Pacing yourself: good advice for chronic illness, and everyone else, too!

It’s been so long since my last post, subscribers and regular readers may have wondered if I fell off the face of the Earth. Fret no more! I’m alive, but I have hosted a major holiday party and traversed a healthy arc around our little blue planet.

Between the trip–which I’ll write about soon–and the annual marathon that is serving Thanksgiving dinner to 19 people, I have been running right at the edge of my available pool of energy.

I have been writing, but I haven’t finished anythin…*

If you can believe it, I have over 50 draft posts in various stages of completion. What I haven’t had is any stamina left at the end of these busy days to polish up a given post for presentation to my readers.

I think I’ve mentioned it before: I’m not a real-time writer. Or, at least, I’m not even attempting to keep up with the pace of life since this blog is a hobby for me. I’m writing about Really Wonderful Things because I enjoy it. I’m trying to keep it that way.

I feel bad when I fail to post regularly. I cherish the sharing aspect of my own blog and those I follow. Slacking off on my posting schedule of a mere two pieces per week leaves me feeling guilty, and even a little anxious.

What if I lose a lot of followers? What if I lose a favorite frequent commenter?

And this is where I have to remind myself of the reality of my situation. I’ve written about accepting my limitations in the context of travel, and I think I give myself plenty of permission to do so when away from home.

What’s much harder is to take my expectations down a notch at home. Real life is a marathon, not a sprint, but there are so few obvious places to let things slide when it comes to parenthood and caring for your family.

The thoughts sound like this:

“If I don’t make this one birthday count, it is gone forever. My child won’t have good memories of turning X years old.”

Or this:

“Extended family and a dozen friends are coming for Thanksgiving. If I don’t make it a good one, I’ve ruined a holiday for 20 people.”

There’s a kernel of truth here, but most of it is anxiety talking. I don’t invite over the kind of “friend” who would blame me for a Thanksgiving catastrophe. If I had family members who actively tried to lay down that kind of guilt trip, I would consciously reject it as nonsense.

Beneath my conscious mind, however, is the deeply ingrained message I’ve been internalizing since infancy that 1) opening my messy house to people as is tells them I don’t care that they’ve come, and 2) any failings in our family’s hospitality belong to me, the wife and mother.

I’ve put a lot of effort into inviting people over “in spite of” the usual state of our home. Life can be so hectic, and it is hard to find a time that works to see good friends; an unwashed load of towels or a project-in-progress in front of the TV can’t be allowed to block a chance to socialize with companionable souls. Those moments are too precious.

And all of that was before an autoimmune condition reduced my available store of energy from less-than-average to downright-low. At this point in my life, there are days where I choose between cleaning up the kitchen at the end of the day or eating dinner; some days, I fail to do either because I’m too tired to accomplish even one “trivial” task.

So when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving, for example, I had to choose between planning the menu and buying ingredients for the dinner (the main point of the event), or preparing a more comfortable guest room for out of town visitors. And did I mention that I was leaving town for an international trip 48 hours after Thanksgiving dinner?

Tidying the great room where we hold the party was such a distant last on my list of priorities, it was hard to even see it at the horizon.

Without a doubt, I get some flak about these failings from people who truly don’t understand how I can be taking a break on the couch when people are coming over within hours and my house “looks like this.” I know that I need that break or I won’t be able to stand on my bad foot to prepare a meal; not everyone can or will understand that point.

Honestly, I hope they never come to a point of realizing how hard simple things can be for someone with chronic illness. It really stinks. I wouldn’t wish is on my worst enemy.

Add to my list of “the hard work” of hosting a large party the effort to reject others’ unrealistic expectations for me. It may be the hardest thing I deal with at some events!

We welcome others into our homes to share time, experiences, and the very real products of our hearts. We cook for each other and care for each other because we can, and because we want to.

When I take whatever energy I have and translate that into action in real terms, it is a gift to those I love. I choose to believe it will be received that way, whether I make a fancy shape of it or hand it over in a messy bundle.

This holiday season, I hope we can all focus on why we invite others to share with us. Spend a little less effort on worrying about how you measure up! If you find yourself leaning toward the latter, back up a step and take a breath.

It’s a privilege to be free to celebrate as we see fit.

It’s an honor to host friends and loved ones in our homes, and to have more than we need to share.

