Fear, Self-awareness

You know how “some days you’re up, some days your down,” during a “normal” week or month? But how about now, during this zen-stonesvirus shut-down period? I’ve noticed that some moments I’m up, and the next I’m way down. There seems to be no telling when I’m in a “good” mood, “bad” mood, or just feeling in a funk.  Usually, my mood is fairly consistent, mostly “even,” but not these days. I noticed that last week when I was doing okay one day, excited about spring and the garden we’re preparing, but the next day I was sad, angry, and feeling hopeless. Yesterday was another one of those days. Why? I wondered. What has changed? Almost nothing, I realized, and that’s part of the problem. Here are a few reasons why you, or other friends or family, might be feeling the same during our self-isolation:

We have no definite answers, timelines, or end dates. Since the world is dealing with an entirely new virus, we have no clear idea on when we might be able to get “back to normal.” Here in California, no definite dates have been given and most of us feel like we’re in limbo, waiting (then a press conference happens and we are told to wait some more). It is hard to wait and wonder week after week with no end goal in sight.

We don’t know what we’re going back to. We all wonder, will life resume like it did before or will our response to this virus change our lives as we knew them. There is no real way to perform social distancing in certain places like concerts, fairs, or sporting events. Are these things going to be indefinitely cancelled until we can get a handle on the situation? Can we ever go into skilled nursing facilities or places where the vulnerable live (like my mom’s situation)? Will a restaurant have three tables in it so everyone can sit far apart as we are served by wait staff in a Hazmat suit? Is talking through a mask and trying to read someone’s facial expression by the look in their eyes the “new normal”? I hope not.

We also wonder if our lives have permanently changed. Many people have put their plans on hold or don’t have question marks2jobs at the moment. Some may not have jobs to go back to. My good friend is in the final stretch of her education and finishing up her internship. She has not been able to complete it. Her plans of getting a job, moving, and starting her career have been temporarily altered. She wonders if this carefully crafted plan will happen at all.  And she’s terribly disappointed.

What this all adds up to is Fear and Uncertainty of the moment and the current time. And those two buggers can change our moods in an instant. I stayed in my sad and bad mood all day yesterday, but I tried not to change it because I had to go through it. It was hard to allow myself to simply be depressed and frustrated and sad. No one likes feeling that way, but trying to change it will only delay it, or make it worse when it comes back (and it will, it always will). These times are hard, and that’s coming from someone who is fortunate enough to be doing okay. So, here’s what I did:

I noticed and accepted my mood and feelings in that moment. There’s that saying, you must “name it to tame it,” and after some contemplating I figured out what I was feeling (beyond just saying that I’m in a crappy mood). I also told myself that I’ll get through this time, we all will. This is a moment in history, a sad and painful one, but most likely, the majority of us will come through okay. For some it will be with great loss and grief, but as a whole, humans aren’t going anywhere. Finally, I remembered that my mood will likely change again. I won’t stay in my bad mood or my “glad” mood permanently (and sometimes just going to bed helps!). It will change, just like this situation will. Rolling with it, day after day, that is the real challenge.

rainbowA few quotes from the days of reading books to my children when they were small still ring in my head. This one, by Kevin Henkes of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, is from Lily’s teacher in a note to her after she had a very bad day and got in trouble. He told her, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Yes, it will.

Connect and share:
Fear, Grief, Parenting, Self-awareness

Let’s face it, it’s hard to find many positives in our current shut-down society (if you live in zipper cloudCalifornia anyway). We’re starting week three of shelter in place, only going out for food or necessities, and for my family, homeschooling. These are trying times, indeed. By Friday, school is out and we need that break – from each other. Despite the inconveniences, and hardships for many who aren’t working right now, we can try to find the good, even if we don’t really feel like it (and I can tell you that no one in Target yesterday felt like it, not even a smile could be had). Here they are anyway:

1) We have time at home. By now we may not really want that time at home, but for lots of people, they’re almost never home. Either working, socializing, taking kids to various practices, there are many who are seldom at their own places, but this avoidance of the virus gives us the chance to just “be home.” That can be good if we take advantage of the opportunity to catch-up on the rest that our fast-paced society never affords, clean-out some overflowing closets or cabinets (you’ll just have to wait to donate that stuff), or read those magazines or books that have stacked up. If you’re like me with kids at home, this luxury isn’t always the case or easy to accomplish, but you have the chance now to carve out the time (maybe with the help of a spouse or partner), so do it. We’ll be back to the never-ending race before we know it.

