Monday, October 3, 2016

Weakest link


Last week, I discovered 2 new-to-me podcasts. One was Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, where he takes an event that happened in the past and goes over it with a new angle, and Happier with Gretchen Rubin, where she talks about, amazingly enough, things you can do to be happier.

I’m happy to say that both podcasts have been very enjoyable and instrumental in me being happier, and in my seeing things from my own past with new eyes.

One of Malcolm Gladwell podcasts talked about soccer versus basketball, and how soccer can be viewed as a sport that the team is only as strong as its weakest player, whereas basketball is a strongest link sport that relies on the best player for its success. Gladwell applied this principle to large donations given to small universities versus giant wealthy universities (your Stanfords and Harvards) to see which would make the largest impact on both the university and the country as a whole. It was fascinating. It got me to think of my current life and the things I’m struggling with – mostly anxiety – in a light of the weakest link.

In August, I started food journaling. I know – it’s super, super sexy to journal all the food I eat! But late in the summer, I looked back and realized that I’d felt mostly shitty in the morning for months and months. It wasn’t anything that was easy to identify or point to as particularly upsetting, but most of the feelings that I tended to blame on anxiety – i.e., bad drives to work, dizzy feelings, a sense of unease, lack of emotional reserves – happened when I failed to eat early enough and/or drank caffeine on an empty stomach. Then, in August when my favorite oatmeal flavor was mysteriously and permanently gone from the shelves and I tried to eat something different for breakfast on the days I went to work, I had some really bad mornings. As I was blaming anything that felt strange on anxiety, I tried to pin two events that happened at work on it as well, but I wasn’t successful. Anxiety just wasn’t the culprit, although it didn’t hesitate in roaring into the limelight during both. So I decided to write down everything I ate, being totally honest and not worrying about the calories or judging my food choices to see if there was a link.


After about a week, I changed two habits – one, my years-old habit of waiting to eat breakfast until after I got to work to eating before work, and two, bringing snacks to work to have between meals. Now, it doesn’t seem like this would be a life-changing event, but it kind of was. Eating before driving to work kept me calmer in the moments that I’ve trained myself to feel anxiety on the road. Having snacks in the mid-morning and in the afternoon allowed me to eat lunch later and not be a raving b**** the moment I walked in the door after work. I even changed another habit of drinking hot chocolate first thing on an empty stomach to eating something small first – an egg or a string cheese or going whole-hog and eating all my breakfast and then topping it off with hot chocolate. Again, such a small change, but I found it made things better.

Eating (and blood sugar) is my weak link. I’m following Gladwell’s example and looking back to see patterns. I realized that so often, the times I get completely overwhelmed or freak out at my kids or husband or get angry for no reason or get emotional at a family function, I’ve usually waited too long to eat. It sounds so dumb. But if you know me or have been around me much in the past 5 or so years, you probably know what I’m talking about. I can have all the best intentions to keep my emotions under control, I can exercise to keep my stress level good, I can speak my feelings instead of thinking about them or pushing them away, I can meditate until my eyes change color – but it all, and I mean ALL, goes out the window when my blood sugar dips. I get hangry. Weak link gets me every time.

Anyone who might be reading this: I cannot tell you how much this helps. In the past year, when I’ve felt betrayed by my body at every turn, when I’ve felt my anxiety get every bit of limelight, when I’ve tried to find out why, why, why do I feel like an alien in my body – to have something that is easy to control that helps me manage is nothing short of amazing.

I know that it doesn’t solve everything. Just today while driving on the freeway where there was a ton of traffic and construction, I got anxious and had to pull off on an exit. But I dealt with it. I talked myself down and got my breathing under control and drove in a circle to get back on the freeway I’d just exited and finished my drive to work. I was kind to myself and wrote myself a note when I got to work and decided that it wasn’t a big deal and that I didn’t need to make any more of it than it was. All of the positive habits I’ve built up over the past year – remembering to breathe, being kinder to myself, taking a break if I need it, and then getting back on that horse – worked, because my weakest link wasn’t a factor. I doubt things would have gone as well if I’d been hungry. I'm so grateful and excited that I've figured this out.

