Thanksgiving: Feeling Thankful When Life Isn’t Perfect

321602_278316702194454_4244576_nIt was probably mid-July when I started to write a post about dust and sunlight. It was going to be about what you do when the sun shines through the windows in the late afternoon and illuminates the room so that dust that is normally invisible can suddenly be seen. I was going to make an analogy with our lives, and how sometimes we have moments where something strikes us about ourselves and we become truly clear about what we need to do……yet  we still don’t do anything….we leave the dust there, even though we know we should probably clean it up.

But that post never got finished because life turned kind of upside-down. Well, my laptop also was on the blink so I could blame that too. The reality was we had worked for almost a year getting our house ready to put on the market. We got rid of lots of random stuff we never used, we cleaned the attic and garage, we painted and fixed things and finally, we said “now or never”. All that work paid off. The house sold in a day. The closing came fast and before I knew it I was following my husband in a rental truck, me in our car down 84 west…..we were moving to Florida.

I was kind of pushed into an early retirement, having to leave both part time jobs that gave me so much joy (working at Connecticut Children’s Hospital and the Gengras Center School for children with special needs). I was leaving behind almost all of my family and most of my closest friends. My beautiful garden was left to someone else. I stuffed as many sentimental flower pots and lawn ornaments I could into that truck but moving to a condo meant I couldn’t take it all. It was hard to drive away from a life that took decades to build. And yet, I was so excited to be retired and not have to drive through any more snow storms during rush hour. I was thrilled to be in a new place where I could have sunshine and walk barefoot and swim most days of the year. Was I doing the right thing? I was so happy yet so sad.

I was a mess.

But I survived this big upheaval in my life. I am sure some of my friends reading this are thinking I am crazy to have even one ounce of regret. I mean, not having to work and living in the sunshine state? What on earth is there to complain about? I actually did (and still do) feel a gigantic sense of relief that I won’t have to deal with having to drive somewhere everyday, or deal with snow, especially driving in it, which I don’t enjoy. And as far as missing family and friends, well already I have visited for a few weeks and had more quality time with my daughters than I typically do (two sleepovers filled with lots of laughs). I dragged my mom down to Florida for a few weeks and trust me, she was ready to go back home. But the point is, I am realizing I can make time, precious meaningful time with my family and friends. It just may be more expensive, flying verses driving a few miles.

But what about joy? That’s what I got from work. That’s what I felt every day interacting not only with the cutest kids in the world, but the most inspirational co-workers, at both jobs. I have missed that joy and even though I have been so thankful for my easier but different life, I have not figured out this part yet. Yes, my visits with my daughters and family and friends back home gave me that joyful feeling, but I need it more regularly.

I have had a few moments down here though. I have met some amazing women who happen to be older than me. One in particular who happens to be 96 years old and sharp as a tack, as they say. She is absolutely beautiful, radiating a sense of happiness and joy. Whenever I have popped in to visit her she is always sitting near a window, soaking in sunshine or watching people walk by with her little bowl of Werther’s Original toffee candy nearby. She says she needs brightness and sunshine, lots of light makes her happy. She is funny and makes others laugh. When you ask what her secret is to looking so young (her face is smooth, not like you would expect for a woman in her 90’s who lives in Florida), she mentions her glass of scotch every night before bed. I doubt that is it, I am guessing it is her contagious joyful attitude. I was a bit worried when I heard she was in the hospital last week (due to COPD). Someone thought she wouldn’t be back. But then yesterday, while on a short golf cart ride around our block, guess who zoomed by? There was Bunny, sitting on the passenger side of the golf cart, her equally joyful and funny caretaker driving. I was thrilled to see her waving as she whizzed by.