2) Time for kids can play. With no school, except our homeschooling which does not encompass an entire day (unless it’s a day where arguing, pleading, and negotiating is at work), my kids have lots of time on their hands. We still try to limit screen time so they don’t end up coming out of this thing even more zombie-like, and it’s challenging to combat the “I’m booored!” complaint, so they often end up going outside. They have ridden bikes with the neighbor kids (far apart from each other), created a “secret hideout,” and have witnessed spring come to life outside their windows then went out to see it (in real time, people). As tough as it is to have the kids home all day (and trust me, I feel it), we aren’t rushing to the next practice or lesson, and I’m not scrambling to be in two places at once. And while they might be missing their sports right now, they just might appreciate them more when they go back to them (so maybe there won’t be so many complaints over practice? Fingers crossed on that one).

3) Finally, and so important, dogs are happy because their families are home. It might be a small token of gratitude, but I know that our two dogs are so glad that we are all here (all the time). They aren’t waiting around for us to get home, they are happy to accompany us when we go on walks, and they are content to nap next to us while we work (which is what theyCody do most of the time we’ve found). So, even if you don’t own a dog, know that those who do are happier and that’s good (as we know, cats could care less).

To wrap it all up, here are a few coping strategies to get through this time with no foreseen end date:

– Try to remember that this is all temporary. True, that is hard to do when we don’t know any real facts or have a window of time for a goal, but know that it will end and that we will go back to our lives, possibly altered a little, but we will go back.

– View being at home as “safe at home,” not “stuck at home.” I saw this on a Facebook post, and it really is a good way to shift yTPour view for the better. Feeling stuck gets me anxious, frustrated, and clawing at the cage to get out. Feeling safe gives relief and calm. I’m reminding myself of this often.

– Appreciate the simple things. It might sound trite, but try it, you’ll feel a smidgen better. For example, I got toilet paper at Target yesterday – an 18-pack no less. Score one for my family! We won’t be using the leaves I’ve been picking each day. (Kidding? Maybe, maybe not.) Also, here in good old California, we have electricity! Anyone who lived here in the fall knows that power outages for days on end are NO fun. Having lights, heat, hot water, that’s something to appreciate (for real).

Good luck, everyone, stay “safe at home.” This will all be a “remember when” moment some day, really!

Connect and share:
Self-awareness, Technology

My family was one among the many in California who’s power got cut this past week during the “PSPS” (Public Safety Power Shutdown). Electricity went off Tuesday night sometime while we were sleeping and came back on Friday afternoon. Two and a half days ocandlef darkness. We weren’t outraged at PG&E for taking safety measures to ensure that another massive fire didn’t break out and incinerate us all, but it was highly inconvenient. Here are my pros, cons, and observations from the last few days of what felt literally like being “powerless.”

Cons – These are pretty obvious, but I’ll state them anyway. No hot water (so no showers unless we were going to brave the morning cold shower which my husband did, twice), no refrigeration (I wouldn’t let anyone open the fridge or freezer, so pantry food got pretty tiresome), no cell service (for some reason, I think my neighborhood was the only one without that, thanks AT&T). I really felt stranded with no way to communicate with anyone or get any power updates. We live in a rural area and we have no old person with the battery-operated AM radio going (that I know of). There was no school during this outage so the kids and I were getting stir crazy, which led to arguments of varying degrees.

What was most frustrating, and somewhat disturbing, was our utter dependence on PG&E and electricity to function in our “normal” lives. An hour away, where my husband works, it was business as usual. They all had electricity (from a different power company), so there was no disruption to their lives. No so for our community. Most businesses couldn’t operate and those that did were forcepowerlined to be cash only (tough because of our plastic currency dependence). Gas pumps won’t work without power, and all of those generators need that other dependent resource (gas) to run. Of course, many would chalk this up to a “first world problem.” Boo-hoo, there was no power for almost three days, and maybe I agree there. But we live lives that rely on electricity and, even with numerous announcements from PG&E, entire communities felt the effects of this shutdown.

