Update

I haven’t written here for like 6 months, is that right? Holy cow. As with everything else I try to undertake, blogging left me feeling overwhelmed with an “all or nothing” attitude. I felt like I didn’t have the time to sit down and write earth-shattering posts daily or even weekly, so I just gave up entirely.

Yesterday I started reading a popular blog and was surprised to see that on occassion there were entries that were one short paragraph, a thought blurb that the author probably just wanted to get down on paper (or computer screen, I guess). I thought to myself, if this blogger with all his followers goes sometimes weeks without a post and then randomly types in a one sentence thought, I can stop neglecting my blog. There are no rules to blogging after all.

The blog I am referring to is “penmachine.com.” The author died last week from cancer, and had written a post to be published after his death. Fascinating. The post-mortem entry was interesting, but what I found more interesting were the entries he had written months, weeks and even days prior to his death. When I find out someone has died, I am obsessed with what was going through their mind in the final days. This blogger gave me a glimpse into his mind.

I am now inspired to write whatever I want whenever I want, and not worry about whether people are reading it or not. This is a record of events and thoughts for me…my life.

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But I like Christmas gifts!

A few nights ago, my siblings-in-law were over to discuss what method of gift-giving we were going to try this year to minimize expenses. In Christmases past, we tried drawing names, imposing spending restrictions, making a rule that gifts must be homemade, must be consumable, or contributing to charities in lieu of gifts. We couldn’t seem to agree on any of those methods this year. Every method had its problems. Drawing names was dumb because no matter who got who, the guys always ended up buying for the guys and the girls always ended up buying for the girls. Spending restrictions don’t work, because you search and search for something under $50, meanwhile passing up all the “perfect gifts” for that person because they are $51, and you end up getting them cheap crap. And homemade gifts? Yes, my artsy-craftsy very talented sister-in-law makes excellent homemade gifts, but my husband and my attempts at gift-making are always crap, and we end up going out and blowing money on last minute gifts. Donating to charities is wonderful, but my brother-in-law hit the nail on the head when he said “but I like getting Christmas gifts!”

These days, we are almost made to feel guilty for wanting stuff for Christmas. It’s funny, while being constantly bombarded by ads for the latest and greatest electronics, toys that will magically turn your kids into geniuses and a Lexus in your living room on Christmas morning, we are also being told to get rid of stuff in order to be happy, and to stop the consumerism.

But, like my brother in law, I also like getting Christmas gifts. When you get to be my folks’ age, you’ve probably already acquired most of the things you need, and you can go out and buy the things you want anytime – you don’t have to wait for Christmas to see if someone else will buy it for you. Therefore, it’s easy to say “all I want for Christmas is to spend time with you.” When you are my age, struggling to make ends meet, we have a list of needs, in order of priority. And waaaay down on the list are “wants” that we will never buy for ourselves, because there is always something needed more, especially now that we have a kid.

So when my family asks what I want for Christmas, do I feel a little immature and selfish handing over a “list” instead of saying let’s just spend time together? Yeah, I do. But you know what? I love getting lists from others. I love picking and choosing what to buy off that list and shopping for it. I love to get a little something besides what’s on the list, something special just for that person, a little Christmas surprise.

So this year we decided not to make any rules. We will spend what we want, buy what we want and give what we want to who we want. My husband and I may not be able to spend as much as others this year, but it doesn’t matter. They are our family, they love us and we love them. It’s not a competition with us – it’s thoughtful gift-giving.

Getting what I want for Christmas is a wonderful feeling – it allows me to cross a few things off my list, and I like to think giving out a list makes shopping for me a little less stressful for others. And making someone happy once a year by giving them a gift they wanted or that is a pleasant surprise? That’s the best feeling of all. And that’s what Christmas is really all about for me.

Happiness is being where you are – and Zoloft

I am pretty obsessed with self-improvement. I could spend hours poring over magazines, web sites and blogs dedicated to that content. It’s one of my favorite things to read about. In fact, I originally thought the focus of this blog would be my search for happiness.

