Cleaning Up

As we begin the new year, one project I’m really looking forward to is cleaning up. What I really mean is de-cluttering. Lightening our load. Mostly giving things away but also throwing some away. Because lately I’ve been feeling like we have a lot of stuff.

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The Inspiration

Around the holidays when there is so much consumerism, I look around and think – do we really need more stuff? Where are we going to put it? In addition, having two recently grown children who now have their own places but still have rooms full of stuff in our family home, it feels like enough belongings for five although there are really only three of us here.

Into my life came a book I discovered sometime in the middle of the holidays and it spoke to my malaise: “the life-changing magic of tidying up/the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing,” by Marie Kondo.

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I am not one who generally needs inspiration to de-clutter. I do it regularly and actually enjoy it. However, I think of it as more of a necessary or focused project (as in, “I’m going to clear out this one closet!”) Ms. Kondo’s approach, coined, “The KonMari Method,” focuses on a category by category method of assessing which items “spark joy” and which, of course don’t. Her three-month waiting list to consult on her method speaks to her popularity in Tokyo where space is at an all-time premium. And the additional benefits of a tidy home include the inspiration of a calm, motivated mindset.

Testimonials

I just started reading this book but was struck at the beginning by the testimonials.

“After your course, I quit my job and launched my own business doing something I had dreamed of doing ever since I was a child.”

“Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.”

“Someone I have been wanting to get in touch with recently contacted me.”

“I’m delighted to report that since cleaning up my apartment, I’ve been able to really increase my sales.”

“My husband and I are getting along much better.”

“I’m amazed to find that just throwing things away has changed me so much.”

“I finally succeeded in losing ten pounds.”

WHAT? I’ll take any of those! It sounds kind of silly but I think I get it. All that stuff we carry around that feels like extra weight, weighs us down in more ways than we know. That rings true for me. And I assume many of the other 2 million people who have purchased this book.

The Progress

Well, Ms. Kondo – I am happy to report that although I am not too far along in your book as of yet, I did make some progress on my clutter today.

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I tackled a few boxes of mine and found many craft projects and supplies. They date back to my youngest son’s first Halloween costume and he is now sixteen! Although I don’t have most of your methodology in my arsenal yet, I did keep in mind to think if each item brought me joy. That was tremendously helpful.

I realized I often keep things out of guilt:

I didn’t wear it enough.

There’s nothing wrong with it.

I can use this someday.

There are starving children in Africa …..

Realization

That last message … “there are starving children in Africa …” was so revealing. This is where the guilt comes from! Lessons taught as a child. To eat everything on your plate. To waste nothing. And the intent of the message is not bad but the execution can be. To overeat. To hoard. I rethink the lesson as: is it not better to give away things we’re not using? And donate both time and resources to the causes we believe in? Because how is keeping objects that we’re not using out of guilt helping anyone?

I will document my progress as I go forward in this process. And I look forward to spending more time with Ms. Kondo and her potentially life-changing philosophy and to sharing it with you.

Staying Connected

During this busy time of year, I am reminded how important it is to stay connected to your friends. As we get older it becomes even more important to reach out and make an effort to stay in touch with friends. In a city like Los Angeles, where everything is so spread out and commuting 10 miles can take hours, maintaining a close relationship with friends can be a challenge. But there are other strategies you can incorporate to retain friendships. Pick up the phone and call someone. Make sure you have your friend’s e-mail addresses and use technology to contact friends either by e-mail, Skype or social media. Write cards and even letters. I love reading a letter or card. I text a lot with my friends because it is so immediate and I can get my questions answered instantly. Lunch is always a better bet for me than trying to schedule a dinner with friends unless my Husband and I have mutual friends and we make it a couple thing or a small group of friends. During warm weather months, we love to entertain friends with a dinner party or lunch and a hike.

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Author and psychologist Carlin Flora’s book, Friendfluence, explores all aspects of friendship in a thoughtful and engaging way. In the book, she gives many reasons that friends are important to our lives. Here are a few of them that really stuck with me.

Friends affect you in more ways than you think
Whether you realize it or not, your friends have shaped who you are today. You are even the product of the friends who are no longer your friends.

Friends can give you vital life skills
There are many perks of friendship include sharpening your mind, making you generally happier, knowing yourself better, becoming inspired to reach your goals, advancing your career, helping you meet romantic partners, and living a longer and healthier life.

Close friends support you through thick and thin
To take the most advantage of friendfluence, put effort into your closest friendships. Although being friendly can get you more friends, you don’t need hundreds to help you through life. You may have to prune your friendship tree as you get older to be sure that you give enough attention to the ones who will really matter for your well-being.

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Friends can give you a reality check
Because friends know us so well, they are able to see things that we can’t, and aren’t afraid to share their dose of reality with you.

Couple friendships can help your own relationship
You can benefit both from maintaining your separate friendships, but also from sharing with the couples who are experiencing transitions such as becoming parents, raising teenagers, and helping older family members. Friends can also help you alleviate your work-related stress.

Even though you may be stretched to the limit time-wise, the investment you make in your friendships will be worthwhile to your overall quality of life.

Getting Enough Sleep

I was visiting with a friend recently who is from Shanghai, China. When I mentioned that I didn’t feel that I was getting enough sleep, she recommended Ginseng Tea from Korea. She promised it would do wonders.

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How Much Sleep Do We Need?

In reality, there is no magic number of hours of sleep we need and it varies by person. Some people need 9 hours of sleep per day while others can get by with 6. A general guideline for older adults is between 7 and 8 hours of quality sleep per day. As people get older though, their sleep satisfaction often declines.

On doing a bit of research, I learned that sleep satisfaction for older adults mirrors our general health. And sleep is particularly affected for those with conditions related to the heart such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. As someone who inherited hypertension in my mid-40’s, that makes sense.

Sleep trends have shown that American adults get less sleep now than they did 40-50 years ago. In the 1960’s – 70’s, the average adult got 8-8.5 hours of sleep per night. Today adults average 7-7.5 hours of sleep per night, or less.

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As we get older, other issues also interfere with our sleep. Aches and pains associated with aging – sore back, aching knee – frustrate our sleep. And we also tend to wake up more during the night, which is why older adults often nap during the day.

And here’s the kicker: for older women, there’s menopause. After we’ve sacrificed sleep up to this point to raise our kids and work at our jobs, now when we actually can sleep a bit more, menopause causes women’s sleep patterns to go haywire. Rates of insomnia and apnea for women during this period go through the roof. As a perimenopausal woman, this is another piece to the puzzle.

What We Can Do

In addition to trying my friend’s Korean Ginseng Tea recommendation, there are other things we can do to improve our sleep. Breathing exercises, yoga and creating a good sleep environment are natural remedies to addressing chronic sleep issues. As adequate sleep affects our overall health and wellness, I will be trying all of these natural remedies to offset the progressive sleep issues that come with aging. And although I’m not yet needing a nap during the day, when that day comes I will embrace it!

Puzzles

As Fall is upon us and the weather starts to change, I think of all of the things I love about the changing seasons and moving from Spring/Summer into Fall/Winter. The changes in food: the type of food we eat (heartier, heavier) and the way it is prepared (slowly). The hunkering indoors over a fireplace vs the basking in the sun in our yard. The clothing that we wear: boots, sweaters, scarves and jackets instead of bathing suits and flip flops. Yes it is time for a change.

An activity that I absolutely love and really only do during this colder time of year is puzzles. I can’t really explain why I love them but I know I always have. I am puzzle OBSESSED.

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Here is a Christmas puzzle I did last year. It was great fun and had many, many clues. I tend to do puzzles over the holidays when I don’t need to do a lot of other things because once I start a puzzle, I often cannot stop. I mean, CANNOT. I have been known to stay up all night trying to just find one more piece!

Here is another puzzle I did over a winter holiday break: The Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci that hangs in Milan, Italy. I have always wanted to see this famous painting but have not made it there yet. I was given this puzzle as a gift and it was a bit challenging as there are numerous large areas of single color with not much detail to work with.

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Here’s a puzzle I did several years ago while staying in a vacation home in Lake Tahoe. It was the owner’s puzzle and our whole family pitched in to get it done before we had to leave!

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This cupcake puzzle was fun and relatively easy, though the many pieces (usually 1,000 or 1,500, but sometimes 500) keep it challenging.

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Usually once I have done a puzzle, I give it away to a friend or donate it so someone else can enjoy it. There are few puzzles I would do more than once. One that I do love and have done several times is this President’s Day Puzzle. It has all of the President’s (through a point in time) and their home states as well as some interesting moments in history.

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I am looking forward to this Fall and Winter and puzzle season. For me, puzzles are not only fun and entertaining, they are challenging on an intellectual level. They are also calming and relaxing, almost meditative. They make great gifts for puzzle lovers and they are wonderful to pass on and share. If you haven’t tried once since you were very young and it had only a few pieces, I urge you to try again. Maybe you’ll love them as much as I do.

Dealing With Depression

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Depression is a serious condition that probably affects every family either directly or indirectly. We have three members of our family who deal with depression in various forms. Two of my now adult children and one of my husband’s adult children have coped with depression and it has been at times devastating to their lives. Because they are adults who live their lives outside of our home, we don’t know it is happening to them unless they reach out to us for help. The first thing we try to do is get them to a professional to start treatment which usually comes in the form of medication and talk therapy. Our kid’s depression seems to be episodic brought on by stressful life events like a job loss, school, or relationship break-up. Unfortunately often times, by the time they reach out to us, they have tried to cope with their depression by self-medicating with pills or alcohol which just exacerbates their despair. So we make a point to stay in regular contact with our kids even when they don’t make regular contact with us. My husband and I have become pretty astute in recognizing the symptoms of depression in our kids by the sound of their voices. They have a really monotone way of talking and sometimes complain about not being able to sleep or eat. Or their lives are spiraling out of control with alcohol and legal incidents. That is when we go into rescue mode and help them get exercise, good nutrition and some professional help.
So if you have someone in your family who deals with depression, know that situational depression is often only temporary. It is brought on by major life events, and treatment is available. It is certainly something to watch out for but something that can be managed. A really good resource I have referred to often is a website familyaware.org, a nonprofit organization that helps families recognize and cope with depression and bipolar disorder to get people well and prevent suicides.

What’s In A Name?


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What’s in a name is a question recently raised in my family because my Son is having his first child in four months. While I am so excited about my new Grandchild, I am not wild about the name my Son and his Partner have chosen for the baby’s name. The name itself isn’t so bad, it is the unique spelling of the name that gives it an ambiguous pronunciation. My Son is a Teacher so he should be familiar with how difficult unique names can be for kids. I admit that I am a little sensitive about the subject since I grew up with an unusual name and constantly had to correct people’s pronunciation and spelling of my name and answer their questions about how it was derived. As a result I hated my name growing up and longed to have a name like Connie, Mary or something else easy. In addition to being a unique spelling, the name my Son is proposing is a very ethnic sounding name. So I forwarded the research study to him that Freakonomics published with proof that people with ethnic sounding names are 33% less likely to get an interview from their resumes. I told my Son that if he wanted his child living with him until he is 70 because the kid can’t get a job because of his unique name then go ahead give him that name. No response. Then I sent him an article that was in Time Magazine titled “Is There a Negative Effect on Children with Unique Names”, which detailed incidents of how kids with unique names are likely to get teased by other kids who like to twist, rhyme and change the name into something really embarrassing.  This did solicit a response from my Son who basically told me to stop sending him articles and that I was out of touch with what is happening today.

While this may be true, since I am of a certain age, I doubt that things have changed so much that kids with unique names are not still getting teased on the playground or that they don’t have to spend the rest of their lives correcting people’s spelling or pronunciation of their names and answer the questions about, “What were your parents thinking when they gave you that name?”

Although I respect the fact that parents have the right to name their children whatever they wish, hopefully my Son and his Partner will see the light in the four months left before my Grandson makes his entrance into this world. If not there is always bribery.

How’s Your FICO

 

A young 3D woman debt consumer works to build up her credit score rating report

I recently began focusing on FICO scores when I was talking to my son about buying his first house.  I gave him the name and contact information for a loan broker who was referred to me by my real estate friend and explained that the first thing the broker would do was run a credit check on him and his partner and see what kind of FICO scores they had.  It is the number banks use to measure your credit risk for a loan and since the great recession, they have been very reticent to lend money to anyone with a score less than 700.  I also found that people are very private about their number and less inclined to tell you their FICO score than they are to talk about their sex life.  If your number is less than 700 it could be for a number of reasons, including: bad debts; not enough credit, not enough variety of credit; too young and not enough time to build a good credit score.  That is why I think it is important to start talking about FICO to your children while they are in High School and the importance of getting credit and paying bills on time.  One of the first things they can do is get a savings account or checking account at a bank even if you need to make it a joint account so you can monitor the activity.  Once your kids graduate from High School, I would suggest they apply for their first credit card.  Hopefully they have a job and can pay it off every month but if that is not the case because they are in college and on the Family Assistance Program for the next 4 or 5 years, it is still important that they have a credit card, make some purchases with it and pay it off in a timely manner.  Then when they hopefully graduate from college they do have some credit established and can build from there.

