Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Getaway

I love surprises. I fantasize about my lovely husband walking through the door one day, announcing: "Pack a bag, Honey. We're going on a trip."

In my mind, I feign surprise and protest, "But we can't possibly. We haven't planned a thing." With a wink and a devilish smile on his lips, he sets me at ease. "I planned everything. And I'm not going to tell you where we're going. It's a surprise." With that, I race upstairs and pack a bag according to his very vague instructions, (ideally, snowy mountain layers) and hop into a limousine that whisks us off to a newfound adventure.

Being that I do love surprises, I tried to impart my affinity for the unknown in a certain Christmas gift this year. With glee I wrapped two identical tiny gift boxes and placed them under the tree for Mr. Musky and Jake, with strict instructions to open the gifts together. I have this thing I secretly do - I always arrange for the most impactful gift to be opened last. Finally, both boys held their tiny jewelry boxes together and opened them, then took out the little pieces of paper I carefully scribed.

"Congratulations! You are going on a boys trip on April 28th to watch the World Champion Chicago Cubs take on the Red Sox. IN BOSTON!!"

Dead silence greeted my perked ears. Not even a cricket.

"Um, ok?" Jake said flatly.
"Huh," his dad remarked.

Whomp whomp.

Deflated, I immediately backtracked. "Well, I thought it would be nice for you two to have a bonding guys trip. Because when do you ever get to do something alone? And you both have commented multiple times that you want to go to Boston. And see Fenway Park."

Here's the thing - I should know better. While I might like surprises, not everyone else does. Particularly the man who lives and breathes third party logistics every day of his life. For a living, Mr. Musky schedules things. Plans. Makes arrangements. Moves items from point A to point B, with stops in-between if necessary.

Gently, almost sweetly, he asked: "Where will we stay? What if the weather sucks? How do we know this weekend is OK? Jake has tests the next week. How will he study? What if the flights are expensive?" Clearly he has not the romantic notions that I do about unplanned vacations.

"Pfft. Minor details," I retorted, feeling a bit hurt. "We've got months to sort that out. But the baseball tickets! I took care of them!"

A few weeks later, Mr. Musky said while he appreciated the sentiment, he just didn't think April a good time for them to take a trip together. The boys talked it over, and decided Spring Training in March would be be a better trip for them than the weekend before AP testing (no mom of the year award here). Arizona weather would be nicer and more predictable. It would be laid back. A shorter flight. Just...better.

Admittedly, while I thought the idea so unique and would foster ideal male bonding - Cheers! The Freedom Trail! Faneuil Hall! - I had to respect their wishes. My ideal is not the same as theirs, and the important thing was for my men to get away together. It's something I just had in my head that they should do, alone, before Jake graduates high school. So a few weeks ago the boys jetted off to Mesa, while my mom and I kept driving north.

Parent-kid time away is always a good thing, even when you're caught in the middle of still being a kid and a parent at the same time. I've always loved spending time with my mom on little getaways, throwing caution to the wind and being right in the moment. "Hey Mom. Get that phone out and look up reviews for Bublitz. It's a restaurant a few miles away."

"Doesn't sound very promising. But Susie's Home Cooking has 4.5 stars."

Unfortunately, Susie's was likely the worst meal either of us ever consumed. But it left a memorable mark - one that we'll never forget - and a confirmation that condensed soup is never, ever a good idea. Particularly for restaurants who claim "home cooking" as their cornerstone.

We arrived at the cabin in the evening, promptly built a fire, and enjoyed some Maple Old Fashioneds. Highly recommended. We switched to wine, leapt off the Monday night wagon, and frankly? We got shellacked. We drank all the wine and then some, and gabbed until well past midnight about everything and nothing at all. It was divine, until we had to rally in the morning to look at real estate in the area.

It's one of the best and hardest things wrapped all into one - your parents aging. I am so fortunate to have both of my parents still around, but in all honesty, they aren't in the very best of health, and it's hard to see them struggle with that. They're getting to an age where they have to consider options for their future, and it's a difficult decision, particularly for my Mom. Do they stay where they are? Downsize in their local area? Move closer to me? Selfishly, I want them closer so I can help Mom take care of Dad and see them both more often. But I know they have to do what's right for them, regardless of future consequences. If only that crystal ball really did magically project the future.

We looked at several town homes and even spent time with some local construction builders considering the possibility of building a new little woodsy home. Mom came away more confused and uncertain than ever, I think. But at least she knows what's out there in her price range, and it's a good bunch of options to have.

Our final afternoon we put the house hunting aside and went out for some fun. I tempted her with books and caffeine in comfy chairs at my favorite little coffee shop, but Mama wanted to get lost in the woods. I fall very close to the apple tree.

We set out on what I call the Chickadee Trail, uncertain of the conditions as the great snow melt of 2017 was in full force. It's a semi-groomed trail, so the snow and ice were really packed in but thanks to a warmup for the past few days, the top layer was slushy enough for our hiking boots to grab hold.
We enjoyed hearing twitters in the woods and more birds than normal. Things were definitely waking up, and we enjoyed moderate temperatures for our walk.

Having a knee replacement less than six months ago, I wasn't sure if Mom would be able to handle the trail. I carried a soccer chair for her just in case, and she found her own extra support aid along the way.
We walked for about a mile and a half then finally arrived to one of my most favorite spots on earth...
...and Mom joined the Chickadee Club.This time we had some extra entertainment.
The red squirrels were out in full force, and they are not afraid of a bunch of sweet birds when it comes to filling the ole pie holes.
Red squirrels are aggressive, and can border on downright mean. Once Mr. Musky and I dragged up a giant trampoline float from the lake to the garage, and a red squirrel kept charging us. That mean little  sucker freaked me out - I was convinced he wanted to race up my leg and go for a ride on my head. So I ran away leaving my poor man to struggle up the hill himself with the heavy, awkward float.

These squirrels were fine as long as I fed them, so I plopped piles of birdseed around.
Plenty for everyone.
And my little friends make the best selfie accessory. Period.
As we sipped our wine and snacked on cheese and apples, Mom and I watched our tabletop entertainment and talked some more. About what?
I can't tell you. Because knowing us, it was likely nothing important. But we had fun and I'll always remember my little date with her in the woods.
Starting with Susie's, we struck out on most of our dining experiences for the week. We tried a restaurant in Rhinelander on night two, and the following sign greeted us:

"Closed for the night due to employees calling in."

We rolled in laughter. Because the temperature soared to 70 degrees that day - the first true warm day of the year - the entire staff called in sick so the restaurant had to close. That would fall under the category, "Only in the Northwoods..."

But luckily we struck gold post hike at a new little restaurant in Eagle River called Catch 22. Local folks, I highly recommend this gem. And that's something coming from me, because I'm downright picky when it comes to eating out. But this place is doing it right.

I picked the boys up that Friday and enjoyed reuniting with them, hearing about their little stories and adventures. Kyle Schwarber slapped Mr. Musky's hand on a walk-by but passed Jake up. He's still complaining about it. They enjoyed the desert warmth, baseball, good meals, and time with Uncle Bob at his country club. All in all, it was a successful trip and the bonding seems complete.

I hope this finds you all enjoying your own version of spring, trips or no. I love the 70 degree days as much as I do the overcast, rainy ones. The door is currently open and a storm just rolled through, and the rain gently continues to fall. It reminds me of my big brother, who loves midwest storms and misses them despite the heavy rains seen in Northern California this year.

I just miss my brother.

Cheers to you all. Thanks for reading, and Happy Humpday.

XOXO,
Jen







Thursday, April 6, 2017

Anxiety Therapy

To understand the background for this post, please read the story here. 

Last semester in the height of first time everythings, Kahley took a hot yoga class at a studio on State Street in Madison. "MOM!" she breathlessly and excitedly announced. "I'm more relaxed than I have been all semester. That was amazing." The next day she texted me again. "I just slept really well for the first time since I left home. That yoga class was awesome!"

That should have been my calling card to buy the kid an unlimited pass to hot yoga for the rest of her life. When something works for a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, they need to latch on, clear the schedule to make time for it, and never let go.

But we're all learning alongside our girl with this disorder. Life stepped in, schedules dictated otherwise, and she didn't go back to yoga. Over Christmas break she felt better, and based on her ever changing schedule she postponed scheduling therapy sessions when she returned to campus in January. 

Staying on top of GAD is key. It does not go away, even if the person feels better due to changes in their life. It's always lurking in the background, waiting to rear its ugly head and make life messy.

When it reappeared with a vengeance second semester, Kahley immediately scheduled therapy again and made some appointments with University Health Services. If any of you parents out there are in my shoes, my advice to you is this: Encourage your child to stay in therapy no matter how well they feel. Don't let them quit it, even if they seem better. Take the therapist's lead on when and how to dial it back, if at all.  

Also - consider a multi-faceted approach. I am no medical professional, but studies show that therapy helps. So does medicine. A combination of therapy and medication works best. Add in some holistic healing?

Wonders. Kahley came home for spring break a few weeks ago, and we went together to a hot yoga class. Being in the warm room for over an hour focused her in the moment, eliminated distractions, and the intense heat forced her to breathe deeply, which is very difficult for her to accomplish in daily life. Sweat dripped from every pore of our bodies. The movements proved cathartic - bending and twisting deeper and deeper into our breath, it nearly impossible to focus on anything other than breathing in and out and stretching our bodies.

Yoga is hard! Some of those women and men can contort and flow from one movement to the next like poetry. I had to pay attention to others because I don't know what the hell I'm doing, and I need a crash course on Yoga for Dummies. The flow of many of the yogis is so effortless it appears artistic.
Then there's us. Snot flowing, guts hanging, ponytails loosening, falling into one another, stifling giggles, sucking in farts. Oy.

But we tried our best, and felt rejuvenated after the session. There's no judgment in that hot room - everyone started at some point and were giant, uncoordinated elephants like us. We both loved it so much that we returned twice more over her break. She now has a pass for unlimited yoga on campus, and it's something I am continuing as well. Just today I received this: "Yoga is the greatest thing, OMG. The 7:20 wakeup is hard, but I feel amazing afterwards." It's nice to share something like this with my girl. I look forward to future sessions with her.

In addition to yoga classes, I also scheduled float therapy for us one day. The concept of floating is relatively new and is catching on, despite being around for decades. It's a sensory deprivation experience, ideal for meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation. For all you Stranger Things fans, banish those submersion tank and kiddie pool images from your brains, because reality is far from how it's depicted on the show.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that she floats twice a month, and another friend texted me float therapy as a potential aid for Kahley. I looked into it further, and found a float club near our home.
Photograph from www.aniccafloatclub.com
We entered Anicca Float Club in Naperville and Lindsay, the owner, warmly greeted us. Lindsay and her husband Paul opened the float club based on their background in Vipassana meditation - a way to observe and understand things as they are, not as our minds might make them appear. Anicca means impermanence/continuous change. In their meditation practice, they came to learn experientially that everything is impermanent and we can observe what the mind does and how that influences the body.

Huh?

I know. This is not stuff I historically buy into. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much beyond Christianity, and I’ve probably been way too close minded in my past about other ways of thinking, relaxing, and understanding the universe. I’m a Speech Communication and English gal, for crying out loud. I never even took physics, let alone advanced science anything. Never took a philosophy class. Never learned about any religion other than what the good old Lutheran Church Missouri Synod taught. 

But it doesn’t mean I’m not open to learning new ways of thought. And this floating / yoga / mediation stuff is intriguing. It’s why Lindsay and Paul sold most of their belongings, downsized dramatically, and dedicated their lives to educating as many as possible. Since they opened their doors two years ago, they’ve been amazed at the number of clients coping with mental health issues they’ve been able to help, not to mention the amount of mental health professionals that walk through their doors.

I scheduled our float sessions a week before the appointments. We began our day with a nice lunch together, then opted for some cappuccino while she studied and I worked.
We arrived at the float club 15 minutes before our scheduled time to meet Lindsay and receive some first time floater instructions.

In our own private rooms, we began by quickly showering to eliminate any residual oils or products on our skin, then climbed into the tank.
Photograph from http://aniccafloatclub.com
Standing in the shower area with the float tank behind me.
The actual float room is an enclosed rectangular space, about seven feet tall, six feet wide, and eight feet long. The tank is filled with 10 inches of water and nearly 1600 pounds of epsom salts, making the water effortlessly buoyant.
Not me - or Kahley. Photograph from http://aniccafloatclub.com
We floated on top of the water without trying. Since the water and the tank are the temperature of your body, you lose sense of touch when lying still in the water. It's interestingly eerie - I couldn't sense where my body was submerged in water and where it was exposed, other than around my temples. I opted for lights out - total darkness - and turned off the white noise wave sound for complete silence.

While in the float room I focused on breathing. Four or six counts in, and four or six out. For me, it's the best way to clear my mind of other distractions. Later I commented on how difficult it was to breathe deeply, and Lindsay said the magnesium sulfate actually lowers one's blood pressure and relaxes the body so much one's breathing naturally becomes more shallow. Between the epsom salts and the sensory deprivation, my mind truly uncluttered and my body relaxed. As I expanded and stretched my core I could actually feel my spine decompress - a deeply odd sensation. Any residual muscle or joint tension evaporated the longer I floated. But the most remarkable experience goes back to my concentrated breathing. At one point, I suddenly "came to" realizing I stopped breathing. Or did I? I wasn't gasping for air, so clearly I continued to take in oxygen. But I didn't fall asleep. Did I lose consciousness? The altered mental state proved deeply intense and relaxing, so I tried to achieve it again. I did another three or four times, and every time was better than the last. It was a bit of a rush, and so deeply relaxing. At the beginning I wondered, "How am I going to do this for an entire 60 minutes?" but when the lights came on and new age music softly piped in, I wished I had another 30 minutes to go. I wasn't ready to emerge.

The experience is like none other. I've had a few massages, and while they're lovely, I'd take a 60 minute float over a massage any day. I've never been so deeply undistracted. I didn't even consider the outside world while I was in the tank, and the feeling of calm lasted through our ride home, a glass of wine, and aided in one of the best night's sleep ever. My bathtub now feels significantly sub-par. I can't stop thinking about it. I loved it so much I bought additional floats so Mr. Musky and I can enjoy a twist on date night in a few weeks.

Kahley emerged from her float experience contemplative, and as she sipped a cup of dark chestnut tea that Lindsay prepared for her, she soon declared she was the most relaxed she'd been in over a year. Relaxing is hard for her. It doesn't come naturally, and she's most chilled out at home. It's challenging to unwind in a 12x16 foot dorm room when a roommate is nearly always present, and there aren't any "go to" places in the building that offer true quiet time. Meditation is something that takes practice, and hopefully over the summer she can find a time and place to begin to truly work at it.

If you ever need to escape the pressures of everyday life, suffer from anxiety, depression, or an autoimmune disease, experience chronic fatigue or pain, need a mini getaway, or want to disconnect from the world, then go float. In other words, if you're a human in this day and age, you need to do this. We all have stress of some sort in our lives. We all need time away. And while exotic vacations to the Virgin Islands might not be in our budgets, Anicca Float Club is making floating a bit more accessible with a discount for local Genuinely Speaking readers. Go to their website - aniccafloatclub.com  - and schedule a float. Use the discount code genuine for $31 off your first float, making it $49 for your first session! This is such a great offer, and it's available until June 5, 2017. I promise you - you'll emerge relaxed, renewed with less pain and stiffness, and more introspective.

Finally, thank you for the outpouring of love and support for our girl. The response to last week's post is overwhelming, as we both received countless private messages of people going through similar challenges. While there are similarities in our stories, no two anxiety sufferers experience the exact same struggles. Talking about this helps - both her and I. My hope with today's post is to shed light on alternatives to traditional approaches for alleviating the debilitating nature of this disorder, and to encourage other sufferers to keep an open mind when it comes to non-traditional healing methods.

I appreciate the comments and encouragement, and so does Kahley. For those of you who suffer alongside my sweet girl, please don't hesitate to reach out ANY time if you need a compassionate ear. Together we can make mental illness less taboo by sharing common experiences and ideas for health and healing.

XOXO,

Jen

Big thank you to Anicca Float Club of Naperville, IL for sponsoring this post. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Princess

I jest about our firstborn, "The Princess," and her antics. I occasionally exaggerate as if she's a little over the top, a little dramatic, and a little privileged.
Despite stretching the truth occasionally, oftentimes it's all true. I started this blog when she was twelve years old. Anyone who survived the teenage years and stumble through the hormone-ridden ages with your own kids knows the truth. They're a little over the top, a little dramatic, and a little privileged.
They're also wonderful creatures, full of insight and personality. They're funny, witty, charming and quirky. As they learn about life and the world around them they form their own unique opinions and viewpoints, and it's intriguing to watch them develop into young adults. 
Last summer something changed with Kahley. While at camp, her texts took on a different tone. Nearly every time we communicated, she felt negatively about her life, circumstances at the horse barn, and with camp in general. Our girl loves summer camp. Loooooovvvvves it. So why was her "happy place" resulting in such negative energy?
My gut sent warning signals to my brain, but I put them on hold. "We're going to Madison in a week for Student Orientation and Registration. I'll assess then," I assured myself.
On the drive to campus, she gushed about her campers. How wonderful they are, how they keep her motivated during the toughest times at camp, and how their smiles make the effort of running the horse program and being an in-cabin counselor worthwhile. 

I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to hear my girl shine through and the negativity at bay. I told myself she's fine, and that she just had a few bad weeks. Everything was fine.

Stressed about what to wear the morning of the program, Kahley finally decided upon a white tank top and cute pair of shorts. At lunch, she splashed a little soy sauce on her top. When she inspected it more closely and saw that it was stained more than she originally thought, she got extremely, unusually upset and nearly broke down in tears. I assured her it would be OK as she brought more outfits than she could possibly wear, and she could just change when we returned to the hotel before walking down to the second floor for the orientation. In the car ride back, she leaned forward, pressed against her straining seatbelt, tapping incessantly on the dashboard. I took note of her behavior, asking her to sit back and relax. "NO. I CAN'T!" she retorted. 

It was at that point that I knew something was very, very wrong with my daughter. My sweet girl, full of life and promise and youth, never snapped at me like that. In my mama bear gut, I knew I could no longer ignore that she was off kilter, and just not right. 

We made it through the rest of orientation without incident, and a week later she came home on her night off. She said she needed to fill out some health forms for college...immediately. I challenged her, saying they surely didn't need to be completed until the week before she arrived on campus. But she had her mind set, and insisted they needed to be done that night.

She sat next to Mr. Musky on the couch, and he tried to help her. She lashed out at him, and he became defensive. I didn't intervene - they could work it out together. Their interaction escalated to yelling, and they fought with one another. Again, I took note. She abruptly shut the laptop down and asked me to drive her back to camp. 

Disturbed by the scene with her dad, I pulled the Jeep off the side of the road, put it in park, and twisted in my seat to stare into my girl's pool of bewildered blue eyes. I said, "Kahley, you are a smart girl. I'm smart, too. We both know that college forms are not that big of a deal. What is going on with you?"

She broke down. Wracked with sobs, she started hyperventilating and eeked out a scary revelation: "Mom, something is so...wrong with me! I am so scared. My heart races all the time. I can't catch my breath. It feels like something is lodged in my throat 24/7. I haven't slept well since camp started. Everything is awful. Everything. I can't control it, I'm so afraid, and I don't know what to do!"

I was terrified. As calmly as possible, I spoke in an even voice while I stroked her hair and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Honey, I don't know how to help you. But I will find someone who will. Will you see someone?" I pulled her into my arms and rocked her back and forth.

Through her tears and sobs she nodded yes - she'd do whatever it takes to feel better.

That was nine months ago. I'd love to say that she's all better and it was just a bit of drama in the life of a teenager becoming a young adult, but that's not true. A few weeks later, our sweet girl was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 

You know what? I just googled it again, for the thousandth time, and re-read the entire Wikipedia entry describing the condition. And while I'd love to tell you that I completely understand it, and all the science behind it makes sense, I can't. Because it doesn't. It's not like a broken leg - the bone is broken, there's a procedure or treatment to heal it, and it's all fixed up. With anxiety, it doesn't work that way.

Here's how I can break it down for you in layman's terms, as I understand it, from the help of a local therapist I saw in November to better understand what she's going through: Kahley's brain does not process emotion properly. Normal life events cause extreme duress and worry for her. Her brain focuses on the more dominant emotions of negativity and frustration. Happy-go-lucky, go-with-the flow are not in her wheelhouse. She fidgets, worries, over analyzes, and stresses to an unhealthy degree. Don't get me wrong - she still smiles, feels happiness, and gets excited about things, but the negative emotions prevail. Hourly. Occasionally the anxiety escalates and spirals into full blown panic attacks. I've witnessed two of them, and it's terrifying. She can hardly breathe, her muscles are rock solid, her eyes glaze into a million-mile stare, and she's incommunicable. When the anxiety rages through her and she's in full blown fight-or-flight mode, the only thing I can do is quietly encourage her to breathe. Once her breathing returns to a normal level, she may (or may not) be able to communicate about what happened before she panicked. 

I write this with her permission. For months none of us knew what to say around her, or how to behave. When we only get to see her for a few days at a time, the last thing I wanted to do is talk about something negative with our limited time together. Our family relationships were changing due to her being away at school, and the changing dynamic increased her anxiety around us. I felt the anxiety was contributing negatively to her relationships, and was fairly certain she didn't even realize it. If I brought it up, it would make her feel worse. But ignoring it felt completely wrong. It was a proverbial Catch 22.

We finally discussed it over Thanksgiving break. That was a difficult conversation - for both of us - but we muddled through. Once we started talking freely about her disorder, things got easier - for me. She still struggles with it, but she knows I'm trying to understand, I want to help when and where I can, and I will always listen with an open mind. I don't profess to know or understand what she's going through, but I am willing to learn. And I will be her unwavering advocate forever. 

The more we both talk about it, the more we realize that she's not alone. I have friends with kids going through the same stuff, but never would have known if I hadn't talked about Kahley's issues first. She's found multiple friends on campus with similar challenges. Talking about mental health must no longer be taboo. How are the millions of people who battle it daily going to get better? We talk openly about all kinds of health issues. Cardiovascular health. Preventative health. Cancer screenings. Heck - get a sewing circle together and they'll talk about their vaginas for hours. But WHY must mental health still carry a stigma in this day and age? For the uneducated comments like, "She just needs to get over it," or "Tell her to relax," I say this: If someone has cancer, you'd show compassion. If someone has pneumonia, you'd offer to run them an errand. Do the same for the person battling mental illness. They didn't ask for it, nor did anyone suffering from a physical ailment. They want to get better, just like anyone else does. The difference is there's no cure or treatment that eradicates it. They have to live with the mental illness for the rest of their lives, maintaining vigilance about learning cognitive behavioral therapy and taking medication to address the symptoms.

Think of a speech you delivered to a large group of people. Or an important meeting you facilitated, or an interview for your dream job. A pit of anxiety grows in your gut. You lose sleep leading up to the event. You wake up that day nauseous with anticipation. As you walk into the room, your palms sweat, your heart rate picks up, the sweat stains grow under your armpits, and a lump of nervousness rises in your chest. Your voice cracks, and you tell yourself to pull your shit together. Your confidence waivers, and you wish for a meteor to strike down so you don't have to go through with it. But you muscle ahead, and at the end of it you reward yourself and the return of your normal heart rate with a cup of tea or a glass of wine or a chocolate cookie.

For the person with GAD, those feelings persist every single day. Every moment is a battle to go forth, despite feeling anxious. Imagine never fully coming down from that fight-or-flight feeling. That's how my princess feels every day, to some degree. Every day.   

It's hard to understand, especially when we think the person can control it. THEY CAN'T!! As much as they'd like to turn off the worry and negativity, it's impossible for them. 

Recently on a Friday afternoon, Kahley contacted me worse than ever. Scared shitless, I ran through a series of questions with her to ensure she was safe, then asked, "What can I do to help?"

I'm finding that's the best question I can ask. In the heat of the moment, everything is bad, and I can't convince her otherwise. But asking what I can do to help shows I love her, and will do what it takes. That day, it involved making two phone calls for her. I did, and got results that helped. It didn't make it go away, but it helped. 

When I hung up the phone, Mr. Musky was in the room with me, and I lost it. I sobbed while he held me close. I looked up at him, and said, "If I feel this helpless and frustrated, how does our poor girl feel? 1000 times worse? 1,000,000 times worse?" With tears welling in his eyes too, he speechlessly hugged me harder.

That's the hardest part. How horrible we know she feels on the inside. 

You know what gives me hope? 
She does. In spite of this all, she fights every single day. She sees medical professionals who are helping her. She maintains logic. She KNOWS that how she's feeling is not right, and she clings to that knowledge. She WANTS to be healthy and happy, and she's determined to fight through this to get to the place where she knows she belongs. 
She's got a family who loves her unconditionally. Were the past few months tough? Sure. But in the end, we are a family who will see her through. 
She has a boyfriend who loves her for her, patiently reassuring her every day. He is her rock - her daily go-to in moments of stress. 
He listens to her worries. He talks her down the anxiety ladder multiple times a day. He reassures her with love, kindness and genuine care.
For that, I am forever grateful for him and his tender heart. He is a true gem.
She managed her anxiety at the beginning of first semester to make friends who have never known her without it. 
They'll rush to her side when she needs help, and they celebrate both good and bad times with her.
She's got a support group who will not let her fail.
People are amazing, and Kahley has some awesome ones in her life. Coming next week - how we both focused on health and well being over Spring Break, how my princess teaches me every day, and a discount for an AMAZING local business. 

XOXO,
Jen





Monday, March 6, 2017

Watered Down Weekend

Two weekends ago found me at a watered down girls weekend at the cabin.

Watered down carries a negative connotation, if you're looking for a classic martini up. But if you need just a little help powering through your cocktail, a splash of H2O is perfection.

I describe it as such merely in terms of the number of people present.
For four blissful days, this gem and I savored coffee all morning. We ate brunch in the early afternoon then motivated our butts off the couch, into some outerwear, and onto trails graced with freshly fallen snow, breathing in the crisp winter air and getting lost in the woods with just our shadows for companionship.
We stopped for wine on the trails, commenting on how darned good it tasted - better than normal.
Was it due to the perfect chill it achieved in our backpack? Or the company sharing it? Our overachievement by selecting the most difficult trail? Perhaps borderline dehydration after miles of hiking?
All of the above.

Post hiking and skiing, we savored apéritifs fireside and nibbled on both home cooked and delightful restaurant vittles. We returned home to warm up, rest up, and do it all again the next day. Our husbands and kids fended for themselves, extra appreciative when we walked through the door on Sunday afternoon.

And us? We recharged, reset, and refueled our souls with some much needed girlfriend time.

We paid dearly for our over-ambition. Five miles and an elevation gain of 730 feet later, we both felt the skin tearing away from our heels, fully protesting the torture we put them through in the name of a challenging snowshoe trek through the abandoned national forest.

"You know," Michelle commented once we arrived home with this drink in hand:
"We never saw another human being on the trail today. Aside from the restaurant, we never encountered another soul. Not even one car on the way home from dinner."

That's just the way I like it sometimes - devoid of human interaction, except for those I choose to engage with. And while additional friends surely would have made for additional laughs and shenanigans, it would have prevented me from connecting so deeply and broadly with a new friend.

After spending 80 hours straight with the same person, one of two things will happen:
  1. You'll connect deeply on so many levels you'll wonder why it took so long to become fast, comfortable friends despite living in the same neighborhood for years and working out together for months.
  2. You'll bug the ever living hell out of each other and call it quits. 
Truth be told, self doubt still arises when I consider forging new friendships. I even at one point, in recent history, agreed with a friend at the sentiment that once you hit 40, you don't need any more friends. We're too set in our ways. We have enough people in our life already. One more isn't going to significantly impact us in any meaningful way. It's too much more to manage. We don't have time.

We are so wrong for feeling that way. People need to come into our lives at every point along our timeline, for varying reasons. The sweet neighbor I made friends with at the age of six may not fulfill my needs as a 40-something, but there might just be a tribe of women in a fitness class who do.

By nature, I'm an over-sharer. I told that woman way too much in way too short of a window of time, probably scaring her off to the guest bedroom at night to text her husband: "SOS! She's a freak! I know her ENTIRE life story and I need some air! SEND IN THE RESCUE SQUAD! AND BY THE WAY...IT'S DARK AND CREEPY HERE, THE DEER WEAR GREEN STATEMENT NECKLACES, AND THERE'S A HAIRY GORILLA IN THE CLOSET!"
Maybe that's all true, but maybe not. Because she confided back. Until the dark settled around us and the fire crackled away, and I put one more log on because there was so much more to say. To share. To create the foundation for a deeper friendship that we would both walk away from more fulfilled, more loved, more appreciated.

We not only share the common bond of trekking through four inches of snow on quite possibly the hilliest trail in the midwest (730 feet is significant, folks. Especially when your footwear sucks and your snowshoe breaks on mile 3). But now we share the deeper bond of stories told, experiences shared, and trust exchanged. I know that she won't tell everyone  what I talked about, and she also has my confidence. It's how friends are made. Mutual trust, risk in sharing, assurances cemented.

If we hadn't spent the weekend together, she might not have stopped by with another friend last Friday night, for just a little while, to pick me up when I felt sad. Now I know - we needed that time together. I've already counted on her, and she's already delivered.  I look forward to returning the favor some day.

I am lucky to have a lot of friends along my timeline of life. Friends who come to me in good times and bad, trusting I can listen, understand, advocate, counsel. But the sweetest part? Is that they are there for me in return. None of them could ever replace my husband or kids, nor should they. But they fill a giant, gaping hole that would be empty and depressingly void if they weren't there to challenge me, make me belly laugh, and listen with a compassionate ear.

To my newfound, true friend who I know will remain in my life to the end,
Cheers. Next time, let's order two flights of wine. :)

XOXO,
Jen

Monday, January 9, 2017

Resolving

Happy New Year, friends. I finally feel like it's January 1st, because last week found me at the cabin with my peeps, frolicking in sub zero temperatures.


So today represents my start to the New Year, when I resolve to work harder and smarter, eat better and work out more.

Or does it?

Many of you hit the gym in the past week. Or are gagging down kale smoothies. Perhaps you vowed to drink less. Maybe you're striving for professional success, or are planning to meet Mr. or Ms. Perfect (newsflash: they don't exist). Several of you made New Year's Resolutions - heck, maybe you even wrote them down.

Whelp, for those of you who swore off wine, have you failed miserably yet? You will. And here's why: New Year's Resolutions work a mere 9% of the time, according to this research. I would argue that the number is lower, because people who actually respond to surveys like this are the ones who take this resolution nonsense fairly seriously.

Now don't get me wrong - I've made (and failed) my fair share of New Year's Resolutions over the years. My wise father always said, "You ain't got no wisdom 'til you're 30!" I've put my time in on this resolving business and can share my sage advice since I'm a day or two over 30.

Har har.

Let's consider the applicable definitions, according to good ol' google.

Resolution: noun "a firm decision to do or not do something."

Well super, Sally. In your mind, or shucks...maybe even on paper, you've decided to do something. Or to stop doing something. Big freaking deal.

Now consider the word resolve: verb "settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or contentious matter)."

While my inner grammar geek appreciates that the word "resolve" is a verb and inherently suggests action, it's not much better, I'm afraid. You're simply seeking out a solution. Anybody can do that.

The 50+% of people who partake in this annual ritual usually announce goals that are too lofty, too broad, and are not cemented in concrete results. They typically intend to resolve bad behavior, rather than focusing on the true change they wish to achieve in life. Resolutions are born after a month of eating too much rich and sweet food, drinking more than normal, partying like rockstars, and neglecting one's health and well being in favor of a single day. A day that's morphed into a month and creeps further and further into the month of November, so that as a society we're now preparing for it in July. Check it out - I guarantee you'll see Christmas decorations for sale this coming summer when the temperatures soar to above 90 degrees.

A New Year's Resolution of "lose weight" will most likely fail. A New Year's Resolution of "lose 25 pounds" will also likely fail. But something along the lines of "work toward optimal health by visiting a whole health facility, buy into their philosophy, follow up monthly, take their supplements and do the hard work" may succeed.

Why?

It's specific, measurable, and has room for the tweak. Plus, I know from personal experience.

Successful people goal set - of that I have no doubt. I've seen it in people I admire, people I've worked for, and in my own life. But the difference is that they do this regularly when they identify change they need to happen in their lives. They check back on those goals consistently. January 1st does not mark some miraculous annual moment; rather, it's just a normal tune up on changes they've been striving toward all along.

I have always been one to reset occasionally, particularly when I find myself favoring one part of my life over the other, causing undue stress to myself and those around me. Over the years I've missed the balance mark in life due to working too much, not working enough, neglecting my health, neglecting family and friends, hell - even when trying to survive life with a new puppy! The key is to recognize when that balance starts creating negative juju, particularly in your relationships with the people who matter most. Waiting until January 1st to make real change is not the answer.

This year I reflected a lot between the days of December 25th and January 1st. And for the first time in my life, I pondered with a bit of pride, truly happy and content with what I accomplished in 2016. It didn't begin with a list of unachievable and unquantified goals I wrote down in January of 2016. It came from a deep desire within to better myself in certain areas in October of 2015. That's when I called to make a doctor appointment with a whole health facility in Chicago - one that takes preventative health seriously.

The first available appointment with the doctor I wanted to see was early December. After meeting with her, I decided to commit 100% to a modern approach to healthcare. I underwent some complex blood testing to find out that I'm not genetically predisposed to wind up with my mother's health care concerns - osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia - rather, I'm on my Dad's path. Cardiovascular inflammation; small, dense, sticky cholesterol particles; and a future possibility of stroke, heart disease, and/or type 2 diabetes.

That's not to say I will definitely contract all of those diseases. But despite a 'healthy' report by modern medical standards (normal cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, blood pressure, thyroid, etc.) I still showed concerns under the hood.

My marching orders from the doctor and nutritionist on staff included the following:

  • Exercise regularly. And that does not mean once every two weeks.
  • Tweak my diet even further, despite the fact that it was pretty darned clean already.
  • Take the appropriate supplements. Multivitamins don't cut it - how do you know you're getting the right amount of macro- and micronutrients? I continue to work monthly with the nutritionist, altering the food I eat and the types of supplements I take to address my particular internal makeup.
  • Avoid pharmaceuticals if possible for the potential concern areas.

Over the course of 2016, I lost 25 pounds. To many of you that may seem like no big deal, but I promise you, it's huge. It happened in big chunks but it stayed off, which is miraculous. Ten pounds in January. Five in March. Another ten in October. I lose weight like I do everything - wonky. As a result, the blood work showed marked improvement in all areas of concern. I'm continuing to work toward "optimal" health, and I'm a helluva lot closer now than I was a year ago.

I started walking more in December of 2016. A lot. Then I started running for 30 second increments every two minutes. So run for 30 seconds, walk for 90 seconds. I rode the bike up north during the summer, and I also started throwing some weights into the mix.

And then, I met and fell in love with the kettle bell, thanks to my neighbor, Michelle. I work out with the most fantastic group of women and men with the greatest trainer on the face of the earth. Tim the Trainer is motivating, tough, kind, and encouraging. I know others in the group agree with me - their life is richer, healthier, and more full with him in it. I miss them all when I'm away. I look forward to seeing them after a weekend of good food and stiff drinks. I hate it when we're on number 175 of some seemingly impossible bodyweight feat, working our way toward 500 and my heart's about to pound right out of my chest. I loathe the female sports bra - it's like wrestling a monkey into a straightjacket, but it's an important, worthwhile component of the regimen. I like looking at myself in the mirror, naked. Many women will go their whole lives avoiding the full sized mirror after stepping out of the shower. I marvel at the new muscles, bigger indentations in my waistline, and legs that for once in my life are showing definition. It's a miracle every day, one that I am determined to keep sculpting.

Here's my point - I did this all without specific resolutions in January of 2017. People, if you want to better yourselves, find love, secure a better job, improve your health, have deeper relationships, then you need to work on it daily. Goals help guide us, of that there's no doubt. But you have to do the work! I cannot agree more with this article. You need to feel the pain to get better, move ahead, grow stronger. What pain are you willing to endure? If none, then your resolutions mean squat.

So if you're into resolving in the new year, kudos to you. But if you want to succeed, you must be intentional throughout the year. Check back on those goals. Revise them to include quantitative, achievable steps. I would even challenge you to write down the pain you're willing to endure for every resolution you make. And at the end of it all remember this: You don't need the calendar to turn to make a difference. Just start doing it. Get out of your comfort zone, even if it means peeing your pants a little. The end result makes life richer and better in so many ways.

I didn't think about starting that kettle bell class for months - I just did it. I didn't think about cutting back on alcohol for a long time - one day I just said no to Sunday through Thursday drinking. I said yes to going on the radio with a couple of friends this year, and I love it. Sort out the details later, but for now, just say yes to opportunities that appear in front of you. Embrace the pain and discomfort to see what lies ahead on the other side. You'll probably end up looking for more challenging experiences, especially when there's good on the flip side. And even when there's not, I guarantee there's a solid lesson within the experience to walk away with.

Here's to 2017, but more importantly, to the challenge in every day. Go for it. Modify daily. Reflect and resolve on more than just January 1st. And if you don't, then I hope you're in the 9% who keep those resolutions.

XOXO,
Jen

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ugly Christmas Ornament Contest

After a pleasant Thanksgiving and some quality family time, I'm all in on the Christmas Spirit thing. Every first Thursday of December I kick things off with a romp downtown for the day with these people. We call it Christmaspolooza.


These beautiful humans made up my former team at ATT. Back in the day, I declared a Thursday in the latter half of December as "Team Meeting Day." Everyone put an out-of-office message on email and voicemail, all meetings were cancelled or moved to another day, and we strategized as a team for the upcoming year.

That's code for day-drinking ourselves silly. We'd meet in OakBrook to start out with a nice lunch and some cocktails, then when the server started giving us the stink-eye we'd close out the tab and move to a different bar.  Eventually our lunch would wear off, so we'd order appetizers and maybe even move to a third bar in order to avoid judgy glares from those around us. In all fairness, we would spend the final three hours sobering up on water and coffee for the drive home. And through it all? We talked. We talked and talked and talked. We caught up on current workplace strife, family and friend drama, life events, politics, religion, sex - you know, all the inappropriate topics one should avoid in social situations.

And now it's even better, because Tim hosts at his house so we don't have to wear nice clothes. Or shoes. We all agree - it's one of our most favorite days of the year. And that's saying something, because we all really like our families. When friends can come in a close second like that? It's golden.
Tim lives in the city and bought his place a few years ago. The first year he hosted, he requested we bring the ugliest Christmas ornaments we could find to help him decorate his tree. What started as a twisted, humorous way to decorate Tim's tree in his new home quickly became something we all look forward to with great anticipation. And since we possess backgrounds in sales, there's a bit of a competitive streak that may border on an unhealthy obsession to win.

Last year a few nights before the gathering, Heidi texted us a cryptic pic of her entry for the competition.
It looked...hairy. And round. You can imagine the adult humor guessing game that ensued.

"Mine beats that," I replied over text, despite the fact that I didn't even have my ornament yet, Heidi's   image motivated my imagination. Inspired by an ornament that graces my own tree every year...
...I decided to make Rudolph even more realistic by replacing the green body with one more true to his real colors.

The day before our party was Mr. Musky's birthday. I had a full day ahead of me, as he requested a special dinner which would take some time to make, and Mission Create Ugly Ornament would absorb a fair amount of effort. I still managed to squeeze in a quick walk in Naperville though.

I'd been on a bit of a walking kick, and I was always so surprised at how many people don't clean up after their pets in our local parks. It's rather disturbing and annoying; I mean, if you can go to the trouble of buying a dog, take him to a walking path for exercise, presumably buy him quality dog food and pay vet bills and pat his head, then can't you bend over at the waist with a baggie around your hand and pick up his shit?

Apparently not. Because I saw so much dog poop that week, it was the first thing that entered my mind when conjuring "ugly Christmas ornament."

I have issues. Very deeply seeded, disturbing issues, people. Acknowlegement is the first step, yes?

Anyway, with a couple of ziplock baggies in tow, I set off along the path. Knowing I'd walk at least two miles on a five mile plus loop, I'd be retracing my steps and could mentally mark out the best contestants.

I wanted something slightly fresh, but with minimal smell. Not too dried out, because of hook and pipe cleaner insertion and all. Something shaped appropriately - it needed to resemble a reindeer's head, after all. I giggled to myself all the while scoping out the piles of dogshit along my walk.

On the way back, I furtively glanced around before bending over and selecting several pieces of prime poo in a double lined ziplock baggie.

With Jack Johnson radio crooning in my ears, I ambled along, my left pocket bulging a bit, four contenders zippered safely in place. I threw them on the floor of the car and continued on with my errands.

Upon arriving home I quickly got to work. I engaged the sealant power of Modge Podge - I knew that magical stuff would petrify the poop to a desirable state. What I didn't account for is the difficulty using glue to attach a shiny red nose and a couple googley eyes. Day old poop + glue does not a simple craft make, for all you wondering out there.

**FOR THE RECORD!** I did not handle the poop with my bare hands. Mr. Musky (aka clean freakazoid) bought a box of plastic gloves to wear when he rubs meat before grilling it. So I donned a pair for my surgical procedures to transform the poop to the ugliest Christmas tree ornament you've ever seen.

Jake arrived home first. By then, the first iteration of Poopdolph was drying outside, despite the chilly, damp air. I told him I had the winning ornament, and did he want to see it? 

"Oh yeah. Mom, if you really did it...if you have a penis for an ornament, you're my personal hero."

"Nope. It's better."

One look at that sucker, and he engaged his gag reflux. 

"Why? WHY, Mom? What is WRONG with you? Wait. Who's poop is that?"
"Well not mine, naturally. It's a dog's poop."
"Which dog's?"
"I don't know."
He gawked, convinced I was certifiable. Hasn't anyone ever heard of WINNING before?

Anyway, at this point time was crunching down. Poopdolph's eyes were sliding off to the side, his hook kept popping out and one of his antlers fell forward. He needed help.

Our new oven has a lot of nifty settings on it to distribute the heat perfectly for certain cooking operations. The proof setting creates a perfect environment for rising homemade dough. The pizza setting renders a crispy crust while slightly browning the cheese. Convection roast results in ideal vegetables - caramelized on the outside yet fully cooked with just the right amount of "bite" on the inside.

And as it turns out, the dehydration setting will dry out the most stubborn piece of shit to perfection.

Now hang on a tic, and give me some credit. I'll have you know that:
1. The poop didn't smell. Truly. One of the pieces did, but it's not the one I used. The winning piece came from a clean, healthy dogger.
2. The ornament rested on a piece of aluminum foil so no components ever came into contact with any part of our food, and 
3. I wanted to win, dammit. I so wanted to win.

So imagine my beloved's surprise, on his birthday, when he wondered what was baking in the oven and he opened the door to take a peek at...his birthday cake?

Nope.

Some french bread to accompany his seafood pasta alfredo that night?

Nope.

An ornament. An ornament constructed out of a piece of dog's poo.

"GET THAT OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW! I MEAN IT! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! YOU ARE INSANE!"

I just giggled. "But I'm going to win. I guaran freaking tee it."

Let's first review the inaugural ugly ornaments:
Winner? My scary Jesus-looking wooden cross. It's just all over wrong, and while I tried to initiate a bit of the real meaning of Christmas on Tim's tree, it's frightfully phallic insinuations won top prize in 2014.

Last year he first revealed the true identity of Heidi's hairy, black, schweddy balls. As it turns out, the abhorrent pink poodle from the previous year needed a companion, so her black friend now joins her on Tim's tree.
Second up - Ann's ornament.
An oil rig. Which is fairly ugly. Who decides to put an oil rig on a Christmas tree? Love you, Texas, but I just can't.

Clearly, neither of these are in the same league as Poopdolfph. Ever the compassionate and thoughtful friend, I handed Tim a pair of gloves before opening my gift.
 He was terrified.
I mean, the dude was downright petrified to open the tissue paper.
I encouraged him...
...to no avail. In the end, I handled Poopdolph myself and hung him on Tim's tree. Near the back. By himself. All alone.
I won in a landslide of votes on Facebook and Instagram. But it turns out that the joke was on me. Because per the host, the winner had to don a very unfortunate contribution to the world of fashion.
The Genie Slimjeggings. And no - you will NOT see a picture of me stuffed into that sorry excuse for pants because it would burn your eyes right out of their sockets.

This is so much fun. I can't wait to see what this year brings. I know it will be outrageous and hysterical. Tune in to Facebook and Instagram to vote for your favorite ugly ornament later today. I can guarantee mine won't include feces this year based on the chastisement I still receive. Days ago the host incorporated a restriction into this year's festivities. He calls it The Czupek Rule: "Organic (both human and animal) compounds are not eligible to participate moving forward."

What a party pooper. Heh Heh. Sadly, Poopdolph won't be gracing Tim's tree this year - he didn't make the cut when it came to putting ornaments away in storage.

That's ok. I've got one that I'm convinced will win again.

Cheers, people. I'm hopeful you won't think less of me after hearing my truth, but let's face it. Poop is funny in any form, to both toddlers and mature adults.  

XOXO,
Jen