Try not to go down the rabbit hole of should have and could be; be grateful to enjoy what is, here and now, and those who’ve graced you with their presence.

And, if someone makes you feel less than great for what you have to offer, leave them to their negativity and add it to your list of blessings. At least you are glad for what you have, and who you are!

I will try to do a little better about piping up twice a week and staying in touch with my followers. I sincerely wish for a season of peace, abundance, and joy to everyone reading, and everyone else besides.

Cheers!

*Quoting a cute, hand-drawn postcard I had pinned outside my college dorm room. I wonder where that card has gone…

Letting reality be good enough: enjoying travel in spite of chronic pain

Sometimes, reality intervenes between our ideal experience and one we can achieve.

Since being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, I’ve found myself having to adjust my expectations for many facets of life. That includes my hobbies, which can be hard enough to prioritize for a stay at home mother of two.

One of my favorite things is travel. I’m not a full on globetrotter like some, but my trips—planning them as well as taking them—are great highlights of my life.

In the past year, I’ve had to cancel much-loved annual jaunts due to flaring symptoms. I’ve had to “waste” money already spent on non-refundable tickets, and I’ve regretted going on excursions for which I was in no condition to participate.

I’ve found myself asking:

Should I even try to travel for pleasure anymore now that I’ve been diagnosed with autoimmune disease?”

My answer to that question—when the flare passes, and when the pain and exhaustion have subsided—is that I should. In fact, I must carry on.

If I don’t persevere, the disease wins. If I give up what I love, I’m choosing misery over joy. I never want to live that way.

I got dealt a bad hand this time around, but it’s the only one I’ve got to play. I can make the best of it, or I can quit the game. I could just watch the other players, but what fun would that be? That’s not the life for me. Nor would I wish such circumstances on anyone else.

With that said, here are a few tips for putting some of the pleasure back in travel for a traveler with a chronic condition. Continue reading

Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood beauty and… inventor of secret military technology?

Hedy Lamarr was one of the great leading ladies of Hollywood in the 1930’s and 40’s. Some regard her as the most beautiful woman who ever graced the silver screen. Her heyday began almost 80 years ago, but her name is still well-known, certainly to movie buffs.

Even with a passing acquaintance from film studies, I, with an interest in both classic cinema and novel technologies, missed the fact that Hedy Lamarr was also an inventor.

She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Together with a friend, she patented technology in 1941 to prevent interception of military radio signals by the enemy. Their innovation used spread spectrum and frequency hopping to obscure information. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because your wifi relies upon Lamarr’s idea, as do cell phones.

Who knew?

But, then again, why are we surprised?

Perhaps Lamarr, herself, provides a clue with this quote:

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

She certainly was glamorous. Equally obvious: she wasn’t stupid.

Young women should not avoid STEM careers for fear of appearing unfeminine. Here’s a great example of a beautiful lady whose brain was as impressive as her countenance.

Another Lamarr quote provides a hint to the secret of her many successes:

“I win because I learned years ago that scared money always loses. I never care, so I win.”

Worry less about what others think, and more about what you can do. This is particularly compelling advice for women, who are likely to be judged less capable before they even begin.

You can’t win if you’re afraid to enter the race.

Smart women know what they have to offer. They should also feel free to remain attractive while they’re proving it. If that’s a distraction to the men in the room, use the advantage to move on past them while they’re addled. They can’t help it; they were born with this biological disadvantage.*

The reverse is equally true, of course. You don’t have to look like Hedy Lamarr to be a kick ass engineer, but I don’t think the internet needs an essay from me to assume a technological wunderkind looks more like Velma than Daphne.**

Apologies to Hedy Lamarr, Velma, Daphne, and the field of art in general for the quality of my sketches. No actual character, living or dead, real or fictional, is indicated by the drawings above. I was looking to illustrate stereotypes in 60 seconds with a Sharpie.

 

*I’m tired of hearing bad science spouted about biological differences. I think it’s stupid to shut down discussion of the topic. All reasonable debate of possibilities is valid and can lead to gains in knowledge. However, is an area in which theories are constantly conflated with facts. Nonsense cuts both ways.

**Scooby Doo reference; original 1969 animated series, naturally

Inspired by Math with Bad Drawings: “I’m not going to tell you what to call your cat’s mustache.”

Usually, I’m admiring Ben Orlin’s mathematics-oriented comic sketches for making his point-of-the-moment. Today, however, I was so tickled by a phrase therein (a quote from his wife) that I am re-blogging just to continue poking around in my fascination with these few words.