Pros – We did experience some unexpected perks to this shutdown. First, we were forced to be outside, in daylight. My kids still had their devices, but no wifi made them less appealing. While the sun was out, I made them be outside (me too). I sat at the table on the deck and drank tea while I read a book. I can’t say that I have done that recently. Then my son made a rickety skateboard ramp while my daughter created a wagon ride down the small hill of our driveway (and crashed a lot) and I collected kindling. When the sun started to set and my husband came home, we went into our darkened house and lit candles, I lit the stove stop (thankfully it’s gas), and we ate dinner in a candlelight glow. Then we settled in and watched a movie on my laptop. It’s a small screen, but a screen nevertheless. Friends of ours would get out the Uno deck and play with their kids. Instead of breaking up and going off to do our own individual things, we did things together, and it was nice!

And yet, I was very thankful when our power finally did come back on. Hot showers are literally one of the most modern wonders of our time. The router sprang back to life, my kids jumped on and played all those on-line games they couldn’t, and then after a while, I kicked them off. They went outside again, what a concept!

If anything, this experience does make us think about how affected we are by the modern convenience of electricity, how dependent we are on such a system, and how one company can control it all. Even with solar, if you’re connected to the grid (like we are), cutting the power means all that solar electricity generated is useless. Maybe this will force us all to think up better ways of living our power-run lives because if and when this happens again, this “blog post” might be a “carrier pigeon post.”

Connect and share:
Relationships, Self-awareness

Continuing on with this blog series about the couple’s workshop that my husband and I attended, this timelarge-home we’ll examine what helps to make a relationship work (last time I covered what doesn’t). There are seemingly subtle things that two people can do to help build what the Gottmans’ call the “Sound Relationship House.” If you have a sound house, then you will have a positive relationship, even when conflict arises. Following are three parts that contribute to the foundation of that house. The Gottmans’ point out that these three levels make up the “friendship domain” of the relationship, but they are also the basis for “romance, passion, and good sex.” Well, okay then, let’s get to them!

Build a Love Map – a love map is essentially a map of how well you know your partner. You might say, “Well, yeah, I’ve known him for like twenty years, so I don’t need a map!” But in this case, a map is more of an understanding your partner’s past and present, your history together, his likes and dislikes, current challenges and dreams, etc. It’s not just knowing that he doesn’t like anchovies on his pizza (though that helps), but what are his current struggles, what are his goals, and what is your role in it all?

And the same goes for him. Does he know those things about you? During the workshop, we did an exercise in which we read cards with open-ended questions and took turns answering in term’s of how we thought our partner would answer. (The other person would either agree or disagree about the answer.) Some examples were: What is your partner’s biggest dream, as yet unachieved? Who is your partner’s least favorite relative? What was your partner’s favorite vacation?

The idea was to see how well we know our spouses. We might think we know exactly how they will answer every question, but sometimes we’re wrong! (I was a couple times.)

Another exercise we did, and one you can do every day, is to ask open-ended questions to each other. Examples would be: If you could re-do any decade of your life, which would you choose and why? What are your biggest worries about the future? If you could live in another country, which would you pick and why?
The idea here is to ask questions that require thought, beyond a yes/no answer, and it’s a way to keep in touch with your partner’s interests, ideas, and goals.

Share Fondness and Admiration – this one seems obvious, but how often do we actually acknowledge the positives about our spouses, and then actually tell them! You also might find that he has something nice to say back if you start with the first nicety. The idea is to build a positive outlook about the other so when certain trouble spots show up, like contempt, it doesn’t hurt so much or come up as often. During this exercise, we looked at list of sixty adjectives, anything from loving to funny to careful to gentle to sexy or kind, circled those we thought fit, then shared them with each other. It was nice to know that we still think of each other with certain positive characteristics. This is something anyone could do at home if you really wanted to, but also just telling each other positives (like “Thank you for helping around the house” or “You look great today”) will work towards building the foundation in your relationship.

