30 Things You Should Know Before 30

1.  How to have a really good time by yourself.  If you’re given an afternoon of solitude, knowing how to fill it with things that bring you joy is important.  Whether it’s hiking, reading a good book, a bubble bath, or booking a massage, having a few go-to things that you love can help you recover and make the most of free time.

2.  How to ask for alone-time.  Recognizing when you’re overwhelmed and stressed out is hard enough, but having the courage to ask for space to rejuvenate can be doubly challenging.

3.  How to ask for support.  Sometimes we can’t do it alone.  Hopefully by 30, when you need help, you know how to ask for it.

4.  When to jump in feet-first.  When life hands you an opportunity, can you recognize it and grab hold with everything you have?

5.  When to walk away.  We’ve all been burned by a life situation.  Sometimes it’s worth sticking around to see what happens or pick up the pieces, and sometimes it’s not.

6. When and how to stand up for yourself.  This one’s tricky, because it’s easy to miss in the moment.  To be honest, I’ll be doing good if I master this one by 40.

7.  When to let things go.  My mom’s favorite saying is “Sometimes you have to pick your battles.”  So true.

8.  What you want your career to look like.  Your 20’s are all about figuring this out.  By 30, hopefully you’re together enough to make it happen.

9.  What things you need in a town/city/metropolis to be happy.  For me, it’s a good library with inter-library loan, nice walking streets, within driving distance of a medium-sized city, and little traffic.  I’m a simple girl.  What kinds of things do you need to meet your minimum threshold for contentment?

10.  Who you can rely on when things go to hell.

11.  How you would survive a zombie apocalypse.  After watching countless episodes of The Walking Dead, I’m beginning to form strategies.  It’s never too early to start planning.

12.  How to make at least one delicious meal. And how to modify it for vegetarian/gluten-free/whatever other dietary restrictions your friends have.  You can definitely survive on carry-out, but this is a life-skill that everyone should master.

13.  How to make someone feel valued.  Life is full of give and take, but knowing how to make another person feel appreciated will take you far in life and in your personal relationships.

14.  How to make something decadent, gooey, and delicious.  Because people will love you.

15.  How to exercise without over-doing it, and how to work this into your life on a regular basis.  Aging sucks.  But it sucks so much less if you work out, because you’ll lose less muscle mass and bone density, and you’ll have a longer, healthier life expectancy.  It’s hard, but it’s really, really important.

16.  The importance of flossing daily.

17.  How to tell when someone is giving you bad advice.

18.  How to get lost in something you love doing.  Music. Painting. Wood carving. Shoveling snow. Reading.

19.  How to get over a bad break-up.  I know a few people who are lucky and found their soul mates in high school, but for the rest of us, this one is important.

20.  How to clean your house top-to-bottom.  Even if your spouse does this, by 30, you should know how to as well.

21.  How to live within (or below) your means.

22.  How to pay off debt.  Car loans.  Morgage.  Even those pesky student loans.  Getting yourself out of debt can be the biggest gift you give yourself.

23.  How to apologize.

24.  How to take care of a pet.  Or, if you have one already, a child.

25.  The importance of health insurance.

26.  How to not sound arrogant or offensive.  It always bugs me when I hear people who’s sense of their abilities is not in touch with reality.  Check yourself.  By 30, there’s no excuse.

27.  How to size someone up when you meet them.  Red flags, people.  Watch for them.  Also, don’t assume because someone is quiet that they’re stupid.  I get this a lot, and I don’t know why people make that assumption.

28.  How to work really, really hard for what you want.  Whether in a career, relationship, or hobby.  Persistence is key.

29.  How to turn a bad day around.

30.  How to love yourself even when you mess up.

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Putting a Name to the Changes

Since we moved back home, Cujo and I have been staying with my grandmother.  Grandma’s 90, and we moved back partly because she’s getting older, frailer, and we wanted to be able to spend more time with her.  I had hoped that we could reconnect and help her keep the farmhouse going.

Rather than connecting with her, I’ve come to the painful realization that Grandma’s changed.  Where she used to have a sharp intellect, she’s now confused often.  She forgets small things, big things, she mixes up things she’s told, and what she does know gets turned around in her head.  It took me a long time to put a name to the differences that have happened so gradually yet have amounted to such a vast change.  My grandmother has dementia.  I don’t know if any of her doctors know.  But having spent the last four months with her, I can decisively say that my grandmother is not the person that she once was.  It’s as though the disease has hollowed out parts of her, left holes in her memory and reasoning and allowed other parts of her personality, parts that she once had under control, to expand.

Grandma has a standard poodle named Belle, and I think it’s safe to say that Grandma loves the poodle more fiercely than she loves anything, including her daughter or her grandchildren.  She becomes frantic if the dog is out of her sight.  When she takes the dog out into the yard, she’ll stand over it and yell at it to “Go poop!”  But grandma can’t smell anymore, and the canned dog food she mixes in with the dry is rancid.  Some days it stinks up the whole kitchen.  She refuses to believe that the food has gone bad and insists that the dog won’t eat it if it’s spoiled.  The dog has lost three pounds.  The dog refuses to eat its food.  Grandma can’t connect the dots.  Cujo and I have decided that we need to start feeding the dog in secret, while maintaining the illusion that all is completely normal.  We also have started taking the dog out more frequently, because Grandma looses track of time and doesn’t remember to let it out, nor is she responsive to the dog’s signals.

When I tell my mother these things, she nods and looks away, helpless.  If Grandma could let go a little, listen to the people around her, we could take care of her.  But instead, she wanders around the house, befuddled, believing the foggy truths her brain tells her.

What I haven’t told anyone, however, what squeezes my heart, is that in some ways, Grandma is happier than I have ever seen her.  When my grandfather died, she clung to her grief like a lifesaver, refusing to move on even when over a decade had passed.  She glorified her memory of him until he became a saint, while she continued to resent nearly everyone else in her life.  She was half a person.  Now, it seems that her failing memory has finally enabled her to let go of her grief.  She used to cry every time I spoke with her, and I don’t think I’ve seen her cry in the last five months.  I hate to think that dementia could be a good thing for her, but in this one way, it is.

I don’t know how long Cujo and I can stay with her and stay sane.  Her distortions of reality make it hard to stay calm and patient, and her naturally suspicious nature has turned into full-blown paranoia.  While she’s overall happier, even a mild suggestion that her perceptions could be wrong trigger a catastrophe.  I know that I don’t have the skills or ability to manage this situation, yet I hope, for a little bit at least, I can take care of her, stave off the loss of independence that I know she fears more than anything.

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September Intentions

Time seems to slip by faster and faster, and I’m beginning to sweat with some of the deadlines I have coming up.  I want to slow down, and take the time to set a few goals for this month.  I keep reading that if you write down your goals, then you’re more likely to make them happen.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I need to take some initiative here, and a little goal-setting can’t hurt.

School:

Stay on top of studying for class.  

Writing:

Finish pre-writing for YA novel–character dev., plot, beats, world-building, etc.

Home:

Find a new apartment to move to for the next year

Grad School:

Finish PTCAS and submit by the end of September

Body:

Exercise 3 days/week

Spirit:

Read Full Catastrophe Living and start meditation practice

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How Cujo Rocked the Romance Writer’s Meeting

Last night, my husband proved he is a brave man.  Since we moved to the middle of nowhere, I have been meaning to find a local chapter of the Romance Writer’s of America.  I was hoping to find a chapter that was bigger and more active than my previous chapter, which did the best that it could with low numbers.  The nearest chapter is an hour-and-a-half drive, and the nearest big chapter is two-hours-plus.  Tempted by a program that promised more productive writing, I went for broke and decided to go to the bigger chapter.

However, attending meant that I had to bring Cujo and leave from his work, because we live an extra  forty minutes in the other direction.  It took all of my powers of persuasion to convince him it was a good idea.  Then we drove.  And drove.  And drove.

When we finally pulled in, ten minutes late (which was a miracle in itself, considering the amount of traffic and construction we passed), we walked up to the entrance, and Cujo froze.

“I can’t go in there,” he hissed.  His eyes had the sort of wild look a deer gets when it scents wolf.

“You’ll be fine.”

“I can’t.”  I looked past him, and sure enough, the room was packed with women.  All dressed professionally, and all listening attentively to a speaker.

“Come on.”  I opened the door as quietly as I could, and ignored the stares as half the room wondered, I’m sure, if we were lost.

The chapter I had belonged to had several men who were active and attended meetings regularly, so I had no idea that bringing a guy to a meeting would be a show-stopper, but it seems like this chapter doesn’t have many male members.  At one point during the presentation, Cujo passed me a note.  If I’m ever single, I know where to meet women now.

I married a smart man.  He’s also a wonderful man, because he  even stayed for the 25-page reading that had some very spicy parts.  One of the members handed us the story and said, “I’m so embarrassed to have a man here, while we’re reading this.  It’s very explicit.”

I thought, It’s not like he hasn’t had sex before.  But I kept that thought zipped up and assured her it would be fine.  Cujo listened patiently, and as we left, I felt really grateful that they had welcomed us so warmly.

On the ride home, Cujo mentioned liking the sex-scene.  I felt my heart leap in hope.  “Maybe you could actually read a romance novel.”  He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  “Or not.”

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Grandma’s Church and Chick-Fil-A

My grandmother is 90 and still plays as substitute organist for her church.  Cujo and I went with her yesterday to support her.  During the joys and concerns section of the service, which is about as depressing as a funeral, a church member stood up and took the mic.

“I have an announcement,” he said.  “Recently, Chick-fil-A stood up for Christian values.  Since there’s not a Chick-fil-A near us, I went online and ordered some of their merchandise.  I set up a table downstairs, if anyone is interested.  I just thought that it was so great the way they stood up for Christian values.”

I’m sure by now everyone knows about the Chick-fil-A president coming forward to announce his anti-gay-marriage stance, and the uproar that caused as people began boycotting and supporting the chain as though national legislation depended on it.  The thought that stuck in my head after the gentleman made his announcement, other than the image of my grandmother’s ancient church advertising for a fast-food chain, was:  when did anti-gay become Christian values?  Did Jesus at any point stand up and single out homosexuality as a root evil in the world that we must persecute?  For that matter, did he single out anyone?  I may be biased, but I happen to think if he were around he’d be much more concerned with war, famine, violence, the environment, and injustice than gay marriage.

There’s a man in town that helps my grandmother two or three times a week.  She calls him daily and comes up with request after request for him to help her out with.  He charges her pennies.  How she hasn’t yet driven him crazy, I don’t know.  My family’s a little puzzled, in fact, by what exactly drives him to help her so selflessly.  The closest thing we can figure is that he believes it’s part of his service, because he attends a different church in town.  For all I know, he supports Chick-fil-A as passionately as the man in grandma’s church, but I can tell you one thing–he hasn’t mentioned it.  I believe that his actions speak louder of faith than supporting a chain that seeks to alienate people; his values speak of patience, compassion, service, humility, and kindness.  Those are the kinds of Christian values I can respect.

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Play Like You Mean It

Job shadowing a pediatric physical therapist has given me a new perspective on play.  When children play, they are learning vital skills that will serve them later in life:  motor control, strength, social skills, etc.  Watching a child play, however, it’s easy to see that play takes a lot of work.  Little brow furrowed, fingers pinching clumsily, every nerve tense, a child will try again and again to pick up a ball.

Today, I had the privilege of watching children persisting in spite of handicaps to succeed in the very serious work of their play.  Their concentration and commitment surpassed what I’ve seen any adult use in their workday.  The children used sign language to help them communicate in spite of speech delays and gurgled with glee when they succeeded in a task.  One of the challenges of pediatric physical therapy seems to be that the experience needs to be fun, even if it’s hard work.  And when they’re engaged, children become so absorbed in their task that they will continue to practice over and over.

I also am learning about the power of an audience.  When a child has an adult encouraging him and cheering him on, the child tries harder and accomplishes so much more.  At the sound of clapping, children light up.  Their look of pride and joy makes me feel happy in a way that I don’t think I can find in quite the same way anywhere else.  I want to try, just as an experiment, to approach something in my day with that same unabashed sense of glee.

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Does Jigsaw Learning Method Work?

There’s a hip teaching strategy called jigsaw learning that has apparently taken over the community college where I’m enrolled for prerequisites.  In jigsaw learning, you are assigned to different groups, and each group is assigned part of a subject to confer on so that they can teach it to the class.  The group comes back together, and one representative of the group teaches their part, then the next, and so on.  This method is supposed to be brilliant because it requires students to collaborate and learn the material well enough to teach it.

This method has flaws.  Giant, gaping flaws that I believe should have it taken out of general teaching practice.  First of all, if you are focused on one tiny part of a larger whole, then you will learn one tiny part really well.  But what about the rest of it?  Well, in my experience today, I struggled to take notes as my classmates mumbled and fumbled their way through the rest of the material.  They skipped over vital information, misinterpreted other parts, and had I not already read the chapter, I would have been horribly confused.  In this way, it’s more damaging than not teaching the material at all.  At least in a typical lecture, students have a clear, coherent lecturer with prepared information.  My professor is a licensed clinical psychologist–I’m very interested in hearing what she has to say.  I’m not terribly interested in hearing an 18-year-old who hasn’t even read the chapter before class trying to explain ancient philosophies of mental illness.  I had questions about the text that weren’t able to be answered because in this format, the students were the experts, not the teacher, and the students had access to exactly the same material I had in front of me.

