Friday, March 10, 2017

Go Carrie! It's your birthday!

Today is my birthday! I’m now 37, and I’m pretty excited about this year. I think 37 is a very auspicious number. And it’s a prime number. And the digits add up to 10, which is my birthday numeral. It is going to be a GREAT year!
So I mentioned in January that I’m sort of doing a Happiness Project this year and trying to work on/evaluate a different part of my life each month. January was about organizing the house, February was about trying to be more proactive in my marriage, and for March, I thought I’d try to be more proactive about being a better parent.
But then I changed my mind. In light of March being my birthday month, I wanted to do something, well, more fun. And one of the fundamental rules that underlies the Happiness Project is really knowing who you are and what you truly enjoy (versus what you think you should enjoy). I think in my younger years I definitely went through a lot of time of trying to enjoy certain things that I thought I should enjoy. But with the wisdom of my 30s, I’ve let go of most of those things. Like 95 percent of music! And 99 percent of fiction! I don’t enjoy these things, and there’s no need to pretend I do.
Still, I’m someone who gets so focused on doing the stuff that just needs to get done, so I wondered if there were things I really do enjoy that I’ve let slip because of, well, just being too busy. I’m also someone who enjoys trying new things (new things that involve no risk, that is, so “yes” to making homemade marshmallows but “no” to skydiving), so sometimes I learn something, or try something, and then move on and never do it again. Such as these French-beaded flowers:

I taught myself how to make these from a book
when our company made us take unpaid leave.
But there’s something to be said about having true hobbies that you enjoy and can fall back on when you need some down time and don’t want to just totally tune out with media.
So in my journey to revisit “what do I really like?” and “what makes Carrie so Carrie?” I reached out to some old friends, especially people I don’t see on a regular basis or haven’t seen in years, and asked them these questions. It was quite an interesting experiment, and I recommend everyone do it; it is fascinating to see how others perceive you compared to how you perceive yourself.
So what did people say? The good news is no one seemed to think I’ve changed that much, at least through what they can see from my social media and blog posts. So that was good to hear. But then when I asked about something they will always remember me for, that’s where the more interesting answers came in.
One of my favorite answers is from my college friend Jordan, who I probably ate a dozen meals a week with during the two years we lived in the high rises because we both had future spouses at other colleges and we could enjoy each other’s company without any danger of romantic messiness.
Jordan said, “I recall that when you felt wronged about some kind of absurdity, you had a pointed way of venting that mixed anger, snark, and mirth. Not quite 'combustible' or really a temper, but a take-no-crap kind of attitude. Hopefully that hasn't mellowed!”
I have no idea what kind of situations he’s thinking of that cemented that perception of me in his head, but it makes me laugh. I feel like high school and college Carrie was pretty sassy, and with maturity that has, well, let’s just say it has been tempered. I feel like I take my fair share of crap these days, but then I have other friends who get walked on all the time, and I realize I probably do avoid a heck of a lot of crap coming my way, perhaps because I project that I’m not going to take it. If that makes sense.


I was really excited to hear what my brother Dan would have to say too, because he’s 7 years younger than me and quotes things back to me that I’ve said and have no recollection of, but are hilarious. (“If Dippin’ Dots is the ‘ice cream of the future,’ the future sucks.”) I think both my brother and my mom take everything I say as gospel when I unintentionally speak in proclamations. I once asked my mom why she never put cucumber in salads anymore, and she said it was because I had declared that “winter cucumbers aren’t worth a crap.” To which I responded, “yeah, but I still want some cucumber.”
Anyway, this is one thing Dan had to say about me: “Another thing that you have done is just slide into places where you don't necessarily belong, but you act so confidently that no one questions it. For instance, I remember you came to my 8th grade dance to pick me up and you just walked in even though they weren't supposed to let older kids in. You just came in and blended. In retrospect, I guess it's not that surprising. Middle school dances are not really known for tight security. For whatever reason though, this memory always stands out to me.”
I have no memory of this. But if my brother was in the eighth grade, I would have been 21, and being 5’0” I probably did blend in. Heck, I might have been one of the shortest people there, the way kids are growing these days. I do remember once going to a Halloween party to pick Dan up and he was just getting ready to go on a hayride, so I joined in, and one of the fellow party-goers started hitting on me and I had to tell him I was in college and just there to pick up my brother. Awkward. Because of my height, people always thought Dan and I were just a couple of years apart, which is kind of ridiculous, and wonderfully flattering.
But back to slipping into places I don’t belong and doing it confidently—that kind of describes what a journalist has to do. Go under that yellow caution tape and find the person in charge? Yup, part of the job. I wouldn’t have thought I was good at that when I was younger, because I remember I really had to develop my “Reporter Carrie” persona during my internships and then my early years as a journalist because I really am quite a shy person.
But on the other hand, I generally always was pretty confident in myself too. Which apparently showed! As my high school friend Morgan wrote me back: “I remember feeling like you were always doing what was best for you and not what everyone else wanted to do. You introduced new people and ideas to all of us and you were true to yourself. I don't want it to feel like you didn't care about what people thought, because I think you did…You had the skill of being true to yourself and respectful of others.”
I think Morgan really hit it on the head, because sometimes I think I might come across as someone who doesn’t care at all what others think, but what I’m really doing is trying to evaluate things objectively and then not let other people’s opinions carry more weight than my own, especially when they probably have less information on the subject (if the subject is me) than I do. I feel like I’m getting preachy—I hope this isn’t coming across that way.
My friend Pat has been a friend since high school, then we went to the same college and work in the same field, and have continued to get together every few months through adulthood. Pat, I think you are my longest-running, never-on-hold friendship! My favorite comment from Pat: “Carrie is that laugh. That great, glorious, genuine, beautiful, comforting, totally-in-on-the-joke laugh.” I know that laugh he’s talking about, and it doesn’t come out every time, or every day, but if you know what he’s talking about, then you really have seen a quintessential part of Carrie.
Pat also thought a trademark part of me was how I painted my car’s interior in high school. I had my mom’s 12-year-old Civic and I spray painted the carpet green and painted the ceiling light blue, I believe with clouds. An essential part of Carrie as a mom: “An acknowledged willingness to redistribute her kid's Kit Kats and Milky Ways at Halloween into her own candy stash.” True. Rye does not need that much chocolate. I do.
Pat also remembered how I used to go to the race track and bet on horseracing with my father, and said he would be sad if I didn’t do that anymore. I don’t do it every year, but the spirit of that is still in me. In many ways, I am my father’s daughter.
And then the most common answer that came from multiple friends—a quintessential part of Carrie is my mad rapping skills and passion for old school hip hop. This facet of me has been surprising people since I was young. I remember going to college and people being shocked that I knew all the words to “Jump Around” or “Intergalactic” or “Bust a Move” — and they didn’t even know I grew up in rural Harford County. My rapping skills only seem to make an appearance when alcoholic beverages have been imbibed, which is a bit of a shame because I’ve realized I can’t always keep up with the tempo in those circumstances, but I suppose chances to rap along with “Shoop” generally only come up in party-like atmosphere.
When I turned 30, I came up with an epic mix cd called “Don’t Be a Menace to Society…Unless Carrie Is” to commemorate the occasion, and this year, in trying to celebrate “being true to Carrie,” I’ve created this playlist, “DJ Cat Spins it Old School,” on Spotify so you can take part in also celebrating classic hip hop with me this year. (Classic means 2002 and earlier, in my opinion.) I try to keep it mostly clean, but that’s kind of hard, so just know I tried my best. If you’re wondering where some of the more standard classics are, like the aforementioned hits or “Baby Got Back”, “Ice, Ice Baby” or "Let me Clear My Throat," it’s because this is not my first hip hop mix cd, okay? Those are all on Volumes I, II and II 1/2.
Other parts of Carrie that I plan to celebrate/revive after thinking about “what makes Carrie so Carrie:” watching less TV and reading more nonfiction, specifically travel writing; continuing to cook new recipes every week; crocheting more; spending time outdoors!; celebrating color; wearing elaborate and ridiculous accessories (feathers, anyone?); and trying to get together with more friends face-to-face instead of settling for correspondence friendships.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who messaged me back about what’s quintessential Carrie but that I didn’t get to name! You all are great!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Proof that mid-30s is middle-aged

No one has asked me about the premise of my blog name lately — that if you’re over 25 you’re middle-aged. I’m not sure when most people consider “middle-aged” to begin, but I’m guessing not until the late 40s or early 50s. Go ahead, you dreamers. Your optimistic attitude toward age won’t keep your body (or your mind, but let’s not go there) from falling apart. Me, I’d rather face aging with realism and push myself to stay at the high point of the bell curve for what my body and mind can reasonably be expected to handle at my age.
Speaking of which, I’m quite proud of myself for hitting my middle-aged weight goal this month. I use an ap called “Lose It” that lets you estimate your BMI, set your goal, choose what rate you would like to lose weight by (sadly, “instantly” is not an option) and then it determines a daily calorie budget to help you achieve that weight. You then log your food and exercise daily, with bar charts and pie charts and line graphs showing your progress (this is the most math I’ve done, or rather observed, since Econ 101 in college) and if you stick with the actions required to meet these mathematical equations, you will lose the weight. So two Fridays ago, when I finally entered my weight knowing that I had reached my goal, I was kind of excited to see what the ap would do. I pictured some kind of animated scene similar to when you get a strike at a bowling alley, like a picture of a scale blowing up or shrinking or bowing down to me. And sure enough, a window popped up with a message that read:
“Congratulations! You have lost .6 pounds in 37 months and 26 days!”
I laughed out loud. Because that is the most pathetic (but true) message I have ever received. I couldn’t even remember when I had started using the ap, but apparently it was Feb. 4, 2014, when Rye was almost a year old and I was getting frustrated with losing weight on my own, just trying to lose the last little bit for my 31-year-old self’s “ideal weight.” That number was determined by a fitness guy on a cruise ship who had me stand on one of those scales that sends electricity through your body and determines your percentages of muscle, fat and water and then determines the exact size and weight you should hope (or work, or as he was pushing, take fat-burning seaweed capsules) to be. Apparently I had been pretty close to that number when I started the ap, but not wanting to wait for the gradual change of half a pound a week progress that the ap recommends, I had gone for the pound a week rate, which led to a calorie budget of less than 1,300 calories per day that was nearly impossible to meet, neither daily nor as an average over the week. (At some point I had decided that I was no longer 31 and so I gave myself permission to up my goal weight by 3 pounds, which also led to this very low bar of weight loss achievement.) Also in those 37 months and 26 days, I had two more pregnancies. My line graph has 2 mountains and some minor hills (though I didn’t track myself during the pregnancies, just when they were over). But post-Christmas this year, I decided it was time to get serious and just finish those last pesky 3 pounds. I changed the weight loss rate to half a pound per week, and accomplished the final weight loss in just 3 weeks instead of 6 weeks anyway. Sigh. The lessons learned: weight loss is incredibly hard when you’re middle-aged, and take the ap’s advice and do it the slow and easy way.
Weight loss is not my only story about middle-agedness this week. During the same week that I achieved my weight loss goal, several days earlier, I was at the gym, getting my cardio in, and decided to really push myself on the treadmill. I normally do walking and running intervals because I LOATHE running, but I don’t have time to walk enough calories off, so I gotta make up time somewhere and hence do some running. This day I decided to up my speed on the running portion by .7 miles per hour. And I could do it! This is the upside of weight loss—physical activity kind of just gets easier on its own. I was so proud of myself, that I even did an extra 10 minutes of running. When I got off the treadmill I felt a little more tired, but no more sore or out of breath. I went home, showered, and forgot about it.
The next morning, I was still fine. My legs are muscly Miller legs, and they weren’t hurting. I went about my day, which for that day, included taking Rye to preschool and then going to book club at a friend’s house. Toward the end of book club, I started feeling a little off in my stomach, but I thought maybe I had had too much caffeine. (Knox stopped nursing and I’m back on the juice, baby!). I picked Rye up from school and went home, and started to wonder if maybe I was getting the stomach bug that pretty much every friends’ family had already been taken out by but we had escaped. When I laid down on the floor with the kids, I felt better, but as soon as I got up, you know, doing stuff, I could feel it again. Every time I went to the bathroom, I wondered if this was the time that I was going to lose my shit, as they say, but it never happened. At dinner time I texted Josh that he better leave work on time because I thought I was coming down with the stomach bug and might need immediate back up, any minute now. He came home, but I had already gotten the kids in bed and was just lying on the couch pathetically, though with all internal contents still in place.
The next morning, the feeling was still there. In fact, 30 hours after it began, it was still there, and I’m pretty sure that’s not how the stomach bug works. You usually only feel it coming on about 30 seconds before you make it to the toilet. Every time I lied down to rest, I felt better, but up and doing things, I felt weak. So I called my mom to describe my symptoms and see what she thought it could be. She told me that last winter, while painting her bathroom, she had done a lot of unfamiliar body motions, using muscles she doesn’t normally use, which led to her pulling a muscle in her stomach. It was so bad that when she described it to her doctor, he wondered if she had somehow broken a rib. She recommended I try a heating pad on it and see if that made a difference.
Which, of course, it did. I felt like an idiot. While my legs, and shockingly, my lungs, could handle 30 minutes of interval running at a 5.2 pace (don’t judge me), my stomach muscles could not. Knowing that there was nothing internally wrong with my stomach, I also started taking ibuprofen and was back to full mobility in a day or two.
And my final, and most shameful episode of middle-agery: my alcohol tolerance. Knox was sleeping a good six hours through the night from quite early on, so I was soon enjoying the occasional Jack and Coke (Zero) which is my signature drink these days. Last Friday, after seeing about a million gin references in Amazon Prime’s “Z: The Beginning of Everything” about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, I decided to have some gin and tonic (except with Sprite Zero). After all, Knox was done nursing and had been sleeping 11-hour nights for about 5 out of 7 nights per week. I had one and a half drinks, pouring the same amount of gin as I sometimes do with whiskey, but with about three-quarters of it consumed, I realized gin is not equivalent to whiskey. No problem, I thought, I’ll sleep it off.
Except Knox didn’t sleep through the night. Around 2:30 a.m., he started bawling, and after Josh tried consoling him for about 20 minutes, realized the source of trouble was a breached diaper, getting his pajamas, snuggle suit and even sheets wet. Josh turned on the light and changed his diaper, clothes and sheets. Meanwhile Knox continued to wail, and I got up to see what the commotion was. One look in Knox’s eyes and I knew he wasn’t going back to sleep. So at 3:15 a.m., I took him downstairs to give him a mini bottle and let him play. He drank the bottle, but then whined on his play mat, while climbing on me, while I tried to get him to sleep with me on the couch, every way except for me holding him. After 45 minutes I decided he must be tired enough to go to sleep, so I took him back upstairs, held him while swaying to his crib music box for a few minutes, and put him down and got in my bed. So I got about two more hours of sleep before Rye was up, waking Knox up, hearing Josh get up with both of them, hearing Rye run all over the downstairs and shaking the house, so that at 7:30 I gave up and got up. No headache, no dry-mouth, no queasy stomach, just that dizzy feeling. I tried drinking water and going about my day, but it didn’t work. When we got to my parents’ house at 10:30 after an hour drive, I puked. For the first time from alcohol in over a decade. From 1 ½ drinks. Post puking, I was over the queasiness and even the dizziness and had only the tiredness to contend with, but it was enough that it ruined my day. When Josh and I got back home, I napped for an hour, then we still went to bed at 9:30.
I’m old.
And if you’re 36, you are too. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

With resolve, I hereafter do plan...

Happy 2017! I know, it’s a little late for that, but that’s just because I’ve been busy. And procrastinating.
I’m not one to normally make a resolutions, but this year, I decided to go big. For a while I’ve been thinking about doing a Happiness Project, a la Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” book that I read a few years ago. 

   I really enjoyed it, though the exact format of her process has somewhat escaped me. But thanks to her website—here are the basics.
First, you need to know yourself well. What makes you happy (in those unexpected, maybe even unsexy ways, like for me it is reading in bed for 10 minutes before facing the day)? What makes you feel bad? (So you can get less of that in your life.) What makes you feel right/what values do you want your life to reflect? How can you build an atmosphere of growth?
The next step is to make resolutions for specific ways in which your life would be happier. Instead of “get more sleep,” I should strive for “lights out by 10:30.” And then you track your progress with a chart, because without monitoring a habit, you won’t know if a) you’re actually doing it and b) if it’s making a difference.
Her book also divided up the year into 12 months, each dedicated to different themes of resolutions, like having an orderly home, developing hobbies, etc. And that is something that I really wanted to do, but when it came to actually coming up with 12 areas of life all at one time, I found it overwhelming. So then I decided I don’t need to have the full plan ahead of time. No one is grading me, this is just for myself. And since I had three immediate areas I wanted to work on, I’m sticking with those for now.
For January, my goal is decluttering. And more specifically, following the old Benjamin Franklin axiom, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” My goal is to go through the house and get rid of everything I don’t love that we haven’t used in more than a year, and to find a specific place for all our stuff we are keeping so things don’t just linger around in awkward places for months, cluttering up the house.
I got off to a great start on this during the last week of December when I somehow effortlessly convinced Rye that we needed to organize his toys better and make room for Knox to use this drawer in our entertainment center where he will be able to access his own toys in the next few months when he starts crawling, standing and walking. Rye loved the idea (yay, he’s genetically-predisposed to organize!) and we got it done in less than an hour, and he even volunteered a few toys to get rid of that he knows he never plays with.
Then I started tackling the wet bar cabinets in our dining room, clearing out about two DOZEN wine glasses we do not need to keep, and bottles of liquor I’m done with but don’t want to finish (doesn’t that sound so grown up of me?). I moved onto the kitchen and got rid of coffee mugs we never use, expired food items and gigantic awkward party platters that take up so much space, are rarely used and do not reflect my personal style. It felt so good that I was amped up to do more.
I wasn't kidding about the wine glasses.
The biggest problem area in the house is our “study” (see previous post about that room and my quest for the perfect rug here), but it had gotten so out of control, what with Christmas stuff waiting in there to go up to the attic, maternity clothes being weeded out of my closet and being held there until they could be sorted to be given back to friends and/or stored in the attic, ridiculous amounts of paperwork on Josh’s desk and assorted “problems” on my desk (such as two broken picture frames that we are debating whether to fix or toss). So I decided to tackle the other stuff first. The easiest areas that I already have accomplished include the dining room table, my bathroom dresser, my bathroom shelves, my closet, the coat closet, the baking cabinet in the kitchen, and this tiny junk area to the left of our fridge. Still remaining on the list are Rye’s room, Knox’s room (which I’m halfway finished with), the entertainment drawer in the living room, the back porch room, and three separate areas in the study. There’s still a week left in January, but Josh already asked for leniency on the study two weeks ago because he’s got a lot of free time coming up in February during which he would like to tackle it. I want his help too so I’ve decided that a self-imposed deadline is not that big of a deal.
As for my other two life areas that I plan to tackle for February and March, these were easy. In honor of February and Valentine’s Day, I’d like to work on growth in our marriage. Josh and I are going through a pretty good stretch right now, minus the lack of date nights to get out of the house sans kids (because Knox wasn’t taking a bottle but now he is!), but marriages rarely get even better without effort. I wasn’t sure what specifically I wanted to do for this month, and since having SPECIFIC goals are the only way you can measure actions and progress, I thought maybe reading a book on marriage might be a good idea and then making a pointed date night with Josh to discuss it. But then I heard a podcast about Shaunti Feldhahn’s “The Kindness Challenge,” and how she and Focus on the Family were sponsoring a 30-Day Kindness Challenge that you can sign up for and be sent daily emails about how to be proactively kind to someone, and how there were specific emails you could sign up for as a wife for a husband, as a husband for a wife, or as a parent to a child. So I signed up! Because this is an area of our relationship I’ve been wanting to work on but hadn’t done much about. I had read somewhere about the concept of how we don’t treat our spouses as well as our friends, particularly when it comes to the appreciation we show them or the language we use toward them. And I felt totally convicted about that. Not that I’m a monster (I asked, and Josh said no,) but sometimes I’ll say something and then cringe thinking “I would never talk to ______ (insert female friend’s name in here) that way.” So I’m looking forward to the Kindness Challenge. If you are interested, you can sign up here (and you can start the emails with whatever date you want, I’m waiting for Feb. 1).
My March goal is to be a more intentional parent. Again, I don’t have my specific resolutions worked out for this yet, but I’m tired of being reactive to Rye’s behaviors and feeling like I’m constantly disciplining him for stupid stuff that makes me want to pull my hair out. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts on different parenting strategies, and I’ve got a few books in mind to get out and try, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ve got plenty of time before I need to worry about this one. And I can always bump it to April.
And is if that weren’t enough, I’m also still thinking about choosing a “word of the year.” I had heard about this before, but it somewhat oddly really caught my attention after hearing a Fresh Air podcast with Francis Ford Coppola and how he said he always picked one word to focus on with the making of every film, because whenever he came to a point where he wasn’t sure where to go with things, the one word brought him back to focus. And then on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier, she recommended picking a word of the year because it can help you make choices and also make that year particularly memorable for something. So in the future, you could say something like, “oh yeah, we did that in 2017 because that was the year we were focusing on ‘outside.’” My book club is looking into this, because a member’s mother did it with her group and they found a way to help you choose your word, which I kind of need, because the endless possibilities of words are daunting. And I’m kind of a word person; a big vocabulary leads to too many choices.
Did you make any goals/resolutions for this year? I’d love to hear about them! And any success stories from previous resolutions?
I’m hoping to write about my Happiness Project/resolutions throughout the year. And I’m making a resolution to write a blog at least once a month, which seems quite possible as I’ve been able to ramp up more each year. If you write a secret blog I don’t know about, please feel free to send me a link too, I love reading other people’s blogs too!