Tag Archives: family history

SKOL!

The Vikings had awesome playoff game and though I am a fair weather fan, it sure was fun to watch!

Vikings

My hubby loves football. While I have always thought it was kind of a violent sport, I have gotten a little swept up in Vikings fever. It is an interesting phenomenon, uniting around a team, just because I live in Minnesota. But the thing about sport is that it can unite people of different religions, political beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

Perhaps that is what makes the sport so American in its popularity. Of course, it is catching on around the world. Several of my Mexican colleagues are NFL fans. They also like soccer, but that requires more patience because it does not tend to be as high-scoring or action-packed as American football.

I am posting this on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  I do not have particular activism plans for the holiday this year. I just got back from a visit up north to my folks, so I have errands to do before returning to work. I will re-watch the movie Coco with a friend, because it is a beautiful movie. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. If you are not into animated movies, make an exception and go see it. I am serious, you will not regret it.

CocoVisually it is a beautiful movie. It is all about pursuing your soul’s purpose no matter what your family wants you to do. It is also about the role of music and family in Mexican life and culture. I was heartened by the fact that, while we have a President that hates Mexicans, this movie feels like a delightful tribute to so much that is amazing and unique about Mexican culture.

This MLK Day I am reflecting on the past year and on the fact that I enjoy a great deal of privilege in the community where I live. Last year on January 21, 2017 I participated in the Women’s March here in Minnesota in order to be part of what I felt was a long-delayed movement for change. I met all kinds of people who seemed to be as committed as I was to making sure our political landscape will not look like it did in 2016. It was energizing and exciting. People made some pretty awesome signs and even though it was chilly out (it is Minnesota, and St. Paul tends to be very cold in January) the crowd warmed my heart.

Capitol women's march

Photo taken January 21, 2017 – St. Paul, MN

After the march, I had to consider what role I wanted to play in the next phase of feminist activity. I decided to make a monthly recurring contribution to Planned Parenthood. I had donated money to Hillary’s campaign on a regular basis, and respected her career in public service. Even though I agree that she made some fatal errors in her campaign, I found it incredible that the Republicans endorsed a person with zero public service for President.

Obviously it felt like a cruel blow to feminists everywhere, and I was especially concerned that we preserve reproductive freedoms many of us have taken for granted. Many women in their 30’s and 20’s do not fully appreciate the contribution that our mothers’ generation made to the movement. It was not until 1974 (the year I was born) that single, widowed or divorced women could access credit on their own without having a male co-signer (Equal Credit Opportunity Act).

I strongly believe in a woman’s ability to make choices over her own body without interference, safely and for what reasons she deems necessary. I find it incredible how many male lawmakers believe that it is their responsibility to police women’s bodies and choices. But regulating reproduction, far from an innocent wish to “protect the unborn” as they may have you believe, is an effort to dis-empower and control women.

Period.

My Mexican grandmother on my father’s side had 7 girls, 4 boys, and probably another 2-3 pregnancies that resulted in miscarriages. If it were not for her insistence that her children receive as good educations as they could afford, they may not have succeeded in the way they did. I find it fascinating that Dad’s two youngest daughters both became nuns rather than having children. My Dad always told me, “don’t get married young and start having children. I want more for you than that.”

I want more too. And something different. I have one sister, and neither of us have aspired to having children as part of our life goals.

I respect and honor other women’s choices for their lives, their bodies and their families. We should expect nothing less.

Bringing this post back to the original excitement about Vikings fever, I was thinking through the women’s roles in cultures throughout history. Grandma on my Mom’s side was Swedish in origin, a tough, smart and stubborn woman who lived to be 101. She went to college in her 50’s after raising three children. She was principled and strong, and she never backed down from her beliefs.

The spirits of my grandmothers are with me now, as I honor their sacrifices and continue to protect the legacy they fought to establish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grown-up clothes

I often tell my husband how grateful I am that I can work from home a couple of days a week, when I am not traveling. One of the great benefits of working at home is that wardrobe choices can be a tad more casual. I am a morning person and I have some daily practices that I enjoy in order to help me be more present and grounded throughout the day. I make my coffee (usually half decaf, as I am trying to cut down on caffeine) with full-fat cream or coconut milk. I sometimes listen to an inspirational podcast, with my coffee, possibly a cat on my lap. I meditate for at least a few minutes, and right now I am trying to ramp up my practice to at least 30 minutes a day. After that, I usually spend 15-20 minutes on a hand-written journal entry.

Some mornings (like today) I can fit in a brief run of 2-3 miles, which really gets my synapses firing for the day. After that, a second cup of coffee – make it decaf this time – and then a shower before sitting down and starting the work day. When I work at home, the attire is typically jeans and a t-shirt, or a tech long-sleeve shirt if it is chilly.

In the summer, sometimes I have a casual dress I wear, made from super comfy t-shirt like material. Or if I really need to write before my shower, because I had an inspiring idea on my run, I sit and work in my robe and get the words out before my shower interrupts my thoughts.

Working at home gives me the luxury that I have time for all these preferred daily activities before I have to give myself over to my “real job” and all the attention it requires. On days when I go to the office, I need to leave time for picking out something to wear that is appropriate for a clinical research operations manager at a large medical device/health care services company. I have done some culling of my wardrobe in recent months after suffering far too much decision fatigue on making these choices in the morning, and having that indecision slow down my morning too much.

When I officially became a manager in my current role, I decided to upgrade my wardrobe, because I wanted to come across as confident and in-charge. I was called upon to speak more in big meetings, and I wanted to appear as someone to be respected, but also comfortable in her own appearance. Since I was under some stress that first year, I gained some weight and did not like how I looked in clothes that were too tight.

In previous posts, I have referred to my weight loss journey, but suffice to say that a 15+ pound weight loss helped me to feel more confident in a variety of clothes. But that led me to narrow down on which clothes really felt like “me,” which was another matter entirely.

I work with a team in Latin America and so I often travel to Miami and to cities likes where my colleagues and direct reports work. I have always admired the fashion sense of particularly my Latina colleagues, who always look sharp, but often seem utterly comfortable with their fashion and personal style. For me, this is not a natural instinct and has been an evolution.

I rejected the notion of style or fashion in college – liberal arts undergraduates at Swarthmore were comfortable in their t-shirts, flannels, jeans and Birkenstocks on campus, and I was no exception to that. The notion of standing out was never a goal to me, but I do not think I was truly comfortable in my own skin at that point in my life either.

More recently I have come to realize that our personality can be reflected in the types of choices we make in our clothing, and I now have a better sense of what styles reflect “me” versus some new trend. I hate shopping for grown-up clothes so much that I used Stitch Fix and MM LaFleur to send me selections that I could try and then send back the items that did not work.

While it was a somewhat expensive process, reflecting on what to keep and what to donate during my KonMari de-clutter this past Spring was a good way to recognize my own taste. Grown-up (work) clothes fit for a corporate setting have never really been my favorite, and this perhaps reflects my ambivalence about being in a corporate setting at all, but I now have a set of clothing that seems to fit more of who I have become.

Stitch Fix snip

Stitch Fix snip from their home page

When I get home from work, I typically change right out of my work clothes immediately. This comes from my Mom’s admonition to change out of our “school clothes” and into our “knock-around” clothes when we were young, to keep the nice clothes from getting dirty or worn out too soon. Also, having two cats at home pretty much guarantees that anything in black will pick up cat hair immediately when I sit down, so it just saves me time not to wear my work costume around.

When given a choice, I prefer to work at home, where I do not worry about selecting grown-up clothes versus my comfy jeans and tech shirts which feel more authentic to me. When I go to the office, I still feel a little like I’m playing “dress up,” something I seldom did as a child, because it was not my interest. That helps me feel a little more playful about the clothing choices rather than stifled by the culture of corporate fashion. But I am still evolving those choices, and I still dream of a time when I do not have a separate work wardrobe from my “in real life” wardrobe. That seems to me a supreme luxury and something I continue to seek.

Happy birthday, Grandma

Every October 2nd I think of my grandmother, Annie, who was born on that day in 1912 and actually died on that day in 2013. Annie was a unique individual who influenced my life in many ways. She was brave and went back to college in her 50’s when my grandpa, Jim, found out how much she had always wished to attend (but raising 3 children and living through the Depression did not provide that opportunity to her when she was young). She was an inspiration in so many ways to me – a pioneer in how she approached the world, especially for someone of her generation. When she went to work as a teacher after graduating from college, my grandfather was so proud of her.

She was a person of great faith. She told me that when I was facing an important decision in my life, I was not alone. I could pray about it and ask for wisdom. She never pressured me to attend church, but as a teacher in her church, I valued her way of asking us to interact with the texts and discuss how they apply to our lives. Her methodology was open and inquiring, and I think this modeled for me a way of being committed to learning and open to challenges.

She was never afraid to share her opinion, and we had many lively political debates, both with each other and with other family members or church members who did not always agree with her perspective. Since she had studied history and politics extensively, and was actually self-educated in terms of her reading choices long before she ever attended college, she was a formidable debater.

At age 69 she became a widow when my grandfather, after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, passed away at home. So for the next 32 years until her death at age 101, she was without Jim (in body, but not in spirit, I believe she would say).  All of us felt the loss of Jim, and I was only 7 years old but very aware of the effect of this loss on my mother and on other members of the family. My school pictures that year reflected a sad little girl, and I expect it was also difficult because my father lost his mother in that same year to cancer. Both my parents suffered and grieved that year.

Annie would probably say that her faith was a big part of how she got through her grief, and how she was able to get through that loss and keep living a vital and active life well into her mid-90’s. She eventually had to go into a nursing home when my parents, who had moved home to help to care for her, were no longer able to manage her care.

When she no longer had the physical strength to do basic things, she had to receive more help than my parents could give. It was sad for her, and she resisted strongly (as she always had in her life) any move that would take away her autonomy, which she treasured.

In 2013, my last conversation with her was related to what I could bring her in the nursing home that she might like. She seemed uncomfortable, and I asked if she needed water, or if there was something I could get for her. She thought for a moment, and told me was she wanted was chocolate. I laughed, thinking it was funny that she would ask this of me. Sure enough, my mother had given me my belated birthday gifts during my travel there, and this had included chocolate.

At age 101, we were not always sure Grandma knew what was going on around her, or could remember certain things. But sure enough, she wanted chocolate and I was likely to have it. I told her: “just wait, I have some in my car.” When I retrieved the Dove chocolates, and shared with her, all she wanted was one piece. But she seemed very satisfied, and I was so happy I could provide something to ease her pain, and more than that, to connect with her in this way.

There are times in my life when I feel my Grandmother is with me in spirit, a gentle presence that helps to guide me. In fact, I know she is always there, but this time of year I seem to feel that spirit more than at other times. Thank you, Grandma. Happy birthday.

Grandma hands

Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 1)

My journey:

I have had an ongoing struggle with weight and weight loss since about age 11. When I look back on that time, I realize that it was not because I was overweight then. Rather, it was I was entering a time when my body was changing. I gained some weight and the awkwardness of adolescence made me feel uncomfortable, uncoordinated and out-of-control. By that point, I was a bit taller than most of my peers, and beginning to put on some weight,  as preteens do.  I was not sure how to handle the confusing feelings of being aware of boys while at the same time feeling “too big” and like there was too much of me.

Body awareness image

It was the 80’s and the height of the fitness and aerobics craze. It was the “me generation” and a time when Reagan was President, and image became key for our identities. Greed was considered good, and materialism was rewarded. Weight watchers had been founded in 1963 and was catching on, Jane Fonda released her first exercise video in 1982. In 1988 Oprah Winfrey walked onto the stage with 67 pounds of fat in a wagon to illustrate the weight she had lost on a liquid diet.

On a cultural level, women were told that the right way to BE in the world was to be thin. All the women in my family dieted together. Grandma, Mom, my Auntie and just about all the women I knew were always on some type of diet or another. Looking back, I realize I was not only responding to the messages around me, but I was just trying to fit in. Even my Dad had a regular exercise regimen, which I believe was partly stress-relief and partly body consciousness from the opposite framework. He had always been skinny in his youth, and he wanted to be stronger and more muscular.

So I dieted and I exercised. Looking back on it, I am glad that I saw exercise as important, and cultivated it as a habit. Today it remains a very important part of my mental health and stress-relief to run, do yoga, walk, or move in some way to calm my anxiety at times. But if I had to give advice to my young self it would be: accept yourself, and do not worry about what all others are doing. Stop dieting, stop trying to use food to control your anxiety about yourself, and exercise as a punishment for your “bad” overeating behavior.

Avoiding feelings and desires

I realize today that my emotional overeating came from that early attempt to restrict my food, to diet and to reign in those “bad” behaviors that I seemed so prone to repeat. Control of food became a way to deal with the anxiety that I had started to feel that I was “not enough” or “not right” or not the way I was supposed to me. I know that many girls and women can relate to this, and a lot of research shows that girls suffer from a large self-esteem gap during adolescence in comparison with boys.

The cultural messages we receive through movies and other media is that we are supposed to be beautiful and contained, princesses to be rescued by the prince. Also, in families we often we receive the message that we should be helpful and serve others. We do not receive a lot of guidance on how to pay attention to our needs, and to honor our bodies, or even how to embrace our feelings. Our mothers were often taught that their role in the family is to serve, not necessarily to honor their needs and desires. So many of us wanted to be “good girls” and to do the right things, and we were rewarded for this. I know I am not the first woman to confess to this time as being the origin of perfectionism.

Depression, perfectionism and insecurity

In college I struggled with some binge eating (though I was not into the purging part, which would have made that bulimia) when I would face periods of intense insecurity about my ability to succeed at a very challenging college, surrounded my peers who were very smart. In high school where I graduated salutatorian of my class, I had always known I was a “smart girl” and it had become part of my identity. I was rewarded for being “in my head” and not necessarily paying attention to my body.

When I went to college, my identity was no longer as the smart girl, while surrounded by so many talented people, so I felt a bit lost. Senior year, I went through depression as I struggled to figure out who I was, and what I wanted. I had a scary period of time in which I felt like there was a “fog” in my brain, and a Dean that I consulted to figure out what was wrong told me, “it’s not as if you’ve been struck stupid!” Actually, that’s exactly what it felt like, my cognition was disrupted and I literally was not able to think or use my brain the way I always had. Fortunately I had studied enough psychology to realize I needed help, and I found a kind an wonderful counselor, who helped me navigate this intense period of growth and change in my life.

In my early 20’s after college and after years of yo-yo weight struggles, I gave up on dieting, and focused instead on running, biking and trying to do things that made me feel good generally. I had moved to California after 4 years of living in Pennsylvania and graduating from Swarthmore College, and I was done (for a while) with trying to achieve academic success trying to earn high grades. One thing I realized was that my body seemed to be a barometer for how my life was going. When I relaxed and enjoyed my life, my weight and body seemed to normalize. I was never “skinny” but I did not struggle with my weight very much for a period of years.

Running to manage anxiety

From about 2007, when I joined my current company, I started running more regularly and doing yoga, which was offered on lunch hours at the onsite gym. I had been running off and on since I was 15 or so when I entered my first 5k. Running was a way to control my weight, but also manage feelings of anxiety and restless (and manage A.D.D. which I did not realize I suffered from until 2006 while trying to finish a master’s thesis, which is a story for another day). Off and one I had suffered injuries whenever I increased my running mileage too much, and it was not until I discovered yoga and figured out how to balance out both sides of my body, that I really was able to run longer distances than 10k without getting injured.

Coming home to the body – yoga and meditation

Yoga helped me become more balanced on both sides of the body and to become more aware. Practicing it 1-2 times a week helped me become more aware of my core and more balanced in my fitness, which is more difficult with running, since it is more about the lower half of the body.

About a year ago I realized that I was putting on some weight that was not coming off. Typically my weight tended to fluctuate 6-8 pounds up or down in a given year, depending on whether it was outdoor running season or winter, when I typically get less activity because I prefer to run outside, though I was using treadmills somewhat, because a sedentary lifestyle has never allowed me to manage my brain chemicals.

The weight struggle was starting to rear its ugly head again as I was promoted to a managerial role at work, and I was expected to show up in meetings, and be responsible for clinical operations for Latin America. I had wanted this role, and campaigned for it, and the new responsibilities and leadership really forced me to confront some personal challenges, and grow personally in my understanding of myself.

Compassion for myself, my body

I realized that I had begun using food and alcohol to avoid uncomfortable feelings, and that I had lost touch with my body. I had used running as a coping mechanism for my chronic anxiety but the problem was that I was not aware of what was causing that anxiety. I had blamed my circumstances: a micro-managing boss, a workplace with a workaholic culture, my own lack of focus and self-control.

While all of those may have contributed, I had not realized that my own thoughts were the cause of much of my bad feelings. When I began meditating and becoming aware of my “thought stream” I realized that that was a lot of negativity and self-blame occurring just below the level of my consciousness.

When I began to understand that I had been using food to calm my discomfort, and to push away those negative feelings, I realized I had a lot of work to do. But fortunately, the mindfulness practices, yoga and meditation were all beginning to start to integrate for me. With the help of a therapist who was kindly working with me on various relationship issues, and the practice of yoga with a favorite teacher Ruth Silva, and my growing regular practice of meditation, I began to gradually realize some changes I wanted to make in my daily practices. Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God (I have the audio version), and also the podcast The Lifecoach School with Brooke Castillo.

This post is already becoming a bit longer than intended, so there will be a part 2 (and maybe even a part 3) for this exploration where I continue to tell my story and distill down some of the lessons I have learned on body awareness and compassion. Stay tuned for that on Thursday as I realize I need to wrap up and head to my “day job” now. Cheers! 🙂

 

 

Happy Labor Day

Celebrating Labor Day! It always a good time to give thanks for organized Labor, the people who brought us all the 5-day work week (as opposed to 6-7 days), the 40-hour standard work week (as opposed to 60+ which was once standard) and the ability to campaign for better working conditions.

My grandfather was one of those early union members, sacrificing sometimes, so that he and his co-worker brothers could have holiday time with family, or extra pay to compensate for time away. My grandmother groaned in the early days about his union wanting to put more away into his retirement account, when she “needed the money now” she told me, since raising 3 children is not cheap. Later in life, when he left her (and this world) after his battle with cancer, when she was 68 years old, she did not realize she would go on to live another 33 years after he passed away. She then felt grateful that others had the foresight to make sure there was some money put away, that she could live comfortably into her old age because the union had a good pension plan for widows of their workers.

Grandma, back in her day, did not have the right to work after she got married. I am not sure if it was because, during the depression, she worked at a job where it was not allowed to have a job if you were a married woman. No problem, Grandma thought, and she got married in secret, and did not tell her employer she had gotten married. (I’m so proud of her “civil disobedience” at the time.) Things went on just fine until she got pregnant and then started showing publicly. Scandal! Got pregnant while unmarried, her coworkers and boss must have thought! But no, she just did not believe the rules were just or correct, so she just disregarded them.

I am really proud of being her granddaughter, I must say. I sincerely hope I carry along a little of that rebellious and strong-willed spirit within me. She certainly has influenced my life in many ways, and if you keep reading my work, there will be more stories about her, especially in regards to politics and spirituality, life and love.