To Start Anew ~ by Sam

2017 finds us all poised at the breaking dawn of a fresh, new year.  A year full of hope, and promise and possibilities.  The problems, the struggles, the tears, the regrets, the trials, the toils of 2016 and before lay behind us, and what lies ahead is infinite and unknown.  People encourage us to move only forward, to cast off the negative, never looking back; but, like Lot’s wife, we find ourselves compelled to cast that glance aft, and then…

Then what?

Isn’t it our history that informs us?  Isn’t it our past that makes us what we are today?

And so, I offer this advice for the New Year: Don’t attempt to make a brand new start, as people suggest.  That is far too tall an order for anyone, and destined for failure.  Sure, go ahead, move forward.  But don’t just put one foot in front of the other and trudge blindly on.  Move forward informed by the past, strengthened by your experience, hardened in your resolve ~ battle-scarred and imperfectly-perfect, as are we all ~ ready to conquer whatever life happens to throw your way.

In that spirit, I give you my Resolutions for the New Year, in no particular order:

In 2017, I resolve to:

Be Kind.
Listen.
Visit Places.
Make Things.
Plant Things.
Play Music.
Take Care of Myself.
Cook.
Write.
Read.
Dance.
Laugh.
Sing.

I might clean some stuff, too.
Maybe.

I think I can handle that.

Wishing you and yours Peace, Love, Health & Happiness in the New Year and beyond.  With all of those things, how can we possibly go wrong?

Necessity ~ by Sam

I keep trying to come up with something to say about the New Year, and, you know what?  I got nothin’.

I am a work in progress.  If I make any headway, you’ll be the first to know.

I think I started out to write about how necessity is the mother of invention… and I am not even sure now where I was going with that.  I think my brain has gone to bed before the rest of me this evening.  Perhaps, I was going to invent something to write about.  Oh, well.  Whatever it was, it’s gone.  I guess I am not feeling very inventive.

I did have a moment, not long ago, when we got up to Lake Arrowhead for a brief vacation with friends, and I realized I had brought my banjo, but not my fingerpicks.  I could have tried to play without picks, but I have virtually no fingernails to speak of, and, besides, I like to play with fingerpicks.  So, out of necessity, I fashioned some preposterous little fingerpicks out of the poptops (from ginger beer cans) and paperclips.  They were pretty silly-looking, and not the most comfortable thing in the world, but I was able to play, and that made vacation much better.  For me, anyway.  I can’t say anyone else felt about it.

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So, maybe there is hope yet for my inventiveness.  Maybe it’s just napping.  If not, at least I can play my banjo.

When “The Best We Can” is Good Enough ~ by Sam

Yesterday, I found myself (again) lying around on the sofa with my foot propped up, and I happened to look around the house (again) and find myself feeling very discouraged ~ almost defeated, in fact.  The house was a mess.  It was dusty, furniture wasn’t where I wanted it to be, paperwork was piling up ~ mail I needed to sort through, finished homework for which we had not yet created a file, magazines, fundraising information ~ laundry needed to be folded, laundry needed to be washed, the rugs and the furniture all needed to be vacuumed, the hard floors all needed to be swept and mopped, the bathrooms needed to be cleaned and organized, so many half-finished (or not yet started) projects ~ painting, putting up shelves, hanging pictures…And here I sat, with my foot propped up on a stack of pillows, doing absolutely nothing.  Again.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Shane and the kids help a lot with the housework, even when I am not injured.  Its just…well, let’s face it: I’m the one who is home all the time.  I used to feel like I was somehow failing my kids if I did the lion’s share of the housework.  I want them to have life skills, to be responsible.  Nevertheless, if they are home for only a few hours each day ~ during which time they are required to complete homework assignments, practice their music, dance, lines for a play, etc. ~ well, it makes sense that, since I am here for many more hours each day, I can do a little more work around the house.  So, I have struggled to strike a balance.  The kids are expected to keep their rooms clean, clear their dishes, and pick up after themselves, and they do about as well as any kids, I think.  They also help with things like washing dishes, cleaning the litterbox, taking out the garbage, doing laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting.  However, since school started, everyone has been exceedingly busy, and I really am the only one home.  The fact is, there are some jobs no one but me thinks to do. So those things tend to go undone.  And, most likely, no one but me notices.  But I do notice, and it bothers me.  As a result, I was feeling like a bit of a failure.  I mean, I know I can’t do much right now, but it was starting to feel like I am NEVER able to do much.  It seems there is always something that gets in the way of my ability to complete home improvement projects, or even just keep up with the housework.  I thought, “Geez.  Why is this so hard?  Other people manage to do this all the time, right?”

It’s true.  Other people do manage to keep up with the housework, and complete home improvement projects.  In fact, I have always managed to do those things fairly well.  So, what was the problem?  Because, really, it seemed like, since we moved in to the new house in mid-December of 2012, I just could not manage to keep up.  Was it because we were doing more projects than we had in the past?  Well, that might be part of it.  The thing was, it seemed like I had been doing so well.  We had painted at least 6 room, built shelves, done extensive work in the garden…I had helped with all of that.  I’d done some of it all by myself.  So…what was going on?  Why couldn’t I just manage to keep up?

Well, I got kind of frustrated, and sort of lost it here at the house all by myself yesterday.  Shane was work, kids were at school, and I was looking at everything that needed to be done.  I got up off the sofa, washed slipcovers, vacuumed all of the floors (rugs and hard floors alike), cleaned bathrooms, washed all of the mirrors, put away a bunch of the clutter… And then, when I was taping a plastic bag over my cast so I could bathe, it occurred to me.  I did some math, and, lo an behold, I found the answer:  For at least 6 of the past 18 months, I have been in a cast or brace of some sort that has dramatically limited my mobility and, therefor, my ability to complete even the most basic household tasks.  So, for the remaining 12 months, I have been in recovery mode.  I have spent some time recovering physically from my time in the cast ~ regaining strength and dexterity, so I could once again function at a relatively normal level ~ as well as time “recovering” simply in the sense of getting back in to my normal routine of household maintenance.  Or, perhaps more accurately, trying to establish a new routine, since I feel like I never really got in to the swing of things at the new house before that first injury, just 2 months after we moved.

So, now I get it.  Now, I won’t be quite so hard on myself.  I did pay for getting up and doing all of that stuff.  My foot swelled up to about twice its normal size, which is not at all comfortable in a cast.  And, so, today, here I sit, again on the sofa, with my foot propped up on a pillow mountain.  Today, however, scented candles are lit, the slipcovers are fresh, rugs and furniture are not covered with cat fur, and, if I felt like getting up and walking over to one, I could see my reflection in any mirror in the house.  Next time, I will try to pace myself, and not do it all in one day.  Next time, I will remember to let myself take the time I need to recover, and not feel guilty about it.  Will I still be frustrated by my lack of progress on those unfinished projects (like the 1/6 of that one room that is not yet painted!!!)?  Oh, you better believe I will.   But at least now I know WHY.  I can cut myself a little slack, just like I cut the kids a little slack because I know they are busy and doing the best the can.  Because that’s what it comes down to, really: I’m doing the best I can.  At the end of the day, isn’t that all we should expect from anyone?  I am always so eager to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Why not myself?

Today, I will rest.  And maybe I will throw in one load of laundry.  And then, I will rest.  And then, maybe I will clear up the clutter on the sideboard.  And then, I will rest.  And it will be okay.

Chronic Illness and Hypochondria ~ by Sam

I decided to tackle this issue today, because it hits very close to home (right smack in the middle of it, actually), and causes a great deal of stress.  Since we talk about strategies for lowering stress in our daily lives, let’s talk about a major contributing factor: chronic illness.  I am chronically ill.  I have fibromyalgia, IBS, Raynaud’s disease, asthma and an assortment of allergies (food and environmental).  My bones are weak, and I am hypermobile (which isn’t really a problem in and of itself, but does leave me prone to injury).  I seem to excel at injuring myself.  (Interesting note: people who have fibromyalgia tend to be more prone to injury, so I am not alone.)  In my life, I have had an assortment of broken bones, sprains, a partial ACL tear, a Type III tear of the Medial Meniscus, and, currently, I seem to have ruptured a tendon in the top of my foot.  I don’t “think” I am sick.  I don’t take my illnesses and injuries too seriously.  I really am sick and prone to injury.  I don’t get bumps and bruises; I get torn ligaments.  It’s different.

Oh, and I have panic attacks.  Hell, wouldn’t you?

But, I am not writing this to say, “Oh, woe is me!” and I am not writing it for myself.  I am writing for the thousands of other people who suffer through chronic illness.  I am writing this because there seems to be a great deal of misconception when it comes to chronic illness.  Some of these illnesses are “invisible,” meaning, when you see me on a daily basis, I don’t look “sick.”  So, it’s hard for people to remember (or believe) that I am.

From the outside, I look lazy, or weak.  So, I am writing to caution you, when dealing with anyone in your life, to remember that you only get to see the outside.  The world only gets to witness what we choose to put on display.   Many of us our very private people, and prefer to keep details of our illness to ourselves (you can Google them all, or ask me questions privately, if you like), and most of us hate being perceived as whiners and complainers.  So, we don’t talk about it.

Except when we do.  Because, sometimes, we DO need to talk about it.  I seek out others who have similar issues, because I know I can vent to them, and they will understand (online forums are great for this purpose).  I rely on the support of my friends and family, who I know love me, warts and all.

When you are tempted to think someone is being weak or lazy, or complains too much, please pause and think.  It’s possible that they have already fought and won numerous battles before they even left the house that morning ~ things you will never know about, like, maybe, that man woke up unrefreshed, feeling like someone spent the whole night beating him with a bag of hammers, but he got out of bed, anyway.  Maybe, that woman cried through her morning shower, because all of her skin feels severely sunburned all the time, and washrags feel like sandpaper; but she showered, anyway, because you can’t just go around dirty all the time.  Maybe, the child had to use a nebulizer this morning, and is jittery and grumpy as a result, because, otherwise, he couldn’t breathe.  Maybe, that incredibly slow walker at the the grocery store moves that way because it feels like she’s stepping on broken glass.  Maybe, your friend is late because he had an attack of explosive diarrhea, and he’s still not 100% sure it’s over, but he showed up anyway, because it’s not like he isn’t used to this.  Maybe your coworker is distracted because she is just in so much pain that she can barely think.  The fact is, we just don’t know what people don’t tell us.

Please, if you know someone who is suffering from chronic illness ~ or even someone who is just “always sick” ~ try to be supportive and understanding.  I cannot count the number of times I was called a “hypochondriac.”  There are two problems with this: a) I am not a hypochondriac, and that person with whom you are irritated might not be, either; and b) hypochondria is a real, serious, and treatable condition.  If you truly believe someone you care about suffers from hypochondria, for God’s sake, help him.  It’s important, here, to caution anyone dealing with a person (yourself, or someone you love) who seems to be “always sick” not to chalk it up to hypochondria and move on.  The fact is, even if no doctor can find a diagnosis, that person may still be suffering from some kind of chronic illness.  Don’t give up.  There are answers.

Lastly, I will offer a few words of caution about those “answers.”  They are just that: answers.  So, now, we know what to call this.  We know how to begin to treat it, and possibly improve the situation.  However, chronic illness is called “chronic” for a reason.  For some people, identifying the culprit means starting on the road toward recovery and improved quality of life.  For others, it means learning to manage symptoms, learning how to live with being chronically ill.  So, don’t hold your breath waiting for a “cure,” but don’t give up on finding one, either.

How do I manage the stress of being chronically ill?  I’ve found this works:

Relax.  Breathe.  Brace yourself.  Soldier on!

Thanks for taking the time to read.

The Master Plan ~ by Sam

I mentioned in my last post that, this year, I am making a concerted effort to (FINALLY!) get our home organized.  To that end, I have been zipping around the internet perusing lots of articles on home organization.  I have been poring through catalogs for IKEA and the container store, visiting the closet organization sections of places like Home Depot and Target, and wracking my brain for ideas of how to better use the stuff we already own, and pare down some of the clutter.  The “100 items” challenge has helped a lot with that last piece of the puzzle.  We are currently at 93 items and counting.  

As I started weeding through all of our stuff, I was struck by how disorganized our home is.  I thrive on order, and I know that kids do, too.  We need to know where things are.  I feel like we waste a lot of time ~ and cause ourselves a great deal of stress ~ just be being disorganized.  Way too much time is spent trying to find stuff an panicking because we KNOW we have it, but we just can’t find it!!  (“I saw it yesterday!  Was it in the laundry room?  Maybe it’s in my car…Did you check all of the bathrooms?  How ’bout the back porch?”)  So, in an effort to conquer the disorder, I have decided to focus on major problem each month.  That might not solve all of our organization issues, but I am sure it will not hurt.  

So, this month, I have decided to go through and reorganize all of the files and paperwork I have around the house.  Between the kids’ schoolwork and artwork, my teaching supplies and materials, our household files, home improvement ideas (I keep paint chips, brochures, and other things that inspire me in a file for future reference), receipts, medical information, reports cards, and all of our craft/art supplies, we are literally drowning in paper.  As I started to go through everything, I saw evidence of my many attempts over the years to get organized.  I guess the news is at least I have tried.  Unfortunately, through all of our many moves, I have not managed to maintain a single system.  As a result, I might have three different filing systems for the same things.  Today, I discovered that I had three separate systems for sorting different types of paper.  Since we are crafty, and we have a teacher and three students in the house, we generally have plain white printer paper, coloured printer paper, lined paper, graph paper, construction paper and a variety of craft papers in our home at all times.  The problem is that, when it is not organized so that we can easily see what we have on hand, we end up panicking and buying more when a project crops up, only to discover later that we already had some.  Thus, the drowning in paper problem.  Just by reevaluating the situation, clearing out all of the unnecessary garbage (we don’t need to keep every spelling test the kids have ever taken, for instance), and consolidating like items into a single space, I was able to completely rid the house of one set of paper trays and repurpose another 3-tier tray to sort items like page protectors and report covers.  We now have all of our plain white printer paper on one shelf, construction paper on another, lined paper on another, and coloured printer paper on another (we are out of graph paper, but it will most likely live on the 3rd tier of the aforementioned tray).  
The hardest thing about this system for me is staying on target.  It is so easy to get distracted by other problems I see and try to tackle them, but I promised myself January would be the month I use to get all of the paper and files organized, and establish a system that I think will work for our family.  In the meantime, the laundry room and the closets are KILLING ME. Actually, Shane spent time this weekend installing shelves in Justice’s closet, because she has the smallest closet int he house, and hasn’t really been able to fully move in to her room because she desperately needed more storage options.  However, we are discussing how to go about all of the this, and I am coming up with a list of things that need to be done.  It is a work in progress, and I make no guarantees that is will actually happen in this order, but here’s what we’re thinking:

January:  paper, mail, household files, etc.
February: closets
March:  bathrooms
April: kitchen 
May: laundry room
June: bar
July: craft/school supplies
August: party room
September: sewing supplies/fabric
October: garage (maybe…if we feel like tackling this)
November: photographs/scrapbooks
December: we’ll be too busy partying 🙂

Well, that’s the rough plan, anyway.  We’ll see how it pans out.  I have no problem working on some projects ahead of schedule, as long as I don’t leave anything undone.  Also, I think it is important to note that we may not stick strictly to this schedule.  Depending on weather, time, budget, etc., we may change the schedule, but those are the projects we really want to accomplish by the end of the year.  Wish us luck!  even if it doesn’t end up perfect by the end of the year ~ even if we don’t get done everything we have planned ~ I think we can plan on being much better organized in the long run.  

Good Morning, 2014 ~ by Sam

It’s 11:16 on the morning of January 1st, 2014, and I am the only one awake here.  Last night was spent at an annual New Year’s party at the home of our dear friends, the Foxes.  Once again, a grand time was had by all.  I want to take a moment to thank our “playgroup” friends for the numerous ways in which they have contributed over the years to making our lives rich, joyous and low-stress.

