We’re not in Kansas anymore

My sister and I have been on a road trip in Canada, and it is the first time we have crossed this northern border together. It has been a lovely long weekend and we will return by Monday night to our parent’s home to recount our adventures.

I really enjoyed this time with my sister. She is a wise and compassionate person and as a registered nurse, gave me a lot of insight into the healthcare system. We have talked nearly nonstop the whole trip and I really appreciate her perspective. She has noticed some of the charming peculiarities about Canada that I love so much. And we knew we were in a different country with a different culture.

Thunder Bay harbor
Harbor in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Many signs were in English and French. In the U.S., they are typically all in English, occasionally in Spanish or some other languages. Temperature is measured in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, gas is measured in liters, not gallons.

Canadians are friendly and welcoming. They seemed to lack the tension and paranoia that people seem to have in the United States. Canada feels relaxed. We are not sure if this is related to their lack of anxiety on health care. Or maybe they have good government?

They sell “Commonwealth mix” in their convenience stores. They have one-year maternity leaves, from 17 weeks to 52 weeks without penalty. Typically the first 15 weeks are paid. In the U.S. FMLA policy provides 12-weeks of unpaid time off.

Gun ownership is somewhat controversial, but because they do not have a constitutional right to bear arms, they seem less ardent on being able to carry guns everywhere.

As Minnesotans, I believe we have a lot in common with our Canadian “cousins.” But there are subtle and fascinating differences. I know my sister will go back again. And now I have new ideas where hubby and I can vacation in Rainy Lake/Fort Frances area. Gorgeous.

Happy week, amigos/as. I look forward to catching up with you when I get home.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – food & social pressure (part 2)

Last week I wrote about this topic and there was some interest in a further exploration. I think it is appropriate to post about this on a holiday (at least for those in the U.S.) because that is often a time when we can feel pressure to eat or drink, at parties or social events.

hot dogs
Photo credit link

I remember growing up my extended family would often have a barbecue or picnic event, and everyone would be eating hot dogs (which we cooked on the grill or at the camp fire), potato chips and dip, potato salad, beans, etc. Then there would be dessert: cookies, bars, brownies, cake or pie, and sometimes ice cream as well. Thinking back to this makes me a little hungry now, actually…

There was always a little pressure to eat. Typically I ate 2 hot dogs on buns, my Grandma’s yummy potato salad, some beans. I saved room for dessert, which I always enjoyed (sweet tooth then & now). There was not necessarily pressure to eat a lot, but if you didn’t eat, someone would invariably ask why you didn’t try their dessert.

Probably three quarters of my family members would describe themselves as overweight. Not all of them are obese, but clearly we do not hold back very much when it comes to eating at social (family) events. Taking a second helping of a food is considered flattering to the cook, and so that can lead to additional pressure.

Isn’t it weird that people always prod you if you do not eat much, but they do not say anything if you are serving up vast quantities of food and shoveling them down? I mean, to me that is an indicator of discomfort, as I see it in myself, so it now makes me wonder what someone might be experiencing emotionally.

cafe
Photo credit link

Food can be a way to bond and share experiences with people and I think this can be done in a healthy way, when nobody feels pressured to eat. I like to share a dessert sometimes with colleagues, when I want a little taste of something sweet, but I really don’t need a full dessert. “Going for coffee” in Latin America is a very common event, a chance to sit down and get to know someone, whether you drink coffee or not.

I realize I am still a little self-conscious about my eating habits when I am in a social setting. I am gradually learning to trust my hunger signals, and I stop when I am full rather than worrying about how much is socially acceptable to eat. I also try not to eat as much sugar and flour these days, as I find they create unnatural insulin spikes for me, and mess with my metabolism and brain chemistry.

It is getting less important to me to explain myself when these episodes occur, but I find it interesting that we still have to justify these choices. People ask if you are on a special diet, and then that topic comes up. Ugh, do I have to explain again?

I am curious about other cultural social norms that exist around food. Definitely Americans take everything to the extreme, and I think most other cultures take more time with their food, enjoy it more and obsess less about it. Perhaps we can learn to relax and see food as source of nourishment and pleasure. We can allow people to eat what they want, and not add to the social pressure.

May you enjoy the holiday (if you celebrate) and partake in the foods you enjoy, only in the quantities you want.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Weighing ourselves down

Many of us find it hard to get rid of objects in our lives that remind us of someone we love, or an experience we have had. So we hang onto boxes of these things, unnecessary objects that weigh us down, simply because we associate them perhaps with a loved one who has passed, or an experience we enjoyed.

But the memory of the person or experience does not require the object to exist in your mind. You can choose return to that memory at any time simply by thinking of of the person or experience. Rather than keeping wardrobes of Grandma’s old clothing, maybe keep a favorite teacup she enjoyed, and put it somewhere that you see it periodically.

The weight of our things in the world tends to weigh on our minds, even if packed away unseen in drawers, boxes and basements. Sometimes people try to de-clutter the main areas of their house by storing things out of their line of sight, but this just postpones making decisions about whether these items serve them.

memories pics
Photo credit link

Marie Kondo explains that our attachment to things is really about an attachment to the past or fear about the future. To me, there is so much wisdom here. I still struggle with letting go of things that are “perfectly fine” or were gifts from someone. But if they are not things we use or enjoy, then the purpose of the gift (to be received) has been completed. We are free to let go if they will just sit in a box and take up “guilt space” as I used to do.

This practice of paring down and living with less seems to be easier for generations that grew up with more abundance (actually with more excess than was ever imagined in the 30’s or 40’s). But when the fundamental belief is one of sufficiency, letting go is so much easier. I come from a family that likes to hang onto stuff. It has been rather challenging and tricky for me to accept that, in light of my aspiration toward minimalism. I must remind myself that I can only control my own choices when it comes to these matters.

