working life better?  What impact does the company/organization/partner make in your work? What about working for yourself?

Death is a Part of Life

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.” Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, approx. ages 15-30.**

Life after death ??????
Source: Ms Reflections (flickr)

Death is on my mind right now as my grandfather passed away just two days ago after an intense but short battle with lung cancer.  There are as many ways to think about death as there are people alive.  And many of those ways to think about and handle death are healthy and reasonable.  Here is what I want you to internalize about death:

Death is part of living.  When I was in high school I had to attend a number of wakes as the parents of my grandmother’s generation passed on.  A friend happened to be with us one time as we “stopped by” a wake.  She had never been to a wake, seen a dead person, or had anyone close pass away.  In a sense she was lucky, but she also had not internalized that death is part of life and was totally freaked out.  Freaked out by the dead person and also that we were fairly casual about the whole thing.  Death cannot be feared – and has to be accepted as part of life.

There is no right or wrong way to feel when someone dies.  When I was young, say ten or twelve years old, I didn’t handle stress well.  When something stressful happened or stress built up I would break out in nervous, hysterical laughter.  Crazy, right?  When Nonna told me that my dad had passed away I broke out in that panicked, mad laugh.  Let me tell you – that was not the right reaction.  There are proper and improper reactions to death.  But that laugh was an outward manifestation of a big jumble of feelings.  And the feelings I had – the feelings you have had and will have when someone dies – were not right or wrong.  As in all situations, you feel what you feel.

Death and grief are separate things.  Grief is not only caused by death and death does not always cause grief.  Know that you can always soldier on after someone passes, even when every day makes you ache with loss.  Time transfigures all feelings and you cannot predict what those changes will be.  Grief is a personal process and can be short or long, shallow or deep.  The memory of someone who has passed on is always with you and can bubble up at the most unexpected times.  Really sitting with those memories in the moment they bubble up is the closest thing to having that person back with you – whether the memory is good or not so good.  Take hold of those moments.

Do not hold on to anger.  Don’t be angry at God or a disease or an accident or a situation.  There are horrible, horrible things that happen (like a recent massacre in an elementary school) where anger is a reasonable and certain reaction.  In most cases of someone passing away though, anger serves no purpose – or serves a negative purpose – for your healing and well-being.  And it certainly doesn’t help the deceased.

Believe in spirits.  I know I have been visited by family that has passed on.  I have seen people in dreams and felt them with me.  And here is another crazy…I have smelled my father visiting me.  Maybe it is absurd and there is nothing of an afterlife, but believing in spirits helps me accept all of the above.  And you really do need to find something that does that.

Know that as long as we live, your dad and I are here to help you through any loss, any time, any way you need us.

 

Reader-Friends – what have you told your children (or will you) about death?  How old is “old enough” to start those discussions?

The Company You Keep

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.” Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, approx. ages 15-30.**

Spectacular Starlings
Source: David Reece (flickr)

 

It cannot be overstated that you reflect and are reflected in the company you keep.  You will live up to the standards or down to the standards of those around you.  This holds true for the people in your circle of friends, in your workplace, your college and even your family.  The maxim “birds of a feather flock together” is true.

What binds people together is infinite – love of a certain activity, sport or entertainment; religion; work; shared traits.  And a few things happen when you are consistently with others – a culture forms that takes from each person.  This culture then becomes the norm and the norm is not only acceptable but desired.

What is amazing about this is that people can come together and build upon each others’ best qualities.  The synergy of this is amazing – and you like yourself even better when you are with these people.  Your abilities are valued and you feel a part of things.  I feel that way at our church, Epiphany.  I feel that way with my immediate team at work.  I felt that when your dad and I were in graduate school.  On the flip side, people can also come together and bring out the worst in each other – sour attitudes, negativity, perhaps even ethically questionable behavior.  It is easy to get wrapped up in this kind of group – perhaps it is where you work and so you don’t have a lot of choice in who is there or maybe there was a shift in the culture of the group or by habit you haven’t moved on.  Beware – when you aren’t comfortable with people’s actions, beliefs, attitudes or activities this is a sign that you are not keeping the right company for you.  I remember so clearly trying to be part of a certain circle of “friends” in 4th grade.  And I kept trying even though it never felt right.  I let go of that at the end of the school year and the next year found some amazing friends that had amazing synergy.  Some are closer that others, but we are in contact still 25 years later.

Let me be clear, most poor fits are not “bad” groups of people – some groups just may not fit.  Any group that comes together for athletic purposes is pretty much out of bounds for me…that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the culture of the group.  The key is to find people – in your friends and work and family – that you can see the good attributes in, to whom you feel connected and that you want to be associated with.  You never want to “fake it” to be accepted – that person or group just isn’t for you.  Find the right fit for you and you will be far happier in your daily life and far more satisfied in the long run.

Reader-Friends – what groups have you been part of that made you a better person?  What groups did you have to remove yourself from?

How To Be Judgmental

**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.” Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, approx. ages 15-30.**

Andrew F. Scott | Gavel: Ohio Supreme Court
Source: afsart (flickr)

At the last mid-century mark, there was a lot of judgment in and between families and communities.  People judged the right way to look, speak, behave, think – of course, various traditions informed families and their judgments differently.  There was a cultural revolution and a process of globalization that turned a lot of that thinking around and a few decades later we have been changed into a society where direct judgment of those in your life and community, in the old parlance, just isn’t done.

