Tabs for Ronald

laelene Posted in general blog
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About two weeks ago, a coworker brought in a container (on behalf of his kids) to collect bottle tabs for the Ronald McDonald charity. I guess this is something the kids do around here? Who knew those little things would be valuable at all. I hadn’t heard of collecting them before, but it’s certainly easy enough, especially since the drinks at work are free. Why not pull off the tabs when I’m recycling a soda can? Well, one afternoon I decided to go ahead and pull the tabs off the cans in the recycle bin as well. After all, not everyone knew about the collection yet so I figured it was such a low-hanging fruit to just get the tabs from the cans that were being recycled anyway.

large plastic container for collecting aluminum can tabs for ronald mcdonald charityOne of my coworkers came across me doing this and was very curious why I was doing it. Because it’s nice? Because I want to help? Because I’m a good person? Because I care? None of these answers satisfied him and he kept pressing. What was motivating me to spend time digging through the recycle (I was hardly digging, really) to pick out cans and remove the tabs? Honestly, I don’t know. It just seemed like something I could do. Perhaps it was more of the contrast between me doing that and the others at the office not. He wondered if everyone else is “not a good person” then? Why did nobody else stop to take the time to pull the tabs? Um, I still don’t know. It’s not exactly something I think about. I do what I do and I don’t go around expecting others to do it too.

Why help? Well, when I considered it, why not? Why shouldn’t you take a few moments of your time to do something for others that costs you nothing more than a few seconds or minutes? It was such a strange line of questioning and I don’t know if I’ll ever have a satisfactory answer. I do those things because I can, because it’s easy enough, because it’s little risk with good rewards for an organization. I may not have answered his question, but that doesn’t change my own justifications and how I decide to act. I sure am confused though. Why question me so thoroughly about something others would just take for granted as a nice, helpful thing to do?

He asked my why I didn’t contribute to the shoe collection downstairs. Well, that’s not as easy to accomplish. I don’t just have shoes lying around I can donate, nor do I know people I can collect them from. It’s taking advantage of a situation that I can be useful in without changing much of my own patterns. If I had old shoes I didn’t want, I would bring them in. Similarly, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy cans to drink to donate the tabs. But when they’re right in front of me, why take the easy way out and do nothing?? I mean, it’s not even something I felt I needed to justify… certainly nobody else questioned my actions!

What would you do in this situation? Would you put in your tabs and help with the others? Would you just put your own in? Would you forget to do it at all?

A moment

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,
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How often do you take the time to enjoy a moment? People get way too caught up in the past and the future, even as they’re living out their lives. It’s not often they stop to enjoy right here, right now anymore. They walk right by gorgeous flowers, stare right past the breathtaking sunset, and tune out the music of their lives. They tend to forget to notice the little details, to take a deeper breath, to feel, to be present. Perhaps that’s why our society is filled with over-stressed, over-worked, overly-unhappy folks. How can you be joyful if you do not get to enjoy?

cat sitting on arm of couch with arms dangling in front off couch

Zen moments.

Being present and shutting out the rest of the world can be such a peaceful experience. I love just get lost in my thoughts of nothingness while staring into someone’s eyes, gazing across a stupendous landscape, or even driving around. It’s noticing the slight breeze that tickles my face or the brilliant colors splashed all around me that brings a smile to my face. Cats are exceptionally good at living the good life; I’m sure we could all learn from them. They know how to soak up the sun in bliss, sniff the breeze with mild curiosity, and then settle in for a spectacularly long nap (after which they get an oh-so-satisfying stretching session).

What I love about yoga and meditation is that it allows me to actively be in the present. I am aware of my body, aware of my mind, and able to relax and challenge both. It helps bring a lot of peace in my life, especially when I’m letting stress get the better of me. I don’t necessarily need either to appreciate the present though. I often take time to sit quietly and let the thoughts flow in and out. I can stare out at everything without really looking at anything. It’s soothing for me, like resetting my mind. I find the most effective way to enjoy those zone-out sessions is with some sort of nature nearby. I can listen to a waterfall or the rustle of leaves; I can smell the gentle perfume of flowers and feel the breeze bringing their wafting scents; I can watch birds hopping around as they chirp their little sounds; I can even turn my face to the sun and feel my body heat up. That’s why I like to eat lunch outdoors!

