Thursday, May 10, 2012

Small Things v.2

Ironically the last time I wrote a Small Things post, it was the day of a large thunderstorm.  Here I am again, inspired by the coziness that rain brings to a small home.  The windows are open.  There's a cool fresh breeze blowing straight through the house.  Everything outside looks clean and green. 

Talking about things I'm grateful for is possibly one of the best things I can do for myself.  My natural temperament is one of discontent.  I was ragged on growing up for always being negative, critical, and somewhat of a debbie downer.  In high school and college years, that trait became known as bitchy or sarcastic, and luckily for me... a little bit cooler.  It was my persona, if you will.  My senior year of university, something in me changed.  I had to be hopeful for the future.  I couldn't afford not to be hopeful, otherwise I wouldn't have anything to hold on to going forward.  I was so full of mixed emotions nearing the end of my final term, and all of that started to brim over.  I began to count my blessings.  The first one I counted after graduation was being invited on an amazingly fun road trip to California, where I met the mister.

Feeling blessed doesn't come naturally for me.  I struggle with nasty things like envy and selfishness.  I look at other people's lives and wonder why I didn't have it so easy.  There are a lot of things I want.  Things that I don't have, can't have, possibly never will have.  I have to remind myself constantly that I have much that others do not have, and never will.  By the world's standards, my life has been easy peasy.  I have to work at recognizing blessings.  I'm learning.

Some days, feeling blessed comes more easily that others.  Endorphins help.  Cheery people help.  Good food helps.  Chocolate helps. :)  Today was one of those days.  I did nothing out of the ordinary.  I trained.  I ran errands.  I came home to a happy dog and a husband working from our living room, rather than his office.  And I did some laundry.  But I was perfectly content: getting to wear my wellies and gather our two eggs for the day from the hens, sitting on the porch swing and chatting with my mom, eating a juicy peach, folding all that laundry.

Feel blessed, my friends.  I do.

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's the thought that counts.

So that job I just quit... it was at a sorta cool paper store.  We sell lots of different types of papers, pens & pencils, stationary, greeting cards, books, picture frames, journals, note pads, party goods, gift wrap & ribbon, and other gift merchandise.  We also custom design and print invitations and announcements.  We receive a wide variety of customers with an even broader scope of needs.

My absolute favorite customers are men shopping for their wives or girlfriends.  They come inside, often so timid, wanting to be creative and having elaborate ideas, but not knowing exactly what to do or how to do it.  One young man said he felt like "a bull in a china shop."  I like to watch them wander around for a few minutes - some are on more of an exact mission than others - and then swoop in to offer help when I sense uncertainty.  I admire their honesty and their humility, but most of all, their open love for these women just warms my heart!

So many people don't believe in gift-giving.  I've heard the words "commercial," "superficial," and "unnecessary," used to describe giving gifts on any holiday.  While I suppose there is a grain of truth to that belief, it's also very disappointing.  Certainly, if the only way we show our heartfelt affection for one another is through spending money, intentions are in the wrong place.  But if that gift is an extension of our love?  Well, nothing could make someone feel more special.

We have this stereotype of men forgetting birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries: one that includes doing things at the last minute, hastily and carelessly, or accompanied by the excuse "I didn't know what to get you."  The last time the spouse said that to me, I asked him a few very short questions like "what's my favorite store?" and he knew all the answers. There is no excuse.  Take me to Anthropologie and let me sniff the candles for half an hour, and I'll be in a haze of soy ecstasy for the rest of the day.  IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT HARD. 

On the other hand, when someone gives me something that is "so me," when I can tell they really hunted high and low for it, or when I know that serious thought and effort went into selecting or creating something they knew I would really, truly appreciate... it almost takes my breath away.  I can feel their love.  Sure - we might say "love ya!" every time we see each other, but gifts just reinforce that love.  Actions can speak louder than words.

I love to give gifts. In fact sometimes I think about all the things I would buy for people if I had the money! Often when I'm shopping I see more things that remind me of folks I know than things I would like to have. It's not selfless, it's kinda selfish. I'm not looking for praise, I just like buying things that remind me of people. It makes me happy and it's an expression of my luuuuurv.

I think two recent experiences with extraordinary young men shopping for their "others" are worth sharing.  One guy about my age came in with a stack of dusty books for his wife's birthday and begged us to gift wrap them.  We don't usually gift wrap, even for a fee, but we took pity on this charming newlywed and agreed to wrap his books.  He proudly showed me that one was a first edition Norman Mailer he had hunted high and low for.  Then he asked me to help him find a birthday card.  His choice was a "Happy 1st Birthday" card with a couple of chubby animals and a single candle on the front. 

"This is it, this is the one, she'll love this one." 
I said, "First birthday?"
"It's her first birthday as my wife!"

The second gentleman entered the store in full head-to-toe cycling attire. We're talking Lance Armstrong.  He was also quite possibly the most freckled person I have ever met.  It was a little hard to take him seriously (with the helmet, the spandex, and the freckles), but come to find out: this guy was a serious gift giver.  He wanted me to explain all the different types of specialty paper to him, so he could decide what to use when making a homemade card. When I asked what gift the card would accompany, he explained that he always has to be very creative when giving his "Ladyfriend" (his words, not mine) presents, as she is wealthy and he often can't afford her tastes.  So this year he went to Origins (very expensive natural skincare line) and had the sales rep give him free samples of aaaaaaaaall the different types of face creams so his Ladyfriend could try them all and decide which one she liked best.

I melted.

As if that wasn't enough...
The card he was hand-making was to accompany a set of Sharpie permanent markers, and include a homemade certificate granting the recipient a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to play connect-the-dots with his freckles.  all.  over.  his.  body.

I suppose I have several points here:
  1. Gifts are OKAY.  Giving gifts is a really nice gesture.  It's not a sin to spend money on material items to show your affection.
  2. It doesn't always have to be a commercial holiday that you're celebrating.  "Just because" gifts are the best kind, actually.
  3. You don't always have to spend a lot of money or come up with elaborate outings.  Creativity is free and goes a long way.  Personally, I would be in heaven if someone allowed me to connect the dots with their freckles.  Heaven.
So spend a little time, especially on your spouse/other.  Do something creative -- not because you have to, but because you want to.  I mean, if that's not . . .

I don't know what is.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quit When It's Time to Quit

This post is a piggy-back post from yesterday's Don't Be A Quitter.

Taking from the last two goals on my New Year's list, try new things and stay positive, earlier this week I quit my job. 

I've recently adopted a philosophy that life is too short to do things that make you miserable.  I realize not everyone has this luxury, so please don't think I'm bragging.  I'm not saying we should only do things that make us happy.  It's impossible to maintain a state of happiness at all times.  True happiness is fleeting, regardless of what anyone says, and while outside variables certainly contribute to our happiness, happiness is a state of mind that we control from the inside.  We can learn contentment and how to appreciate what we have, but it's our nature to find something wrong with our environment, situation, or the people around us.

However, only doing things that make you happy and doing something that makes you miserable are separate issues.  My job was making me miserable.  It was a daily reminder that I was going nowhere, learning nothing, and feeling unappreciated everyday I had to be there.  Not to mention, listening to the same awful music everyday is no less than a minor form of torture... thank you, satellite radio. 

First, I cut back my schedule, but even being there just three days a week was agony.  And once I had myself convinced it was one of Dante's nine circles of hell, there was no going back.  So next, my attitude fell apart.  Not only was it hard for me to be polite to customers and coworkers, but I was even bringing that negativity home with me.  And that's when the spouse got involved.  He said to quit, and after much turmoil and some long philosophical discussions with friends and the Mom, I was convinced.

Why would I be hesitant to quit if I am so miserable working there, you might ask?  I'll explain.  First, working anywhere allows me to avoid doing other things that I know I should be doing.  It allows me an excuse to be lazy.  It permits me to stay in on a continued path of uncertainty about my purpose in life, to remain in limbo about my future, and to not do the work I know I should be doing.  Second, having a job gives me a feminist's sense of worth that you can't get from being a homemaker... or a lazy bum.  By having a job, even a stupid job, I'm able to contribute something to our financial well-being or at least have my own money.  Contributing means I have a say in things, so of course I'm reluctant to hang that up.  Third, still on the financial side of things: we'll be okay, but really no one of our income level should be quitting their job in this economy.  It's a scary thing to do and it makes me feel out of control.  Fourth, control.  That's the number one reason: not having a job makes me feel out of control.  And feeling out of control equals fear.

And the fourth reason was why I began to feel I needed to just do it, just quit.  Sometimes you need to take risks.  Sometimes you need to do things you're afraid of doing.  You need to have faith that things will end up okay even if you can't tangibly control the the outcome.  And I, probably more than the average person, need to be reminded of this as much as possible.  I have zero faith in pretty much anything other than myself, and that's a very very sad place to be.  I grew up thinking everything you decided to do had to be the best possible decision, based on the best information, the best logic, the best research, and the best common sense.  And gosh be darned if I was going to make the wrong decision about anything! What might seem obvious to you, has only just recently begun to make sense to me: it is impossible to make a perfect decision.  Sometimes you just have to make one and stick by your decision, or be prepared to make a new one next week or tomorrow.

Also, I had a revelation.  As an actor, I have trained my whole life to listen to my body, (yep, that sounds as cheesy as I thought it would) to respond to instincts and just "go with them."  I was also trained to be attuned to my emotions and hear what they have to say, rather than following the common human (primarily American) habit of stuffing what you feel under the covers every morning before you get out of bed.  But after a while, I think I lost a sense of balance between instincts, emotions, and common sense.  If I keep waiting for things to "feel right" or have the sensation that what I'm about to do is what I should be doing, it will probably never happen.  Certainty is not a feeling or emotion: it is a decision.

Think about it like this: if you're used to having a creative outlet and then you don't have one or you're in a situation where you don't feel inspired in anyway, you'll get bored.  Boredom can lead to feelings of stupidity and insanity ("I have to get out of here!"), which is why many college grads hit the work force and immediately feel "less smart" as they grind away at an unstimulating 9-5.  Allowing fear to control you makes you feel even more insane.  And what are we all afraid of?  Losing our jobs, not finding a job, not having a source of income, not being in control, etc.  You put fear in the driver's seat and you'll get nowhere.  But when are we at our bests?  When are our minds the most stimulated and creative in problem-solving?  What makes us smarter and literally causes our brains to grow?  When we take a risk and venture out of our comfort zones.

Sometimes it's time to say no to the fear.  Sometimes it's time to just make a decision, especially if it's one that scares you.  Sometimes it's time to quit. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Don't Be A Quitter

It's time.  Time to check in on my New Year "goals"... 

Below are the goals I talked about in my post back in January.  I intended to post an update half way through the year, but certain recent events have caused me to check in on my yearly goals a little early.  Let's review...

1. Buy local, Cook more, Eat better.
2. Save money instead of Spending money.
3. Study a foreign language.
4. Watch less TV/movies and Read more books.
5. Regain active lifestyle and be dedicated about strength training.
6. Journal more.
7. Plan honeymoon trip to Greece and actually Go.
8. Finish furnishing our guest room and then keep it consistently full of guests!
9. Try new things instead of falling into habits.
10. Laugh more, Stay positive, Stop calling myself "old."

Buy local, Cook more, Eat better.
I have definitely been eating better.  Better for me immediately meant cutting back, way back, on soda.  That was a number one goal and since February I have been doing really well with this.  I don't beat myself up if I have one every now and then, but I definitely don't drink it every day like I had been in the past.  In addition, I've made other substitutes and chosen alternatives which you can read about here.  However, I still have a long way to go.  In fact, I had my first nutritional counseling session today with my trainer, Diana.  When I wrote "buy local" we were referring to co-ops and farmer's markets around Austin.  This is still something we need to do.  Also, I can't say I've been cooking more, but Tim and I have both been better about making lunches.  So buying local and cooking what we buy is still a big priority.

Save money instead of Spending money.
I won't rant about this here, but I've recently had a change of heart about this.  I still think saving money is very important.  You never know what life is going to throw your way and it's nice to have some spare change for, say, a weekend getaway or a down payment on a house or - more realistically - a new set of tires for your car.  We have definitely overspent since January, and we're struggling to catch up.  However, all of those purchases have been for something that we are going to use and benefit from for a long time: a guest bed, a grill, chickens, etc.  I'm about to dump a whole bunch of change on LASIK eye surgery -- but guess what?  I'll use that everyday for the rest of my life.

Study a foreign language.
My excuse is that our hard drive died and we had to replace it and now we don't have ROSETTA STONE.  Gonna get that fixed because I'm about to have a wholelotta time on my hands to learn me some Spanglish.  (more on the extra free time next post)

Watch less TV/movies and Read more books.
Sadly, NOPE.

Regain active lifestyle and be dedicated about strength training.
YES!  I train once a week with a personal trainer, I have weekly workout homework, I've lost 5lbs, and my body is starting to feel like it might be 27.  Oops... almost 27.  Don't want to jump the gun!  Still a long way to go, but I do want to run at least a 5k in the next year.  With all the extra time I'm about to have, I plan to spend a lot of it exercising.  And cooking.  And shopping local:)

Journal more.
If you've been reading this blog, then you will know that I have been pretty dedicated about posting at least once or twice a week.  I've actually exceeded my expectations for this resolution, and I'm really happy that I've kept up with my writing.

Plan honeymoon trip to Greece and actually Go.
We are actually planning our trip to Greece.  We haven't gotten so far as to book airfare, but we have some dates in mind and are about to kick it into high gear.  Who's excited!

Finish furnishing our guest room and then keep it consistently full of guests!
Wow.  I never knew Austin was such a hot destination.  Since we put a bed in our guest room back in February, I feel like it has been occupied just about every other weekend.  What I love about this, aside from getting to see friends and family, is that I have to keep my house perpetually clean.  There's still some decorating to do, like hanging curtains and finishing our custom shelving, but it's done enough I can check this one off the list.

Try new things instead of falling into habits.
This goal was very vague.  Honestly, I don't really remember what I had in mind.  But I think the general idea was to not be afraid to do things that I've never done, that I might not ordinarily do, or that I have been meaning to do for a long time.  When I was studying theatre, working in theatre, and specifically working as an actor, I was always - everyday - trying new things.  That WAS a habit.  Everyday I stretched myself and grew a little bit.  You don't realize what physical and emotional exercise that is, how exhilarating it feels to be in that line of work, until you're stuck at a 9-5 and no one asks anything of you but that you show up to work with clothes on.  Mind-numbing.  If I'm not going to necessarily get this from working in the theatre industry, I want to make sure I get it somewhere else: whether that is taking watercolor classes I've always wanted to take or learning how to raise chickens.... just doing something new every week to stay stimulated.
Laugh more, Stay positive, Stop calling myself "old."
We have already had some dark moments in 2012.  But that's just life.  You can't expect to stay positive 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  But I've stopped making excuses for my self and started looking for contentment where I used to be dissatisfied. Thanks to several other things on this list, like a steady stream of visiting friends, we have been laughing a lot lately.  Having friends around also helps you keep your age in perspective! 


One thing is certain about all of these -- I haven't changed my mind about any of them being necessary to the list for 2012.  And I am still determined to keep working toward them as goals.  Also, reassuringly I can't think of anything new to add to the list that isn't already incorporated in some way to one of the 10.

So I don't plan on quitting any of these new year resolutions.  But I did just quit something else.  Next post, please.