Though it may be unpopular, I disagree with that.  First, people’s minds are made to categorize and compare and that is basis of judgment.  Call it what you will, people judge. So while it is unpopular to talk about how people look, speak, behave, or think we all certainly still assign value to all that.

While there is no one right way to look, speak, or behave, these will be the very aspects of a person that you will categorize them by and ultimately judge by.  And unless families discuss how to place judgment and why…it can be done all wrong.

Here is how to do it right: you make your judgments of people based on the things they can control and the intentions behind them.  People control what they say, how they treat others, how they judge others, what they spend their time doing, how they keep themselves, what their priorities are, what values they hold and what ethics they enact.  They control how well their stated intentions match what they really do and say.  You judge an individual.  You judge groups of people who have come together on common ground.

You never judge on the things people cannot control and the categories they, de facto, belong to – ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality, wealth, where they are from and so on. No one is defined by these labels, even though we are all formed in part by these factors.  You will find wonderful and horrible people in every category you come up with.

By the time you read this, you will well know what values, ethics, intentions and priorities I find to be valuable.  You will also know what your father thinks.  You will know what your grandparents, your friends and society place value on, too.  All parents hope their children will share their views, though I think most parents know that technology, culture shift, life experiences and friends will shade children’s views to be their own.  You too will find that as you learn and navigate through the world you will hold different values, ethics and judgments than I do – maybe only slightly so or maybe greatly so.  What I want for you is to come to your viewpoint – your ideas of what is right and wrong – only after great consideration and reflection.  You will judge others because it is human nature to do so – judge fairly.  You will be judged in turn – control the things that you can and make the best of the things you cannot.

Reader-Friends, what do you think about being judgmental?  Would you claim to judge others?  By what measures?

 

“If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”

** Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.”  Now I have embarked on a year long project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, approx. ages 15-30. **

Portrait of a forbidden fruit
Source: leoncillo sabino (flickr)

Your Nonna has said this for years and as I get older I see the truth in it more and more clearly.  “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”  Your primary duty in this world it to take care of yourself – to do the best that you can to stay in good health, physically and mentally.

When I discussed this idea with your Dad he asked how I can justify this with the notion that I also hold that a life lived selfishly is shallow and unsatisfying.  Here is how: unless you take care of yourself you cannot take care of anyone or anything else.  It is so difficult to really do good through your work or participate in relationships when your health and well being are failing.

There are many areas that you can control which affect your health: sleep, nutrition, activity, sex, chemicals.  What is so tricky about these things is that they are the building blocks of a satisfying life.  Yet, to all of them, there is a balance.  You need a lot of sleep, but not too much.  It is so easy to eat food that has a cumulative negative effect – and a little more work to eat healthily.  Exercise is essential and you must learn how to push your limits while limiting injury.  You will be romantically attracted to other people and must find ways to enact that attraction in ways that maintain your morals and values.  Chemicals are omnipresent – from Rx to illegal drugs to shampoo to lotion to the air you breathe to the water you drink.  You must know what you are putting in your body, understanding and managing it all, while still living life in the modern world.

The cruel reality is that your health is not entirely in your control.  Even when you do everything in your power you can still suffer.   Your grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and great aunts and uncles have had a variety of illnesses – Parkinson’s, breast cancer, diabetes…the list goes on.  Then there are those more controllable – just as devastating – diseases.  We have a history of liver cirrhosis, emphysema, lung cancer, congestive heart failure and diabetes (some versions are unpreventable and some are).  It is your duty to care for your body and mind in every way that you can – we can see from other family members who are living full lives even with illness that this effort pays off with not just getting by but thriving in this world.  Spiritually, taking care of yourself is a wonderful way to show your gratefulness for what God has granted you.  Practically, this is the best way to maintain your quality of life.

There is no solitary answer to the right amount of sleep or the right form of exercise – there is only a right balance for each of you.  The key is to pay attention to these things, actively make decisions that protect and better your health.  And though there is the inevitability of illness and disease in the world, prioritizing healthy living will best prepare you – physically and mentally – to face those challenges both for yourself and for those you care for.

Reader-Friends: What do you think has the most impact on the health issues we face over our lives?

Keeping Your Own Company

My baby is growing up ..its not fair
Source: Nina Matthews Photography (Flickr)

 

I love that you often entertain yourselves right now, happily exploring your corner of the world – quietly and contentedly at times and loudly and messily at other times.  That can always be so even though many adults are uncomfortable alone for short stretches (the hours found in a weekend) or longer stretches (the first months in a new city).  Enjoy and take comfort in your own company.

How?  Cultivate your curiosity – take a walk through that new city or find a way to learn about something new.  Embrace hobbies that you can enjoy alone – your dad has enjoyed wood working since he was a teenager and I started knitting in my twenties (something project based can be particularly absorbing).  Be confident that you can go and do on your own – restaurants, movie theaters, social events can be attended solo.  Read.

Life has different phases – some are full of being social; some are times of solitude.  Both periods will hold great value and provide you great opportunities to enjoy life.  Both will leave you with moments to be alone.

