First World problems

By Jeanne Reynolds

Don’t you hate when people whine and moan about their lot in life, with apparently no perspective on what the rest of the world is dealing with and what’s really important?

I do, too. Even when — maybe especially when — it’s me doing the whining and moaning.

Florence flooding 2I just finished sending a long email to several family members with all the details about travel and accommodations for an upcoming reunion at the beach. As in North Myrtle Beach. And even as I explained all the wrinkles and complications that have come up because of Sister Florence, I knew there are tens of thousands of my fellow Carolinians (South and North) dealing with far, far worse problems post-storm. Instead of focusing on how inconvenient — and in one case, impossible — it’s going to be to get everyone where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there, I should be turning my thoughts and prayers on those folks whose homes and hopes have been washed away. I mean, I’m talking about a vacation trip, for goodness sake.

Here’s another example: As I write this, I’m sitting high and dry in my lovely marsh-front home near Beaufort (which thankfully was spared a full-frontal assault this time). Two good friends have just left after we enjoyed four great days together playing in a golf tournament. I followed a good round yesterday with an incredibly miserable one today and lost a match I could easily have won, which has left me well down in the dumps. And I have to seriously scold myself to remember how blessed I am to even be in this situation, in such a beautiful place, NOT dealing with storm damage and with the physical ability, financial resources and job flexibility to do this in the first place.

In fact, most of my so-called troubles in life are what you’d call First World problems. People in Third World countries struggle to get enough to eat and clean water to drink. Meanwhile I worry if my pants are getting too tight (too much to eat) and gnash my teeth over a malfunctioning irrigation system (plenty of water to spare). I have a mountain of laundry to do (well, really just a pretty small hillock) — while I sit in the air conditioning and push a few buttons so a machine can do all the work. I’m rehabbing a hip injury that’s kept me from running for the past month (if you’re a runner, you know this is BIG) — but I have health insurance plus a healthy enough bank account to get the treatment I need. And so far, my pants do still fit.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many (maybe even most?) of us do dwell on our own problems to the exclusion of others around us. It’s easy to lose perspective and forget these are gnats, not elephants, in my life.Florence flooding

I don’t know what the answer is, but one thing that couldn’t hurt is doing more volunteer work and making more donations to organizations trying to help some of those without enough to eat or drink, or whose homes are gone. I have to change my focus to change my perspective.

I’ll still have problems, First World or otherwise. But maybe, just maybe, they won’t matter quite as much.

Wishing my life away

By Jeanne Reynolds

As I write this, the wind is picking up. Every so often a gust blows through, whipping small tree branches and loudly rustling the leaves. And I know this is just the beginning.

But by the time you’re reading this, the storm will have passed — and I can’t help wishing I was already there in next week. “I can’t wait until Monday when the worst is behind us,” I think.

It’s hardly the first time. Last weekend I travelled halfway across the country to attend the memorial service for a favorite uncle. As much as I looked forward to reuniting with cousins I hadn’t seen in many years, the trip was long, stressful and tiring. “I can’t wait to get home Sunday night,” I thought several times before and during the visit.

Now that I’m back, I continue to look at what’s ahead on the calendar — even some really fun events including a family beach trip and several golf tournaments out of town — and find myself looking forward just a bit to having them behind me so life can get back to “normal.”

In fact, I seem to spend a lot of time wishing for some future time when everything will be better/easier/cleaner/organized/done: when I retire, when I move full time to Beaufort, when I get the house power-washed, when the cooler weather gets here. And on and on.

I don’t think this is the ideal way to live, and I know I’m not alone. Witness the plethora of advice online and in books and magazines for “living mindfully,” “living in the moment,” “minimalism” and “essentialism.” I get it: We aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, and focusing too much on the future robs us of today’s joy.

If awareness is the first step toward change, I’ve got one foot planted out front. If you, too, find yourself falling into the habit of wishing your life away, here are some ideas from PsychCentral that might work for you.

mind-full-or-mindful

7 small ways to live more mindfully every day

  1. Connect to your senses. Being mindful is being more aware of the moment. It’s using our senses to pay attention.
  2. Meditate in the morning. Meditation is a powerful way to practice mindfulness.
  3. Savor the sips of morning. As you take your first sip of coffee, tea or another favorite beverage, use it as an opportunity to savor the moment.
  4. Rethink red lights. Instead of letting make you feel stressed or anxious, use the opportunity to practice deep breathing.
  5. Make handwashing mindful. Take that moment when the water hits your hands to breathe and feel the sensation of the water against your skin.
  6. Break patterns. Take a different route on your daily commute or try something different for lunch.
  7. Count blessings at bedtime. Train your brain to look for things that are positive by identifying three things you’re grateful for.