So the next time you’re feeling stressed, go take a stroll (or seat) outside and notice what you can. The humidity clinging in the air. The dull roar of conversations around you. The smell of wet pavement. Let it all come and go and take some deep breaths. It’s such a wonderful release. Or if you’re stuck indoors, trying meditating. Think about your breath, feeling it go in and out. When you get distracted, just go back to the breath. I almost always fall asleep when I do this, and isn’t that the ultimate relaxation? :)

Travel pains

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , ,
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It’s 8:58 and my 8:50 flight still says departing on time. Obviously, something’s going on here. The day started off normally, with my mom and I heading off to LAX just past 5:30 am. We arrived an hour and a half later, plenty of time for me to check a bag (I decided I couldn’t be without my precious skateboard all summer so I sprang for the $25 checked baggage option).

I got through security and made it to my gate, noticing that my flight was one of the few delayed. It still gave me 35 minutes to get to my connection in Raleigh, which seemed fine. As the minutes ticked on and we got delayed with little buffer time left, I got anxious, but then we were on our way. On the flight, I suddenly realized I didn’t have my boarding pass for the next leg of the flight. Oops!

5 pm came and went as I wondered when we’d land. The captain came on to tell us that we were stuck in a holding pattern while we waited for a storm to move through. Luckily, that only lasted a few minutes and we were cleared to descend. I think we arrived around 5:40 and the instant we taxied off the runway, I turned on my phone to get my boarding pass. Thankfully, the gate I was going to was very close to the one I was arriving from and that next flight was delayed a bit too.

I had time for a restroom break and even enjoyed a free cupcake from a celebration of RDU flying to London for 20 years now on American Airlines. We boarded our flight, I settled in, and I was ready to be on our way.

Then it came.

A pop-up notification on my phone said my flight was cancelled. How could that be? We were boarded and so close to closing the door!! Alas, not two minutes later, as I was hoping it was a fluke, the captain came on to tell us the news. We all filed off and got in line to be rerouted. A few people got put on a 7:30 flight, but I was pushed to the 8:50 one. I thought about trying to get it changed, but I figured the earlier one might get cancelled.

I wandered round to get some food and settled in to wait. Lo and behold, the 7:30 one first got delayed, then cancelled. I kept checking the status of my flight, which remained “On Time” – whew! But as 8:50 crawled nearer, nothing happened. And the captain went to check, disappearing down some rabbit hole.

[It's now 12:40 and I'm waiting for my SuperShuttle ride home.]

Finally, not long after 9 we started to board! Everything went quite smoothly as we sat down and started the safety presentation. Oh, but little did we know what as in store for us now. Air traffic control wouldn’t let our plane up in the air for at least half an hour! So we sat there waiting with some other planes as the captain updated us that the delays continued. The flight attendant came around with water and snacks.

Eventually, the captain decided to turn off the engines to conserve power. Of course, just a few minutes later he was given the all clear so we revved back up and got up in the air within 5 minutes. I took the chance to take a nap and woke up just before descent. I’d totally forgotten I was going into DCA, so I eagerly tried to recognize the buildings below me until I realized this was not IAD.

As if the day wasn’t long enough as is, we had to wait for our gate for ages… I mean, my stomach was starting to hurt at this point from the exhaustion and stress and impatience. We all rushed to baggage claim and I was glad that went by pretty quickly. The SuperShuttle check in was right there and now we’ll see how packed mine is. Will I make it home by 2? How did one domestic trip become a 17-18 hour ordeal? Storms are no fun when I’m trying to travel, that’s for sure.

I must say I’d rather wait at the airport for a delay than get airborne and sent to land somewhere else or have to endure a shaky landing. Once the winds were so high that I was nauseous from the approach to landing and you could tell the pilot was struggling against the gusts.

So it’s 3 am and I just got home. Long story not even done being told, but I need rest! My tummy hurts bad.