When the solitary times feel lonely rather than pleasant, having the ability (and knowing it!) to be happy, contented, successful and fulfilled all on your own will be critical.  I have seen people, uncomfortable without a romantic partner, close family or full calendar bounce immediately from one temporary shallow romance to another, molding themselves to the personality of the other person.  Others have spent all their money both on things to fill the empty places in their life and on trying to develop relationships through buying drinks, tickets, or loaning cash to acquaintances that is never returned.  Do you see how these attempts to connect to others are based in a desire to connect but are not based in the things that truly connect people, like real interests or values?  I have also seen people unwilling to participate in events because they would have to go out alone.  Does this seem sad to you?  On the other hand, I have also seen people tour foreign countries alone and move to new cities, start businesses solo and seek our partnerships, develop new relationships by participating in classes, athletic groups and church life.  Do you see how these actions are based in actively seeking out something of personal interest and connecting to others through interests, work and values?

When the social times leave quiet moments know that getting “bored” quickly is a shortcoming.  Regardless of what relationships you have and people whose lives touch yours, it is not the burden of those people to entertain you, make you happy or bring fulfillment to your life.  Only you can take that responsibility.   And you can only do that if you can genuinely keep your own company.

A New Year, A New Project about Living

Dear Reader-Friends, are you still there?  Yes?  Wonderful!  Welcome!  Happy New Year to you!  And thank you for coming back to see what new direction we are heading here at Tan/Green for 2013.

First, let’s go back about three years (three years!) to 2010 when I started Tan/Green, I wanted to write for the fun of it about something I wanted to talk to the world about.  At that time it was about the changes we had made in our family to be more minimalistic and to limit chemical exposure, waste and environmental impact – in short, my adventures “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.”

In the years since, I have enjoyed writing greatly.  I have also changed positions in my company, had a second child, moved, traveled and remained involved in ministries at church.  My time is more precious than ever and I recognize that I have not been doing great or original research on “green” or “natural” living or sharing anything terribly insightful.  With my writing becoming more sporadic in the last six months I took some time to ask myself…what do I want to write about?  What do I have the knowledge and passion about to put on “paper”?

I find that I have a lot of things I want to tell Dante and Gabriel about how to live a balanced, successful, content life.  I know I will tell them in many ways over the years – isn’t that the job of a parent?  But putting these things on paper is just my way.  I like to pick my words, have discussion (i.e. comments!), ponder and refine my thoughts.  What can I say? Part of me is still a professional student.

From being organized to the real problems with substance abuse to holding gratitude close to choosing an employer…yes, I have a few things to say.  I plan 52 posts of things I have learned and hold dear, things I don’t believe will change with time or cultural shift.

There are a few reasons that I think now is the time for this project – (1) I am in a wonderful place in life and from the vantage of a balanced, successful mother and professional, these lessons are coming from a place of love, positivity, joy.  (2) Say that the boys read this when they are in their mid-teens.  I will be equally older and perhaps understanding that these lessons aren’t coming from an old lady will color them positively.  (3) With the boys so young, there is a blank slate and these lessons stand alone, not in reaction to anything they have or haven’t done or learned.

My hope for Tan/Green 2013 is that you, my Reader-Friends, will, first, stick around for this next leg of the journey and, second, comment.  My perspective is singular – as much as I have to say there is so much I don’t know to say, may have forgotten or have made unclear.   If this is really to be saved for Dante and Gabriel to read…it will surely need editing!   I am looking forward to this very much – as a writing project and as something tangible for my children.

Keep Calm And Carry On
Source: Flickr (Steffy)

A Happy Holiday Post

Dear Reader-Friends…if you have noticed that I haven’t been posting in a couple weeks, I thank you for being so dedicated.  Things are busy and good.  In the past few weeks we have welcomed my sister-in-law back from a year of studying abroad in Australia; hosted my mom for a week; baptized Gabriel and celebrated Thanksgiving.  In the coming weeks we will host my father-in-law for six days and both Nathan and I will travel for work.

Before we know it 2013 will be here – I am betting you feel the same whatever craziness your schedule is bringing.

Tonight I am posting quickly to say that Tan/Green will be on holiday this holiday season. And when I return in 2013 the focus of the blog will be changed.  Tune in January 3 to see where we go next!

Until then, we wish you happy holidays and and healthy living!

 

Minimizing Inconspicuous Consumption

In the past handful of years people seem to be more aware of conspicuous consumption.  With the down turn in the economy it seems to me that the flashy brands, fast cars, extravagant events that people acquire and enjoy stand out a bit more.  Mostly with the downturn, the folks (here in Vegas anyway) that were using credit to live outside their means reevaluated and started living more in line with their incomes.  I applaud that.  Debt makes me nervous.  Like, really nervous.  Not big debt, mind you – like houses and cars.  Those don’t make me sweat because we have been very certain to only take on those long term debts with payments we had budgeted and could carry long term.  Consumer debt though.  That is something I can’t take.  When I was in college I ran up my credit card and had a $1000 balance I couldn’t pay.  I took a summer (where I was earning $200 per week and had to cover all expenses except housing) and paid it down.  I was overjoyed.  Haven’t carried a balance since – helps me sleep soundly through the night.

But here’s the thing about consumer consumption – an entirely un-granola-like pursuit – it doesn’t have to put you into debt.  In my mind for a long time over-consumption of consumer goods was linked to over spending.  While minimalism is always cheaper than consumerism, consumerism doesn’t have to break the bank.  In fact I bet half the stuff on this ship costs less than $5…

NEED MORE STUFF
source: flickr; achromatic lodge

I have toddlers and the dollar aisle at Target is our downfall.  I realized one of the last times we went just how often I am getting “a little something fun” for the boys – whether they are there with me to ask for it or not.  The day the Target dollar aisle was 70% off…well, we got lots of little fun things that day.  Flashcards, coloring books, ABC stickers.  You see it is all under the guise of educational goods.  And suddenly we have bunches of these goods in the house which is just what I didn’t want for the boys – things, things, things that aren’t often used or really appreciated.  I think overall we still have less stuff than most if for no other reason than our small house helps keep us in check.