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Pawprints on my heart

By Jeanne Reynolds

It’s taken me more than a month to be able to write this. It’s just been too hard to talk about or even think much about. In late July, we lost our beloved cat, Walker.

When I say “lost,” that’s not entirely accurate, because we know exactly where he is: galloping across kitty heaven, hanging out on God’s screened porch, purring loud as a motor boat as an angel’s hand reaches out to pet him.Walker on porch

Like any loved one, he was only on loan to us. But it’s still been so hard to give him back.

I know anyone who’s lost a fur baby has felt this pain. The staff at the animal emergency room – who see it all the time – were especially caring and thoughtful. They sent us a card with sweet notes that bring back my tears even as I read them six weeks later:

“Cats may be small in size but their spirits are large.”

 “Pets are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

 “They leave our homes but never our hearts.”

“Some angels have fur instead of wings.”

They also enclosed a printed page with a wonderful message. Maybe it will someday also help you, a friend or a family member with tender paw prints on their hearts.

Our Friend, Our Family

WalkerFolks are born so they can learn how to live a good life. This takes a long time. Pets already know how to do this, so they don’t have to stay as long.

These are some of the things our pets have taught us:

  • Live simply, love generously, care deeply and speak kindly.
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • Take naps.
  • Run, romp and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch your heart.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

Walker on couchAlso on that card was written this note: “Our furry friends never leave us. They run ahead and wait.”

I’m looking forward to our next faux-wrestling match and hearing that motor boat purr again one day, Walker. I know you’ll be waiting.

Going retro: In praise of the pencil

By Jeanne Reynolds

My company kicked me out of my office, but I’m not taking it personally.

They kicked everybody (who had one) out of their offices. In fact, most of us don’t even have a regular desk any more. Instead, it’s first-come, first-served for a “flex worker” seat anywhere you want. I get there early so I can snag a prime spot by the window. I plug in my laptop, adjust the monitors and chair, and I’m in business. It’s part of a new open working concept that’s supposed to enhance collaboration. (Does it? I’ll get into that another day.)

Since I don’t have a fixed location, any “stuff” I don’t bring back and forth from home every day has to fit in a 20” x 20” locker. You know, project files, my stash of snacks — and my pencils.Color Pencil Pictures Pencils Images Colored Pencils Hd Wallpaper And Background Photos

I love pencils. I like the way they feel and even the way they smell. I do all my writing, and nearly all my other work, on a laptop, but I still use a pencil for my calendar because it changes so much. Do I hear snickering over there about using a paper calendar? Well, next time your Outlook calendar doesn’t update properly so you miss an appointment, or your phone battery dies so you can’t check a meeting location, the laugh will be on you. Oh, and you have to scroll forever to see next month or next year, while I merely flip a few pages. Plus, I don’t like recording my personal life on my work calendar.

At home I use a pencil for my grocery list. Any fans of adult coloring out there? C’mon, please tell me you don’t use pens. It’s got to be colored pencils. And of course, golf scorecards are always marked in pencil. Golf pen? That just sounds weird.

Maybe the biggest reason I love pencils is the back-to-school memories they revive. I loved school and eagerly looked forward to the first day each year. And nothing says “school” like a new, yellow #2 pencil.

Here are some fun facts from the Musgrave Pencil Company. (These guys know from pencils — they’ve been making them for 100 years):

  • More than 14 billion pencils are produced worldwide every year.
  • About 2 billion of those are used in the U.S. (Ha! I’m not alone.)
  • A million are used on the floor of the U.S. Stock Exchange every year.
  • John Steinbeck wrote his novels in pencil. Supposedly he used more than 300to write his novel, “East of Eden.”
  • Pencils have been around for more than 450 years — but erasers were added only about 100 years ago. Apparently teachers thought they’d encourage mistakes. Well, maybe, but not having one sure stymies creativity. (Maybe the teachers finally read John Steinbeck.)