Turn Towards – the last level is to turn towards your partner in everyday interactions. The Gottmans’ say that we all make “bids” to one another, which are gestures (either verbal or nonverbal) in which we are seeking attention or connection from our partner. These can be small, like calling your partner’s name or asking “Did you buy toilet paper yesterday?” to large, “I need help scheduling this upcoming busy couple caringweek” or “I need affection.”

There are three ways we can respond to these bids. The first is to Turn Towards, which means acknowledging your partner in a positive way. This can be in answer to the above questions or in small ways like helping him or her out, making a favorite meal, giving a spontaneous hug, or bringing out the garbage. The second way is to turn away, which means ignoring your partner completely (we realized in this workshop that giving no repsonse to a question is still turning away, that one of us does this, and it’s really annoying!). The last way is to turn against. Turning against means responding angrily like, “No, I didn’t buy toilet paper. Go buy it yourself!”

From research and observation, the Gottmans’ saw that newlyweds turned towards each other 86% of the time. Of those newlyweds, who got divorced six years later turned, they turned towards only 33% of the time.

The Gottmans’ say that each interaction in which we turn towards contributes to an Emotional Bank Account. Positive interactions are small deposits in this bank account. When we run into trouble (i.e. conflicts or fights), this emotional bank account of positive interactions helps us through. They say “small things often” can help our relationships overall.

To me, this idea applies not only to our spouses, but to our kids, family, and friends as well. What do you do to contribute to the Emotional Bank Accounts in your relationships?

Connect and share:
Relationships, Self-awareness

Last month, I posted about a couple’s workshop that my husband and I attended. It was called “The Art and Science of Love,” created by John and Julie Gottman. They have studied and researched couples and marriages for years, and they have learned a lot!

To continue on with what I learned during the workshop, following are problem-causing behaviors and what the Gottmans’ call the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Apparently, they are so detrimental to a marriage that their namesake says it all. They are as follows: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, Stonewalling.

Criticism – we all know what that is; we’ve all given it and received it at some point! They are referring to statements like, “You’re so boring (lazy, annoying, stupid, etc),” and using statements that begin with “You never” or “You always.” Essentially, these criticisms imply there is something wrong with your partner’s character. They found that women often criticize more than men (don’t worry, men aren’t perfect either). Their guess is that women may feel ignored by men with they complain then these complaints escalate to criticism over time.couple fighting

Defensiveness – is any attempt to defend or protect oneself, as well as to ward off any perceived criticism. It can be seen in righteous indignation or the innocent victim stance, as well as counter-attacking or whining.

Contempt – is the worst of them, according to the Gottmans, and the most harmful to a marriage. To be contemptuous means a spouse will put the other down and feel superior. They label it as a position in which one thinks “I’m better/smarter/kinder/stronger/etc than you are.” They also find a certain mindset that can accompany contempt: a negative pattern or habit where the spouse scans the situation or environment for the other’s mistakes rather than what can be appreciated or what is positive (thus leading to criticism). By observing contempt, they found it to be the best predictor of divorce or break-up.

Stonewalling – is the last and the one they found that men do more than women. Essentially, it means withdrawing from the conversation/interaction, etc. The spouse would stay in the room, but not give any cues that he is listening. He might turn his body away, look down, or cross his arms. He is basically shutting the other person out. They point out a common pattern here with the woman criticizing while the man stonewalls.

Are you good friends with any of these horsemen? Being critical and defensive stands out to me as things that I probably do. The Gottmans liken criticism and contempt to fighting, being defensive as a form of flight, and stonewalling is like freezing up. I guess I’m willing to fight then run away!

Thankfully, they offer antidotes to these buggers, and I’ll post them next time. In the meantime, you can observe your own relationship (or others) and see if any horsemen are hanging around. An interesting experiment!

