Saturday, April 27, 2013

Breaking Rules and Re-visiting Goals

Just back from a whirlwind visit home (near Houston) to visit my folks. The trip is exactly three hours and twenty minutes from my door to theirs. Most of the time I have to make a pit stop along the way. When I take Dobby, I stop off at a rest area so I can take him with me into the restroom.

I pulled into a rest area as usual and for the first time noticed a sign that clearly stated “No Pets Allowed in Restroom.” What?? But I can’t leave him in the car! What if he were stolen? And during summer months the car interior heats up far too quickly. Impossible to leave an animal in a car, even with the windows cracked. I might have to disguise him as a human baby and carry him in a pouch. Think it will work?

Time to check in with April goals:

Create a routine, writing at least three hours every (work) day. Still no routine, but I did manage the floating three hour period on days I wasn't on the road, plus more on occasion.

Close e-mail during writing sessions. Yup. 

Close internet during writing sessions, or use internet blocking or my alphasmart. Nope. The internet is like chocolate to me - irresistible. I cannot bring myself to use an internet blocking program; I don’t know why I even wrote that down. I haven’t yet unearthed my alphasmart. I really like typing on my laptop. A lot. And I use Scrivener. Though I know I can transfer my alphasmart stuff to Scrivener, I like working in Scrivener. So, I’ll have to figure this one out. I suppose if I’m hitting my writing goals (I’m now into daily word counts for my fiction), I can ease up on this one.

Practice mindfulness. I googled for some resources and came up with a bewildering number of books and blogs about mindfulness. Finally I downloaded Mindfulness for Dummies to my Kindle, figuring it would give me the basics. So far I like what I’m reading, but I’ve only just begun putting it into practice (as in yesterday). I plan to review this more fully in a future post.

I will now turn these goals into May goals. They’ve been helpful, and I want more time with them. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Detour into Zombieland

Wow. Monday was supposed to be getting-organized-again-after-company day. Instead, after a very busy Saturday/Sunday, we mostly laid around. That's ok. I'm good with an unplanned catch-up-on-rest day. (Kat is off Monday and Tuesday, so that's our "weekend").

On Tuesday I went in to have my skin thingies removed. I hadn't really thought much about the procedure; I certainly didn't think it would be what it was.

Kat went with me. She sat in the waiting room for three hours. She said she kept seeing people called to the back, then less than an hour later walk out with a patch somewhere on the arm or face or neck. I came out after three hours with huge pressure bandages on my arm and face, looking stunned I'm sure. The thingie on my arm was a basal cell carcinoma (mostly harmless because shallow, though can become dangerous if not removed), and on my face was a suspected melanoma (a severely abnormal mole with atypical cells that could become a melanoma if not already).

The face "wound" they left open in case tests revealed more needed to be cut away. The nurse used a mirror to show me the open incision so that I would be prepared in case the bandages came off before I could return today. I laughed out loud when I saw it! It was so incredibly gruesome; it was either laugh or cry. I looked like a zombie, flesh falling from bone. Wow.   

Test results today were good. The atypical cells were not yet melanoma, and all bad cells and carcinomas were successfully removed. My face has been stitched up and bandaged, and I'm good to go.

People have asked me whether I sunned myself when I was younger. The answer is no. I've never tried to tan. My skin is pink, and it freckles and turns pinker in the sun. I simply don't tan. I have Irish ancestry on both sides of my family.  Irish skin and the Texas sun are two things that do not go together.  I've always used sun block, but I intend to be more consistent about putting it on every time I go out.

Three things I am grateful for at this moment:

1. My health. I can't help but think of all those who go in to the doctor to hear a diagnosis of cancer. Whatever treatment follows, there is a lot of pain and anxiety and being tired and having to calm the anxieties of loved ones. I've had the very smallest of tastes, and I am awed by friends who have survived much more invasive and dangerous forms of cancer.

2. My insurance. In 2011, the mayor and city council voted to extend health care benefits to domestic partners of city employees. That enabled Kat to put me on her insurance. Before I had a high deductible insurance. Due to this, we're out of pocket a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand.

3. Kat. I love her and can't imagine life without her. We've been together seventeen years in May, each year better than the last. We never had a wedding, but we have a wonderful marriage. I hope the State of Texas will one day recognize it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Backside of Company

Company has come and gone. A few days of hectic high energy plopped into my mostly placid life.

My niece and two nephews are 17, 15, and 12. They like to play games, and play we did -- some of the classics like Sorry and Yahtzee (and Battleship with my niece), and hours of a card game called Golf. It’s funny how much we love board games and cards, but I’m sure they play as often as Kat and I do, which is never, when we’re not all visiting each other.

I was proud of myself for achieving peace in chaos. There was a time when my siblings’ visits would jangle my nerves to the point that I couldn’t fully enjoy them. I’m not used to the energy that children bring, and I would spend some visits counting down the minutes to departure time.

Several years ago, I decided that I had to change my attitude and become more tolerant of disruption and noise and messiness, or I would miss out on the fun of being with my nieces and nephews (I have ten total). They were growing up, and I was growing old.

So I did.

Through prayer and journaling, and a lot through psyching myself up before a visit and choosing to let go and enjoy the craziness, I’ve found the visits to be more and more fun. Some of it may have to do with their age; most of them are teenagers now or close to it, but I can tell that some of the inner work is paying off.

So the visit was great, but now Kat and I are struggling a bit to get back into routines. I’ve had meetings that were postponed until after the visit and smushed all together at the end of the week. The house is messy, my grocery situation is out of whack, and I’m flying without meal plans. I have another long meeting tomorrow morning, and an event I’ve organized Sunday afternoon that, along with church in the morning, will take the day.

It’s push-through time, and Monday I’ll take stock and organize myself. Until then, I’ll just have to float along with the disorder and not let it get to me.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Distraction Busters

I am sitting at my desk, fingers flying across the keyboard, while I watch out the front window at workmen in our neighbor’s yard. Two of the men are digging a hole. Why are they digging a hole? They are digging in the side yard near the street. Something to do with the water?
Dobby - A Cute Distraction

My dog is napping on my lap, making it somewhat difficult to type. I glance at the time. I want to beat the crowds to the grocery store. With guests arriving Monday, I have a largish shopping trip planned. Fortunately, San Antonians don’t seem to grocery shop much before 11:00 on a Saturday morning. Everyone has a sleep-in.

This is how my morning writing session is going, unconnected wonderings and worries interspersed with moments of actual work.

Distractions nip at me constantly. An inevitable part of the writing life I suppose. I don’t think I handle them very well. I’ve written that a life goal of mine is to attain a feeling of wholeness. I dislike feeling scattered, and this constant succumbing to distractions contributes to that feeling. 

 I want to blame external factors for this inability to sit still, to focus, to feel integrated. Aside from musing-type distractions (staring out the window), there are distractions that willpower won’t make go away. Family members like to visit for a couple of days at a time, and I like to have them, but the bed and breakfast times can disrupt an entire week — cleaning, meal planning, shopping, and the visit itself.  I have too many volunteer commitments, with lunch and evening meetings. Even one meeting in the day can make the whole day feel disrupted. Home care, cooking, the dogs, the bills. Really it’s no more than others have to contend with, and less than most. But they’re MY distractions, and I’ve got to learn to integrate them into a good, creative life, because they’re not going away.

The root of the problem is internal. A resistance to the work that I know from experience will melt away as soon as I sit down and let myself fall into it. So today I am going to list distraction-busting practices for the month of April, and re-visit them on May 1 to see how I’ve done.