I believe that collaborative learning has a time and a place in the classroom.  The jigsaw method would be ideal if each group were only interested in learning their part, and were not going to be accountable for the rest of the material.   However, this is not the case in undergraduate courses.  I found a fantastic review of learning methods, which shows that there are better collaborative learning methods out there, if you’re in education and interested.

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Five Reasons I’m Glad I’m Not Famous

In light of the Kristen Stewart scandal, and the fantastic article that Jodi Foster wrote in her defense, I have been thinking about my current levels of fame (not really any at all), and why I hope that I never reach quite that level of celebrity.

1.  I hate public scrutiny.  Even before Kristen Stewart made the mistake of tromping all over Hollywood with her director of the blockbuster Snow White and the Seven Huntsman, she was hounded by paparazzi.  In most of her tabloid photos, she looks miserable:  hair bedraggled, face down, frowning behind huge sunglasses.  It’s hard to envy her.  Now that I’m back in my hometown, I feel frustrated that I will probably run into people I know when I run to the grocery store, which means I feel obligated to look half-way presentable.  If there was someone waiting at the grocery store to snap my picture and sell it for lots of money, I would probably begin to feel homicidal.

2.  I stick my foot in my mouth with some regularity.  Can you imagine being in an interview and having to be both charming and coherent, without once letting any statement come out wrong?  Assuming that the reporter doesn’t take your words out of context, that is, to make a calamity where one didn’t actually exist.  I’m still haunted by things I said in high school and college that I would pay good money to take back–dear god, if I had a national platform, I’m sure I would never be able to let go of the slip-ups and embarrassing quotes I’d produce.

3.  My family and friends would tell-all.  My mother, as I’ve mentioned, can talk for hours about me.  She’ll drop humiliating secrets with relish, adding her own spin on things that sometimes borders on out-and-out lies.  Thank God no one has any real interest in me, or I would be putting out fires of rumors and assumptions spread by my mother.  My husband is less malicious, but he also has no concept of what words are coming out of his mouth until they’re already said.  I can only imagine the kinds of things I would be reading about in the gossip magazines.

4.  I don’t have to navigate paparazzi when I’m walking or driving.  When I see images of stars being followed with cameras stuck in their faces, I can feel my blood pressure rising in sympathy.  It looks horribly invasive and scary.  To top it off, every once in a while a celebrity is in court because they bumped a paparazzi with their car.  I am a cautious driver, which means I would probably never be able to go anywhere in fear of someone hurling themselves in front of me.

5.  National media has no interest in unearthing my dirty laundry.  To see mistakes broadcast on every news site and TV station must be horribly painful.  However, it must be equally hard for the partners on the other side of these scandals, too.  Robert Pattinson has to face his partner’s betrayal everywhere he goes.  That’s not cool.  Neither did Sandra Bullock or Elin Nordegran, Tiger Wood’s ex-wife, do anything to deserve to be publicly humiliated, and yet they had to watch women come out of the woodworks claiming to have slept with their husbands.  I wonder at what line the American public will begin to turn away and say, “You know what, that’s none of my business.”

It is easy to brush these problems aside with a statement like, “With that much money, they’re asking for it.”  However, at that moment, the celebrity becomes even more objectified, into someone less than human, someone without basic rights.  Did Kristen Stewart mess up?  Absolutely.  No one forced her to get in a car with her director, or to conduct her business in full view of the public.  And yet, I can’t help but be very grateful that I’m not her, because she is paying a high price for a mistake that should only affect her, her family, and her director’s family.  Not us.  And yet, the media and the public, myself included, seem to think that we’re entitled to know.  I believe the short answer is: we’re not.

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Accepting Children As They Are, Not As We’d Like Them To Be

I’m reading a book called Everyday Blessings:  The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I may post more on it later, but one chapter really struck me, and I couldn’t wait to discuss it.