It’s lonely at the top

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,
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Or the edge or the outskirts, or whatever you want to call it. Anyone who’s an outlier can tell you how lonely and alienating it can be. No matter what sets you apart, if you are extraordinary, it’s hard to find others like you. Maybe you’re exceptionally talented at a skill. Maybe you’re super duper smart. Or maybe you’re gorgeous to most of the world. While on the surface these seem like great things, they can really take a toll on someone.

Take prodigies, for example. They rise to the top quickly and find themselves with few peers to understand them at their level. How do you connect with someone when your thought processes are so different from each other? When your interests don’t include pop culture and sports, but quantum physics or chess strategy? Or maybe you are interested in sports, but not in following this and that team because you are hardcore focused on training for your sport, be it diving or gymnastics. The best of the best often find themselves further and further from mainstream society.

Ever hear the song Lucky by Britney Spears? It kind of reminds me of that. People see some big star who “has it all” but behind closed doors, you’ve got a sad, lonely soul. Things are rarely as they seem, are they?

Even in attractiveness, being better than normal can be a bad thing. You’ll likely be victim to assumptions that aren’t true, or at the least be overshadowed by your own looks. You can use that to your advantage, but then the focus is more on you as a thing and not so much as a person. People lose sight of your personality, intelligence, work ethic… and just see you. Then they start ignoring you when your good looks fade.

I think my mom was right when she never wished for me to be exceptional beyond my peers (just among them). I mean, it’s good to be better, but when you’re surpassing everyone… you lose your chance at a normal life. And really, don’t most people just want to be “normal”? It’s so rewarding to have deep, true human connections. There are the few who will rise to the top, but for most of us, what greater happiness is there than a sense of belonging? It brings satisfaction, it creates valued relationships, and it boosts your self-confidence. It’s easy to get distracted chasing big dreams only to find that they don’t provide that same sense of satisfaction. That when the spotlight dims, the money is gone, and the looks fade, you’re left with nothing.

I’ve never truly wanted to be at the top. It’s a wonderful fantasy, but when it comes down to it, I value other things far more. It’s just too lonely up there.

8 ways my cat is like my fiancé

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,
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Have you ever marveled at how similar a person and an animal have been? I often wonder if Smokey is just Panda (my fiancé) in feline form. They’re so similar in their personalities and preferences that they’re perfect for each other. So much for me getting a pet cat! More like them finding soul mates in each other. Curious what I mean? Here’s a round-up of ways “my” cat is like my fiancé…

1. They’re both kinda awkward. Panda’s an engineer who often fits that stereotype. He’s a bit gangly, not always socially appropriate, and just kind of off in his own world at times. Smokey can stare into space and get lost in her little head. She doesn’t always respond the way you’d expect and she runs kind of crooked. Both very silly, but totally adorable nonetheless.

2. They’re both bad communicators. I am always working with Panda on how he expresses himself (like how he used “veer” when he meant “leer”) and how he misinterprets the meaning of phrases. He doesn’t always use the English language to its full advantage. Meanwhile, Smokey will meow at us as if she wants something, but never follows through. My other cats make it clear when they meow if they want attention or food or something. Smokey just meows and then appears to have no purpose. I wonder if that’s because…

3. They both have poor memories. Panda never seems to remember things I bring up and Smokey seems to forget something happened as soon as she turns around. Perhaps their confusing communication efforts are due to these memory lapses?

4. They both eat and sleep a lot. You’d never know it looking at Panda, but he eats a ton (and never puts on weight). He can certainly chow down and Smokey does the same. She goes through bowls of food like nobody’s business! And when they’re done eating, they can both sleep up a storm. Whereas I usually wake up after 7 or 8 hours, they’ll go on for 10, 12 hours easily.

cat sleeping soundly against soft blanket and pillow

Big sleepers in this family.

5. They both love to play. Panda is always enjoying games and toys, like his little Lego people and even happy meal toys. Smokey will bat around anything she can find, from bottle caps to wads of paper. She’s a huge fan of chasing around a laser dot and playing with her squeaking mouse toy. Lucky for her, Panda is more than happy to play with her. :)

6. They both like to pet people. Panda will come around and pet my head like I’m a cat sometimes, which is a funny goofy thing he does. Little did I know that Smokey would like to “pet” us in her own way… by putting her paw on our faces (claws out, ouch!). Maybe they just like to put their hands on things.

7. They’re both scaredy cats. I’m the brave one in the family, staying calm for most things. Panda gets super nervous/worried/scared about things and stresses himself out. He gets startled whenever Smokey is feeling playful and decides to pounce on his feet. He’s intimidated by bugs. And Smokey? Every little noise or movement could cause her to jump alert and/or run off in fear.

8. They both stretch strangely. I often find Panda in a strange position on his side with his knee stretched up and his arm extending through his bent leg. Apparently he finds this comfortable. Smokey is more about stretching completely long, which I’ve never seen a cat do before!

cat laying on carpet with legs stretched out straight behind her

So you see, they were really made for each other. Wouldn’t you agree?

Would you rather: career vs. family

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,
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I just watched the feature on Barbara Walters now that she’s retiring and something she said struck me – how people don’t look back and regret spending too much time at the office, but they do regret not spending enough time with their families. However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. That’s coming from a career woman’s perspective, but what about the flip side? What about someone who spent their whole lives dedicated to their families? Do they have no regrets? My greatest fear of potentially deciding to stay at home and being a homemaker is that I’ll regret not living up to my potential in a career. So what’s worse – feeling like you wasted too much of your life working away and not being a good family member or feeling like you wasted too much of your time focusing on family and not contributing your skill sets to the labor force?

As it is, it’s tough enough staying home to take care of the family. But then people often think that the home life is just full of daytime strolls and shopping sprees and other fun things. They don’t seem to respect homemakers they way they probably would if they truly understood the challenges (not that I do, but I certainly have seen a glimpse of it and it’s not something I’m confident I can pull off). How would you feel if you worked your butt off for days on end only to have people think you’re lazy? Even worse than that for me is the thought of people thinking you’re somehow less intelligent because you’re not working on some career path. Just because you choose not to be employed doesn’t mean you’re unemployable and neither does it give any indication of your capabilities. Yet inevitably, it comes into question… Did you stay home because you’re not good enough? After all those years away from the workforce, are you somehow less intelligent or hardworking?

So I’ve got to say, at this stage, much as I want to not focus on work so much, I do because I’d rather look back and wish I had taken more time away than wish I had accomplished more in my life. I still grapple with the decision to stay in the workforce and how long I plan on being here. It feels wonderful to be good at a job, be productive, and contribute towards some greater goal. I don’t know if I’d feel as rewarded in terms of my self-esteem when it comes to family life. I can certainly see myself feeling great about raising good kids, helping Panda advance his own career with less stress because of my presence at home, and other less tangible results that have a less direct connection to my contributions. Ultimately, I think I’d want to settle on a part-time opportunity that would give me even greater flexibility in my schedule. For now, since home life is pretty simple without any kids, I’ll stay concentrated on my work.

Would you rather focus on your family if you could give up your job? Have you chosen that path? Or are you determined to pursue a long career?

The best cat toys you already own

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,
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box with paper scraps, packing peanut, q-tip, pen cap, bottle cap, and toilet paper tube that make great free cat toysAny cat owner (servant) will know that it doesn’t take much to amuse those cute little creatures. In fact, you pretty much never need to buy toys for them to play with, because basic household items are more than enough to keep them entertained. Smokey loves all the little knick knacks around the house and we often find her batting something across the floor. Check out some of the things she’s been playing with: a box (of course, even when she only fits her front half in it), scraps of paper, packing peanuts, q-tips, pen caps, bottle caps, and even a toilet paper roll tube. Most of these items were headed for the trash or are otherwise useless to us… but for Smokey, they make amazing little toys.

I’m pretty sure any cat toys we do buy are really more for us humans than for the cats. I’ve certainly purchased things I thought looked fun, cute, or somehow worthwhile, only to find it was a complete waste of money. Why even bother when all it takes is random things you probably didn’t even mean to drop on the floor? Smokey is particularly good at getting what she wants and she tears right into my subscription boxes with their fun strips of packing paper or peanuts. I never have to worry about her not having something to play with.

So what do your cats find to be the best toys in your house?