Sometimes the “stuff” that requires letting go is our ability to control other people, particularly family. I may wish for them to be free of all the clutter and items that appear to weigh them down. But then I add extra “weight” by judging and imposing my ideas of how things should be, rather than allowing them to be who they are and make their own choices.

Practicing compassion toward myself and toward others is a necessary part of the process. If I am asked for help in de-cluttering, I will be eager to pitch in. But if the impulse comes from pressure or shame, then I am part of the problem, not the solution.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

My favorite guy

My husband is an amazing man with a kind heart and a wicked sense of humor. Last year we were apart on Valentine’s Day because I was traveling to Peru for work. Actually about half the past few years we are apart, because I tend to travel in February. This year I managed to postpone my trip until Feb 19-24 so I could be home on Valentine’s Day.

While I was headed to dinner with my work associates, I happened to check the email on my phone and he had sent me a series of 7 messages called “7 reasons why I love you.” We had been together nearly 7 years, and it brought tears to my eyes to read these beautiful messages.

Hubby typically expresses his love through acts of service. If any of you know Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” you know that people tend to express their love in particular ways. I tend to be in the “words of affirmation” camp, and we both express love through physical touch as well. But this surprised and pleased me so much, when he expressed his love for me in my love language.

Valentine

This is the first year we are celebrating Valentine’s Day as a married couple. He surprised me by having some luscious chocolate dipped strawberries and a dozen red roses delivered to me yesterday. He has always been so thoughtful and kind. He is terrific at picking out gifts I will enjoy, and he is generous with his time and talent to our families in so many ways.

Last February when we set our wedding date and began planning for the big event, it was a big breakthrough for me. I had been processing some of my old baggage about marriage in therapy, which is something I highly recommend when necessary.

But one day it was like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized what a great privilege and gift I had been given: this man loves me, despite my flaws and imperfections. He wants to commit to working through our struggles and being with me for the rest of my life. Sometimes I’m not even sure *I* have the patience to be with myself to work on my own neuroses. If I miss the boat on accepting his love, and giving it freely in return, I will miss the universe’ invitation to really grow in our relationship and develop spiritually.

So today I want to express gratitude for my favorite guy in the world. He is a great partner and is patient with me and with my struggles. I am so honored to call him my husband and I am so happy we get to be together.

I hope you have someone in your life that you love, and that someone that loves you. Tell them how much you love them. Being loved and accepted begins with yourself of course, but it is such a sweet bonus when you find someone who loves you for you. What an amazing and delightful miracle.

 

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.

Viking women
Photo credit link

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imaginary delegation

Last February I read a book that changed how I think about women in leadership, and the gap between household responsibilities for men and women. It was called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu, and I have written about it before.

One of the concepts that hit home for me was the idea that we sometimes get resentful of our spouses, partners or even coworkers about things that have not gotten done, even when we never made a specific request about those tasks. We all have those times. Maybe you wish your spouse would decide on the meals and grocery shop for a change. For some reason, you have always done it (maybe like me you are pickier about the foods you eat than your husband) and things get busy at work, so you do not have the energy this week to do it.

But rather than ask your husband to do it, you just sigh, feel sorry for yourself and think: “Why doesn’t HE ever make the decisions about this stuff and offer to shop?” Well, probably because you are the one that usually does it, without any prompting. You may think, “nobody has to ask ME to do this!” and sulk because you know that it saves money to shop at the grocery store instead of eating out.

men grocery
Photo credit link

When I asked my husband if he could go to the store, he willingly and cheerfully did so, and asked what was on my list. Instead of spending energy being resentful and getting annoyed about it, I could have saved myself the trouble and just asked for help, instead of assuming I had to do it. Since people have an easier time hearing your actual words than reading your mind, opening your mouth to graciously ask for help is a better option.

We all have habits and patterns in our relationships and roles which we play both at home and in the workplace. Sometimes these roles and “job descriptions” need to shift and change depending on our overall workload. When we take on a new challenge at work, or commit to something important to us, we may need to ask for help from our spouse on household tasks. This is very hard for me, I realize.

I grew up in a household where Mom stayed home until going back to work when my sister was in middle school, and I was in high school. She and my Dad had a very different division of labor than I aspired to in my life. So I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily “supposed” to grocery shop, plan menus and take responsibility for food prep at home. Indeed I know a lot of households where the opposite is true.

At work this applies when I have a task that could easily be done by a colleague and perhaps they are better at it too, but somehow it ends up on my to-do list. I realize that, if I do not ask anyone else to do it, nobody will “take it away” from me and get it done. I need to use my words, not my imagination to ask for help, and I need to be specific about what needs to be done, though not necessarily how to do the task. I do not enjoy micro-managing, so delegating the responsibility involves stepping out of the way to allow someone else to bring their own approach to the job.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It allows us to do what we are best at doing, without getting bogged down in a lot of details or menial tasks that may deplete our energy and time. But some of us who are still learning how to not take on too much, or who lived happily as single people, need to question our assumptions about who does what at home and at work. If we have a spouse or partner that supports our growth and development, and someone who understands that household management is a shared responsibility, we can probably negotiate these matters.

I am working on recognizing those times when I feel resentment but the real battle is going on in my own mind, rather with another person. I have a situation at work where I realize I used to take on responsibilities that are actually the job of the other manager. He has been blissfully ignorant and relying on me to do these tasks, but I now aim to be more specific with him about his responsibilities. I realize this will go against my “go along get along” attitude at work, and my concept about being a “team player” but I have enabled his blissful ignorance for too long.

As I am less tolerant now about certain things at work, given my overall dissatisfaction with the role I am in, I realize I have less to lose. So what if he gets annoyed that I am asking him to do his job! I respectfully do not care. Wow, there’s power in that.