Category Archives: Stress

Scaling back

Late Saturday night, I realized I’d spent nearly 10 straight hours doing blog-related stuff and STILL didn’t have a whole week’s worth of posts filed, and I ended up so tired and frustrated, it literally made me sick. It occurred to me that I’ve taken something I started for fun and made it stressful. That’s really screwed-up.

My New Year’s resolution was to do less, live more, and hopefully spend less time battling the stress-related health problems that plagued me for most of 2016. To that end, I’m making some changes around here:

Vegetarian Friday. When I started this feature in 2014, my goal was to try one new vegetarian recipe every week for a year in an effort to incorporate more plant-based meals into our diet. Posting them was a way to keep myself honest. Three years later, a good 80 percent of the meals I cook are vegetarian, probably a fourth are vegan, and I’ve learned a lot about staging food photos. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t like staging food photos. I see no point in doing something I don’t like if I’m not being paid for it, especially if other people are better at it. With that in mind, if you enjoyed Vegetarian Friday, I would encourage you to visit Oh She Glows and Minimalist Baker. If I dream up something really exceptional, I’ll still share it like I always have, but it’s probably not going to be a weekly occurrence.

Eco-Saturday. I’m not getting rid of this, but I’m changing it. Like Vegetarian Friday, Eco-Saturday was supposed to run for a year. Three years later, I’ve gone about as far as I can where I am, so I’m going to focus more on reviews, recommendations, links, and daydreams about things I’d like to do someday. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, feel free to suggest it in the comments.

Make-It Monday and Tiny Tuesday. You’ll get one or the other each week, but probably not both, because they overlap a lot, and separating them out is starting to feel forced.

I hope that doesn’t disappoint anybody too terribly. At this point, trying to do too much is easily my worst habit, and I’m trying very hard to break it. Bear with me; down time is still an alien concept for me, and self-care isn’t really one of my strengths.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Hand me the wine and the dice

I’d planned to make a long list of goals for 2017, but if there’s a lesson to be learned from 2016, I think I found it the other day in the lyrics to a song from one of my favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals:

If death were given a voice,
That voice would scream through the sky:
“Live while you may, for I am coming!”
So …

… Hand me the wine and the dice.
The time is racing away.
There’s not a taste that’s not worth trying.
And if tomorrow it ends,
I won’t have wasted today;
I will have lived while I am dying.

— Don Black and Charles Hart

“Hand Me the Wine and the Dice” is sung at the funeral of one of the central characters in Aspects of Love, a wealthy painter and patron of the arts who is driven, perhaps by the premature death of his first wife, to enjoy every day to the fullest.

After losing so many people I admire last year — some I knew personally, and some I knew only through their work — I found myself thinking about that song the other day.

I’m often guilty of spending so much time regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow that I miss today, and it literally makes me sick: I wasted a big chunk of 2016 battling tension headaches and muscle spasms I suspect were entirely stress-induced.

I’m not doing that again.

My goal for 2017 is to do less.

It feels strange — selfish and unproductive — to say that, but just last week, I found myself passing up a volunteer opportunity because I wasn’t confident I’d be healthy enough to pull it off. Taking care of myself isn’t selfish; it’s necessary if I’m to be of service to others.

My hope is that a few months of systematically removing stress from my thought — resting more, being more present in the moment, and giving myself space to enjoy the life I have here and now — will improve my health and recharge my batteries to full power.

If it doesn’t? Well, as the song says: “I won’t have wasted today.”

There’s something to be said for that.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: White noise

About a year and a half ago, a friend recommended a smartphone app that generates white noise to help people sleep better. She said it was great because it offered a lot of different sounds, which you could mix and match to create combinations that remind you of places where you feel comfortable.

I’d never considered the possibility that I might sleep better if I drifted off while listening to sounds that remind me of places I love, but the idea was intriguing enough that I downloaded the app and discovered my friend was right: It is great.

I spent the first couple of weeks staying up later than I’d planned while I dinked around with the app, trying to find just the right combination of sounds to make me think of wherever I wanted to be right then, but the end result was a nice assortment of places more soothing than my bedroom.

Several combinations were evocative of places I’ve stayed on vacation: the Blue Swallow during monsoon season; the Ocean Park Motel in San Francisco; the Lincoln Motor Court in Mann’s Choice, Pennsylvania. Others reminded me of places or situations from years past: a snow day when I was teaching; a trip to the laundromat on a rainy day; a visit to the late, great Nature Company.

As useful as white noise is for falling asleep, I think it might be even better for relaxing while I’m working on other things. I’m prone to muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders and tension headaches, and I think a lot of that is because I tense up when I’m concentrating. Sometimes I put on headphones and listen to music while I’m working, but the other night, I got the bright idea to take it a step further and listen to white noise.

I can’t say it solved the whole problem instantly, but between that and a cup of chamomile tea, I was a lot less tense and a lot less irritated by the usual barrage of annoyances while I was working. I expected the combination of white noise and chamomile to make me sleepy, but instead, I think it just helped me relax and filter out distractions so I could focus on what I was doing.

I’ll definitely use that strategy again this week and see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, the app I use is Relax Melodies by Ipnos Software. I like it a lot, but I haven’t tried any other white-noise apps or machines or anything, so I don’t know how it compares to other options.

Sunday self-care: Everything in its place

I opened a folder in my photo archive the other night and saw something alarming.

I saw how I used to live.

When we moved from Belleville to Tulsa, I put away as much stuff as I could. Some of it fit in our new house. Some of it didn’t. I piled the excess in a spare room and promised myself I’d organize it eventually.

While I waited for “eventually,” I went about the business of living. I started projects with the intent of using up art supplies. I bought art supplies with the intent of starting projects. I subscribed to magazines I didn’t have time to read. I pursued new hobbies, accumulating equipment and materials each time. Clutter grew like kudzu over every flat surface in the house, and I just couldn’t seem to get ahead of it and stay there.

Looking at old photos, I cringe now, realizing even my occasional attempts at decluttering often ended up looking — well, cluttered. (Case in point: I once decided it would be more efficient to hang all my accessories on the wall above our bed. Just thinking about that wall gives me a headache.)

When we moved to Cape, we lost about 250 square feet, so before we moved, I halved our household inventory, and when we arrived, I unpacked everything and put it away immediately. This little bungalow, I decided, would be my laboratory for learning minimalism and test-driving storage methods ahead of our tiny-house retirement dream.

My life is neither more nor less stressful than it was during most of my time in Tulsa. But back then, I took at least a dozen road trips a year and had dinner out several times a week. I was never home if I could help it. Route 66 was my excuse, but looking back, I think I was trying to get away from the mess. Looking at the state of my house made me feel guilty, so I didn’t look.

Today, my house is generally uncluttered, and despite its diminutive size, it feels open and spacious. Cooking is easier. Cleaning is easier. Living is easier. Breathing is easier. I spend more time with my dogs and enjoy being at home. Decluttering has become one of my most valuable forms of self-care, because my mind and my home tend to sync up. If the house is cluttered, my thoughts are a jumble. If the house is neat, it’s easier to find a peaceful space in my mind.

I needed that peace more than I realized.

Emily

P.S.: If you need to declutter but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend Flylady.net. She’s got some great tools for establishing good habits without getting overwhelmed.

A tale of corporate incompetence

I completed one of my New Year’s resolutions this week.

After six months of fighting with 3M Cogent — the breathtakingly incompetent vendor to which the state of New Mexico has outsourced all its background checks for professional licensure — I received my New Mexico teaching certificate in the mail Tuesday morning.

The end result delighted me, as New Mexico accepted my Oklahoma math certification, thus granting me dual endorsements in math and English at both the middle- and high-school levels. (Because of differences in certification requirements from state to state, I wasn’t sure I’d get a New Mexico math endorsement without taking their test.)

My joy at this outcome in no way excuses Cogent’s ineptitude, which turned what should have been a simple process into a six-month ordeal requiring at least 15 phone calls to nine people in three different offices.

How incompetent is Cogent? Read on.

February: I begin compiling my application packet.

Early March: I submit my packet, including the two fingerprint cards required for my mandatory background check.

Early April: Cogent sends me a letter saying the FBI rejected my first card because the prints weren’t clear. “If you originally mailed hardcopy fingerprint cards, the second card will be automatically scanned, and no further action is required,” the letter states.

Early May: I receive a letter from the New Mexico Public Education Department, saying I need to go to a Cogent office in New Mexico and be re-fingerprinted. (Cogent has an office a mile from my house, but it only fingerprints applicants for Missouri certificates, despite the fact Cogent is a national company using an electronic system to request background checks from a federal agency.)

-__-

I call NM PED to explain I live 1,000 miles from the nearest approved Cogent office. PED tells me to call Cogent.

I call Cogent, tell their rep I’ll be in Tucumcari in early June, and ask whether I should just go to their Tucumcari office to be reprinted while I’m in town. The rep says I should NOT do that, as it will cost extra and create unnecessary confusion. Instead, she says, I should call the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to request a “name-search background check” using my Social Security number.

Phone tag ensues.

Mid-May: I finally reach a NM DPS officer, who says she has no idea why Cogent keeps sending people to her, as ALL background-check requests have to come from them. She says if my first card is rejected, the second will be scanned automatically, and if the second is rejected, a name search will be initiated automatically, so I should just wait.

I wait.

I go to Tucumcari.

I come home.

I wait.

School starts.

Still I wait.

Aug. 19: I call Cogent. A Cogent rep says my first fingerprint card was scanned and rejected, whereupon the process stopped because I didn’t call and ask them to scan the second card (which their letter said would happen automatically).

-______-

The Cogent rep says it’s been so long, the second card may have expired, in which case I should come to a Cogent office in New Mexico and get re-printed electronically (like the other Cogent rep specifically told me NOT to do when I had the chance).

-___________-

Aug. 23: Another Cogent rep calls and says the FBI has scanned and rejected my second card. This rep gives me two code numbers and tells me to call NM DPS, give them those numbers, and ask them to start my name search.

I call DPS.

DPS: Only Jesus can help you.
ME: Can you transfer me to him?
DPS: He’s out of the office.
ME: That sounds about right.

Aug. 29: I finally reach Jesus, who has no idea why Cogent keeps sending people to him.

-__________________-

Jesus says once the second card is rejected, NM PED requests a name search automatically, but given my experience, I probably should call them just to be sure.

I call PED, leave a voicemail, and follow up with an email explaining my situation.

15 minutes later: I get a very apologetic email back from someone at PED, saying Cogent CONSTANTLY pulls this crap on out-of-state applicants and telling me she has just requested my name check, gotten results back, and printed my certificates.

Got that? New Mexico paid Cogent to spend SIX MONTHS blowing off tasks a state employee completed in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, schools are missing potential hires whose credentials have been taken hostage by Cogent’s ineptitude.

If I were a New Mexico taxpayer, I don’t think I’d be pleased to learn this.

Emily

Sunday Lit Meme: Nonfiction

Sorry I haven’t kept up the blog very well this week. Don’t expect much for the next couple of weeks, either. Baseball season started last week; we’ve got an accreditation audit on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I’ve put in about 18 hours on school-related projects this weekend; parent-teacher conferences are this Tuesday and Thursday; and I’m scrambling to plan our NHS induction, which is right after spring break.

If you think I’ll be relaxing when spring break starts Friday, you’ve obviously forgotten what I do over spring break … and I’ve got to finish the Trip Guide as quickly as possible so I can head east for a visit with family that will double as a preliminary research trip for my next big project, which I’ll announce after I work out the logistics and feel more certain that it’s actually going to get off the ground.

In the interest of preserving my sanity, I traded in my piece o’ crap cell phone for an iPhone 4S the other night. Internet service on the iPhone is $30 a month, which is twice as much as the AT&T plan on my iPad cost, but Verizon also gives me eight times as much bandwidth as I was getting from AT&T, and I basically upgraded the phone to get Siri, which means I’ve basically just hired a personal secretary who’ll work 24/7 for $15 a month.

Now … on to your lit meme:

What’s the most interesting nonfiction book you’ve read lately?

Mine would have to be Bloody Williamson, which more or less helped clinch my decision to blow off New Mexico in favor of a trip back home if I can clear my plate in time to enjoy my spring break. Being a Southern Illinois girl, I should have read it a long time ago, but I just never got around to it. I finally got a hand free last weekend and read it cover-to-cover in about a day. Fascinating stuff. Go buy a copy and read it while I’m too busy to blog … and if I don’t get a chance to get back online before then, enjoy your spring break.

Emily

AWOL terrier

I need some assistance from my readers today. Our black-and-tan rat terrier, Riggy, apparently escaped from the backyard this morning through a small gap between the fence and the house. A little black dog who’s used to spending most of his time in the air conditioning really doesn’t need to be out running around in this heat, so if anybody sees him, I’d appreciate it if you could grab him for me.

Riggy weighs about 17 pounds and looks like what you’d get if you crossed a Doberman with a Shrinky-Dink. He was not wearing a collar when he left, but he is microchipped. He’s fidgety and very friendly, so he’ll probably come right up to you and lick you half to death if he crosses your path. If this happens, please grab him and let me know where to pick him up.

Songdog would especially appreciate it if you could help bring his best friend home, as he misses him terribly and has done nothing but wander around, looking lost, since he disappeared.

Here are a few pictures of the Rig-Monster:

Come home, little prodigal. You don’t need to wander around in the far country by yourself.

Emily