The book opens with three main points early on:  sovereignty, empathy, and acceptance.  They say that children yearn for all three of these things, even when they’re acting their most unreasonable.  My husband and I don’t have children yet, but we both have taught in public schools, and we’re in the thinking-about-it stage of trying to conceive.  The quality that has stuck with me is acceptance.  One of the things that concerns me is whether or not I have the ability to accept my children as who they are, especially when I’m unhappy with their choices.

I feel that in so many ways, I have let my family down by not being who they wanted me to be.  My mother wanted me to be popular and pretty and her best friend.  I was a dismal failure at being popular in high school, I was pretty enough, but it didn’t really get me anywhere, and I am so different from my mother we struggle to even hold a conversation without hurt feelings.  My grandmother, on the other hand, cannot seem to accept that I’m a very different person than I was at ten years old.  To her, I was a sweet, timid kid, who tried very hard to please.  She’s not sure what to do with the woman I grew into:  strong, smart, and opinionated.  I’m not at all sad that I didn’t grow up into a sweet, timid woman–had I done so, I’m sure I’d currently be a doormat.  But she’ll sniff and talk about what a wonderful child I was, and how she knows that inside, I’m still the same good girl.  I know that she doesn’t see me, can’t really understand me, and it hurts.

So how do I, as a parent, break this cycle?  How do I make my children feel heard and appreciated for who they are, even if who they are is not who I dreamed they would be?  I do not mean to imply that I would condone anything my children do–of course I would voice concern over illegal activity or reckless behavior.  But I wouldn’t stop loving my children, and I would want them to know that no matter how much of the world turns against them, they still have a mother who loves them and sees them.  I know the moments when it matters most–when a child is tired and frustrated and lashing out at the world–are the moments where it is hardest to keep perspective.  Those moments can make or break relationships, and I worry about my ability to navigate them, to not try to impose my judgement.  I know myself well enough to know that I can be critical and overbearing–exactly the qualities that drive me crazy in my mother and grandmother.  Is this something I can change?  The Kabat-Zinn’s recommend a formal meditation practice, and I think perhaps I should try to learn more about the process of meditating, and what kind of practice would work for me.

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How Do I Do It All?

My husband makes fun of me, because my catch phrase is:  I have so much to do today.  I don’t even think before I say it; the words pop out while I am mentally listing a to-do list that includes all the should-do’s, must-do’s, wish-i’d-do’s and want-to-do’s.  It’s a long list, and most days I don’t even touch on a fraction of the items.  And while it drives my husband crazy (he’s more of a “procrastinate until it’s due, and only do it then if it’s unavoidable” type), I am mostly content with this type of existence.  I love completing things, so checking items off an endless list means that the projects get completed, and I have the satisfaction of never having to do that particular thing again (this is why I hate things like dishes and laundry–they are never done for good).  I have a feeling of purpose guiding my day, and I only have to look to my list to have a sense of what I should be doing next.  This also gives me a way to gauge how productive my day was:  how much did I accomplish?

But the thing is, most days, unless I have an avalanche of work, I don’t really get to much of the things on the list.  In fact, I often abandon the list in favor of novels or Netflix or something shiny.  I think that these things keep me sane.  But what if I could actually check off all of the things on the list–what if I were a super-productive power woman who didn’t need time to recharge?  Would I be a better person, or would I just be a more stressed out person?

I don’t have answers to these questions.  But I know that if I ever have kids, then these questions of how much can one woman do in a single day will become more important.  Urgent.  Even looking at grad school and a potential hour-and-a-half commute each way makes me wonder how many stores of reserves I have stored.  I tend to depend on lots of time to recharge, especially if it was a stressful day or involved a lot of conversations with people I’m not comfortable approaching.  Those things wear me out.  My mother could never understand why I didn’t want to go to the football games and basketball games in high school.  Between my lack of interest in sports and discomfort in large crowds, those two events were nightmares for a happily-introverted kid with an interest in art.  It’s funny, I still don’t think my mother really understands my personality, or how different it is from hers.  I recharge by curling up with a good book.  But when my husband and I have kids, will I have to give up that recharging time in exchange for homework time?  Will I still be able to read, to write, to think?  I’m sure the people who are parents out there are rolling their eyes and laughing at the silly young girl who thinks she’ll have any time after children.

I wish there were more resources out there to help couples figure out if they’re ready for kids, and what to expect when they finally arrive.  I know that I’ll be the kind of mom who wants to drop everything to focus on the family, but how do I do that and still juggle a career and outside interests?  How do the moms I see running families and boardrooms manage to do both and still walk out the door looking presentable?  How do I know when I’m ready?  How do I do it all?

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