Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

Thoughts about death

In January 2013, Tim’s dad died. In August my mom died. And in January 2014 my dad died. In the last week, two of my much loved friends have lost parents. In honor of my friends, and for anyone who has lost someone they love, here’s something I wrote shortly after Troy died.

For most of my life I’ve known virtually nothing about death. I took a course in college titled “Death and Dying” and I learned about the five stages of grief. I knew what I learned in Sunday School and what the Bible taught about death and heaven and hell. But I’ve rarely experienced death in a way that touched my everyday life.

My father-in-law died 3 weeks ago.

Troy was a vital part of our lives. He and Margaret lived 10 minutes away from us.  He worked until a month before his death. He celebrated his 60th anniversary last June. He loved his family and friends and wanted to live. He was one of my favorite people ever and I know he loved me. I miss him like crazy. And I hate that he’s dead and that awful people are still alive.

I don’t know much about death and grief, but here are the things I’ve learned so far:

  • Every time someone says “I’m so sorry about Troy” it eases a teeny tiny bit of the pain. So I will always acknowledge, in person or by sending a card, the loss of a loved one. 
  • Sending food is one of the best ways to help people who are grieving. The people who are alive still need to eat. I will always bring food when I can. It’s a tangible way to express love.
  • Talking about the person who died is good. One day shortly after he died, I had a wave of sadness that came out of nowhere. I was driving home from Trader Joe’s and crying, and I thought “I’m going to call Margaret.” Then I was scared because I didn’t want to make her sad. Decided to call anyway. She answered and asked me how I was doing. I said “I miss Troy so much.” She said, “Oh I miss him too” and we talked and it helped.
  • If you pay attention, you can find a way to help. In January we practically lived at Troy and Margaret’s house. And we used our house as a pit stop. One of my friends, unbeknownst to me, snuck into our house while we were helping Margaret and cleaned our kitchen. (I still get tears in my eyes when I think of this.)

As far as my beliefs about the afterlife, again I don’t know much. I used to think I knew some stuff. But in the last 4 years it’s like everything I thought I knew was stripped away (which is not a bad thing, but it’s a hard thing) and every belief has been challenged. Here’s a little list of what I think I know for sure:

  • There is a God.
  • I am not God (if I was, things would be a LOT different around here!).
  • God knows and cares beyond what I can possibly imagine.
  • Troy has a new body that works perfectly.
  • There is a balcony. I read a Joyce Meyers book years ago where she said that people who die can be in our balcony. And we can choose who’s in our balcony. I like to think of the upper deck seats at a Giants game, with people leaning forward and cheering, “You can do it!” I think Troy is in a lot of people’s balconies.

I loved Troy. You would have loved him too.

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Thanksgiving tips

I have nothing to say about the food or the tabletop. But I have two important reminders that may help this to be the best Thanksgiving yet:

  1. You know how sometimes your parents (or your brother or your sister) can do something and you’re immediately upset? Like you try to act calm on the outside but inside you can feel your blood pressure rising? Take a deep breath. If that doesn’t help, take another one. And remember the words of my oh-so-wise therapist friend, “Of course your parents/family can push your buttons. They’re the ones who installed them.” Truth.
  2. I wrote about this a few weeks back, but it bears repeating: if they’re is unhappy, put them in water. This statement originally referred to children, but consider applying this to yourself. If you’re feeling stressed out, take a shower. Take a bath. (Of course this won’t work if you’re at your aunt and uncle’s house. Random showering reads crazy.)

Happy Thanksgiving friends!

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Five Love Languages

For years my husband and I were lacking synchronicity. I would think of ways to truly say how meaningful he was to me. My words barely registered with him. One time I jokingly said, “The only time you hear it when I say nice things is when I’m touching you!” Turns out I was right.

One of the best things for our relationship was reading “The 5 Love Languages.” It’s worth buying and reading, but here’s the basic premise. There are 5 primary ways we can give and receive love. They are:

  • Physical touch
  • Words of encouragement
  • Quality time
  • Acts of service
  • Gifts

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All of these ways of expressing love can be nice, but most people have one or two that they feel more deeply than the others. Turns out my husband’s primary love language is physical touch. So I was right in saying I needed to be touching him for him to hear me! My highest languages are words of encouragement and quality time. So in trying to craft the perfect compliment for Tim, I was speaking my own language, not his.

The authors of the book claim that by the time we’re about 7 years old it’s easy to see which love languages we hear the loudest. So whether it’s your children or your spouse or your friends, try to see if you can figure out what their love language is. Learning to intentionally speak love, in the language of another person, can make all the difference.

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Cookie baking hacks plus a recipe

I grew up baking. I can remember making Toll-house cookies when I was young enough that my arm would get tired mixing the dry ingredients into the sugar-shortening-egg mixture and I had to ask for help or take a break. Here are a few baking hacks that may make your baking a little better.

  • Before you start, put a bowl in the sink and fill it with hot water and some dish soap. This makes clean-up ever so much easier.
  • When cracking eggs, crack them on a flat surface. Cracking them on the edge of a bowl means you’ll almost always have little bits of eggshell in the mix.
  • If you get bits of eggshell in the mix, use eggshell to get them out. Seriously. Use one of the bigger eggshell pieces to fish out any small pieces.
  • Get all of your ingredients out before you start, and then set them aside or put them away as you use them. That way if you’re interrupted there won’t be any questions like “did I put the salt in yet?”
  • In general, shortening makes cookies chewier and better. You can get non trans-fat shortening at natural food stores.
  • Because baking is chemistry (as opposed to cooking, with is more artistry) precise measurements are important. Measure flour with the dip and sweep method. Measure brown sugar packed into the measuring cup.
  • Eating cookie dough is a vital part of ensuring the cookies are good. I’ve baked for more than 45 years and never had an issue with eating raw eggs. My kids are (mostly) fine too. 🙂

Snickerdoodles-Recipe-2

One of my favorite recipes is this one for Snickerdoodles. Enjoy!

For the cookies:

1 cup shortening

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

2-3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the cinnamon sugar:

1/4 cup sugar

1-1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon

To make the cookies, place shortening and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and mix until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix until smooth. (Now you’re done with the mixer unless you want flour all over your countertops.) By hand, mix in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or longer.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To form cookies, break off small pieces and roll into 1-inch balls. A cookie scoop helps to make the cookies the same size. Roll balls in the cinnamon sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake until just barely golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool on cookie sheet for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack.

Here’s a video and more information on making snickerdoodles. This recipe calls for a little vanilla which I’m going to try the next time I make them.

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Unwelcome tenants, an update

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I’m losing weight. Yay! Just as gaining weight was no mystery, neither is losing a few pounds. Here’s what’s working for me:

  1. Increased moderate activity. I have a fitbit. My personal goal is 15,000 steps a day, and my high goal is 20,000 steps. As I was gaining weight, my steps were about half that. Not everyone can or should have the same goal as I do. There are medical conditions that make activity difficult. If I worked in an office, I’m not sure that my goal would be possible. But as I’ve committed to hitting 15K every day, there’s more ease in my clothes. I have a friend who’s an accountant, which is a pretty sedentary job. He averages 22K steps per day, and regularly kicks my ass in the fitbit race. How does he do this? He walks most mornings before work, sometimes leaving his house at 4:30 to get his long walks in. I’m both impressed and infuriated by his consistency and dedication. (Mark, if you’re reading this, I’m gunning for you!)
  2. A little more mindfulness when it comes to food. Like I said, I’m an emotional eater. And the foods that soothe my aching heart the best are full of sugar and fat, maybe with a touch of salt to bring out the sweetness. Easing back on these kinds of indulgences is helping.
  3. Increased high-level activity. I belong to OrangeTheory Fitness and I love what they do. If you’re not familiar with OrangeTheory, it’s a workout where you wear a heart rate monitor to track in real time the intensity of effort as you do a 1 hour treadmill/rowing machine/weight training workout. I joined before they opened in Roseville in April. I was not using my membership much when the pounds were coming on. Now I’ve recommitted to twice a week workouts there. Thank goodness I have a hot tub!
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Winner winner!

I chose not one, but two winners by writing numbers on little pieces of paper (with additional chances for those who shared my blog) and drawing two. Congratulations to alirobyn@******* and eileend@*******. (*s are to protect privacy.) Alirobyn wins a subscription to LiveHappy, one of my favorite magazines, and eileend wins a subscription to Mindful, my other favorite magazine. Please contact me at gandy.leslie@gmail.com with your address so I can purchase and send your subscriptions. Thank you to everyone who has subscribed and shared my words.

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and aging, part 2

Grim news. Maslow’s hierarchy has been discredited and out of favor for decades. Decades! And nobody thought to tell me! But his flawed framework will continue to be used as we continue on with aging. Just don’t base anything important, like a term paper or a master’s thesis on it.

Ok so once you have the great attitude in place, what’s next? To my way of thinking the next two things are these: finding and maintaining a good weight and excellent skin care.

Let’s talk about weight first. (crickets silence) It’s tough to write about weight, especially because as an emotional eater, my weight fluctuates by about 10 pounds and right now I’m at the top of my weight range. Neverthless, finding and maintaining a good weight “reads” younger than lots of unnecessary pounds. Please know though that “good weight” does not = “perfect weight” or “unattainable weight.” Because I like odd numbers and the idea of being super thin is appealing, for years I thought my ideal weight would be 123 or 127 pounds. (Yes there are more odd numbers to be found, but those seemed right.) (Full disclosure: in my mind, my perfect weight is 113 or 117. I weighed in that range when I was 14 years old.) Grrrrr — the point here isn’t to get bogged down by THE NUMBER but to find a weight that you can maintain with relative ease and then stay there, or thereabouts.

Going way up and way down in weight is bad for your body, bad for your skin, and bad for your soul. Remember The Zone diet? I’ve rarely been as bitchy as when I tried to do it. Bitchy is not a word that describes what I’m after. 🙂

Moving on to skin care. Good skin reads healthy reads youthful. For good skin:

  • Don’t tan.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Buy the best quality skincare products you can afford and use them.
  • Wash your face. (But we’ve already talked about that!)

I was a teen in the 70s and this was the time of lemon juice in the hair and baby oil on the skin. But I got lucky because try as I might, I could never get good at laying out in the sun. I found it boring and uncomfortable. In my 20s and 30s I would hit the tanning salon before vacation but not on a regular basis. I now know that your history shows up in your skin. Young readers, please oh please oh please wear sunscreen and don’t use tanning beds! Your skin will thank you for it, I promise.

Smoking. Yes, I was a smoker. I smoked off and on from age 19 to 25. Quitting smoking was incredibly difficult. But I’m so glad I did. Smoking not only robs the skin on your face of vital oxygen, and dumps a whole bunch of free radicals onto you, it also hijacks your money. Just say no. Just say no. Just say no.

As far as skincare, make sure you use sunscreen every day (good lord this is the most boring thing I’ve ever written!), and use both moisturizer and eye cream at night. Most skin care systems also want you to buy toner which I think is an attempt to get you to spend more money. Save your money and buy a Revlon facial brush and use it with your cleanser.

If you have good skin and maintain a consistent weight, everything else is so much easier. Clothes look better. You’ll need less makeup and application will be faster and easier. In part 3, which will be more interesting, we will talk about makeup and fashion.

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My depression story, part 3

I don’t really know how to wrap up my thoughts about depression. Before I started writing, I had an idea of writing 3 posts and I’m pretty sure I had some thoughts about what each post would cover. Now? I feel uncertain and very unqualified.

(inhale, hold, exhale, hold, repeat)

(breath retention is a technique I learned in yoga classes and it’s very calming and centering. yes, i did just stop and intentionally breathe. maybe it will help.)

Perhaps dealing with depression is something like what i just experienced. I didn’t know what to write, and the temptation to just step away and not write anything was huge. But then I remembered something that sometimes helps, and even though it didn’t seem like it would work, I tried it. That really is how it feels when I have my own personal rain cloud following me — as though it will never get better and nothing I do can change it. But that’s a lie. Here are some truths:

Everything changes. The good and the bad.

Everything matters. Even small actions can yield big results.

(just took a break to read my old weblog. i was hoping to find a free verse poem called “recovery in 5 parts” or something like that. instead started reading what i’d written. felt a lot of self-compassion, which is a very good thing. if you want to read from my previous blog, you can check it out here.)

Found the poem. Thanks Google. Will there be a part 4 to these posts? Dunno. For now I leave you with a thought and a poem.

The thought: My yoga teacher, Megan, says this at the end of her classes “Remember, if you are breathing in and out, there is more right with you than there is wrong with you.” Together, let’s say it: amen.

The poem:

Life in Five Short Chapters

CHAPTER 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

CHAPTER 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It takes a long time to get out.

CHAPTER 3

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there, and still I fall in.
It’s a habit.
But my eyes are open and I know where I am.
It is my fault and I get out immediately.

CHAPTER 4

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

CHAPTER 5

I walk down a different street.

By Portia Nelson

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My depression story, part 2

images-2More of the rest of the story.

So I started taking an antidepressant and I started feeling better. Not maniacally-happy-all-the-time better, but better enough that I could function without feeling like it took every ounce of strength inside of me to do normal life stuff. As Tim saw the improvements, he realized that while antidepressants might not be the magic cure-all for everyone, they were making a difference for his wife.

I, however, was conflicted. Yes, I felt better, but I felt like I was cheating somehow by taking a pill instead of just muddling through. Because I’m me, I read a lot of books about the subject. People wrote that you wouldn’t be judgmental of a diabetic who takes insulin, so why would you feel judgement about taking something to restore your missing serotonin. Yeah, that sounded like bullshit for weak people to me. My other issue was financial. Maybe it was my internal cheapskate. Or lack of self-worth. Whatever. The medicine that worked wasn’t covered by my insurance and it was expensive. Tim didn’t care. He just was happy to have his wife back. But I cared because taking medicine daily made me feel broken, and then when it cost more than a nickel a day (I joke, but I seriously do have issues with spending money on taking care of myself), it was agonizing to take. So I played medication games. I took half of what I was prescribed — it was like finding a sale on medicine! Sometimes I quit altogether to show how strong I was. Neither of these games worked and I strongly do not recommend them to anyone who is taking an anti-depressant.

There are some things that I did “right” that helped ease my feelings of gloom:

  • I continued to run almost daily (staying physically active for decades because I can’t do life without exercise is one of the silver linings that’s come from depression)
  • Watching the news? Not for this girl. I couldn’t even watch the news as a kid, and as it continues to show graphic images of doom and hell, I continue to get the little news I do get from print media or the radio.
  • I read lots of books about being positive and mindful.

I continued to eat crappy foods (yeah, I’d read that a balanced diet with an emphasis on protein and fresh whole foods could enhance the effectiveness of medication, but I remained unwilling to take action) and stayed away from counseling, not wanting to spend the money on that, or to feel even more broken than I already did (because if I needed meds AND counseling, well … that just wasn’t going to happen!).

As I think back on this time, an image comes to mind of a flower trying to grow through a crack in the sidewalk. If everyone else got to be flowers in a greenhouse, somehow my biochemistry, when combined with my choices, meant that I still got to be a flower, but I was dealing with shitty dirt and whatever conditions sidewalks have to deal with. That’s not an easy way to live.

Thank you to everyone who has read what I’ve written, and who has taken the time to comment here on the blog or on Facebook.

To be continued…

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My old blog

In case you want to see my old blog, it’s here. I like going back and reading it because it reminds me of who I used to be (before my parents got sick) and helps clarify who I want to be as I move forward.

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