Tag Archives: Philosophizing

Boiling Frog Syndrome

I often use a metaphor to describe how we sometimes find ourselves in situations we didn’t see coming. It goes something like this:

If you put a frog in a pot of hot water it will jump out immediately, because it senses danger. But if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and heat it slowly, the frog will adapt to the changes. It will not perceive danger, and eventually it will cook to death.*

I fear I’ve become a victim of Boiling Frog Syndrome.

(Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee.)

I used to live a very organized, efficient life. I worked outside the home, worked inside the home, mothered three kids. As an Army wife, I often did it solo. I managed our rental properties, cared for my parents, volunteered at my kids’ schools, taught Catechism at my church. And all the while I managed to maintain a decent standard of hygiene in my home and a semi-active social life.

I’m not sure when the fire was turned on under me, but somewhere along the way that cool pot started heating up, and my surroundings became a threat to my survival.

At some point, having the right uniforms clean on school days became a challenge. (Enter Febreeze into my life.)

Homework became a lifestyle-altering component of my family’s schedule.

Carpool and lacrosse practice became the events that dictated the rest of the day.

I had to take an afternoon off of work to wait for the exterminator, the plumber, the AC guy.

Meals at home became grab and go events, not sit downs.

Taking my parents and in-laws to the doctor became a frequent activity.

I was overwhelmed by my routine day.

Lists didn’t help. I never could get the things on the list done by the time they were supposed to be done. The unchecked list became a reminder of my failure.

Requests for assistance didn’t help. I had created a system that only I knew, so asking for help meant doing it over when it wasn’t done right, and stopping to explain ‘what or how’ became as time-consuming as doing it myself. I had painted myself into a proverbial corner.

Years went by, and I couldn’t figure a way out. I reminded myself to be patient. “This, too, shall pass,” became my mantra. I watched as my friends went on weekend jaunts to Napa, while I tried to dig out of paperwork. I was jealous of those who went to the zoo when I could barely get to the grocery store. The lists grew longer and longer. But I couldn’t figure out how to change anything.

The events of the last year turned the fire up even hotter. And I started to feel the heat. Anxiety attacks, hives, a trip to the ER after passing out. My body was sending me clear signals, but I still couldn’t figure out how to reduce the flame beneath me. I knew I had to get out of the pot for my own survival, but I just couldn’t find the way out.

So I scoured the internet for some inspiration, and I stumbled on this blog.

The steps seemed simple enough, so I thought I’d give it a try to see how I could apply these business practices to my life.

7 Tips for Prioritizing Tasks Effectively

1. Respect Deadlines.

An absolute must. I was prone to putting off the things that stressed me the most, even if there was a cost. Practical translation: Laundry must be done. If I have to Febreeze a uniform so my son can wear it to school unwashed, I’ve failed. Monday morning, laundry must be caught up.

2. Set Milestone Deadlines.

Don’t complete one task at the expense of the others. If it all has to be done, set reasonable milestones and work toward them. Leaving a monumental task until the last minute will bite you in the ass every time. Practical translation: The insurance claim must be filed within two weeks. The apartment must be ready to show by the 20th.

3. Consider the Consequences.

There will be things that just can’t get done. Choose the ones you can let go, and then… let them go.  Practical translation: I won’t be making those spectacular Halloween decorations I saw on Pinterest. In fact, I’m may delete my Pinterest account. All it does is make me feel more inadequate.

4. Consider the Payment Terms.

Some commitments do pay rewards. Get them done. Practical translation: Get the apartment ready. Missing another month’s rent will set the cause back even further. Two teenage boys on the car insurance is no laughing matter.

5. Consider Time Required.

When facing two equally important tasks I’ve started using the low-hanging-fruit method. Practical translation: Choose the one I can get finished. The reward of checking something off that list will often give me the energy to tackle the next one. And then the next one.

6. Set Goals and Work Backwards.

Keep the big picture in mind. Prioritize the steps, keeping in mind that some are foundational for others. Doing things in the wrong order makes for extra work. Practical translation: Clean the kitchen before starting dinner. Put away laundry before packing for vacation.

7. Schedule a Percentage of Your Time for Personal Projects.

Personal indulgences were always the first thing to be cut. But tasks that energize me – even if they take up valuable time – leave me better equipped to tackle the necessary things. Cutting these activities backfired on me in the long run because it left me feeling unfulfilled. Practical translation: Don’t eliminate the things that fulfill me. Spend time with friends. Exercise. Read. Dare I even say it… travel.

Now I’m not sure if using this method is going to solve my problem. But I am already gaining some sense of control over things, and I’m sure that will cool the water down a bit. I’m giving myself a month to knock out some big items and make decisions on how to work smarter on the small items. And I’m planning a trip. (A really big trip! Just for me! More on that later.)

Because I’ve already lost enough time sitting in this pot, waiting for the water to cool on its own.

* Before publishing I confirmed the accuracy of this anecdote with the trusted online source Wikipedia. According to Wiki, the frog will eventually realize its demise is near and jump out. But revealing this at the beginning of the post would have ruined the whole metaphor. Ignorance is bliss. 

** No frogs were harmed in the writing of this post.

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How do you manage tasks and stress? What organization methods help you function more efficiently? And have you ever actually seen a frog in a pot of water?

Finding my lost perspective.

Perspective (noun): a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance.

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment, and I was worried. I don’t usually worry about doctor’s appointments, because there’s usually nothing to worry about. But I just had a gloomy feeling about this one, and I was stressing.

I’ve had a couple of skin cancers, and recently had two spots removed from my back. One of them wasn’t healing right, and had a black spot in the middle. A black spot just like the one on the poster in the exam room, 1 – 2 millimeters from the previous biopsy. So I made an appointment and waited.

(Spoiler alert: I am fine. This is not a reveal.)

As I was getting ready (and looking for a little sympathy), I posted a vague status on my Facebook page about being nervous. As I hoped, friends hopped on it immediately with words of encouragement, and I felt better.

One of the replies was from my friend M. He had a doctor’s appointment yesterday, too. The one where he went to his oncologist to find out what kind of medications he can take for the duration of his incurable, inoperable cancer. So he can function and feel better and make memories with his wife and young son. And he got what he considered good news. He’s going to try another type of chemo, with the hope of slowing down or shrinking the tumor, buying more time. Which he called “a very, VERY good thing.”

I couldn’t help but compare his good news to my bad news. And I felt a little ashamed that I had lost my perspective.

Later in the day my friend L started a dialogue about gratitude. She shared a story about a friend who is bearing a difficult load, and that her “silly, everyday problems” are trivial compared to her friend’s.

Relative importance. Perspective.

Then later in the day I read the blog of a Missouri pastor, who shared a couple of stories about perspective. I’ll share with you a bit of the last one, a story about a man visiting a dying family member.

His brother-in-law requested a wet cloth for his lips. Then he said, “We start off wanting $1,000,000. Over time, that keeps getting pared down until all we want is a little water on our lips.” 

There it is. Perspective. Things are as big a deal as we make them. No bigger.

Source: thecareerblog.wordpress.com

It’s not about what happens to us. It’s about how we choose to respond to what happens to us. And my “problems” (dare I even call them that??) are nothing. Not parenting a child with the learning disabilities, not having a spot cut off of my back, not caring for my MIL.

Because the worst thing that will happen to me today is better than the best thing that will happen to someone else. And I’m not going to forget that any time soon. 

How do you keep things in perspective? Or do you? Or should you?

The Joy of “Yes”

A while back I noticed something.

I was telling my kids “no” a lot.

“Will you make pancakes for breakfast?”

“No.”

“Can we go to see a movie today?”

“No.”

“Can I invite friends over?”

“No.”

Source: thecircleproject.com

One day I paused, and contemplated what it must be like for them hearing “no” all the time. Not having the ability to control decisions about their day, or their life. Being on the receiving end of parents’ and teachers’ permission all the time.

And I decided I would try to say “yes” more often.

Because when it came down to it, sometimes I said “no” for my own convenience. If I wasn’t up to cleaning up a mess, I said “no” to a project. If I didn’t have the energy to handle a bunch of kids, I said “no” to the sleepover. They heard me saying “no” a lot.

So I had a little talk with myself about saying “yes.” And I adopted a new mantra. “I’ll say ‘yes’ when I can.” Practical realities sometimes intervened, making “yes” impossible. But as I started saying it more often, I liked the feeling I got from being agreeable. “Yes” usually meant something fun. “Yes” usually meant making memories. “Yes” brought joy back into our day.

I started to like “yes.”

And then the strange thing happened. They started saying “yes” back.

“Please pick up your room.”

“OK.”

“It’s time for bed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And the one that causes more arguments in our house than any other, “Turn the game off.”

“I will.”

This morning on the way to school, The Caboose was feeling a little run down. He was listening to music on his iPod, getting ready for another day of sixth grade as we approached campus. Now this kid does not respond well when asked to terminate something in mid-stream. The typical response is “after this song,” or “I need to save my game.” But this morning as we pulled up to school, I told him to turn off his iPod and stow it in the seat pouch, and he said “yes.”

God, I love “yes.”

I Withdraw my Consent…

Words carry amazing power. They inspire us. They move us. They motivate us. They challenge us. We commit them to memory and carry them with us.

Today’s guest post from Mary at Transitioning Mom is a reflection on her favorite quote. I hope you find in these words the same power Mary did.

_________________________________________________________________________

Eleanor Roosevelt. Source: girlmogul.com


 “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”   — Eleanor Roosevelt

I withdraw my consent…

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use the words of someone else to lift me up. Positive quotations are posted in my bathroom, living room, school room, and kitchen, decorating the rooms in which I spend the most time. (As a middle-aged woman, you’ll notice I started with the bathroom.) So, when The Lucky Mom asked me to write about a quote that inspires me, I went to my favorite.

Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She was a wise woman whose words helped form the woman I am. I don’t remember the first time I saw this quote. It was likely in high school, a time of great emotional turmoil. I remember I felt empowered. A little. However, it would take years for me to truly internalize her message.

Like many, I’ve struggled with the voices of doubt and insecurity that hide in the corners of my mind. They creep from the darkness at unexpected times. Usually when I’m tired, over-stretched, or just feeling a bit funky. In the past, I gave them far more power than they deserved, and in doing so, left the door wide open for others to place their limitations on me. Regardless of my success, there was a part of me that often felt inferior to others. When snide, hurtful or sarcastic comments were made, I believed them. In turn, I gave myself permission to blame others when I was unhappy. However, I was the only one standing in the way of my happiness, not others. Conscious or not, I made a choice each time I allowed someone to make me feel inferior.  I took baby-steps of change in my 20’s and giant leaps in my 30’s.

Becoming a mother changes most of us; we are pushed to re-examine all we have learned and internalized. And, so it was with me. When my first-born was still an infant, I stumbled upon Roosevelt’s words once again. One warm summer day, my mother-in-law shared with me all the ways I was mothering “wrong.”  By the time she had left, I was convinced I had already failed as a mother. At the end of that exhausting day, I grabbed my book of positive quotations in search of encouragement. In Roosevelt’s words, I found encouragement and much more.

Though I’d read her quote before, I internalized it that day. It helped form the foundation of my parenting, and the message I have tried to instill in my daughters. When feeling hurt, insulted or otherwise inferior, we ask, “Why am I consenting?” and through that question, we can reclaim our power and withdraw our consent.

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Read more by Mary at her blog, Transitioning Mom, or on her Facebook page.

Leave a Trail

Our short time here will someday be measured by the legacy of what we leave behind.

This post was prompted by this week’s Write On Edge inspiration:  To come up with a title and tagline that captures your life, or a moment from your life.  Short and simple.

But that’s not how I roll.  So look for the continuation of this thought… coming soon!

The Mistress

It’s been going on since before we were married.  It started out of peer pressure, because everyone he knew was doing it.  At first, I think it felt almost like work for him, but then it developed into real passion.

She became an official mistress about 20 years ago, when we were living in another state.  No one knew us, and there was anonymity in our small Texas town.  If he took off for a couple of hours, no one would notice, and I certainly wouldn’t ask around in public to find out where he’d been.

A couple of times over the years, I think he’s wanted to stop.  But the desire always came back.  So much so that I finally acknowledged it was part of him, and accepted it.

I got resentful when she took time away from me, but he always seemed to return a better man.  It was as though she fulfilled a physical need and a spiritual one, both things he just couldn’t find with me.

Their times ranged from quickies in the afternoon to marathons lasting almost a full day.  But even the briefest encounter could help him clear his mind and regain perspective.  Seemed like a paradox to me, but I really didn’t have a choice.  I even tried to join them a few times, but it just wasn’t right, and I retreated to give them their time.

They go all over together.  Exploring unique parts of the city, and occasionally even traveling.  I’ve learned not to try to talk him out of it once he’s got his mind set on it.

This morning when he said he was going out to spend time with her, I sighed.  I had other plans for the day.  But they’d have to wait.  He needed her.

So I gave him my blessing, and he put on his shoes, and went running.

Quiet Time — or How I Watched a Movie in my Own Living Room

I’m not sure if he thought I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or if Mr. Wonderful made some unshared New Year’s Resolution to pay greater attention to my ‘needs,’ but for the last few days, some freaky stuff has been happening.

Take Sunday, New Year’s Day, for example.  I found myself home alone for a little while.  Mr. Wonderful and the boys left the house for about an hour, leaving me and the dog all by ourselves.

Now, I get my fair share of alone time – after I’ve dropped a kid off at school or at a friend’s house, when I’m headed to my MIL’s to pick her up for a doctor’s appointment, and even in the grocery store.  But you may see a pattern here.  If I’m by myself, I’m usually away from home, and usually doing something for someone else.

I hardly ever put myself first.  I rarely ask others to do what I could just get up and do myself.  And I very, very seldom watch TV.

So with this gift of an hour, I cozied up in the big chair with a glass of wine and the remote.  At first it felt a little odd, scanning the channel guide, passing up all the football games, zombie shows, and Spongebob reruns.  I scroll to the channels that never get watched, and see a lovely chick-flick beginning.  Figuring I can watch the first hour or so, I settle in.

Sipping my wine in the clean, quiet house, a sense of calm sweeps over me.  I resist the urge to watch the clock, not wanting the precious time to end.

{ Source: Touchstone-Disney 1990 }

Just about the time Julia Roberts is picking out some new clothes on Rodeo drive, the guys return home.

That’s when the freaky part happened.

The boys instinctively entered the living room, intent on usurping control from me, and Mr. Wonderful stopped them.

“Your mom’s watching a movie.  Y’all go upstairs.”

Curious, I looked to see where these words came from.  And there was Mr. Wonderful looking my way.

“Really?” I replied.  “I’ll turn it off.”  It seemed almost foreign for me to be sitting down watching a movie — a chick-flick even — when they were home.

But I went with it.

I just sat there.

Watching Julia and Richard get to know one another for the one-thousandth time.

I heard the little kitchen TV turn on and the sound of NFL announcers wafting my way.  Was he testing me?

I was in the living room, with the big tv and the remote, watching Pretty Woman while he sat isolated at the kitchen table watching football.

This was uncharted territory.  I wasn’t even sure how to respond.

Was this some passive-aggressive attempt to get me to put the game on?  Did he have some dreadful news to deliver, and wanted me in a good frame of mind to do so?  Or was he simply … letting me watch tv?

I didn’t really know what to think.  So I pushed the complicated thoughts out of my head.

And watched a movie.

Catharsis

I don’t like my mother-in-law.  And she doesn’t like me.  There.  I said it.

{ Source: balloonrelease.blogspot.com }

I’ve been tap-dancing around that for 26 years.  Actually longer than that, for the discord between us began before I married her son.  She disapproved of me the first time she met me, and it has never changed.  For the life of me, I don’t know why.

I’ve used every tool in my belt to rationalize the behaviors that exist between us.  “She loves her son.”  “No one would be good enough for her boy.”  “It’s not me, it’s her.”  And all this time I’ve been trying to endear myself to her, trying to fit in, trying to change things to make her love me.

For many years, I acquiesced to keep the peace.  Resistance, I thought, would widen the chasm between us.  I dressed for her approval, bought gifts, and attended social events – all to gain her endorsement.  But it never came.

All I ever wanted from her was a smidgen of love.  But with love comes acceptance, and that’s something that just wasn’t possible.

My husband has had a very tough time through all of it.  Stuck between us, not wanting to alienate her, not wanting to forsake me, he walked a tightrope for a very long time.  Shaking off the lifetime of programming that ‘mama’s always right’ has been hard on him.  And I’m sorry he had to go through it.  But it had to happen.

My blog is full of affirmations about attitude that I try to embody every day.  But applying my own wisdom to this obstacle has been the greatest personal struggle I’ve ever faced.

Putting it in perspective became necessary.  So I boiled it all down.

I’m a good wife to her son.  I’m a good mother to her grandchildren.  I’m a good caregiver to her husband.  I’m a loyal caregiver to her.  I’ve never once had an outright confrontation with her.  If that isn’t enough for her, then she doesn’t deserve me.

I am enough.

I can’t mourn the loss of something I never had, but I do lament its void.  I won’t let go of the pain, because then the lessons would be lost.  I’ll hold on to it, to let it remind me what I don’t want to become.

It’s not in my nature to air such a thing, and then not find some meaning within it.  So here’s where I will make promises to myself, and a vow to keep them.

When my sons bring home mates some day, I will not lift the lid of the pot and say, “he likes it better this way.”  I will not ask if she’d like to borrow something to wear to the party we’ll both be attending.  I won’t give gifts with instructions on the manner in which they are to be used.  I will let them live their lives, and raise their children.  I will give advice when it’s asked for.  I will maintain my own life, so I don’t have to live vicariously through theirs.

And I will not judge them by arbitrary means. Their worth will be weighed by the love they give my sons.

The Strong Smile

As I stood there watching the photographer set up her equipment, I attempted to give the boys one last round of instructions.  It was important to me, and I wanted to get it right.

It was day three of our beach getaway – our cheeks were rosy, our shoulders tanned. The sun was setting at the perfect angle and the surf was gently lapping at the sand.  The photographer called us to our places.  And I tried not to cry.

The vacation was planned late in the summer to give us one last time to be together.  One last set of memories before my husband left for Iraq.

I was trying to tell myself that this photograph would be a reminder of my happy family.  But inside, I was wrestling with my greatest fear:  that this photograph might be the last image of the five of us together.

© The Lucky Mom

Through it all, I smiled.

We sat on the dune together, and walked at the water’s edge.  The photographer patiently captured the essence of each child, then seated me and my husband together.  With his arm around my shoulder we smiled for the camera, trying to forget why we were there.  She took the final shots of us separately, me last.

When the photos arrived in the mail a few days later, I was quite surprised at what I saw.  The smile on my face was not at all what I expected.  That day I felt afraid and anxious.  But the smile I saw in the photograph was not.

The smile in that photograph became part of me, and I wore it for the better part of the next year.  That smile kept from crying many times.  That smile meant everything would be alright.  That smile meant that I was, indeed, strong enough.

Chasing squirrels — or How I Learned Persistence from my Dog.

Every day my dog wakes up with a mission: to catch a squirrel.

Day after day, he sits at the back window watching them.  They dart around the yard, up the trunk of the big oak tree, into the treehouse.  They leap from rooftop to treetop to trampoline like little stunt men practicing parkour moves for an action film.  Their newest habit is to jump on – and swing from – the climbing rope in the oak tree.

And all this drives my dog crazy.

"I know you're up there, squirrel. Just wait til next time."

He scratches at the window pane, whimpers at the back door, and begs to be let out.  Because he wants to catch that squirrel.

This drill has gone on for years, ever since the oak tree matured enough to make acorns.  The squirrels, with their sharp senses, are alerted to his presence immediately.  They know just how high to ascend to be out of his reach, and from that height they usually sit and taunt him.

But he chases them anyway.  Every day.

I’ll never know if he doesn’t realize that he can’t outrun a squirrel, or if he’s forgotten that this effort has been a failure every other day he’s tried it.  Or if it matters.

What I do know is that every day he believes that today will be the day.  Every time I open that door he bolts into the yard with a conviction that can only come from knowing his mission will be successful.  Every day.

I want to face my days with conviction like that.  I want to wake up every day thinking – no, believing – that today is the day I’m going to get it all done.

  • Today is the day I’m going to wake up early enough have uniforms laid out and breakfast on the table when the boys come downstairs.
  • Today I’m going to fold all the baskets of laundry in my bedroom.
  • Today I’m going to give my work my undivided attention.
  • Today all the emails will get replies, the pile of papers on the kitchen counter will get sorted, and the bags of old clothes brought to Goodwill.
  • Today I’m going to have a snack and drink in the car when I pick the kids up, and I won’t get on Facebook until all the homework’s done.
  • Today I’ll cook a healthy dinner, and won’t start doing the dishes until everyone’s finished.
  • Today the evening will be pleasant, there will be no yelling about showers, and all school bags will be packed the night before and waiting at that back door.

Unphased after the chase.

And when it doesn’t turn out the way I expect, I want to keep my cool like Perro* does, and wait for the next day, when I get another chance to get it right.  I want to wake up eager to catch that squirrel.

Inspiration is everywhere.  You just have to be open to recognizing it when you see it.

*Yes, my dog’s name is Perro (Spanish for “dog.”  My kids thought that was clever.)