Connect and share:
Self-awareness, Self-improvement

Last month, I convinced my husband to go to a couple’s workshop with me. “Couple’s workshop?” you may be thinking, “Why would you ever want to go to one of the those? We don’t need that kind of help.” Well, we’ve been married for fourteen years, and together for nineteen. We are used to each other and our own, personal, quirks. We also still like each other, thankfully, but after kids come, so does the lack of time spent together. When you have babies, forget about it, then, even as they get older, the carefree days of taking off to do something fun, just the two of you, ends. And distance and disconnection can grow instead, things we have both felt.

This idea all began because I heard a podcast with an interview of a psychologist named John Gottman. He and his research partner had been studying couples and divorce for years. They could observe a couple for an hour and predict with over 90% accuracy if that couple would get a divorce in the coming years. I thought that was incredible, and although I didn’t want to sign up and be observed, I looked more into Gottman and his methods. Turns out he has numerous books on the subject, co-authored with his wife, Julie Gottman, and they also have formed seminars and workshops about marriage. Again, I was interested in what they teach and what they have learned over the years by observing and researching couples. After digging around I discovered that there was a couple’s workshop, entitled, “The Art and Science of Love,” created by the Gottmans and it would be in the Bay Area, somewhat near us and fairly soon.

I approached my husband with the idea who looked at me with skepticism. “A couple’s workshop?” He wasn’t too excited about it, and thought that he and our relationship would be under a microscope. I honestly wasn’t too sure about what would happen, but I thought it couldn’t hurt, maybe we would feel better about ourselves as a couple, and if anything, I would have a topic for my monthly blog! I didn’t think our marriage was in any danger to begin with, but we also were pretty stuck in our ways of seeing each other briefly between work, kids’ practices, performances, sports, etc. We both felt a little disconnected. He agreed (because he’s a nice guy and a good husband) and we both waited, with some anxiety, for the weekend workshop.

We walked in on an early Saturday morning of an overcast day to a room full of many different couples: old, young, various ethnicities and backgrounds, a same-sex couple, but everyone had the same sense of interest and apprehension of what was to come. The room was set up with rows of chairs and a projector. It was more of a classroom setting than a group therapy session. I think we were both relieved! Over the next two days we were taught by two marriage/family therapists many things about what the Gottmans have learned over the years. What helps couples stay together (being good friends, and doing small things for each other often were some examples), what predicts divorce (more negative interactions than positive, feeling alone, unable to resolve conflict), and how to resolve those conflicts when they arise (or what to do when you can’t).

Overall, it was an interesting lesson in what makes marriages work, according to their research, and what causes them to slowly disintegrate, then ultimately end in divorce. If we all started out learning these things, the rate of divorce would surely be less! (If anything, because a person might decide not to marry a potential spouse in the first place.) I’ll be posting more of what I learned because I think it can be helpful in any close relationship. As for my husband and me, we still like each other, even after sixteen hours of examining our marriage!

So long ago!
Near the beginning, so long ago.
Connect and share:
Fear, Self-awareness, Self-improvement, Technology

I recently bought the book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. I felt like I was spending far too much time looking at and preoccupied with that screen in my pocket when I could be doing many more productive things (like writing for instance, or reading, or even, dare I say it, doing nothing!). The studies that Price present are astounding and frightening, like a New York Times analysis that calculated that Facebook users were spending collectively 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every day; or that as of 2017, Americans were spending an average of more than four hours a day on their phones. We really are becoming a nation of phone zombies. My family is no different. I try to limit my kids’ screen time, but it’s probably far more than what is recommended.

What is really interesting in the book is how much the phone (looking at it, checking it, scrolling endlessly) is simply a habit. She describes Charles Duhigg’s definition of a habit (from his book, the Power of Habit, it’s a good one), which is “a choice that we addiction-phones2deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” And how habits are loops made up of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the response, and the reward. In the case of the phone, it could be me bored while waiting in line somewhere (cue or trigger) so I check my phone (response), and find that I have email I could read (reward). And so it goes. First in situations of boredom, then in times of avoidance (say, when I don’t want to hear my kids complaining), and finally, just because. How many times have you looked at your phone simply because someone else did? Or checked your email or texts, thinking you heard that little ding, but it was just your imagination. (If you can believe it, the term for that is phantom ringing syndrome.)

I haven’t finished the book yet because it is broken up into two parts that take a while. The first is just information about how hooked we have all become, the second part is a 30-day plan to break up with your phone (I’m about halfway through) with tasks to do each day. She recommends small daily changes like turning off notifications so you’re not constantly checking every email when you hear the ding, or installing an app that tracks your usage so you truly know how much time you look at your phone, or even just pick it up.

It all accumulates into taking a complete vacation from your phone for twenty-four hours, meaning turning it off completely and putting it away for a full day and night. For some people, that’s seems impossible and anxiety-producing. For me, I’m not so sure. At first, I think,phone addiction “No problem,” but then I seem to think of reasons why I might need it on (my mom for instance, or some excuse I think is “important”). In the end, it’s just silly anxiety running the show and making me think that the world will end in those twenty-four hours simply because I (the all-important legend in my own mind) don’t have my phone on (in reality, I guess, it is the phone running my show). I will post a follow-up when I complete my thirty days of phone withdrawal and let you know how it went!

Connect and share:
Grief, Self-awareness

My donkey died last month (no, really). He was nearly thirty, which is about their life span, and he went very quickly. In the morning, Marcus was eating his hay breakfast with this buddy Olivia, and our two goofy goats, then by late afternoon, he was laying down at an odd angle (which isn’t typical) and looked dead. But he was still barely breathing.

By the time the vet got to our house, Marcus was staring vacantly, and she realized that he was a goner. She went to her truck to get the medicine to put him to permanent sleep, but in that short time, he had died. He gave one last breath while I sat next him, and was gone. We buried him in the dark. Mercifully, it had stopped raining that day during our very wet winter, but the mud and muck remained and we sloshed through it to his grave site.

My family said their last words to our donkey as he lay lifeless in a five-foot hole (tractors are a tool to be grateful for). Both of my kids were upset. Both of our donkeys have been around since before my kids were born. Marcus was a constant presence, even if it was in a pasture braying for his breakfast. He was always around, following his lady, Olivia, in a humdrum kind of fashion. A.A. Milne wrote Eeyore well because both that donkey and Marcus shared many characteristics.

donkeys
Marcus in the front with his buddy, Olivia, in the back.

I was sad about it all, especially the speed at which he went down. Could I have done something more? I wondered. Were there warning signs that I didn’t notice? These were my thoughts that night and the next day.

Then, by the third day, I cried. And cried, and cried some more. I questioned why I was getting so upset over a donkey? I mean, I liked this donkey. He was a good donkey, as far as donkeys go, but I didn’t have a special bond with him like people do with their horses. I told my best friend the news who put it all into place. “You’ve had him since you moved there,” she said. “It’s like the end of something.” Aha! She was right. It was the end of the something – the end of the beginning.

We moved out to the country almost fourteen years ago. We got Marcus and Olivia soon after that as adoptees. They were there at “the beginning.” It was when we decided to move from Southern California after only living there for a couple years (we didn’t care for it there), when we decided that we wanted “some land” (and five acres was a lot to us, suburbanites), it was the beginning of a new phase of a newly married couple’s life.

It’s funny how time can pass so quickly once you live in a place you love, how having children accelerates time, and how you don’t notice that all of us are aging – human, dog, donkey, it’s all going by so fast, you don’t take note. With Marcus suddenly dying, and me realizing that he had reached his actual lifespan,  I had to accept that it was officially “the end of the beginning,” and I cracked.

marcus1
Marcus featured on our Christmas card.

Like the death of any pet or person, the end of one’s career, the milestone of a graduation, they are all endings to beginnings. “The end of an era,” my dad always says. It certainly was with Marcus. But with the end of things comes the paradox of a new beginning.

So, though I do mourn the death of my donkey and the beginning he represented, I know this means the beginning of something new. Possibly a place with only one donkey to bray at us in the morning, or maybe welcoming a new donkey  into the family.

R.I.P. Marcus – we will miss you.

Connect and share:
Kids, Self-awareness

Two days before Christmas last month I went to a Walmart store in an unfamiliar neighborhood in hopes of finding Queen’s Greatest Hits for my son (“We Will Rock You” had become his anthem). According to Walmart’s website, it was in stock at this particular store in an area that I did not know. In the past few years, my shopping has mostly been done on-line – no lines, no cranky people, but also no interesting experiences.shopping-carts

This particular Walmart was chaos contained in 50,000 square feet. The parking lot itself was a challenge with people zooming all over, all trying to get the best spot; there was a truck sitting in one of the main lanes not moving, possibly not running, while everyone tried to get around or figure out how to back up. I was driving our big truck because I had to get hay for our animals. I already felt out of place maneuvering this huge vehicle and trying to squeeze myself into a spot at the very end of the lot where I could hopefully get back out again without damaging other cars.

“Get in and get out,” I told myself walking into the store.  I sucked in breath as I saw the madness of Walmart near Christmas. The register lines were endless with people of every nationality looking frustrated and stressed, the displays at the front had been damaged from so many people going by, and the chorus of children crying drowned out the bad Christmas music over the speakers.

“Music section, music section,” I directed myself through the throngs of assorted disgruntled shoppers. I had no idea where that would be. My luck usually dictates that it would somewhere completely across the store and I was not disappointed: it was in the very back corner. I finally reached it only to find the CDs in absolutely no recognizable order; if one happened to be in the right alphabetical spot, it was only by chance. And, as I guessed, Queen was nowhere to be found. In fact, there was were nothing in the Q section that started with such a letter. I halfheartedly looked through the surrounding area and the closest I found to classic rock was Poison.

An overweight and bored employee attempting to put CDs in their rightful places asked me if I needed help.”Have you seen any Queen around here?” I asked doubtfully. He laughed as though I asked him if there was a pot of gold at the end of aisle six. I told him that Walmart’s website said that it was in-stock here. This made him laugh harder. He then went on to tell me about an outside website where I could buy an entire MP3 album for $1.50 instead of playing $10 at iTunes. I told him thanks, noted that there was no employee loyalty lurking here, then went to get a gallon of milk so I could get out of this place.

Throughout my adventure in the store the loudspeaker kept announcing that “Giovanni has lost his mom” and would she please come to the front to find him. At first, I was concerned for both parties, being a mom myself I would be distraught if I lost my kid. After the fifth announcement for poor old Giovanni, I started to think that maybe his mom didn’t want to find him. Finding the milk, I politely said “excuse me” to another shopper who was staring into the case. I opened it, got my milk, then held it open for her as I assumed she was getting some too. She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and kept going down the aisle. “OOOkay,” I said to myself, resolving to leave this place and not linger another moment.

I walked up to the registers to find that the chaos had settled somewhat. I found a line that looked promising and watched as a mother and a teenage daughter argued over going back to get something. The girl’s attitude suggested that she was not doing it, but the mother’s bigger attitude prevailed, and the girl went to get whatever missing item they forgot. I noticed that they were next in line but the woman did not look like she was willing to let anyone past, even if that meant she held up the line for the next half hour. “Next line,” I said to myself. I went over one register and found a person trying to buy something with no price and attempting to argue with the cashier over the real price of the item in broken English with no success. Another woman in back of me kept sighing very loudly and saying things to herself about the scene.

This went on for another five minutes. I noticed that Giovanni had finally been reunited with his mom, who had four other children with her and looked like she didn’t care if she had ever found him again. Finally, another cashier opened up and I dashed for it only to find another woman trying to get there faster. As usual, I heeded to the other shopper, not finding it worth the effort to argue over who was there first. To my surprise, she told me that I got there first and to go ahead. “Really? Thanks!” I said looking over at the line where the teenager had still not returned and the people behind the mother getting thoroughly pissed off while the mother looked completely unperturbed, if anything she was seeking a challenger to fight.

The cashier was an older African American woman who was very friendly and helpful, and didn’t seem to mind the Christmas craziness. I paid for my milk and got out of there as fast as I could. The line with the mother and absent teenage girl was starting to get very heated, eyes were starting to bulge and chests heave. “Thank the lord!” I said to myself, dashing to the truck only to find three carts piled up behind it. I got them lined up and moved them to the overflowing cart return, not seeing an employee in sight who would be taking them any time soon.

