The Indelible Ninja Scars

Warning: Dark post ahead. I should probably label this with “trigger warning” for the delicate flowers, but this isn’t a designated safe space, so enter at your own risk. I’m gonna talk about stuff that I shouldn’t be doing. You were warned.

<sigh> This post has been difficult to write. I’ve been knitting it and unraveling it in my head for a couple of weeks, debating whether I’m brave enough to put it out there or if I should continue to pretend it didn’t happen.  At this point, though, the latter isn’t working.

I don’t think I can truly pick myself up until I admit to myself how hard I fell down.

I know HOW it happened. Honestly, I should have expected it. It’s been happening for years, off and on, in unpredictable cycles. Like a well-trained ninja, it lurks in the shadows of my being, camouflaging itself behind my arrogant confidence that I’ve really got a handle on things this time, waiting to pounce in the blink of a vulnerable moment.

I’d been coasting along for weeks in a false sense of security: I’ve been having phenomenal success on a new medication that’s quelled my omnipresent anxiety and quieted it to an occasional flare of “wait…I should be, like, worrying about something right now, right?” that I’ve been able to squash like a bothersome gnat. In other words, it’s been quite manageable.

And I’d been rocking my personal fitness. I was running four miles 3 days a week, and mixing in yoga, too. I was cooking – actual food – with vegetables and quinoa and organically-raised tofu harvested by free-range leprechauns. (Close enough.)  I was nourishing myself.

Everything else was…calm.  Peaceful. The hubs had been treating me like a queen. The kids are doing wonderfully. My daughter had just finished her first year of college with <shameless Mom brag> a 4.0.  My son, a junior this year, has a darling new girlfriend. The situation with my stepsons, while not resolved, has stabilized. I don’t have any significant job stress. Mom was doing great – she was preparing to close out her and Dad’s business, and she has a…um…gentleman caller (?) who spoils her.

Side note: What exactly DO you call it when your 70ish-year-old mother is dating? “Boyfriend” sounds kinda juvenile, while “significant other” implies some sort of long-term commitment. And “friend”….yeah, no. You can just HEAR the air quotes when people say it. “…and this is Mom’s ‘friend’ Bob. Try it. See?!?

Side note #2: Should I feel weird about Mom dating? Because I totally don’t. Well, except that the guy she’s seeing is actually the father of my first ever real boyfriend. (Hurrah for small towns.) So, even though that was thirty (!!!) years ago, I sort of feel like I accidentally kissed my brother. But on the flip side, that means that I know this guy, and somehow, that’s comforting – he’s not a complete stranger. His wife passed several months ago, and as I recall, she wasn’t exactly a fan of me being in her son’s life because apparently, I had evil spirits floating around me. Anyway, I like the man and I love that she’s happy.

In summary, things were going smoothly.

The calm before the storm.

Then Mother’s Day weekend arrived. I wasn’t expecting any grand gestures, but the kids were aware, at least. We had a decent weekend planned – my son was getting ready to go to Prom on Saturday, and we’d have a quick lunch on Sunday before they went to their father’s and I got back on a plane.

Prom day was lovely. The weather had promised rain but surprised us with sunshine. The plan for the day was to head over to the girlfriend’s house mid-day, where my son (read: “we”) would cook dinner for the two of them. Then they’d put on their fancy duds and tolerate a few pictures before heading to the festivities.

And it went so well. My son and I worked together to prepare General Tso’s Chicken; I chopped the meat while he found pans and serving bowls. We opened sparkling juice and toasted the day.

Prom1

prom2

That’s my boy. LOL

After we Googled how to tie a necktie, we were ready for pictures. We skipped the usual local haunts (a quick drive-by indicated an intolerable crowd) and headed to his father’s house, where I knew the azaleas would be in full bloom. (I offered to take them to the local funeral home, or the cemetery, because OF COURSE there’d be fresh flowers there. But they declined. Sheesh, where is the sense of adventure? Kids today….) I snapped away, capturing the smiles. I even got some terrific shots of my son with his father that I know they’ll both treasure.  (I am SUCH a big person, ain’t I??)

prom3prom4

Shortly, the lovebirds were off to the dance. I met up with my daughter and her boyfriend and settled in to some serious Netflix. My daughter is really digging conspiracy theories lately, and yeah, there’s a series for that, believe it or not. Even though we’d ordered pizzas, her boyfriend, being a young man with an age-appropriate metabolism, brought “snacks” so we wouldn’t starve to death for the three hours we’d be sitting on our butts. His stash included two family-size bags of chips, a batch of beef stew, a kitchen-sink sized bowl of buttered popcorn, and two six-packs of soda.

Eventually, the two of them headed off to host an after-prom party.

Leaving me alone.

With the food. (Except the stew. I convinced him to take that home with him.)

So that’s HOW it happened. I just don’t know WHY.

But it happened.

Down went the family-sized bag of salt and vinegar chips and the rest of the popcorn. Even though I’d finished my gluten-free pizza earlier, I added a few slices of their leftovers to the frenzy. Then I headed off to Wal-Mart to top off the mess with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s finest.

Why not?  It didn’t matter. It’d be gone shortly.

I hadn’t done this in years. Decades, maybe. Sure, I’ve binged, but I’ve avoided sticking my toe back into the purging pool. Overeating is somewhat socially acceptable; we can half-ashamedly confess eating a doughnut we didn’t need or an extra slice of cake. Barfing, though, is still done behind closed doors.

Now, it was time.

I’d forgotten how hard this was. How violent. The body was not meant to do this. Yet, like riding the proverbial bicycle, mine eventually remembers.

Panting, gagging, my stomach rolls and heaves. I’m undressed from the waist down and perched atop a pile of lightly-used towels, as the bladder of a middle-aged woman can no longer bear the seismic onslaught forced upon it by making yourself vomit.

This is not an affliction for the proud.

get it out get it out get it out

Eventually, it’s over. I feel like a dishrag that’s been left at the bottom of the sink, sodden and heavy and unable to take any shape or form.

I clean up and try to sleep.

The next day, I carry the weight of my sins. My tongue feels as though I’ve burned it; my jaw aches like I’ve been chewing bowling balls.  Belches bring an acidic, burning reminder to the back of my throat. And to my heart.

It’s Mother’s Day. The sun’s out again. And the kids actually remember, bringing me cards and presents for the first time in maybe ever. The hubs surprises me with flowers, which showcase my favorite colors.

I am reminded that I am loved. And that today, I can start over. Reset the timer. 1 day since my last purge.

I can’t say this will never happen again. I’ve learned that swearing “never” is a cue for the fates to set up an elaborate exercise in irony.

But I don’t honestly have any idea why this happened. Why now, when things were going (relatively) fine? Why not when my dad died, or when the hubs and I were having more serious issues, or when my stepson was in the hospital? Why did this cap off a beautiful day bookended by my awesome kids?

And if I don’t know what caused this, how do I keep it from happening again? Was this a momentary lapse, or the beginning of a final descent? Was this random or a result? Fluke or fault line?

It’s unnerving. But I suppose that’s the crux of mental illness. If we could always control it, it wouldn’t be an illness, right?

Things have been…well…not great since then. I’ve done some exercise and a ton of eating. Zero days since my last binge. I’m blaming a canceled flight and an unplanned night in beautiful downtown Detroilet for the pizza and two candy bars I ate alone in my hotel room while watching (ironically) My 600-Pound Life for the most recent one.

I’ve kept it all down, though, and I suppose I have to remember to count that as a victory. Because the ninja still calls to me, whispering from the sink, the refrigerator, the checkout aisle. I’d learned to tune her out, and I need to ensure I have sufficient white noise in my life to block her song. Her voice is the mental mermaid that always tempts toward a tumultuous sea.

Sometimes, my footing slips on the rocks as the surf tugs at my toes.

Today, I hang on.

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The Effects of Effexor

I know I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’d like to say there’s a good reason for that…but actually, there’s been NO reason. Life has been tooling along steadily and uneventfully. After the last eighteen months, the calmer pace of “normal” is a blessing. (Although I’m writing this from 30,000 feet and I literally JUST saw another plane hurtling through the sky in the opposite direction uncomfortably close to the right wing. So maybe chaos hasn’t left, but is lurking around the corner, waiting to pull the ultimate “Gotcha!”)

So…some updates:

The hubs and I were going through what one might say is a “rough patch.” (These are probably the same people who say that childbirth is “uncomfortable.”)

By some miracle, things are actually better. MUCH better.

What’s changed? He’s toned down the hate speech. He’s told me every day how much he loves me, that he sincerely appreciates me, that he’s thankful to be married to me. He gives me the space I need.

And we talk. Truly COMMUNICATE. Where he says a thing, and I respond, and there’s a sharing of ideas and thoughts and opinions that’s respectful and intelligent. When we disagree, we do it with love. We seek to understand. And we hold hands.

I’ve been working on myself, as well.  Because I firmly believe that when a marriage fractures, you have to cast both bones. You cannot dance as a couple and only blame one person for the fall. If you want long-term healing, you absolutely have to be able to step back and understand your role in ending up where you landed, or you’re doomed to repeat the injury when you tango with someone else.

To be fair, the blame split isn’t usually 50/50:  My ex was abusive. Or she cheated.  In no way am I saying that people who have affairs or personality disorders can shift the blame…but it’s worth analyzing the events that lead up to falling in the pit.

I mean, most spouses don’t go seeking an affair because the relationship at home is amazeballs, right?

NOT THAT THIS MAKES IT EVEN REMOTELY OK OR IN ANY WAY EXCUSES THE BEHAVIOR.

But we can learn from pain, even if all we gain is a better awareness of how to spot the beginnings of cracks in the dam.

An example:  In my first marriage, my ex was mentally abusive. Clearly NOT my fault.  But it did me quite a bit of good to study the vulnerabilities in myself that drew me to this person.  It enabled me to shore myself up so I’d better identify the warning signs and avoid falling back down the rabbit hole. I practiced standing up for myself a little more often. Slowly, tentatively at first, I found my voice and a spare backbone.

In other words:  you need to master the difference between a surprise treat and a baited trap.  Or you’re doomed to wonder how you YET AGAIN got stuck in this cold, metal cage.

I’d been trying to do some healing through this blog, and occasionally I’d take a swing at therapy.  But in the spirit of really fixing myself and my marriage, I thought perhaps it was time to get more aggressive with the Care and Feeding of Kate.

So I went to the doctor and asked to try medication again.

Now, I’ve tried prescriptions in the past. Zoloft. Wellbutrin. Great antidepressants for many people.  However, my issue really is more anxiety.  Depression meds may or may not work when it comes to treating anxiety, and finding the right cocktail can feel as randomly impossible as picking the winning Powerball numbers.

And then there was the Lorazapam Incident. Yes…”incident.”  Which SHOULD be a great story, but unfortunately, I cannot remember ANY of it. What I do know is that sometime within the first week of taking this drug, I suddenly found myself home completely confused about how I had gotten there at 1 PM on a work day. The next morning, when I went to the office, I got a ton of concerned looks and questions: “Are you OK? No, really…are you?” No one would tell me what I did or what I said, other than, “you just didn’t look…right.” I also have NO CLUE HOW I DROVE HOME. Yikes. (And thanks, everyone, for letting me operate heavy machinery. Love you all.) Suffice it to say I got rid of that Rx in a hurry, and it’s notated in my medical chart as an “allergy”, right next to penicillin. (I’m also allergic to cockroaches. But they won’t add that in there, for some reason, even though I think it’s super interesting and a GREAT icebreaker for those awkward silences at parties. I guess it’s a good indicator that they won’t be using cockroaches in medicine in the foreseeable future, right? Because yuck.)

I’ve also tried sleeping aids, thinking that if I could get quality rest, it’d help. On some nights, plain old melatonin helped a little, but melatonin is like a Band-aid – fine for minor cuts, not so good for gaping sleep wounds.

So, a few years ago, I tried to find something stronger. Ambien, anyone? All of my friends* swore by it: “It’s a miracle drug. Best shuteye I’ve had in years. You might eat the entire contents of your fridge at 3 AM, but you’ll sleep right through it.”

*Yes, all. Why does it seem like most people I know are on some type of medication? Is this true in your circle, too? Maybe we all send off invisible signals to one another, an unlisted side effect attracting us together like magnets.

What did Ambien – the miracle siesta drug – do for me?

NOTHING.

Nada, zip, zero.

No drowsiness, no restorative REMs, no sleepdriving across town at 2AM to buy donuts at the 7-11. It was like all my buddies were ripping open presents while Sandman Santa had missed my house completely.

I switched over to Trazodone, which actually unwound me enough to help me sleep. Problem was, I wanted to KEEP sleeping.  Since my job expected me to show up before the socially accepted lunch hour, I had to give it up. Plus, when you sleep until noon, it’s impossible to fall BACK asleep anytime before 2 AM. It’s like getting jet lag without the tropical vacation and enviable tan.

So I gave up.

It had been about ten years since I attempted medication.  Honestly, I wasn’t terribly optimistic that there was an appropriate cocktail* out there that would help.    But in the spirit of shoring up myself so I could better focus on my marriage, about six weeks ago I put on my adulting shoes and headed to the doctor and asked for help.

*Yeah…wine helps too.  But that’s not a crutch I want to depend on.  Because addiction.  And calories. 

I wasn’t sure there was much left that I hadn’t tried. But there was. “It shows here that we  prescribed you Effexor a few years ago, but you never filled the script because it was too expensive.” (They wrote THAT in my chart, but not the part about cockroaches?) “There’s a generic available now. Let’s give that a whirl.”

So off to the pharmacy I went.

I got my caplets, took them as instructed, and waited.

The good news? They worked. THEY ACTUALLY WORKED. I started to sleep. The racing thoughts subsided.

The biggest change?

I no longer felt compelled to weigh and measure my food.

Lemme let that sink in for a sec.

After spending years of my life counting olives and weighing salsa, I put my food scale away.

This. Was. Huge. Miraculous. Life-changing.  I stole bites of whatever treat the hubs was enjoying.  If I wanted ketchup and mustard on my burger, I just slopped it on willy-nilly without really caring whether I had 1.5 tablespoons or two.

I was more relaxed everywhere, including the dinner table.

But….now the bad news:  the side effects.

First, there were the headaches.  Constant, nagging, aching.  Half my daily caloric intake was analgesics.  I rapidly depleted my Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, which didn’t do anything positive for the other problematic issue:  nausea.

Have you ever dealt with chronic nausea?  It’s debilitating.  Exhausting.  You feel awful all the time.  You’d think this would be an absolute dream for someone with an eating disorder, wouldn’t you?  But it’s not.  It’s the kind of nausea that can only be relieved (ironically) by eating.  It was a cruel need for constant calories, and I was too ill to care.  From the couch, I kept up with a steady stream of carbs (mostly tortilla chips and pizza*) and focused on trying to function.

*No matter how sick I am, I can pretty much always eat pizza.  This was also the case when I was pregnancy-puking.  Most people gravitate towards ginger ale and saltines.  Me?  If I’m refusing pizza, take me to the hospital STAT.

It was maddening.  I’d found something that relieved the constant barrage of negativity in my head – yet made me as sick as my bulimic cat.  I debated toughing it out, but after missing two days of work, I decided it was far too high a price to pay for relative mental stability.  Reluctantly, I messaged my doctor.  Thankfully, there was a different formulation I could try – a fast-acting, smaller dose, taken twice a day.

One more. 

Just try.

What did I have to lose?

I picked up my prescription and I held my breath.

And, in a few days, I was able to step outside of myself and enjoy the view.

sunset1

The view from my vet’s office.

Am I 100% cured?  Of course not.  But someone’s come and cleaned the film from my internal windows.  The voices in my head are quieter.  More subtle.  Suggestions, not commands.  I can diagnose irrational thoughts and tamp them down with reassurances that my brain is attempting to mislead me.

And there are still some side effects – namely, REALLY detailed and vivid dreams. (Which I should totally write about.  Except for the one that starred Will Smith.  Hubba hubba.)

Will Smith completes his gray #Tuxedo with a tailored black #TuxedoVest.:

I love Pinterest.

The queasiness is minor and fleeting.  I’m getting some headaches, but they’re manageable and treatable.  And I’m a bit tired, so it’s not exactly easy to get out of bed.  (Not that it ever was.  Mornings and I aren’t exactly BFFs.)

So I have a slightly longer climb most days.  But so far, it’s been worth it to enjoy the view.

sunset2

The sights as I left the office.  Working in BFE has some advantages.

What’s worked for you?  What didn’t help at all?  Medication?  Therapy?  A combination?  Share your triumphs and tribulations in the comments!

 

On Thursday

My eyes slowly open.  It’s brighter out than usual.  I must have slept in.

The blinds are closed, but a foggy, soft light peeks into the room through the small slits.  I roll over and squint at the clock.  A red 7:37 confirms for me that today is not a normal work day.

It is Thursday.  It is unusual to have a day off in the middle of the week.  My brain works to reconcile this.  I am still in bed after the sun woke up.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

I turn over and blink at the ceiling.  I could get up.  Or I could close my eyes and doze for a bit longer.  Knowing that tomorrow I will have to get myself up, dressed, and presented to the world in time to support my coworkers in the Black Friday madness, I decide that I best roll out of bed and face the day.  Otherwise, sleep won’t come until the wee hours.

I go to the window and part the blinds with two fingers.  It’s overcast, but most of the snow that fell earlier in the week has retreated to the grassy areas.  The roads are clear, damp in spots and dry in others.

It is Thursday, and on Thursdays, I run.  I don my shoes and my fleece running tights and head out the door.

It’s cold and damp, but not offensively so.  I ask my phone to shuffle my music, and start my run-tracking appThe scale knows only that today is Thursday.  My thighs don’t know today is different. 

My spouse chose to sleep in, so today’s workout is a solo effort.  The hubs prefers a specific route, but today, I can choose my path.  I pause for a moment, overwhelmed by options and unsure of my direction.  On Thursdays, we go right.  But today is different.  I turn left at the end of the driveway.

Siri‘s in a Broadway kind of mood today.  My phone blasts excerpts from Aspects of Love and Hairspray. I don’t wear headphones when I run; I want to be able to hear approaching cars and unleashed dogs.  This morning, the air is largely still.  It’s unusually quiet for a Thursday.  The normal hum of rush-hour traffic is missing, and I can’t decide if the incongruous silence is comforting or unsettling.   My eyes and ears note the contrast.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

The lack of activity makes me hyper-aware of my surroundings.  I note the lone passenger at the bus stop, bundled in a thick parka.  I start as a squirrel darts a few feet in front of me.  A partially rusted car, painted with gray primer, makes a U-turn in the middle of the street and parks a half block ahead of me.  It’s a safe neighborhood, but I confirm my grip on my pepper spray, moving the nozzle to “fire.”  I watch as a wiry, bearded man exits the vehicle, hoisting his bag of newspapers over his shoulder.  I nod in his direction and smile as I call out, “Good morning!”  He looks up, surprised, but returns the greeting.  Perhaps on Thursdays, no one says hello to the junk paper delivery guy.  But today is different.

My phone announces the start of Mile Two.  Halfway there.  I cover a few more squares of sidewalk before carefully turning around to reverse my route.  I leap over small snow piles, avoiding the bumpy metallic curb slopes.  (Those suckers are slippery. ) Occasionally, I land in a pile of slush.  It clogs the treads of my running shoes and I lose a bit of traction.  I press on.  I shouldn’t fall.

I shake the snow loose and let my mind wander as I pass the ranch-styles and split-levels.  Is the neighborhood awake?  Are they in their kitchens, slicing potatoes?  Are they at their laptops, frantically Googling “fastest way to thaw a frozen turkey”?  Perhaps they’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of family – or maybe everyone arrived last night, leaving them wondering if it’s too early to uncork a bottle of red.  I wonder if any of them are looking out their windows.  Do they see me?  Do they think “look at her dedication, running even today!”  Because although it is Thursday, and there is no reason not to run on normal Thursdays, today is different.

Mile Three.   I run across a normally busy street without looking.  On Thursday, this is dangerous.  But it’s so peaceful, the possibility of traffic doesn’t even occur to me until I’ve crossed two lanes.  Today is different.  Even Siri attempts to remind me of the date, as she offers up When October Goes (yes, Barry Manilow is in my collection, don’t judge) and November Rain as subtle hints.

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

Today, families across the country are gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries.  They’ll cheer their favorite teams as they lift forks and spoons filled with spiced pumpkin and ice cream.  And after the game, they might sit around the table, sharing old stories and sandwiches and card games and coffee, reminiscing and laughing by a crackling fire.

This is not my today.  Today is different.

I arrive home, clapping bark and leaves off my shoes.  My kids are celebrating the holiday with their father.  My siblings are with my mother as she navigates both her first wedding anniversary and first major holiday without her husband in over fifty years.  Sure, I could have boarded a plane to be with them. I could have joined the millions of Americans who just yesterday jammed the airports and highways, shelling out dollars and tempers and myriad frustrations in order to chase their expectations.

Out loud, to coworkers, I pride myself on refusing to travel during what I have deemed “amateur hour,” fighting to get to my gate among beginners who don’t understand which line to wait in and never remember that a full water bottle is a weapon which must be discarded before you hit Security.

I opt out of the madness.  I claim to prefer a relaxed, subdued holiday.  Sometimes I manage to convince myself this is true.

The house is quiet.  Warm and dark after the damp, oddly bright cloudiness outside.  My stepsons are awake and plugged into their respective computers, oblivious to my entrance.

I retreat to the basement to stretch.  The cats join me, craning their necks for an ear-scratch while I release the tension in my quads and hamstrings.  I clean up a small pile of regurgitated cat food.  I scoop the litterbox.  I dole out hairball treats.

The scale is there, waiting for me.  It’s Thursday.  Hop on.  I sigh, exhale, and ask the judge for mercy.  She grants it, haltingly.  I’m still on probation.  Five more pounds, maybe seven.  I can do this.  Even today. 

After my shower, I switch on the coffee pot.  I assemble a green smoothie.  It is Thursday, after all.  No reason to switch to pancakes or cookies.  No occasion warrants a sidestep from the calorie-counting regimen.  Not even today.

Sipping slowly, I plot out my day.  There’s a sale starting at 6 PM; I get $10 off my purchase.  That might be worth waiting in line for.  Football will be on most of the day; I can toast some pumpkin seeds and relax in my new recliner until then.  I pick out an afghan that my husband’s grandmother made.  I turn on the Christmas tree, letting the lights illuminate the room.

Today, it is Thursday.  And my life will not be a Norman Rockwell painting.  Nor will it be an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  I suppose one might be thankful for that.

My life isn’t what I planned.  I envisioned hectic holidays, crammed to the gills with family laughter and delicious food and epic card games and stolen naps.  As a child, I never thought through the what-ifs of divorce and geography.  Yet I live it today, the quiet being a product of the choices I’ve made.

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

Make no mistake, I’m aware that I’ve been richly blessed.  My life is, overall, quite good.

It’s just different.  Especially today.

Later, I’ll bake some fish and roast some of the veggies from my weekly crop share delivery. I’ll get my Christmas lists ready. Maybe a new pair of booties will wend their way into my Amazon basket. I’ll work to shove the should-haves and don’t-eats out of the way as I focus on nurturing my soul.

I should probably do that every Thursday.

But today is different.  Every part of my body and all of my senses are telling me so.

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

I settle into the couch and flip on the game.  One of my cats is curled up next to me.

To him, it’s just Thursday.  And he seems perfectly content with that.

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.

Performance-Enhancing Slugs

It’s performance review time!

Ah, yes – that time of year when employees can finally receive valuable feedback and career guidance from their engaged, involved managers who

<snort>

HAHAHAHAHAHA no.

It’s the time of year where supervisors need to assess a large group of employees within a ridiculously small time frame.  (Hey, HR would give you MORE time, but let’s be honest here – you’re not going to actually DO the reviews until the last minute, no matter HOW many weeks I give you.  So let’s not pretend that you rushed the process due to lack of “time,” mmmkay? It’s more a combination of procrastination, poor time management, and Murphy’s Law spitting all over your inbox.)  This leads to  a frantic pencil-whipping of the evaluation form that results in a largely ineffective – if not entirely inaccurate – assessment of job performance.

The end result?  You hastily assign each team member a largely subjective “rating” that drives the entire trajectory of each employee’s future with your organization.

(No pressure.)

No, really.  Don’t sweat it.  It’s more than likely that you’ll quit, get laid off, or be transferred before there’s any possibility of your employees getting promoted, and once THAT happens, you’ll be persona non grata with your company, rendering all of your feedback null and void.

So why do companies still DO performance reviews? 

Great question.  And no…I don’t have the answer.

I think the intent is good – it’s meant to ensure that employees get at least ONE session of individualized feedback per year.  It also provides a mechanism to require the lazier managers to document performance – good, bad, or meh – annually, at a minimum.  (The good managers are doing this throughout the year, of course, but when you have 45 employees reporting to you, it’s hard to remember to actually DO this unless your company forces it.  Frankly, it’s a broken system, not unlike other political systems <coughcoughAmericacoughTrumpcough> that we’re all quite sick and tired of discussing at this point.)

Regardless of intended purpose, the performance management process invariably results in some cringe-worthy comments that serve to thoroughly entertain your HR team.  (In other words, yes, we are, in fact, laughing AT you.)

So let’s chuck professionalism completely out the window <crash!> as I share with you some of our Fiscal Year 2016 Performance Review gems.  Below are actual excerpts from real-life performance reviews that are now permanently preserved in our HRIS system for all eternity.  (Or until there’s a clever hacking attempt, a nuclear war, or the next software upgrade mysteriously yet completely obliterates several years of company history, which they assured you could NOT happen, yet here you are, staring down blank screens and swearing like an angry football coach.)

Names have been redacted to protect the innocent, but otherwise, these are the unfiltered, unedited comments in their raw, unpasteurized glory.

Safety: One of the requirements we have in our review process is that “everyone gets evaluated for working safely.”  From the 15000-foot level, it makes sense – everyone SHOULD be thinking about safety as part of their jobs, right? If it’s important (which it is, OSHA, in case you’re trolling this blog) everyone should be held accountable for it. And what better way to hold people accountable than to make it a score-able section on the review? (Avoiding serious, permanent injury  clearly isn’t incentive enough – it’s only when it might impact your whopping 2.5% raise that people pay attention.)

When it comes time to write something in that little box, though, some managers are at a bit of a loss, as referenced by this manager’s answer to “Does Bill work safely?”

Bill still uses a little knife.

That’s the comment in its entirety.

Fin.

??

Normally, I strongly discourage managers from openly discussing the sizes of their team members’ knives. Because harassment, ya know. But…is using a small knife a good thing? Bad thing? Dangerous? Should he be using a machete, or is a scalpel a better tool for running a cash register? (Yep, that’s his job. So I’m unclear why a knife needs to be mentioned at all, unless that area has REALLY gone downhill in the last four weeks.)

But clearly, it was important enough to mention. As you can see, we have insanely rigorous standards for safety:

This is a category that the company can honest say…No one lost a finger, or was electrocuted.

Evidently, the only way to set the bar any lower is to bury it.  But speaking of raising the bar….

Room for Improvement: Before I begin this section, let me just say that the annual review is NOT the place to introduce performance issues. Ideally, the manager’s been discussing any concerns with the employees  immediately when they occur, and uses the review to reiterate and reinforce the message, and to document progress.

Success on this item, though, might be a bit of a challenge to measure:

You can get lost it seems in the break room for a variety of reasons

Let me be clear – our work sites are not the elaborate engineering feat that is the NYC Subway System. Our “break areas” aren’t exactly palatial – they’re much closer to a glorified utility closet furnished with a small table and a microwave. How one gets “lost” in a room equipped with not much more than the two required means of egress is mildly concerning, given the other complicated tasks that need to be accomplished every day, like feeding oneself or remembering to zip your fly after you use the rest room. The remainder of the review was  a solid “meets expectations,” though, so I guess he’s doing just fine. (Or our expectations are at zero altitude. Not sure which.)

Now, if you DO have to provide negative feedback, common management coaching recommends serving the “feedback sandwich.” Essentially, you provide the constructive criticism (the “meat”) in between two layers of kudos (the “bread.”) Here’s a solid example. (I think.)

While a superior leader, John could use some improvement on employee development. While not just his fault, the receptiveness of the employees is partly to blame.

Waitwaitwait.  What??? Employees don’t always want to do what you ask them to do?  WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO?!

<facepalm>

Praise and Progress: Performance reviews aren’t just a vehicle to provide correction. They’re also an opportunity to share what your employees are doing right. For example, if your employee is TERRIBLE at, say, humidity and horticulture, you might write something like this:

There is no moss growing under this manager.

To be fair, I totally get why this is a good thing. I mean, if you stood up at work and saw moss under your chair, I’m 94% certain you’d have a problem with that. (The other 6% of you work in a forest, with Snow White and the Three Bears or something. Cool gig if you don’t get eaten.) But I had NO idea that workplace moss was such a real hazard. Wasn’t the Affordable Care Act supposed to help prevent this? How would OSHA fine a moss-sighting, exactly? And do you need HAZMAT training to correctly remove it?

If dirt algae isn’t your employee’s strongest suit, don’t despair. Perhaps he has other magic tricks up his sleeve.

Ted is good at lessening to his crew.

So I’m envisioning that dude from Thinner (which is the only Steven King novel I’ve read, because it’s the only one that has anything to do with weight loss.) Or the Incredible Shrinking Woman (which I have GOT to find and watch again, because I haven’t seen it in probably 30 years, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s as horrifically bad a movie as I remember.)

Supervisor: “Hey…anyone seen Ted today?”

Employee #1: “He was in the break room getting coffee a few minutes ago….”

Employee #2: “Oh no! Did he get the 20-ouncer and end up trapped under the cup again?”

<group rushes to vending machine>

Employee #2: “Dammit, Ted!”

Employee #1: “We only needed two more accident-free days to earn a pizza party. Jerk.”

On second thought, maybe it’s not quite that bad. Maybe Ted had bariatric surgery, or a really successful run with Weight Watchers. Either way, perhaps this is a sign that we need to lay off the high-pressure wellness programs we’ve got going on.

Anyway. When you do provide positive feedback, try not to kill the mood with overly dramatic platitudes:

The trajectory of the facility is headed in the right direction, and the future looks very bright. I think we are one lead away from having a nearly perfect staff. The driver of this ship in maintaining the staff is you. I will not be here forever or for that matter very long.

Wow. First of all, I had no idea I worked for NASA. Because apparently, this employee is an astronaut. Or a firework. <cue Katy Perry>

But dear heavens.  Is her manager terminally ill? Did he get an unfavorable reading from a psychic? Either way, your departure from Earth really isn’t relevant to your employee’s performance – it’s part of YOURS. And we frown upon unscheduled absences, so please pick up a leave packet from HR later today.

Whatever the feedback, just remember to make it clear and concise so your employee can really appreciate the compliment:

You are able and willing to run the Packing Department when your lead in gone our out of the department. Continue to be that asset for us this next year.

Employee: “Thank you, sir. I’ll be sure to keep doing…um…”

<scratches head>

Employee: “…keep being….uh….”

<squints and rereads>

Employee: “wait, what was I doing well again?”

Supervisor: “Thanks! You’re a great asset. Keep up the good work!”

Employee Development:  The performance review is the perfect time to discuss professional growth and career development.  Be sure to let your manager know about your future aspirations so they can be documented:

Kyle has asked to be more evolved in business operations

Um….

(Well, for starters, Kyle, you could quit dragging those knuckles. Blood is hard to remove from office-grade carpeting.)

And if your employee HAS stepped up, don’t be afraid to point that out:

This program has been taken to the next level for your department.  You presented several key faucets of this in our recent team meeting.

Key faucets. 

Believe it or not, they actually exist. 

Honestly, I don’t know WHY they exist, or how they have anything to do with…well…anything.  But they were presented, so <head tilt> I guess that’s one less thing I have to worry about that I didn’t know I was supposed to be worrying about.

Finally, as you wrap up the review, don’t be afraid to share some of the wisdom you’ve accumulated through your years of experience:

If everything’s coming at you too fast, it might just be because it is.

 <holds fist to chest, blinking back tears>  

Words to live by.

I was so moved <coughcoughSNORT> by this workplace proverb that I promptly shared it with my team.

Me:  This is why you shouldn’t be eating fortune cookies while you’re writing reviews.

Team Member:  …and you know what they say about the fortunes from cookies, right?

Oh yeah….

If everything’s coming at you too fast, it might just be because it is.  In bed.

I love HR so hard.

And next, the CEO wants us all to write SMART goals.

I CAN’T WAIT.

Remind me again why I quit teaching….?

<slugs hemlock>

Days of Wine and…Popcorn

It’s been a rough couple of months here, folks. As you may recall, I’ve had a few things going on.

As I mentioned in my last post,  we just finished a month-long stint with my Dad in hospice care, where he spent most of his days sleeping and we spent the bulk of ours checking our phones and emails constantly for updates while we waited for the inevitable.  While we certainly knew what was coming, the anticipation of bad news wears on ya after awhile:  Is today the day I put life on hold?  The day I set everything aside?  Will it be later today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Month?    It’s absolutely draining, and I didn’t appreciate HOW exhausting it was until it had raced past me, kicking dust and leaves into my sweaty, sticky face and leaving me coughing.

Meanwhile, life’s been hucking other curveballs at my face, too.

First up:  We had a wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  We “celebrated” nine years of sometimes-blissful, lately-often-stressful marriage by attending the viewing of a friend who passed away suddenly.   Ted was one of those genuinely terrific guys (insert obvious reference to the relevant Billy Joel tune here) -the world should be really sad to have lost him.

And it was one of those “died in his sleep for no discernible reason” deaths, which is typically code for…well, stuff no one wants to talk about.  While I have my suspicions, we’ll never know for certain, and besides, it doesn’t MATTER what happened.  It won’t change the fact that he’s gone.  And he was a week YOUNGER than me, which makes it all the more…disquieting, ya know?

Stuff like that will cash your mortality check in a hurry.  Plus, it sort of trumps any sort of anniversary celebration.

Second: the hubs finished his letter to me – the one where he planned to outline all the reasons that Religion is Bunk.

religion_is_bunk_bumper_sticker-r692e2b5ac9a54586b39e5e568e1b5614_v9wht_8byvr_630

This is still on his car. No, I haven’t said anything. Yet.

I haven’t read it yet…more on that later. But it’s there, lurking under the bed like the proverbial monster from when you were five, just waiting to grab your ankles if you DARE use the bathroom.

Suffice it to say that living day-to-day with this level of stress takes a toll – and it was manifestering (like that?  I just made it up) as an escalation in my disordered eating habits.  I’ve been running 16 miles a week on 1200(ish) calories a day (Okay…maybe 1100.  Or 1000.  Most days.)

Oh, and speaking of running, even my food/exercise-tracking app is out to get me.  I use MyFitnessPal and sync it with MapMyFitness.  Normally, these tools work GREAT. But recently, there was a software update…and now, my 4-mile run burns 65 fewer calories than it did before.

@#)$(@#%@%^£{£}*|€\€]^$^%$&@!!!WHYYYYY?!?

Did a lower weight finally sync up? Rectified math error?  Dunno.  But let’s break it down to what’s truly important here:  with the new calculation, I have to run nearly SIXTEEN MILES to burn off ONE pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Sixteen f*%#!%@ miles.

That’s effing MADNESS.

Anyway, I decided I needed to circle my mental wagons around and work on ways to take better care of myself.  Before I disappear completely.  Or implode from stress overload.  Or start randomly stabbing furniture.

So HOW do I nurture myself?  While I’d prefer to be independently wealthy and retire to a warm, tropical location, I’m just a few gazillion dollars away from making that a reality.  So here are some things that I know I can do:

Stand up for myself.  Saying “no” can be tough.  Why?  Because we don’t want people to be mad at us?  Because we’re afraid people won’t like us if we don’t cater to their beck and call?  Or is it simply easier to cross favors off the list so we don’t have to think about them – and the potential fallout of saying “can’t today” – anymore?

Women tend to take on the overwhelming responsibility of ensuring the happiness of others.  And we make this a priority, neglecting ourselves in the process.  The results include exhaustion, frustration, and resentment.  Who’s happy now, chica?  Everyone but YOU.

So – repeat after me:

No, I can’t make that work right now.

No, I’m not available.

No, I don’t have the energy to address that at the moment.

No….Let’s discuss this at a later time.  I’ll let you know what works for me.

I know the words initially feel foreign, but trust me, it DOES get easier.  The world will not vote you off the island if you liberally apply these phrases, I promise.

Or so I’m told.

<ring ring> Is kettle there?

But in the spirit of “practice what you preach,” I’m doing this, too.  Remember that letter I mentioned above?  Given all the other white noise drowning out my mind, I actually stood up for myself – I told the hubs that now was not the time for his letter.  I can deal with the relationship issues LATER – after the kids go back to school, the election is over, and future bacon sprouts wings and flies right past my window.

Eventually, I WILL have to address this. It’s hanging over my head like the proverbial mistletoe at Christmas, just dangling there cluttering up the aesthetics, waiting for me to unsuspectingly park there while some opportunistic slightly-greasy dude plants a wet, juicy smacker on my lips.

But it doesn’t have to be TODAY.  Or tomorrow.  I can rest and recharge, and cross that emotional gorge once I’ve cleaned off my windshield and am running on a full set of batteries.

Exercise.  Yeah, I know.  <blearghhhhhh>  But regular exercise DOES help with stress.  You can read the science here, or review Dr. Kate’s breakdown:

When you’re stressed, your body releases this stuff called cortisol – it’s your body’s reaction to that whole fight-or-flight thing – so if you’re surprised by, say, a hungry bear in the woods, you have a “burst” to help you run away – fast.

The problem is that our modern-day stress is generally less about things that require physical flight.  It’s more along the lines of the annual tax bill, an unplanned job loss, or the unexpected arrival of swimsuit season.  (Which, despite arriving at approximately the same time every year, I AM NEVER READY FOR.)  We don’t have a physical need for this sudden storing of hormonal rocket fuel.  But it’s there anyway – and cortisol kicks you in the knees by weakening your bones, lowering your immunity, and killing your sex drive.  The more stress you have, the more cortisol spews out.

So how does exercise help?  Exercise is controlled stress.  You’re running/walking/Jazzercising/whatever, but there are no zombies waiting to sprinkle your backside with Frank’s Red Hot.  So your body thinks, OK, we’ve got some cortisol in da house, and we be chillin’.  We good.  Since there’s no direct threat, your tolerance for cortisol increases, and it can’t cripple you as effectively as it did before.  Essentially, your stress “muscles” are stronger, – you’re more resilient to stress , and it takes a bigger bucket of cortisol to knock you out.

Little Indulgences.  Whether it’s a mani/pedi, a massage, or a fancy coffee at a frou-frou java house, there are lots of small treats to be had when you need a boost.

I tend to look at inexpensive retail therapy.  You don’t have to spend a lot to get a lift – new earrings or socks can really cheer you up.  Just take a look at, well, ANYTHING from Blue Q: 

(Warning – adult language ahead.  But these are kick@$$ socks):

kickass_socks2

And speaking of wine…

Sometimes, there’s nothing like getting lost in your own sofa.  I’m talking TV, people.  And since we are an evolved, organized species, we can watch pretty much anything we want at any time of day.  Thanks to Netflix, Amazon video, YouTube, and other avenues, we have a nearly endless buffet of programming to choose from.  And, unlike the olden days when we had to actually dial our phones and GET UP <gasp> to change the channel, this is all available instantly.  So if you need a quick mental break, it’s there for the taking.  And it’s judgement-free, because no one can see you.

YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO WEAR PANTS.  (Sign ME up.)

Whether you’re into drama, comedy, or somebody-else’s-reality TV, nothing goes better with electronic entertainment than a good glass of what makes you smile and a bowl of something that satisfies.

Don’t get me wrong here – I am NOT advocating eating or drowning your feelings.  That just turns your current problem into a fat, bloated, belchy one.  (Which is far less entertaining than it sounds.)  But sometimes, you need to have a mini-getaway, and small, planned indulgences can make your couch more vacation-like, especially if you’re doing it in the spirit of nurturing your soul.

So here’s my recliner retreat checklist:

Entertainment:  For me, nothing relaxes like mindless TRASH TV.  Being an overworked intellectual (HAHAHAHA <snort>) I need a break from my exhaustive thinking, re-thinking, and over-thinking, so I amuse myself with the human freak-show circus. 

From my recent queue (don’t judge):

Beverage:  Wine.  (Duh.)  Red, white, or pink – I’m equal-opportunity and all about embracing the diversity.

Pro tip:  In some locations, there are “blue laws” and the liquor stores are closed on Sundays – so you might need to stock up on Saturday just to get through the weekend.   Given my life as of late, I had the foresight to prepare. (again – don’t judge):

winestock

Note – all of the bottles in this cart were $8.99 and under.  The Double Dog Dare reds were $2.99 each – and perfectly drinkable. (Then again, as you can see by my viewing choices, I may not have the most refined palate.  But you do you.)

I also liked this one, for $6.99:

wine

Because the label.  So cute!

I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying mead lately.  Generally, I prefer my drinks quite dry, and mead tends to be on the sticky side.  But this brand from Nectar Creek fits the bill nicely:

mead1

Don’t fear the bee.  Halfway through the bottle you’ll wanna give him a big ol’ hug.

Snacks:  Since I spent way too much time obsessing over my weight, I don’t want to pick a noshable that fills me out even more.  I mean, stressing over your de-stressor is like worrying about watermelon making you fat.  WHICH AIN’T RIGHT.

So I gravitate towards volume-packed munchies that fill up a big bowl for not-too-many calories.  The perfect choice for this, as we all know from years at the movie theater, is popcorn.

Ah, popcorn.  How I love thee.

The beauty of popcorn is that it’s no longer the dull, dry, packaging-material flavor it was back in the day.  Like TV programming, it’s evolved tremendously in sheer variety.  There’s a concoction for every craving.  Sweet?  Salty?   Spicy?   Yes please.  It’s out there, and in versions that will NOT make your butt look big.

Take a look at this snazzy infographic, courtesy of SkinnyPop:

SkinnyPop%20Wine

Find out more at SkinnyPop.com

A couple of thoughts on the above:

1.  I have had most of these flavors AND THEY ARE ALL DELICIOUS.  Just the other day, I found the Jalapeño at Walgreens, of all places. It’s really flavorful with just a hint of kick . I was thinking it’d be perfect with a crisp white, and it looks like the peeps at SkinnyPop agree with me.

2. The only flavor I haven’t had is the Dusted Dark Chocolate, because I can’t for the life of me find it anywhere.  This is Great Popcorn Sadness.  This shiz needs to be in my life, like, immediately, but for some reason, it hasn’t surfaced in the hippie-dippie part of the Midwest I reside in.

I’ll keep looking.

3.  You can’t really go wrong with wine – or mead, or beer, or ginger ale – and popcorn.  So mix it up and have fun!

I just have to remember to park on the couch with a bowl and a glass, NOT the entire bag and a bottle…because, after all, chip clips are for quitters, yo.  <burp>

How do you unwind?  What’s your go-to for chillin’?  Share your escapes in the comments!

Analyzing the Angry

Dear Family, Friends, Coworkers, and Random Drivers Going 58 in the F*(#!&@ Fast Lane:

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my state of mind this past week.

You’ve noticed that I’ve been on edge.  Stressed out.  Tense.  I’ve given curt, overly blunt responses to innocent, honest questions.  My personal volume’s been elevated by at least two clicks, and if I had this ability, there’s be a ton of ashes to scatter right now:

As much as I try to be an easygoing, stretch your wings and fly type, I just can't stop trying to burst people into flames with my mind:

I’ve been…prickly?  No.  More like…stabby.  Yeah.  Slightly stabby.  And while you may be feeling a bit put out by my abrasiveness, all the $#!ts I give about that are right here in this basket I’m not holding:

emptyhands

Side note:  It’s not easy to take a picture of your own hands.  Seriously – try it.

After much analysis – you know, dissecting those feelings, sitting with ’em, letting the thoughts marinate while I take long-distance bike rides and rip the life out of unwelcome weeds in my garden – I’ve identified what’s going on.

I’m angry.

So I’ve been working to understand WHY I’m feeling this way.  Because if I have a REASON, I can FIX it, and subsequently feel better, right?

Generally, life has been good to me, I know.  But there are a couple of things lately that are making me feel like a cat you’ve pet backwards from tail to head.  And it’s not for things like Words with Friends disqualifying PERFECTLY LEGIT words (though admittedly, that’s mildly irritating):

yesitis aword

George Lucas begs to differ.

No, there’s some marginally less superficial shiz going down here.

First, I was angry because we were at my in-laws last weekend.  And while you should know that I love them dearly, visiting them is a challenge because of the massive amount of temptation everywhere.  And by “temptation,” I mean FOOD.  Cookies (three freshly-baked varieties) and rich desserts and meaty entrees.  Nuts and chocolate in little jars on the table, out in the open for the taking at any time you just want a bite (yeah, right, one bite) of something salty or sweet.  And, because the hubs and his entire family – his teenage boys and his mom and dad in their 70s – are tall and lean, they can all partake heartily in all of this delicious, glorious food, just because they want it.

And I was angry because EVERYONE GETS TO EAT ice cream cake and fried fish and buttered potatoes and I do not.  And it’s HARD sometimes – especially when they have a ginormous meal at noon, WITH dessert portions that contain at least half my daily caloric allowance, and then have another plate FULL OF FREAKING RIBS for a SNACK (a snack!!) at 3:00 and I have to pretend to be happy with a bowl of watermelon.

I was mad. Angry mad. Because life is unfair when it comes to food, and I’m never, ever going to be the kind of person who can walk past an ice cream store, think “hmm, sounds good,” and eat a simple cone and have that be the end of it – no drama, judgement, or guilt.  The scale is my probation officer who commands me to report in almost daily; dalliances are immediately evident and the punishment is severe.  Best not to tick her off.

So why else?

I’m angry because the hubs has been somewhat distant this week.  That’s partly because he’s trying to be respectful of me “needing my space,” and partly because my vibe this week’s been pretty much “touch me and die.”

But he’s also been working on writing me a letter.

What about?  His quest to explore his spirituality.  (Or lack thereof.)  He’s been crafting a letter to me explaining how he feels about the Bible in general.

And I have zero – ZERO – interest in reading this.

Why?  A number of reasons:

1. I already know how he feels about it.  He’s made it abundantly clear – in his choice of T-shirts, his bumper stickers, his inability to refrain from rude comments….I get it.  I know.  You’re not on Team Jesus.  Copy that, loud and clear, bro.

2. I’m not in a good place for this right now.  WE’RE not in a good place for this.  I still can’t hear your opinions on the subject without feeling personally attacked; you’re not in a headspace where you can communicate these issues without a ton of editorial emotion; and frankly, I’m still not over the whole Ashley Madison thing, so giving me more reason to feel like we can’t bond, to realize that we might not ever again be close….Let’s just say now is not the time.  I still feel like I’m being emotionally waterboarded over here.  I need time to breathe.  Our relationship needs time for the glue to stabilize and set a bit before you start using this newly repaired vessel as a cocktail shaker.

3.  It’s hella long.  It just feels like…work.  Like writing-your-Affirmative-Action-Plan work.  Which is somewhere between <snoooooooooooore> and PLEASE SHOOT ME.

In other words, I just don’t have the energy to bring this festering lump to a head and clean up the mess when it ruptures and oozes all over the place.

Not right now.

Because I’m also angry that my Dad started hospice care last week.

We’ve known it was coming.  He’s been slowly withering away for the last nineteen months, losing weight, eating less, getting out of bed less often.  If you haven’t lived through something like this, you likely underestimate the stressful state of limbo this puts you in.

Every morning, you check your phone for news:  Nope.  Not dead yet.  And you get on with your day.  Eventually, you get accustomed to this as the status quo, and you work with it.

But once you call in hospice, you know you’re racing the final lap.  No more pit stops; the checkered flag’s somewhere in front of you.  But the road’s all wavy and bendy, like the heat mirage on the highway in July, and you really don’t know how much further you need to go before the path ends and it’s finally over.  And every day you preface work, kid activities, and other commitments with “…unless something happens to Dad.”  And people nod somberly, and they understand.

And your heart breaks a little more each day.

And the light of your soul just isn’t quite as bright. 

And the steel of your armor rusts, bit by bit, until the things you’re shielding yourself from start to leak through. 

Mom called hospice two weeks ago. Dad isn’t getting out of bed any more.  And he isn’t eating, though he’s still taking fluids.

So it can’t be too much longer.

But, so far, it hasn’t been today.

Not yet.

Dad had a birthday on Friday.  Since I live 1000 miles away, I had to mail a card.  I already hate greeting cards, because most of them are either insipidly saccharine or blatantly insulting:

Syrupy Sentiment:  Cards that rhyme make me want to shove lit cigarettes into my eyeballs – there’s a reason Dr. Seuss isn’t required reading past the first grade, people:

My love for you is like a song

In my ears, where you belong

My heart will sing it night and day

I hope to marry you someday

<BARF>

Ridiculously Ridiculing:  Birthday cards no longer read “Let’s Celebrate” – they’re all about “ha ha, you’re old, and I find that funny.”  Here comes the fire department to put out your cake, isn’t that hilarious?  (No, but if you send me some shirtless firemen, I might forgive you, just a bit, especially if they bring cake.)

And just try to find a Father’s Day card that doesn’t refer to beer, farting, or both.  Unless it’s one from the cotton-candy sticky-sweet category, you won’t find it.  (I’d insert some examples, but yuck.)

So finding a decent card is tough.  Now find one for your Dad when he’s terminally ill.  Remember, this is probably the last card that you will ever buy for him.  So no pressure.

Dad likes funny pictures of animals, so I headed to that section first in an attempt to find something lighthearted that would make him smile.

Here was my first pick:

dogs1

This looks promising….

dogs2

Um…like Mother Theresa and Jesus?  Not yet, Dad.

I put it back and picked up this one:

cats1Seems appropriate – especially when I tell you that Dad had an orange tabby named Blondie before us kids were born.  And every time he sees an orange tabby ANYWHERE, he says, “Looks like Blondie!”  (Yeah…. Every.  Single.  Time.)  So, hey, here’s Blondie in his fifteen minutes of fame, great card, let’s send it!

And then I opened it.  And HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

cats2

<snort> I AM TERRIBLE.

Laugh or cry, right?

OK, highly inappropriate.  If it were my mom, or ME, this might fly. But Dad’s more of a sentimental, emotional guy, so I settled on a fairly innocuous card with a smiling nun on it that simply said “Happy Birthday” inside.  (Because, since he was raised Catholic, nuns are also funny.  We get him the “Nuns Having Fun” calendar every year.)

And he lived long enough to get it.  So there’s that.

So that’s why I’m angry.

Because I’m really…sad.

And I can’t control feelings like sadness.  OK, full disclosure, I’m not really great with taming anger, either, but it feels more powerful to me.

And power means control.

And you know what I can control?

What I eat.

All this stress has been remarkably effective in helping me control my weight.  Today, I stepped on the scale, and saw a number I haven’t seen since high school.  A number lower than when I was unwell a few years ago and lost weight almost by accident.

Not much lower.

Not yet.

But the hubs actually noticed, as witnessed by this random text he sent this week:

text haha no

I can’t control what happens to Dad.  His itinerary is non-refundable; the only variable is the arrival time.

I can’t control how my spouse feels about things.  I can’t make him more accepting of other viewpoints.  I can’t force him into a mindset of “live and let live.”  I can’t make him see that he’s destroying us, comment by comment, shirt by shirt, letter by letter. He’s asked what he can do…but I already told him, and he’s no longer DOING it.  So what’s the point in adding to the bucket of unmet expectations?  It’ll just glop out onto the linoleum and be another mess for me to mop up.

I can’t control the overwhelming sadness.  This emotion is foreign to me; it feels like an unwelcome parasite, sapping my soul, draining my energy.  It trips me up at random times during the day, jumping out from dark corners, startling me into spilling hot coffee onto my hands.  It reminds me that it’s here.  That I can’t get away from it.

I can’t escape, but I can hide. I can duck behind something I know.  Something I can predict and control.

I’ve made myself a disguise:  hunger.

Hunger I expect.  Hunger I understand.

When you eat less, you feel hungry. 

It’s black and white.  Concrete.  Reliable.

Anticipated.

Welcome.

So I’ll wear the anger blanket instead of the sadness scarf.  It goes much better with the hunger hat that I’ve invested so much of myself into buying.

It’s a classic; I’ve worn it for years.  I don’t know what I’d look like if I had to replace it.

And when the temperature rises, and I’m no longer chilled by the icy emotions that threaten to overtake me – when they’ve been replaced by that gnawing, familiar, hollow, empty nothingness of hunger – I can take off the blanket for just a little while.

I can be a few pounds less angry.

I can remain in control.

June Was Blingin’ out All Over

Since you’re all quite figuratively dying for an update….

No.  The landscaping isn’t done yet.

But it’s not due to lack of effort…if by “effort” you mean I glance at the stack of edging rocks collecting pollen beside my driveway every day when I’m tooling into the garage after work wondering what’s for supper.

In my defense, there’s been a bunch of other shiz going on this past month, too.

First up – I had a birthday.  (Shout out to my fellow Gemini peeps.)  Now, normally, this would be largely a non-event.  I’m not one who needs a huge fuss on her birthday.  I mean, first of all, I’m probably dieting, so it’s not like I’m getting any actual cake, right?  For the most part, I’m happy just getting a few cards, and having one day with a steady stream of Facebook notifications from folks who but for the gift of technology would neither know (nor care) about your special day.

And if you remember, last year’s birthday was kind of a bust.  I didn’t get even a mention of the day from the hubs.

(Side note:  This year, he did remember to at least wish me a happy birthday.  Still waiting for that card.  So much for managing my own expectations, I guess.)

This year, I decided to proactively treat myself.  BY SHOPPING. Because obviously, I am worth it.

Without further ado, I bring you the 2016 Birthday Loot Review.

**NOTE:  Men and non-shoppers can scroll down to the next bold green words.**

Since I shop a lot (A hella lot.  Hello, my name is Kate, I have A Problem) I have quite a few store-branded credit cards.  Now, if you use these cards, you absolutely HAVE to pay them off in full every month, because they charge an astronomical interest rate that will make your $50 sweater purchase rival the national debt in a matter of months.  But, as a token of gratitude for your money patronage, many of them send you “Free Gift on Your Birthday” coupons.  Usually it’s $10-15 off any purchase – no minimum.  So, at that point, it’s Game On! to see how much you can bag for essentially free.

Here’s my $15 Free Loot from The Limited.  (Total for both:  $14.71.  Yes, I did leave 29 cents on the table.  I promise I’ll try harder next year.)

bdayshop2bdayshop3

I still have $15 at NY & Company and Ann Taylor to use before the end of the month.  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.  Yay free stuff! 

I also spent a day at one of the regional art (read: jewelry) fairs.  We happened to have three local shows going on at the same time (because we hippies are into crafts, yo) so we opted for the slightly more rural locale in a nearby quaint river town.

And by “quaint,” I mean:

SWsign1

That’s…a little TOO quaint. DOWN WITH OVERAPOSTROPHICATION!

SWsign2

I didn’t eat here. But HAHAHAHA <snort>

Bonus:  It was cloudy and threatening rain, so it wasn’t too crowded.  Makes it MUCH easier to paw through everything when you’re not elbowing other shoppers out of the way and stroller-dodging the strapped-down rug rats.

SWart

With the weather on my side, it didn’t take me long to walk away with some new bling.

First score:  two necklaces.

On this one, the artist made all the beads by hand.  Some were forged, some were polished, some were hand-twisted, others were…uh…baked?  X-rayed?  Spelunked?  Anyway, it’s super cute and goes with everything:

SWshop2

This one was probably made in China, but I don’t give a rip because PRETTY (and goes with everything ELSE):SWshop3

This hand-drawn sketch is for my daughter’s room, because she has a thing for pie:

And this shawl was on the clearance rack in a tourist shop…not a bad $12 find, especially if your favorite color’s orange!

SWshop4

Wanna place bets on how long my cats take to demolish the fringe on this baby?

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!  (Guys, don’t come back yet.  Keep scrolling.)

I also treated myself to some new nose bling.  And I NEED to share this jeweler with you, because her stuff is FABULOUS.  I was hunting around Etsy looking for pieces that don’t look like every other boring, jewel-dot nose stud on the planet, and I stumbled upon a shop called RockYourNose.

And I am SO IN LOVE with this lady’s stuff.

I had previously acquired these:

bdayshop1

Clockwise, from top:  Sterling flower with garnet; lotus flower with amethyst; rose gold triangle; malachite stud in sterling

I was so pleased with them – the quality, the size, the service – everything – that I decided I needed some more:

bdayshop4

From left:  14k butterfly; Mexican fire opal in sterling; moonstone in antiqued silver daisy

If you need nose jewelry that makes a statement, go visit RockYourNose right this minute.  Seriously, her pieces are beautiful, bold, and comfortable to boot.   I WANT THEM ALL.  (Well, maybe not the rat, but I totally appreciate that there’s an audience for it.)

While I was scouring Etsy, I did find a couple other pieces that I JUST HAD TO HAVE.  This one arrived today:

bdayshop5

He sent it with a penny from his home country!  Etsy shop: PicoNosePiercing

And this one is waiting for my signature at the post office:

This one was a real find.  I collect frogs, so OF COURSE I should have a frog nose stud.  But do you think anyone actually MAKES one?  Well, apparently, only ONE person does, and they live in Israel, but thanks to the Interwebs, I CAN HAZ NOSE FROGGIE. 

**End shopping montage.  Men and non-shoppers can resume reading here.**

So…another thing I did this month:  I wrote my first article for xoJane.

Now, before I share the article, let me just state that I’m…not proud of the subject matter.  I’ve written about this subject before, and I’m not sure why I decided to bring it up again.  Perhaps it has to do with my attempts at healing.  Or maybe even though it was a long time ago, and I have no way to undo it, I haven’t completely forgiven myself.  Either way, it’s a very real part of my past from a very dark, confusing, overwhelming time.  While it certainly doesn’t mean I’m glad it happened, you can’t exactly unbake a cake, and I got several life lessons out of it.

So I put myself out there, and <deep breath> here it is:  Kate’s First xoJane Article

I’ll admit that the comments were pretty rough – but that’s to be expected.  I mean, you don’t go writing about that sort of thing and expect the internet to throw you a ticker-tape parade screaming your accolades, right?  It’s more self-righteous indignation and flaming torches (and not completely unjustified, either.)  People reacted pretty much how you’d expect, and I’m (mostly) OK with that.

What really DID sting, though, were the criticisms of my actual writing.  (And NOW I sound kind of narcissistic and whiny.)  But…I don’t think I’m an awful writer.  Juvenile?  Sure.  Immature?  DUH.  But…not terrible.  (And come ON – Sick of CAKE?! That is SO NOT A THING.)  I’m trying to console myself with chips and dip the realization that 1) sometimes, people on the Interwebz are randomly mean because they CAN be and 2) perhaps my writing isn’t a style they care for.  And that’s OK…but, like a hangnail that you’ve caught on an afghan, it pulls and smarts all the same.

(Side note:  xoJane was wonderful to work with.  They made it really easy by outlining the process thoroughly, patiently suggesting edits to this complete noob.  Despite the icky feelings I got in my gut from the Mean Girls (and, to be fair, the honest ones), I might actually be tempted to try again.  Besides…I made $50.  Which is TOTALLY AWESOME, because I have a lot of bling to finance, as referenced above.  So there’s that.)

Oddly, the article was published on the same night that my daughter graduated high school.  (Which is the OTHER Big Time Eater I had this month.)

I was scrolling through Facebook while I was waiting for commencement to start, and saw the article link just as the lights were dimming in the auditorium.  I skimmed a few of the comments, and shut off my phone to deal with the virtual wrath later.  I’m somewhat proud of myself for that one – normally, I’d be obsessively refreshing to see every last post the moment the user clicks “send.”

But this night was about my daughter, not me.

So off the phone went, and I stuffed it and the accompanying anxiety deep into my purse.

In addition to ordering invitations, sending announcements, and taking TONS of pictures, I also planned a party for her – meaning, I co-hosted a huge shindig with her dad.  Which is monumental because we had a pretty ugly divorce in 2006 (that started in 2003!) and it’s only been maybe the last 18 months where he and I could go beyond stiff politeness and overwhelming mistrust to being kinda cordial once in a while.

But all the families, on both sides, who hadn’t seen each other in over ten years, ACTUALLY GOT ALONG.  There was small talk, there was hand-shaking, there was the exchange of genuine “how have you beens”and “what are you up tos”.

Everyone set aside the old hurts and haunts and just…celebrated.

Together.  For her.

And we had a lot to celebrate – namely, the achievements of this terrific kid of mine who <shameless brag> graduated third in her class and earned a full scholarship to college.

And afterwards, this amazing young woman pulled me aside and thanked me profusely for making the day run so smoothly.

It was a beautiful celebration of a milestone – a marker in time. A crown on the ability of her parents to work together and co-parent, and, despite being a little too human, have it turn out FABULOUSLY.

gradcap

So, now that June is pretty much over, I’m hoping things settle down a bit and I can get back to the very hard, back-breaking, gritty work that is my marriage.

<sigh>

Or maybe I’ll address the landscaping first.  That might be easier.

 

 

No Escaping the Landscaping

Sorry for being AWOL for a bit.

I’ll offer up the sad, half-deflated balloon excuse “I’ve been busy,” which, although true, is kinda overdone. But it’s finally summer in the Midwest (well, for this week, anyway) and in addition to all the other things going on right now (which I’ll write about later), I’ve been trying to take advantage of the super-warm (read:  not snowing) weather by tackling a landscaping project:

mintfromhell

Obviously, this is the “before” picture.  I’d post a “during” but it’s downright depressing.  And looks pretty much the same.

Essentially, we have a 47′ X 3′ strip of land by the fence that has transmogrified* into a freakin’ mint colony.  And if you’re sitting there thinking, “hey, some mint would be nice to have” – please, for the love of all that is green and flowering, back away from the trowel. Mint is to gardens like fat is to thighs: Once it gets settled in there, all it does is expand, and it’s dang near impossible to get rid of, no matter how much time you spend attempting to whittle it out.  If you don’t believe me, believe the THREE JAM-PACKED yard waste bags I filled with the stuff.

*Side note:  “Transmogrified” is my favorite Calvin and Hobbes word ever. 

We declared war on the Mintvasion about a month ago, when we dug out every last mint plant (and much of the surrounding dirt, because guilt by association.)  We re-dug it out three weeks ago, and re-RE-dug it out AGAIN last weekend.  The next step in the Mint Massacre is to head out there with kerosene and a blow torch.

burntsienna

Site of most recently documented successful mint removal.

This is one seriously TENACIOUS herb, folks. Despite our sub-zero winters, it comes back stronger and fuller every year.  To say this crap is “hearty” is an understatement – it’s practically indestructible.  If Comcast or Verizon had this level of technology, your FIOS would stay connected well past the apocalypse.

As part of mint’s world domination plan, it sends out underground runners that are several feet long and majorly aggressive.  I actually unearthed one that had grown RIGHT THROUGH THE TUBER of one of my peonies. Pierced that puppy clean through like a perennial Prince Albert. (And if you don’t know what that is, I suggest you not click this link at work. I didn’t know plants were into body modification, but that’s some hard-core shiz right there, yo.) Seriously, when the next Ice Age or Nuclear Fallout or Misguided Social Media Laughingstock Presidency wipes out the human race, the cockroaches (and remaining politicians) will be channeling top-secret communications and creepy beetle pornography through mint-root cable systems long after the rest of us are worm (and cockroach/surviving politician) food.

Pro Tip: If you want mint, plant it in a container. Not in your garden, or in the neighbor’s yard (hey, they started it with their noisy dogs, I know. But despite the incessant barking, you truly do not hate your neighbors, your ex-husbands, or door-to-door solicitors nearly enough to plant this herbal hellion. Neither do you live far enough away from them to do so. Trust me, the mint will find you.)  Learn from my pain and keep that botanical bully on lockdown in a solid pot on a deck or stoop.

Anyway.

Once we’re sure the mint is gone, we’re planning to lay some contractor-grade landscaping fabric down to smother any zombie survivors. (Incidentally, did you know that “contractor grade” is higher than “professional grade”? Not entirely certain of the logic there – I’m guessing it was the brainchild of the same folks who created denim sizing.) We got a 20-pound roll of it, which is enough for a double layer barrier. (Mint insurance.) As we were buying this, I found these big honkin’ staples that help hold the fabric on the ground:

In case you’re in the market for these, you should be aware that these have a special name….