Weakest links. They are important. Do you know what yours is? Do you have one? Tell me if you think this could be a good discovery for you, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book review: No One Is Here Except All of Us

I've raved about my library system before, and this post is going to do it again. While I usually go to a particular library to pick up or drop off most of my books, I can't really go there if I don't have either a plan or a hold already there. That location is very steeped in horror, LDS fiction, and romances, three genres of books that rarely go home with me. If I need a book and don't have a plan, I will go to a different branch that always seems much farther away, but it really isn't. I can usually browse the stacks and come up with something that is good.

I had once such visit to the library a few weeks ago. And while I usually consult the computer for suggestions or go on Amazon to find reviews, I did none of that. I just wandered through the shelves and pulled books out at random. I can still remember the spine of No One is Here Except All of Us as it sat on the shelf: it was aching for me to read it.

No One is a World War II novel. A very small and isolated village reads the latest newspaper one night in 1939 during the Sabbath service. The inevitability of war is starting to seep into their consciousness and it terrifies them. Suddenly, an airplane flies over their village and drops what may have been a bomb (it is never clear what it was) very near the village. Right afterwards, the river that circles their land floods (which seems like an alarming amount of catastrophic events to happen in an evening!) When the floodwaters recede, they find fish and a piano and all sorts of flotsam and jetsam, mostly importantly a woman who was had very recently lost her entire family to Nazi soldiers, and was only saved from death herself by the sudden flood. The village panics, and decide that they aren't going to go along with the narrative that the world, but are going to isolate themselves and start over. They will have no history, no link to the outside world, no before, only a future.

At the heart of the story is Lena, a young girl with parents and a brother and a sister. It was her and the stranger's idea to begin again, and so she is often called on to help to create the parameters of the new world. They decide that most people will stay with their families, but a few swap wives or husbands. Watching the village have the first days in the new world parallels Genesis: God separating the day from the night, the firmament from the waters.

(if you are prone to reading this book and don't want to be spoiled, you can stop here.)

Lena's journey is not an easy one. Again and again she finds herself starting over. She finds herself traded away to her uncle and his wife. Later, after a bizarre few months of life with her new parents/uncle and aunt, she is married. Life is good to Lena and her husband Igor and they have two young boys when the war finally finds the village, and Igor is captured by soldiers and taken away. Lena and her children leave the village to try and find Igor, but she never finds him in her travels, but manages to lose both her children - one to death, another to a farmer and his wife who offer to trade their travel papers for her eldest son. It's brutal and sad and heartbreaking watching Lena lose everything over and over.

My favorite thing about the book was the writing. It was slow and beautiful. It's very unspecific about the passage of time and the details of life. But the relationships - Lena with her first family, Lena with her uncle and aunt, Lena and the stranger, Lena and Igor, Lena and her oldest son Solomon: oh, they are beautiful. And sad. And real. I also loved the lists. They are always sending one another lists, and the lists are the love letters, which seems like a very strange thing before this book but now seems very beautiful. A list of very specific words that mean specific things in a relationship can say more than a paragraph or even an essay, if the right person writes them and the correct person reads them.

Here is one example: "Perl - this is how I love you - as she hold the worn piece of paper in her trembling hands - dog, pillow, mask, cabbage, kiss shovel. Perl imagined each item as a creature at her feet, an army her daughter had summoned to look after her. I almost remember who you are, the note read. 'I almost remember who I am too,' Perl said..." Just reading it again makes me want to sob!

