Pamper Me Not

I’ve been assiduously avoiding the mirror all day today.  I didn’t bother doing my hair or putting on makeup, and I’m wearing a particularly unflattering pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt emblazoned with a logo created by a 10 year old member of the children’s choir I accompanied back in 2002.  I pity my poor husband, who had to look at me all afternoon.  Lucky for him,  he was dozing blissfully unaware each time I walked past him.

I felt particularly guilty about my state of personal disrepair when I read the chapter in Tracey Jackson’s new book (Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty) about cosmetic surgery.  Granted, Ms. Jackson is a Hollywood screenwriter and moves in the kind of circles where it’s important to look your absolute best.  But she pursues looking good with quite a vengeance, one I certainly don’t have the fortitude to undertake.  First off, I’m much too paranoid about medical procedures to ever undergo plastic surgery.  And the idea of somebody sticking needles into my face sends me into spasms of dread.

My other problem – and I know I’m in the minority among women here – is that I just don’t like the whole “pampering” routine.  I don’t enjoy the salon experience, I think massages are kind of creepy, and I have no patience with complicated beauty regimens.

I finally started coloring my hair about five years ago, but after one particularly horrific experience I have to indulge in some dutch courage each time I go in for a repeat performance.  And it’s becoming necessary to undergo that ordeal more and more often, as the gray hairs have been sprouting faster than you can say “does she or doesn’t she?” (Of course she does.)  About that same time, a stylist convinced me to have my eyebrows waxed.  I was perfectly happy with my eyebrows until I saw how much nicer they looked after they were arched so perfectly.  Now I’m stuck with going in every three weeks.

I think the bottom line is that I don’t like people touching me. For instance, the whole massage thing, with the dark room and the fey music and the trickling water fountain that just makes me want to go to the bathroom, and then some stranger rubbing  lotion all over my body – ick.

I do sort of enjoy facials, partly because I love the young woman I go to.  It’s unfortunate that she works in Florida, but I make a point of having a facial once or twice a year when I’m down there, and we have a lovely visit.  She’s worked in a number of spas, where I have also had manicures and pedicures and massages (sigh),  but she has her own business now, so if you’re ever in Ft. Myers and would like a facial, look her up and tell her I sent you.

It’s funny, because I like to look good, I really do.  I just don’t like all the rigmarole that goes along with it.  If you want to pamper me, set me down in comfy lounge chair by the beach with a stack of books and a bottle of wine.

I’ll be downright radiant, I promise you.

How about you?  Do you enjoy a special beauty routine?  Or do you have a different idea about being pampered?

Sadder than SAD

I’m sad.  With a capital S-A-D.  As in Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The cynical part of me is sneering right now. “Don’t tell me you’re buying in to that disease of the day crap,” it’s saying.

My conscience is scolding me.  “Get off your duff and do something productive.  That’ll cure your sadness.”

My left brain is advising me.  “If you’re really worried about this, investigate ways to get some light into your life.”

But my right brain seems to be winning out over all these other voices.  “Go back to bed with a heating pad, blanket, and book.  Take two dogs for company.  Drink hot cocoa and come out in May.”

I’m tempted to scoff at SAD, but I think I’ve fallen victim to it this winter.  It’s one of the darkest winters on record, and I haven’t seen the sun here in nigh on two weeks.  We’ve had some amount of snow every day this week.  The other day I cried half the way to work.  Right now, I’m summoning up all my strength to get out of the house and go to the library, a place I usually need no encouragement to go.

Last night I was talking to a friend of mine, one of the most practical, down to earth women I know.  She always amazes me with her vigor and physical strength.  “I haven’t been out of my room all week,” she told me last night.  “I haven’t even washed the dishes since Sunday.”

“What’s the matter?” I asked, aghast.

“It’s SAD,” she replied matter of factly.  “This is the worst winter I can remember.”

“What can you do about it?” I inquired.

“Wait until spring, I guess.”

My left brain doesn’t want to accept that answer.  It sends me directly to my favorite on line medical site, who concurs with my own opinion.

Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own — you may have seasonal affective disorder. Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications.

Apparently you can go out and buy ultraviolet light to enjoy in the privacy of your own home.  Imagine that…all it takes is money, and you can have a little sunshine any time of the day or night.

Of course, this is when I start to think about my house in Florida – the Sunshine State, right? – that’s sitting there empty and waiting for me.  It’s such an obvious solution, but one that eludes me year after year.  Next year, I tell myself every winter, a refrain that echoes the sentiment expressed by Jews the world over – “Next year in Jerusalem.”

It seems to be my own version of The Impossible Dream.

And that makes me sadder than anything.

Insured

One of the scarier things about being self-employed is the necessity to be self-insured.  For all of our adult lives, we’ve had health care coverage provided by our employer.  In recent years, we contributed to the cost, but it was fairly nominal, and the benefits were comprehensive and very good.

After my husband lost his corporate job in July 2009, he started his own business in order to work as a contractor, and we had government subsidized COBRA coverage (thank you federal government for something) until October 2010.  At that point, we had to pay full price to maintain our coverage – $1,192.36 per month – until January 1, 2011, when the COBRA coverage would no longer be available to us at any price.

So last month, we initiated the process of getting independent health care through Blue Cross Blue Shield, the provider we’ve had for lo these many years.

Welcome to the real world.

Yes, BCBS does often independent health care plans.  Yes, we qualify to convert directly from a group to individual plan.  But none of the plans provide anywhere near the kind of coverage we got in the big company group plan.  The deductibles are triple and quadruple what we’ve been paying, the out of pocket maximums 10 times what we’ve had in the past.

Youch.

The whole thing necessitated a sea change in the way we look at insurance.  The only difference in each of the three individual plans offered by “Big Blue” was the annual deductible.  All other coverages stayed the same – except, of course, for the monthly premium.  For instance (and forgive me for all this detail, but there’s really no way to even talk about insurance without going into some amount of excrutiatingly boring detail) we could get a $1500 annual deductible for $1,110/month; a $2500 deductible for $750/month; or a $5000 deductible for $450/month.

Our first thought was “$5000 deductible?? No way!!”  But then we started doing the math.  If we chose the $1500 deductible plan, we’d end up paying Blue an extra $500 per month in premium costs alone.  Over the course of 12 months, we’ve already paid them $6000.  Why not keep that money in our own pocket until we need to use it?  Maybe we’ll continue to be lucky, and our medical costs will be minimal.  But if not, that $5000 will be in our bank account instead of the fat coffers of the insurance company.

Our generation was one of the first that grew up with health care, and we’ve certainly gotten used to going to doctors whenever we needed to without worrying about how to pay for it.  Luckily, we’ve never needed to use our benefits for much.  In the past five years, I’ve probably been in a doctor’s office less than a dozen times.  I think one of the problems with insurance is that, over time, it lulls you into a false sense of entitlement.  I know lots and lots of people- particularly elderly people- who dash into the doctor at every little twinge.  If they had to hand over a $100 bill each time they went in, I suspect they might think twice about it.

I’m no fan of  the modern medical profession, and I’m becoming even less a fan of modern medicine in general.  I think our health care is far too specialized, much too focused on invasive and expensive treatments, and entirely too profit oriented.  And I think the health insurance industry is at the root of a lot of those ills.  Nothing about the current health care reforms addresses a major problem in health care – curbing costs.  And I don’t think any politician will ever address that issue because they’re too indebted to the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies.

In choosing the highest deductible plan for our individual insurance policy, we felt as if we were taking a tiny bit of power back into our own hands, power that the insurance and medical bureaucracy has been wielding over the little guy for much too long.

And that was good medicine.

 

A Little Postaday Mind Trickery

Since it’s been four days since I’ve posted here, I suppose I’m no longer a WordPress Postaday member in good standing.

That’s okay.  I’m not beating myself up over it.  I knew I’d never be able to keep up with that kind of blogging schedule.  I had a pretty good run at it for a couple of weeks, but in the last few days somehow lost momentum.