Of course I didn’t follow this advice with my own children but fortunately my daughter was pretty savvy about her credit and self sufficient.  My son however, never established credit so his score needs to be built up which is going to take a little time.  A good website to learn everything you need to know about FICO is myfico.com.

Losing Our Best Friends

Last year one of our dogs was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma a virulent form of canine bone cancer which is more fast growing in younger dogs than older dogs.  We were given two options.  Do nothing and the dog would probably have to be put down in a couple of months or amputate the leg where the cancer was and have the dog undergo an aggressive chemo treatment.  The latter option might extend the dog’s life for about a year.

My husband is a very stoic and unemotional sort except when it comes to kids and animals which is about the only time I see him cry.  We opted for the second and most expensive option and had the dog’s leg amputated a couple of weeks after his diagnosis.  That was a very painful experience for all of us and to be honest not one I would want to go through again.  Following a very painful two week recovery, our little trooper adapted very well to being a Tripawd.  We had to consult a canine oncologist to advise us on the next course of treatment for our doggie with the objective of extending his life as long as possible and minimizing his discomfort.

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We decided on a chemo regimen that he would essentially be on for the rest of his life.  It consisted of a chemo pill that we gave him wrapped up in a hunk of soft liverwurst every other day for 3 weeks then giving his body a rest by not giving him the pills for a week.  If the medicine started to build up in his body, he got very lethargic and his back legs started to cramp up.  Then we monitored the effectiveness of the treatment with X-rays every 60 days to see if the cancer lesion that was now on his lung has grown, shrunk or stayed the same.  Additionally our oncologist put him in a cancer research study that was free to us and zapped him with a strong dose of chemo every week to help mitigate the growth of the cancer.  That treatment seemed to help shrink his lesion.  But once the research treatment ended and he went back on the chemo pill regimen, his lesion grew.  So we stopped the chemo and let nature take its course.  This week he took a turn for the worse and stopped eating regularly.  He stopped eating all together for 2 days and finally I was able to get him to eat some scrambled eggs.  He ended up eating 5 eggs that day but every day after he ate less and less finally not eating anything but still drinking water.  Everyone said when it is time you will know but both my husband and I vacillated every day between acceptance and doubt.  Finally we made an appt. with our Vet to come to the house and put him to sleep.  A couple of days before, we contacted the Pet Cemetery to inquire about pet coffins.  A plastic box was $380 and a Pine box was $450.  We checked out other sources and found a beautiful Teak Box at Urban Home for $79.  We decided to bury him under the lemon tree at our home in Malibu rather than cremation.

Sonny died in my arms after our Vet gave him an extra dose of sedative and the euthanasia solution that stopped his heart.  He was the strongest living being I have ever known, cheating death 3 times; the 1st as a 3 week old puppy at the pound waiting to be gassed when an angel stepped in and rescued him; the 2nd time when he got bit by a rattlesnake and spent 4 days in the hospital; and the 3rd time when his leg was amputated following his cancer diagnosis.  He was a fighter until the very end.

This year we again dealt with an ailing dog.  One of our Pit Bulls who was over 16 years old had a gradual decline in health over the last year.  She got weaker daily and my husband and I had to carry her up and down stairs because her legs were just not strong enough to support her.  She was still eating and trying to get herself out to use the bathroom, so it was hard to know when exactly the right time was to call the vet to put her down.  My feelings are it is time when they stop eating and it is just too painful to watch them get weaker.  We had to put our sweet Nyjah down earlier this month and she too was a trooper to the very end.

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Our dogs are so much a part of our family that losing them is very much like losing a best friend.

Jet Lag

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I just returned from a 3 week trip to Asia. The trip was amazing and I was bursting with energy each day, eager to walk, talk, view and eat my way through amazing countries and cultures that were new to me. I was even able to adjust fairly quickly on my arrival – after traveling for over 24 hours – to my new environment within about a day.

