Gratitude

This week my yoga instructor gave us a new pose and told us we would begin with a lower-level version of it. Why was she going easy on us? “I want you to succeed,” she said. I replied, “I’m just trying to survive, not succeed.” My class laughed, but later I began to think about what I said.

Then my friend Karen paraphrased a Joel Osteen quote on Facebook: “There is very little we HAVE to do in life but so MANY things we GET to do–it is all about your attitude and perspective.” She used laundry as an example. Instead of mentally complaining about washing so many loads on your day off, be grateful that you have clothes to wear.

I like this. In my daily struggle for serenity, I find myself constantly battling my inner voice of negativity. Karen’s quote is a good reminder to me that we need to be grateful for the little things in life as well as the big things.

About five years ago, I had back surgery. My hospital roommate was a woman in her 50’s and a recovering alcoholic who was homeless. Everything she owned was in several plastic garbage bags in the hospital room with her. I listened to her telephone contact after contact, desperately trying to find a place to stay so she didn’t have to go to a shelter.

As my husband drove me home, I remember how grateful I was to have a home. Karen’s quote is an important reminder for me. I may not have a big, fancy house, but I do have a roof over my head, and a husband who loves me. My dog may have her problems, but she is loyal and loving, even when I am not. I have a job—and one that I enjoy– in these terribly uncertain financial times.

Many times I wish that things were different in my life. This week, however I am going to try to focus on the successes and not on just surviving and be grateful for the many, many blessings in my life.

On Reading

I’ve been thinking about reading lately. I love to read. It’s one of my life’s passions. I read a wide variety of titles, ranging from bird magazines to best sellers, book reviews to blogs. I read literature and trash, teen lit and mysteries, historical sagas and stories about vampires to name just a few.
I have two very distinct reasons why I enjoy reading so much. First of all, I love the story lines that play out in my head as I read. Characters and places take on distinct visages within my mind. I’ve been taken to other places and eras, experienced foreign cultures and ancient times. I’ve laughed out loud and cried. (I still remember to this day how hard I sobbed as a child when Beth died in Little Women, almost forty years ago.)
Books have given me absolute delight and terrible nightmares. I have certain books that stay with me, haunt me, make me chuckle or give me peace whenever I think about them.
I also take pleasure in the physical side of reading. This includes the heft of a book in my hand and the joy of turning pages. I love to chart my progress though a long volume and seeing the bookmark wield its way through the width of a book. I keep lists of the books I read each year, counting and comparing them.
I was recently reading Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg. It’s the story of a woman writer who loses her husband as well as her ability to write. She laments about the “growing trend of screens taking precedence over pages.” Reading a book requires “stillness, reflection, imagination and these things are out of step with the times”, Berg says. (229)
I started thinking about this when my husband offered to buy me a Kindle. Although I am a fan of most technology, I declined this particular offer. I have a friend who listens to books she downloads onto her Droid phone.
For me, right now, I’m going to stick to reading my books the old-fashioned way—one page at a time. Even if I am out of step with the times.

Why I hate Dressing Rooms (and other thoughts about Shopping)

I have a tradition on the day after Christmas. This year the department stores opened their doors at 6:00 a.m. on December 26. I, who avoid all shopping malls during the entire month of December, was there at 6:15 a.m. with coupons in hand. After spending the morning shopping, I would like to share the following reasons why I hate dressing rooms:
1. The lights. The lighting is terrible in almost every fitting room in every store. Most have sporadic lights, dim lights or barely any lighting at all. I can’t tell you how many items I’ve bought that really didn’t match when I got them home and saw them in daylight.
2. No chairs. Don‘t they know I need a chair to sit on when I tie my shoes?
3. Not enough hooks. Most fitting rooms have one—maybe two hooks. I want at least four. I want one hook for the clothes I’m taking off. I want three others for the clothes I’m trying on. You see, I like to sort by “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.”
4. No shelf for my purse. It’s bad enough I have no place to put my clothes. I hate putting my purse on the floor.
5. Someone else’s clothes in the fitting room. Some stores have racks you can place the items you’ve tried on and don’t want. Others don’t, so people simply leave them. On sale days, these items can really pile up. And then there are the people who don’t bother to use the racks even when the store has them…
6. Not having the right size. And leaving everything to traipse across the store (if you remember where you found the clothes!) to get a different size.
7. Little pin cushions on the wall. When was the last time you saw straight pins in clothes, anyway? Note: why did they use that space for a wall-mounted pin cushion and not for another hook?
8. Lines. Waiting in a line to try on clothes is just as bad as sitting in traffic. Only you’re standing. With stuff in your arms. Enough said.
9. Hovering men. This I will never understand. Who are those men who hover around the entrance of fitting rooms so that they can approve their wife or girlfriend’s clothes? Who are those women that NEED to have approval before they buy something???

As I was writing this, I remembered something. Back in the early 1970’s my father lost his job. My mother was a stay-at-home mom taking care of six kids and a grandparent. She went to work at J. C. Penney’s as a “dressing room lady.” Back in those days she would give you a number, help you put the clothes in a room, give you advice and find other sizes, colors and accessories. Then she would take the clothes from you and either put them away or take them to the register for you.