This is such a different type of war novel. While I as the reader knew the atrocities that were going on, the villagers had no idea. Lena has only a vague idea of the war as she encounters people on her journey. She doesn't know that millions of Jews just like her are dead, or are finding themselves in the same position as her: alone in the world, no home to return to because everyone is dead, no plan or safety to flee to. So in this way, it's just like every other war novel. Because it really does not matter at all if you know the details - the number who were killed or how the Americans and Russians and Brits defeated the Nazis and the Fascists or where the concentration camps were or how Hitler killed himself. The only thing that matters is that real people who loved and lived and worked and had lives were subjected to war, which always makes everyone lose.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunday night thoughts

One of the afternoons when we were in San Diego last month, Ben and I went to the beach at high tide. It was the first time I can ever remember being there at the exact time of high tide. We were playing out in the waves like we always did, but it was crazy. The waves were deeper and they came so much faster than we were used to. After diving into a wave, it was necessary to come up as soon as possible and get sure footing and look to see what was coming. The few times we didn't do this we were knocked off balance, or went under without meaning to. It was a lot of hard work, and I got tired really soon.

I've thought a lot about the ebb and flow of life in the past years. When I taught Sunday School a few years ago, I would talk about it with our class. I always thought that the hard times in my life were when the water was ebbing: I felt thin, I felt bereft, I felt that I was far away and that life was in slow motion. But that day on the beach when the waves came one after another and I had to be so diligent (diving, getting my feet under me, coming up, looking out for the next wave) I realized that for now, the hard time is a flow. The waves are fast and I can't always see what is coming or understand what to do with it once I see it.

Here are a couple of the waves that are coming at me.

Church these days - it's hard. I'm in a loop right now where I'm really ok with everything to do with God and Jesus, but my testimony of other things is struggling. There are things I can't say "I know" about anymore. But I'm okay with that.

I remember a few months ago I was talking with a friend who is in my ward who has gone through a lot of hard things, and now she is a lot less active than she used to be. She said one of the hardest things about being at church in her new life is how fragile people treat her, as if at the slightest word or look will cause her to leave the church forever.

I loved that she told me that. It helped me to realize that in my own current struggle, I don't want to be treated like I am fragile. I also don't want to act fragile in my struggle. I want to boldly admit that I don't know all that I used to know. But I want to say just as boldly that I still want God in my life and I vehemently want to believe that I'm still loved by Him and even think that he probably understands me a little and even knew that I would feel this way and struggle like this. I want to feel worthy of that love and I want to declare to the wonderful young women that I work with (and the older women too, and the boys, and well, everyone!) that they are worthy too.

I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving or wanting to leave. But I'm also not the same person I used to be. It's been hard but rewarding to go through this time. I have more empathy for others who struggle. I'm more likely to voice my doubts in a meeting than I used to be, even if I worry that my comment will make me look "less faithful" than I would have wanted to appear in the past. It's a process.

Anxiety. Remember when Harry Potter went into Gringotts Bank at the end of Deathly Hallows and how he had Griphook on his back, whispering what to do to get past the Goblin security? Well, I feel like my anxiety is like Griphook, except it's only him under the invisibility cloak. People can see me, and some people can see Griphook, but most just feel him on my back and wonder what is making my shoulders so tense and my walk so unsure and unsteady. (hmm, I started this post out with a wave analogy. I'm easily distracted!)

I go through times when I don't think about it at all, and others when it's all I ever think about. I have a lot more days that are good, which is a big relief. But some moments I feel like I will never stop over thinking every tiny body sensation, or analyzing everything I do to see if it's a connection to it. I've made some good connections lately - I've realized how much my emotions are tied to how long it's been since I've eaten, and that staying really hydrated is a must. Which are two good things to know regardless of whether I'm anxious or not. I need to take care of my body and know what it needs so that it can take care of me. I'm also trying to not be so hard on myself when I am anxious or just having a hard time. I want to get to a place where I accept that it is part of my life, a part that I didn't really want or ask for, but that I can live with.

Those are two of the biggest waves I'm paying attention too. There are others but I'm not wanting to go into much else tonight. I'm actually in a pretty damn good place even with these things. I'm liking who I am and feeling that even if I don't have all the answers, I can do this.

Are you watching the waves come in? Are you in ebb or flow when the tough times start?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer 2016, as told in pictures

With everyone back to school, it seems like a good time to document our summer.


After our lovely winter snow shoeing adventures, I decided we needed to also spend some time in the mountains in the summer. We went on a few hikes together - not as many as I'd have liked to do, and we only officially finished a few, but it was fun going to new places in our beautiful mountains. Places we hiked: Desolation Trail, Ferguson Canyon, The Living Room, and Yellow Fork.