Fabric fasteners? Landstaples? Barrier Bonders?

Nope.

CRAMPONS. 

I sh!t you not.  Witness:

crampons1

Pardon my blur.  Hard to focus when giggling maniacally.

I bought these over a month ago, and I AM STILL LAUGHING. #perpetuallytwelve

crampons2

And no, I do not live near France.  Or Canada.

Because we think it wise to have backup protection beyond just a single box of industrial-strength crampons (you know, for unplanned mint overflow or minor weed leakage), we’re planning to secure the fabric further by tucking it under over 100 feet of stone edging. Because, while we’re at it, we’re replacing that, too.  We ripped out that black plastic edging strip that the previous owners installed – I just don’t care for the look of it; it mimics the vibe of pairing cheap flip-flops with a business suit.  Plus, I’m hoping that since the stone edgers are flat on top, mowing will be easier – we should be able to avoid whipping out the weed whacker and just run the mower wheel right over the edging to trim. (By the way, if you garden, and you KNOW this won’t work, please do NOT tell me. I desperately need to cling to this one last dream I still have. Thank you.)

Eventually, though, we’ll get the fabric down and the edging (50 pieces, 22 pounds apiece) set around the border. Then, we “just” have to cover it with some trap rock.

I did the calculations, and it turns out we need approximately…uh…

<head scratch>

<math>

Apparently, we’re back to that weird mystery sizing I don’t get.

I think I need roughly 1.5 metric cubits. Or tons. Or one whole effin’ sh!tload. Essentially, one ground-up failed planet’s worth. (Sorry, Pluto, you should’ve studied harder.)

I’m exhausted already.

Good thing I’ve continued to work these wicked guns of mine:

bicepsodeath

Fear the fierce, yo.

Fortunately, I do have a 16-year-old boy who 1) has no job (Xbox is NOT A JOB, kid) and 2) likes expensive electronic toys. I smell an epic deal…. I mean, this is why one HAS kids, right? To hold in front of yourself in pictures so no one sees your thighs, and to do yard work? Time to cash in on #2. <rubs hands together in glee>

Hey…you know that Grand Theft Undead Bloodbath Call of Halo Duty VII game you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE? Here’s your crampons, kid, get to work.”

I’d offer to pay him in pizza, but seeing as he’s a teenage boy, video games are cheaper. Even though his fave is Papa John’s, which is super cheap, and…not delicious.  We have all these great wood-fired oven pizza joints around us, and my offspring prefers what the hubs not-so-affectionately calls “Republican Pizza.” I suppose I should be thankful that my son’s champagne tastes only extend to electronics, right?  I mean, he COULD be asking for crab legs and a car here.

I’ll share pics of the completed project, of course.  Someday.  We’re just waiting for the next weekend with the right weather – warm enough for me to be outside without gloves, yet not so warm that the hubs starts to wilt. In other words, the weekend where it is exactly 74.245 degrees. And cloudy, so it stays cool, but not raining, of course, because mud, and not sunny, because hot.

I think we had one of those days in May of 2008.

Suffice it to say that my pile of supplies might BE the landscaping for awhile.

Especially since it’s only recently been nice enough for me to get my bike out again. My apologies for the math here, but Biking < Landscaping.  (This formula was, in fact, in your high school algebra book.  You’ve just forgotten.) I took my first ride of the season last weekend, thinking, “hey, I’ll just zip around the lake.” Yeah…no. The hubs was done after one loop, but I needed to keep going. I clocked just over sixteen miles, baby. BOOYAH. I am a stud.  A stud with unfinished landscaping.

By the time we finish this project, it just might be covered in snow.

So, until next time, here’s some gratuitous pictures of what’s been blooming:

peony1

peony2

rose1

Fire hydrant photobomb.

 

rose2

Yeah, I totally need to mow.  Or gather the hay, or something.

How’s your garden growing this year?  Are you a horticultural hero?  Who’s your floral foe?  Gimme the agricultural gossip in the comments!

Denim, Deciphered

It really wasn’t fair of me to write about a multi-day shopping spree without posting pictures of the hoard.

So, without further ado…the haul.

To start our adventure in spending, I took my sister to this really cool tchotchke shop called General Store.  If you lean quirky, you really need to go here.  They have everything from bath and body to cooking supplies to home decor to local delicacies and treats.  And, of course, clothes and jewelry.

One of the things I love about this place is that there’s a gift at every price point – whether you have $5 or $500, you can pick up some seriously cool shiz.  (I’m filling my coworkers’ Christmas stockings from here.  I usually give ’em alcohol, too, because I am an amazing boss who knows what people want. Or because they have to put up with my quirks and periodically remind me to eat.)

I started our basket with this phone holder for my bike. (So I can use my GPS. Not attempting selfies or texting while the wheels are rollin’.  Although that would likely make for some most excellent viral-quality YouTubes.  But I have a high deductible, so no.)

bikephone

I’m hoping that if I can SEE the map while I ride, I can avoid an accidental extra five miles like what happened last fall.  (I mean, it was a great ride, but…well, I’d rather not revisit that whole scenario in general.)

I also picked up a candle (sage and citrus – I only buy candles that smell like food) and some shower aromatherapy fizzies:

I love these things.  They’re basically “bath bombs,” but don’t have to soak in order to activate. You just get ’em a bit wet and they fizz yummy smells all over your shower.  (Plus, who has time to sit around soaking in skin soup, anyway?)  I got grapefruit and lavender/vanilla, and WOULD have picked up Pumpkin Pie, but can you believe NO ONE HAS INVENTED A PUMPKIN PIE SHOWER FIZZIE YET?  Come on America, step it up already.  Can we AT LEAST get a coffee one?  Or bacon?

I also treated myself to a  few pairs of super cute socks.  (Which do not smell like food.  Or anything else, thankyouverymuch. Even though I totally see the appeal in bacon-scented socks, especially if you have a dog.)

socks

Later, we moved on to our local mega-mall.  I ended up with three great blouses for work (two here, third was in my last post):

twoblouses

Left:  Forever 21.  Right:  H&M

Incidentally, the blouse on the left was $8 on the clearance rack…which was all “buy one, get one free” – so I HAD to pick out something else, right?  Because every time you leave free clothing on the table, an angel has to eat a beet.  And beet stains are forEVER, especially on white feathers and harp strings, so I snagged a groovy pair of leggings:

ivyleggings

They’re so thick, I could almost call them “pants.”  In fact, I think I shall.  And did I mention they were FREE?  Best. Free. Pants. Ever.

For pants like these, you need this mid-calf length cardigan in dark green.  (You’ll have to use your imagination a bit, because I suck at taking pictures.)

cardigan

Clearly, I could use a camera upgrade.  But it (the sweater, not my camera) really is dark green, not black, and is pretty much this one but not blue:

And now for the obligatory bling segment.

I found two new pairs of earrings:

earrings

Left:  Van Heusen.  Right:  The Limited

And a necklace:

necklace

The above came from a store called GreaterGood – you can read about their mission here.  TL; DR: when you buy their stuff, the proceeds go towards fighting hunger, curing breast cancer, and saving animals.  Unfortunately, I only spent $4 on this, so you need to go to their site right now and buy more stuff.  Because THINK OF THE CHILDREN.  And the kittens. <cue sappy melodramatic Sarah McLachlan tune>

As you can see, this was a very successful shopping journey.  But there was still a Moby Dick on my horizon.

I still needed a new pair of jeans.

And ladies?  We need to talk about denim for a sec.

Despite the many distractions documented above, the primary focus of my shopping mission was to find a pair of jeans that I LOVE. And by “love,” I mean “keeps you from doing that nose-scrunching thing whenever you pass a mirror.”  Women everywhere know how challenging this can be.  First of all, we represent a huge variety of shapes:  Some of us have a big difference between hip and waist measurements; in other women, it’s less pronounced.   Some of us pack extra padding in the trunk, while others don’t carry any luggage at all.  And legs are not just long or short – our gams model all animals from chicken to elephant to turkey drumstick.

The array of denim options available reflects this diversity somewhat in that they all fit differently.  Despite the variety, however, jeans are the universal equalizer in that pretty much none of us can find that “perfect” fit.

If that weren’t challenging enough, denim manufactures have created a mysterious sizing matrix that is confusing and largely illogical. Allow me to give you a peek through the secret decoder lens as we review the “system”:

Misses sizes: Even numbers, 0 – 20 or so. The theory here is that these are meant for “women,” so they’re cut a little more generously in the hip to accommodate a post-pubescent figure.

Junior sizes: Odd numbers from 1 – 17. Sometimes, though, you get a 0 or a 00 in there on the smaller end. (Seriously.  00?  What even is that, and why are two 0s smaller than one?)  Generally, these are narrower in the hip than Misses – so a Junior 7 could be tighter than a Misses 6, even though 7 is generally understood to be bigger than 6.

UK sizing: Even numbers, but not the same as US Misses. They tend to run a size or two smaller – so a UK 12 is closer to a US 8.

H&M: They list all the sizes on the tag, but…plot twist!  Everything is a size smaller than you’re used to.  Sometimes, two sizes.  So if you wear a US 8/UK 12, count on needing a US 10/UK 14.

Keeping up?  Wait…it gets better.

Waist sizing: Ah, finally.  Something straightforward. HAHAHAHAHAHA no.  In the US, this is in inches. 24-36, or thereabouts.  Of course, this doesn’t take into account whether you have Junior hips or Misses hips or a Kardashian caboose, so whether something matching your waist size actually fits you will depend on the designer’s interpretation of shape and/or your forearm strength as you hike ’em north of your buttcrack.  (For the record, clearing the cleft counts as “fits”.)

Chico’s: Last I checked, they had their own numbering system of 1 -4, with half sizes in between.  Since most of their tops fit like a scaled-down circus tent,  I have no idea how that actually correlates to anything.  I think a Chico’s 1 is somewhere in the ballpark of a Misses 8?  Juniors 11?  Camp flagpole?

And if THAT doesn’t mentally waterboard you, you can visit Manifesta, They don’t sell jeans – but neither do they stock conventional sizes.  Everyone’s a flower.  Check it out:

We don’t want there to be an inherent order to the sizes, with women striving to fit into the smallest number possible. And we don’t want women to feel bad for ordering a size that society has deemed “unacceptable.” We just want you to get what fits. So to find your size, use your measurements, not society’s idea of what you should be.

(Thanks to Ragen at Dances with Fat for alerting me to this one.)

I do appreciate the spirit of their system – beauty at every size – but in my mental garden, the dandelions are choking out the daisies.

Anyway.  The point here is that trying to find jeans that fit YOU will drive you straight to the donut box.  Partner that with a lifelong battle with food and body image, and you have the ultimate exercise in frustration. (Well, maybe secondmost-ultimate. I haven’t forgotten about swimsuits, even though I’m trying to.)

To further complicate the matter, I really wanted a different style of jeans. (Because learning the second language of size isn’t enough – you need to now take art classes to speak intelligently about the style):

I’ve tried flare and boot-cut before, but invariably, they make the tops of my thighs look really wide – like each leg is an hourglass.  (A great look for an overall shape, notsomuch for each individual leg.  Especially when you’ve invested most of your life trying to camouflage your thighs behind flowerpots, purses, random pieces of furniture, and your children.)

I usually gravitate toward a skinny cut, which tapers at the ankle…but the problem with this shape is that the contrast of the narrow ankle with flatter shoes makes you look like you’re wearing swim flippers.

Formal Flippers:

Not the look I typically aim for.

So I thought I’d try a few brands with a straight leg. BUT DO YOU THINK ANYONE ACTUALLY SELLS THIS CUT ANYMORE?  What the heck – as soon as I decide I MUST have these, the entire style goes underground.

But I persevered.  I searched high and low, trying on every brand in every store, no matter how high the price tag <coughcoughNordstromcoughcough> or how loud the bass (True Religion, I’m looking at you, and covering my ears while I do.)  And I did finally score one pair at Nordstrom’s Rack (I had them on in my last post) and two additional pairs at 7 for all Mankind Outlet, where not only did they have a wide variety of straight-leg styles to choose from, they were also on sale*. Score! 

*Which prolly means I will never, ever find them again.  Ah well.

And they don’t look bad, really. <deep breath as Kate practices this picture posting thing>

Capture

My Bubba Keg and my new denim.

I realize that my sweater is all cattywampus, and clashes horribly with my super-awesome coffee mug, but you will pry that sucker out of my cold, dead hands after I am done clobbering you with it. AND THIS IS ABOUT THE JEANS.  FOCUS, PEOPLE.

And, true to denim anti-logic, the pair I nabbed at Nordie’s is actually a size BIGGER than the ones I found at the outlet – but they’re TIGHTER.  Common Core has infiltrated fashion, folks.

But they fit.  And I don’t hate them.

That’s progress.  Real progress.

This Ahab slayed her denim Moby Dick.  For now.

Until we meet again, whale.

P.S.  My sister ALSO found an amazing pair of jeans…as well as the very last pair of these in the entire state:

Best walking shoes out there.  I know because I have them in blue glitter.

airportshoes

It’s like we’re related or something. 🙂

The Clarity of the Crystal Ball

In my last post, I mentioned that my sister and I had tarot card and palm readings while she was out to visit.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had various readings done from time to time.  I don’t use them as the final word in setting my life’s course or anything.  They’re more like those endless Facebook quizzes – entertaining (and fun to see how all your friends score), and they often validate your own insight into yourself.  When you get feedback that resonates, it feels a bit like you have permission to be exactly who you’re meant to be.

And with my issues, I’ll take all the permission I can get.

But sometimes, what they tell you is so spot-on accurate, it’s jarring.  That was my prior experience with Jeff Tyler:

When I met him before, he solidly nailed some things:

* He asked about my career. When I told him that I work in HR, he said, “Yes, but not the way most people are in HR. It’s different, and I like you there, because you can do HR the way you want to do it.” This is actually really accurate.  I’m not the stereotypical HR person; I like creating sense from the chaos at small companies, where I can roll up my sleeves and put in place just enough structure to function.  In contrast, I find large, well-organized companies completely suffocating.  (Plus, my company is privately owned…by a family – which adds a flavor of…uniqueness.  More on that brand of crazy later.)

* He asked if we had been doing construction or remodeling.   Again, spot on.  At the time, we’d spent much of the last two years fixing up the short sale property we’d purchased – in addition to remodeling the kitchen, we’d repainted nearly every room, redone two bathrooms, and put an addition on the back.  So yeah, I was all spackle-and-drywalled out by this point.  He suggested that I take a break from that particular chaos, and “take time to just enjoy what you’ve built.”  Although there was a bit more to be done, for now it was time to just be in our house – at least for a while.

* He then talked about creative energies.  He said he saw me active in “some kind of art – music, words, something….that’s the only time you’re all there and real. That’s where you can BE.”

At that time, my blog was six months old, and I was finding it to be quite therapeutic.  And I’m also a musician – I sing in a band, and while I’m no Sandi Patty, I don’t completely suck:

And he was right, again.  I’m totally absorbed in the moment when I’m singing.  Gone are the little gnats that cloud my happiness and nip at my joy and buzz distractions at me about my weight.  It’s just the music and me.

And when I write, I drop the cloak that shields my soul from the social crows who might otherwise pick at it.  I expose my jugular.  OK, yeah, sort of anonymously, but still. Emotional vampires aren’t picky eaters; it’s still a risk, and feels a bit like I’m dabbing steak sauce on my pulse points…but when writing, I throw caution to the wind, and get real.

So it was a great reading, and I really dug this guy’s direct, no-dancing-delicately-around-the-tulips approach – and I thought my sister would, as well.  She was receptive to give it a go, so off we went.

And once again, I got some solid insight.  Some of my highlights from this round:

* Your workplace is kind of a mess. Yep….as I mentioned before, it’s a privately-held, family-owned company.  And we have a new CEO, who is NOT family, so the resulting change in diet has given the drama llama more than a little intestinal distress…which alternates between noxious stink and hilarity.

* You’ve been working on spiritual growth, and you’re outgrowing who you were. But when you’re challenged, you revert back to who you used to be…and you don’t like that person very much. This was interesting to think about. Over the last year, I’ve been working on personal and spiritual healing, and trying to quiet the mental voices around my food issues. But prior to that, I worked myself out of a relationship that was mentally abusive. It took considerable strength to do that – leaving a marriage is hard, hard work; it’s even tougher if you’ve been mentally whittled down to nothing.

He had a point, though – in the struggles I’ve found in my current marriage, do I face them head-on? Not initially, no. I tend to revert to the same person I was in my prior marriage – timid, hesitant, reluctant to start conflict.

And he was correct in saying that I don’t like being that person. It isn’t me.  It’s like jamming your feet into shoes that don’t fit. You feel pinched and uncomfortable and can’t WAIT to kick them off, and they don’t really go with your whole spiritual outfit, anyway.

* You have some toxic older friends that you need to move away from to preserve your energy.

I scratched my head on that one for a bit.  I don’t really have close friends…sure, there are my Facebook connections, and my many “virtual” online buddies….but none of them are toxic energy leeches.

I shrugged it off as a “miss” in the reading.

My sister also got some interesting tidbits:

* You work really hard to hide your emotions.  But you shouldn’t.  You have really strong emotions, and you are a good person BECAUSE of those strong emotions – not because you hide them.

My sister’s always been a “feeler.” When we were kids, she was convinced that inanimate objects, like stuffed animals, had feelings.

Which reminds me of the Cabbage Patch story:

Anyone else remember Cabbage Patch dolls? My sister really, really wanted one. She didn’t get one for Christmas, because Cabbage Patch Kids were the It Toy of the year, and since people were generally losing their collective minds in their efforts to get one, Mom wisely opted out of the public stampedes and fistfights. So sis saved up her own money, until FINALLY she had enough stashed away. Off to the mall we went, making a beeline for the toy store. (This was a few months after the holiday rush, so the shelves were sufficiently stocked at this point.  No taser required.)

My sister had her eye on a redheaded doll. She spotted one in the second row, behind a blond, curly-haired one. She moved the first doll to the side…

…and I said something to the effect of “aw, that doll’s going to be sad that you didn’t choose her.”

I made my sister buy this one.

Looks heartbroken, doesn’t she.

My sister felt so bad about hurting the toy’s feelings that she LITERALLY BOUGHT THE BLOND DOLL INSTEAD.

And my brother spent the next several years torturing her with it. He gave her a voice, and whenever the doll wasn’t sitting next to my sister, he’d make it call out, “MOMMA! MOMMA! COME GET ME! I’M LONELY!  She was prone to mischief, frequently body-slamming teddy bears and pinning dolls belonging to overnight guests too.  (And sometimes our cousins, if they dared nap at our house.  They’d wake up underneath a Cabbage Patch kid who you’d swear had a smug look on her face….)

“Antonia Larina”clearly had self-control issues.  (Ah, siblings.  Ain’t they great?)

Anyway.  One of the reasons I wanted to have my sister see this guy was because of this stressful life situation she’s dealing with.  Interestingly, he had some insight into that:

* You’re struggling with making a big decision.  Perhaps you need to make a decision NOT to make a decision right away.  Take this time to heal and fix YOU instead. 

(For the record, this is EXACTLY WHAT I TOLD HER.  Validation for my spiritual gift right there, folks.  But wisdom is wiser when it comes from a third party.  That’s why consultants are so expensive, right?)

* You need to stop beating yourself up.  You’re hearing your mother’s voice of disapproval in your head…you need to stop listening to that and do what’s right for YOU.

Hmm.  That didn’t feel quite right.  Mom was never one to be overbearing with an opinion.  Apparently (I found this out later) HER mother was pretty up front with how she felt about things, and was none too shy about making sure her offspring knew her stance.  On EVERYTHING.  And don’t we always swear to do EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what our parents did?

So we grew up with a lot of this:

Me:  Mom, what do you think of my current boyfriend?

Mom:  It doesn’t matter. I’m not the one dating him.

Sis:  Mom, do you think I should cut my hair?

Mom:  It’s your hair.  Do what you want with it.

Afterwards, my sister and I debriefed about our readings a bit (yes, while we were shopping – at the outlet mall this time to mix it up a bit.)

And as we were searching for the best slip-on walking shoes and the perfect jeans, we realized something.

The damaging influences he had referenced – the toxic relationships, the disapproving parents – these weren’t playbacks of external experiences.

They were internal.

In my sister’s case, Mom never really frowned on her life choices.  But my sister is so adept at self-flagellation, she was creating her own voice of disapproval.  RIGHT INSIDE HER HEAD.

It wasn’t Mom’s voice she was hearing – it was her own.

And with me – the “toxic relationship” is, in reality, with…myself.  It’s with the person who has food issues.  It’s the condescending voice hissing insults at me while I walk around with a BMI of about 18, telling me I’m too fat to eat back the precious few calories I burned on my morning run.  It’s that internal judge that hands out the verdict of “unacceptable” every time I look in the mirror and catch sight of my thighs.

The challenge?  It’s really, really hard to divorce your brain.  It’s awfully tough to break old thought patterns – to jackhammer out the long-ago-set concrete and haul the heavy chunks to the garbage dump.

It’s exhausting.

But if I move one piece at a time, and keep at it, eventually I’ll get there.

I had a small taste of what that might look like just this week.  I was sporting some of my new stuff – a new top, and what I thought were decent jeans (I can never be sure – I get myself thinking they look OK in the dressing room, but once I get home and look at them in MY mirror…well, ugh.  Thighs again.)

And you know what?  I thought I actually looked pretty good.

IlookOK

Throughout the day, I reminded myself that I looked just fine.

(Even now, I’m hesitating to post this picture, because I’m still second-guessing those damn thighs.)

But some  of the time?  I think, maybe, I’m starting to believe it.

I’m OK.

I hereby give myself permission to BE. Just the way I am.  A work in progress.

I hope my sister does, too.