The Organized Life: Tips from a Reformed Slob

keys

A funny thing is happening to me on Pinterest. I’m not a big pinner, but I have a few boards. For some reason, my Organizing board now has over 300 followers, and more follow every day. This is very surprising to me. I’ve never thought of myself as any kind of guru on organization.

Except wait—maybe I am, kind of.

I’ve come a long way in terms of organization. I used to be a real slob. I used to never ever have my act together. I used to lose my keys EVERY SINGLE DAY. My family will testify to all of the aforementioned.

Just like the best weight loss advice comes formerly fat people, l suppose the best person to give organizing advice is a reformed slob, right?  So, without further ado, here are my super-basic tips for getting and staying organized.

  1. Have less stuff.  Most of us don’t need more storage, we need less stuff.  So purge! Getting rid of stuff you don’t love or use makes it easier to enjoy the stuff you do. Before you buy something new, try to imagine where you’ll store it and how often you’ll use it. Do you have a place for it? And is it worth the space? Think about that potential purchase sitting on a closet shelf, with all the other crap you thought you needed. Think about selling it at a garage sale in a couple years—for a dollar. That kind of visualizing really helps me buy less stuff.  The less stuff I bring home, the less I have to organize.
  2. A place for everything, and everything in its place. That expression has been around for almost 200 years.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_A._Goodrich) You can’t put things away if you haven’t established where they go. And you can’t keep everything on the counter or table or floor. Your belongings need a real home, where they are out of the way when you’re not using them.  Clear surfaces make your home much more peaceful.
  3. Read Organizing from the Inside Out, by Julia Morgenstern. This book was life-changing for me. The gist is to organize according to your natural tendencies, not someone else’s prescribed system.   Julia offers a simple method to make your surroundings and your systems fit the way you live. I still mentally refer to it whenever I set up or reorganize a space.  Best organizing book ever.
  4. Just do a little tiny bit. I am easily overwhelmed, and when I’m overwhelmed, I do nothing. So when the housework is piled up or I have a nasty organizing job, like the craft room or the garage, the trick is to not let it overwhelm me. I tell myself that I will just clean one counter. Or empty one box. Or, I will set the timer and tell myself I just have to work on it for 20 minutes.  I can stop when I’m done with just that little bit…but I almost never do. Progress begets progress. When you complete one small task, you feel motivated to continue.
  5. Make it pretty.  If I buy a $3 bouquet of flowers, it will prompt me to clean my whole kitchen, because I can’t stand to put something pretty in the middle of a mess. Likewise, if I enjoy my space aesthetically, I’m more likely to honor it by sticking to my organizational systems and keeping it tidy.  I found this cute dresser in my favorite antique store. I use it for all the small stuff– jewelry, socks, scarves– and it’s so pretty, I don’t want to mess it up– so I keep it neat!dresser collage 1
  6. Throw a party. Seriously. As a procrastinator, I find a deadline immensely helpful. I also have a healthy sense of shame* about my shoddy housekeeping tendencies. So if people are coming over on Saturday, then that paper pile-up on the dining table has to be gone, and the floors have to be cleaned- by Saturday. Otherwise, there’s no reason I can’t leave it messy for another week. Entertaining helps keep me on my toes. It doesn’t have to be a party, just a dinner guest will do—any new set of eyes around my house does the trick.

*Most shame is not healthy, of course. Your house doesn’t have to be perfect before you have someone over.   And you don’t have to scrub your shower or re-organize your garage before you have a dinner guest. Use this trick only to the degree that it’s helpful.

These days, my house still gets messy, but it’s definitely functional. Everything has a place and the places make sense to me.  And you know what? That’s all it means to be organized: my home works for me. There is a functional order to my belongings and I enjoy being in my home. I win.

New Year’s Resolutions: I’m for ’em.

In a recent discussion about New Year’s resolutions, my sweetheart told me that he doesn’t believe in that sort of thing. He says that you can always improve yourself, regardless of what time of year it is.

He’s right, of course.  Any day is a good day for positive change. If you wait ‘til January every year, you’re stalling. That’s like starting your diet on Monday…if you really want to lose weight, you’ll start making better choices right now. Not tomorrow, not Monday, not January.  If you want to save more money, stop spending it frivolously right now, not tomorrow or on your next paycheck or on January 1. You get the idea. (I’m not saying I actually apply this to my own goals, or else I’d be skinny and rich and well-published by now. Knowing and doing are two different things, alas.)

So that is important: don’t wait to start improving yourself.  Start right now, whatever time of year it is.

But there is something helpful about New Year’s resolutions, too. If you’re a procrastinator, like me, New Year’s is a great excuse to make a start. It’s almost a social imperative—everyone else is beginning their new improved life, so why not me?

It reminds me of getting into the pool when I was a kid. Our pool wasn’t heated. (I know…tough childhood.) On hot summer days, I wanted to swim—but I dreaded the initial shock of entering the cold water. So I’d stand on the edge of the diving board, bouncing in place, gearing up for the jump, and stalling. I would stand there forever…then sometimes I’d get down, run across the hot concrete to the steps and try the slow, creep-in-gradually approach.  That was torture. So I’d get back on the diving board and stall a bit longer.

You know what made it easier? Other kids. My friends would show up, and suddenly it was easy. Hold hands, count down:  ONE, TWO, THREE—JUMP! I stopped worrying about the shock; I just jumped—laughing, squealing—the cold was part of the experience. I didn’t HAVE to jump, but I didn’t want to be the only scaredy-pants, so I’d do it.

That’s January—everyone is taking a running start into the pool, and I’m going in, too! It’s way more fun this way.

Of course, there’s the argument that we aren’t likely keep our resolutions, so why make them?

I didn’t keep any of the ones I made last year. Didn’t hit a single goal. But because I’d set the goals, at least I kept some focus. No, I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to, but I lost a little. And if I hadn’t kept reminding myself of those damn resolutions, I probably would have gained.  Same with saving money and writing…didn’t end up nearly where I wanted to, but at least I moved in the right direction.

So, I’ll get on the New Year’s bandwagon and line up at Weight Watchers like everyone else. I’ll write new goals and make new lists and plans. I’ll visualize my life at this time next year, with all the hope and resolve I always feel in January.

Who’s with me? What are your resolutions? We can take the plunge together: ONE, TWO, THREE—JUMP!

Meg’s Helpful Holiday Hint (Just one, really.)

toffee

Homemade toffee– I make about ten trays of this every season.

I love Christmas. LOVE IT.  Bring it on—sparkly lights, crowded stores, Bing Crosby…I want all of it. I don’t have a Bah Humbug bone in my body.

Here is my secret to a stress-free holiday season. When you find yourself getting stressed about Christmas, remember my one helpful tip: BLOW IT OFF. NONE OF THIS IS ACTUALLY IMPORTANT.

It’s December 12. Here’s what’s left on my to-do list:

Put up the tree. Usually, it goes up the day after Thanksgiving, but this year, it didn’t, and guess what? No one seems to have noticed. My tree is fake and pre-lighted, thank-you-very-much.  People get so worked up about having a real tree, but not me. Fourteen years ago, for my first post-divorce Christmas (I wonder if Hallmark makes a commemorative ornament for that one?), I tried to buy a real tree. I nearly died trying to straighten it in the stand. After the spiders all crawled out and the water sloshed on the carpet and the needles accumulated for weeks, I determined I would never have another real tree. I love my fake one.  I light a pine-scented candle, and that is plenty festive for me.

Make Christmas cards. I hand-stamp them. This also should have been done by Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t.  I could go buy cards like a normal person, but making cards is way more fun than sending cards, so why bother sending them if I can’t make them? Now that it’s mid-December, the pressure is on. Making Christmas cards under duress is less fun, so it might not happen, especially if something more fun comes along…then I will blow those Christmas cards right off. And you won’t even notice if you don’t get a card from me. Because WHO CARES? It’s just a Christmas card!

Shop. I don’t actually shop for very many people. One bonus of being a perpetual hardship case is that my friends and family have pretty low expectations. This works for me, because even when I have money, I don’t always find something worth giving, and I’m not buying some stupid Snuggie/ singing fish/ Chia Pet just to check someone off my list. Besides, if you can’t say to your friend, “Hey, I ran out of money/time/ideas and I didn’t get you a present– let’s just have a drink instead,” then that friend doesn’t deserve a gift anyway.

Wrap. Wrapping is like making Christmas cards: it’s fun to be creative, and I enjoy it when I have time. If I don’t have time, no biggie. I just obscure the gift with some kind of opaque covering and no one cares whether it’s a masterpiece. Also I’m not willing to spend a bazillion dollars on something that gets immediately torn up and thrown away.

Make toffee. Toffee has four ingredients and takes about 15 minutes per batch, plus cooling and bagging time. It’s delicious and pretty, and people go crazy for it and make me feel like Martha Stewart whenever I give them some. So really–let’s be honest–this is about my ego.  Toffee will happen, because in a pinch, it can replace shopping and wrapping and baking—I could just hand everyone toffee and that would get me off the hook.

Bake cookies. Despite the extensive toffee-production that occurs in my kitchen, my daughter still expects me to bake. So, for her sake, I will spend at least one or two days knocking out five or six kinds of cookies. Okay, the truth is that I bake because I cannot let the year end without consuming at least three dozen Molasses Crackles. Have you had those? Best cookie ever, with the possible exception of Finish Ribbon Cookies. And Chocolate-Covered-Cherry Cookies. Anyway, I have to bake the cookies so I can eat the cookies. This one is kind of time-sensitive because if I don’t bake and eat all the cookies before the January diet kicks in, that would suck. But the world would not end if I missed a cookie binge.

Host an intimate yet elegant holiday gathering. Just kidding. I do love to entertain. The ghetto cottage is tiny but it’s getting cuter and more comfortable every day, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I want someone to come over.  I envision a swanky little cocktail party with delicious finger foods and pretty stemware. In real life, I would shove all the wrapping paper off the dining room table into a Hefty bag, lay out some tacos that I picked up on the way home from work and then struggle to find the beer opener in the middle of the baking mess. Feliz Navidad. Watch for your invitation in the mail, sometime after the Christmas card shows up.

Okay, so that’s a lot to get done in two weeks. It’s not likely to happen, and I don’t care. If I stress about what’s not getting done, I will ruin all the wonderful things that are.

Christmas is something to enjoy, not something to achieve.  I’m not falling for the myth that I must be the perfect shopper-decorator-craftypants-baker. Just because there are one million adorable and affordable homemade gift ideas on Pinterest does not mean that you or I are required to execute them.

Instead, I will do what I enjoy doing to the extent that I enjoy it and give what I can give without stressing myself out or going into debt. If it doesn’t happen, guess what? The deadline is COMPLETELY ARTIFICIAL. There are 364 other days in the year. All of them are also excellent days to celebrate, decorate, bake, sing, give and show your loved ones that you love them.

See? No pressure. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Swoony McLovestruck Writes Again

So, if you read my last blog post, you know that I met someone super fantastic and I got all loopy for him. Despite my chronic worrywart headtripping, everything is going great.  I’ve seen the inside of his car, his freezer and his closet, and he has no stash of human heads or carcasses of any kind, even though we met on the interwebs. So far so good.

Seriously, since that last post, if I relayed all the cutesy-wutesy that has transpired, you would get a toothache. But I am going to tell you about one great day, because a team of romance writers could not have scripted it more perfectly.

Saturday it was “cold” here in SoCal: sparkling sunshine, light winds, dry air— highs hovered around 60 degrees. Brrrr!  That’s a wintery day for us–we break out the scarves, hats and boots the minute the thermostat drops below 70. I got all bundled up in my warm hoodie, and I wore real shoes and socks instead of flip flops.

Mr. New Guy loves to be outdoors, and he will actually PLAN things to do. (Tip for guys: chicks dig it when you plan.)  He suggested Crystal Cove State Park, a place I had never been, even though I’ve lived in Orange County for over 30 years.

Crystal Cove has sandy beaches, tide pools, acres of hiking trails and a restaurant and visitor center that showcases the vintage 1920s cottages.  In case you failed to get sufficiently excited by that sentence, I just want to reiterate BEACH and VINTAGE. Also TIDE POOLS.  And for the rest of you, the restaurant serves bloody marys on a beachfront patio.  You can’t lose in this place, I’m telling you.

We walk a short trail down to the visitor center and spend a little while poking around the gift shop, where Mr. Wonderful talks about art with me, because he’s actually interested. We check out the historic cottage display, which makes me nostalgic for times I never experienced, and then we canoodle under a tree in a surprisingly cozy Adirondack loveseat. When I remark on how comfy the loveseat is, he suggests that we try to build one together sometime. I am not making this up. When he comes out with stuff like that I want to look for hidden cameras. How does he know?

So then, no shit, we hold hands and jump across a little stream of water to the beach, because we are some kind of walking romance novel cliché and I’m just going to accept that now.

The beach is gorgeous and perfect, see?

We walk down the sand, not talking because when you’re at the beach you don’t need to talk, and then we crouch over tide pools for a time, looking for tiny sea creatures and poking anemones. Tidepools make me feel like I am 10 years old again.

One more perfect beach pic. (He took the pictures. I’d give him a photo credit but I’m trying to keep him anonymous.)

Beaches make me feel like nothing, in a good way. I don’t have any words for them because that is the effect they have on me. So I will skip to the Thai restaurant part now.

He takes me to his favorite Thai place in Costa Mesa called MaDee Thai Kitchen. As we walk in, they call out his name from the kitchen, and I feel a little pang of pride—not because I feel important, but because I’m with a good guy, someone who bothers to know the people he encounters in his daily life, someone who’s curious and considerate about the experiences of others. That’s huge for me—to be friendly and to really know people.

These people are worth knowing.  Tony and Sue, the owners, talk to us about the long hours they work in the restaurant and their plans to finally take time off over Thanksgiving. I like to listen to non-native English speakers when they put words together in ways I wouldn’t. When we ask if it’s been busy, Tony says, “Not too busy. Just easy coming.”  That expression makes perfect sense to me and I stash it away for future use. Tony talks to us while we eat, about cooking, about the ingredients in his baked mussels and where he learned to prepare them that way.

I learn that I do not like mussels, but holy cow, the Pad Thai is good. So is a dish called Crying Tiger, which does not involve tigers or crying.  It’s beef, served with greens and a yummy sauce.

On our way out, my new guy spots this on the counter:

It’s a graphophone, like a primitive record player, from the 1880s. New Guy points it out to Tony and Sue, and they call up their friend (relative?) Jay from the kitchen. Jay is an older Thai man with limited English and a face like a laughing Buddha. He’s so excited about the graphophone that he whips out his iPhone and flicks through pictures of his extensive phonograph collection. I laugh at the incongruity of his age and passion for antique technology, and his obvious iPhone proficiency. Without words to explain how he feels about the collection, he repeats in his thick accent, “I VERY CRAZY. You see? Very Crazy.”

While we’re talking and laughing, Jay opens a small canister with an Edison label and takes out what looks like a thick vinyl cylinder, but according to my in-depth Wikipedia research is more likely either tin or cardboard with a wax coating. He cranks the machine up, slides the cylinder in place, and everyone stops talking as the crank unwinds and a perfect, plinky tune wafts out from the cone-shaped amplifier. Magic. Auditory time travel.

The sound is so sweet and I want to hear it again, but I feel like it would be greedy to ask, like maybe there are only so many times you can listen to magic before it’s used up.

Instead we thank them, chat a minute longer and then head out into the chilly afternoon. In the car I am quiet, which isn’t normal for me, so he asks if I’m sleepy.  Not for the first time that day, or the last, I grin and shake my head. No words.

I very crazy, too.

Nothing Charming: Meg’s New Old House

I just moved. More precisely, I finally finished transporting my enormous mountain of largely superfluous personal possessions from a two-bedroom apartment to a tiny, three-bedroom house. I am exhausted and more than a little scattered.

When this little house became available, my dear friend, the property manager, told me about it with a hint of reluctance. “We have a house opening up that might work for you. But…you should see it before you get excited. It’s very old.” She must have seen my eyes sparkle (I love old houses) because she added, “No, there is nothing charming about this house. Believe me. It’s just old.”

It’s 87 years old, to be exact. It was built in 1925 and it’s just outside the historic district of Old Towne Orange. Peeling paint, abundant chain link fencing, a freestanding garage that doesn’t look as if it will be standing much longer—this is not Better Homes & Gardens material.

Some of the windows won’t open. Some won’t close. Many will open but will slam shut again unless you prop them open with the nearest object. Viewed from the outside at night, my new house looks like a strange, light-up showcase for bottled water and cleaning products.

There is no hallway; there is just one bathroom in the center of the house with doors leading to the kitchen, middle bedroom and back bedroom. The back bedroom (that’s mine) is only accessible via the bathroom. The bathroom is ginormous, relative to the house, and it is so oddly shaped that it has eight walls and no place to put anything.

Then there is the garage, which I am afraid to enter at night. A power cord dangles from the ceiling, and if you plug it in, a dim, flickering fluorescent bulb provides just enough light to dismember someone by.  If I have to go in there at night, I open the dilapidated garage door, back my car into the driveway, and make my daughter press on the brakes so my taillights shine into the garage*. (There is no way I’m feeling around for that dangling cord in the dark.) Then I sprint in, grab whatever I’m after and sprint back out before I feel the cold, clammy hands closing around my throat….

The garage is fondly referred to as the “Murder Shed,” thanks to my friend Lauren, who calls it like she sees it.

*I don’t know why I didn’t pull into the driveway and use my headlights. Why did I reverse? I just realized how dumb that is as I was typing the above paragraph. That’s how fried my brain is. Criminy.

Also, some classy individual wrote “FUCK” on one of the garage walls in marker. It’s sort of a decorative, bubbly lettering style. If it weren’t such a cute sort of lettering, I would have to believe it was someone’s last word before being dismembered. You can’t vandalize if you don’t have hands, punk!

In 1925, when the house was built, people didn’t amass boatloads of crap the way we do now, so closet space wasn’t a big deal. Consequently, I don’t have a lot of closet space. Other things not planned for in 1925: dishwashers, garbage disposals, or doorways big enough to slide a refrigerator through.

But it’s not all bad—obviously, I rented it for a reason. Most importantly, it’s cheap. I have my priorities, you know. Second, it’s not an apartment. Hooray! Also, it has a big back yard for my dogs.   It has washer/dryer hookups, so no more community laundry room. The scary garage is perfectly acceptable for storage (provided I access it during daylight) and the driveway has plenty of space for me and a guest to park.

You know what else it has? Charm. Sure, it’s hidden under the catastrophic paint—flaking off on the outside and layered thick on the inside—but there is plenty of charm to be found. There’s a huge front porch and tons of windows. We are already picturing our carved pumpkins out on our front porch, and our Christmas tree in the front room with all those windows.  Oh, and there’s moulding everywhere: big chunky baseboards, window moulding, door moulding— a girl like me gets pretty excited about moulding. And that chain link fence is perfect for sweet peas. Spring is going to be fun. The yard is really sunny, so I can plant herbs and tomatoes again…summer is looking good, too.

To be honest, I’m kind of excited about the whole mess.  I love fixing up old stuff. One of my favorite things is to find an old piece of furniture and paint it or repurpose it. Now I get to do that with a whole house.  I can’t spend money on it, because it’s a rental, and the whole reason I moved in was to save money (and escape the apartment).  So I will have to do it on a shoestring, which is another backwards pleasure of mine. I am the queen of frugality. Bring on the thrift stores, garage sales and Craigslist! Give me your oops paint, your castoffs, your unused plywood longing to breathe free!

I may be romanticizing a bit. Okay, I may be romanticizing a lot, but I find something loveable about this weird old house.  In a few months I may be cursing the wonky walls and pitching floors and longing for the relative modernity of my apartment.  But for now, while the house and I are getting to know each other, I will keep my rose-colored glasses firmly in place.

There it is, under the peeling paint and behind the chain link fence: something charming. See?

The Mattress Adventures of Meg

Alas, this isn’t a steamy sexcapades memoir.  How I wish it were.  Really, it’s about mattress shopping.

Recently I visited my chiropractor to address my nagging low back pain. He gave me this bit of common sense advice:  if your back hurts in the morning more than it hurts at night, your problem is most likely your mattress.

My back definitely hurts more in the morning, and I was aware that my bed was a torture rack, but it was nice to have it confirmed by a professional.  Now I can justify spending the money on a new mattress without feeling frivolous. We are not going to delve into why I can’t spend money without a flurry of self-judgment. We’re just going to be happy that I get a new mattress.

The first store I went to was a local, custom mattress store and the basic models started at $1,000. I was okay with that; this is my bed we’re talking about, and I’m tired of back pain. So I am open to spending $1,000. (I’m aware that you also can spend $15,000 on a mattress, but those mattresses are not for regular humans.)  However, $1,000 is like a bazillion dollars to me, so I wasn’t going down without a fight—I was ready to shop my head off.  If they’re getting my thousand dollars, I am getting ONE HELL OF A MATTRESS. I tried a few beds in that store, but mostly I was freaking out about the money too much to make any progress.

The second mattress store was less fancy.  As I walked in the front door, I bumped into a mattress that was clearly labeled, “Back Support” and it was $399. I was able to settle down and think for a minute, but then the mattress salesman came over. And he was cute.

This is a problem.  Mattress shopping is already exceedingly awkward. First of all, mattress stores are almost always empty except for you and the salesperson.  So you walk in, explain that you are shopping for a mattress (duh) and then you LIE DOWN and try to act like it’s no big deal to lie down and talk about beds in a big empty room with a total stranger.  Throw a little attraction into the mix and you can crank that awkwardness up a few notches: just act natural, while you talk to the cute stranger about how sometimes you like to lie on your back but sometimes you lie on your side and never mind that beds are also for sex but not mine, we’re not talking about that, I’m just lying here trying to act natural.

(There is a bigger problem here: I don’t know how to pick up men. So even if I’m all alone with a cute guy, and I have his undivided attention in a room full of BEDS, I still don’t know how to close the deal.  Pathetic.)

The good news is that I really liked the $399 bed.  It felt as good as the custom, expensive beds.  However, you can’t return a mattress, so you only have one shot to get it right. Must…keep…shopping…

Store #3 had the biggest selection and a very knowledgeable salesperson. She showed me a very comfortable bed that was $1,100. Empowered by my $399 secret, I asked if she had anything that felt that good but was cheaper. She said, eyebrows raised, “Cheaper than $1,100?” Yes, lady; I am a low-digit girl and I need an awesome mattress that is super cheap. What’s the problem?

She might have been a little snooty, but she gave me this useful advice: if you are shopping for a mattress, you must lie on it for at least 20 minutes, because that’s how long it takes your body to relax and get a feel for it. She showed me a very comfortable mattress and encouraged me to lie on it for as much time as I could spare.

I lay on that mattress for a good 25-30 minutes. I may have even dozed a little, right there in a public mattress store. It felt great. I was pretty much in love.  “How much is this one?” I asked.  “It’s a closeout,” she said. “It’s normally $3,000 but I can sell it to you for $1,300.”

$1,300 is not less than $1,100. Am I the only one who thinks so? Because she failed to come to that conclusion. Also, $1,300 is way more than $399.

I left without buying a mattress. I ate a sandwich. I walked my dogs. Then I concluded that mattress shopping is a crap shoot. Both mattresses felt good in the store, but either one could end up being uncomfortable after a whole night’s sleep. If I was going to gamble, I would rather risk $400 than $1400. I’m not much of a gambler.

Back to store #2, home of the cute mattress salesman. It was twenty minutes to closing.

Cute Salesguy:     Oh, you’re back! I was worried that you found a better deal.

Meg-in-my-head: He remembers me! Of course, I am probably the only customer he’s  had all day.

Meg-Out-Loud:      No, I’m just having trouble making up my mind. I know it’s close to closing, but would you mind if I lie down a little longer? Someone told me I have to try it for at least 20 minutes.

Cute Salesguy:        Not at all! I’m glad you want to lie on it for a long time; that’s the smart thing to do.

Meg-in-my-head:   He is cute AND nice! I wonder if he would be willing to spoon me while I  try out this mattress?

Meg-Out-Loud:      Thank you so much. I hope I’m not keeping you.

Cute Salesguy:       I have plenty to do. Take your time. Get comfortable; I’ll even dim the lights for you.

Meg-in-my-headBow chicka bow-wow…

Meg-Out-Loud:      Okay, but if you turn on Barry White I’m going to be suspicious.

I didn’t hear what he said after that because of the blood rushing to my ears in complete horrified shame that I’d spoken the Barry White comment out loud. He turned down the lights (probably so no more weirdo customers would come in) and turned on some kind of normal music that was not suggestive at all. Of course, I couldn’t relax and feel the mattress properly after that anyway, because I was mentally berating myself for not filtering my dumb jokes.  I just lay there feeling like a dork for 15 minutes.

I bought the mattress. While we did the paperwork, we made small talk and he really was very nice. And then, get this: there was an earthquake right while we were sitting there.

Now I’m all alone, with a cute guy, in a room full of beds, AND THE EARTH MOVES, and I still cannot manage to ask for a phone number or make any romantic-type advance.  Somebody help me.

My new mattress was delivered yesterday and ironically, the delivery guy hit on me! No one ever hits on me, so I was flattered, although the delivery guy was…well…let’s just say he was no mattress salesman.

But my bed feels great.

P.S. for grammar freaks: I had to consult the lay v. lie reference about fifty times to complete this post. How did I do?

It’s June 15; do you know where your New Year’s Resolution is?

2012 is almost halfway over already. I’m shocked by that, and I’m also shocked by the notion that I can continue to be shocked by the same thing that shocks me every year. Time flies. I should be used to it by now.

What did you vow to change in 2012? Have you done it? Are you still working towards it? Or would you like me to shut up now?

I could be doing much better, but it’s not too late to work on it. I’m putting mine out into the blogosphere—it will create accountability for me and maybe it’ll inspire you to keep trying, too.

My resolutions

I was mentally kicking my own ass the other day, thinking about how I have once again fizzled out on all those things that were so important to me just few a months ago. I looked back in my journal to where I wrote them down. (You have to write them down or they don’t count.) After a little evaluating, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that while I haven’t excelled, I haven’t completely bombed, either.

I have three resolutions:

  1. Lose 50 pounds.
  2. Publish something.
  3. Finish the year with the bills current and a certain (secret) amount of savings in the bank.

The First Six Months

Weight loss is the worst of the bunch. I’m up four pounds. I should be down 25 or so by now, or maybe 15 if my body were being uncooperative.  There’s no excuse for gaining—my eating is out of control. However, I have exercised fairly consistently for the first time in my life, so I will give myself credit for that healthy habit.

Publishing is a little bit better.  This blog was the first step towards that goal. Blogging is self-publishing, and I would really like to get some articles published traditionally, but there is more value in blogging than I realized. First, it’s super fun—I highly recommend it—and inspiring, too! I’ve found a number of kindred spirits in the huge, diverse blogging community. I didn’t see that coming. I also didn’t anticipate so much support from you lovely readers.  I am so surprised at who’s been reading this. People mention it and I think, “REALLY?? YOU READ IT?”  Your encouragement has bolstered my ego and my resolve to pursue a freelance career, and it feels pretty wonderful, too. Thank you for all the feedback.  Finally, the process of blogging keeps my writer-brain active and fuels my creativity. I put off blogging for a long time because I didn’t think I had anything to say. Turns out I have all kinds of stuff to say.

I think I’ve had the most growth financially. Much of it is circumstantial; my circumstances sucked last year and they’re getting better. The bills are current and I feel a level of control that I haven’t felt in a long, long time.  My savings goal is lagging; I should have twice as much saved by now. The money that’s in my savings account is not a result of disciplined saving, which is what I really want to develop. It’s there because I resolved a tax issue and it worked in my favor. But I am giving myself credit for resolving the tax issue, because that is part of financial health, too. In recent years I have been so overwhelmed and hopeless that I avoided the tax issue and other things like it. I’ve made great strides in dealing with those financial uglies, and I feel much, much better.

The Next Six Months

Here’s the good news: there is still plenty of time. Six months is enough time to hit every single one of my goals, although it’ll be harder now.

50 pounds in six months may not be realistic, but I would be delighted with 20 or 25. I know how to lose weight; I could write a book on eating for weight loss. However, my motivation is dead in the water. I have to find a way to get it back. I need something different.

Inspired by my friend, Linda, I tried a new gym yesterday called Train Insane.  Linda has lost a lot of weight through their program, and she has developed a love for working out. I want that! I do not love working out. Train Insane offers a weight loss plan and accountability, so I thought I would give it a shot. It was horrible. And painful. I cursed Linda throughout the entire workout. I almost cried in front of the trainer at least four times. Today my muscles are so sore, I am jerking around like a corpse who’s been reanimated by an alien. It sucks.  I will probably sign up for Train Insane. I can’t even tell you why. Maybe so I can get strong enough to beat up Linda. We’ll see how I do.

On the publishing front, I want to continue this blog, of course. But I need to start sending out query letters. (That’s how you get articles in magazines: you come up with a story idea and send it to the editor of a publication.) If I don’t do that, nothing will ever get published by anyone but me. It’s pure procrastination that’s holding me back.  Maybe I need an accountability partner for that. Any takers?

And the money…that’s harder.  I can tell you I’m 50 pounds overweight and not flinch, but the shame I feel about my poor money management is actually painful. The reason my savings goal amount is a secret is because it is so small, I fear that most people would laugh at it. Shame makes it hard to ask for help, but I am learning to be open.  No one can help me save money, but being transparent with people helps me stay on track. There is no way to increase your savings without ACTUALLY LEAVING THE MONEY IN THE BANK, which seems to be where I have trouble. Hopefully, the momentum I’ve gained this year will make it easier for me in the second half.

There you have it—the good, the bad and the hopeful. If you have resolutions you want to revive, comment—maybe we can help each other.

Good Times in Riverside. Really.

So far, my posts have been musings and observations, maybe a recollection or two. I, Midlife Meg, don’t have many actual adventures.  I mostly just think about things.  However, blogging has inspired me to try to find some adventures, so I will have something to tell you about.

This post will be about me actually going somewhere and documenting it for you, dear reader.

The somewhere is Riverside, California. I went for work, which wasn’t very adventurous of me, but I ventured briefly off the business path had some fun. In Riverside, of all places.

For my readers who aren’t from SoCal, Riverside is a decent-sized city directly east of Los Angeles.  It’s not exactly known as a mecca for entertainment. Although it has a university and some historic landmarks and blah blah blah, I knew Riverside as the place I get stuck in traffic on the way home from Vegas, when I am hot and hungover and just want to get home. I’ve always thought of it as a smoggy, dusty place that really needs to trim its palm trees. From the freeway, it ain’t pretty.

However, I have now been there three times, and I kind of dig it. I went to the downtown/ City Hall area. The first day I went, I was surprised at how pretty the downtown area is.  The courthouse was so striking, I snapped a picture of it.

The Riverside Courthouse was built in 1903. Beautiful, isn’t it?

I don’t know about you, but when I am in a new city, the first thing I want to know is, where can I get a cookie? Turns out, Riverside City Hall has a café that sells cookies—big ones. I got an oatmeal raisin cookie as big as my face, and I am happy to report that it also contained nuts and coconut. Bonus! I took a picture of the cookie (with only one bite missing).  I placed it next to this chubby, middle-aged hand as a size reference.

I noticed a cute storefront on Market Street called Old Glory General Store—antiques! I love antiques. I live near Old Towne Orange, which is a hub for antiquing in Southern California. Most of the stores in Old Towne are a little pricey, though.  Since I am fairly ignorant about antiques, i.e. I can’t always tell a real antique from a reproduction, I am unwilling to spend much money on them.  (That is the difference between ignorant and stupid, see?) I have learned that antique stores outside of my beloved Old Towne are often much more affordable, so I feel more comfortable indulging elsewhere.

I took my cookie into the crowded, adorable store and meandered through the spaces. Furniture, housewares, pottery, art…it was overstimulating and wonderful.

Now that I am officially old, the toys I played with as a child are considered antiques. I don’t even care; I am still happy to encounter them.  I found a Snoopy dog, not the Charles Schulz Snoopy, but the wooden pull-string toy with the wobbly wheels. I clearly recall my own Snoopy and the odd, honking squeak his wheels made when I dragged him along beside me.  Did you have one of these?

Right behind Snoopy in the photograph is a Shirt Tales lunchbox.  I loved the Shirt Tales when I was a little older, in the early Eighties. At my elementary school (go Taft Tigers!) we traded stickers at recess, and Shirt Tales stickers were my favorites.

Although I loved marionettes as a kid, I’m grateful that my parents never gave me any like these.

These are like punishment toys, aren’t they? Terrifying. You could hang one at the foot of your kid’s bed, so he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He’d have to lay there, wide awake, thinking about what he did wrong and whether that witch puppet would come alive and eat him for it.

Speaking of inanimate objects coming to life, I turned a corner and encountered this torrid scene:

I felt like I must have interrupted something.  Her panty hose are all jacked up and everything! Maybe mannequins are like Toy Story toys, and they come alive when we leave the room.  Maybe there is another mannequin hiding under the chaise, or in that armoire. Or, maybe she was having fun all alone…whatever she was doing, it must have been fairly vigorous—her arm flew right off! See it in the background?

The best part of the store was behind a beaded curtain: a magical room with sparkling lights, full of vintage clothing and accessories. I found a trunk with a sign that read, “These items belonged to a retired belly dancer. Some of them are quite provocative.”  Of course, I had to dig into that. And put something on.

I’m not sure how provocative I look in this. Guess I won’t be doing any belly dancing.

I don’t think I saw the whole store; there was so much to see. I wanted many, many things but I left with three.

This is a framed piece of vintage fabric. I love the colors; those burnt Seventies golds, browns and oranges always do it for me. Throw in some avocado green and I’m in retro heaven.  This little sweetie was only $6!

I also bought these bookends, because I liked the grumpy owls on them. I know I’m a little late to the owl party, but ever since I painted that owl, I’ve developed a fondness for them.

The last item was birthday present for a dear friend, but I can’t show you a picture because she is a faithful reader of this-here blog.

All in all, that was an unexpectedly fun foray in a town that is much more interesting than I realized.  It was only a lunchtime adventure, but it was a start. Maybe when you go somewhere looking for a story to tell, you find one–even in Riverside.

How Much Your Mamma Loves You

I was 20 years old and single when I stood at the pulpit of our fundamentalist church and told 200 faithful that I was pregnant. 

The pastor, for reasons more strategic than spiritual, had recommended public confession. “It’ll stop the gossip, “ he said. “It’ll get the congregation on your side.” 

So, with equal parts shame and fear, I confessed.  “Please remember,” I pleaded. “My actions were sinful. But I’m not carrying a sin. I’m carrying a baby.”

It worked. I was not only forgiven, I was commended for my bravery, for choosing to continue the unplanned pregnancy. I recall feeling a little uneasy with that badge of honor. I had been careless and now, ignorant and unprepared, I would bring a child into the world.

In a warm display of support and encouragement, one mother in the congregation hugged me and prophesied in a heavy Mexican accent, “When you have you baby, you gonna be so happy, because you will know how much you mamma loves you.”

I’m glad she couldn’t see my face as I dismissed her sweet sentiment. Whatever, lady. You don’t know my mother. And you don’t know what it’s like to be young and unmarried and pregnant.

My “mamma” was another face of my grief. She bore her disappointment well, refrained from lecturing and betrayed her disapproval only by the set of her mouth and her unusual quiet. Later I would learn, from one of her officemates, that she cried at her desk for days after I told her I was pregnant.

Her stoicism set the tone for the matter-of-fact way we began to prepare for my child. No time to feel sorry for myself; no time for tears. I set my fear aside and braced for motherhood.

Mothers-to-be love their children before they are born. Young, terrified, unwed mothers in particular must love their unborn children, because in choosing to continue an unplanned pregnancy, we choose to abort much of the life we had in progress when we conceived. 

In my case, I dropped out of college and took the first benefitted, full-time job I could find. Forget the degree, forget the future; this child and I needed health insurance.

Forget the twenty-year old body; it will change irrevocably. Forget partying with friends. In fact, forget friends—I no longer had anything in common with them. Forget romance, and the boy who loved me like the sun in the sky…now I am a mother, and he does not find mothers appealing.

In exchange, I had one beautiful, precious hope. As my belly swelled and I amassed a collection of miniature socks and Onesies, I focused all of myself on the child that would be, and knew that I already loved him.

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Any mother will tell you that she didn’t know what love was until she had her first child. Nothing prepares you for the enormity of that emotion. When they hand you that bundle of squalling survival, and you stare, awestruck, at the eyelashes, the fingernails, the tiny bud of a person that FORMED INSIDE YOUR BODY, something cracks and a reservoir of feelings you didn’t know you had comes flooding through your psyche, washing away a good bit of your sanity and whatever previous notions you had about love.

Then it gets worse.

Those early days with my son were a tilt-a-whirl. The ferocious love was compounded with guilt, inadequacy and fear. I can’t believe I am responsible for this amazing creature. Please, oh please don’t let me screw this up

My mother was a lifeline in the sleep-deprived learning curve of my son’s first few weeks on earth. When colic kept him crying for days on end, she paced the floors with him so I could rest. When he threw up all over me—so much more than he’d taken in, how is that possible? —she took him out of my hysterical grasp and soothed us both. She was supremely capable in all things baby; unflustered, wise.

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I remember this moment clearly: holding my newborn son, imagining him growing up, I thought, “How funny. He’s going to think I’m just like my mom.”

As soon as that thought flittered through my consciousness, I had a shocking revelation: my mother is just like me. A real person. A whole person. NOT JUST A MOM. Honestly, until that moment, in my 20 years on the planet, the thought of my mother as anything other than my mother had never crossed my mind.

Here are some things I knew about my mother: when she was a little girl, she wanted to be a nun. In high school, she was elected “Most Studious.” She played on the basketball team.  And she met my father, whom she married at age 18. She had my oldest sister at 21, then another baby every two years for the next decade. When her firstborn was almost ready to leave the nest, my mother started over with the birth of her sixth child at age 38.

My mother can peel an apple in one unbroken spiral of skin. She scrubs floors on her hands and knees, because she doesn’t believe in mops. She can read your body temperature by placing her cheek on your forehead. She can feed six children and a husband a respectable meal using whatever’s in the fridge at any given time.

Here are some things I did not know about my mother: did she have any friends other than those she greeted after church? Friends she could talk to? What did she think about when I wasn’t around? Did she ever have a crush on anyone besides my dad? After the laundry, dishes, and housework, were there things left undone at the end of the day that she wished she had time for?

What did she give up when she had us? What dreams were set aside, buried further with the birth of each child? Did she feel ever feel inadequate or incapable? Did she have regrets?

Like a curtain had dropped away, I saw her differently from that day forward. I understood what people mean when they refer to “selfless love.”  I also understood how utterly self-centered is the nature of childhood.

As a child, I saw my mother as perfect; she seemed infallible to me. I was certain that she loved me, but I feared her disappointment more than any punishment.

While I deeply respect, even revere, my mother’s capacity for selflessness, I have learned that my love for my children is different.  Knowing how very fallible I am, and feeling completely unworthy of motherhood, I have taken a different tack with my kids. 

I am desperate for my children to know me. Please, see my flaws. Identify with the imperfect human in me, and when you fall, know that I will understand because I fall, too.  Hear what I’m thinking? Now tell me what you’re thinking. Let us muddle through this life together; we will help each other figure it out.

Nearly twenty years later, I have some evidence of success. My children are good people: flawed, like their mother, but accepting of themselves and others, and open to change.

I haven’t always been a great example, but I have demonstrated how to apologize—many, many times. My kids aren’t afraid to talk to me about their lives. They are as open as I can reasonably expect them to be, so I am able to advise and offer perspective in territories that many parents never get to visit.

And now, because I’ve watched my own children grow and struggle and make mistakes, I know that nothing hurts a mother like an injury to her child. The hope we have for our children is bigger and brighter than any we ever dared for ourselves—no wonder my mother was crushed when I got pregnant. My pain was her pain. What I perceived as disappointment in me was disappointment for me.

But there was joy there, too.  She knew then what I know now: ready or not, we survive the initial shock of maternal love and find that, instead of consuming us, it feeds us. It drives us to become better women. It increases the capacity of our hearts, which is why we love our second and third and sixth children with the same intensity as our first. What’s more, it makes us stretchy, resilient, so we can bounce back from hurts and spread ourselves thin and flex into all the different roles we play as mothers.

My kids are just 16 and 18 years old. I wish them many rich years before they become parents—years to enjoy, prepare and gather wisdom to use in raising their own children. But I have the big, bright hope that they will become parents someday. I want them to feel that full-to-overflowing feeling when they look at their kids. I want them to know how much their mamma loves them.

 

 

That’s why they call it The Present

Lately I’ve been yo-yoing between two unpleasant feelings: the feeling of being stuck and the feeling that I’m careening through time without brakes.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, think about payday vs. rent day:  it takes forever for payday to roll around, but the rent is due every time you blink, right?  How is that possible, when it’s all on the same calendar?  (Maybe that illustration only works for broke people. Financially stable people, you will have to come up with some other example. I know you have one.)

Of course, it’s a matter of perception and how we feel about those two events.  A twenty minute wait in the dentist’s office feels like three hours; three hours having coffee with an old friend feels like twenty minutes.

Right now, that paradox is my whole life.

In the slow lane: weight loss. I have a tiny mental tantrum every time I stand on the scale. Even if I’ve been good all week, I’ve only lost a pound—at this rate it’ll take a year for me to get to my goal weight.  A WHOLE YEAR. 52 weeks of protein shakes and veggie sticks? Forget it. Just order a pizza and pass the ice cream already.

On the other hand, I have very real panic when I think about how fast the year is passing, because at this time next year, my baby will be graduating from high school.  She wants to go away to college—away from me!  Can you imagine? My eyes tear up every time I think about that, even right now while I’m typing. ONLY ONE YEAR. Oh my god, skip the ice cream and bring wine.  Lots of wine.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, a big-picture angle that I’m struggling with.  Something about balance, focus, priorities…maybe it’s time management, the lesson I’ve struggled with my whole life. It just feels more important now that I’m older. The stakes are higher. My priorities have shifted.

The stuff that I want to rush is accomplishment stuff: I want to lose weight faster, save money faster, get the heck out of this dumpy apartment faster. The stuff I want to prolong is the beautiful stuff: I want my daughter’s childhood to last. I want a few more years with my dogs. I want time with my girlfriends to linger. I want to stretch the sunny afternoons so I can plant more plants, paint more pictures, and still have time for a nap.

It’s exhausting, this push and pull of time. I can only make things happen so fast, and I sure can’t seem to slow anything down.  I make my to-do lists, cram as much as I can into each day, work towards goals that seem light years away, and try to hang onto the fleeting moments in between.

Hmmm… something about balance…something about focus.  I need to focus on what’s beautiful, the things that speed past, so I don’t miss them.  Accomplishments are important—I do need to save money, I do need to lose weight—and if I do those things, everything gets better.  But weight loss and saving money are auto-pilot functions; I can put systems in place to address them and not make them the center of my attention.  That frees up time to pay attention to the areas of my life that deserve it:  the people and passions that bring me joy.  And a fringe benefit of focusing on what brings me joy is that I will be satisfied, and less likely to mindlessly eat or spend money and derail my material goals. Ha! Now I am getting somewhere.

The older I get the more I realize that time really is precious.  (Also, the older I get the more happily I toss clichés around. They’re cliché for a reason, you know.)  The bottom line is that another year is going to pass, just like the last thirty-nine have, and at the end of  the year, I will be thinner or not, I will be broke or not—but the year will pass either way.  If I spend the year racing towards accomplishments, I will run right by the important things—things that are moving fast enough already.   If I recognize that time is a gift, I will never rush—instead, I will spend it on what’s truly valuable. Yes, it may take a year to lose the weight. In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful things, like my daughter. I’ve only got one more year.