Hustle to the bustle

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, It's all about me

Now that Thanksgiving is over, let the hustle and bustle begin! In recent years, retailers forced us into Christmas mode the day after Halloween; some sneaky ones started before that. I fell prey to such tactics and in years past gloated over having shopping completed by this point. I wish I could get back in that pattern because having that task out of the way cleared my mind and calendar for appointments with joyful and triumphant. For some, desiring the company of those two is, “no appointment necessary” – if only I could be so spontaneous.

Part of the problem: I’m just not that into the holidays any more. Sad, but true. It’s all become over-the-top and too much for my enjoys-peace-and-quiet, introverted self. Cindy Lou Who, of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, summed it up quite nicely when she told her father, “It’s just that I look around at everyone getting all kerbobbled. Doesn’t this seem superfluous?” I’ll say it for you, “Bah humbug!” It’s just that I’d rather make a special day over something unimportant to the rest of the world than participate in mass festivities; I’m a bit of a rebel that way.

To get through the season with a socially acceptable level of style and grace, I employ a multitude of coping strategies. All the usual suspects are used: exercise (I’m convinced the mental health benefits far outweigh the physical), eating healthily, taking vitamins, getting adequate amounts of sleep, drinking plenty of water,  not overloading the calendar, beating my head against the wall while mumbling incoherently . . .

This year, I researched additional prospective tactics to add to the tool chest as I found myself stressed long before the holidays arrived. An article on the Mayo Clinic website suggests “being realistic and planning ahead”.  Shoot, there’s another problem: I’m steeping in realism, and “planning ahead” (laugh). I try, but with four other people, a dog, a cat, 2 hamsters, 3 automobiles, and a home, the monkey-wrench possibilities are endless. 

Another interesting pointer came to me via e-mail from Dr. Oz’s Real Age Newsletter and caused me to welcome a germ into my world with open arms. Supposedly, I can introduce the inner embryo of the wheat kernel to my oatmeal and it will make me feel less stressed.

Wheat germ contains the phytonutrient octacosanol, which is known to help increase physical endurance and improve the body’s ability to handle stress. From the virtues extolled, one could sprinkle this stuff on just about anything – even glazed, fried-in-lard donuts – and make it healthy. OK, not really. But seriously, sprinkling is for stress sissies; open the jar and dump it down the old gullet. (Maybe have a glass of water handy. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks pretty dry. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention wheat germ is very high in fiber. How to put this politely? Well, if the bathroom isn’t a place of refuge, don’t follow the whole-jar advice.)

 It will all be over before we know it, and it’s coming regardless of whether or not the house is decorated and the “perfect” gifts are under the tree.  And I will enjoy numerous things, but I can guarantee not one of them will come with tags, my peace and joy always comes without packages, boxes, and bags!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Driving record took another hit

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

For those of you who enjoyed my brush with the law and ensuing speeding ticket, that confession wasn’t the end. While losing a clean 17-year driving record was traumatic, the ticket was easy to divulge. What I didn’t tell was that September brought another hit . . . literally. (State Farm knows all about this one.)

It was an ordinary week day. I was out running errands — driving the posted speed limit or below — and stopped by Sterling Municipal Library to turn in some books BEFORE they were due. I’m a rule-follower like that. I secured a parking spot where there weren’t many other cars and took care of my business in mere minutes.

I’m not sure whether I noticed before, or if it occurred to me afterwards, but it was a dreary day outside – one of those days when one wouldn’t notice much color because the sky was a blanket of gray.  At any rate, I got in my tank (Chevy Suburban), started it, looked back, checked mirrors, etc. like I have always done, put it in reverse, backed up, and CRUNCH!

See, a CRASH would have sounded as such, but since I was moving slower than a snail’s pace CRUNCH was the exact sound I heard. My initial thought was, “What in the heck?” as I knew there was nothing behind me. I pulled forward a tiny bit and got out to inspect.  Imagine my surprise in finding a fairly new light-grayish silver Cadillac with a hideous depression shaped like my bumper. When I do things, I do them up right! (Incidentally, my bumper sustained a mere scratch.)

Stunned, I pulled back into the parking spot and wondered where in the world that car came from. It wasn’t there when I looked, or was it? Sheesh! I’ve got enough on my plate to worry about these days to have my visual perception playing tricks on me! Of course the car was there, but from the on-high perch of the Chevy Suburban and against the gray-sky backdrop it was camouflaged and stealthy.

It had been over 20 years since I was to blame for any insurance claims. I didn’t know what to do. The car was unoccupied, so no personal injuries there. I checked myself . . . all was intact save for my ego. I needed to get in touch with the owner, but I was at the quietest place on Earth. Dare I waltz into such a serene place and announce I’d hit someone’s car? Sit and wait for the owner? What if the owner was a large goon easily angered? Plagued by indecision, I called State Farm.

A true angel on Earth, Maxine at Ken Mitchell’s State Farm office, answered. Ugh!  I didn’t want to tell her what I’d done, but did so and asked what to do. She was so sweet and lifted me from the pit of idiocy. “We have a sign here in the office that says ‘Life Happens’”, she said, and I could tell she was smiling or possibly laughing at my expense. She went on to praise my honesty and reported many drivers in the same predicament just drive away. I’ve been on the receiving end of such treatment; it feels pretty crummy.