So back to the new, modern, nearly paperless office: They got rid of all the pencil sharpeners.

Every. Single. One.

It’s probably important to mention most of the discards during this massive remodeling went to worthy causes, such as local schools and nonprofit organizations. Mountains of three-ring binders, hanging folders, file holders, paper clips … and, apparently, pencil sharpeners.

That’s left me feeling a little dull. But not for long: I’m putting a visit to the office supply store across the street on my calendar.

In pencil, of course.

 

Letting go

By Jeanne Reynolds

I was in yoga class when it happened.

As I tried to ease into a downward dog (which looks more like a downward log thanks to my lack of flexibility, but that’s another story), the instructor encouraged us to let our necks relax and heads drop comfortably. That meant my eyes were facing directly back at my angled thighs. And that’s when I first saw it.

Loose, crepey skin hanging away from my legs. Like … OMG … old lady skin. Now, I realize I’m part of the Every Woman Blog team to fill a certain demographic, but seriously: When. Did. That. Happen?

And: Now I know why most people wear capri tights for yoga instead of an old pair of bike shorts.

I’ve never been mistaken for a Vogue cover model, but c’mon. These are an athlete’s thighs. Thighs that have run 5 Boston Marathons and regularly lift weights and walk 18 holes of golf once or twice a week. Apparently all that doesn’t overcome the fact that they’re also 61-year-old thighs.

A friend – several years younger, many pounds thinner and a much faster runner than I am – told me she’s noticed the same thing recently. It’s not really wrinkles. As she put it, her skin is letting go of her body.

That doesn’t make it look any better, but the idea of letting go does make me feel a little better. Because being able to let go of some things is one of the best parts of getting older. When I hear people long for their younger days and wish they were 21 again, I recoil in horror. I (vaguely) remember the things I obsessed over at that age that now seem so lacking in perspective. Which of course makes sense, because you can’t yet see the big picture from the bottom of the hill.

I’m realizing there are many things I’ve been glad to let go as I’ve gotten older:

  • Caring what I look like for a quick run to the grocery store.
  • Always having to tell someone when I disagree with them.
  • Feeling like I have to sign up/volunteer/donate every time I’m asked.

Of course, there are many more I’m still working on:

  • Worrying because I can’t ever seem to get everything done.
  • Feeling guilty when I need to say no.
  • Spending more time trying to make things perfect than simply enjoying them.

And there are things I hope I never let go:

  • Challenging myself physically and mentally. I don’t know if or when I’ll run another marathon or go sky-diving again like I did to celebrate my 50th birthday, but I won’t rule it out.
  • Being willing (even enjoying) looking completely silly while doing something fun. Catch me dancing to “Love Shack” and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Believing age is a number, not a definition.

So, fair warning: I’m going to yoga class tomorrow. And if I get the laundry done, I’ll be wearing those same old bike shorts. If it bothers you, I suggest you set up your mat on the other side of the room.

Or just let it go.

letting_go____by_senyan

Lady of leisure (or not)

By Jeanne Reynolds

Wow, what a great day I had today!

How often do you say that? Me, probably way less than I should. (Note to self: Pencil in “gratitude” for another blog topic.)

Here’s how it went:

I got up at 6 a.m. and ran a few miles to loosen up for a golf tournament. My playing companions – unknown to me until this morning – turned out to be extremely congenial and we cheered each other on through the round even though we’re also competitors. I played well enough to leave feeling good despite the (literally) 100-degree heat. On the way home it was still early enough to accomplish several errands (bank, gas, grocery store). I took a shower, did a load of laundry, checked work and home email and paid bills. Shortly I’ll be ensconced on the couch with a good book, a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers to relax before dinner, most of which the good folks at Publix have already cooked for me.IMG_3868

And I get to do it all again tomorrow.

That might not sound like paradise to you, but for a runner/golfer/ task-focused list maker/wine drinker/reader, it’s about as good as it gets. If this is what retirement will be like, I’m all in.

My past year of baby-stepping toward that promised land took a leap forward this month when I officially announced my plans to step down from my management role for a part-time job as a writer. 20 hours a week of (mostly) my choosing, a mix of in-the-office and at-home, doing the “fun” part of the job. And possibly most importantly, keeping the same health benefits. (Is that a sign of the times or what: “Will work for health care.” Another blog topic for another day.)