When Hallie was a toddler, we joined an infant playgroup through a local chapter of MOMS Club.  If you are a mom, and you haven’t heard of MOMS Club, you should.  Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done with little kids ~ 3,000 miles from my hometown and all of my extended family ~ without the support I received from the wonderful people I met through MOMS Club.  Check them out here  https://www.momsclub.org/  to find more information, locate a chapter in your area, or start one of your own. I guarantee, you will not regret it.

Over the years, five families from Hallie’s MOMS Club infant playgroup have remained close.  The other four families have become our family here.  We have picked up each other’s kids from school, enjoyed moms and/or dads nights out, played, had sleepovers, partied, vacationed and grown together.  The 5 girls (formerly known as infants) are now teenagers, and remain the best of friends.  We are the only family with an older child, and one of 4 with a younger child.  The other children are best of friends, too, as are the adults.

I honestly do not know what we would do without all of these wonderful people in our lives.  I need people in my life.  I am a terrible loner.  I mean, I guess I am interesting enough for a while, but, having grown up close to my large extended family, I need to be surrounded by people.  For my kids, this is like growing up with cousins, aunts and uncles nearby was for me.  We celebrate one another’s victories, and mourn each other’s losses.  We may not be blood, but we are family.

The reason I bring this up today is that I have decided that my major focus this year is going to be on keeping life as low-stress for myself, Shane and the kids as possible.  With a new house, Shane working multiple jobs, me not working due to continuing health challenges, one kid looking at colleges, another at high schools and the third at middle schools, you might think this would be difficult, and you’d be 100% correct.  That’s why I am so grateful for the support we receive from our friends and family, near and far.

So, for instance, when I can know that, on New Year’s Eve, we can all count on having a wonderful time partying safely at a friends’ home ~ where big kids can do their thing, little kids can do their thing, and grown-ups can do their thing, all safe under one roof, that takes a lot of stress off me ~ no celebration to plan, no arrangements to make for kids; just throw on a dress and bring an appetizer to share. That’s my kind of party!  (And I won chocolate in one of the party games, and we all know good chocolate melts away stress.)

When we can throw a simple Tree-Trimming party at home and have it turned in a fabulous, memorable event when one of the other dads in our group gets the kids organized enough to put on a little variety show for guests, we realize, again, just how deeply our friendships enrich ours lives and the lives of our children.  I have tried, but have never managed to host the party AND get the kids to provide entertainment, ‘though it has always been a dream of mine.

When I can know that, if my kid suffers the effects of severe asthma while on vacation in the mountains, I am going to have a support system in place, right there with me ~ when Shane’s boss gives us a trip to the spa during that same vacation, nobody will mind if we leave our kids at the house for a few hours while we slip off to the spa to relax after Holiday stress and pushed up deadlines ~ it takes so much stress off us as parents.  I am eternally grateful for the continued support of our playgroup friends ~ ‘though, now, “play” often means watching Sherlock, Doctor Who and anime, or practicing a capella arrangements ~ and I catch myself thinking, “I can only hope they know how much we appreciate them.”  Then, I catch myself again; and I realize I can do more than hope.  I can say it.

So, thank you, Sheryl, Tim, Megan & Marshall; Priya, Chris, Maya & Nadia; Lisa, Ray, Gianna & Ryan; Lauren, TJ & Makenzie for being our California family.  Thank you for laughing, crying, playing and fighting with us, because that’s what families do.

Thank you, too, to our far-away friends and family, and to those nearby whom we see less often.  We receive so much love, support and encouragement from all of you that we are constantly humbled by your compassion, your kindness and your concern for our little family.   Thank you to our “Arizona family” (also a great group of friends) who supported us through college and marriage and our first venture into parenthood, and who continue to support and love us today.

More than anything, thank you all for letting us be the nutty, freaky people we are, and for loving us, anyway.  Everyone should be so lucky to have such friends.

To all of our readers: I wish you a healthy, prosperous, joyful, low-stress year, in which you are surrounded by people who love you and make you feel good about yourselves.  Remember, in the words of one of my favourite angels (Second-Class): “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Now, go make 2014 the best year yet.