Getting in my truck, without the CD that I originally sought, I watched as the public transit whizz by, heard horns honking in the distance, and just wanted to leave this store and this place and never come back. I wanted to go home to our very quiet and nature laden neighborhood, where I don’t see another house next to mine, where three cars constitutes a traffic jam, and where animals are more prevalent than people. And I did, after squeezing through the parking lot where the same truck from earlier had not moved; I drove forty-five minutes north east of there, and breathed in the country air, and was glad for it.

Visiting this Walmart in this an unfamiliar neighborhood was good for me, however, because it truly made me appreciate what I have and where I live. I unloaded the hay and was glad for the sweat and effort that it took. I realized that it would be very hard for me to live in an area anywhere near a Walmart, even though I have lived in suburban and somewhat urban areas in the past. We worked hard to get here and it suits me; it would be difficult to live any other place.

It also made me realize that living on five acres in the country is my attempt to hide from reality. In this case, I was trying to hid from Christmas insanity, and it showed me why I should shop ahead and on-line where I deal with no people. But what are the countrysideconsequences of that? Besides getting to maintain my sanity, am I depriving my children and myself of seeing other ways of life? Will my kids be unable to handle a chaotic situation surrounded by unfamiliar people one day because I avoid these places?

In truth, I barely take them to any retail store beyond the grocery store because I don’t want to hear about all the things they want. We often avoid retail entirely so they can’t see and don’t know what they don’t have.  However, I do think that my way of life “in the country” is a shield from other realities; and I have found that I am not the only one. Most of the people near us live out here for a reason: for some it is their retirement and they want to “get away from it all;” for others, it is wanting their kids to grow up in a place where they can get dirty, and some have just lived here their entire lives and are content with that way of life.  Either way, I’ll take my isolation, be glad that I am not Giovanni or his mom, and next year, shop ahead on-line, at least near Christmas time!

Connect and share:
Self-awareness, Self-improvement

My favorite Yogi tea (Vanilla Spice – Perfect Energy) had this message for me recently: Happiness is an accomplishment. This led me to ponder this elusive state called happiness that we are all continuously seeking in some way. I’ve been trying to just “be happy” for most of my adult life. happy teaWhat job would make me happy? What material item can? How much more money do I need to find happiness?

Here are a few things that I have picked up over time about happiness.

Happiness is a temporary state. We can never reach the final destination of happiness and stay there (unless, I guess, we cease to exist). It’s temporary. I always thought that if I did the right things, then I would be happy. And my husband has often said, “I just want you to be happy,” as though it were something I could turn on and keep on. Happiness doesn’t work that way. It isn’t permanent; each moment can be a happy one, or not. The good old Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions,” and I believe this to be true. We cannot depend on others for it, nor can we expect it to last forever. It’s up to us to create it, regardless of what is happening around us.

Happiness is a practice. The first statement about the impermanence of happiness leads me to the second – that happiness is truly a practice. It’s not something we arrive at; it’s work – all the time, every day. And that’s okay. If we can add up all those little things that make us happy (for me some are: a hot shower, sleeping in, good coffee, having nothing to do), then we will find these little moments of joy. And if we multiply them, then we might just find that we are, well, happy, for now anyway. The Dalai Lama’s buddy, the Buddha, says “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.” That might be a little tougher to swallow, and understand, but my interpretation is that we won’t find the place that lsmiley-and noteads to happiness, we must practice it all the time.

We do that by knowing that we won’t ever stumble upon happiness and stay there. We won’t reach that point where, finally, we’re happy (though part of me still wants to believe that). We will have some good moments where we feel it, then some that are really far from it too. So, if my Yogi tea bag is correct, then happiness is an accomplishment, but one that we can’t hold onto forever. As Thanksgiving is a day away and we are all supposed to be happy with this holiday of gratitude and surrounding ourselves with family, maybe we just try enjoying those little things instead: the gravy that came out right, the weather, or relishing a day of food and rest because it’s a small break before Christmas looms upon us.

And we can use the words of Ellen DeGeneres for that day, and others: “Do things that you make you happy, within the confines of the legal system.” Sage-like advice.

Connect and share: