The Secret Of Slowing Down

Commuting used to be a prominent source of stress in my life.  Driving in a crowded urban area led me to countless experiences of conflict, rage, and cortisol spikes.  No matter what intention I set before driving, I seemed to always find myself tangled up with another driver, seething and anxious by the time I arrived at my destination.

The most effective secret I found to relieving my driving stress was traveling 2 mph slower than everyone else.  Think about it.  Most people aren’t content with the posted speed limit.  They want a little bit more for themselves, so they tend to speed up.  Very few people seem confident that they have the time and space in their lives to go slower.

This means if the highway speed limit is 70, and you set your cruise control to 72 mph, you will likely get tangled up with the aggressive drivers.  But set your speed to 68 mph, and everyone will go around you, leaving you alone.  Sure, you might get an occasional tailgate or annoyed look, but angry people are difficult to please.  They aren’t in the mood to be happy with their life, but I am.  I want all the unhappy people to go around me and move on while I sing to my yoga playlist.

What other ways can you go against the crowd and move 2 mph slower in your life?

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Go With The Flo

I said I was taking a Gap Year, and I meant it.  Meaning, I decided to pursue a longtime dream of downsizing and living at the beach (at least part time).  I’ve been planning this since I was approximately 8 years old, but more seriously since 2005.  I’m mentioning this to be transparent, because sometimes you read things on the internet and feel that it’s unfair how quickly and easily things come to certain people.  The beach did not come easily to me.

After deciding to live at the beach at age 8, there was a little waiting involved, due to lack of money and autonomy in my underage lifestyle plan.  So, at age 17, I entered college majoring in Finance and Real Estate, intending to make said beach plans come true.  Later, after graduating with even less money and new student loans, I took a very tiring job with very long commutes and night shift hours, followed by much crying, a little soul searching, entrepreneurship, and good timing.

I was able to buy my first home in 2000, and later sold it during the real estate bubble in 2005.  The profit afforded me a small sum with which to invest in beach property.  Speaking of small, I literally could only afford the smallest house in said beach zip code.  I took on a second mortgage, and a summer rental income to finance this dream.

I rented the house for 12 years, diligently reinvesting the rental income.  Once the mortgage was paid off  *insert happy dance*, I vowed to allow myself to spend the summer there.  A few weeks after removing our home from the rental program in 2016, my teenage daughter decided to join a traveling drumline out of state, a family decision which translated into me trading summer at the beach for long drives on the New Jersey Turnpike.  Every weekend.  And so, my little cottage got put back into the rental program for 2 more years.  And I waited.

Until this week.  I am an empty nester now, rental season #14 has ended, and now it is my turn.  I felt scared to finally make the move after so many years of waiting, but this past Saturday, I threw all my clothes into the car and drove to the beach.  48 hours later, I got word of the mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Florence.  And so, the universe delayed my beach plans once again, and I drove away later that night.

What is there to do in this situation but Go With The Flo (clever Florence reference)?  Do I worry about my home being damaged?  Yes, but I accepted that this property is at risk of flooding and wind damage when I bought it.  I’ve also since taught myself the proper place that material possessions hold in the grand scheme of things.  What I’m reflecting on most during this evacuation is the patience one needs to let life unfold, and holding onto a positive mindset during uncertainty.

The universe has plans for us all, and sometimes those plans do not happen within one’s own expected timeframe.  Sometimes we must wait, and often without answers.  I’ve so desperately wanted to make changes in my life, but at times, progress is slow.  I hope this personal story helps give you the patience to Go With The Flo until your own dreams come to you.

Gap Year Has Begun

It’s Day 2 of my Gap Year.  48 hours ago, my husband and I dropped our daughter off at her college dorm room.  The nest is officially empty, and so it’s time for me to fly.

I’ve spent the past 9 months enjoying mom life to its fullest, setting personal plans aside to soak up the remaining time with my daughter at home, never questioning whether I was being unproductive, even though she didn’t need me much of the time.  I just savored being there, and watching her become independent in so many small ways.  I knew I’d have the rest of my life to be me, so for now I am giving thanks that I slowed down long enough to savor that time with her, and to reflect on how much I love her.

During the big dorm move-in, so many friends and family reached out to wish her luck, but also to check on how we were feeling, gauging our emotional barometer.  I’m happy to report that the overall mood of the day was joy.  Joy in anticipation, joy in uncertainty, and joy in simplifying life down to her half of a dorm room.  I set her free with a few fairy lights and storage bins, knowing her life was about to be focused outside of those four walls, and her wealth was going to be measured in relationships and experiences for the next four years.

And so it goes for mom on her Gap Year.  Can I spread my wings, too?  Can I measure my life in relationships?  Will I have the courage to reach out to new experiences?  Am I bold enough to ask questions, fail, and learn?  Will I take risks?

