Caregiving 101: Sometimes, you have to hit the ground lounging

After nearly three months of going nonstop seven days a week while taking care of my father after he suffered two strokes, I found myself with three unscheduled hours in the middle of a day last week.

My first thought was a nap, but because it was early in the day, I wasn’t that tired. It was then that I took off my sneakers to relax and caught sight of my neglected, half-polished toes. It had been months since I had been to the salon. “I could go get a pedicure,” I thought.

The go-go-go side of my brain, trained from these long hours and many miles of being a caregiver (running two businesses, and trying to keep up with two houses and yards and multiple pets) said, “I don’t have time.” And then, I nearly burst into tears. “Seriously,” some small part of me said, “I don’t have time for myself? I don’t have time to take care of me?”

I knew then I HAD to go get that pedicure. I hadn’t read a book or magazine in many months. The winter had been hard on me. I got really sick in December and I had fallen on some ice in January, seriously injuring my back and a knee. Both required long recovery periods.

I needed some time to just sit and breathe and maybe do nothing while someone spoiled me with a sweet touch and added some beauty and color to my life.

I took a book I was excited to start and headed for a salon. The wait there was long and I walked out in frustration. I Googled another salon and found it was almost empty. The woman took me to a chair in the back where I put my feet in wonderful-smelling warm water and she turned on the massaging, vibrating chair. There wasn’t another soul back there; everyone else was up front getting manicures.

She said it would be about five minutes before someone got to me. It was more like 25. I read many pages in my book, my mind immersed in the glorious Kennedy years of the 60s before his assassination and far from medical procedures and various types of therapies. And for part of that time, I just sat and breathed with my eyes closed. And maybe sensing my need, the woman who did my pedicure quietly gave me an extra long foot and leg massage. I can’t describe how refreshing that was.

The next day, I hopped back on the hamster wheel of appointments with a different attitude, in beautiful sandals and with a spring in my step. I started thinking of ways I could get some breaks in each day, even small ones, just a little time for myself to refresh, renew and restore my exhausted spirit.

I thought back to a text conversation with a friend a few days earlier where he told me he was sitting outside for hours after work. I recalled my outdoor recliner, folded up on my porch collecting dust since fall. The weather had turned warm while I was constantly on the go – driving, running errands, taking my dad here and there, researching treatments and medications, interviewing specialists.

I got that chair out the first chance I had and sat in the sun for just 15 minutes, reclining with my feet up. I was revived for the rest of the day. I am finding time each day to do this now. And every time I see my chair, even when I don’t have time to sit it in right away, I smile. The same thing happens when I see my beautiful toes.

I was texting with the same friend one morning a few days later. The night before, when I told him how tired I was, he told me to get some sleep and then hit the ground running the next day. That morning, he asked what I was doing. I was sitting outside in my chair, watching my German Shepherd romp happily in the grass, and I told him so. And then I added, “So, you could say I am hitting the ground lounging.”

And that’s when the message really hit home. You have to care for you and love yourself every day, which I usually do, but it’s especially important, even crucial, when you’re caring for someone else.

I am tired today, but instead of running my dad around for his errands without a break, I took him to breakfast and we just sat and talked and breathed for a time. And then I took him to his house to rest before our afternoon appointments, and I am writing, one of the things I most love in my life. We’re both having the better day for it.

 

I wish you much peace and love today. And as always, if this resonates with you, please share it with your family and friends.

Life 101: Is yours what you really want it to be?

I’m down for the count with a minor illness, which always makes me more contemplative than usual.

I quit my soul-sucking, bleeding-the-life-out-of-me job nearly two years ago to try to live a better life. People have asked me how I did that and/or why. The job, which I had loved for quite a few years, just became something I didn’t.

Less than two years before that, my younger brother (whom I adopted as my own, and he me, when we were in our teens) and my mother died, both of them unexpectedly, just nine weeks apart. Couple that with the death of two beloved German shepherds, one three months before my brother died and another just eight days after my mother died. That six-month period – which included getting two new dogs after the one died and finding out one of them was terminally ill just weeks after I got them – shook me to my very core.

After I wandered around in a fog of grief and pain for several months, my mind started asking questions, just a few of which I will mention here because they are important.

Why did all of my beloved family members die well before their time should’ve been up? They had hopes and dreams and things they were living for and boom, it was over, and all of those hopes and dreams were gone and wasted.

That led to: What do I still want to do with my life? What things do I really want to experience before I die? What places do I really want to go? Who are the people I really want to meet? Are there any things that I really want to purchase? And are there changes I want or need to make to make my life the best it can be before I die?

Answers came quickly. What to do about each of them took longer.

The first thing that came to my mind was Star Trek. Really. I remembered watching “The Original Series” when I was a child, when it was on in syndication. I loved it so much. That got me thinking about what I truly loved that I needed more of in my life and what I didn’t that needed to go out of my life.

Before Star Trek, when I was younger, I saw the animated “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. I realized immediately that I was a misfit toy and that there were other misfit toys out there for me to be with who would accept me and love me for me. I just had to find them.

Spock made me feel the same way, but on a deeper level. He helped me know that I would find my place in the world, even though I was different from others, and I would find people who would not only accept me but even adore and care about me just the way I am. That was profound and it echoed throughout my life, as it continues to do to this day.

Well, there it was, the answer to question one: Star Trek. I had watched “The Next Generation” when it was on television, but since I had given up TV for other pursuits, I hadn’t seen any of the other series. My first goal was to watch them all.

That first revelation happened to come to me in December, just in time for a new year. I only make one resolution every year. (You can read more here about that.) I decided to watch everything Star Trek I could get my hands on, starting with all the series, every episode, and then move on to the movies and then any documentary I could find. I started Jan. 3 and I finished Dec. 27. I watched at least one Star Trek episode every single day. I had daylong and even weekendlong marathons. It was glorious.

In February, I starting thinking about those conventions they used to have. Surely they didn’t still happen, did they? A little Internet research showed they did and that the longest (in terms of days), biggest one (in terms of number of celebrity guests) was in Las Vegas. A few more clicks and a not-so-small amount of money purchased me a Gold ticket for that very year, at the end of July/beginning of August.

That trip changed my life. I had found my Island of Misfit Toys, my tribe, my new family. I was home. (You can read more here about that.) I now go every year and it restores my mind, body and soul.

Next, I started focusing on my health. I had been in a car accident less than a year before my family losses. I still wasn’t 100 percent recovered, and all the grief had halted my healing in its tracks. I started working on getting better and losing weight. That has been a long journey in its own right, but I still work on it every day. (That’s another post for another day.)

Next, I quit that job and moved across the country to live near my father and spend time with him while he still has time left on the planet. There have been ups and downs in this new life, and some hard times, but I’m now in a much better place than ever.

I’m now a freelance writer who writes what I want for whom I want when I want. I’m not making a lot of money, not like when I was managing four newspapers for a multimillion-dollar corporation, but I am making enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is good enough for me.

I have time to spend with my dad, to play with my German shepherd, to work on my beloved Camaro, to figure out who I really want to be, to make those changes that I want and need to make to get there, to make a new life and more good friends, and to spend time each year with my new family. Life is good.

Are you right where you want to be now? Are you living the life you want to every day? I’m happy every day. Maybe not all day every day, but every single day of my life is happy and good.

Every journey starts with a decision, one that you have to make with your heart and your head (I’ll write more about that later, because they are two very different things). And then you have to make a real commitment and take small steps toward your goal. That’s it. It really can be that simple. If you let it be; if you make it be.

Now, what is it you want for your life that you don’t yet have? Think about it. This isn’t a dress rehearsal and there are no do-overs. Get out there and be the real you. And be happy.

If this post speaks to you, I hope you will share it with others.

Caitlyn Jenner helped me get to where I am now

Who’s to say what will move someone from inaction to action, what will come along and inspire us to reach for the brass ring, what will allow us to finally jump a hurdle and flat-out run for the finish line?

I thank Caitlyn Jenner, in part, for where I am now.

Oh, I know a lot of people will jeer this post, but I don’t care. I’ve never really been big on living my life based on what people think about what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, who I am doing it with, and whether I do anything or not. I march to the beat of my own drummer. I know where I was and I know where I am now. Even better, I know where I am going, and it is awesome.

I was working in a dead-end job (four pay cuts in five years just to keep the same position), with ever-increasing job responsibilities each year and ever-decreasing care and respect for my health and welfare from my superiors. That job was sapping my energy and strength and robbing me of my ability to be the happy-go-lucky person I have been throughout most of my life.

I’ve had some rough times in my life and I have made it through some real traumas. Some of them would have felled a lesser person. I have brought more than one counselor to tears while relating some of those hardships. But I am and have always been one of those pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kinds of people and I have done that and moved forward, even when my mind or heart didn’t quite want to.

I try to live life on my own terms and I have left bad and what I consider borderline-abusive relationships behind, and that was what that job had become. After nearly 11 years, I was making just a tiny bit more than when I was hired, I was working way more hours than I wanted to (and anybody should) and doing far more than the job for which I had signed on.

I was at my desk one day in that environment – editing four newspapers owned by a company that was making millions of dollars but couldn’t seem to spread much around to its employees – when I overheard one of my staff members say something about Bruce Jenner becoming a woman.

Now, when I was a little girl, Bruce Jenner was a god. He was THE golden boy. Many of my friends were planning to grow up and marry him one day. (I, on the other hand, had a thing for musicians and bad boys, a trait that, sadly, exists to this day, which might be part of why I’m still single, but that is a topic for another post. Maybe.)

As a longtime journalist (I was bitten by the writing bug in elementary school), I have a curiosity about all things. As a black sheep and misfit toy kind of girl, I am always interested in other people like myself who are marching to their own drum, no matter the rhythm and whether or not others agree to the beat.

So it was with interest that I listened to this co-worker talk about Bruce becoming Caitlyn. The topic of the discussion was an upcoming scoop (Journalists LOVE scoops!) in “Vanity Fair” magazine about his, or rather, her transition. I could hardly wait to get that magazine in my hands. Every day for the next week, I stopped by at least one store to see if it was in yet.

I found the magazine one morning on my way to the office, but I had to wade through a 10-hour workday before I could sit down to read it. And even though I was exhausted that night, I curled up in bed with my favorite (It has been for many years) magazine and read this deeply personal and painful, but very well-written story.

And somewhere in that text were these magic words:

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’”

I was stunned. This was someone who had won a gold medal, lived a life filled with riches and dreams-come-true, or so I thought. But there it was. At age 65, Jenner was saying that whole life would have been a waste had she not jumped off the cliff to try to fly her way. Well, that idea unsettled me greatly, and then the words sank deep into my soul.

My plan had always been that once I was “done” with newspapers, I would find a nice little home away from the limelight and the big city and write what I wanted to. The plan was to write a series of children’s books and a short list of other books, mixed with whatever writing I would need to do regularly to pay the bills.

But when would I be done with newspapers? Was it now, when it seemed they were done with me? Long story short, I looked into my options and found that it was time to go. And although it at first seemed impossible, as I started daydreaming and planning and praying, doors opened that weren’t even there weeks before. I was on my way.

I quit that job nearly two years ago and moved across the country. I’m making less money than I have in decades, but I am my own boss, doing my own thing on my own terms. I don’t have a lot, but I have enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is OK with me. Some months have been scary, but I have kept marching and sticking to my path. And interesting and cool things have happened to keep me going. I decided back when I moved that I would give myself a year, and then determine whether I needed to go back to a job. Well, I am glad to say, not yet.

So, whenever I hear Caitlyn Jenner’s name mentioned in the news, or I see one of those memes that say she is not courageous, I say “thank you” out loud to her, for being incredibly brave and for unknowingly setting all types of people, myself included, on their true paths.

*Thank you for reading! If this post speaks to you or inspires you, please share it.*

Kat’s official tips for having a great birthday

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I think we sometimes forget, especially when we have been adults for a while and we forget to play, that our birthday is supposed to be a celebration of ourselves and the fact that we are still alive. Remember when you were a child and everyone would gather and celebrate you? Why do we give that up as we age?

I recommend you don’t. And so, in case you are out of practice, I hereby give you some official tips for making it a great day. Of course, you can tweak them. Because it’s your day, it’s all about you!

These are in no particular order, although I wrote them chronologically based on my birthday this year. All of these tips would be good to fit into other days as well. But only if you want to have a good day. Or a good life.

  • Stay up until midnight, so you get to experience the first minute of your birthday. Be glad that you made it.
  • Sing happy birthday to yourself before you go to sleep. (I even told me how much I love me.)
  • Turn off the alarm and sleep until your body says it’s ready to get out of bed.
  • Snuggle with a German shepherd (or other animal of your choice).
  • Thank God for giving you another birthday. (A lot of people on the planet won’t get one this year.)
  • Hang around the house in your pajamas doing something you just want to do. (For me, that was reading and surfing the Internet.)
  • Eat something healthy first thing in the morning, because you know you’re going to eat things that are not so much later. (I had some of my favorite yogurt.)
  • Go out to breakfast with your dad (or other loved one) and have chocolate chip pancakes made from scratch.
  • Do something nice for someone else. (I helped my dad with some chores, because he still can’t lift much after his surgery.)
  • Take a drive in a vehicle you love. (I had to take Optimus because of the snow and salt. This was the first birthday I’ve had when I didn’t get to drive Cam. Sigh.)
  • Listen to some music you love, really loud. (For me, this included The Beatles, Ultravox, Billy Squier, Journey, Queensryche, A3, Smashing Pumpkins, Supernova and Kristian Leontiou.)
  • Throughout the day, look around for beauty. Really experience it, admire it and enjoy it.
  • Go around and pick up free presents for your birthday. (A lot of businesses will give you something if you ask. Other places have birthday clubs, where you automatically get something on your special day. This year, I got a free pastry, a free makeup kit, a free ice cream sundae and a free cocktail. I still have free popcorn and a free lunch coming.)
  • Get out with a group of friends, the more the merrier.
  • Have a really tasty meal that includes dessert.
  • Seek out and destroy some cake. (This isn’t a suggestion. It’s mandatory. If you haven’t been eating cake on your birthday, you’ve been doing it wrong.)
  • Go to a theater and marvel at how gorgeous Ryan Gosling is for two hours. (You might choose someone else to ogle. It’s your birthday, so it’s your choice.)
  • Laugh. A lot. Every chance you get.
  • Figure out your catchphrase. (You should have some statement that sums up the day and makes you instantly recall a joyous moment you had at some point during the day or evening. Again, if you’re not finishing your birthday with a catchphrase, you might be doing it wrong.)
  • Have a cupcake and a cocktail before bed. (If you don’t eat sugar, see cake rule above. If you don’t drink, have some kind of treat that you don’t often that you really enjoy. Savor it.)
  • Have additional snuggle session with above German shepherd (or other animal) before bed. (This is optional, but I highly recommend it.)
  • Fall asleep at whatever time you please, knowing you truly celebrated you and being alive.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, wherever you may be

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Do you ever wish a holiday would just drop off the map?

I do, because it’s that time of year again when I’m getting emails in my inbox reminding me to buy flowers or candy or some other type of present for my mom for Mother’s Day.

Is it just me or is Mother’s Day on steroids this year? It’s everywhere I turn – in the stores, in the newspaper, on the radio, on the Internet. Maybe it’s that way every year. Maybe it just seems so in my face because I miss her so much.

I recently moved near where my dad lives, and my mom didn’t live too far from him. For many years, when I came “home” to visit, I spent time with each of them. And now, she should be here. But she isn’t.

People ask other people, and people have asked me, “What are you doing for Mother’s Day?” Well, my mom died two and a half years ago. What are you supposed to do with Mother’s Day when you’re not a mother and your mother is no more? What do you do when you’re one of the Motherless Daughters?

Unbelievably, a distant family member swooped in and stole my mother’s ashes from the place that handled her arrangements after she “graduated” from medical school. (I had to fight distant family members to even make sure her body was donated to a medical school like she wanted, but that’s another story.) I still remember my shock when the guy said, “I’m sorry, we sent her to so and so.” Of course, they never contacted me to see if that was what I wanted, but instead just assumed that person was telling the truth when he requested it behind my back.

I felt horrible about that for about a week, until a good friend came to my house for a visit. When I tearfully told him what happened, he said one of the greatest things anyone has ever said to me: “Well, think about it this way. You got all of those years with her, and all of her love and all of those memories, and all he got was a box of ash.”

An overwhelming feeling of peace immediately came over me and I haven’t been upset about the theft since, because he was right: I got all the best of my mom during all of the years we had together. He also pointed out something else to me: She isn’t gone from me.

Throughout the week after that conversation, I really thought about what he said about her not being gone and then I realized he was right. She is with me every day.

I can hear her in my voice when I get excited or silly, or when I talk to my animals. I do the same higher pitch then.

I can see her in my hand whenever I sign my name. I worked hard when I was a teen to mimic her elegant cursive, and if you looked at our signatures, you would immediately see the resemblance.

I can feel her in my smile whenever I pose for a “good” photo. (My mom was a teenage beauty queen who taught me how to smile for “good” photos.)

I can hear her in the advice I give to friends – be kind, to yourself and others; do the right thing; love everyone, always.

I guess for Mother’s Day, I will remember my mom and wish she was still here. I’ll ache about feeling like an orphan. And I’ll hug my dad a little tighter, because he’s the only parent I have left.

Do you still have your mom? If not, what do you do for Mother’s Day? If this post spoke to you, please share it.

Resolutions are for quitters

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: New Year’s resolutions are for quitters.

Think about it. How many resolutions have you made only to find two months later that you don’t know what they were or when you stopped caring about them? Or worse, you get down on yourself for not keeping them.

Depending on what study you read, between 55 percent and 95 percent of people don’t keep the resolutions they set.

I can’t count the times I made resolutions (to lose weight, stop swearing, change jobs, spend less, save more, spend more time with family, go on a vacation, etc.) that I never kept. Sure, I would start with the best intentions, only to fail days, weeks or months later.

A few years ago, I decided to stop this cycle that only made me unhappy. I no longer remember the funny comment someone made to me about my love of cheese just weeks before the end of a year. But I clearly remember thinking, “That’s it! I’ll make one resolution for the coming year. I will eat more cheese.”

After laughing like crazy with my friends about the idea, I decided maybe it wasn’t so crazy. It was something I wanted to do and it involved something I loved. The resolution revolution was on. Over the next 12 (Yes, all 12!) months, I researched cheeses, read books and articles about cheese, visited places where cheese was made and even attended a cheese festival. And I bought some new type of cheese every week when I shopped for groceries.

I told friends about my “resolution” and I can’t tell you how many times people would ask me throughout the year, “When was the last time you had some cheese?” or “Have you tried any new cheeses lately?” People even bought me cheeses to help me keep my resolution. Maybe it was the novelty that excited them. Or maybe it was that I was actually succeeding long after the idea came about.

I didn’t gain weight that year, if you’re wondering. What I did gain was a better understanding of how I follow through (or not) on various goals I set for myself. I also gained a feeling of great satisfaction when I realized in mid-December that I was still eating more cheese than I had the year before. And I learned that I liked blue cheese, something I had always thought I hated.

Each year since, I have made one “resolution” per year. The year after cheese, it was to go to more movies. The following year, go to more concerts. The year after that, spoil myself. Surprisingly, I kept those all year as well. I also did the year before last, when I vowed to watch every Star Trek series and movie, in chronological order. I started Jan. 2 and finished Dec. 27. That led to me attending my first Star Trek convention and a new bunch of friends, but that’s a story for another day.

I do set goals all through the year and keep them. You likely do as well. But why set unrealistic goals, call them resolutions, and then set yourself up for failure and disappointment at the beginning of every year, just because everyone else does? Find something you love and go for it, no matter what time of year it is.

I tend to be more reflective this time of year, and I certainly think about my life and where I am in it. Am I doing something I love? Am I balanced? Am I happy? What do I really want for the coming year? I think those are the questions you should be asking yourselves instead of making empty promises you may not keep.

Happy New Year.