Personification

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,
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We’ve always had a tumultuous relationship, he and I. I grew up loving him and spending as much time as I could with him (though getting his attention could be quite the conundrum). Over the years, I got to see him less and less as other priorities took over. High school and college were the most challenging for us. I couldn’t get enough of him yet I couldn’t spare my time for him. And so it was a battle, day in and day out. How much of my life would I devote to him? How much could I?

During college, when I found some time, I’d sneak little breaks in the day for him. I even missed out on some classes because of him. What a thorough distraction he is. An addiction that always pulls me in, demanding my time. There are few relationships in my life that are quite as consuming as this one. I will never completely leave him, nor would I want to, but there are times when I (would like to) need him less. I wish it could remain like that for longer, but then there I am, back in his grasp again.

There have been times I’ve been able to step away more effectively than usual (age has helped). I even began to think I didn’t love him anymore; I thought I could do without. But we are intrinsically linked, with so much history and a rich past that can’t be put aside. For awhile, it seemed to go ok… then inevitably his presence crept back into my life. His influence over my mind is undeniable. Without him, I can’t focus, can’t think, can’t be a productive part of society.

I’ll always crawl back into his arms. I may not want to stay as long as I do, but oftentimes it’s for the better. Like tonight, I should go join him soon if I’m to have any hope of a good tomorrow. Mornings are always the hardest for me, if I’ve been with him. I find it near impossible to drag myself away and feel good about it. It’s all the stranger when Panda is coming home from work to join him as I’m leaving. When I return from work, I just want to crawl into bed with them both and join the party.

Oh, but he’s a greedy one – whenever I join him, he wants to keep me for hours at a time. I need to pick my times wisely, lest he take over my life in an unhealthy fashion. Then other days he eludes me and close my eyes hoping to catch him. Eventually I succumb to him, but often after agonizing minutes of waiting, wanting. He’s certainly the boss of me, much as I try to control him. I never know how things will pan out; only he does.

Funny how he can be such a fickle mistress.

 

…Can you guess what I am personifying here?

cat laying on side of bed in deep sleep

Here’s a clue.

Fear and bravery

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , ,
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Fear. The thing that holds us back so often.

As open as I am, my deepest secrets I hold dearly. I want to trust others with them, but I haven’t been able to. So I fantasize about writing fiction and hiding in my stories. After all, who’s to say how much is real and how much is fabricated there? Even then I’m hesitant, though. What if those who knew the situations I speak of see my thoughts? What if people just assume it’s all true? (And maybe it is.)

Bravery to be vulnerable. To share those feelings, no matter how painful or silly or uncomfortable it feels. Like songwriters pouring out their souls in their lyrics. I want to be like that too. I want to express myself without censorship. But this is going to take time… maybe I’ll adopt a pen name. Sometimes it’s easier to be an illusion.

It’s a conflict of interest though – am I not sharing myself to connect with others? How can I truly do that if I’m hiding behind a facade? How much honesty is too much? I’m definitely grappling with that. Right now I recognize this weakness and I accept that I don’t know how to deal with it. I’m hoping I’ll get to the point where I’ll embrace it. Will it be liberating when I do? I sure hope so.

Off-kilter

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,
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What do you do when you drive home with an insane headache? Why, crash in bed as soon as possible, of course.

Somewhere between being tired and having a mild headache, I found myself with a pain in my head that is rather inexplicable. It’s not your normal headache. It was a pain in my head that hurt without feeling like a headache. I think the pain starts near my eyes and radiates out my temples. I’m not really sure, but I drove home pretty much like a zombie (and the freakin’ traffic took a 25-30 min drive and made it an hour, oh joy). When I got home, Panda was still in bed since he’s working the night shift. I joined him and before I knew it, I crashed into oblivion.

It was just what I needed, that nap. The thunder started rumbling right before I drifted off and the gentle pitter patter of the rain sang me to sleep. Two hours later, Panda was getting ready to leave for work and I woke up far more clear-headed than when I arrived home. I’ve had some dinner and I’m ready to see if I can get right back to sleep again after that. I’ve been having trouble focusing and I get bouts of exhaustion that I can’t explain. I mean, I spent the whole weekend recouping! Why am I still strangely out of it?

Here’s to hoping extra rest is the answer.

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