I never felt sad saying goodbye to her.  How can there be sadness in growth and change?  Minimalism has taught me that the present is our most precious day, and that we have everything we need in this moment.  And so, even with her far from home, I know we are both right where we need to be.

Gap Year

Yesterday, my daughter hit ‘submit’ on her online college application, which means graduation is on the horizon for my oldest child and with it, choices about how to begin life as a young adult.  This past year, we tackled the infamous, “Where do you want to go to college?” question, and discussion of a contemporary trend, the Gap Year.

The Gap Year is the period of time between high school graduation and freshman year at a university of choice.  It is an opportunity for young adults to take a sanctioned break from the academic system to explore, work, learn, grow, and get to know themselves.  The reasoning is that life experience, self-discovery, and a broader perspective on the world will benefit them as they enter the higher education system.

In my opinion, Mom & Dad are the ones deserving of the Gap Year.  I mean, by your forties (or later), you have a pretty good idea what gaps exist in your life.  It’s time to start rekindling that sense of adventure you lost the minute you graduated from college and set foot in your first cubicle.  In my case, immediately after fleeing said cubicle, I chose to start a family, which led into an 18 year blur of exhaustion, culminating in my daughter’s current college application process.

During that time my children grew up, a few dreams and travel plans were deferred.  A few friendships fell by the wayside, as we were all too busy with travel soccer practice to prioritize our own social lives.  A few business ideas sparked, but have not yet had time to ignite, as my changing worldview slowly shifts my focus from income potential to social good.  And one more thing, I need rest and relaxation like I need air and water.

Most of all, I crave uncertainty.  Not recklessness, but rather the potential and opportunity of being less defined.  Now I am older, and more financially secure, but I remember how it felt to feel so ungrounded at age 22.  My 20s were financially tight, but I was secure in my relationships.  How fluidly I moved with less burden, and how invigorating it was to be experimenting with my life’s path.

I have big decisions ahead of me, as does my daughter.  Of course, there is a standard path in front of me.  Continue paying the mortgage, build the nest egg, live safely and comfortably, but feel stagnant.  But there is another way.  Make changes, shake things up, take some risks, but feel fear.  My daughter plans to start college next fall, but Mom has her eye on the Gap Year.

The Squirrel Incident

I look forward to the change of seasons each year, and there is certainly much to anticipate in the early days of autumn.  Cool air, cozy sweaters, crackling fires, and the beauty of the changing leaves.  Unfortunately, sometimes we anticipate the change of seasons through advertisements and holiday fantasies.  Starbucks will be soon be encouraging us to restart our Pumpkin Spice Latte habit.  Pottery Barn will send us yet another catalog, and in it, images of perfectly curated fall décor, along with beautifully adorned doorways welcoming trick-or-treating perfection.

I bought into this magazine lifestyle fantasy myself, until The Squirrel Incident.  Last September, my family was just finishing up a screened porch renovation.  Our 16 year old house was starting to show its age, and I thought we needed to get started on the ever growing home maintenance to-do list.  One item on that list included remodeling the screened porch.

Our home backs up to woods, and for years, squirrels have decided it would be more cozy to nest under the roof of our back porch than in the trees.  Over time, they ripped multiple holes in the screens and repeatedly tried to build nests, despite our efforts to wage all-out squirrel warfare as humanely and non-harmfully as possible.

We decided to repair the porch once and for all, replacing or repairing the floorboards, rails, roof, and screens.  The project was completed in early autumn, right as Pottery Barn was putting their summer outdoor furniture on clearance to make way for their new fall décor.  It occurred to me that we should own one of those beautiful outdoor sofas and chairs.  It would help us enjoy the new porch, I reasoned.  I wanted the magazine photo to be my reality.

Two weeks after the furniture was delivered, I innocently let the dog out onto our porch one morning, not realizing that a squirrel had torn through the new screen overnight, and was quietly perched on the back of our outdoor sofa.  The ensuing chase was chaotic, worthy of the squirrel scene in the movie ‘Christmas Vacation’.  Picture a squirrel running for its life, over every horizontal and vertical surface of the porch, my dog leaping after it over the new furniture, crazed in her single-minded pursuit.

Finally, I was able to separate the two animals.  The squirrel lived, my sofa did not.  The squirrel had dug its claws into the couch cushions as it ran, shredding the fabric, and leaving a trail of muddy footprints and urine (like I said, it was scared) across the pristine white Sunbrella fabric.  I checked the Pottery Barn catalog, and there were no squirrel disclaimers to be found, nor any tips on removing squirrel urine.