I’ve been searching for contentment in my life for as long as I can remember. To my self, I’m never enough to be happy – pretty, thin, talented, smart, athletic, rich, etc. I know this isn’t a unique problem. Most people feel inadequate at one time or another in their lives. I think it only becomes a problem if your life becomes consumed with searching for external ways to acquire these things in order to become happy. This inner dialogue probably sounds familiar to you:

“When I graduate from high school/college I’ll be happy…”
“When I get married I will be happy…”
“When I have kids I will be happy…”
“When I get a new job/make more money I will be happy…”
“When I lose 20 pounds I’ll be happy…”
“When I retire I will be happy…”

Of course on your wedding day or the day you get a promotion at work you feel very happy, but that’s always a fleeting feeling, isn’t it? On an ordinary day, are you happy? Do you even know how to define your happiness?

I was hoping that during this period of unemployment I would be enlightened with my true path, and everything else would fall into place, especially money and happiness. That hasn’t even come close to happening, but over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed a subtle transformation in myself. Most of the time I feel good physically. Most days I have motivation to at least make my bed, some days I have more. I am enjoying getting out and seeing friends and family on a regular basis. I am not feeling the urge to drink alcohol every night to unwind or every time I go to a social event. I am exercising moderately and not obsessing over my weight. And I am pretty darn satisfied hanging out with my little guy every day. Dare I say it? Am I…happy? I’m thinking happiness for me is defined by a general feeling of content on most days. Of course some days I still cry when I hear a sad song, or get frustrated with not getting a call back on the zillionth job I’ve applied for, and I still have days where despite having a million things to do, I sit and watch tv and pig out. But overall I feel pretty good right now, which is quite unexpected given my bleak, even somewhat dire financial outlook.

I’m trying to take some advice from some of the blogs and magazines I am reading to be mindful, present, just breathe, etc. It does seem to be working. It is incredibly freeing to learn how to do this – stop the expectations you have of yourself and everyone else, stop worrying over things that can’t be controlled, and focus on and enjoy the here and now.
Right now is good enough. For some reason the universe wants me to be right here right now.

Of course, the party in my prescription drawer might have something to do with this sense of well being too, but that’s a topic for another post.

Nice Advice

They say for every insane amount of wonderful things that can happen to you in a day, you always dwell on and remember the one negative thing. That must be why my memories of grade school are mainly merciless teasing and name-calling from my peers, being ignored by the boys and left out by the girls. It couldn’t have been all that bad, but sadly, that’s what I remember.

I remember laying on my bed crying after one particularly bad day. My mom was sitting next to me trying to make me feel better. She was good at that. She gave me hope by telling me the nerdiest girl in her school grew up to be Miss America. Much later, she admitted making that up, but it kept me going for a few years. Anyway, the moral of her story was be nice to everyone, no matter what, because you never know what is going on in a person’s life or who they will turn out to be. For some reason, this advice resonated with me; probably because I felt guilty. Even though I knew all too well how awful it felt to be made fun of, I gladly went along with it on those rare days when the popular kids laughed at someone else’s expense instead of mine.

This simple advice, be nice to everyone, was burned in my brain as I started a new chapter in my life – junior high. I was so excited to go to a new school, make new friends, go to 7 classes in one day, have a locker! Oh who am I kidding…I was excited for all the new boys. Fortunately for me, I grew about a foot throughout sixth grade and the summer, leaving my baby fat behind while developing ample boobs. I also grew out the modified mullet hairstyles I donned in 3rd through 5th grade, and discovered what a little mascara and lip gloss can do for a girl. Apparently, 13 and 14-year old boys like that sort of stuff, and I was thrilled to finally be noticed.

No longer one of the nerds, I still tried my hardest to follow my mom’s advice and be nice to everyone I met. The kindness from others was returned tenfold, and junior high was easily my best school experience. I met so many cool people that I may have not known had I not followed Mom’s advice.

In grown-up world, there are so many reasons to not be nice to people. People can seem so rude and ignorant. They cut me off in traffic, or take up the whole aisle in a grocery store and then go so slow it hurts, or are just not as friendly to me as I think they should be. Sometimes I just want to tell them off (or flip them off), and sometimes I do just that.

Thankfully, I have an amazing friend who reminded me the other day how important it is to be nice to everyone. She is going through one of the worst experiences anyone can go through – the loss of a child. Through her writing, she describes how hard it’s been to go on with day-to-day life while dealing with her grief. Her world has changed completely without her son, while everyone else’s world goes on as if nothing has happened. I can’t stop thinking about how she describes going out into that world now:

I wished every time I walked out my door that I had a tattoo on my forehead that said, ‘My child died. Please be nice to me.’… No one looking at me knew what had just happened. How could they know? So I went out into the world and came across all the jerks from before. You know who they are…the people who ride your bumper because you’re going the speed limit and they can’t handle it, adding some nice horn blasts that seem to last for 10 minutes then speeding around while glaring at you or giving you the finger. The lady in Target who keeps ramming her cart into yours because apparently the line has moved and you weren’t aware of it, and did I mention she’s making stupid comments?

How many times have you been one of those jerks riding someone’s bumper on the freeway because you were late and they weren’t going fast enough for you? Ever flipped off a complete stranger? Gave a dirty look to someone in a grocery store for not paying attention? I sure as hell have. Many, many times. What if the person I was so awful to was going through the same thing my dear, sweet friend is going through? It’s unbearable to think about.

The sad thing is, they probably were. Everyone is going through something. Maybe not the loss of a child, but maybe a divorce. Illness. Job loss. Loneliness. A fight with their teenager. Maybe their car just broke down, or their dog died. Maybe their boss yelled at them, or their fattest fat pants were too tight that morning, or they just had to put their parents in a nursing home, or the fourth person they know in a year was just diagnosed with cancer. The list is endless, and every person you meet is going through or has gone through or loves someone who is going through something painful. My heart breaks for my friend, and I want to wrap her up in my arms and never let anyone be mean to her again. She is not alone in her grief. Perfect strangers all around me are grieving too – in the grocery store, on the freeway, at the other end of the DirecTV customer service line…

I will try to be more like junior high Mandee, and be much nicer and more understanding. I am so grateful to my mom for giving me the single most important piece of advice I have ever received. I am so grateful to my friend for reminding me that having a bad day or a bad moment is not a good reason to abandon compassion for others.

I don’t give out a lot of advice, but this one is worth passing on: Just be nice. You never know what someone is going through.

Am I overthinking this?

The bad thing about working full time is you’re so busy you don’t have time to think about your life. The good thing about working full time is you’re so busy you don’t have time to think about your life. Did you have to look at that again to make sure you read it right?

When you’re working a full time job, your days can stretch into years and years of monotonous, meaningless duties that wear you out physically and emotionally, and leave little time for the things that really matter to you. Maybe you don’t even really know what matters because you don’t have time to discover it. When you’re not at work, you are doing chores or fulfilling other obligations, and any spare moment after that is spent with family or friends. So when are you supposed to think, to dream, to discover who you are, what you are meant to do, and how you want your life to be without interruption or distraction? Who would take what precious little time they have with their spouses, kids, friends or family to do this? No one I know. So we continue on every day, doing first what we have to do, next what we should do, after that, if we are lucky, a little bit of we want to do, and any time left over (for most of us that is none) what we dream to do.

In the last two weeks that I have been home again, jobless, I have already gone from happy, excited, hopeful and ambitious, to guilty, dejected, depressed and overwhelmed. I can’t make an important decision to save my life, let alone a simple one. I’ve changed the title and subject of this post three times already. Could it be because I went from being too busy to pee regularly to having the floor knocked out from under my feet in a day? I went from having every second of my day so full that eating sometimes became last priority to sitting at home, trying to fill my minutes with productive tasks so I won’t feel so damn guilty when my husband asks me what I’ve been doing all day.

For most people, myself included, an opportunity like this is a blessing. Getting to stay home with my little guy, be the wife and mother I want to be, take up clipping coupons and playdates, catch up on cleaning the house. I’m even lucky enough to have two grandmothers nearby who can’t go more than a few days without babysitting Jack, so I even get a couple days to myself to do whatever I want. But instead of feeling blessed about this, I start thinking too much. I overthink everything. And overworry, and overanalyze. I become brooding and depressed. I obsess over my money situation, how I am going to get a job, how little I am exercising, etc. I second guess everything.

I don’t know if I am the only one that does this. Maybe anyone would do the same in my situation. I’ve been through some serious life-changing events in a very short period of time – getting a job, losing a job, changing jobs, having a baby and losing loved ones. Maybe internally I am trying to cope with all of this while externally trying to function as a successful and productive member of society, and I am underestimating how difficult that is.

I’m stuck in the middle of two theories – one is that there is a plan for my life and I should put all my anxieties into God’s hands and let things unfold, trusting that things will work out. The other theory is that life is what I make of it, and nothing good will happen and nothing will change if I don’t take action and do something drastic, take risks, make it happen. The first theory is much more attractive to me as a life approach, but I’m not confident enough to believe in it 100%.

My brain hurts. Today has been a difficult day for me mentally. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to turn off my brain for a while and just enjoy the beautiful October weather with my son. Even writing this post has been a difficult and draining task.

Jack’s Philosophy on Life

At times I find myself getting extremely impatient with my one year old. He never seems to adhere to my schedule or any sort of routine I set for him. All the books say children and humans in general thrive on routines, so I have been trying to get him into some sort of routine since day one. He doesn’t seem to get the concept of being prompt, well-groomed and just generally doing what you’re supposed to.

Jack has challenged my sense of schedule, to be sure, but he is certainly teaching me a thing or two about life. Sometimes I feel so silly constantly searching for happiness, when Jack is showing me how to do it every second of every day. It’s so simple. The below is an excerpt from Jack’s philosophy on how to live a happy, meaningful life. Enjoy!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my one year here on Earth, it’s that grown-ups are always in a hurry and love to use the word “no.” Except for the grandparent people, they seem to be a little more relaxed about things, and they say no too, but in a much more gentle and patient kind of way.

Take eating for example. Why would you want to hurry through your meal? It is so interesting to feel the different textures of food, and to see what happens when you throw it on the floor. Some things, splat, some things bounce, and some things crumble. Fascinating! And the dogs are obviously hungry, so why not share some food with them? There’s plenty to go around! I like to take my time and eat slowly. It’s great for my digestion, and I know when I am full. For some reason grown-ups don’t seem to know when they are full cause they always eat so darn fast and then complain that they are too stuffed. It’s not rocket science, people – you just swat the spoon away when you’re full. Sometimes the food even goes flying, and that’s really funny. I wish grown-ups would just let me eat the food myself, even if I do get messy and take a long time to finish. Isn’t that what a bathtub is for? And why are we in such a hurry? So we can do the dishes? Please. If you can’t make it fun by climbing into the dishwasher (believe me, I’ve tried), then what’s the use in hurrying to get the dishes done?

Another thing Mom and Dad always want me to do is sleep in late. How is that fun? The longer you sleep in the morning, the less time you have to play. Plus you can always take naps later if you get tired. For some reason grown-ups always think there are more important things to do than nap though. Like the dishes. So Mom and Dad are always trying to get me to go back to sleep when I wake up in the morning, but it’s weird because as soon as I get up they are trying to hurry and stuff me full of food, wash me and get me dressed and and then they get mad when I want to play instead of put my socks on. Huh?? If you are comfortable in your jammies then what is the hurry in getting dressed? Probably because they want to do the dishes again. Ugh.

Then there’s play time. Finally…something me and grown-ups can agree on. But grown-ups try to make rules for something that’s supposed to be fun! They always want me to keep my toys contained in one small area, like the living room. I try to tell them how fun it is to see how far you can throw things down the hallway, but they are always following behind me, picking things up and putting them back where they started. How am I supposed to see how much my aim and distance has improved day-to-day if my toys keep ending up in the basket?

One of the coolest things I think about being here is how many interesting things there are to look at, feel and taste. Grown-ups don’t seem to think things are as interesting as I do though. Like outside. Have you been outside in your backyard? Amazing! There are these things you can find sometimes called rocks, and they are all different shapes and colors. Where do they come from and how do they end up in my yard? Mom’s always taking rocks away from me and trying to give me a toy or taking me inside, but I would be so happy to just explore and touch and taste whatever is outside for a while. Oh yeah, and have you seen birds and squirrels? Oh my gosh, we have them by the barrelful in our backyard, and they are so funny! Everytime I see one I am sure to point it out and make sure everyone sees, but they just look at it real quick and then move on to something else. How can you laugh at the birds and suirrels if you don’t take the time to see what they are doing?

I am teaching my Mom and Dad new things every day, so I will tell you more later, but here are my tips for having a good day today: Play and share your food with friends during meals; be excited to get up and play in the morning and if you get tired take a nap; stop making rules for playing and just do whatever is fun; and stop worrying about boring things like dishes. If grown-ups would just go outside and watch the squirrels I think they would be a lot happier.

Bye-bye!

Discouraged

I am trying to make something positive out of a bad situation. Bad situation = not having a job, crappy economy. Something positive = having the time to explore a new career path and pursue my interests. I spent almost three hours with my laptop yesterday reading up on job requirements for the positions that are in demand, and positions I might be interested in. Instead of becoming excited and enlightened, I became overwhelmed and deflated. My determination? My college degree and work experience is completely outdated and practically worthless.

I’m sure that’s a terribly pessimistic thing to say, but it’s true. I am a print journalism major. Yes, at one time I could write a decent article for a newspaper, but no one cares that I wrote “hard hitting” news 10 years ago about a college campus bar having to close because of permit issues. Yes, I have a good 7 years of experience in different industries with impressive titles like “Marketing Director” and “Program Manager” and “Vice-President of Business Development,” but those titles are as vague and meaningless as my experience in “marketing.”

Today, people want writers who are experts in some other field that just happen to be excellent writers as well. There are no jobs for people who are just good at writing. They want marketing people who have a very specific skillset, a master’s degree and 10 billion years of experience, but will settle for $10 an hour and no benefits (well, maybe only here in Idaho, but still). There are no professional level jobs for people who only have a little bit of experience but are willing to learn. Because there are so few jobs and so many job candidates, employers aren’t willing to hire someone and invest in their training and future with the business. They just want to hire someone they can throw into the ring on the first day. They know if that person doesn’t work out there are 100 more people waiting in the wings.

So where does that leave me? I keep thinking I really like computer work and I am pretty good at learning and troubleshooting programs, but I am not a database-developer-this or a network-administrator-that. I don’t know HTML or XML, but I can design and publish a decent web site using site builder applications. I don’t have an assistant or a staff, but I can coordinate logistics for small and medium sized events.

Obviously there are other candidates out there with a lot more and better experience than me, and I am dealing with the dilemma I thought I would only experience once: How do I get experience if no one will hire me? I am feeling like if I want to get a long-lasting job – scratch that – a long-lasting career, I am going to have to go back to college year one and start all over again. Argh!!!!!

Yes, I do feel sorry for myself. I feel like I am slipping, and I have been steadily slipping for the past 4 years. I know I have to have faith that there is a plan for me, and my job right now is to take care of my son and enjoy the time I have with him. And I do, Lord knows I do. Especially on days like today when he is not feeling well and only wants his mommy to hold him. There is nowhere else I would rather be than cuddling with him at home.

But there’s just that pesky mortgage bill…

Focus: Getting Past Mommy Brain and Getting on with Life

Since my son turned one almost two weeks ago and I was let go from my high-school level temp job one week ago, I have decided now is the best time to figure out what I should be doing for the rest of my life.

I started following a new blog, Zen Habits. I figure if I want to write a blog that anyone wants to read (myself included – notice this is my first time back since July), I should probably bone up on what the blogosphere is reading. So I googled “Best Blogs” and came up with Time Magazine’s can’t live without blog list. Zen Habits was one of the first listed, and I only had to read a few posts before I decided this was what I needed. If you’re interested in quick tips to living a simple, meaningful, focused life, I highly recommend visiting Zen Habits.

One of the posts on Zen Habits is named “The Short But Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion.” I spent a few hours going through the steps to find my passion – things like writing a list of what excites you, what you’re good at, what you read about, etc. Since professional karaoke isn’t a very realistic career for me, I am going to look more closely at a few of the other things on my list: writing and Web marketing.

My first thought is that passion may be too strong of a word. I am passionate about saving homeless and abused animals, keeping my son happy and healthy and having a successful marriage. I would even say I’m pretty passionate about simple things like listening to music, working in the yard and spending time with family and friends. However, those sorts of passions don’t easily translate into a career where you actually get paid with money. Writing and Web marketing seem like more job-friendly skills. I wouldn’t live and die for either, but sitting down on a Monday morning to create a web site or write a blog doesn’t drive me to drink at 8 a.m. So, I guess that’s a pretty good start.

My first step is to practice what I already know and learn everything I can about what I don’t. This blog is the practice, and reading other blogs is the learning. I plan to learn everything I can through research, books and classes about designing web sites and marketing businesses online, and I will practice by designing my own web site and marketing it to see if I can get any business. I have done a little bit of this in the past, but I’ve never really had a chance to focus on it or learn more. I figure now is my chance.

Background: I have been drifting around for almost 4 years now, hopping from one meaningless, unchallenging job to the next, losing a valuable piece of my self esteem – and often, money invested – with each job. My last “real” grown-up job with good pay and benefits was back in 2006. I was a marketing manager for Aramark, a food service contractor. I was laid off after only a year and a half, and things have gone steadily downhill since then.

Now I’ve never been #1 at anything, but I’ve always been confident that I was somewhat smart and talented, and I could pretty much count on getting jobs I applied for. For a while I did. And then I learned the hard way that when things get tough for a business, the employee who spends the money (read: marketing) is the first to get cut. The irony is that when the economy gets tight, businesses need to market more. That’s understandably a tough pill to swallow for most small businesses though.

These days, marketing jobs are few and far between. I am relatively young and inexperienced, so the jobs that do open up are not going to people like me. I’ve been on a few interviews in which I thought the job was a perfect fit and I had all the necessary qualifications – and then I didn’t get the job. That doesn’t even hold a candle to the countless number of resumes I submitted that I never even heard back from. Of course this has affected my self-esteem (and my bank account) in a negative way.

So, today I have a goal to get back on the horse, but maybe try a new horse. Maybe I start learning about something I am interested in and have the jobs come to me…maybe. I’ll just start with today and take it one day at a time. I’ll need to stay focused, so writing this blog will hopefully keep me accountable. I’ll keep you posted.

Crap, I’m already slipping

It’s day 2 of being a stay at home mom and I’m already slipping back into my old ways. Old ways being when I was home 6 months ago, right after Jack was born – fat, bored and unproductive.

Over the past few months, with the help of a prescription appetite suppressant, I have lost about 15-20 pounds. As of last week I was almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight. However, I fear I might be slipping back into that black hole of frumpy mom-dom. Yesterday and today I have been snacking excessively. Today I was hungry by 9:30 a.m., and to make things worse, I’m not even eating healthy (pepperoni and cheese baked inside a Pillsbury crescent roll anyone?). It feels like the appetite suppressant isn’t even working anymore, and for some reason even going out for a walk seems less appealing than a root canal.

I hope hope hope this is just a readjustment phase. Gotta go, Jack is awake too soon. I forgot how quickly his naps go.

It’s time to get serious about fun

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. I haven’t been as vigilant as I wanted to be about writing this blog. We just celebrated my son’s first birthday, and that first year to me was the most important time to be consistent about documenting our lives. Needless to say I have not done that to my own satisfaction.

Ok, now that that’s been said, my vow to myself is to put it in the past and not beat myself up about it any longer. I will no longer dwell on what I did wrong or have not accomplished, whether at work, school, parenting, money or relationships. I will not worry about tomorrow or things that “could happen.” No more worrying about things I can’t control. There is only today. I will put my fears and worries in God’s hands, and I will put my dreams, ideas and goals on paper (or on blog).

I am, as of today, officially unemployed. I have to admit I am very excited about it. I’ve been working full time at a $10 an hour administrative data entry job simply for a paycheck. I have missed my son immensely, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I have not been able to “make the time” to do what’s important to me. I don’t care what the experts say, if you are working 8-5 Monday through Friday, there simply isn’t enough time to do the things that are important to you. Time is finite, it’s not some abstract theory. You can’t make time.

So on this, my first morning of freedom, I am trying desperately to organize my thoughts and stay on task with things I want to do so as not to get overwhlemed and do nothing, as is my status quo. I started reading a blog last night called Zen Habits (www.zenhabits.net), and I am trying to put some of the advice into practice. Starting with prioritizing what’s important to me – writing. Yes, I am worried about money, but I will not dwell on it (see second paragraph above). I will instead use my time and energy to do things that are important and fun, and I have faith that everything else will work itself out.

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