iSmart and falling apart

I grew up thinking that, if I routinely took my car in to get the oil changed and tires rotated, my car could last forever. Or if not forever, for a very, very long time without any hassle.

It did not take too many years as a car owner to realize that WHOA! Mayhem and foolishness abound in cars! Factory-installed tires suck after 20,000 miles, check engine lights don’t go off when they’re supposed to, strange noises start, and, sadly, I even had the transmission fail in a legendary, all-hail-the-Subaru before its 5th birthday.

I should’ve known better, especially after catching a few broadcasts of Car Talk on the radio!

I don’t know why, then, I thought about my body in the same way:  get a flu shot, floss your teeth, go for check-ups, follow the doc’s orders (usually), eat (mostly) right (most of the time), and VOILA! My body will keep humming along for decades to come. No muss, no fuss.

Er, not so much. While nothing is seriously wrong, thankfully, I’ve spent the last six weeks juggling appointments for MRIs, X-rays, an overnight sleep study and PT with the rest of life.

Turns out 1) my wonky, wobbly knee issue, which cropped up 6 months ago, is due to “significant arthritic changes,” bone spurs, cartilage and such stuff that I imagined only was of concern to anyone over the age of 60.

And, 2) my home sleep study revealed I have mild, maybe mild to moderate, sleep apnea, which would explain why I don’t feel rested when I do get 7-8 hours of sleep. It isn’t good sleep; it’s bad!

I’m doing physical therapy for my knee, which has taken away the discomfort and is strengthening muscles that have gone kapooey in the last few years. I’m also lining up a CPAP to wear at night. Tres sexy! However, I’m excited – yes, excited – to start using any sleep appliance that may take the years off my face and bloodshot from my eyes.

I’ll stop before delving more into my aches and pains, which is only a step or two from graduating to the “death and dying report” that I get whenever I visit my 80+-year-old mother-in-law. Suffice it to say, I’m striving to be like my vehicles:  a little scratched and dinged on the outside, but generally working ok on the inside.

On a separate note, I graduated to a smartphone in October, months after writing about it. Hard to believe! However, I’ve only downloaded a solitaire and flashlight app. (I know, me so crazy.) What do you recommend for free fun?

 

Hot mess

Wishful thinking:  I am attractive and ladylike while I sleep.

Reality:  No, I’m not. I’ve discovered I clench my teeth, furrow my brows, get distracted by every sound and movement and, for extra insult, I snore. Most nights of the week you’ll find me with cotton balls in my ears, a dental grinding guard in my mouth, some Frownies pasted to my forehead — all with my trusty and awesome Marpac sleep machine whirring in the background.

Sexy, no?

That’s a whole lotta craziness, if you ask me — and much of it is due to my struggles with falling asleep. The experts call it sleep-onset insomnia, but we in the club like to call it, “Why the hell can’t I shut my mind off and fall asleep like everyone else? Why? WHY?!”

It doesn’t happen every night, but it’s definitely increased over the years. Now that I have a partner sleeping beside me, it’s a pattern I can no longer ignore. (Ironically, he’s the best guy a gal could ever ask for except that he has a gift I do not — and one he cannot give me. He can fall asleep in 30 seconds or less. Literally. Me? 30, 40, 60 minutes, etc. Fortunately, he sleeps right through the craziness.)

Once I’m asleep I’m golden – I LOVE sleep when I’m actually doing it — it’s just getting there. So, that combined with knowing a family member has serious sleep apnea and chronic insomnia, I decided to take the pillow in hand and take back control. I’ve done much reading (recommend Dreamland: Adventures in Strange Science of Sleep by David Randall for an interesting take on the subject), talked to my primary care physician and recently consulted with a sleep doc. Best decision ever!

One of the things he wanted to confirm was that I do not also have sleep apnea. For that, a home sleep test.

I took the test last night:  airflow hose in my nostrils and taped in place to my cheeks, a heart rate monitor clipped to my finger and CPU pack strapped to my middle. I looked like a female version of this guy. Except I was wearing PJs. And my eyes were closed. And I was wearing the cotton balls, mouth guard and Frownie, because at that point, why not?

I hope I “passed” the test and am hopeful my sleep habits will normalize more than the accessories I wear to bed.

How about you? Do you have sleep problems? How do you deal?

Fifteen Years

Me:  Hey, y’all, I’m back!

You:  [crickets]

Me:  Excuse me, I guess I should have said “yinz”. Yinz, I’m back with a blog post.

The World: [zzzzzz]

Me:  Fine. Be tha tway.

So I’ve broken that cardinal rule of blogging – write frequently enough for your readers (even your mom) to give a hoot – but I’m realizing in middle age that humans are not born to multitask, after all.

Is something outside my window? Squirrel!

Humor me for a moment while I do the obligatory, guilt-ridden blathering about how busy life has been in the last 3 weeks EXCEPT TO BLOG:  getting back to school; celebrating the kids’ birthdays, my birthday, my parents’ anniversary, my work anniversary; restarting taekwondo classes (sijak!); taking a trip out of town; restarting my 2013 resolutions before the year is over, entering yet another stage of self-reflection and hair coloring. Blather. Blather…

Thank you and sorry.

Funny thing is that in the jumble above one milestone sticks out in my mind and connects many of the others to each other:  my work anniversary. Fifteen years at the same company. Quite frankly, I never thought my tenure would go past five.

I’ve written about my midlife “what do I want to do with my life” crisis before. I’ve resolved my feelings about it for now, for the most part. I’ve spent the last 15 years generally doing things I like to do, working with more good people than not and have been given the chance to grow and learn. Not always when I would like, or necessarily in an industry I’d choose again, but I’ve asked for opportunities and given new challenges. Part of that I will take credit for; part of it rests with the people I work for. The thing that has struck me the most about “15,” though, is what has happened in my personal life in that time.

My first husband and I celebrating our first Christmas in our new house.

Our first baby.

Our second baby.

Our divorce.

My townhouse, the first house I purchased on my own.

Lots of painting (and wearing paint on me). Developing a few DIY skills along the way.

New neighbors and friends.

Many dates.

Many misses.

My first blog.

Writing and pitching my novel.

Putting my novel away, proud of what I accomplished but ready to move on.

Discovering who I really am, what I want and what I won’t settle for.

Bringing the rest of my immediate family to this area.

Meeting my husband.

Jumping out of a plane.

Planning a wedding.

Getting married again.

Our Hawaiian honeymoon!

My last pregnancy.

My only miscarriage.

Buying our house.

A new, loving extended family.

Lots more painting and home projects – now at two houses, my in-laws’, and our own.

Learning, learning..

My second blog. (This one!)

More Christmas and Irish/St. Patrick’s Day decorations than I ever thought I would own.

More figuring it out as I go along.

Whether I’m still working here or not down the road, it will be interesting to see what the next 15 years bring.

7 things I learned this summer

It’s been almost a month since returning from our family vacation to New England – and less than two weeks before school starts. Yikes! That rascally, slippery summertime — those months teasing me with sun, relaxation and overly ambitious plans — is quickly disappearing. Here are 7 things I’ve learned this summer:

1.  On vacation I learned that my son, who has somehow made it through many years of school, had no idea that Connecticut is a state. He thought Connecticut was a city…or a mysterious, magical place; he couldn’t really say. Those laminated placemats of the United States I purchased when the kids were little weren’t as educational as I thought.

2.  T-Rex and Drama Girl are really good car travelers, but they don’t seem to grasp the concepts of time or distance. I couldn’t get why they kept asking us if we were still in [Name of State] when we had driven right by the “Welcome to [Name of Other State]” sign minutes before!

3.  This introduced our family to the catch-phrase “Straight-A Stupid,” compliments of T-Rex. I’m fortunate the kids both enjoy and do well in school, but Common Sense 101 is clearly missing from their curriculum!

4.  Boston continues to be one of my favorite cities to visit, although I have yet to make my way out of the main tourist areas. I recommend taking a Boston Duck tour if you’re visiting for the first time or if you have young children. (BTW, if you or your family members are claustrophobic or crowd-phobic or high-price phobic, do NOT go to Quincy Market!) Newport, RI is also simply lovely and only 2 hours from Boston. It would have been better without the rain, but lovely nonetheless. Bonus: We enjoyed one of our best beach experiences ever…in New Hampshire. What a nice surprise!

5.  New England highway drivers really know how to use a passing lane. How I wish I could bottle up that knowledge and force every Pennsylvania and Ohio driver to drink it! New York and New Jersey drivers? Not so much — they make up their own rules of the road as they go. I lived in northern New Jersey for some time growing up and forgot just how nutty it can be to drive through the state (not a city like Connecticut). I flashed back to the first time my driving instructor said, “Now you’re going to merge onto Route 17.” Route 17, one of the most chaotic, neurotic roads leading to and through the shopping mecca (or hell, depending on your viewpoint) known as Paramus, NJ. Just like that! If you know the area, you know what I’m saying. Flashbacks.

6.  Each summer “getting back into shape” starts off with a bang, but by this point my motivation is limping along rather than running full speed. (In fact, last summer I was literally limping along –my quest to get back in shape by jogging aggravated, or outright caused, a stress fracture in my toe. There’s motivation for you!) Joe and I try to get out and bike once in a while (like tonight) and we walk as much as we can, but ice cream and the occasional cold beer tempt us every step of the way. We’re weak, what can I say. Nothing new here; I just happened to realize that this is a pattern each summer, which brings me to…

7.  No matter how much I love summer and want it to be all chillaxy, life’s stressors don’t go away. They don’t take a neatly planned vacation, which is unfortunate. We cause a lot of our stress ourselves, and acting like responsible grown-ups year-round is sometimes hard to swallow. (I know. Wah!) I guess if I can’t get rid of stress entirely I might as well embrace it with a little umbrella, beachy drink. 

What have you learned this summer? Are you ready to get back to routine?

Spring fever

When I re-started blogging in January I decided I wouldn’t put pressure on myself to post at any specific frequency. My goal is to post once a week and, for the most part, I’ve been able to do that. I’d also like to write compelling, funny, relevant and/or thought-provoking posts, but who am I kidding? This is a personal blog about my midlife mayhem (a fine reality TV show title)! I think up ideas all the time, but some are just downright inane when compared to what’s happening in the world today.

But I suspect you don’t you come here expecting hard news and careful introspection, so here’s a round-up of my last two weeks:

Garage sale madness continued, then not.

Remember the mega sale in April? No? Well, I do and not just because I’m scarred for life from the experience of hauling in and hauling out, storing and sorting family wares for 2 years. They talk about house remodeling sending people to the brink of divorce? Prepping for a garage sale comes close to that. Anyway, I’ll always remember the sale because we made $500 for us and another $100 that went back to family members. Woohoo! Last weekend we decided to try and unload even more at a local “Junk in Your Trunk” sale. These are like flea markets and popular in the UK (called “car boot sales”). We made another $75 and then donated the remaining items to Goodwill. I don’t have the stomach to do this each year — and I hope we never have that much stuff again — but it boosted our vacation fund AND helped to clean out my mother-in-law’s and our house. Bonus: Our neighbors can stop thinking we’re the Clampets moving stuff in and out of our house all the time.

Oh, mother.

Oh, brother. I’ve wanted to write about recent experiences with my mother and mother-in-law – after all, part of my return to blogging was to connect with other members of the “sandwich generation” – but it’s just not my place to write about it in detail. Suffice it to say, I’m worried about each of them and, if I’m being honest with myself, about how their decisions are impacting or will impact my life. Welcome, guilt-ridden Sandwich Member! I’ll leave this topic for now, but will share more later. This weighs on my mind.

I am writing, then not, then I am, then not, then…

Decided I need to buckle down on this. (Again. And again.) After all, now that I’m focusing back on what’s in front of me and no longer busting my ass looking for “other opportunities” I can devote energy to what I enjoy, including writing. I spent time last week writing a query/pitch to collaborate on a book with an independent publisher. I’ve also drafted an essay to submit for an anthology. I, of course, think I’m wonderfully qualified for both of these opportunities. Others may not, but you have to be in it to win it. P.S. Notes, ideas, images for my novel continue to bounce around in my head. I’m hoping they’ll make it to paper this summer. Which brings me to…

Ready for summer “vacation” more than the kids.

Like T-Rex, I’m burned out from the school year and have been suffering from spring fever. This week we spent three long nights at wonderful-but-long school concerts and events – did I mention they were long? We’re finishing up taekwondo lessons next week before taking a break for the summer. (The kids protested at first, but I think they’re so pooped out now they don’t mind.) I’m so ready for summer: we’ll go biking, swim, relax, run around camp…

Oh, wait, I still have to go to work every day! Well, I’m still looking forward to the all that fun crammed into evening hours before 9 p.m. and weekends. Yep, can’t wait for that relaxing, “unscheduled” time.

How about you?

Back to picking me

I admit I’m a little late in joining the Seth Godin fan club. I haven’t read any of his books (yet) and only recently subscribed to his blog. I don’t know what took me so long because I love his posts — they’re short, thoughtful, inspirational, common sense, no nonsense, relevant. Two of his recent posts struck a chord with me:

Getting picked (need to versus want to) and its follow-up, But I don’t want to do that, I want to do this.

Why?

I’ve finally accepted after 18 months of “exploring opportunities” outside of my industry that it’s time to stop. I’ve spent a lot-lot-lot of time and effort in my search and find myself in almost the same place as when I started:  working at the same place, in the same industry, as I have for a long-long-long time. However, I say “almost the same” for a few reasons.

I proved to myself I still have marketable skills. (Of course, I wanted to believe this, but after being somewhere so long it’s hard to know for sure.) I also nearly perfected my resume (when is anything ever “perfect”?) and, more importantly, my story, my pitch — what I bring to the table, what I want and what I need at this stage of my career and life, what motivates me, who I am. This is a great exercise for anyone to do, by the way. My story generated enough interest to get interviews and even to be chosen for the final group of candidates in a couple of cases. Maybe in a different job market it would have made the sale. This time, it didn’t.

I am in no way comparing my experience to anyone who is unemployed; there’s a big difference, as Seth would point out, in needing to, not just wanting to, find a new job. (I also don’t write this all boo-hoo because, all things considered, mine is a rather bourgeois problem to have.) So why am I writing this and how does it relate to Seth Godin?

If you need to give yourself a pep talk about changing the course of your career, like I did, or being recognized for your artistic talents, or turning your hobby into a business, or wanting to find a new relationship, or understanding your place in this world, consider…

“…If you’re frustrated that you’re not getting picked, one plan is to up your game, to hustle harder, to figure out how to hone a pitch and push, push, push. But in the era of picking yourself, it seems to me that you’re better off finding a path that doesn’t require you get picked in order to succeed.”

“I know you worked hard on paying your dues, on building your skills and in being next. We all know that. But that doesn’t mean that the picking system is going to work when you need it to.”

“…If you want to devote your work and your efforts to getting picked, that’s your choice, and more power to you. But I think it’s dangerous to start with the assumption that you have no choice.”

Anyone who knows me knows I’m persistent and believe in making choices and putting yourself out there — just read my dating tales in One-Woman Show !! I also believe that God/the universe/lady luck/whoever-and-whatever-you-believe-in and timing play a key role in the outcome and might be trying to tell you something.

It’s time to explore different kinds of opportunities — where I am currently and how I can design the next stage of my career there, in outside creative pursuits, and who knows what else. It’s kind of a relief, really. It’s kind of nice to get back to picking me.

Read Seth’s blog!!

3 Lessons from Taekwondo

I took my first taekwondo belt test last night. I’m happy to say I passed, graduating to the rank of Orange Belt! That’s still pretty low on the list, but I’m no longer the newbie. Here are three things I’ve learned in the last 6 weeks:

1. Learning martial arts is both empowering and highly entertaining. One second, I’m focused and balancing all Zen-like on one foot before completing a controlled, snappy side kick in perfect form. The next, I’m kicking and throwing my arms around in such a spastastically wild manner Elaine Benes would be in awe. To sum it upkeep at it and keep your sense of humor.

2.  Testing and practice are two different things. I was confident going into my test last night. I had my forms down and felt that the support of my instructors and classmates would carry me through. Besides, I wasn’t saving lives, so, really, how hard could it be?

Like many of my classmates, I experienced the one thing you don’t get in practice:  the pressure of performing in front of 30+ people who have nothing better to do at that moment than to watch you. I ended up rushing through my form, focusing on things I usually don’t consider (“Hey, let me impress that five-year-old in the front row with an amazing jump front kick! See, kid, I’m awesome!”), and then came out of said kick only to realize I had no idea where I was in the routine. I’m sure my pause lasted for only a second or two, but it was disorienting. Then there were the issues of bonking myself in the head during the weapons test and flubbing my way through line sparring.

All of that aside, if there’s a positive about being in your 40’s you know “the show must go on”. (And empty your bladder before jumping, kicking or, generally, anything.) In other words: It may not be your best ever, but it’s your best at that moment.

3. Everyone is your teacher. My testing partner is a 62-year old woman who started taekwondo because her granddaughters take classes. To look at her, you think “sweet and petite”, but this former Navy engineer is tough as nails and throws a mean punch (thankfully, the no contact kind). My other classmates include two 13-year old boys who are your typical self-conscious, goofy, mostly uncoordinated teens. But, god love ’em, they accepted practicing with someone their mom’s age without a word, right from the start. My buddy, Jesse, even gave me a big smile and high five after we earned our new belts. Consider this: You can learn something from everyone you meet…regardless of how old — or young — they are.

 

Bonus Lessons:

Yes, your supporters will help carry you through.

It’s ok. You’re not saving lives.

You’re not Elaine Benes.