Even for the adults in the house it is easier for me to get many small things.  Nathan will buy very few things but they will be thought out and usually cost more.  I will buy lots of little things – unplanned and inexpensive.  In working toward the minimalist model, Nathan is far ahead of me.

Just yesterday we were browsing the discount book rack…$2 per book!  I love books and generally have never limited their quantity because, well, books are books and important and wonderful.  I ended up picking up four books.  They were for every member of the family and soon to be visiting guests.  Then I thought…I already have a couple books for our guests.  And my “to read” pile is about 20 books high.  I took stock and put three back (justifying the last one as the script of a pretty important work that I hadn’t seen in book form before).

We also stuck 100% to our list at Target this week.  Taking stock and stopping the inconspicuous consumption is my goal right now.  Despite my one unneeded purchase I am calling it two for two this weekend as I have at least managed to get this into the forefront of my mind.  We will see how I do come the hardcore holiday season…and the clearance season that follows.

What do you tend to do – lots of little purchases or fewer big ones?  Should “stuff” be rewards, gifts, nothing special?  What are your thoughts on minimalism, consumerism and the space between?

Caffeine

Dew Army
source: flickr, Dillsnufus

Perhaps you are reading this blog over a cup of coffee?  Or a Rockstar?  Or a caffeinated water?  What is your relationship to caffeine?  Do  you think of it as a drug?  It is easy not to, though caffeine is a drug and is one of the mostly widely used ones at that.

My history with caffeine is long a checkered.  In high school, I was a pretty routine soda drinker and had started drinking coffee on the weekends.  Nothing abusive going on there.  Though I did decide that I better learn to drink my coffee black since I knew I would be too lazy to keep adequate supplies of cream and sugar in my dorm room.  Moving into the comparatively fast paced world of college life I started drinking more and more soda – Mountain Dew specifically.  To the point where it was a joke about how much I loved and drank of that sweet neon green nectar, the specific flavor of which I still cannot identify.  Mountains?  Dew?  I guess I just took their word for it and drank up.

At a point I was having about a liter of soda a day and using the caffeine to make it through many long days.  I am sure the dependence there was psychological as well as physical.  In the theater we would have one day shows where the tour buses and trucks show up at 8am and by the time the show is up, had its run and put back in the truck, it would be 2am or so.  Throw in college style Friday and Saturday nights and sleep was sparse.  I didn’t have any problem with this or my known dependence on caffeine.  Until, that is, 5 years in, when I started having heart palpitations.  I remember distinctly the moment I figured out the one was causing the other and thinking that I needed to stop with the caffeine.

It felt like a Mac truck ran me down – every system was effected.  Once off the caffeine though I found something interesting – I had more energy.  Or perhaps I should say more consistent energy.  The best part was I woke up feeling really awake – not groggy and in need of a kick start.  That first summer without caffeine was hard since I was working 60-80 hour weeks but so many morning kick started without the chance to down much caffeine it was ultimately for the best.

Fast forward through the years and I haven’t really drank soda since then, that was summer 2001.  I enjoy coffee though.  And there have been times where I have fallen prey to “needing” a cup of coffee to get going.  It happens in funny ways.  Like this year, we vacationed for 2 weeks with our families in June.  Coffee everyday.  Coffee is a deeply social experience and sharing coffee with those whose company I enjoy is a wonderful ritual.  Two weeks is enough time for me to get hooked on the caffeine and go though days of withdrawal symptoms when I come back down.  When we got back I kept having coffee (in place of my usual morning tea) because I knew that in two more weeks I was going to Minneapolis for a show.  And just like there is a great social ritual to coffee.  For me, there is a work ritual as well.  On the road, coffee is more plentiful than tea and, really, what else can you drink at the official 10am coffee break?  So two more weeks – up to 6 weeks now.  This travel/home/travel routine kept up for about three or four months (yea, way too much traveling this year!).  Come mid-September I knew I had to quit.  Mornings were groggy and cranky and 3pm was a headache if I hadn’t gotten in the second cup of coffee.

The weaning started.  Coffee only on weekends.  Tea in the morning at work.  I went for two tea bags to start with to step down the caffeine.  Lots of preemptive ibuprofen.  It was a rough week – headaches, crankiness, tiredness.  But only for a week.  Coming out the other side, like it is every time, is fantastic.  I am waking up ready for the day.  I am not dependent on finding the coffee or other caffeine before a certain time lest I know an intense headache is coming.  I am free and whole.  Waking up if one of the boys is up early is so much more pleasant.  Setting my alarm early to go run has worked(!).  I am happier and healthier and feel good about not being dependent on any addictive substance– legal or not, prescription or not.