I did as instructed and left a note on the car with contact information and stated the “accident” had been duly reported. My hands were shaky as I wrote. I know the owner was able to make out the phone number as I’ve received confirmation that my insurer settled the claim. But I also hope they were able to read my apology, because if my eyes did not deceive me (again), they were without a car for a few days. If it’s any consolation, I was without my pride, too.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

In my defense

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me, Life with children

I have a little confession to make: Back in August I was caught in a moment of lawlessness and was singled out by an officer of the law. (If anyone from my State Farm agent’s office is reading:  Be a good neighbor, and stop now. Thank you, and have a nice day.)

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was driving my middle child out of town to stay with grandparents.  I don’t know about other parents, but I have the best conversations with my kids while we’re alone in the car. Anyway, Jeremy and I were having such a good time conversing through a 50 mph zone that I failed to slow down when it dropped to 40 mph. 

I’ve traveled down this very road many times in the past three decades – even laughed when I saw other poor souls pulled over. It would never happen to me. I knew officers camped there among the trees, and besides, I’m not a habitual speeder. Plus, on more than one occasion I got a teeny little charge out of slowing down to 40, angering the driver behind me, watching them come flying around me and . . . BEEP went the radar! Who got the last laugh? It’s the little things in life.  

I was cruising along with a little old lady in front of me when I saw the officer — radar gun in hand — come out from hiding and motion me and granny to pull over. Drats! No worries, though – my inspection, registration, insurance, and license were all in order. I wasn’t going that fast. Would probably get a verbal warning and be on my way.

Officer as he approached my window “Let me tell you how this ticket is going to work.”

He was no nonsense and apparently had no sense of humor, either. I was stunned. No “is there some emergency?” or any other niceties for that matter.  The ticket was already filled out (he had a whole pad of them ready so he could get on with writing the next one) with the exception of my particulars.

He took my license and as he copied the information asked when I’d received my last ticket. I remembered because I was pregnant with my first child, and in that instance was also pulled over by an officer on foot. For whatever reason, I don’t attract the attention of those actually in patrol cars.

“Last ticket was 17 years ago,” I beamed.  I figured that information would alert him to what a good driver I am (and he could easily verify it on his in-car computer) and he’d decide to cut me a break.

“That’s pretty good. I’m issuing you a citation for 50 in a 40. I’m cutting you a break as I actually clocked you at 51. Your options for taking care of this are . . .”

I didn’t hear much more. But I was incredibly polite and even thanked him. I know he was just doing his job and that a criminal who musters up her prettiest smile along with some southern charm must be dealt with in an unbiased manner.   

My retribution for endangering all others on the road, besides the $103 in court fees, was spending the beautiful last Saturday indoors with a group of other troublemakers. There was one sweet gentleman sitting next to me “for the insurance discount only”.  You can all feel safer on the road because my driving skills have been defensively fortified. It was actually a good refresher. Since I sat through it and passed the test at the end, the ticket will not officially count against me.

I admit I wasn’t paying full attention to driving, but paying attention to something important nonetheless.  I hope you, the motoring public, can forgive me.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Catch some happiness

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Issues, National

There isn’t a day, week, or month left on the calendar that isn’t set aside to observe, commemorate, or otherwise notice a cause, individual, or group. Some are worthy of ignoring, such as National Grouch Day, but one commemorative week I was unaware of needs a little attention.

The second week of November, which will officially begin tomorrow, is Pursuit of Happiness Week. I know it sounds a little odd, but the purpose is to remind everyone, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, that all men and women “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalieanable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It would be unpatriotic not to recognize this one. You’ve got from November 8 – 14 to perform a search. Feel very fortunate if you don’t have to look long or far.

Happiness is defined in different ways depending on who’s providing the definition, but Webster’s says it is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, or joy. And pursuit: Until I looked it up, I never realized an important piece that sets it aside from simply following something is the intent to catch.

Since I have been on a mission of sorts to find my place in the world while my children explore the things that bring them joy, it occurred to me that sometimes hunting for happiness involves not chasing after some things, or possibly bringing other things to an end. If capturing some empty space opens up a spot for something that makes me smile, why not?

Those in the business of studying happiness say much of our disposition in that regard is genetic and to a large degree formed during childhood. It’s also a lot of work. But the good news: Happiness is a choice. It’s tricky for sure, but we all know it’s possible as most of us are acquainted with someone who is happy despite some crummy circumstances.  Some say life is 10 percent events and 90 percent how we react to those events. I believe there’s a great deal of truth there.

Once we decide ourselves happy, we have a real proverbial bucket of cold water to deal with in a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. I know, big words for a Saturday, but you’ll thank me for explaining how it works. Knowing is half the battle. Maybe you can keep this from dampening any new-found joy.

Hedonic adaptation occurs because humans are very adaptable – some of us more than others— and as soon as something better than our “normal” becomes habit or a routine part of our day, it loses its shine so to speak. Think past lottery winners who manage to become miserable despite having money troubles wiped away.  And raise your hand if you’ve reached a goal you thought was going to bring the epitome of happiness, only to find that happy feeling was short-lived. We’re always raising the bar. I don’t know when the concept of contentment was lost, but I know I don’t see enough of it – too much of the grass-is-greener syndrome going around if you ask me.

Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” says that one way to combat hedonic adaptation is to cut back on luxurious enjoyment. (That almost sounds un-American.) Also, try stopping each day and just being grateful for the things in your life.  Avoid including external things – look to your inner resources. Take pleasure in the little things.

Get out there and go after something delightful . . . and intend on catching it!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley