Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Contagious stress

Today was filled with many deadline-driven queries and tasks, and I found that my anxiety spiraled up with every new e-mail or phone call.

It wasn't so much stress and anxiety that I OWNED, but I could feel it very strongly coming to me from others who were pushing and pushing to complete tasks in order to meet a deadline. And I caught it, that anxious stress, and felt the push, the drive to finish just one more thing, send one more e-mail before I went to appointments that had been set up for a while, and then carried it with me for a little while.

Fortunately I realized what was happening, and made conscious choices not to allow problems that aren't mine to affect my own anxiety levels. The parts that I did have responsibility for had been done for some time, although there was some questions as to what would be needed.

At the end of the day, it didn't matter because an overlooked item took priority over the work I'd done. Ah ...

Stress is highly contagious. If you've ever worked for a company and gone through a layoff or RIF, you know what I mean: paranoia is rampant throughout the staff. Will I be next? How will I pay the mortgage? Why don't they want me? I got a good review -- but will I be safe?


And stress is baaaaddd for the bod, folks. It can exacerbate all sorts of problems you already may have a tendency towards, and it can truly be life threatening if it becomes chronic and unrelieved.

Today I consciously made myself slow down and breath deeply, calm my mind, and repeat my favorite mantras: I am powerless over people, places and things. ...serenity to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can....the wisdom to know the difference....Do all you can, where you are, with what you've got.

Had I been able, I'd have listened to some music or an ocean waves recording, and maybe done some yoga stretches and more deep breathing. On the fly, I settled for the breath, and for the mantras. It worked, and it put me in a much more accepting frame of mind, rather than the accelerating accusatory mode like "What were you thinking to leave this to the last minute? Why should your lack of planning be my problem? Don't you know how to make that look decent with all your fancy=schmacy boasting?" You know how it goes, don't you.

Ooooo. Nasty thoughts.

In a week, it won't matter, not really. This day was not brain surgery. Nobody was going to die or get hurt. And that's what puts it into perspective, really.

Rule 1: Don't sweat the small stuff. Rule 2: Most of it is small stuff.

I am thankful for each day that I get to spend here, with my honey, in this beautiful place, living the life I do. I'm grateful for friends and family and love. I'm grateful for enough. Thanks be to the universe.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Elder? Me?

I'm taking trips via the Internet (okay, and in my head) this weekend -- sort of little escapes here and there.

One site that will be a source of wonderful procrastination and dawdling activity is Blogher: a community of women bloggers who not only list their blogs in a gi-normous blogroll, but who also comment on various topics and establish community on the site itself.

As much as I love reading blogs, I'm not sure how this one escaped me for so long, but it's a library of stories from real people. I've spent this afternoon browsing through comments and blogs about cats, writing, baby boomers, books, and more.

One thing that threw me just a tad, when I registered this blog and myself on the blogroll, was the categorization option. Old Musings is clearly a "life" blog -- but they offer subcategories: Elder or Single.

Well, I'm not single. I have a wonderful, loving years last Sunday!

On the other hand, I don't feel Elder. (Let's just ignore that Six-Oh decade birthday in six months...)

So I went looking at Elder blogs. Uh huh. Baby boomers. Menopause. Over 40. I guess I qualify.

And yet Tony and I were talking the other day about wisdom and age (and the corollary, that sometimes age comes alone...) I've had occasion this week to observe more closely than usual the arrogance of youth (youth being anyone under 35 or 40...). There's an attitude -- which I'm sure I probably displayed when I was that age-- that is rather dismissive of experience or life lessons, and fairly short on courtesy or patience or evident gratitude.

It's not true of everyone, of course. We discussed that people who have had hard life-lessons in those first few decades usually have a better handle on the fragility and uncertainty of life. If you've experienced the death or life-threatening illness of someone close to you, you see life a little differently and are not as casual about it, for instance.

And then, of course, there are those people, both older and younger, who are pessimistic, self-centered, egotistical, and ... did I mention self-centered? Uh huh.

Aging teaches you stuff, some of it not a lot of fun, some of it amazingly wonderful. Oh, don't get me wrong: I relish where I am, the age I am, WHO I am now, and that all was shaped by what I was when I was younger -- the mistakes, the indiscretions, the paths I chose, the exuberant energy and confidence that I was never going to age like so many older people I knew -- but also hoped that when I DID age that I would be more like some of the other older people I knew, the ones who were the mavericks, the outspoken, interesting ones. I wouldn't go back and do it over again, not this life. I like this age, this person that I'm becoming...

About aging: I've learned that "never" is a long time, and when it comes to body appearance and functions, for instance, "never" is simply not relevant. You're gonna get wrinkles and gray hair, even if you cover it up with Miss Clairol. You're going to lose skin and muscle tone in places that used to be smooth and firm, no matter how much you exercise, no matter how much moisturizer you slather on. Your innards are going to have glitches now and then, and they're simply not going to function the way they did when you were 20 or even 30:
  • feet have been holding you up for many years, supported often by nothing more than a thin rubber sole or hiked six inches in the air for the sake of fashion,
  • your plumbing has been filtering out all those nasty fats and chemicals and additives for years, and eventually even a good, high-quality drain gets clogged or leaky,
  • organs and glands and hormones meant to help reproduce the species have a finite number of productive years, and then some stuff shuts down, or gets tired, or just plain breaks,
  • the vast memory cells in our amazing brains have lots and lots of days and years of experiences stored up, and sometimes the communication pathways aren't as quick as they used to be -- or all those "better living through chemistry" recreational experiences of our wild and crazy youth have altered or erased them...
It's gonna happen.

I didn't/couldn't/wouldn't really understand that when I was in my 20s and 30s either.

So when we look at these young adults who are working to make a living and a life, making mistakes, feeling immortal, having fun, trying to be responsible for themselves and maybe even kids of their own (or not -- sometimes personal responsibility doesn't ever quite kick in), I suppose it's another stage in that great wheel of life: one that our parents saw in us, one their parents saw in them, and so on back through the ages.

I hope that in my case wisdom will come with that Elder thing too: I think it is, bit by bit. What I hope also is granted to me in abundance is patience: patience to deal with that young arrogance, that youthful surety that they OWN life and that they will never be like those OLD people.

Time'll get 'em. Just like it's getting me...and you. One day at a time. I bet my parents are laughing...

I'm reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My new favorite bread dipper

When I was in SF with Julie, we ate dinner at The Stinking Rose, an all-garlic-all-the-time restaurant in North Beach. While everything was yummy (and I reeked of garlic for three days afterwards), I couldn't get enough of the pesto relish that was on every table. It was hot, tasted of parsley, and verrrry garlicky.

Tonight I have a big jar in the fridge that I've shared last night with neighbors and tonight with other friends -- I found the recipe on the restaurant's site as well as elsewhere, slightly modified. And here it is:

Stinking Rose® Garlic Relish

1 bunch flat Italian parsley, minced
1/4-1/3 cup (or to taste, which is what I did) minced garlic
2 T vinegar
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Olive oil to cover

I whirled the parsley in the food processor until very finely chopped; ditto the garlic. Put it all into a glass jar, mixed it up, and covered with olive oil.

Is that easy or what!

It makes a great salad dressing, bread dipper, condiment for a sandwich, topper for griller chicken (or fish). The garlic is what gives it the hot kick, so vary your amounts according to how much you love garlic.

Carry breath mints.

I also made a dried tomato and rosemary foccacia, using tomatoes from the garden that I'd dried last year, and it was killer with this dip. And too easy -- do the dough in the bread machine, and it's very simple from there.

Did I mention that I love to cook? Well -- when I have a little time to do it and plan ahead. I don't like the oh-gosh-it's-7-p.m.-and-I-haven't-the-foggiest kinds of cooking, which seems to happen a lot. Lately it's a lot of salad from the garden, which also is featuring radishes and the tiniest green onions. You can't buy lettuce like this -- it's a good variety of kinds, so you get a peppery arugula in one bite, a juicy leaf lettuce in another.

Enough already. I'm hungry.

More magazines on the nightstand, and I'm working bit by bit on The Secret, but I'm nearly finished with JD Robb's Born in Death.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My heart beats to the ocean

The best part about going to San Francisco -- aside, of course, from seeing Julie and being able to hug her and laugh and talk -- was wading in the beautiful, beautiful ocean at Ocean Beach.

That was our evensong -- the planned one to Grace Cathedral got scrapped when we realized it was already 2:30 (it started at 3) and we had just gotten our food in a restaurant in Ghirardelli Square. It wasn't going to happen.

So we enjoyed lunch, walked along the wharf with all the other tourists, and then took a drive out to the ocean and got our feet wet.

The ocean is always a spiritual experience for me. I threw my arms up to the sun, tilted my head back, and said hello...I've missed you...thank you for your constancy. And then I dipped my feet into those cold, cold waters, let the foamy surf roll between my toes and soak my pants legs, and played a little tag with the waves. I breathed deeply of that salt air, the moist ocean smell, to etch it again into memory so that in the hot, dry days of summer here I can remember it. The gulls swooped and soared, the water sang sweetly to the steady beat of the ocean's heart, and my senses and my heart were full.

It was a long drive home, although traffic was very cooperative. It was a quick trip, too -- up on Saturday, back on Sunday. I was tired, physically and emotionally, and very ready to get wrapped up in Tony's arms and settle into bed. It's a fun place to visit, and I'm glad I don't live there anymore, although I'd love to be a little closer to the ocean than several hours' drive.

Nonetheless, we live in a beautiful place and I'm grateful even for the red dirt and rocks. The garden is loving the heat and water, and we've enjoyed and shared lettuce and radishes so far, and everything else looks healthy and promising. I still can't believe we're in summer -- oh, I know what the calendar says, but triple digits are forecast for next week, so it's definitely summer. But in five months it will be cool and rainy again, or nearly. Everything changes.

Life is uncertain, and can change direction in a moment. I am so grateful for where I am and who I am, and for my husband. Ten years ago I knew I had to change, and I found new directions. I am so blessed with the results! Courage. Belief. Action. Putting one foot in front of the other, and walking the path that lies ahead of you is what it takes. May you find your own true self on your path too!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

And so it goes

It's been a crabby day. Too many deadlines, a whole lotta picky people, too little preparation for a meeting I knew was coming and just couldn't get to the stuff that I needed to.

And then a too-impassioned, too-long combination rant/rallying opinion at said meeting -- from me -- that practically put me in tears because of the strength of my feelings -- but thankfully I managed to avert them without further embarrassing myself with some deep breathing and a focus on the pattern in the wallpaper.

I hate these kinds of days. Y'know what I mean?

I'm tired. I'm burnt out. I've spent a lot of time doing volunteer things and not enough with business activities, partly to meet expectations that are set only by me.

There's more than a little perfectionism in my personality, and I am also a bit of a people-pleaser, so I tend to set myself up for these situations. *sigh*

And then, of course, there's the second-guessing and analysis like I'm doing right now, and I always find things to criticize. *double sigh*

It's time for bed. If I can send my internal judge back to her chambers, I'll sleep; otherwise, it could be a long, restless night. But tomorrow is another day.

Friday, May 11, 2007

It is well... remembering Mama

It's impossible to ignore Mother's Day. Ads in the newspaper, ads on TV, magazines, store displays -- they all scream "MOM. Call your mom. Send her a card....a"

I'm really, really trying not to see it.

I did last year, too, the first Mother's Day without my mother, and was more successful than I've been this year. For whatever reasons, this one is harder to not see.

My undoing was a column in yesterday's Record Searchlight by columnist Jim Dyar, whose mom died just a few weeks ago. I understand his feelings. This one won't be easy for him either. Nor will any of them.

My conversations with my mother are one-sided too, but I have them anyway, because I can hear her voice in my head. I can see her soft, wrinkled face with softly rouged cheeks smiling at me, listening. I can feel her fine hair under my fingertips. I remember her voice. Calm. Matter-of-fact.

I stay away from Mother's Day card displays and gift ideas and try to overlook the glossy ads in the paper -- but I still think "she'd like that" when I see a book or a movie or a cute shirt that would cover her thin arms and thick middle -- thick because of the devastating osteoporosis that curled her back into a comma and forced her inner organs to share a much reduced space in her abdomen. I used to shop for hours to find clothes that would work with that poor little body -- the body that used to be tall and elegantly hour-glassed --

So Sunday I'm going to attend a choral evensong at Grace Cathedral with my friend Julie. I'll say prayers for my mother of gratitude for her gifts to me, for her strength and honesty, and for her life that graced the lives of my brother and me, and my father. And I'll listen as the voices sing clear up to heaven. I hope one of the hymns will be "It is Well with My Soul." It was her favorite.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cycles of living

I'm aware lately == especially == of cycles. Not the kind you ride, at least literally, but the ebb and flow of life, of events, of seasons, of acquaintances and friends. Maybe it's the changing of the seasons, winter to spring, and the garden. Maybe it's the half-birthday this month that makes us both eligible to withdraw funds from our IRAs without penalty, and the knowledge that in another six months, we both hit that next big "0." Life goes on.

All the little plants in the garden are thriving, loving the sunshine and warm temperatures. Even some of the little deer-bitten nubs are growing leaves -- yes, I planted several of those poor little victims. I picked a big bag of lettuce tonight for dinner and a few marble-sized radishes. Each lettuce variety has such a distinct flavor! I love it fresh like that.

In the part that just got planted, there are sunflower and swiss chard seedlings already popping. The zucchini and the cucumber starts are already several inches bigger. And we should have abundant peppers -- lots of red, a few green, two Hatch, and one hot. I love seeing them respond to the sun and the water.

Events: we're back to the Art and Wine festival already; the Arts Council is moving towards membership dues time again and another ArtsTalk newsletter (when I get time!); I was hearing about graduations and vacations today. A school cycle completed. Seems like a long time ago that I was involved with school, either for myself or for my daughter.

This weekend I see my friend Julie from Indiana who is coming to SF for a few days with another friend. We've been friends for about 25 years now, and I love how we just pick right up where we left off, still on the same wave length. I hate driving to the Bay Area and don't like driving in downtown SF because I'm always watching for those one-way streets and terrorizing cab drivers, and because it's always crowded and I inevitably have to pass my destination up and go back around again. HOWEVER, I want to see her and we will have a good time. We're doing some different things this time -- probably a choral evensong at Grace Cathedral, an evening performance of Beach Blanket Babylon, who knows what else. (She turns that "0" decade in just a few I'm bringing her a photo I took of her and our friend Kay when I was in Indiana last October.)

I've written before about reasons, seasons and lifetimes. I think Julie is a lifetime friend. And I feel as though I have an abundance of good friends right now too - actually, I feel as though I have more friends now than at any other time in my life. What a blessing! I hope I give them back the joy and blessing that they give me.

Another cycle.

I feel the changes in my body as I age, too -- the legs that once were smooth and firm all the way up have ripples in the thighs and lumps in the calves. I haven't had a proper waist in years. My neck shows that I'm no longer under 40...or 50... The hair, while turning an enviable mixture of gray and white (according to my hair dresser and various friends who are surprised to learn that I don't highlight it at all), still is gray, and I was asked today, for the first time, what color my "natural" hair color used to be....GAK! Y'mean it doesn't show anymore for all the gray? You can't tell?

Another cycle.

I'm aware that life gets shorter and shorter as the months go by. I'm aware that I am cozying up to "senior citizen" status. I'm aware of aches and pains that 20 years ago would have been unremarkable, and now are noted and sometimes researched, and discussed with physicians.

I'm aware that my opinions are sometimes shaped by events that are more than 30 years old...that I have shoes older than some of my younger acquaintances.

And yet I really try to keep a fresh outlook, try to be open rather than judgmental (usually not terribly successfully), try to be accepting and tolerant of differences in actions and beliefs.

And yet. I simply fail to be very understanding when people pretend ignorance of process and rules because they're either lazy or self-serving. I am very intolerant of those who search for a way around some rule or process they don't like or who fail to be truthful and honest in their dealings with others, especially with clients. I just don't understand people who see nothing wrong with walking all over someone else in order to get what they want -- and I'm not very kind about saying so.

Maybe I'm turning into one of those opinionated, fiesty old women? I know. I'm not old. Not yet. I'm not sure when "old" is -- but it's about 20 years older than I am at any given time.

So here we are again -- new beginnings and second chances. Another cycle of spring into summer. Another season of the year. Another chance at becoming and learning and giving and loving. It never gets old
, even as we do.

I've been reading magazines, magazines, magazines!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mission accomplished

What a ride the weather's given us these past few days, especially. It was downright cold late last week, even to the point where a woodstove fire was welcome and took the chill off on Friday night. By yesterday, however, the temps were touching 90, and at 7 a.m. this morning it was already 70 degrees outside. The wind was high both Saturday and Sunday, but really bad on Sunday.

Saturday I worked in the garden all day, and there are a bunch of tomatoes, various peppers, cucumbers, a solitary Japanese eggplant and zucchini popping green heads in the brown dirt. I also planted another row of green beans, a row of sunflowers, and one of swiss chard. It's good to have it in and growing.

And the pots around the front of the house have rosemary, lavender, zinnias, the deer-resistant Dusty Miller, and wooley thyme. It looks a bunch better.

Boy did I feel it, too. I was so stiff and sore yesterday! It's a lot of up and down and squats and bends and lifting bags of dirt. I was fortunate in that it was not hot -- windy, a bit, and sunny, but temps were moderate. I slathered on sunscreen and wore our "foreign legion" cap -- the one with the skirt that covers the back of your neck. So I wasn't crispy, although my hands (I hate garden gloves) are rough and dry.

But there. One more task off my list. And sprinklers keep it wet, so all I have to do is weed and watch. I'm starting to get lettuce; radishes are nearly ready. I love fresh produce.

We are so blessed to be where we are, in this beautiful place, blessed with good friends (who are outstanding cooks! A Cinco de Mayo party Saturday evening was a feast for eyes and tummies, and such fun, lively conversations!) My cup runneth over.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Finding energy !

When I was in my 30s and 40s, I was one very busy lady: I worked full time at a fairly demanding job, had a child in elementary school (just ONE!), a workaholic husband, and was active in many church and community activities.

I've wondered in recent years where I found the time and energy to do all of that plus fix meals, do grocery shopping, clean house, attend meetings, and I also sewed a lot of mine and my daughter's clothing. Oh, and I had a garden and did a fair bit of yard work.

I had energy. I was organized.

In more recent years I have wondered where I found the energy to do it, the time to fit it all in.

I remember. In the last couple of weeks, we've been very busy with various projects: real estate, of course, although it is deadly quiet, so our efforts have been directed towards marketing our properties; writing gigs have come to us that have kept us heads-down at our respective computers and working long days; various volunteer efforts continue to take at least some time; and there's the usual cooking, grocery shopping, planting and tending the garden, cleaning house, etc. The more I have to do, the more organized I've become. And surprisingly, the more energy I have to get it done.

I make lists. I've always been a listmaker. Sometimes I never refer to them again after I've written them; it helps simply to jot down all the thoughts in my head and that helps prioritize them. And sometimes I rely on the list to direct my entire day: I check off one project and go on to the next. The next day I do another list with anything left undone from the previous day at the top of the list.

It helps. It takes the organization out of my head and puts it tangibly on paper, and then I don't have to worry over it or wonder what I'm forgetting to do. I put deadline reminders in my (still paper) organizer sometimes, especially for things that are months in advance, and that helps.

It's the stuff that's optional, sortakinda, that gets lost, though -- I've been trying to finish up the garden for two weeks, and while I've got the other half tilled and ready to plant, the seed packets are still sitting there.

Oh, my intentions were really good. Last weekend I bought a few veggies in the little peat pots -- some peppers, tomatoes, a cucumber -- and intended to put them in on Sunday. I left them, along with a little 6-pack of Dusty Miller, on the edge of the front porch. Uh-uh. Wrong move.

I can say definitively that our deer do not like Dusty Miller. They do, however, love the tomatoes, peppers and cuke. The little plants were nibbled down to an inch of oozing stem. I've put the mutiliated plants in the safety of the garden fencing in hopes that the stubs will sprout leaves, but I really need to make a trip to Home Depot to find some replacements.

And yet...I'm working on deadlines still, due next week, and tend to do only what's absolutely necessary like meals and laundry.

Nevertheless, I like being busy and feeling energized. And I went back to yoga last night for this next six-week session, and that always makes me feel good. I guess it's again a matter of maintaining balance, isn't it....figuratively in my everyday tasks and work tasks, and literally in those blasted tree poses for yoga.

I know it'll all get done eventually. What I also want is to enjoy the journey, knowing that the deadlines and to-do lists are good things, and not something to obsess about, at least unduly. If I follow my lists, I'll have time to get it done without too much stress...