Advocating for reduced caffeine consumption isn’t something I thought about as I initially came down from this particularly well accepted addiction over a decade ago.  These days I do talk more about that when the subject arises.  Not only do I have my own experiences to share, but while researching possible reasons for a family members health issues I looked at what too much caffeine can do to the system.   Looking at the symptoms of caffeine poisoning I rather think there is a portion of the American population suffering the extreme symptoms this malady… “mania, fits of depression, rambling speech and even psychotic episodes. Usually someone who is inappropriately agitated or too excitable for the circumstances has probably had too much caffeine.”

caffeine curve
source: flickr, emdot

Caffeine is like another popular addictive drug – alcohol.  It seems in small doses it actually does good things for many systems in the human body.  Too much though is addictive and damaging.   Certainly it is being misused now as it hasn’t been in the past – either by demand or by makers – and it being scrutinized for regulation.  Also much like alcohol there are folks who shun caffeine and those who with wide arms embrace it.

I would love to hear – what role does caffeine play in your life?

The Candy Land of Today

After an exhaustive search for a used version of Candy Land for Dante, I bought a new copy for him last weekend.  I remember loving Candy Land and board games in general.  I was so excited to teach Dante how to play…I didn’t remember how though.  So after he went to bed Nathan and I opened up the box and went through it all.

Here is what I expected to see…the board from my youth:

candy land board -- 1978

 

Instead I saw this…and it took me 3 minutes to figure out where the path to Candy Castle was.

Truly, I was confused for a moment working out where the trail was and what all the visual clutter was about.  Candy Land has been turned into a still frame from a video game.  While on the surface this post may seem to be about nostalgia; it is actually about these little surprises that cause me deep parental panic.

How I am supposed to guide my kids through a world that – in the most unexpected places – is made up of intense sensory clutter…especially when I seek on my own to create a world that is far simpler?

I have no idea.  What I do have is a three year old who mastered Candy Land in two days.  He bested me in a series of 3 Friday night.  Oh, just maybe I am panicking about the wrong things…

French Fries – would you like silicon with that?

Frying french fries
From Fritish on Flickr

Friday evening the boys and I headed out to the spankin’ new terminal at McCarran to pick up friends from their 3-week Italian tour honeymoon.  Rough, huh?  They had a great time in Italy.  I was glad to welcome them home. The boys had a great time running around the terminal…people movers and escalators and echo-y entries?  As good as any amusement park.  It was a win-win-win evening.

After all that excitement we were feeling a little peckish.  And for some reason I felt like French fries.  Remember I am *trying* to be a granola mom…but every now and then I am a French fry mom.  So I asked Dante and Gabriel if they want fries.  Yes.  In fact Dante says, “And Chicken Fingers!”  (It took me a minute to figure out that had to have come from Dad who has a weakness for Raisin’ Cane’s Chicken Fingers…)

We also needed gas.  Next to the gas station is a Wendy’s.  In the search for fries these seemed as good as any.

Generally, I think about fast food in terms of how bad the fat, extra sodium and serving sizes are for our health.  Sometimes I forget just how very processed that food is and what that entails.  In this case it entails silicon.  Technically a silicon based chemical used to prevent the frying oil from foaming called dimethylpolysiloxane.  And a few other chemicals.  Yum.  On the plus side, all ingredients are vegetable or synthetic for my vegetarian diet…

The reason this came to light was that Gabriel started itching when he was enjoying his fries (and he was enjoying them, intermittently shouting “ummy!!” for effect).  Worried that one of his known allergens could somehow be in the fries I Googled “Wendy’s french fries oil” and found this Daily Tech post from about a year and a half ago about Wendy’s fries.  Specifically this addresses the questionable labeling of these fries as “natural,” – the menu title was Natural Cut French Fries with Sea Salt.

Look, I didn’t bring home this food thinking it was healthy…or even natural.  And this isn’t about Wendy’s fries in particular – I am thinking all fast food fries are similar.  But seeing in black and white the actual, uncontested ingredients was a great reminder of why we don’t eat fast food but a couple times a year.  Eating silicon may be fine…has anyone studied that?  Are we just eating this at levels that don’t set off acute medical issues?  Is it really necessary to eat chemicals?  I don’t know about those first two questions, one the third it is easy to say no.  We have the choice to prepare our own food, eat whole foods, and support restaurants that take care to prepare food the way you would want to at home. In fact, let me be clear: fries aren’t the healthiest food in the world but homemade or fresh cooked non-chemical fries are a great whole food, plant based treat.

The boys enjoyed the fries a whole bunch; for me I have to say I surprise myself with how much my body has adjusted away from that kind of food.  I was sorely disappointed in the fries, even before I looked up the ingredients.  All in all is was a good reminder to stay the granola path.  Next time we will have our chemical-free freezer fries or maybe even try to make them from scratch.

 

Autumn Projects

High desert autumn
“High Desert Autumn” Photo by Monoglot (Ryan Godfrey)

Hello, Reader-Friends, I know it has been quiet here of late.  I have had so many thoughts for posts and so few moments to put serious thought to making those ideas readable.  I love Autumn…but, man, is it busy.  October is the busiest month at work, meaning more overtime, and the change of seasons seems to have hit hard this year.  Throw in there that Dante and I were in our first wedding party (so fun!) and suddenly it is about time to change the clocks.  To ease back into blogging, I am sharing my top home projects and how we are keeping it granola (without dedicating any time at this moment to researching anything new.)

  1. Changing over our Wardrobes. I have a vague recollection that this happens closer to Labor Day in the North…something about white shoes and pants; here in Vegas, Autumn arrived this past Wednesday at about 3pm.  It blew in with a monsoon style rain storm and dropped our temps into the 50’s.  Time to break out the winter ware – you know, long sleeve T’s and jeans, pretty much.  This change of seasons happily coincided with a great, enormous consignment sale held around town called “As They Grow.”  This super organized sale is held in various warehouse type locations for 3 days twice a year.  Over 50,000 items for sale for babies through, I’d say, 10 year olds.  Add to the sale that we have a marvelous friend who hands down her 4 year old’s clothes to Dante and Dante’s hand-me-downs work for Gabriel and we have barely a new item in the boys wardrobes…and they love getting their “new” clothes.  In fact, Dante is usually more excited to know the clothes came from his friend.  We will be riding that train as long as we can.  Green and economical…a Granola Mom’s dream!
  2. Menu Planning.  While there are many good things about menu planning, I cannot honestly say that we are among the folks who have found this to save us much money.  Today I thought perhaps I was doing it wrong and had gone on a hunger induced spree, as one is wont to do when grocery shopping at noon thirty.  On my receipt, I lined out each item on the week’s menu and found the only thing not tied to a specific meal or recipe was a bag of butter lettuce.  I assure you that is not what I buy when on a hunger driven shopping spree.  On the plus side, planning has helped everyone know what we are eating when as well as using perishables first and making sure something loved by the kids in made early in the week and provides leftovers for the eventual dismissal of some other menu item.  A big benefit is that helps me in keeping the focus on the plant based (more or less) whole food diet.
  3. Fermenting our Food.  Perhaps you have heard that probiotics are great for you and that fermented food is a great way to take them in without pills.  If not, that is the word on the street.  I knew it was going mainstream when the October issue of Real Simple magazine touted the benefits of probiotics in fermented food like sauerkraut, tempeh or kefir.  Turns out fermenting isn’t so hard to do, as you can see on this page, and the results are tasty.  And apparently safe, since I am sitting here typing away after weeks of my own fermentation.  Our first batch if sauerkraut is due to be tasted this week!  While I have failed at gardening I think this is a great at home, “crunchy” project to get better in touch with your food and its sources.
  4. Keeping Fresh Flowers.  I have intentionally not yet (yet…I will…) looked into the environmental effects of fresh cut flowers – since growing them will, of course, require some means of feeding and protecting the plants I am sure it is something like buying modern vegetables instead of organic. And it may seem like a strange “project” but I have never had flowers regularly and finally decided to see if the hype about flowers changing a room was true.  I say yes.  Visually pleasing of course.  Smells nice. Creates a good diversion from the draining rack I keep them near.  And just tonight Gabriel asked (with monosyllables and pointing) to get closer.  He gently touched the flowers, looked at each one then gave a big sniff and a giggle.  Hard to beat that.

And those are the biggies.  Doesn’t look like a ton on paper but the steady march of making it through every day when every day is scheduled in detail from 6am to 9:30pm in concert with this short list feels like plenty.  I met up with a friend at that great consignment sale and we while talking casually she mentioned that most days for her (as the at home mom of 2 year old twins) are about making it through the day with enough time to start the next one.  If she were the touchy-feely type I think I would have dropped my basket of consigned treasures and bear hugged her for verbalizing that.  Some days I think I should be doing more than just making it through – and some days I see how much is involved in “making it” and think I am doing just fine.  Hand-me-downs, Tuesday night sauerkraut , flowers and all.

 

Preventing Sexual Abuse – My Small Part

Individual Protection

 

This evening I am breaking from my usual post.  Instead I am using this week’s blogging time to renew my “Safeguarding God’s Children” certification.  This is the program that the Episcopal Church uses to train anyone working with kids to recognize signs of sexual abuse and, more importantly, identify abusers themselves before they can infiltrate your parish.

If you work with kids – or have kids – you should make every effort to take offered training and generally educate yourself on this uncomfortable topic.  If you have never trained on this you may find that pedophiles aren’t who you think they are.  And you may not know what kind of effects this abuse can have on a person over a lifetime.

I know victims of abuse; I learned about their experience when I was about 10 years old.  I don’t know that I can really wrap my head around what they may have experienced any more now than I could then.

Also, I am a Penn Stater and the Sandusky tragedy hits close to home – I knew one of the Sandusky kids when I was there and I am still close to a number of people in the community, all of whom seem to be directly affected.

Preventing your child from being ideal prey and protecting kids you work with is easier when you know what to look for – and there really are distinct things to be aware of in preventing this tragedy.

One of the best summaries I found was in a “links” section of a blog I read regularly – it led to this post from Checklist Mommy and is called “‘Tricky People’ are the New Strangers”.  If you need a place to start, start here.

If you are involved in an organization working with kids that has no training for this, please advocate for it!

Off I go to make sure I continue to Safeguard God’s Children…

Being Kept In Line by my Three Year Old

As Dante gets a little older he lets us know when he notices things.  And even a little bit more about when he remembers something.  I was particularly effected by two recent conversations.

With Gabriel being totally through with his baby toys, we recently cleaned out our toy corner and removed things no one had touched in months and things we thought the boys were done with.  This included all the stuffed animals we own – save “Bunny” Gabriel’s beloved stuffed dog.  We have received so many stuffed animals as gifts and thought that the boys really hadn’t taken to them.  Until Dante pulled this pink Sock Monkey from our give away bag.

