Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.

From nervously glad to horrifically sad in less than 12 hours

Yesterday one of my closest friends texted to tell me he was likely to be undergoing a surgical procedure to correct a brain injury. This has been an ongoing issue for several months, so it was big news that he was finally getting scheduled and ready for it. While happy and excited about it, I am equally terrified of the potential side effects, complications, unexpected consequences. I seem to have no healthy outlet to express that anxiety – after all, it was almost 9 when he texted to tell me and I could not go back to the gym for a third workout. So overnight I was plagued with nightmares and poor sleep and woke up with a blinding headache that pushed me to push back my exercise until after work. Not the end of the world, and I know I will be calmer about this whole process once I have more information, including specific date and time range for the procedure.

Open my email this morning and first thing I read is from one of my private clients – his 13 year old son has taken his own life. I do not have a way to react to that; in the moment of reading the words, having my mind process the meaning of the words, I find catching my breath impossible. Such situations, expressing sorrow is so very inadequate. Nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do. Something I understand all too well, life changes in a blink.

Both events have triggered strong emotions within me, and I find myself flailing around in search of safe harbor. POSITIVE safe harbor. Last thing I want or need is to be seeking out chocolate and soda and things that will make me ultimately feel worse. I ended up skipping out on my practice this morning because of aforementioned blinding headache and tentatively bailing on a Wednesday night thing of practice with a tribe member and friend. But I may change my mind as the day progresses. Or I may go to yoga with one of my friends here in the office.

Choices, healthier choices, are obvious and available to me. I could go to the gym tonight in my crappy mood and mini band walk and do enough lunges and squats to burn myself out and kick-start the endorphin production. I could blog here and at my health and fitness site more. I could turn even infinitely more selfish and ignore the long list of to-do projects at home and read more. Or I could even get more assertive about clearing out that list of to-do projects.

Before all this, I had a post brewing about K and her career stuff. We have become close, K and I, and she confides and bounces ideas with me all the time. I love that. As much as she is enjoying her present job, she has now been there more than 1.5 years and has yet to have the performance review/salary adjustment that was promised year when here hiring supervisor left and she took on that role and responsibility. First it was to be at the beginning of 2017, but it’s now been 3 months and not a word has been said. The job has expanded considerably and has far more responsibility, yet her present supervisor and his boss really have no clear idea of all she does. While compiling that list and preparing to ask for a meeting, she had been doing research for other available opportunities and essentially hit the motherlode.

While not actually serious in her search, she did apply for a couple of other jobs that are similar to her present role and a good match for her experience. For one she was asked for compensation guidelines, and I said to offer a range that was at least 10% more than what she is presently making. The range presented started at $10K more than her present salary and he immediately invited her for an interview. Score! Except she’s not sure she wants to commute to their offices (across town from where they live and through downtown) and she is not 100% sure about the job. But it would be good experience to interview and learn about another industry. Then there is a second job for one of the larger and better employers here in town, applied for on Sunday, contacted for an information pre-screening interview by phone yesterday (passed with flying colors) and now going for the first face-to-face interview today. This job starts at $15K more per year than she is making now, has a better insurance/benefit package, and is less than 10 minutes from home (versus her 30 minute commute now). These are very happy events.

For me as well, while not looking I also acquired another new self-employment client. It is a small job, probably less than 10 hours per month, but potential for more work exists in the future as they grow. It’s interesting project work, though, so in truth I might have gone for a lower hourly rate just to get the work. Thankfully he didn’t even blink at my hourly rates, which is partly due to the glowing referral from an existing client. I am delighted with that.

I recognize how little room I have for complaint in my life. M remains the imperfect guy who is just about the perfect partner for me. I have jobs I truly enjoy and the husband with enough going on in his own life to allow me a lot of room and freedom to pursue my jobs and healthy lifestyle that benefits both of us. Both my kids are living independent lives and blazing their own paths through adulthood.

For every old friend I have had abandon our long friendship in light of my lifestyle changes I seem to have acquired one or more new ones that are more like-minded, encouraging, supportive. Relationships are like living organisms that are left to grown and change organically as time passes. As I have come to understand more fully and continue to learn to management my expectations, I am far happier and more secure in the progression of my days. So when the truly bad days do hit – like today – I am not flailing around grasping at anything that will somehow comfort or make the awful fade even a little bit. Not precisely sure what I am going to do, but I have an associate standing outside my doorway prodding me to join them for a healthy lunch and walk around the block.

As far as choices for coping go, that’s a good place to start.

 

Closing doors, opening windows, emptying spaces

Last night I received a nice email from a former friend. It was an apology for things that have disrupted and eventually ended our long friendship. I read it last night, again this morning, and am now organizing my thoughts here before composing my reply.

I had the pleasure and privilege of lunching with trainer J and new tribe friend C yesterday. While J and I have had many, many free-roaming and far-reaching conversations over the months of working together, this was my first real opportunity to have an extended conversation and get to know C. I am not kidding when I say her charm, kindness, and wisdom have turned me into a huge fan-girl. Funny that a 3-hour lunch with people of such a varied age range – J is 28, I am 55, and C is 67 – could be so lively and entertaining.

One of the things C stressed as topics arose throughout our lunch, life is all about our choices and the ripple effect of the consequences. I wholeheartedly agree, even as I am not always so assured or as confident in my own, particularly when it comes to relationships.

This old friend made her own choices about our long 50+ year friendship and through the years has said many hurtful, stupid things. To be fair, I am quite certain we both have, because we are both very human. Looking back on the final series of events in my mind, I recognize that the choice to cease all communication and to terminate our friendship was more mine than hers and was my defense from what I viewed as relentless and ridiculous personal attacks.

I have zero regrets about that decision. At the time, it was among the hardest things I have done in recent years, yet it was important for my own emotional health and growth.

Now she has apologized for her words and her behaviors, and I believe the apology to be genuine and her regret for the cruel words and harsh judgments between us is real. She expressed the desire to close this chapter, reconnect and renew our long friendship. I now that is what I find myself mulling over today.

Forgive her? Of course; it would have been far more harmful to me to withhold that or to remain hurt and angry. Throughout the time since our friendship ended we have crossed paths at least half dozen times. While it was awkward at best to outright frosty hostile the rest of the time, I do not think or speak poorly of her. We had a falling out, but I wish her every happiness and success. The shortcomings in each of our personalities are well known to all who know both of us, and I have bent over backwards in my pleas that mutual friends not take sides in this dispute. There are so many things about her that overcome the qualities of her personality that I dislike and I seek to enhance the positives I found within her. For my own peace of mind, it is always better to focus and remember that she was my friend for most of my life and through some of the best and worst of events any person should have to endure.

That said, I am not sure our shared values are now enough to overcome the empty spaces that continue to exist. Many of my closest friends will refer to me as a Pollyanna or my generation’s rendition of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. I take no offense at such characterizations; I really want to be someone who sees the good in people and merely be aware of the extent of the less desirable aspects. I have had enough issues overcoming my own negative girl; I did not then and certainly do not now need the embodiment of her message in someone in the friendship realm of my life.

With the conversation with C and trainer J ringing in my ears and both their thoughts on choices, I recognize that the woman I am today is an enhanced model of the one who struggled mightily to let go of a harmful friendship. I am not immune to the weight of the years, shared memories and experiences. I will never cease begin grateful for her support and encouragement during some really impossibly painful periods in my life, nor will I ever stop caring for and about her and her welfare. In the fair and balanced backward view, I have to acknowledge that her methods and her thinking, her overall negative outward voice are in contrast with the person I am and what I truly value in those in my realm. As my confidence and my own sense of self have evolved, I recognize that I do have choices in who I invite to be part of my life and how we spend our time. I am not so dreadful that I have no choices in the matter, that I should be grateful for anyone who is capable of tolerating being around me.

I cringe inwardly realizing how much of my adult life has been spent feeling inadequate and inferior to others in my personal life. Sometimes even in my choice of employment, I have undervalued myself and my contributions and sought acceptance and validation from peers and superiors, a few of whom had questionable values or quality of character.

After thinking about this off and on throughout this day, I recognize that my old friend and I will always be connected, that I value our shared history. However, as adults, at the places we are in our lives now, trying to rekindle the closeness we once enjoyed is not a task I want to pursue. Trust once broken is hard to rebuild, and while there is no specific instance that could be labeled betrayal, sometimes the harshness of our judgments and that ways we hurt those we profess to care so deeply alienates affection to an irreparable state. When our paths cross, I will be courteous and genuine in my interest in her life and times. But I have little desire to pursue anything that involves direct sharing of my successes and disappointments or leaving myself vulnerable to the impact of her thoughts and judgments. Where once I was completely transparent and unguarded in sharing my thoughts and feelings, I have finally matured a bit and learned to be more guarded with sharing my personal treasures with those who have wounded me with carelessness or casual cruelty.

In the perfect world people are not careless or cruel to others, yet I know I myself have been guilty of both on occasion. I have been stricken with regret when I realized my error, and I deserved the consequences of those actions. But I learned, and I try very hard to not let my temper or impatience or insecurity overwhelm my values and code of good personhood. Being human, though, means the only thing I am perfect at is my own imperfect actions.

But as I remind myself, life is long and there are many more opportunities to make good and better choices.

For today, I will acknowledge the apology and graciously accept it. As for the rest, I have no idea what may happen between us and what the future may hold. I will retain an open mind on the topic, yet with a very guarded heart.

Sleepwalking on the darker side

The past week has been rough on me with sleep. It is an unusual occurrence, because I rarely have issues falling asleep or staying asleep. Disruptions happen, though, and some are even depressingly predictable. Like when the trees in my neighborhood start blooming and I am popping allergy medications every 4 to 6 hours. Sudafed, while effective on my congestion and sneezing, will keep me up all night if taken too late in the day. March remains an emotionally challenging 31 days, with my oldest child’s birthday and death day occurring in the same week. Even after 21 years (this year), it’s still sad and it’s still hard.

But the allergy meds that get me through the day make for a very rough night of sleeping. This year is the first I am truly cognizant of the differences and impact regular exercise makes, and I begrudge every second of crankiness that even minor sleep deprivation brings me. If that were not bad enough, the combination of allergy-medication induced lighter sleep and March, for whatever reason it opens up the can of worms of night terrors. That makes life so much darker and seemingly more dismal.

For the most part, I am relishing the go-go-go busy and overload of work this month has brought. I love my family and my friends old and new who make me smile and laugh throughout my days. Darkness happens, and I remind myself that the reality of darkness is only as long and as permanent as I allow it to be and how to leave it in its place. Having been in such awful, terrifying places in my life, I have an almost fanatical appreciation for the joy and great aspects of my day-to-day life. Still, when the horrors of my childhood visits me in sleep, it’s upsetting all on its own, without the additional disruption of the losing sleep over things I cannot change, thoughts and feelings I wish I could ignore if I cannot forget.

Which tends to make me even crankier that I am losing sleep over shit I want to not contemplate any further.

In such a dark mood, dark place I ventured into the gym and for practice this morning. All went well, but I find myself supremely annoyed by the remodel and how my routines have been upturned. Regular folks I used to see pursuing their own Lists nearby most mornings I barely pass in the hallways now, to the point that one such regular remarked today that she never sees me anymore. How true. We both spend a fair amount of time on the stairs, seeking out spaces and equipment that used to be fully contained on one floor or the other.

At least I am not of the grumpy old person camp who snaps at members who may be in the way.

Tonight I got to spend some time with my tribe sister, doing a light routine and yakking and catching up with life and times. We had so much to talk about that my funk-spike did not even occur to me to bring up for discussion. I am happy about that.

The sun is supposed to shine this weekend and temperatures being a warm 70-something degrees. I can’t wait! While others will be outside enjoying it, I am simply looking forward to having no meetings, lighter workload, and just time to pursue my own projects. G – my youngest child – turns 30 on Sunday. Funny but it does not make me feel old so much as marvel that our lives have advanced to this point, that he is healthy, happy, newly married and moving on with a fulfilling and happy life.

It is just a weird dichotomy month for me. Every year in advance I resolve to be less bothered and burdened by the grief that lingers, and every year I am learning how to be kinder to myself when it creeps in and taints my days.

I will say the habits acquired in the last couple of years – regular exercise, healthier eating, blogging and writing routinely, the discipline of managing my own small business and working at a full-time job – have done wonders to keep me out of the emotional cesspool of my own making. While it feels like I am sleepwalking on the darker sides of my life, I am on firm footing with a clear path and a retainer wall that will not let me slide off the edge and down the slippery slope.

There is an edge to the life I have led and the events that have befallen me. I cannot imagine a day where I state with any form of sincerity that I am grateful to be a sexual abuse survivor and the mother of a deceased child, but the day when I am grateful for the beauty and sense the infuses my life is here and its now. My oldest child – I think of her every single day and it makes me smile. My childhood – no getting around that I would be a very different person as an adult. And while I am very, very far removed from perfect, I am better than many and completely good enough.

Sometimes I let myself believe I have all I need, but on the heels of that thought comes acknowledgement that needs change every day. Wanting something badly enough tends to elevate it to need status, or the item becomes less realistically available or emotionally desirable and need for it fades to the whimsy of a want. Understanding the difference and the subtleties of the feelings has been a lifelong task, one that probably ends when the mind regresses or life ceases.

My life is full with lots and lots of good fortune and amazing souls who include me as part of their personal realm. During this month when the sads strike, it seems there is always someone or something that sprawls directly in my path and makes me recognize how truly rich my whole life.

Allow me to be thankful. And grateful. And neurotically repetitive. I have not been as present in this space, but my deep and abiding affection for it, and all of you, remains. I shall endeavor to ponder here more frequently.

The weight of expectations

Christmas 2016 is now past, and the beginning of a brand year begins in less than a week. While it is an exciting time to me, so many I know struggle up to and through until the middle of January. The holidays are difficult.

My theory is that the heavy marketing of Christmas and the holidays to drive sales leaves people with this impression of what the holiday season “should” be like. Like so many, I grew up in a dysfunctional family and had no particular holiday traditions. There were presents, lots of presents, and stockings overflowing with candy and such, but we did not have anything even close to traditional family rituals. As an adult and with my own family, I really, Really, REALLY wanted to establish family traditions that of our own. And when I did, I found myself getting more and more stressed trying to get everything done just so and then depressed when Christmas day passed. The decorations, the traditions, the symbols of the holiday did not make me happy or feel more connected to my family. If anything, it made things so much worse.

Letting go of the expectations of a “perfect” holiday or having some traditional ritual we performed every season was among the smarter, wiser choices in my life. As a divorced mom I had to share my young children with their father. At first I wanted them Christmas morning; their dad could have them Christmas eve if he wished, then bring them home, then we’d do Christmas at my house and with my parents and then drop them with him and his parents on Christmas day. When they were young, we had presents, stockings, all the traditional stuff of a commercial Christmas holiday. As they got older, if the kids were with us we might go to the snow and then to a buffet in Tahoe or in Reno. Sometimes I’d put up a tree and decorations, but just as often I would not.

And guess what? It works for us. Being together to celebrate is the most important thing for us, either before, during, or after the actual Christmas holiday. And I still sometimes put up the tree and decorate the house, or not.

This year M and I celebrated quietly home alone. We grilled steaks, made salads, baked potatoes, and had a nice dinner together. We dropped a card and gift off at a friends home, drove until we found some snow, got out and stomped around a bit, then got back in the car and drove home. We talked with friends by phone or email or text. My daughter and son-in-law in Florida both worked, my son and daughter-in-law chose to spend the day at home alone and then have dinner with G’s paternal grandparents. Not seeing them on Christmas because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean much to us; we will have dinner on New Year’s day and celebrate new beginnings.

I’m not unhappy with the way things went this year. The past few years we have had guests for the holiday and a lot of fun and special times. This year it didn’t happen as we had all hoped, but we will be together again soon and celebrate then. For our family celebrations and occasions, what the calendar says doesn’t matter.

And so it goes for us. Perhaps it comes from being unsentimental, but growing up in a pretty cold home makes me feel like every day I spend with those who love and accept me is an unexpected gift. I strive not to take it for granted, yet have the hope that the good feelings, the warmth, the love continue for a long time to come.

Because we have no set traditions, there is no sense of boredom or obligation associated with doing the same things, year after year. I love that M and I are happy just being together, chatting with our family and friends, making and consuming a simple dinner.

I like to believe the spirit of Christmas is with us all through the year. I always hope to have a heart open to giving and receiving from the nearest and dearest as well as others that may cross my pathway.

I feel no sense of disappointment. M and I have not exchanged gifts in years, and even in our earliest days of romance, we both tended to pursue practical needs rather than wants or uniquely personal things. Of course, there was not a lot of spare cash lying around, but we were happy then, are still happy now.

And now that the silly season has mostly passed, we breath a sigh of relief that we made it through another year without the Christmas crazy touching us enough to bring forth angst and disappointment. Perhaps this is the best gift we could provide for one another.

 

 

Christmas Eve 2016

Pretty quiet on the homestead this Christmas eve, and I am so happy about that. I slept later than anticipated – this no alarm policy could be a problem if allowed to continue unchecked – but I enjoyed the most restful sleep I have had in days, maybe even weeks.

I woke up with the tiniest tinge of guilt about the confrontation last night, but there were literally a dozen supportive, encouraging, “don’t you dare feel guilty!” texts from friends overnight. That made me feel better. The difference between this year and last year says a lot for how much I have grown and matured (for lack of a better word) as a person in a year. Certainly I did not go out seeking to pick a fight with her, but she’s a bully and rarely gets called out on it. I stood my ground and calmly made my point. No blood was shed, no voices raised, and I acted appropriately. My biggest concerns were for the elderly host and hostess, but when we were saying goodbye they were all smiles, warm hugs, pleas to come visit them in their new home. The son, the snarky bitch’s husband and one of my old friends, was not upset about the encounter, said she tends to bring such things upon herself and want to play victim. He knows me too well and for too long to take offense.

The gym today was the most crowded I have seen it the last time I went in the middle of the night. And for me and the gym and my schedule of attendance, anything after about 5 p.m. is the middle of the night. The combination of it being a Saturday, Christmas eve, and my arriving 2+ hours later than usual all made a perfect storm for seeing a lot of other members.

But I did run into one of my favorite tribe members today and had opportunity catch up. I arrived with the vague idea of fluffy-cuffies and lower body, and there she was, on the Freemotion machine I might have chosen if she had not already been set up for her upper body List. She offered me the extra side, but I had squat machine and hyperextensions first. I was fine with the other cable machine on the other side of the gym, as it is closer proximity to other machines on my List of the day. Still, so fun to see a kindred spirit. Texted trainer J a selfie of the 2 of us, all sweaty and gross. Such a great Christmas eve gift, because my tribe sister is on opposite ends of the practice and training session schedule.

For today M and I have mostly lazed around. He went off to his bestie’s open house tonight, I’m staying home and catching up on reading and writing. Tomorrow we are having breakfast with some other friends passing through town enroute to family further up the freeway, and then we plan to just simply relax and enjoy the day, maybe take a drive or something equally leisurely.

I feel sort of impatient for the year to be over, because I have several projects starting the first week in January that are very exciting to me.

Gym and yoga studio are both closed tomorrow, and I am on the fence about doing a workout here at home or simply bagging a rest day. I’ve been going light on workouts this week – between holiday/work stress and the allergy flare from the lawn removal, it’s not been my best week. I am seriously wondering if I have an allergy-related condition affected by the smell of dirt. I guess I will decide tomorrow morning. Maybe I am obsessed.

More importantly, though, I have been eating a lot of crap and junky foods. It’s Christmas and this is what happens. I am not especially alarmed by it. If anything, I am philosophical about it. For the last year I have exercised, I have eaten better, I have enjoyed a lot of success and grown my confidence. A few weeks of less desirable choices and a few days of lighter-than-typical exercise is not the end of the world. Come Monday the holiday is over for another year and I can continue to prepare for the new year ahead.

The real holiday happens next week, when the calendar changes to a new year. We see a lot of people we love in December, but for me the new beginnings and reasons to celebrate start in January.

Tonight I’m huddled up alone, after chatting with my daughter in Florida and my son and daughter-in-law across town. Things are good, quiet, peaceful, and quite honestly, just what I need. I have lists of things to write about and work-work yet to be done. But just for tonight, I am doing what I want to do, which is finish this post and another email to a brotherly friend too far from home this Christmas.

All is calm, all is bright in our little world. And it is just as it should be Christmas eve.

Puddle jumping all over the place

It’s cold and raining and blustery here today. Not nearly as cold and miserable as other parts of the country, but for we wimpy Cali folk, it’s plenty cold and wet and windy enough.

Despite that, I love the rain … when I am mostly indoors and warm and dry and away from it. For the times I actually have to be out and in it, I love when I get to don my rain boots and run through puddles with absolute impunity. As it is with most things, when I have the boots on, there is not a puddle to be found anywhere I wander. If I am wearing street shoes of any sort, there is not a just wet pavement spot in sight.

Partly why I remain miffed about my gym bag theft. While I had removed my gym-related inner bag with my mini bands and fluffy cuffies and current Lists, my extra socks and sneakers were in there as were other must-haves like hair brush and extra pony holders. Nothing worse than having a pony holder break just before beginning a practice. But now I have to decide which other pair of sneakers becomes my back-up shoes for the gym. It’s early in the season; I have yet to step into a big puddle on the way into the club, but the longer they are absent from my gym bag the more probably it becomes that I will need the dry shoes and socks at some point. I feel as if I have been tempting fate running around without spares these last several days.

While I am actually not working at the office today, it has been quite a busy, hectic day for me. Gym this morning, then last-minute scheduled a coffee/breakfast meeting with a client, then had lunch with RD this afternoon. He looks great, despite gaining 12 lbs. with a broken ankle. Now without cast or boot, back in regular shoes and starting to hit the gym once more, he will bounce back and recover quickly. I was so happy to see him again and sorry he has to leave on Monday for the long drive back to Santa Barbara.

Tonight M and I went to a Christmas party with old friends of mine from high school. We hosted this gathering for several years, but this year an old friend’s parents really wanted us to gather at their home one last time. They are selling their home and moving into assisted living in January and while still vibrant and fairly active, they are in their 80s and frail. My friend, their only surviving child, lives a few states away and worries about their well being. Being in a senior community will ease his mind.

This was in its way a wonderful evening, but there was an edge to it I was both anticipating and hoping to avoid. At least I handled myself and the situation much better this year.

I am now about 18 months into training with J, and almost 15 months of near daily time in the gym. But you all know this; I talk about it constantly. However much I have reshaped my shape, the scale remains somewhere in the 10 to 15 lbs. down range. I think. It has been at least 2 months since I climbed on the scale. My point being, I am not notably skinnier even while being notably fitter. Sometimes that does not show in the way clothes hang.

Anyway, this gathering is of friends I have known since elementary school. Some of us still live nearby, but many moved away and return for the holidays to see family members or old friends. We try to get together one night around the holidays at someone’s home.

My friend whose parents were hosting has been married to his second wife for about 15 years. First wife and mother of his grown sons was beloved by all of us and died in a boating accident. Present wife is at best okay, but mostly tolerated because she’s a snarky bitch. I cannot fathom what my friend saw in her – not especially intelligent or pretty or known for her kind and gentle disposition. She tends to be very direct in a manipulative and cruel way.

I avoid her whenever possible. Truthfully, I cannot stand to be around her and she challenges and pushes the boundaries of my tendency toward good manners and politeness.

Anyway, back to the training and exercise timeline. Last year, I cut ties with a long-time friend over her bitchiness about my Incredible Hulkette apprenticeship, and it was a very tough transition and situation for me to endure. I was still in the embryonic stages of developing my confidence and finding my way with the exercise. The thoughts and opinions of my friends mattered a great deal to me and this former friend’s thoughtlessness caused me a great deal of anxiety and anguish. I tried hard to not let it bother me, I tried harder to brush it off, but in the end, the only way I could cope was to terminate a life-long friendship. Because my arms were too big and my weight loss inadequate. The former friend is a bit crazy with her own vanity, and I was still battling my own gym and other types of insecurity crazy. She and her husband were there tonight, and other than a very cool hello and holiday wishes directed toward the group I was chatting with, she barely looked at me much less spoke to me directly.

Fast forward 12 months and boy howdy things are different now. With all that backstory and dramatic scene setting, here’s what actually happened tonight.

I’m standing there with M and other friends talking, laughing, catching up on hilarious stories from the year. The people I’m chatting with I/we have known for years and year and usually only get to have face-to-face interactions during the holidays. We do stay in touch in other ways, but our holiday party time is something I look forward to every single year.

Into this comes our hostess to both greet us and chide us for not paying for more attention to her in-laws seated across the room. As we stood there, her in-laws were 3 and 4 couples deep saying hello and catching up, just as we all had before moving out of the way so they could spend time with their other guests. My friend S smiled brightly as her almost invisible fangs elongated at the thinly-veiled rebuke that we were having too good of a time without paying homage to her. S suggested the should have had stickers printed – “I greeted N and M” instead of “I voted” – so she could tell who has good manners in the group. The rest of the group laughed, but snarky bitch (SB) did not even crack a smile. If anything, her lips and faced closed inward into that disapproving pucker she gets.

She then turns her gaze toward me, and I could actually feel M tense beside me. With that really sickeningly sweet fake smile she tells me so brightly that I am looking well, and how is that diet and exercise working out for me? I smile back, very blandly, and say it’s going very well, thank you. Then she proceeds to tell me (1) she thought the pictures of G and K’s wedding were lovely and I was “very brave” to wear that dress, and (2) if I am still working with a gym trainer, did I think I was getting full benefit for my money?

I was very calm about this, and said yes, I was still working with trainer J and he was worth every single penny I pay and then some. If she were a smarter woman, she would know better than to push it further from my tone. But no, she believes herself so clever and nods knowingly and says J must be a one-trick pony training women to be big muscled body builders.

Okay, bitch, it is ON.

Why do you say that? Because I’m not rail thin? Well, she demurs, if she was in the gym as much as I am in the gym, she would have lost half her body weight, but of course, she’s a much smaller woman than I am.

I physically step in front of M to keep him from opening his mouth. I smile and say yes, because while you are smaller than I am, I will bet you dollars to donuts that I have less batwing fat under my arms and more muscle mass on my legs than you do. Plus, I’m off blood sugar medications and far more capable, more confident than I was. With those types of wins, who the fuck cares if my ass is bigger – yet more shapely – or if my arms are fucking huge? Yes, I have a  discernible bicep. Get over it.

She was wearing a sleeveless dress. I was wearing a sleeveless sweater with a cardigan over it. And yes, i whipped that cardigan off and flexed my pretty damn admirable bicep. And the people near us who overheard this exchange? They are looking at my flexed arm and its barely there (anymore) batwing, versus her arms at her sides and its smaller physical size but obviously higher percentage of batwing to muscle.

Needless to say she was suddenly needed elsewhere at the party. And I was neither embarrassed or upset at the throw down. For 15 years I have either been avoiding her completely or ignoring her snarky to be polite and keep the peace. Tonight I had simply had enough. She can say what she wants about me, but please, never insult my family or my tribe.

The rest of our evening was really pleasant and really fun. Most of these people have known me since grade school, and I have grown up significantly since I was the chameleon girl who was camouflaged completely by her surroundings. I am typically extremely pleasant and easy going; I still was tonight, only unspooled a bit when pushed. Cest la vie!

Thinking about the month past, particularly the last 10 days, I really need some me time to recharge my batteries. Poor M has been dragged hither and yon to various client dinners and events this month, but he has all day to be at home alone pursuing solo projects. I’m at the office, where I love the people but my time is not my own. Or I am at home working or attending client wing-dings, going to yoga too much, and not sleeping deeply enough to feel refreshed when I should. Late last week M’s bestie began working on our front yard remodel, so there have been rocks and materials to be chosen, designs to be discussed and approved, and while I love M’s bestie, it is one more person I am interacting with when I really just want to crawl into bed with my kindle and read in peace awhile. Essentially, I have not only been burning the candle at both ends I have been setting bonfires on the candle mass in between.

I think a break may be in order. Yes, Christmas is Sunday, we’ll likely be hanging out at home with few to no visitors. It will be amazing. But tomorrow we’ve been invited to M’s bestie’s holiday open house, which is a big thing for M because the volume of runner friends. I asked him on the way home tonight if he minded I bailed this year, for the simple reason that I am absolutely exhausted. While he really wants me to attend, he understands. He also understands that I have far less in common with the runner friends he enjoys so much and will likely enjoy himself far more if we either take 2 cars or he goes alone. Reality of our long marriage is that we have different hobbies and interests and the 2 do not always mesh seamlessly.

It has been a long week, long month. I need the “me” time. I need to write, to read, to relax without a lot of distraction or the pressure of the clock. Maybe tomorrow will be the start of a long weekend of that … after the gym, of course.

Which today did not go so well. I had a client text and then call last night to get an urgent appointment with me, which was the coffee/breakfast today. It was a pretty good problem to have – unexpected windfall – but it was also stressing him out to the point of not wanting to wait until after the first of the year to meet with me about it. I am tired already, battling something attacking my sinuses, and then feeling the pressure of an appointment when I anticipated a more leisurely morning. Result was a unfocused, distracted effort.

I follow Scott Abel on Facebook, because he is a very smart fitness coach who also seems very sensible in his approaches. Several of his posts the last few days have resonated with me, while at the same time make me feel a lot like a miserably bad client in that maybe I am not listening, trying hard enough, want it (whatever “it” is for me) badly enough, have an inadequate work ethic, am to dependent on outside validations.

None of that is true, and I know it. But I am just worn down enough to be vulnerable to shredding myself over my potential to be and do all those things.

Ugh.

At the end of it all, been a very long day with a lot of good and great things. Holiday celebrations are cresting this weekend, whether I like it or not, whether I feel ready for it or not.

Sleep is the great equalizer. No alarm for me tomorrow morning, and hopefully my internal body clock will let me get all the rest I genuinely need.