My “new life” starts in July, but I’m getting in some early practice by interspersing a few vacation days into my work week for golf (this week) and the beach (next week). And so far it’s exactly what I hoped it would be: a just-right blend of deadlines and downtime. Time really is the ultimate luxury.

I hear from friends who’ve trod this path before me that they’re so busy in retirement they don’t know how they ever had time to work. And to be clear, I’m only semi-retiring. Between those 20 hours and some freelance work, I’ll be spending plenty of time at the keyboard.

Still, I have to say taking this step is just a little bit scary. I think we’ve planned and saved carefully (with some excellent expert counsel) so we can afford it, but who knows what could be lurking around the corner? And I wonder if I’ll miss being in the middle of everything, in a role where people seek my help but not necessarily my opinion. Will I still count?

There’s only one way to find out.

Mama Mia!

By Jeanne Reynolds

Abba fans, sit back down — this isn’t about their song or the movie (and now a sequel) by the same name. But it does sum up my recent trip to Italy.

You know what it’s like when you look forward to something so much for so long, it can’t possibly live up to your expectations?

This trip was nothing like that. It. Was. Amazing.Tuscan countryside

What did I like best: the scenery, the art and architecture, the mind-warping antiquity, the food, the wine?

Yes.

A quick overview of our itinerary: Direct flight from Charlotte to Rome, 3 nights there including a private day-long tour with a guide, drive to Tuscany for 4 nights in Siena, drive to Sorrento for 2 nights there, and finally back to Rome for our flight back the next day.

We didn’t come close to seeing it all, but we saw a lot: the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, catacombs. And that was just in Rome. In and around Siena we climbed winding staircases up towers (400 steps in one case), marveled at museums full of priceless treasures, visited towering cathedrals and walked ancient medieval streets. Near Sorrento, we traveled up and down an impossibly narrow cliffside road with hair-raising turns, and then in a chairlift to the top of the Isle of Capri (yes, while wearing capri pants!). On the way back to Rome we visited Pompeii near the foot of Mt. Vesuvius and were overcome with wonder and sadness at a lost civilization.

Ignoring well-meaning advice from family members, we didn’t even consider a prepackaged, city-a-day group bus tour. That kind of trip has some advantages, but it wasn’t the experience I craved for my Italian adventure. Instead we stayed in very small bed-and-breakfasts I found online (I highly recommend Booking.com) and found our own way around using maps, GPS, phone apps and helpful locals. A couple of our accommodations were wonderful, one was mostly convenient, but all were clean, affordable and safe.

When we wanted to eat — and did we ever! — we asked our B&B hosts for First pizzarecommendations or just walked until something looked good. The results ranged from good to extraordinary, usually accompanied by the local house wine (or vino della casa, as we like to say). We tried wood-fired pizza with a thin, crisp crust, fried artichokes, Tuscan-style steak with rosemary and olive oil, grilled squid, crusty bread and of course, pasta. It’s hard to describe what was so wonderful about it, but fresh, local ingredients using old family recipes and al fresco dining are hard to beat. And the gelato … one of us had it every day (sometimes twice). It’s that good. And no, sadly no, nothing in the grocery store freezer case can possibly replicate it.

And guess what? Neither of us gained an ounce. Because first, the meals impress with flavor rather than size, and second, we walked an average of 5 miles a day, up and down hills and stairs. (Remember that tower? 400 steps up means 400 down, too.)

Of course, wonderful doesn’t necessarily mean perfect. Trying to figure out when we could park where in Siena without a ticket or a tow was challenging, and let’s just say Americans have a different standard when it comes to public bathroom facilities. And despite the GPS, maps and road signs, we frequently got turned around trying to find our destinations.

So, now that I’m a wily veteran of la dolce vita (that’s a joke, of course — we could go to Italy every year for the next decade and not experience all its wonders), here’s some advice:

Go.

Yep, that’s it. I was going to include a 7-point list of tips about protecting your passport and cash from pickpockets, how to tell if the gelato is homemade and which shop in Anacapri is best for handmade Italian leather shoes (surprisingly affordable, by the way). But there are dozens of guidebooks that can tell you that and a whole lot more.

And really, this isn’t about Italy. It’s about finding a way to visit the places and do the things you dream of. Life is too short not to.

That’s the advice I hope I remember myself.