It’s right at the top of his post, and you needn’t follow any of the math to appreciate the sentence with which I’m enamored.* My interest is in the words and the absurd.

Math. Cats.

via A Mathematician Looks at a Cat — Math with Bad Drawings

Now, for the bit I love:

[Ben Orlin’s] WIFE: … I’m not going to tell you what to call your cat’s mustache.

I love this sentence: the absurdity of a cat’s mustache; the interplay between husband and wife when an argument can’t—or needn’t—be won. It’s perfect.

And all of it came nestled in the excelsior of math humor—a fascinating subject, frequently misunderstood, most especially by those who could benefit the most from plumbing its depths.

Excelsior - 1I’m in my weirdest, wordiest, quantitatively nerdiest happy place with this one.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to start repeating this to my family at moments they will find annoying. Previously, they had to suffer primarily through Christopher Durang quotes from The Nature & Purpose of the Universe.

If you’re curious, read more about this one act play on the playwright’s site. It is decidedly dark and wouldn’t be palatable to all audiences.

If someone refers to me as “she,” I quote the play and quip, “She is the cat’s mother. I am the Pope!”

Now, I can follow up with: “I’m not going to tell you what to call your cat’s mustache!”

Perhaps I only spout absurdist quotes about cats. Then again, cats might represent the ultimate expression of the absurd.

What is “the nature and purpose of the Universe,” really?

I think it has something to do with cats.

Batman lego fairy

*But we should talk later about finding your own personal entrée into a love of mathematics. Math is for everyone! And, no, that’s not a threat. It’s more like an invitation to join a cult.

31 days of blogging: the origin story of Really Wonderful Things

One month of daily blogging: completed!

I have toyed with the idea of blogging from the minute I heard it defined in the 1990’s. A friend who values my judgement (and addiction to comparison shopping) has been prodding me to start one for reviewing products for years.

Sometime last spring, the idea came to me to call “my imaginary future blog” Really Wonderful Things. At last, I’d figured out what tied together all the stuff I wanted to write about: being wonder-full.

Really Wonderful Things are ideas and objects, passions and people—anything that strikes me as a force for good, or a source for a good wonder. I wonder about lots of things. I find human accomplishments incredibly wonderful. The world is full of wonders to explore.

My husband reserved the domain name for me last year as a mother’s day gift. And then it sat while I focused on other things. This year, just before the renewal notification for the domain registration arrived, I was working on an organization project for our camping equipment. I thought, “Someone else might find these ideas helpful.”

And—it’s about flipping time!—I took action. My first post was Organizing the chuck box & storing camp kitchen gear

On March 30, 2017, reallywonderfulthings.me was born.

Inspirations

Aside from the support of my ever- occasionally-patient family, and the prodding of one friend who really wants to know how I find and rate the myriad useful objects in my life, two other people sparked life into this blog.

Crazy Russian Dad

I am friends with a guy who’s a busy, successful professional, a loving family man, and, in his spare time, an entertaining YouTube innovator with thousands of followers: Crazy Russian Dad. He decided to make daily videos for his YouTube channel for one year, and he did it (and then some!)

When I started my blog, I wanted to follow his example. Concrete goals help me stay on track. Posting on a schedule gives your followers a reason to trust you: if you show up, I’ll be here to continue the conversation.

I committed myself to one month of daily posts, and here I am.

“Just” another mom stepping back into the professional world

And then there’s a friend—a full time parent, like me—who’s been accepted into a graduate degree program. Her kids are younger than mine. She’s been out of the job market as long as I have.

We’ve commiserated many times about the creeping anxieties of the stay-at-home parent:

  • Can I step back into the world of work when I’m ready?
  • Am I relevant?
  • Is my contribution going to be valued?

She’s nervous about becoming a student again, and in a field outside of her undergraduate degree, but she’s facing those feelings down in pursuit of a dream.

I want to act as courageously as my friend!

She was another inspiration to create the content for which I saw a need. Her courage—though she doesn’t see it as such—helped nudge me into action. She helped me remember my voice, and gave me the courage to speak up.

I have something to say, and there are people out there who want to hear me say it.

Thank you!

Thank you so much to every follower and casual reader. Your attention has been very much appreciated. Let’s keep the conversation going!