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Archive for September, 2012

In Poor Taste at Best

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

There are days when it seems like the 1950s were so long ago.  I mean, I haven’t gone to a sock hop in ages!  But then, just when I was starting to get nostalgic I was provided a comforting dose of antiquation via Nanny and TheKnot.com.

I’m kidding, a little bit.

As you may recall from posts earlier this year, Nanny got married last spring.  Like countless brides before her (myself included) she used TheKnot.com to keep many aspects of her wedding planning efforts organized and on track.  The wedding was gorgeous and perfect and so suited to her and her husband.  They’ve been happily trotting along as newlyweds for six months now, so TheKnot.com decided it was time to check in with her and… suggest that maybe it was time for her to start thinking about getting pregnant!

Pushing parenthood on newlyweds just to drum up business for your baby planning website is in poor taste at best.  Nanny was irked, and rightfully so.  I, on the other hand, was completely perplexed.  Who decides to get pregnant because a website suggests that it’s time?  Seriously.  Who?

The marketer in me understands the organic growth strategy.  Get more business out of your existing customers.  It’s a solid strategy as it is always easier to keep an existing customer than to find a new one.  But for websites like TheKnot there is a relatively short shelf life for its value proposition – usually no more than a year.  And if anything is as prone to make a woman feel neurotic, out of control, and in need of assistance in planning as a wedding, it’s a pregnancy.  Nevertheless, I still question the tact at play here.

I can think of so many interesting ways for a site like this to try to maintain a relationship with its client base.  Reminders of monthly anniversaries and creative ideas to celebrate the little markers en route to the first anniversary.  Wedding-related holiday gift ideas.  And perhaps a cute, only-slightly-forward note around the one-year mark that says something like:

 We try not to bother you too much because we know you’re quite busy in your life as a happy newlywed, and we would never want to be pushy.  We just want you to know that when the time is right, if you want help planning for a baby we’d love to hold your hand along the way.

Competing for the mindshare of busy young women is no small feat.  I grant them that.  But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still require finesse.  The 1950s were great in a lot of ways.  But women have more options on the table today than mere procreation.  TheKnot would do well to remember that.

I Want To Be 100 Years Old

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

I should clarify that. 

I want to be 100 years old… eventually.  For the moment I’m quite happy at 35. 

I’ve been thinking about age a lot lately, though.  Last week* I celebrated my birthday.  At the same time I started sort of digging into Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s work which promotes wellness and longevity achieved by adhering to a nutrient-rich diet.  Then yesterday (with birthdays still on the brain) as I was out for a bit of a walk after lunch I decided that I want to live to be 100 years old. 
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I’m not sure when it started, but for a very long time I’ve cared a great deal about my health.  I suppose it goes back to high school and a fixation on my weight.  But since then I’ve come to a consistent happy place on the scales (I still weigh myself at least three times a week…) and now my concerns are more tied to my actual well-being.  I’ve always been a regular exerciser.  I eat a reasonably balanced diet.  I get regular checkups.  And I usually get plenty of sleep.  But if I’m going to play the long game – and what game is longer than 100 years? – then I need to do more. 

Lately I’ve been reading more and more about how the American approach to disease – treatment, rather than prevention – is all backwards.  This isn’t to say that everyone who has cancer or diabetes is at fault for their illness.  It is to say that scientific research has shown us how to dramatically reduce our risk factors, and I intend to do just that.  I have some sense of how I’ll go about it.  The sweeping majority of it will be dietary – increased consumption of things like beans, lentils, Swiss chard, and blueberries, and decreased consumption of things like white starch, meat, and soda.  Changes to my nutritional profile won’t be the sum total, though.

I want to relax more.  I want to smile more.  I want to feel more purposeful.  I want to read more books and take more baths.  I’ve felt static lately, as though my life – while abudantly happy – isn’t being cultivated as it should.  I want to be happy and thriving on my hundredth birthday, not merely hanging on.  For that to be the case I need more than phytonutrients.  I need a not just a balanced diet, but a balanced life. 

In all honesty, I may not be that far off.  But I think a few thoughtful changes might go a long way.  I don’t yet know what they’ll be, but I plan to write about some of them here.  Perhaps you’d like to see your hundredth too.  Perhaps we should celebrate together! 

*During an unplanned week-long blogging hiatus - the juices just weren’t flowing…

Family Traditions

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend thinking about traditions.  Specifically, I wondered what my own family’s traditions will be.  It was an assortment of hot air balloons that sent me on this mental tangent.

Every year our city hosts a hot air balloon race.  The race is always held on a Saturday.  And on the night before they have what’s called the Balloon Glow.  All of the balloons are inflated, but tethered to the ground.  After the sun sets the inflated balloons synchronize their flames so that they all glow in unison.  It’s really pretty amazing.

Many families take blankets, camp chairs, picnic suppers, and make an evening of it.  Even if we’d had the forethought to plan such an evening, IEP’s bedtime would have cut us short.  But as I watched children running around, parents sitting back watching them, and a backdrop of glowing hot air balloons I thought ahead to next year.  IEP will be nearly three and I wonder if we might be one of those families relaxed on blankets enjoying a perfect autumn evening.  And I wonder if we’ll go every year; if the Balloon Glow will become one of our family’s traditions.

I look back to my own childhood and think fondly of some of our traditions:  Sour cream coffee cake and scrambled eggs on Christmas morning.  Playing miniature golf during vacations to Colorado.  “Going around the table” during dinner after church every Sunday and contributing our own responses to a common question.

As I think about these things I’m struck by the fact that I have no idea how or why or when each one originated.  I’m quite confident that my parents didn’t set out to make them traditions.  They evolved organically – threads in the fabric of our family that emerged into a pattern over time.

So, back to today, and back to my family.  Here is my question:  Must traditions evolved organically?  Or can we be proactive about creating them?  And if they come about on purpose, are they cheapened by that genesis in any way?

I suppose, more than anything, I hope that my family has traditions.  I hope that we will have quirks and idiosyncrasies that are enduring and beloved.  I hope that our traditions are remembered affectionately by my children when they are grown.  I imagine that every family has traditions of some kind, and that ours will be no exception.  But we are still a young family and most (if not all) of our family traditions are still to be born.  So I am left to wonder what they will be and where they will come from.  My mind could go in a thousand directions with a topic like this.  But I suspect I will be best serve by letting our traditions develop on their own.

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This post was originally published two years ago, and this weekend we will attend the Balloon Glow for the third time.  I think, perhaps, it is becoming a tradition.  At the very least, it’s something we look forward to and really enjoy.

Insulated

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

I’m not a big Twitter user.  I tried to be.  Actually, I’ve tried a few times.  But I fail every time.  It’s a failure I’m willing to live with.  Most people aren’t that interesting in 140 characters, and I have little patience for Tiny URLs and hashtags.  Nevertheless, a Tweet from Emily Nussbaum (which I found via a slide show on HuffPo) gave me something to chew on.  A few days ago she tweeted,

“I’m better off than I was 4 years ago, because back then, I had a 2 year old and a baby. Thank you, Obama!”

Obviously President Obama had nothing to do with the fact that her kids are now six and four.  Obviously, she’s making light of the current election-year climate, in which candidates try to take credit or cast blame for everything that has happened in our lives since the last time pollsters dedicated their lives to ruining my children’s nap time with robocalls.  The march of time happens no matter who’s in office.  And much of the good and bad that befalls us between election years has little to do with who took the oath of office on a fated January day.

I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Is it good that my life is so insulated from the politics of the Oval Office?  Is it good that our elected officials can dicker and lobby and negotiate over issues for weeks and months and on a daily basis the only ways in which it affects me are through the coverage I listen to on NPR?

I suppose it means that I’m lucky.  I am not in the military.  I don’t have “pre-existing” medical conditions.  I am not a gay person who wants to get married.  I am not a small business owner (not that small business ownership is a misfortune of any kind).  I don’t even have any kids in the public education system.  But does that mean that only people in certain sectors of society are actually affected by the policies set by our government?  As an average white woman living in the middle of the country should I really be that far removed from the repercussions of my government?

In the long run, I am not.  But on a day-to-day basis it sometimes feels like it, and part of me is grateful for that.  I am thankful that I am healthy, have a good job, am not subject to military deployment, and live in a part of the country that is reasonably economically stable.  My life today is vastly different from my life four years ago, but – much like Emily Nussbaum – that is due to the presence of two little boys who had not yet arrived on the scene during the 2008 election.  My life is more full but less restful.  It is less predictable and more filled with adventure.  It includes more diapers and fewer dates with my husband.  It is filled with more hugs and more spills than my life was four years ago.  These things would all still be true if John McCain had been elected.

Even though the layer of insulation that exists between me and the federal government is a byproduct of a largely privileged life, I’m not convinced it’s a good thing.  It allows me – when I’m feeling lazy – to disengage from the political world more than I should.  It allows me to focus only on my own existence, and not on those whose lives are drastically affected by policy shifts.  It gives me the opportunity to live an insular life that negatively impacts the degree to which I am informed about the world around me.

I try to do a decent job of looking outside myself; of understanding how our government’s actions have real and vivid effects on so many other people in this country.  I have no idea how I succeed on this score compared to other people.  I’m sure I could do better.  And I’m sure I could do worse.

In four years my two boys will be seven and four.  There will be things about that life that are vastly different from the life I live now.  And those changes will come about largely independent of whether President Obama wins a second term or not.  That doesn’t mean, though, that I get to stop paying attention.

The End. The Beginning.

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Today is IEP’s last day of freedom.

I make it sound so foreboding, don’t I?  I don’t mean to.  Honestly, I shouldn’t.  The thing that awaits him tomorrow?  It’s his first day of school, which, when you get right down to it is one of the most wonderful things that will ever happen to him.  It will open the doors to learning and friendships and adventures of all stripes.  Truly, I am excited for him.  He is excited.  We are all excited.

With each rite of passage, though, we leave something behind.  In this case it’s the very last vestige of his babyhood, and that (at least for me) is not without some sadness.  No longer will he play in his pajamas while I get ready for work.  No longer will he get to look at Nanny when she arrives and proclaim, “I want to go to the Science Center today,” (as he did just yesterday).  And most of all, no longer will each day be his blank slate to fill with nearly anything of his choosing.  It is the end of something.

It is also the beginning of something.  Starting school is a happy occasion.  It is also a privilege.  But there will likely come a day when it will be a chore; when IEP will long to stay home in his pajamas doing the 7th grade equivalent of spending the morning playing with his toy trains.  When that day does come I will think back on this time in his life, on how unencumbered it was by responsibility or obligation.  And perhaps there will be a day here and there when I indulge him.  Perhaps there will be a day here and there when I try to recreate for him the joys and freedoms of being three years old.

This morning was like most others.  There was breakfast in the sunroom.  There was a long walk with the boys in the double jogger and the dogs on either side.  There was the instruction that it is IEP’s “very important job” to make sure that his bed is made and that he is dressed before Nanny gets here.  It’s a routine we’ve been practicing for weeks in preparation for this very moment.  We are ready.  But even though we’re ready – or more adroitly, even though he is ready – I am not entirely ready.  That, though, is the tricky, slippery, unwieldy thing about raising kids.  They continue growing up whether we’re ready or not.  I’m still a relatively green parent, but I’d be willing to wager that I’ll never be entirely ready, and that each new phase will come accompanied by a silent internal chorus of, “But I’m not ready yet!”  I will sing the chorus to myself over and over and over, and it won’t change a thing.

IEP hasn’t been a baby for some time now.  Starting tomorrow I won’t be able to fool even myself anymore.

The Separation of Labor and Leisure

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

SSP takes in the view at Sprague Lake

As a rule we are on-the-go vacationers.  We pick destinations that offer a wide variety of things to do and see.  And, accordingly, we make the most of our time on each vacation getting an early jump on the day and making each day a full one.  With kids in tow we carve out time for naps, but other than that we schedule very little down time.  By and large this kind of vacation really suits us – we love feeling productive and stimulated at the end of a day whether home or away.  There are times, though, when I long for something slower and quieter.

Last month we spent six days in Colorado escaping the Midwestern heat and busying ourselves with museums, baseball games, picnics, and hikes.  On Day Two of the trip, as we drove from Denver to Boulder I reminisced to GAP about the Colorado vacations of my childhood; full weeks spent in mountain cabins and filled with little more than hiking, fishing, and many games of cards.  I pined for that magnitude of escape – allowing myself to deeply disengage from the details of daily life and fully surrender to an existence that is wholly leisure.  GAP couldn’t understand why.

“But why can’t you do that at home? GAP asked.  “If you want to take a step back and enjoy some deep relaxation more often, there’s no reason you can’t do it at home.”

I responded, “At home I’m too aware of all the things I could be doing – laundry, cleaning the house, bathing the dogs, making baby food.  You name it.  There’s something about being away from home and removed from that to-do list that allows me to relax more completely.”

“But you like being busy.  If you wanted to relax more, you would.  You could take it easier on the weekends if you really wanted to.”

IEP and GAP stop to look for fish.

I told him that it is precisely because I keep myself busy under regular circumstances that I find the idea of a snail-paced vacation appealing.  I explained that the mere presence of potential productivity often overpowers potential relaxation and that is why I sometimes want to escape to a destination of forced down time

“That just doesn’t sound like the kind of vacation you’d enjoy,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re not that kind of person.  You keep yourself busy all the time.  I think you’d get bored after a couple of days.”

I offered up an analogy.  “That’s like you saying, ‘Gale, you’re a healthy eater.  You are the kind of person who pays close attention to diet and nutrition.  It just doesn’t make sense that you’d ever want to eat a cheeseburger.’  Of course I want to eat a cheeseburger.  It’s precisely because I’m so healthy most of the time that occasionally I really want to let myself enjoy the indulgence of a cheeseburger.”

Then he made me laugh at myself.  “No, that’s like saying, ‘I’m a healthy eater most of the time, but sometimes I have to go on vacation so that I can eat a cheeseburger.”  The boys were asleep in the back seat and I silently cracked up.  He had a point.

That conversation coursed through my mind several times over this past weekend.  We made the long weekend longer and headed to my in-laws’ house on Thursday for about four and a half days of utter and abject relaxation.   I did more sleeping and reading than I could ever manage at home.  Much of that was due the vast reduction in parenting responsibilities that comes with having two grandparents and multiple aunts and uncles on hand to help out with my kids.  But much of it was also due to the fact that I couldn’t have swept my baseboards even if I’d wanted to.  I was 200 miles away.

Does this little mini-break prove my point?  Is true relaxation is best done away from home.  And what role does willpower play?  Could I really disengage as much at home as I do when I’m gone?  Perhaps with some prep work.  If it’s the To-Do list that gets in the way then there a couple of ways to dispense with that.  Either I have to go far away from my To-Do list, or cross everything off of it.  These seem like extreme and impractical choices, but the other option – blowing off the To-Do list either in part or entirely – likely wouldn’t work for me.

I would like to be able to dial it down without leaving town.  It would probably be good for me.  And the fact that it rarely happens is nothing to be proud of.  I think I’d like to set a goal for myself of doing more relaxing at home.  I’d like to spend more time doing things that I find refreshing, rejuvenating, and not at all obligatory.  If this means that I do a better job of keeping the To-Do list short then all the better.