Turns out, life is not a glossy magazine photo.  Life is messy and imperfect and unpredictable.  I never imagined I’d be learning life lessons from a squirrel, but Mother Nature has a way of revealing her infinite wisdom in not so subtle ways.  I did not replace the sofa.  This fall, I will be sipping my (homemade) Pumpkin Spice Latte on the same ripped cushion I’ve been sitting on for a year now.  That’s life.  Messy, but good.

Affluenza Recovery

This post scares me.  Why?  Because it’s an admission of truth.  Uncomfortable truth.  The truth is that I’m not very good at affluence.  By chance, luck, or circumstance, it was unavailable to me as a child, but was given to me as an adult.  I guess I’ve seen both sides of the coin.  Maybe affluence isn’t the problem, so much as selfishness, greed, and envy.  I’ve tried all of those out, but each felt inauthentic and shallow.  In fact, affluence made me feel a little ill, but thankfully, I am now in the process of affluenza recovery.

This realization about affluence hit me over the head a few years ago, actually.  I sat counting the number of chairs in my house(s), along with the number of Facebook friends I actually considered my true friends, and the chairs happened to significantly outnumber the meaningful people in my life.  The rest of the people I didn’t really interact with, but I was definitely spending money on chairs trying to impress them.  Not many of those people ever did come over to sit in my chairs.

That is the essence of affluenza.  Not feeling secure in yourself or your relationships, and trying to find security in owning more things.  After all, chairs don’t judge you, and if you need support, chairs are always there for you.  Friends on the other hand, are more difficult to obtain, require regular upkeep, and therefore, feel a little more risky.  Sure, friends can also be bought, but not the quality ones.

So, I made a decision.  I started getting rid of the clutter on my chairs, followed by the chairs themselves.  At first, my life felt a little empty and I felt weak, but I’m now feeling stronger through life experiences and relationships.  Soon I’ll be moving on to downsizing the rooms and houses that hold the remaining chairs.  If affluence sticks around during that process, then perhaps I’ll now have the skills in place to use it for good.  Perhaps I’m building up an immunity to affluenza.  I suspect I’ll always own at least one chair, but until my friends outnumber my furniture, I have more work to do.

Enjoy Your Mornings

There are a lot of morning routine articles on the internet these days, so it’s obviously a popular topic.  I think we can all agree:  We want to start the day off right and feel happy.  I have to admit, I am morning routine Jedi, remaining remarkably consistent on this front.  However, every time a read a list of morning routine suggestions, I start to cringe.

Wake up early, take a deep breath, stretch, meditate, journal 3 pages, brew artisanal coffee, exercise, then allow yourself to take care of your family (who is just now waking up at a reasonable hour), get them off to school, then work productively for 3 hours at your stand up desk, at which point you are allowed to check email and Facebook.  In the real world, it would now be lunchtime, and I would be stressed and exhausted, and probably reaching for something sugary to eat.

The one thing I can tell you I don’t want in the morning is to get slammed in the face with someone else’s to do list for a proper morning.  I want my morning to make ME happy.  Which is why I suggest that it’s ok to take it down a notch, keep things simple, and focus on doing a few things you like.

How I Enjoy My Mornings:

Wake up without an alarm – Pretty doable if I get to bed a decent hour and make sure natural morning light can penetrate my bedroom fortress.  If not, I have a backup alarm, but it’s set to happy nature sounds.

Put away the clean dishes (on a good day) – This practice is related to my compulsive need to eliminate food and cooking chaos through a perpetually clean sink.  I don’t always feel like doing it, but I feel satisfied having it done.  Perhaps I’ll blog about the joy of a clean sink one day, or recover from my compulsiveness.

Make a cup of tea – Warmth and joy.  Even more joy than the sink.

Read a book (or a blog) –  Reading is my thing.  I’m not a social media gal, as I like to avoid FOMO.

Make a second cup of tea – This gives me permission to procrastinate exercise within reason.  If I take too long, the tea gets cold and yucky, so I tend to get moving.

Exercise & Make a smoothie –  Smoothie comes first if I’m low on energy, Exercise comes first if I’m feeling like Wonder Woman.  Exercise can be a long run or a short yoga session.  I don’t judge, I just do it.

Walk the dog – My mandatory outdoor time, weather excuses are not permitted.

Start the rest of my day – This is actually the first point in my day when I’m most likely to feel stress, because the rest of my day is less predictable and therefore requires more mental effort.  Maybe I should title this part of the day ‘Acknowledge Stress’.  Not become stressed, just acknowledge it and face the day.

I’m guessing no one else in the universe has a clean sink on their morning routine list besides me, and that’s ok.  Mornings are uniquely adaptable to your taste.  Morning routines are allowed to be easy.  The point is to enjoy your mornings.  All you need is a little routine to help you start off right, whatever right feels like for you.