He looked at me and held it up and said, “We were at Miss Veronica’s house.  We had a party.”  It wasn’t much to go on, but indeed this was true.  The pink Sock Monkey was a gift from one of Dante’s daycare friends on Valentine’s Day.  They had a party and made ceramic hand print hearts.  Dante hasn’t talked about the history of any other toy so this particularly stood out.  He carried it around the rest of the day.  And while he hadn’t touched it for months, clearly there was some attachment to this toy.  Of course we kept it – and all the other stuffed animals, just in case. (No others have sparked such conversation.)

The other conversation was a little more muddled.  Yesterday, we were running errands at a large strip mall.  Of course we wanted to go to a store at one end and one at the other.  On my own I would have enjoyed the chance to walk in the sun.  With a three year old, that long walk was just on big request for a meltdown.  So we drove across the parking lot.  After finishing the errands – with no meltdowns! – Dante buckled up and settled into his car seat.  At this point he started saying, “That one, Mommy!  That one for you.”  He was pointing but I had no idea what he was talking about.  I guessed all kinds of things incorrectly – roll the window down? Look at the cart we were just using? Mommy sits in the driver’s seat?  I continued to get ready to drive as we sat there and finally got to putting on my seat belt.  Dante says, “Yes, that one for you now.”  Wow.  Guess what poor role model mother failed to buckle up crossing the parking lot?  I was so surprised that he had noticed and more surprised that he was concerned.  Not about my wearing a seat belt, per se, but that I had changed up the usual pattern.  Still, he was watching.

Dante’s ability to notice and now recall things amazes me – and every day I am reminded just how carefully Nathan and I need to be in our actions, words, tone.  I am reminded that Dante is growing into a person with distinct individual ideas.  Very distinct.  Very individual.  I am reminded also how many habits and beliefs we hold simply because they are what we were shown and what we grew up with.  So many days you sail through the tasks at hand without thinking – or just trying to make it (see last week’s post on finding the capacity to do those tasks).

This is why “granola” habits and healthy, fulfilling living – truly being the best person you can be – are so important as you parent.

When I was 18, my mother started swearing.  There was nothing that started with an F, nothing to embarrass a sailor, but a noticeable shift nonetheless.  I asked her about this and her reply is something I come back to again and again.  She told me, “Well, you are 18 now.  The habits you have, you have. [I can let it all hang out].”  Yes, that last sentence is paraphrased all these years later.  There is something there about habits, sure.  There was more to me there about the amazing willpower my mother displayed to not routinely curse – to work that hard, that consistently to be the best role model she could be in that and so many other things.  I don’t have that sort of will power for cursing – I am not sure I have it for anything that I can carry over 20 years.   This is why I try to build good habits – some days I think it is all I have to rely on.

That, and Dante calling me out…

 

Finding Capacity

photo by kenfagerdotcom

This evening I set about to write a post about productivity.  It has been way more difficult that it should be – productivity has been hit or miss lately.  Though, I may have found a turning point.

Years ago, many years ago, I was a power house of productivity.  Being productive was at the heart of my self-identity – getting things done, moreover, being asked to do things made me feel needed and useful.  Mostly, these “things” were related to theater and arts projects and overall this ability and enjoyment of completing projects led to my being a professional project manager for live events.

Then three years ago Dante came along.

My ability to get stuff done fell a bit and the time with Dante and joy he brought made it barely noticeable.  Then a year and a half ago Gabriel came along.  So much more joy.  So much less productivity.

Oh, like any woman who has just created another human being through the miracle of biology, I allowed myself some time to pull it together again.  A year is certainly a fair amount of time.  Yet somehow, I just don’t feel like I have pulled it together and it has been a year and a half.

At least that is what I thought until a week ago when I had a day that made me feel like a powerhouse again.  It made me feel like I was 22 again.  In one day I managed to hit two doctor appointments and a dress fitting; squeeze in a successful trip to the mall gaining clothes for me and Nathan for our upcoming family photos; and fully prepared and hosted a lovely bridal shower.  I even found a vintage Chanel wallet for $25 as I picked up some flower vases and a punch bowl at the local Goodwill.  Truly, I hadn’t had a day like that in years – and it felt great.

It felt as great to know that I still had the ability to function like that outside the world of work and motherhood as purely enjoying the day of shopping and hostessing (give or take the trip to the dentist).  That break from the ordinary gave me some clearer understanding of how much is packed into the usual day of working and motherhood.  And it is actually quite a lot…

Today I could really see that our family days are full and productive as well – and shame on me for forgetting that play time to a 3 year old and thoroughly exploring each and every Cheerio to a 1 year old is truly the most productive use of time.  Not to mention cooking for the week; full family participation vacuuming; laundry; toddler and parent yoga; and rearranging the kids’ room.

Maybe this post was harder to write than usual because my brain is just plain tired.  But happy.  Because my brain still feeds on productivity.

Productivity is just different now – it is more about what I have been calling “finding capacity.”  Things that I get done now are far less self-centered – not to mean any less enjoyable.  My interest in community affairs has largely turned inward.  My interest in developing hobbies needs to be focused (how unhobby-like, I know.)  We let go of a ten year subscription to Newsweek this year – partly because the new direction drove me crazy but largely because we had no capacity in which to fit in weekly magazine reading.  New obligations have to be carefully weighed – time commitment and flexibility of when that time is needed; what kind of energy and creativity is required; where I can physically accomplish this new task or project.  Those are the new key factors – not if is it a cool project, or if it positively impacts my community or if will I be proud of the outcome or if I would simply enjoy it or the people I would work with.  Oh, to be sure, those are still there but far below the needs of our household and how something fits into what I am capable of given the hours in the day and my God given talents.

I have been finding capacity in the quiet moments at 6am now that Gabriel is sleeping later – writing or running are a great way to start a day.  I find capacity in recognizing the true time commitment of an act – a hand written thank you note takes five minutes, no more.  I find it in asking friends to meet me closer to the office to make lunch dates possible or come to the house so visits can extend past the little ones bedtimes.  I find it in recognizing my priorities and not being distracted by extraneous projects (sorry, Pinterest, it was a short lived love affair).  I find it in saying no to obligations I cannot fulfill properly.  I find a lot of it in having child care in our home.

And in the harder lesson for me, I have found capacity in letting things happen as they may – and not worrying that my predetermined timeline wasn’t met.  Few things are as time sensitive as I once believed – and acted on.  I am still productive.  I am finishing this post 15 hours after I planned to and am missing my self-imposed deadline.  But I have produced a post.  And it is a better post than if I had called it done at 11pm last night.  I found capacity to finish stronger.

Where do you find and what do you do with your capacity?

Updates

After this brief hiatus from writing I thought I would put in a few updates from posts from throughout 2012.  First let me say that 2012 has by far been the fastest year of my life.  I know that everyone says that as you get older time goes faster, over the past few years some circles around the sun have gone faster than others.  This one has gone at lightning speed unlike anything I have known.  Perhaps it had something to do with short selling a house, re-housing two dogs, celebrating a first and third birthday, getting really settled into a new job, losing our daycare, finding new daycare, and traveling to six states in the last nine weeks.  I think another week just flew by thinking about it.  In all that I have blogged about many of those things plus being pre-diabetic, running and still trying to be granola.  And though I thought that I would circle back to some of these topics I haven’t…until now.

The Pups: We saw Zippy a couple months ago and he is beyond happy with his new owner.  Did I mention his new owner is our real estate agent?  Just one of the many things that came about this year that reaffirms my faith that all things happen for a reason and there is some force that guides us every day.  Lily is doing well too – we heard from her new owners a couple months ago they are so kind as to check in with us every now and then.

The House: With everything closed on our former house, we have been able to focus our homeownership efforts on our town house.  We are very settled in and the place is very comfortable…and cozy.  We have the toys wrangled into certain areas – even though they creep into every nook during the day!

Daycare: The boys love, love, love their new care giver.  She comes to the house and through her influence Dante has started talking a lot.  More than we could have ever expected.  Gabriel has been walking and starting to talk already.  They clearly thrive on the one-on-one attention and have been learning songs, numbers, and for Dante, even spelling.  Unfortunately Dante has gotten to be a very picky eater and hates bedtime – perhaps something about being 3.  We miss the positive peer pressure of the kids for eating and routine.  The pros outweigh the cons though!

Sharing: I appreciated and took to heart the comments and advise from you all on this one about siblings sharing.  I especially appreciated the notion of cleaning up for each other as a means of support and sharing going beyond things to ideals.  We are working on turn taking with some success though there is still a lot of grabby hands around here.

Running: Good news – I didn’t fall off a Rocky Mountain or pass out during the 3K (that was actually a 5K).  The run/walk technique worked for the first 2 miles and the walk downhill technique got me through the unadvertised last mile.  I am still on the upswing here in lower lying, flat Vegas more or less easily running 2 miles when I head out now.

Pre-Diabetes: In June my doctor tested my A1C (the measurement that put me into the pre-diabetic category to start with) and it has returned to the normal range!  Giving up meat and coming close to giving up cheese, eggs and all dairy has really paid off.  In the last few weeks I have gotten off track and need to recenter my diet – with proven results though I am looking forward to it (give or take some cheese consumption!)

Thanks to you, my Reader-Friends, for the comments, “likes” and support throughout this journey.  I am looking forward to what may come next and hope you are as well!

 

Froot Loops for God

A strong and personal connection of God is very important to me.  And it is something that I hope becomes important to Dante and Gabriel through example and instruction.  To me there is so much wrapped up in one’s connection to a greater being.  Many times you hear about a calling and I think that God does call us to certain acts and activities.  More than that I think there is a call to how you approach…everything.

Being “granola” is a byproduct of how I feel God calls me to behave.  Protecting what He has made, respecting what we have been blessed with and wisely using our resources (and teaching our kids to do all those things) is a mission in itself.

Part of creating a strong sense of God in our kids starts with going to church.  There we have singing (for a long stretch when he was about two, every song was followed by Dante loudly saying, “more song!” – the congregation just loved it) and we have praying and we have Sunday School.

Well, a nursery for Gabriel and a school room for Dante led by a thirty year Episcopal instruction veteran.  Dante has over the last number of months grown out of the nursery and likes going to this next room up.  There are bigger kids’ toys like cars, GI Joe guys, dinosaurs.  And there is coloring and crafts.  And there is a snack – Goldfish or Froot Loops (neither of which he gets at home).  What is not to love?

Yesterday I say to Dante, “Are you ready to go to church with Mommy?”

Dante says, “Yes…I like Froot Loops.”

Hey, I will take it.  I told our veteran teacher that I now see her ways more clearly.  I think we both see the value in making the kids want to be there.  Usually it is through friendships, community and prayer.  And sometimes it is through something else.

It did inspire me to say to God, and in earshot of Dante, prayer 46 from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the

joy and care of children: Give us calm strength and patient

wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love

whatever is just and true and good, following the example of

our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.