Random stuff

At the first of the summer, we had some really fun repairs (stove, garage door, and drier.) While it was fun to take apart our new-ish drier and replace some parts, I could have lived without it.

I spent most Thursday evenings running with two friends from young women. 

For my birthday, I signed up for a class with Brene Brown and Oprah. It's based on one of Brene Brown's books, The Gifts of Imperfection. One of the first assignments was to make "permission tags," an assignment where I gave myself permission to do things I normally wouldn't think I could do. I guess I need a lot of permission, as this was my page.


As last year's vacation was pretty lame, we decided to go back to San Diego for this year's trip. We stopped off in Las Vegas for a night. It was fun to travel with older kids - Shane and I were able to leave them in the condo and go out for the evening. We ate dinner at a restaurant in Caesars Palace right by the fountain that is inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It was a really fun time. I must have a lot of my dad in me, because I really get excited to go to Las Vegas. I like to get dressed up and roam a bit in the evening.

Me and Ben playing in the pool while we waited for our room to be ready. There is a unique feeling to a pool in the middle of the desert. It reminds me of being a kid.

Mmm. I can still taste the delicious spaghetti with meatballs I had while sitting here. It came as close as I've ever tasted to being like pasta in Italy.

We were super happy to be back in San Diego. We sat by the pool, visited the ocean, toured Old Town and ate delicious Mexican food, rented paddle boards on the bay (which may just be a little bit of heaven on earth!), ran on the beach, took a yoga class on the bay, watched the fireworks at Sea World every night from our room, and enjoyed ourselves, all while trying to keep one 11 year old who never stops moving entertained. Man, take me back there!!

I found these little signs - two on my morning runs, and one while eating dinner. I thought they accurately portrayed the past year for me.

The words below say "Poseidon Riding Hippokampus with Dolphin." Amen.

Ben tried out for a competition soccer team. We've really enjoyed watching him play soccer. He played in two tournaments and his season starts in September.

Thomas ran with the cross country team most summer mornings. He's had 3 cross country meets so far - one intersquad and two other actual meets. He's starting to like running more.

I couldn't resist getting the new Harry Potter book. Review will be forthcoming. But: I cried at least once.

Not pictured: 4th of July swim party at my sister's house, hanging pictures at my mom's house, Bee's game with Shane's work, Thomas going to youth conference, paddle boarding on vacation, reading SDBBE books, niece's and nephew's baby showers, Ben and Kaleb bonding at the trampoline place, mother-in-law's neck surgery, and more that I'm sure that I've forgotten.

How was your summer?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book review: The Nest

My library system (which I love dearly and for so many reasons!) has a “Lucky Day” program that can help you score a new, popular title that would normally require a months-long hold wait and go home with it that day. I’ve gotten a couple of books this way, but the 7 day limit with no holds or renewals sort of cramps my style – I generally won’t have enough time to finish. (I really enjoyed the 2 or three essays I finished from last Lucky book – Neil Gaiman’s View from the Cheap Seats, which I read on a very hectic day in June. I didn’t come close to finishing the book, but they provided just the respite I needed for a day that I may eventually blog about. Maybe I should check out more essay collections?

During last week’s epic pre-birthday library visit, I found an available copy of The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. It had been on my hold list forever and so I was a bit excited to take it home. From the first page, I was hooked. It tells the story of four siblings, Leo, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody who are all eagerly awaiting a sizable inheritance (the “Nest”) that will finally be theirs in just a few months. When Leo, the oldest brother, has a terrible accident that decimates the Nest, the other siblings freak out. They had all made financial choices that would have been erased once they inherited, but all that is now in jeopardy.