I have also felt joy just listening to the ladies in my daily water aerobics class. That is the one reliable routine I have fallen into. Every morning at 9 am anywhere from 4 to 12 women, most in their late 70’s or 80’s join together to exercise. At first I thought I might be bored, not sure how much I would have in common with these women. But over time I learned their stories. Stories of pain and loss, and survival. So many have had some type of cancer, breasts removed, sections of lungs taken out, hip, shoulder and knee surgeries. loss of spouses and even children. And yet, they laugh and giggle constantly. They make jokes about their aches and pains and help each other modify the exercises to make it doable for everyone. They help each other, they are there for each other.

One remarkable lady lost her husband years ago, and then last year lost her older daughter in a car accident. She has an older son with special needs who often stays with her. She has health issues herself, yet, she shows up wearing her “bling”, making us all laugh and giggle. I love visiting her, her door is always open, no need to call, just pop in. Although the rule for our building is that you can only have 3 pots of flowers outside, Adele has ten times that! She is a gardener and loves her flowers. She says she just tells everyone she is “babysitting”. Anyway, this one particular day we were sitting on the couch and out of the closed guestroom came her son who I had never met. He struggled a bit with his walker, eventually making it out to the lanai. He introduced himself and even he made me laugh, telling me my feet were pretty (they are NOT, trust me). When I left her house that day and walked in my flip flops along the sunny brick walkway, I had that feeling, that feeling of happiness and joy. It hit me that I need to interact with people like Adele and her son and Bunny on a more regular basis. I need to be inspired by people who have gone through things most of us would struggle with. People who keep their sense of humor no matter what.

The one thing I sense these joyful people have is a feeling of thankfulness. They have gratitude for all that they do have despite their challenges. They are thankful for their sunny days and friendships. They are fulfilled by helping each other. Yes, they have gone through a lot, but they are survivors and they keep going, focusing on the funny side of life (which is always there, you just have to find it). I often hear someone say “we are so blessed!” These words out of the mouth of someone who survived lung cancer, needs monthly shots in her eye for vision issues, went through months of weekly infusions due to a rare infection that took months to cure. No complaints, no bitterness, just “we are so blessed”.

On this Thanksgiving day I know there are many going through really hard things. Many people I know have health issues, some have relationship struggles, others trying to make ends meet while raising a family. No matter what you are going through, what your struggles are, I hope you can learn from my new water aerobic friends the value of gratitude and looking at the good, not the bad in your life. As I write this, I realize how blessed I am. Now, time to make that pumpkin pie!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy every moment and all that you have.

PS. Thankful for my new laptop! More posts to come, next one probably to do with dealing with “the day after” Thanksgiving  : D

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

No automatic alt text available.One morning last week I went to jump out of bed as usual, ready to start the day in a rush. I had lots to do to get ready for my yearly holiday open house and had to start planning. I love mornings because that is when I have the most energy, however this one morning I encountered a little problem. I couldn’t walk. When my feet hit the floor and I began to move toward the bathroom door, I felt severe pain in the back of both calves that caused me to freeze in that spot and not move. What on earth is happening? That is what I thought at first, but then I paused to recall all of the probably stupid things I might have done to affect my calves like this. And then it came to me: lunges. My daughter had tried to show me the appropriate way to do lunges while we were hanging out in the kitchen, I was probably cooking (can’t remember, just that we were not exercising, just chatting). Somehow we got onto the subject of strength, flexibility, endurance, getting older and what was more important, etc. Anyway, I must have tried a lunge or two. Apparently, I did not get it right, and clearly, I probably need to do more as doing only a few affected my severly inflexible and weak calves in a major way. I was thrown because it really hurt. Needless to say, I limped toward the bathroom and vowed to fix this.

The funny thing is I actually have been making an effort to stretch and do yoga-y kind of things in the morning while I am watching the news because things like this have happened to me before. I am a happy slow jogger/walker/biker kind of exerciser, anything mindless that does not involve counting or time or thinking and serves to relax me. Plus my more aerobic types of activity have served me well over all these years, both keeping me sane as well as giving me a good amount of endurance (more than a lot of people my age I have noticed). I can work for hours moving wood, gardening, cleaning, shopping, you name it, I don’t usually poop out…..and I love that feeling. But, lately more than ever I have been experiencing things I really don’t love such as knives stabbing me in the back of my legs simply from getting out of bed. I need to fix this, that is what I thought.

As usual, experiences like this help me relate to a lot of people who are trying to change and become healthier. It is not easy. I started to think about all of the things people want to change like eating habits, drinking habits, sleep and fitness habits. What is so hard about it, and how long does it take? As the New Year rolls around and you start thinking about resolutions, I think it is so important to give yourself a reality check.  I see people make some common mistakes the serve as a guarantee that in a year from now they may be in the same spot. Here are some things that i have noticed and some suggestions on what may be a better way:

  1. Having really unrealistic goals. You know what I am going to say here. “Lose 10 pounds a month”. “Go to the gym every day after work”. “Run a mile in 7 minutes”.  “Stop skipping meals”. When you set lofty goals you are setting yourself up. How do you know if it is a “lofty goal” or unrealistic? Ask yourself if you have set this same goal before and failed. That might tell you something. Instead of doing the same thing year after year, why not stop and reflect on the true behaviors in your life that really do affect how you feel and even your health. For example, if you smoke cigarettes I think we all could agree that you are risking hurting your health and you definitely do not feel as good as you should. If you have tried to quit before by saying “I am quitting on Monday” and then slipped back to your old smoking habit, then chances are it may happen again. Instead, think about other options. Reading a book on quitting or checking into classes for quitting smoking is still a step toward accomplishing your goal (even if you don’t stop suddenly like you wish you could). The point is to move in a direction. Educating yourself and exploring your options is much smarter than doing the same thing over and over. When it comes to dieting and weight loss, if you have dieted before and it “worked” but somehow you have gained weight back, there are several questions you may want to ask yourself. The first being, why are you trying to lose weight? You know my thoughts on this, not everyone is supposed to have the same body. If your weight has been stable for years and you feel good and are healthy, then instead of jumping on the diet bandwagon, why not take time to reflect on where you want to be for the rest of your life? Could there be a different goal instead of changing your weight? Can you envision yourself years from now preparing healthy meals, being in tune with your hunger and fullness, freeing your mind to focus on learning how to eat healthier instead of counting calories? Following a “diet” may be helpful to some (so I have been told, and I never knock what someone chooses for themselves or what they find helpful). But, in the end, if you want to be your best and healthiest self ever, the diet won’t do it.
  2. Having a “start date”. I have noticed when people say “starting Monday I am going to blah blah blah” they tend to really overdue whatever it is they are stopping on the days and weeks before that magical date. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid this altogether by doing your research on the direction you want to go instead of doing the same thing over and over? For example, if your original goal is to lose weight, but you have decided to take the plunge and focus on eating healthier instead, why not pick something you know is not the best in your diet and focus on that? For example, if you want to drink less soda do some taste testing of flavored waters or experiment with infused waters (adding different fruits to water to flavor it). Then start by decreasing the amount you drink by increments you can handle. It is so easy to tell someone who drinks 8 cans of Coke a day to stop because it is bad for you. Have you ever had that habit? Personally, I dislike the taste of soda however I have known people who really feel they need it. They just can’t stop cold turkey but I have seen people do very well with weaning themselves off it they find a good substitute. So having a “start date” sets you up for overindulging as well as failure. Instead, looking at your long-term goals and moving in that direction is much more doable.
  3. Having self-expectations. Although I have decided I need to work on flexibility I have not given myself any specific expectations. I did that once and almost killed myself (I was going to be able to do a back bend by Christmas). It didn’t work and I could have hurt myself for life. Now, I go with the flow, sometimes taking more time in front of the morning news and other times just a few minutes because I did not get done what I needed to the night before. It doesn’t matter because I feel really good in that I am slowly developing this habit, this association between the morning news and stretching which has now become fun and enjoyable. I don’t need to do a back bend, ever. If you just let yourself move in a direction, just start something without imposing these crazy expectations on yourself, in a year from now, who knows where you will be? And if I ever am able to do a back bend, trust me, I will brag about it……but is is not my goal anymore.
  4. Defining what means “success” or “progress”. This is kind of related to number 3. When we impose ridiculous expectations on ourselves, we are almost guaranteed to feel unsuccessful.  I feel like I have made progress over these past months because my definition of success has evolved into a more realistic one. Are there things in your life that you are trying to change but don’t give yourself credit for? For example, having a goal of eating more fruits and vegetables is a smart goal for your health however expecting yourself to eat 5 cups every single day is hard. Just adding something to your lunch (like a fruit) is success. The more credit you give yourself for even small positive changes, the better your feel and the more likely you will keep doing it.
  5. Taking out instead of adding in. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say “I am giving up sugar”. Or coffee. Or soda. Or bread. Or carbs. Fast Food. You name it. Getting rid of unhealthy things in your diet doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but often this leads to the “all-or-nothing” thinking. So when a situation arises, and that person eats or drinks that forbidden thing they not only feel like a failure, they tend to give up on their health goals. Instead, try thinking about “adding in” instead of “taking out” For example, for the soda person, carrying some water bottles with you might help to quench that thirst and prevent a trip to the vending machine. For the sweet tooth, having some extra fruit in your lunch, or even purchasing “Fun Size” candy bars instead of giant ones may help move in the right direction. Not to say you can’t enjoy a jumbo candy bar when you really want one. It is just the mindless habits of buying things and then thinking you can magically eliminate them from your life that doesn’t work. And instead of “cutting out pasta” why not “add in vegetables” to your dinner? Adding in the healthy instead of unrealistically cutting out all of the other stuff makes more sense. (Note: the exception to this is people who truly can’t control eating sweets or other things if they are around and this leads them to binge eating. You know yourself best and you need to do what you need to do for YOU. These suggestions are for the average “dieter” mindset. We are all different and need to respect these differences).
  6. Comparing self to others. I know lots of women my age who can do a lunge without paralyzing themselves the next day. I know women who are yoga teachers who can touch there toes to their heads and even stand on their heads. This will probably never be me. If you compare yourself to others you are setting yourself up to feel inadequate (not always, but sometimes). We are all unique in what we enjoy, how we like to move, our sleeping habits and foods we like to eat. Block everyone else out of your mind and think about where YOU are personally and where YOU want to be.
  7. Cultural ideals over personal needs. Things change year to year when it comes to what is cool to eat (right now it is pink salt and coconut anything). You also have the diet fads and exercise trends that are easy to get caught up in. Try to be aware of the goals you are setting for yourself, and ask yourself “am I choosing this just because everyone else in the world is doing it? Or is this something I want to do because it makes so much sense to me and I feel so much better when I do it this way? Have you done the research into the facts about whatever it is you are starting to try? Instead of jumping on the band wagon, again, think about where you want to be years from now (not next month). If it is truly not you, skip it.

The bottom line, as my mom always used to say “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” I never really thought about what she meant when she said it, but now I think I get it. We don’t need to set deadlines for change, we don’t need to have unrealistic expectations, we need to stop putting time limits on ourselves. Instead, habits take time to change. We used to think it took 21 days but according to Psychology Today it is more like 66 days. Yes, change takes time, but is also takes falling on your face and failing . You learn something when you get out of bed and can’t walk to the bathroom because you were stupid enough to think you could do a lunge when you haven’t done one in…well, ever. I know I have learned I am much less flexible than I thought and at the rate I am going, it may take a few years to be able to be as flexible as I want to be. But I feel good because I have been able to incorporate it into my life. Even those 10 minutes a day is a huge success in my mind. It is a great feeling to have low expectations sometimes. I still feel like I am moving in a direction, and that feels good.

Happy New Year and here’s to you and your healthier direction, whatever that may be!!!