So I can’t understand why on my return home, I am still struggling on day 5 to get back on track?

I realize it’s not just me. My entire family is feeling the same way. Yesterday, my son slept for 18 hours and I woke him up in time for dinner. He had the same experience two days before. I have dragged myself out of bed midday the past few days and walk around in a caffeine induced fog. For example, I just went to put away a blouse in my closet but stood staring at the hanger for a few seconds, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. Yes, I am moving that slowly.

Trying to pick a restaurant to meet my friend at for lunch is totally overwhelming. It feels like my brain is working at less than half speed. Writing this blog post is nothing short of torture. Jet lag.

I decided to do a little research today on jet lag since I can’t will myself out of it, nor are any of the methods I am using to get past it working – especially the stay up the first night and force yourself back into your normal clock and routine. That did not work at all.

Jet lag is a real physiological condition that causes upset to our circadian rhythm or our body clock. It happens due to rapid long-distance transmeridian (east to west or west to east) travel. The term derives from the arrival of travel by jet aircraft because travel before was not rapid enough to cause any such significant phenomenon.

When traveling across a number of time zones, our bodies become out of sync with our new time zone and how we experience daylight and darkness in contrast to what we’re used to. As our natural patterns are upset, our rhythms for eating, sleeping, body temperature and even hormone regulation don’t correspond to our environment. These discrepancies are what we experience as jet lag.

Jet lag is not related to the length of a flight but more to the distance traveled. And it involves east-west or west-east travel only. So a north-south flight or vice versa will not result in jet lag. In my limited research, it has been suggested that recovery could take about a day per time zone crossed. From the map above, it looks like I crossed 7 time zones to get home. Apparently the maximum disruption is +/- 12 hours so if the time difference between your two locations is greater, you can subtract that number from 24. So 7 days. And, by the way – traveling east is worse than traveling west because the body clock has to be advanced, which is a more difficult adjustment than delaying it. Traveling east by 6 – 9 time zones is apparently the most difficult.

Symptoms can include difficulty with sleeping, poor mental concentration, fatigue, headaches, irritability and indigestion. For me, the difficulty with sleeping (wide awake at odd hours, crashing during the day, tossing and turning) explains all of the other resulting symptoms!

Interestingly, I stopped fighting the system on about day 6. I went with the flow a bit more. Slept when I needed to sleep. Drank iced tea most of the day but slept until I woke up naturally. By day 8 I was beginning to feel human again. Here at day 10, I’m almost ready to say that I’m back to normal.

I’m sure like many things, jet lag sensitivity will vary by person. And perhaps frequent travelers get used to it to a degree. For me, I will continue to experiment with methods to gain more rest en route (though I’m just not a good jet sleeper) and methods of recovery. Or perhaps I will just block out the number of days I need when I return from future travels to recover peacefully and without expecting 3 blog posts to be written on day 2. Or day 3 or 4.

 

Traveling Alone

Have you ever traveled alone? Not just for one night, or near home. But really, really traveled alone? I must confess that I never had. Except in July, the summer before last. For one week. On a plane. Several thousand miles away. From my husband and my three kids. And it was an experience.

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The trip did not originate as a solo adventure. But circumstances arise, and rather than cancel – I decided to brave it alone on my own. It was a place that I was familiar with, where I was born and had visited many times during my childhood – and lots of nostalgia was in store. Here’s what I learned.

I learned that no matter how strong I am and how much I cherish my time alone, I really crave my connections to those I love. Experiences with them far outweigh similar experiences on my own.

I learned that however difficult things may become, life is always better overall with the community of my family and friends. I needed to be in the isolation of this vacation by myself to see that.

I learned that sometimes, extended time alone allows you the space to contemplate yourself, your life, those around you and what is truly meaningful to you.

I learned that I like having time off that allows me to not have to take care of others. To read magazines and books on the beach without getting food, sunscreen, towels for kids, husband, and all.

I also learned that however valuable that time alone may be, that ultimately I miss all of the loves in my life far more that I need that time off from taking care of them. I miss asking them how their day was. I miss telling them what happened in my day. I miss trying to teach a valuable lesson about values and character based on some experience I had. I miss their hugs and their kisses and their reassurance. I miss giving them reassurance. I recommend traveling alone, especially if you never have. To learn whatever you may learn from the experience.