The whole daily posting resolution reminded me a little bit of Mr. Federighe (fed-é-reek-e), my fourth grade violin teacher.  Each time he taught us a new piece, we were supposed to go home and practice it 10 times every day.

Can you imagine?  Suwanee River scratched out on the violin 10 times every day?

I don’t think any of us ever did that (except for Margaret M., who ended up as principal violist in the Boston Symphony).   I remember making it to six times through on one very rainy Saturday afternoon, before giving up and going back to reading Harriet the Spy.

Many years later, I ran in to Mr. F. once again – I was actually his accompanist for a while, and we shared a tiny office in the junior high school where he was teaching at the time.  He was still telling the junior high students to practice every piece 10 times a day.  “You don’t really think they’re going to do that, do you?” I asked him.

“Oh of course not,” he answered.  “But maybe they’ll at least practice it once or twice before they throw in the towel!”

Pretty crafty thinking.

That’s kind of what happened to me with the Postaday program.  It tricks me into writing more often than I might otherwise do – and that’s just fine.

How about you? Do you have any little mind tricks you play on yourself?


What’s the Word?

I get reflective at this time of year, whether it’s the inviting specter of a brand new year, the cold days of winter with plenty of time to think, or the impending anniversary of my birth –  which is definitely enough to give anyone pause.

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to DO.  I’ve been writing more, and recalling how much pleasure and satisfaction comes from taking a snippet of thought, puzzling it out, and putting it into words.  I’ve been thinking about expanding some of those snippets into a longer piece of writing (dare I call it a book?), and have been exploring some options in my head.  But I’ve also been mourning the lack of music in my life right now.  The other day, a Facebook friend posted that “there was a hole in her musical life big enough to drive a truck through.”  I feel the sadness behind the flippancy of those words.

So I’ve been wishing, and hoping, and daydreaming about new ventures.  As often happens, something I read seemed to speak directly to these thoughts.  In Words to the Wise, life coach and Oprah Magazine columnist Martha Beck wrote about the power of words in shaping our goals.  “Stated goals are magical,” she says.  “They dictate our attitudes and behavior and where we put our energy.”  However, caution is required in conjuring up these dreams.  Sometimes, what we think we want isn’t what we really bargained for.  And sometimes, what we really want has been with us all along.

When it comes to successfully naming our dreams, it all comes down to word choice.

“The difference between a dangerous goal and a safe effective one has everything to do with parts of speech,”  Beck asserts.  “Most goal setter use mainly nouns and verbs (“I want my business to succeed,” or “I want to have a baby”). This frequently leads to either outright failure or the kind of success that doesn’t make people nearly as happy as they expect.”

According to Beck, we need to focus on the “quality of experiences we want to have,” rather than on a situation we aim to create, and choose the adjectives which best describe that experience.  Here’s the process in a nutshell:

Pick your dream, your most outrageous dream.  Imagine the best case scenario of your life when that dream has been fulfilled.  Go into your soul and imagine how you’re feeling…fulfilled, energized, important, delighted, valuable, nourished… choose three of those adjectives which best describe your emotions.  Write them down.

Go ahead.  Go daydream for a while and then come back.  I’ll wait.

Okay, got your dream words?

Now look at those words and see how they relate to your life right now.  Are there things already happening in your life that make you feel that way?  How can you expand on those areas, creating more happiness in your present life while perhaps drawing yourself closer to your fantasy goal?

If I look at one of my fantasies –  being part of a small, successful chamber music group – and imagine myself rehearsing and performing with three or four really talented musicians who also become my friends, I would expect to feel creative, and proud, and valued.   If those feelings are my goal, if that’s what I want to experience more of in my life, how can I come closer to that state of being right now?

It’s an interesting way to look at things, isn’t it?  It turns the process of stating goals on its ear.

And makes me think about the power of words in a whole new way.

How about you?  What adjectives did you come up with?  Is that experience manifesting itself in your life right now?

Yearning to Harvest

To grow what we need requires a sanctuary of time and attention, a patch of ground secured by some clear, recognizable boundary that can shield us from the endless demands, choices, and responsibilities eroding our day, so we can listen, uncover what is ultimately important, remember what is quietly sacred.  Setting boundaries around what is most valuable, precious, and necessary for us to thrive actually creates a space of freedom and abundance.  Without these self-imposed restrictions on ourselves and others, we my never be truly free to plant, grow, or harvest what we yearn to harvest from the garden of our lives.

Wayne Muller, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough

I’m re-posting this beautiful paragraph from One Rich Life (with humble thanks to Joan for sharing it)  because it seemed to me these words should be spread among us like rich, dark soil is spread over the garden.  Spread, and cultivated, and worked into the ground with our fingers.
At the beginning of this month, I wrote that one of my goals for 2011 was to “just be happy.”  As I plod through these long, dark, cold days of winter, I feel about as far from happiness as I’ve ever felt.  Reading Muller’s words, I realize what I need to do is “set boundaries around what is most valuable, precious, and necessary” for me to thrive.
But what does that mean in practical terms?  While part of me longs to “drop out” of the rat race of modern, everyday life, and head for a tiny cottage in the hills, I know that’s neither realistic nor emotionally sustainable.   I also know that I allow the outside world to impose itself on me far too much and far too deeply.  Part of setting boundaries for me will always mean learning to shake off the traces of the world’s demands to the extent that it’s practical, and live contentedly within the sanctuary of my own life and the things that are ultimately important to me.
Mostly I feel like I should have this all figured out by now.  That I should know how to create the kind of balance between work and responsibility and life which will allow me to flourish.  That I’ll know how and when to let go of the things that bother me, and stop giving them so much prominence in the garden of my life.
I think, though, that we’re all seekers – that the world today makes it harder and harder to find just the right spot in which to put down roots and grow.
How about you?  Are you still seeking the perfect balance for the garden of  your life?  Have you been able to create the boundaries you need in order to thrive and grow?  What’s the secret?

Clueless

Sometimes I feel really clueless.

And then sometimes, I just feel old.

Tonight, apparently, are the Golden Globe awards, and I was completely unaware that they were being televised until I signed on to Twitter and saw a kazillion snarky tweets about dresses and hairdo’s and sore losers making faces at the monitor.

It isn’t that I care so much about the Golden Globe awards, but it just seems as if I should have known they were on.

So, I’m clueless.

But before all that,  one of my friends asked me a question – the name of the computer store on the corner, the one that I walk by every morning when I walk the dogs, the one I actually told this friend about when she asked if I knew of a computer store in the neighborhood.

Do you think I could remember the name of the store?

No.

There was nothing but a huge black spot in my brain where the name of that store used to be.

And that made me feel really old.

As a matter of fact, the very same thing happened to me just a few days ago.  Someone asked to the name of something very familiar, and I could not, for the life of me, recall it.  Now, not only can I not recall the specific name, I can no longer recall who asked me or what they were asking about.

See, I’m not normally the kind of person who has trouble remembering things.  As a matter of fact, when anyone in my family wants to know the name of Aunt Mary’s youngest granddaughter’s husband and when they got married, they usually ask me.  I’m known as the archiver of useless and trivial information.

So when I lose the name of an ordinary store, a name that I look at each and every day as I walk by, and then look at it again later when I drive by on my way to work, then I feel not only old, but frightened.

I simply cannot start having dark black holes where my memory is supposed to be.

I know I’m getting old (er).  In another two months, I will be –wait, I’m mustering the courage to write this—55 years old.

Gulp.

The unfortunate thing about this whole “aging process” is that it’s completely irrevocable and totally out of my control.  Sure, I can exercise regularly, do crossword puzzles, and eat leafy greens until the cows come home, but there is no guarantee that any of that will do me one bit of good.  I could still end up an addlepated mess who can’t remember where’s she supposed to be at any given moment.  And don’t let people tell you that getting older is nothing to worry about, or that life begins when you’re 50, or that 60 is the new 40, or any of that other bromidic nonsense the media keeps hurling at us poor baby boomers in their pathetic attempt to make us feel optimistic enough to buy whatever product they’re selling.