And the cash register was right there, in the same department you were, staffed by people who knew their department’s merchandise. Now stores have “customer service centers” that you have to walk around and locate.

And you have longer lines, less service and frustrating experiences in dressing rooms.

Do you think men design these dressing rooms?

Clothes and more clothes

This summer I tried to clean out all my closets. I really did try. And, I did take a couple of bags of miscellaneous clothing, shoes and accessories to a local charity. I had several wool suits—jacket and skirt combinations—that don’t fit me anymore. But I just couldn’t bring myself to give those wool suits away. I hung them on the back of the bedroom door to think about… You see, I really don’t wear suits to work anymore. Plus, I’m a different size now. But I still didn’t want to give them up.

I have to confess, that I also have another closet in my guest bedroom that’s filled with clothes I don’t wear. And I didn’t give any of them away, either.

Why didn’t I donate them? Well, there’s the dress I wore for a formal photo after getting an award. Then there’s the outfit I wore to a wedding. And the slacks and matching top that I bought on vacation. And the jacket that I really love and I hope to lose weight so I can wear it again… and the reasons go on and on.

I was reading The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti and stumbled upon this thought: “Objects. Objects had weight. Memory and meaning could cling to them, like the smell of laundry soap to a pillowcase.. Long-kept objects were past moments where things felt sweet and right…” [248]

I realized that I am keeping those clothes just because of the memories attached to them. That dress I wore when I got an award? That was seven years ago. Yet I still hold on to it because it represents that successful time in my life.

A friend at school recently posted an email asking for business clothes. She’s collecting items for Dress to Success, a non-profit organization that provides business clothing for women who are transitioning from welfare to work.

I bundled up those wool suits right away. And then I thought about that closet in the guest bedroom and why I’m holding onto all those clothes.

And I packed up them up, too. My cousin Maureen once said, “Memories are in your heart, not in your things.” I’ll always have the memories, even if I don’t have the clothes.

Plus, it’s nice to have an empty closet in the house.

Worth It

I have not written anything lately because my computer– a three-year old gift from my husband, crashed. On one hand, I wasn’t that upset. It was, after all, a big bulky computer that made a lot of noise and took up a lot of space on my desk at home.

But I learned a few things through this experience. First of all, I learned how dependent I’ve grown on this piece of equipment. So many times, I’d go to look up something, check my email, or post something on Facebook and….nothing. I’d actually start down the hall to my study, and then realize… no computer.

My husband works at home on three “office” computers. I had to work around his schedule, get him to take a break, and then use a specific machine he’d “allow” me to use.

Since he knows something about computers, I asked him to find me a new machine. He said he looked and didn’t see any. But one weekend, he took one of his old “office” laptops—four years old—and set it up for me in my study. I still wanted a new computer. He kept telling me this old laptop was a good computer for me to use.

So, I went to our school’s tech specialist and asked him for assistance. He told me about Dell’s program that gives educators a discount on laptops and even walked me through all the components I would need.

I emailed the information home to my husband. Later that night, I asked him what he thought about the laptop we picked out. He commented that it was rather “expensive.” He was going to get me one, but was only going to spend around $500 for a computer.

I was furious. Why is it that what I do—regardless of what it is—not worth a state-of-the-art computer? Why is it that we women always settle for second best? This is why the last computer died abruptly—it was a $500 piece of junk. Why did I rely on my husband to pick out something for me that I really never liked?

So, I decide it was worth it—and that I’m worth it. So the next day I went online and ordered a brand new, Windows 7, laptop built to my specifications.

It came the other day. And I love it.

The Fog Descends…

One of the symptoms of menopause is something euphemistically called, “fogginess of mind.” I’ve even seen the term “meno-fog” used sometimes. Most women in both perimenopause and menopause write about increased forgetfulness or the inability to concentrate. Many complain about mixing up words or phrases, and entering a room and forgetting what you’ve wanted or why you went there. Losing or misplacing keys, wallets and other items is also common.

I knew exactly when menopause hit me this summer. I knew before the doctor’s visit, before the blood work results. It was like a switch turned off something inside me. The “fogginess” I experience began as instantly as the hot flashes. For me this foggy state of mind includes a heaviness of spirit unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I feel like a great inertia has descended upon me.

I buy food that sits in the refrigerator and never gets cooked. Craft items never get started, much less completed. Books are returned to the library unread. Weeds take over the vegetable garden. For the first time in my life, I’ve actually forgotten appointments. I can’t seem to concentrate or get things accomplished. And, I stopped exercising. I love going to the gym and weight training using all the machines. And I stopped. And I can’t seem to get started again. This inertia and fogginess prevents me from doing so much that I love.

I know I’m not alone. Dr. Claire Warga in her book, Menopause and the Mind details some of the best descriptions of this. They’re listed on http://www.power-surge.com/educate/menopause_and_the_mind.htm. Although Warga details these symptoms; she doesn’t have a solution for them. (Her book was published before the WHI study that halted hormone replacement therapy.)

I feel like I’m driving a car through a foggy night with no head lights. My high beams are ineffective and I can’t see where I’m going. I need something to cut through the fog and get me where I need to be. But I don’t know what that is.

And, befuddled and sluggish though I may be… I still strive to choose serenity.

Happiness

This week I started to think about the various decades of my life. It’s easy to see why my 20’s were my “social” years and how grad school and marriage made the 30’s my “serious” decade. In my 40’s, however, I branched out into different areas, tried new things and achieved all sorts of personal and professional goals. I consider those years my “creative” ones.

Down the road, I wonder, what will I label my 50’s? I started thinking about this after a friend at school gave me an article to read called, “What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcus-buckingham/whats-happening-to-womens_b_289511.html

Did you know that women become less happy as they age? The author—a man, by the way—analyzed six major international and American studies. All reveal that the older women get, the sadder they become. Their happiness levels decline despite economic, professional and personal gains.

What struck me—and the friend who shared this with me—is that none of the six studies considered the role of menopause on a woman’s happiness level.

The researchers considered many, many factors—and none of them looked at hormone levels in relation to a woman’s happiness as she ages! This despite that all the studies showed that women become sadder starting around age 47.

It continually amazes me that one of the major milestones in a woman’s life is ignored by the medical and now the academic communities.

Am I happier now in this decade than I’ve been in past ones? I don’t know. But I do know it’s a lot harder to juggle professional and personal commitments now, because I don’t feel my best. So maybe our sadness increases because exhaustion, hot flashes and other physical symptoms of menopause leave us wanting more from our lives… wanting at the very least, our energy and stamina back.

And so, despite the fact that we’re all sleepy, sweaty and now sadder, let’s keep striving to achieve serenity. I know I am…

Kathleen

It’s real!

One night this summer stands out in my memory with vivid clarity. It was the night I slept for three hours—three hours straight–without interruption, without any disturbances and without any hot flashes or night sweats. This night is etched into my memory because it’s the most sleep at one time I’ve experienced in several months.

The “sleep disturbances” started about four years ago as part of perimenopause. I would wake up at odd hours of the night –for no apparent reason–and not be able to fall back asleep. (Yes, I have not had a good night’s sleep in four years.) And I learned to somehow survive not on eight hours of sleep, but on four or five, and sometimes on even less.

But now that menopause itself is here, nights are much worse. The night sweats and hot flashes keep me tossing and turning all night long. I do a ballet of blankets—tossing them off when the hot flashes hit, and pulling them up when the sweat turns to freezing. And I try to survive on even less sleep than before.

So, it’s real. Sleep deprivation during menopause is very real. So, my question is this: why don’t we recognize this? New mothers and fathers experience the same thing—they are equally deprived of sleep. We provide a lot of understanding and support for new parents getting up through the night with their little one. Why is this same understanding and support not extended to us? Why are there no viable, safe medical options to help us with this? Options that actually work?

I have some thoughts about this. We celebrate youth in this society. So, we embrace new parents because they are the symbols of vitality and fertility. And aging—well, it’s shunned and ignored. And so are all the processes that go along with aging, menopause included.

And so, I help myself. My husband installed a fan over the bed which helps with the hot flashes. I bought the special nightgowns that wick moisture away from you. (See links in sidebar.) And I’m reconciled that the dark circles under my eyes are permanent.

And thoroughly exhausted, I try my best to choose serenity.

Peace & Joy,
Kathleen

And So I Choose…

Years ago, new responsibilities in my life and work increased my stress levels greatly.  Gradually I realized that I had a choice about how I could handle this.  When all the craziness and pressure seemed to get to me, I decided I would choose—choose to be Gracious and Serene, whatever the circumstance.  In fact, “Gracious and Serene” became my motto, my mantra and my talisman for several years.  I would repeat it to myself often. Friends would even pass me in the hallway at school and say, “G and S” to remind me.  But as I moved forward in life, this little motto gradually disappeared.  And I forgot that serenity can be a choice.

 Now, almost a decade later, I face new changes and stresses; mental, physical and emotional ones that are often preceded by the word THE.  You’re going through “THE change,” people tell me.  Menopause is “the change of life,” they say.  So, I have amended and adopted another motto to fit this new chapter in my life.  The high school students I work with laugh at the sign in my office.  Tacked prominently on the doorway, so I see it every time I enter and exit, are the words, “Choose Serenity.” 

 This blog is my attempt to achieve some sort of serenity about menopause and how it’s changing my life.  It is a difficult time and truth be told, I’m not handling it all that well.   And I have some questions about this new phase of my life—and not just about my physical symptoms.  I question the barriers I meet– from the medical profession to all sorts of “walls” and taboos from society.  I want to discuss some of them, as well.

 And so I choose.   I choose to TRY to be serene about this next phase of my life.  But part of me is NOT serene at all about it. I want to rant and rail against it. And I probably will in future entries.

 But for right now, on this day and at this moment, I simply choose.  I choose serenity.

 Peace & Joy,

Kathleen