I thought this was a smart, funny, thoughtful book. The sibling interaction was very interesting to me; I saw parts of myself and my own 3 siblings in each of them. I was particularly interested in the youngest, Melody, who’s a bit of an anxious control freak. Her frenetic overthinking and planning and worrying – well, I can’t imagine why that would seem familiar to me. Near the end, she has this moment as she turns 40 and she realizes that what used to work just doesn’t anymore, and she has to start letting go of things held too firmly, of control over her husband and twin daughters, of perceptions of her relationships with her siblings, and her definition of what it means to be a successful parent. I really loved Melody on the entire novel, and I was cheering her on with her new direction and realization of her place in the world and her family as the novel ended.

I don’t know that this book is for everyone. But the writing was great, the subject matter was refreshing, and, best of all, the length was perfect, since I finished it in the allotted 7 days, and so I might not even incur fines for it. Lucky day indeed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hallelujah - I'm 41!

I'm 41. Good riddance to 40.

The past year - gah, I've been a mess. I may still be, but just being past the year in which I was 40 is a giant relief. 

In the late evening last night, I went to the library. After an enjoyable 20 minutes of texting with Amy in library-desperation of finding a book, I walked out into a beautiful sunset. I sat on a bench and took a picture and I realized: it's over. I don't have to be 40 anymore. The sky and the birds and the trees and the twilight all over made me so happy and relieved. 

There haven't been many moments of sheer joy. There have been way too many filled with other emotions (that just writing about feels me with dread.) I know that an age really doesn't matter, but the 365 days that began on July 4, 2015 were all tied in to the idea of turning 40 and feeling betrayed by my body and my mind and everything about myself that I thought I knew. 

I went to bed feeling happy. I woke up feeling happy. My birthday has been really great and it all seems so simple and unexpected. I wish I could have felt on my 40th birthday what I feel today. But I was a different person then and I guess I needed to go through this past year to know what it can be like.

At 41 -

I'm more willing be authentic.

I'm more willing to say my feelings.

I'm able to understand my feelings.

I'm able to control my reactions. Maybe not perfectly every time, but I'm much less reactionary.

I'm less willing to believe everything I think.

I'm trying hard not to spend so much time in my head.

I realize that not making a choice is making a choice, so I'd rather just decide and move on.

I'm trying to not worry about what others think.

I've been thinking about the Harry Potter quote from Deathly Hallows, when Harry is asks Dumbledore "Is this real, or is it just happening in my head?" And how Dumbledore says, "Well of course it's happening in your head, but that doesn't make it any less real." (I'm paraphrasing!) It's sort of been playing out daily for me in two ways: real things seem less so, and my thoughts seem immeasurably real and giant (and, honestly: frightening!) But I'm ready to believe more in the things I can taste and see and smell and feel and that are real and stop living in the imagined future and reimagined past.

41. I'm only 1 day into it, but I'm so happy it's here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I'd rather....

- spend the day at the beach than the zoo.

- lie to you if I think the truth will hurt you.

- change the subject or focus if I don't agree with what you are saying than have to debate my point.

- drink a Coke than a Pepsi.

- stifle a creative endeavor if I think it's not going to be perfect or as good as the ideal in my head, or as good as someone else could do it.

- have a conversation about what is really happening in your life than make small talk about the weather or what I ate for lunch.

- know your what favorite book is than your favorite shoe designer.

- apologize to you than hear you apologize to me.

- go to the library than the bookstore (but I still really like the bookstore.)

- buy lunch than make one.

- sit by myself in church.

 - read a novel than a memoir.

- wear flip flops. Always.

- wear a cute skirt than a pair of work pants.

- not tell you how I really feel, because I don't feel like my point of view will stand up in the light of yours.

- have a cat than a dog.

- hike uphill than down.

- be warm than cold.

- wear a full-zip jacket to a quarter zip or hoodie.

- have thumb holes.

- drive myself so that I can use the fastest route.

- help you than ask you to help me.

- not worry anymore what others are thinking about me.

- have the knowledge I've gained over the past year. But it would have been nice to have learned it in an easier way.

- drink a rootbeer freeze than a milkshake.

- be authentic to myself.

- spend time making memories with my loved ones.

- be there for you than let you be there for me.

- cook dinner rather than do the dishes.

- eat pancakes or waffles than eat french toast.

- run than walk.

What would you rather?