Getting older is just for the birds, and there’s no two ways about it.

Maybe that’s why we start forgetting things as we age.  That way we don’t remember all the good things about being younger, so we can remain clueless about what we’re now missing.

Pressure Cookers

One of the few TV shows I’ve ever watched over and over is Everybody Loves Raymond.  We Tivo the episodes of this comedy, which has been off the air for a number of years now, and watch them while we eat dinner.  ( I know, I complained about eating in front of the television,  but we’re still doing it and I suspect we will be until we’re in the nursing home and get wheeled into the dining room to eat at the table.)

Anyway, there’s something about this show that I just love, and I laugh my head off every time I watch it.  I can actually recite most of the lines along with the characters.  It’s pitiful, and I’m almost ashamed to admit it.  Nevertheless, it’s true.  I’m a sucker for Ray and Debra, and their whole dysfunctional family.

Tonight we watched an episode entitled T-Ball.  Debra brings an “unapproved” snack to the kids T-Ball game and is chastised by the overzealous team manager.  Ray, in his usual pathetic need for approval, refuses to stand up for her, and tries to make nice with the manager without Debra finding out.  Of course, it all blows up in his face – the manager gets mad, Debra gets mad, and Ray ends up making a fool of himself again.

Believe me, it really is funny.

But it’s sad too, because tonight I realized how familiar Ray’s reaction is.  You see, I do the same kind of stuff all the time.  I go through all kinds of contortions trying to make everybody love me.  I can see myself doing exactly what Ray did – fixing the best snack ever for the next game, buying every single item on the approved snack list, trying to sneak the snack past Debra (who vowed never to bring another snack to the game) and secretly get in the obnoxious manager’s good graces.

This constant need to win everybody’s approval creates a lot of pressure.  I’m generally pretty good at containing all that pressure.  Better than Ray,  at any rate, because he completely lost his cool and went off like a banshee at the manager, Debra, and his parents.

However, I definitely understand that impulse.  I’m just better at controlling it.  Sometimes it does feel like life is a big pressure cooker, and people keep throwing ingredients in the pot and turning up the valve.  Before long, something has to blow.

Over the years I’ve learned ways to alleviate some of the pressure.  You all probably know what my release factors are better than I do – music, writing, reading, walking.  All those things help me blow off steam in a socially acceptable way instead of screaming and throwing things, which is what I really feel like doing sometimes.

But if I acted like that, then people wouldn’t love me, would they?

And that would never do.

Of course,  I really should address the root of the problem – the fact that my overly kind and empathetic nature, combined with a generalized desire for approval makes me put all sorts of pressure on myself to be all things to all people.   The result – a lot of repressed anger and unhappiness.

The other thing Everybody Loves Raymond reminds me of is that our behavior and personality are often rooted in our early experiences.  For Ray, his over-controlling mother who withheld love and approval based on his achievement of her expectations, combined with a cold, authoritarian father, primed him to become someone who was constantly seeking approval.

But for me – well, in my family I was the little princess who could do no wrong, and while that sounds rosy, it brings with it a burden to maintain this reputation at any cost.  Hence, I’m still scurrying around trying to make myself look good in the eyes of the world.

Maybe knowing how you got to a certain place in life is half the battle in learning how to get out of it.  I hope so.

Because even the best pressure cooker has its limits, and could eventually explode.

A Typical American

When my son made his first visit to Thailand to meet my future daughter in law’s family, we sent along some family pictures by way of introduction.  My daughter in law later told me that her family  remarked that Brian’s mother was “so beautiful” and “did not look like a typical American.”

First off, I was mightily flattered.  Rarely do middle aged American women think of themselves as beautiful, and certainly no one around here refers to me that way much anymore.  But then, as is customary for me, I started thinking about the comment a little more, and had to smile.  Because, whether or not I’m beautiful, I’m definitely a typical American.

Genetically speaking, I am a pure amalgam of ethnicities.  My father’s Armenian genes were mixed with my mother’s array of Scotch-Irish-German-Jewish-Native American DNA.  The resulting potpourri of nationalities is representative of every “true” American.  Every one of us is the composite of the hopes and dreams of our ancestors from all across the globe, who converged on this great melting pot with hopes of a brighter future and a freer civilization. Whether our Founding Fathers intended for it to happen this way or not, American has been from her inception a place where people desire to come and create a new life.  From the moment Christopher Columbus set sail, until this moment in 2011, American is a beacon of hope for thousands of people.

In light of the Arizona shootings – another tragic violent event, one with overtones of  political polarity, bigotry and hatred-Americans are called upon to remember our origins and how we all came to be here.  None of us are “native” to this country.  Every American, unless they’re 100% American Indian, has an ancestor who “belonged” in a different country.  But those ancestors all came here with a common dream, a belief in the ability of a people to self govern with decency and justice.

President Obama had this to say in his remarks at the memorial service for the victims of last week’s shooting…

Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

In the end, all of us – white, black, man, woman, Democrat, Republican – have more in common than we do apart.  We all believe in the power of the American dream and we all want it to work for us and our children.  But it can never be realized to its full potential until we learn the lessons any successful kindergarten has to learn – to respect one another’s differences and get along.  Let that be the mark of the typical American of the future – someone who has the humility to know that not one of us is “better” than another, and that we can achieve more working together than we can apart.

Grace Periods

The parental grace period is a small window of freedom, in which you are too old to be dominated by your parents but too young to really worry about them.

This grace period is usually fairly short.  And when it ends, it frightens you. Carolyn Knapp, from The Merry Recluse, A Life in Essays

My parental grace period ended a long time ago, and in fact, I’m not sure I ever really had one.  I think I’ve always worried about my parents, especially my mother, in a way that’s probably neither healthy or normal.  My therapist once called it “enmeshment,”  a behaviorist term that refers to being completely involved in someone else’s life to the extent that you ignore your own preferences and needs in deference to the person you’re enmeshed with.

As a youngster, this manifested itself in an extreme case of separation anxiety.  I recall being totally and completely convinced that if my mother were let out of my sight, something “awful” would happen to her…i.e., she would die.  For quite a few years, I became hysterical if she had to leave me behind.  As an adult, I can see what a hardship this must have been for her.  Rightly or wrongly, she indulged this fear, and did her level best to never leave me home alone.  If that were to happen nowadays, of course I would have been dragged off to therapy posthaste.  But in the 1960’s, that was, of course, unheard of.

Finally, and happily for both of us, I eventually outgrew this loathsome paranoia.  But during the time of my parents (really messy) divorce, I found myself again slammed against the wall with fear and worry for my mother, at the agonies she was going through and my complete powerlessness to do anything about it.  Because on top of my problem with enmeshment is a huge dollop of control freakishness, and when people I love get into situations I can’t help them with, I’m simply wrecked.

In the past three years, I’ve come face to face with the kind of loss that’s inevitable when you reach a certain age.  I watched my mother in law, my uncle, and my aunt, fall in rapid succession.  My mother will be 84 years old in March.  She still lives alone in her home, which is just down the street from me.  She’s ambulatory, and her mind is sharp as a tack.  She still cooks dinner for me three nights a week when I’m working, and dog sits when we travel. She keeps up with current affairs, is very savvy about the modern world.  She’s fiercely independent in many ways.

But I can see changes, and I know she sees them too. She’s got chronic pain from arthritis that’s starting to inhibit her mobility, and make her generally fatigued and depressed.  She’s frightened of falling, and so is afraid to get out much when the weather is snowy and icy (which it is most of the time now).  I’d love to take her to Florida for the winter,  but she has continued to resist doing  that every single year, until now I don’t think she’s up to making the trip even if she wanted to.

So many things I wish we had done differently, my mother and I.  And  I get so scared about her sometimes that I’m frozen with fear.  What can I do to make her life better?  How can I help?  What will I do when there’s nothing left to be done?

As I feel time rush away from me, I simply long for the wisdom and strength to take care of her the way she’s always taken care of me.

That’s the kind of grace I need.

Period.