Spring Cleaning

As the sun passed over the vernal equinox last week and many celebrated the start of a new year (Nowruz, to my Persian friends), I started to feel the optimism, hope and energy that strikes me every spring. Clearly, it was time to start cleaning house – literally and figuratively.

The clutter that had collected since last fall, before the dark, wet winter had mercilessly stolen my mojo, was first in line. I started with the kitchen cabinets, whose rear portions serve as a black hole, swallowing up overlooked dry and canned goods.

It’s hard to forget the lesson learned several years back, when I started overstocking items from an organic-foods chain. Carol and I had enrolled our preschoolers in a gymnastics class, and not being the sorts of moms who hover and advise instructors on their four-year-olds’ athletic prowess, we spent that hour shopping at a nearby specialty grocery store.

After enjoying “lunch” of the daily sample and free coffee, we would work our way through the aisles, advising each other on items that were popular with our respective families. The trouble was, I became a food “hoarder,” of sorts, as the cabinets started brimming with foods that we never would have time to consume.

And within a few months, the trouble started: pantry moths (the “Indian Meal Moth” variety) appeared. Apparently the downside of buying natural products is that they can contain eggs for such pests, and once one hatches, she can lay hundreds of eggs in your dry food – especially flour, whole grains, crackers, beans and nuts. Those eggs hatch, and the larvae feed on the crumbs and lay eggs in other food items.

To get rid of the problem, I had to toss out four grocery bags full of food, cleanse the cabinets with ammonia and insert traps supplied by an expensive exterminator. Now, I seal all of my dry food in Ziploc bags and Tupperware, and try not to keep unopened food for too long. So, last week I hunted packaged goods that were unused or close to expiring.

Then, it was on to the bathroom drawers and cabinets. It was hard for me to purge my stash of free lotion and perfume samples, untried beauty treatments and an assortment of “miracle creams” (at what point must I acknowledge that my well-earned crows feet and worry lines are here to stay?). The work had to be done, so I soldiered on.

The next victim was the bedroom closet, and I was ruthless, culling out clothes that I had ignored for years, or that hadn’t fit since I was childless. For instance, I sacrificed two of three similar black blazers, let go of several pairs of pants and discarded shoes that wouldn’t be fashionable again for decades.  Soon, I had a healthy load for the local thrift shop.

My husband, also a candidate for the “hoarders” show, took my lead, and attacked his side of the closet. A few hours later, he summoned me to survey the wreckage: eight pairs of faded blue jeans, six never-worn sweaters (lamb’s wool is too warm for our mild winters) and a stack of shirts, including the mock-turtleneck he bought on a 1990 ski trip to Tahoe.

Our oldest son was headed home for spring break, and, due to a “funds-management issue,” he planned to spend his vacation as an hourly worker for us. So, we knew the annual clean-up our yard so desperately needed would soon take place.

That left the mental spring cleaning, which is much more taxing.

I started thinking of how I spend my time, which activities fill my agenda, what social obligations keep me running and which people clutter my mind and drain my energy.

Coincidentally, Dr. Ed Hallowell, author of Crazy Busy: Outstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life, was in town for a few lectures last week. While, ironically, I was too crazy-busy to attend the talks, several of my Mean Mommy friends summarized his main ideas at last week’s book club meeting.

Among the major points from Dr. Hallowell, a former Harvard Medical School instructor and current therapist, author and lecturer, were steps for streamlining one’s life. In an excerpt from Crazy Busy, I noted that two points seemed particularly poignant:

Cancel: … if you get in the habit of canceling what doesn’t really matter, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how much more energy you have. Try to think of at least one activity, meeting, or event you can cancel right now.”

Cultivate: Cultivate your lilies and discard your leeches… What do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? Figure that out, then do it.”

I took a long look at my calendar and considered which activities I keep up just for the sake of obligation and routine, and which friends fill my time but drain my soul. I made a mental note of some potential changes; some leeches that needed excising.

Finally, I had to face my fixation with Facebook. How many of those 385 “friends” do I actually want to hear from on a regular basis? Sure, it’s fun to reconnect with old school and work pals, but once the thrill of sharing memories and old photos wears off, do I really need daily updates on their families and politics, or to drool over their vacation photos?

Over the next few weeks, I will be blocking posts from a few “friends” that I would otherwise have no contact with (I don’t have the heart to “unfriend” anyone).

So, as sunshine starts to replace Seattle’s stretch of dreary days, I’m starting to see things more clearly in my cabinets, closets and calendar. I hope your own spring cleaning proves equally effective.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 26 March 2012

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Yin Yang and Yoga

Years ago, I had the opportunity to take the Rorschach inkblot test as part of my company’s management- assessment program. The famed exam is administered by showing a series of cards with randomized inkblots to the test taker and the subject is asked to interpret them. There is no right or wrong answer, but it can be very revealing about personality characteristics and emotional state.

I recall looking over each card with the company proctor and taking my time in providing very vanilla answers. However, I had an immediate visceral reaction to one card in particular and I remember it to this day. In my mind the blot clearly illustrated “two girls with pony tails on a seesaw.” The administrator and I both laughed knowingly after my response.

The word seesaw is derived from the French ci-ca, meaning literally, this-that. I certainly did not need a trained psychologist to tell me why I had interpreted a random drawing so surely and distinctly. At that point in my life, I was a young mother already struggling with how to maneuver through the world of child-care, quality family time, work effort and guilt.

This, that. Push, pull.

I was at the front end of a social phenomenon that remains unabated: work-life balance. Thus it was no surprise that the two girls on the seesaw was a metaphor describing the constant rebalancing challenge I was facing at that time and, like most moms, has continued.

Is it any wonder that so many women seek inner peace through yoga? A 2008 study by Yoga Journal cited that the number of people trying to achieve Zen was nearly 16 million. Most of the devotees are female, searching for a little health, harmony and Pratyahara in their lives.

While I like the general idea of yoga and Lululemon clothing, I found that yoga was not my thing. I attended one hot yoga class and after reaching for a sip of water mid-way through the 90 minute session, the teacher scolded me, “Vinyasa says to withhold earthly pleasure!” I did not return.

For those of us who find dehydration and Gumby poses intimidating, there is the kinder, gentler Asian philosophy of Yin Yang. The Taoist philosophy holds that opposites with polar forces are interdependent and connected and are in a constant state of change and that everything is relative. You can meditate, observe nature or pursue poetry and music. It also encourages self acceptance and being present in the moment. Seems doable to me, I feel my inner-smile already.

I can’t say that any of the sensations of juggling have yielded over the years. While inner-peace may have eluded me, I have learned to accept that motherhood does present itself with a necessary tug. We manage the variables in our control and learn to just let go of the rest for our own sanity.

Carol Lewis Gullstad March 19, 2012

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Just Walk on By

If you’re an aerobic-exercise junkie, as I am, you may struggle to understand the whole “walk for fitness” thing – you know, women gathering to count steps and calories while strolling around town.

I just can’t erase the image of white-haired, white-shoed elderly folks meeting in malls for power-walks in the relative security of artificial light and climate control.

However, I recently revised my opinion, and have paid more attention to the women’s magazine articles (“I Walked Off 100 Pounds!”) and fact that the annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (26 – 39 miles in two days) involves some 18,000 people raising $45 million a year.

Where I live, a group of interesting, intelligent, very fit women recently invited me to join for half-marathon walk training. While in the past my response would have been a quick, “No, thanks, if I enter the race, I’ll be running it,” this time I signed on.

For the first time in my life, I’m spending the better part of a year without my regular runs, as a broken kneecap has sidelined me for as long as nine months. Even four births (including two C-sections) and surgery for a broken ankle didn’t put me out of commission this long. Those accustomed to the feeling of calm and well-being, not to mention the endorphin rush, that a good run can provide probably understand how much I miss pounding the pavement.

So, I’m working on walking. My 85-pound dog has adjusted to the slower pace, and, gradually, so have I.  Now, I make “walking dates” with fellow dog owners, and try to join the half-marathon training group on Sundays. (Okay, in all honesty, I have missed most of the walks due to my family’s schedule and Seattle’s rain…)

Along the way, I have learned that walking with good friends not only provides real exercise, but a host of other benefits, as well:

Fitness: I’m still a bit mystified by it, but now I can acknowledge that an hour of brisk walking really does equate to aerobic exercise, and the activity can help people shed pounds and cellulite.

Companionship: Where we live, the weather can serve as a deterrent to outdoor exercise. (Did you ever hear that it rains in Seattle?) And yet, when someone is waiting on a street corner or in a park for you, you find a way to get your rear out of bed, lace up the tennies and head out the door. (By the way, that’s my co-author and me with our dogs in the photo.)

Guilt-Free Free Time: Let’s face it – many of us feel to guilty or self-indulgent to take time away from the family, the housework or office work to work out. And yet, if our purpose is to exercise the dog or counsel a friend, we feel free to take a long walk.

Community: It seems walking helps connect people to each other as well as to the broader community. Even if I’m alone with my dog in the park, I never feel lonely. Whether I “run into” other solo dog walkers or groups of power walkers, we smile at each other, and usually stop for a quick hello or brief conversation. While I love runners and running, I can’t say that those timing their sprints are willing to take breaks.

Mental Health:  Those who walk together not only drop pounds, they shed stress and worry, too. As I log the miles with good friends, I feel myself loosening up – both physically and mentally – and as we fill the time with conversation, we get closer and closer to the truth. We ask each other questions and reveal honest feelings that usually aren’t conveyed in quick supermarket-aisle conversations. For many of us, just an hour with good friends in the fresh air can work wonders on the psyche.

Many years ago, my seatmate on a flight was en route to meet old friends for a three day breast cancer walk (it’s now the two-day Avon Walk). I was intrigued by how someone would spend the money and vacation time to WALK dozens of miles in a distant city.

This woman literally cried as she told me about the wonderful, supportive friends she was meeting, the breast cancer victims and survivors she was honoring, the funds her generous family, friends and coworkers had donated and the feeling of community she shared with other walkers.

It took a family dog and a broken knee cap, but finally, I understand what she meant.

Linda Williams Rorem, 12 March 2012

Super Tuesday Every Day

The Republican U.S. presidential primary election season is well under way and this week was Super Tuesday, the day in which 10 states held primaries and caucuses. It is the Super Bowl of the political season and there was nearly frenetic chatter about all the resources and energy that converged on this one coast to coast “race” day, March 6.

The pundits and talking heads have discussed the manic pace of the candidates as they charge around early morning to late evening through multiple locations and settings in a single day. They say the candidates are approaching complete exhaustion and look tired and worn out.

In listening to the radio there was something familiar-sounding in the story line that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Hmm, the politicians are scheduled every minute, regularly eat on the run and need to switch gears constantly as they interact with groups and individuals.

Finally my thoughts became clear 6:00 a.m. Saturday while loading the mini-van with sports equipment, all-weather clothing and a contraption made of cardboard, a dolly and duct tape. As I contemplated the day I knew that from that moment forward every minute would be crammed with activity. I would be driving all over the county from auditoriums to outdoor venues. I would be loading and unloading the vehicle at several stops. I would be setting up, breaking down and gathering equipment for several kids. I would be constantly switching gears and interacting with small and large groups of people and grabbing a meal to-go. Yes, it was “Super Saturday!”

While Super Tuesday only happens every four years, Super Saturday is a weekly occurrence in most families. Although running a household is certainly not the same as running a national political campaign, there are more than a few days each week that feel like a chaotic convergence.  Wouldn’t we all love to have a scheduler, handler and “advance people” to help us through the week?

Then it hit me, I had it backwards. The stories about the campaign trail resonated because as a mom I am the support team, not the candidate. We help our kids so they can always be prepared and “fresh on their game.” But, in our enthusiasm to provide opportunities for our kids we have to be careful that the candidate (our child) and the campaign manager do not burn out.

As reminded by the election news and advised in the documentary, Race to NowhereI need to find more ways to cut back on “Super Saturdays and Tuesdays” every week. More importantly, I need to always be mindful of  maintaining personal balance and not lose sight of the real goal – raising a healthy, happy human being.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, March 5, 2012

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