  • Create a routine:  This is a biggie. I have tried for years, without much success, to have a set, daily routine. Largely because of Kat’s second-shift schedule, my best writing time is between about 8:00 and 9:00 am, and then early afternoon, like between 1:00 and 3:00, and then again for a couple of hours in the evening. With meetings popping up here and there, mostly in the evening, and family visits, and Kat’s weird days off, I stick to this routine maybe two days of any given week. So, I will practice getting in three hours of writing every day, regardless of the ‘when,’ though I will try for that morning and early afternoon rhythm.  That’s my practice goal for April. A separate, long-term goal will be to set my writing times/days, and not accept volunteer commitments that conflict with those times. (This has to be long-term as some of my commitments run to the end of 2014). 
  •  Keep my e-mail closed while writing.
  • Keep my internet browsers closed while writing. We’ll see how this one goes. If it costs too much in willpower, I can either check out one of those internet blocking programs or write on my Alphasmart
I can think of others, but this is enough to start with.

It’s coming up on 3:00 now, and time to take Dobby — my little white ball of energy — on his walk. I feel good because I can count this as a successful writing day, and I have no meeting tonight, so I plan to get some fiction writing done. (That’s right. I have nowhere to be on a Saturday night! It’s ok because our Saturday is Monday. The life of shift work).

Postscript:  The men across the street are installing a sprinkler system. It looks like an archeological dig over there. Watching other people do manual labor makes for an almost irresistible distraction! Lucky for me they should finish today.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Money Goals and How We Save

I am writing down specific budget goals for the year. April’s not too late, right? Kat’s buy-in is critical of course, but I’ll discuss with her after I’m satisfied with them. I’ve been sort of working toward these goals already; just haven’t taken the time to record them.

Most have to do with savings — increasing what I call our “cushion” savings as well as our larger "emergency" savings. The former is a savings account where our checking is. I dip into it easily via on-line banking and use it to chunk surplus income into (Kat gets overtime, so some months are better than others), then to take money out for large unexpected expenses.

The “emergency” savings is intended to support us for a few months in case of a major event that might lead to losing a steady paycheck. It is in a separate bank which I cannot access quite as easily. I have an automatic payment plan set up with my primary bank that sends money over with each paycheck.

Automating our savings is something I wish I had done much, much sooner. Since I started doing it two years ago, the account has grown to nearly $7,000 (which equals only about three months of pared down spending). If it weren’t automated, we would be lucky to have $2,000 there. The other $5,000 would have been frittered away.

I also want to increase our targeted savings for the kitchen update. The problem with this targeted savings is the current set-up. I separate it in Quicken from our cushion savings, but in reality it’s in the same account. I will be tempted to dip into that for “cushion” type expenses if my cushion account doesn’t bear up under the weight of those pesky financial hits that seem to keep coming.

The latest is a kitty issue. Our sweet, thirteen-year-old cat Beano (Kat named her; long story) has an abscessed molar. The cost of finding this out and fixing it will probably be close to $700. We’ll find out the extent of the damage after her blood work comes back, the results of which will determine the vet’s approach to the surgery. Fortunately  we just received a bit of a bonus. I paid the last of my real estate taxes, and I had over-saved, giving me an unplanned for $400.

I’ve mentioned before that we’re in a better situation with savings and debt than we’ve ever been before, and yet my worry over this latest set-back feels about the same as it would have a few years ago. As I left the vet’s office, I worried about Miss Bean of course, but then I started worrying about the fact that we have five senior pets, and are we well enough prepared for the inevitable increase in vet expenses? (Not really). What happens if they all get sick or need surgery at the same time?

So I indulged in a little hyperventilation.

Going back to what I wrote about Murphy vs Providence, I am determined to cultivate gratitude. I will be grateful for the bonus we received just in time to defray the cost of Beano’s surgery; grateful that it wasn’t worse than it is; grateful that we are in a decent financial position and have the resources to handle home and auto and pet and health issues, even if doing so means we can’t have some of the things we want. How many people don’t have these resources? How many have to deal with problems I can’t even imagine dealing with? I say “Thank you” through gritted teeth and hope that the practice  becomes an orientation toward life -- without the gritted teeth.

So there’s my number one financial goal — to continue to practice gratitude and to trust in life’s abundance. Trust that what we need will somehow be there, and to be grateful when it is. I do have more specific goals to work toward and will post them after chatting with Kat.