Saturday, December 31, 2016

Finding the Good Amongst the Bad and the Ugly: 2016

I think we can all agree that 2016 sucked seriously bad, but with the year from hell wrapping up tonight, I'd like to reflect not on all the deaths, divorces and demagogues, but on what went well for me and my family this year.

1. I landed my dream job. I wasn't looking for a new job, but like dream jobs are supposed to do, this one just sort of came out of nowhere. Working in communications and media relations, managing volunteers and staff, and belonging to a humanitarian organization that I fully support and believe in is exactly where I want to be. It's not an easy job, and there are days when I wonder how I'm ever going to accomplish all that needs to be done, and in this line of work I see a lot of heartbreak. But those things have a silver lining; I'm in a job that challenges me and helps me to grow, and I am a part of something that is making that heartbreak we see daily a little easier for disaster victims to cope with. Plus, I work with the most diverse and wonderful people imaginable. I love my job.

2. Scott got promoted. After working his tail off, he got a promotion in 2016 that he more than deserved. It means more work in some ways, but he was doing a majority of that work already. Now he gets acknowledged for it too. The two of us with our new jobs are feeling very "power-couple", very Frank and Clair Underwood, without all the lies, murder, backstabbing and covert negotiations with Russia.

3. I visited many new places. I was fortunate enough this year to travel to several new places I'd never been before. I went to Tacoma, WA, New Orleans, LA, and Denver, CO. For work, I also get to travel all over Arkansas and Oklahoma - maybe not the most exciting two states, but the travel makes every day something different. I love traveling, and 2016 gave me ample opportunities.

4. We got a dog. Isobel came into our lives in February. While she's more Scott's dog than mine, she's become a valuable member of our family and Scott's new best friend. We are happy to have her in the McFarlane household. Even if her farts stink to high heaven.

5. The kids are finding their niche. Fifi tried out for Odyssey of the Mind and was accepted into the program. She loves it and is so dedicated to it. I love seeing her imagination and dedication grow. Lolly got to start playing soccer again and is getting so good at it. Watching her excel at something she's been working hard at for many years now, even after a year long break, makes this mummy proud. Jaguar started Pre-K and is getting all the therapy he needs to help him catch up with his peers (speech, occupational and physical), and to see the difference school and therapy have made on him is incredible and makes my heart full. I love seeing all of my kids thrive and learn new things and do what they love.

6. There was some good entertainment.  Stranger Things on Netflix, The Hamilton Mixtape and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were all products of 2016. These and other books, shows, movies and music are surely worth remembering came out of this year from hell.

2016 was a load of bollocks, but there are always things to be thankful for, even when you have to think really hard  to come up with them.  Here's hoping 2017 brings us better and more plentiful moments and fewer celebrity deaths and celebrity presidents.

Happy new year, friends!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The EVEN NEWER 100 Things About Me

Every now and again, I update my "About Me" page with more up-to-date and accurate information. I wrote the first 100 Things About Me in 2006.  I updated them in 2012.  It's been almost five years since then, and while a few things stay the same (where I was born, for instance), boy-howdy, have things about me changed since 2012! So once again, I present you with the highly self-centered and narcissistic:

Guy Fawkes Day
Fireworks because this is so awesome.

The EVEN NEWER 100 Things About Me: (2016)

1. I was born, raised and educated in Arkansas, the Natural State. (Previously known as "The Land of Opportunity".)

2. I attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and got my degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing.

3. I then married a Scotsman named Scott and moved to Greenock, Scotland, where we stayed for nine years.

4. During those nine years, we created three awesome and insane children, Fifi, Lolly and Jaguar (not their real names).

5. When Jaguar was 10 months old, the five of us moved back to Arkansas.

6. I was a devout Christian for 30+ years.

7. I am now an atheist.

8. I wrote a book about it.

9. In school and college, I went on several mission trips. These trips took me around the world to Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Wales and Scotland.

10. I've also been to France and England but not on a mission trip.

11. I love languages, and while I am the master of none, I have studied French, Arabic, Scots Gaelic and British Sign Language.  I am very good at English though.

12. In fact, English grammar is my pet passion, and I love it so much that I took an advanced grammar course in college FOR FUN. It was a required course for aspiring English teachers, and I was the only person taking that class as an elective.

13. When I moved to the UK, I purchased Fowler's Modern English Usage, so I could adapt to proper British grammar instead of American. Moving back to the US and re-adapting to American grammar has been confusing.

14. Speaking of grammar, one of my embarrassing intellectual memories includes freshman year in college writing in a paper that I was great at "grammer" and the professor replying in red ink "just not at spelling?". Cringe.

15. Also, I love the Oxford comma, but a career requiring AP style is slowly dousing that flame. I still believe in it but not as passionately as I once did.

16. Speaking of career, I am the regional communications director for the American Red Cross Serving Oklahoma and Arkansas. I have previously kept that anonymous, but to avoid conflict of interest, I fully disclose that now.

17. And I disclose that also to state that all opinions shared in this blog are mine (or used to be mine) and are not the opinions of my employer.  (Disclaimer complete. Moving on.)

18. Before working for the Red Cross, I worked in communications for a health care nonprofit, where I learned that according to AP style, "health care" is two words, not one. However, "voicemail" is now one word.

19. My hobbies change frequently, but over the years they have consisted of baking, sewing, card-making, painting, acting and exercising. The only hobbies that have truly weathered all the seasons of my life though are writing and reading.

20. Hobbies I have tried to take up but failed at miserably include gardening and crocheting.

21. I used to bite my nails horribly until I turned 18. At 18 I decided to become a grown-up and somehow kicked the habit. Now I'm kind of precious about my nails.

22. I do still bite them when I get nervous or anxious though.

23. I get anxious a lot actually and have a serious problem with over-analyzing everything in my life. Even my therapist tells me I need to get out of my own head and stop over-thinking everything.

24. I've just started seeing a therapist. I feel sorry for her.

25. Along with anxiety, I also deal with depression, body image/relationship with food and ADHD.

26. I cope pretty well with all of those things though. Or so I think. My therapist may think otherwise.

27. I also struggle with a whole slough of issues stemming from my life as an evangelical, Calvinist Christian, that I'm only just starting to unpack. I know that's an unpopular thing to say in the Bible Belt where being a Christian is supposed to be the best life choice for happiness and well-being, but in my spiritually masochistic heart, it wasn't.

28. Even though I'm an atheist, I'm not a "militant atheist", and I don't hate believers of any faith. I genuinely hope all people find peace and happiness in their faith or lack thereof. So I will never try to convince someone to stop believing what they believe. I'm afraid too many people don't understand that about me though.

29. I was a DJ for our college radio station, KXUA. I called myself DJ Xia and for some reason always spoke in a low voice while on the air. I certainly hope that I have kicked that habit now, especially as my job requires some on-air time here and there.

30. I like to change the subject sometimes when it gets too intense or controversial.

31. I used to be one to avoid conflict, and at times I still do when the conflict is unnecessary, but I'm also now very good at approaching conflict head on when needed. I will be frank with you if it will make a bad or weird situation better.

32. I am a control freak and a perfectionist.

33. I am ambitious and competitive.

34. I am also a really good listener.

35. I am relentlessly too honest and am trying to learn if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

36. When I was in fifth grade, I accidentally set part of my grandpa's cow field on fire with a bottle rocket. It was absolutely terrifying watching at least an acre, if not more, instantly become engulfed in flames. (No one was hurt.)

37. I was afraid of fire for a very long time after that. Couldn't even stand candles.

38. My other childhood fears were kidnappers and burglars. I blame Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911.

39. I also had a lifelong phobia of spiders. FOR REAL PHOBIA. I could not get close enough to them to even kill them or stick a cup over them. But when I moved back to Arkansas as a mother who had to protect her children from the (sometimes venomous) evil eight-legged hellspawn, I had to overcome that fear in order to get close enough to them to kill them. Now I hate them but don't have panic attacks over them. (Which is no lie - I used to have panic attacks over spiders.)

40. I used to have a pet lhaso apso named Bandit. He got dognapped.

41. I always think I'm a pet person, because I love other people's pets. But I'm not good at taking care of my own pets. We've had cats, rabbits, a rat, fish and now a dog. Luckily my husband is a really good dog daddy, and my cat fends for itself.

42. Even knowing I'm not a good pet parent, I still want a lhaso apso or some other kind of lap dog to be my best friend. I also always think I'd like a bird.

43. And for my yard I want chickens and a goat. Scott says absolutely not to the goat, but I think there's wiggle room with the chickens.

44. I am not a vegetarian, even though ethically I think I really should be one. We did try becoming vegetarians once but only lasted a week. I don't really like vegetables.

45. To make up for not being a vegetarian, I buy only free range eggs. I used to only buy free range chicken too, but holy hell that's expensive.

46. Still, every time I pass a chicken truck on the road, I re-evaluate my stance on eating meat.

47. I am a passionate breastfeeding advocate. I used to be a breastfeeding peer supporter with the Breastfeeding Network, and my mummy friends and I started a series of weekly breastfeeding support groups throughout Inverclyde, Scotland.

48. We also started a nonprofit (not-for-profit is actually what it was called, since it was in the UK) called Inverclyde Breastfeeding Mums, and we did some pretty cool stuff.

49. I breastfed all three of my kids for two to two and a half years each.

50. I even tandem fed my daughters for a few months.

51. While a "stay-at-home-mum", I taught baby signing classes, worked as a childminder and ran a online shop called Into Bento, which sold bento boxes and lunch accessories. (The shop is closed, but I've kept the Lunch Is Boring blog online.)

52. I also had the privilege and pleasure of doing some travel writing for, now

53. I used to be the desktop publisher for a private high school in Glasgow. I designed, laid out, wrote for and edited the annual magazine and the monthly newsletters. I saw the job advertised in the paper, had no experience with Photoshop or InDesign whatsoever, but quickly taught myself the basics, interviewed for the job and got hired. It was the best "fake it 'til you make it" experience of my life. It got me on my communications career path.

54. I believe in "fake it 'til you make it", as long as you know you are capable of making it.

55. I am also a chronic sufferer of impostor syndrome, so what do I know?

56. I think I am a strong leader and a good manager. But I'm also a self-doubter and my own worst critic, so ask me again tomorrow and I might say the exact opposite.

57. I used to think of myself as solely right-brained, but as it turns out, I'm pretty left-brained too. I'm creative but analytical, scatterbrained but organized, emotional but rational. I'm either a unicorn or a hot mess.

58. I'm definitely an extrovert though.

59. I'm ENFJ to be precise (Extrovert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging). The F and J are very close to the T and P though (Thinking and Perceiving).

60. I love monkeys. I have a unrealistic dream of having a pet monkey one day, like an organ grinder kind of monkey.

61. My favorite colors are orange, green and purple.

62. I want an orange car.

63. I enjoy sorting and folding laundry. It calms me.

64. I hate sweeping but love vacuuming.

65. I never call it vacuuming; it's still "hoovering" in my mind. Just as gas is still petrol, diapers are still nappies, underwear is still pants, and Scotch is still whisky. Some British and/or Scottish words will never and should never die.

66. Because words like crabbit, dreich, numpty, mingin', boggin', steamin', glaikit and tumpshie just do not have proper English equivalents.

67. I love shoes.

68. I love makeup. I never wore it much until I turned 30. Then, as with the nail biting, I decided to become a grown-up and start wearing it.  I love wearing makeup now.

69. I love my hair. My hair has been every cut, style and color imaginable. It's always been pretty short until I moved back to Arkansas. I've been growing it out ever since, and I LOVE having long hair. It's also managed to stay the same color for a while now, which is weird and likely to change soon.

70. I was in Forensics in high school. Not the study of dead people but competitive speech and drama. My favorite events were poetry reading, improv, duet acting, solo acting and mime. I was actually pretty good at mime.

71. I did musical theater in high school as well but never got a lead role in a musical. I did play Truvy in Steel Magnolias though.

72. So then in Scotland I got involved with amateur dramatics and did theater there too. Again, no lead roles except for Shelby in Steel Magnolias. It was by far my favorite part I ever played.

73. But actually I did play a few other lead roles. In Scotland I performed in pantomimes, which are not the same thing as silent mime, and was the Principal Boy a couple of times. Panto is amazing, and I wish they did them here in the States.

74. In high school I entered two beauty pageants. I was not the beauty pageant type, but hello, scholarships! I got a measly $500 scholarship out of one of them for winning the "Be Yourself Award" or something stupid like that. In the interview, they asked me about my second place state championship award for mime and asked me to do a mime of how I felt getting ready that morning. I wanted to kill myself.

75. I had the best friends in high school. Many of us still keep in touch to this day, and many of us have the most awesome lives now. Class of 2000 was an epic class.

76. I also had some really awesome friends in Scotland. Even though we're an ocean apart, I still know I could call many of them, and they'd be there for me.

77. I now have some awesome friends thanks to the book club I joined. The Velociraptors in an Opium Den ladies are, well, awesome. And we actually read books in this book club.

78. I love to sing. I used to lead worship at church, but now that I don't have church, or musical theater for that matter, I just sing in the car really loud. And sometimes I karaoke.

79. My favorite alcoholic beverages are gin and whisky ("Scotch"). I like my gin with tonic or juice, and I drink my whisky neat.

80. I never win anything, except that one time I won the Glenmorangie grand prize of a weekend trip for eight to stay at the Glenmorangie House in Tain, Scotland. Scott and I, along with three other couples, spent a three-day weekend enjoying activities such as skeet shooting, yachting Loch Ness, strolling along the beach, touring the Glenmorangie distillery and drinking all the free whisky we wanted. Best prize ever.

81. Oh, and I also won a pager from a radio station in the '90s. I was so cool.

82. I used to go to raves in the '90s too. I started out a kandie kid, ended up a jungle lover. My raver name on the rave forums was xialuvsjungle.

83. I then got into indie and became a really unsuccessful hipster.

84. I used to be the door girl at two bars, JR's Lightbulb Club and the Dickson Theater.

85. Other career choices in my past include Little Caesar's and Pizza Hut in high school. I also worked in a law firm during the summers.

86. While at college I also worked in the university's development office. Somehow I managed to do school full time, work in the development office between and after classes, and be the door girl at night. I don't know if college students get more hours in their day than adults do? Or maybe the secret to success is living off $5 Eureka pizzas and Diet Dr Pepper.

87. It certainly wasn't beer, because I did not drink alcohol until I was 21. I got very sick on my 21st birthday.

88. My birthday is April Fools Day.

89. My best birthday party was my 30th. I had a "Music Mania" party complete with karaoke and a DJ and all things '80s and '90s. Everyone dressed up as a music sensation. I was very pregnant but pulled off a pretty sweet Gwen Stefani.

90. I do not think I'd ever like to be pregnant again.

91. I have changed a lot as a mum, but the things I still believe in are gentle parenting (no spanking), babywearing, infant cosleeping, breastfeeding and dinner together around the table. As my kids get older I'm entering a whole new world of parenting, which is terrifying, but I think I'm doing okay.

92. I am without a doubt screwing up my kids.

93. I love working for the Red Cross, as it matches my natural inclination for helping others. I also strongly support other causes, such as LGBT rights and women's rights. I actively support causes such as Lucie's Place, a home for LGBT young people, and Femme International, which provides among other things reusable feminine hygiene products for girls in Africa who would otherwise be unable to attend school for a week every month due to her periods.

94. I am a feminist.

95. For someone who has no problem posting intimate details of her life online and publishing a book about the most vulnerable time in her life, I am very guarded and trust very few people in my real everyday life. In other words, I make no sense.

96. I hate for anyone to see me cry and hate to be seen as weak or needy. I like to be self-sufficient and hate asking for help.

97. I used to collect kokeshi dolls.

98. The only sports I care an ounce for are soccer, tennis and baseball. The only sports team I care about is Glasgow Rangers, and even they are not really on my radar anymore.

99. I love politics. I am a registered Democrat though I'm more left wing than they are.

100. I love making lists.

P.S. My old 100 Thingses are still on the About Me page if you scroll down. They make me giggle, because some are still true and some are SO NOT.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bucket List Revisited

When you're a kid, a year is practically an eternity. There is no guarantee you will even survive to see another birthday, because it is soooo far away.

Then, as we all know, the years begin to speed by until they all blur into one. I was surprised this past year to realize I was turning 34 not 33.  So I made a bucket list of 34 things I wanted to do before I turned 35.  It all seemed reasonable; I had a year after all!

And yet here I am, well past the halfway mark, and my bucket list is far from halfway accomplished.

Here's what I've accomplished so far:

1. Read 34 new books: It's hard to believe that according to my log, I've only read nine books since April. Is that true? That's depressing.

2. Visit a new city: This has actually worked out pretty nicely.  Since April, I've been to Tacoma, WA for the first time (to visit my dear friend Sarah on a girls-only weekend). I went to New Orleans, LA with Scott for the wedding of Vlad and Isis. I visited Denver, CO with Scott, Jonathan and Sarah for a whirlwind weekend trip just us grown-ups. And finally, with my new job, I've been visiting lots of new cities, most notably, Oklahoma City.  I've definitely got this one covered. Check.

3. Order a dirty martini: How have I not managed this one? Who's up for a drink over Christmas break?

4. Get a cleaner in at least once: Not yet.

5. Do something rebellious: The original #5 was "Commit 34 crimes" because it seemed funny. I won't confirm or deny the committal of any crimes, but sure, I'll admit to being "rebellious" instead. No details though. Check.

6. Pick back up an old hobby or interest: I've tried to pick up a few hobbies but haven't been successful at them sticking. I have very little free time for hobbies, but I have done a little bit of sewing and painting and poetry writing. I'm still going to say check though, for the attempt.

7. Visit the beach: Sarah and I went to the beach in Tacoma. Check.

8.Get rid of 34 things:  According to my log, I've gotten rid of six things. 28 to go...

9. Try a new, exotic food: Mmm, not yet. Any suggestions? (Not sushi.)

10. Do something politically active: With the political climate in the US what it is right now, I'm afraid if I do anything politically active, I'll get shot. So if we can just consider voting in both the primaries and the general election me being politically active? And perhaps listening to Hamilton the Musical and Hamilton Mixtape nonstop? Check?

11. Read the US Constitution: Not yet.

12. Donate to a new cause: Why yes. Since April, I've donated to several new causes on top of my usual monthly ones (Lucie's Place, Femme International, Doctors Without Borders and our local NPR station). I have now sent my support to the Human Rights Campaign, Hearts & Hooves, The One, Inc., The 1LT Tom Martin Memorial Foundation, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign (as well as Bernie Sanders') and the American Red Cross. All of which I recommend you donate to as well! (Except the two presidential campaigns of course.) Check.

13. Create 34 original things: I've created four things: a painting, a few hooded baby towels, a picture frame, and a poem. 30 to go.

14. Sing a showtune at a karaoke bar: This *almost* happened in Denver with Sarah, Jonathan and Scott, but I chickened out. ME. I have no idea why I did this. I have not stopped regretting it since. "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" is just waiting for me to belt out and bring tears to every eye in the room.
15. Go on an adventure with husband: I feel like counting New Orleans or Denver for this one would be a cop-out. So not yet.

16. Build a coop to raise chickens: Not yet.

17. Learn how to wolf whistle: Not yet.

18. Write or mail 34 letters or parcels: If I had just gotten out my Christmas cards this year, I might've been able to accomplish this in one fell swoop. But I've sent a total of one card this year. Yeesh.

19. Complete Trailhead Admin training: Not yet, and probably never now, since I no longer work with Salesforce anymore.

20. Play a video game: Does Pokemon Go count? Yes? Okay good. Check. Phew. 

21. Protest against or march for something: But what if I get killed by a crazed Trump supporter?

22. Take kids on a surprise trip: Not yet. 

23. Publish a book: Not yet. But it's in the works.

24. Climb a mountain: Can I wait until spring?

25. Get hot stone massage: Hey, yes! I did this. It was nice, but I prefer a deep tissue massage. Check.

26. Join a group:  I wonder if starting a new job counts, since I'm in a new "group" of people? No? Not really? Boo.

27. Get Lasix: Nope, and my courage has definitely faltered regarding this.

28. Paint a picture: I painted a willow tree for Scott. So check.

29. Buy a house: Nope.

30. Get a tattoo: Since April, I've gotten three tattoos. Scott and I got carbon atoms on our forearms first. Then I got an outline of Arkansas and Scotland on my ribcage.  And a few weeks ago, I got a stack of books on shoulder blade.  I love all of them, but the books might be my favorite tattoo of ALL. Check.

31. Run a race: I am still registered for a half marathon in March. I'm now thinking I need to downgrade to a 10k. Even that seems far fetched right now though...
32. See a play: Scott and I went to see Twelve Angry Men at The Weekend Theater in Little Rock. There are so many other plays I'd like to see too! But we've seen at least one, so check.

33. Read Macbeth: Currently reading. Just finished the third act.

34. Throw a party: Haven't yet, but there's still time.

The takeaway from all of this is that time runs away from us way too fast and trying to accomplish all of these things in one year ought to be easy, but so far, I'm finding it hard. With my new job taking up all my energy, spare time is something I haven't had the luxury of experiencing lately, to the extent that I haven't even blogged in over a month. I should really make a point of doing some things that do not involve work. I recognize that I'm becoming a workaholic.

So when given the option of training for the half marathon or taking a nap, I just tend to lean towards the nap. But saying that, a dirty martini or hiring a cleaner should absolutely fit into my need for relaxation.

I'll try to blog more too.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Never Let You See Me Cry

I just woke up from a dream with real tears spilling from my eyes. I can't remember the last time that happened.

I dreamed I was out of town with friends, and we'd split up - half to eat and half to shop. I was the last to finish eating and suddenly realized everyone was gone. I started texting everyone, and one by one they told me they'd gone home. I realized I was alone, out of town, with no way of getting home, and everyone had left me.

In the dream, I was panicked, lonely, and afraid. I couldn't find anyone to help me get home. Then after what felt like an hour, I ran into all of my friends. They were laughing. It was all a prank. No one had left, but they thought it would be funny to trick me. I started crying, and they continued to laugh. "Stop being so dramatic!" they told me.

The last words of my dream before I woke up were mine: "Do you guys actually think I would let you see how vulnerable I am, if I weren't seriously upset? Do you think I'd let you see how abandoned and lonely I felt? Do you think I'd actually let you see me cry?"

I woke up, and fat tears were dripping down my cheeks.

I'm reading a book, Emotional Intellligence 2.0. It starts with giving you a code for an online quiz to assess your emotional intelligence. I'd say I'm very emotionally intelligent, so I was actually really annoyed when it scored me much lower than I expected. I read the reasons, and it came down to this: I am a great listener, a great communicator, I'm empathetic and socially aware, BUT. I don't talk about myself enough. I don't open up about my own feelings or weaknesses with others.

At first I thought, "Well, of course not! Communicating is about listening to others and understanding them, not talking about myself." But the more I read, the more I understood what it was saying. Communication is a two-way street. How can others trust me (particularly professionally) if they don't know me? If I don't open up to them while they open up to me, that's not effectual communication. That's not emotional intelligence, to hide your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and fears from the world. That's being a counselor, not a friend.

The part that confounded me at first was the online analysis that I don't share myself. I have this blog, right? I wrote a book about the most vulnerable time in my life, right? But truth is, that's my personal life, and it's also through a medium of written word. In my face-to-face interactions, I don't talk about myself. When someone asks me how I'm doing, I say great and immediately turn it back to them. Today, I spoke on the phone with a friend/work connection who asked how my new job is going. Though surely she wanted details, my response was, "I love it! So how are you?"

I can share myself through ink and paper, keyboards and screens, but not in real life. And this is doubly so when it comes to my professional life.

What I think was most telling about my dream was that the group of friends I was with were my work friends from my most recent job. The last words, "Do you think I'd actually let you see me cry?", speak volumes. I remember once, early on in that job, I was getting extremely overwhelmed, and one of my coworkers (someone I consider a friend) saw me and stopped to talk. The tears welled up in my eyes, my throat got tight, and I couldn't speak without the fear of losing it. I hated, HATED, him see me nearly break down and cry. I was humiliated, and even now my face burns at the memory. It was him that I said this to my dream.

I don't like showing weakness. I don't like asking for help. I want to help others, but I don't want them to help me. I listen to people all day long; I seem to have some kind of magnet for people to share stuff with me. And I love being there for them, listening to them, being a safe place for them to let it all out. But I don't share myself back, not intimately, not in real life beyond the computer screen. I don't want people at work knowing when I struggle or when I'm uncertain. I want to look amazing and self-assured at all times. I feel this is entirely justifiable! Of course I want my colleagues and those who report to me to see me as strong and competent. But do I do myself and everyone else around me a disservice by not being honest about what makes me vulnerable - what makes me just like everyone else?

This is something I am working on. I can be professional at work and still share myself to whatever the appropriate level is. (This is something I still can't figure out; maybe the book will help.) I need to be able to say on some days work is hard. Today was hard. Today I handled a three-child home fire fatality story. It was emotionally a very difficult day. I found myself at times wondering what I'm supposed to do here. I found myself at times wondering if I could really do this job. I had to push my personal emotions aside to get a job done, which I felt guilty about in return. I need to be able to admit this. I know I'm not the only person in the world to doubt herself or feel emotionally conflicted.

I definitely need to work on this with my friends. If I'm asked about myself, I need to talk a little about myself. Most people who genuinely care about me genuinely want to hear how I'm doing. It doesn't make me arrogant or narcissistic. It just makes me real. Human. Emotionally intelligent.

But vulnerability hurts, and I've learned to be ashamed of it.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

October Dress Project - A Leap Year

October is my favorite month. I love Autumn and pumpkins and Halloween and crisp air and fallen leaves and sweaters and the October Dress Project.

Only this year, I won't have that last part.

I have participated in the October Dress Project for the last four Octobers, and I had every intention of participating again this year. Then something big changed - I got offered a new job. I start my new job next week, Oct. 10.

And I am so super excited about my new job! And I'll talk about that in a minute! But for now, a little mourning over missing my favorite annual challenge. I really considered doing ODP again this year, but I just can't help feeling like wearing the same dress every day for my first three weeks at a new job would somehow leave a bad first impression...

I did look at dresses. I did try to find something that I could easily disguise from day to day. I considered toggling between two dresses even. And with two days to go, I even made a snap judgment and ordered a dress from Amazon, which arrived on Sept 29th. However, it was too small, and I had to return it. With no time left and a real concern about coming across as super weird at my new job, I decided to skip this year's ODP. A leap year, if you will.

I am sad.

But! I am happy! Because I am starting a new job, a new awesome job! I am going to be the Director of Communications for a very awesome humanitarian organization! (And even though finding out which organization that is ought to be extremely easy with a simple Google search, I do *try* to keep a few things in my life anonymous, at least here on my blog.) I am ridiculously excited about this new opportunity, and even though I'm sad to miss ODP this year and I'll be sad to leave "BANPO" ("Big Anonymous Non Profit Organization" which again could easily be searched for), I really cannot wait to open this new chapter in my life. Working for VAHO ("Very Awesome Humanitarian Organization") is an incredible opportunity, one that will lead to all kinds of personal and professional development for me. I get to help others AND do what I love, all at once. Can anyone ask for better?

So, there will be no dress pictures this October from me. Sad. Maybe, even though I'm now two days behind, I'll replace it with some other Fall-ish challenge. Ideas?

P.S. Half marathon update: I ran/walked (mostly walked) 4.5 miles today. Outdoor training is way harder than treadmill training. I might be the only human alive who prefers the treadmill. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Half Out of My Mind

A couple of weeks ago I did something kind of stupid. It was one of those things where someone talks you into doing something you know deep down is a stupid thing to do, but the person makes it sound so fun that you buy into the enthusiasm of the moment and just go for it. No thought, no consequences, JUST DO IT like Nike.

A younger me got caught up in these situations often, like throwing fireworks into the church campgrounds in Kilmacolm or mooning the security cameras in Yocum Hall or rolling the Anschutz' house even though Mr Anschutz was rumored to be the dad who would run you off his lawn pointing his rifle at you. It all seemed like a really good idea at the time.

This time, however, it wasn't my rambunctious friends convincing me to make wild, spontaneous, devil-may-care decisions. No, this time it was my dad.

I blame it all on him. As a kid, I desperately wanted his approval. As a teenager - well, we'll skip those years. As a college student, I wanted him to be proud of me. As an adult, I still can't shake the childish need to impress him. Maybe that's why I let him peer pressure me into this.

In his defense, I did start the conversation. It's been on my bucket list to run a race before I turn 35. My dad's a runner and a cyclist and has been nudging me to do a race with him for a couple of years. I brought the subject up, suggesting I might register for a 10k at some point.  But when he converted that to a number I could understand, and I realized that was only 6.2 miles, that just wasn't really any kind of a challenge. It would be too easy. I figured I could just about manage that now with zero training. So I let him talk up how great the Little Rock Half Marathon is, how great the trail is, how it's a perfect time of year to run. His enthusiasm began to rub off on me, and I began to think, "I can do this!"

And that's how he convinced me to sign up for a half marathon.

Half. Marathon. 13.1 miles.

What was I thinking?! I signed up to run a half marathon. I am not a runner! I do not enjoy running. I do not like to run. Why would I agree to run a half marathon?!

But I did. I signed up to run the race with my dad. I paid the registration fee. I ordered one of those water bottle packs that go around your waist and an armband thingie for my phone. I'm ready to go! Let's do this! I thought.

Until the next morning, when it dawned on me. I just paid money to put myself through utter, intense misery. 

I decided to ignore the nagging feeling that I'd gotten conned into doing something very stupid. I managed to ignore what I'd done until my dad texted me earlier this week to ask how my training was going. My response: ellipses. Training? Ha! The very thought of going for a run made me want to eat a donut and take a long nap on the couch with episodes of Gilmore Girls running in the background.

But the shaming worked. (Well played, Dad.) Dad's text, along with a little additional motivational shaming from my husband, pushed me to take the next step towards checking this item off my bucket list: begin training.

I decided tonight's the night. Wednesdays and Thursdays and one day on the weekend will be my training days. Tonight, after a 9 hour day at work, I came home, made a shepherd's pie from scratch (and by "shepherd", I just mean "cowherd" because beef is cheaper than lamb), helped the kids get into bed, and then I took off to the gym with my water bottle and Hamilton the Musical on my phone. My goal was to do four miles - whether I ran or walked, it didn't matter. Four miles.

I admit I did try to change my goal last minute ("How about four miles OR an hour, whichever comes first?"), but Scott gave me that shaming look again. Okay, fine. Four miles.

I got to the gym and started the treadmill. I almost chose one of the "performance" settings but rationalized that this being my first return to the gym after about two months, I'd better take it easy. I set a decent, cool pace and a flat trail and started jogging along to the genius rhymes of Lin-Manuel's account of our country's first Treasury Secretary.

I did my first mile in 15 minutes and five seconds. My second mile was complete before the 15 minute mark. Hey, I can do this! Two miles in under 30 minutes!

My third mile came in just over 15 minutes. But I was exhausted. My legs were burning. My lungs were aching. My stomach was threatening to hand me back my cowherd's pie. I slowed down but kept going. Four miles! I can do this! Almost there!

The last mile was painful, but I pushed through. If I'm honest, my secret goal was really to finish four miles in one hour. But as the hour ticked down to five minutes remaining, I knew I was unlikely to meet that goal. I picked up my pace, hoping to outrun the clock, but it was too much. I pulled my fourth mile in at 2 minutes and 10 seconds over an hour. I have never been so grateful for the cool down function on the treadmill in my life.

However, as I leaned over the handlebars gasping for breath and trying not to pass out in front of the hot, muscly guy running next to me, I realized that I just run almost a quarter of a half marathon. On my first night of training for a race that is still five months away. I can do this. I can do this!

#GymSelfie! Start of run - End of run ...

So at the end of the day, I still think I'd have preferred Dad talking me into going cow-tipping over running a half marathon, but maybe, just maybe, this will be okay too.

You better be proud of me when I cross that finish line, old man!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bathos, Stolen Corpses and Rock n' Roll

One of the coolest, most interesting classes I took in college, the kind of class that colleges should offer more of, the kind of class that is quintessentially “college”, was Folk and Pop Music Traditions. It was in the English curriculum, since we studied the lyrics as much as the history and the music itself, and was taught by a really hipster older guy professor, Dr Bob Cochran.  

Dr Cochran introduced us to all kinds of music I'd never have listened to myself, from the Carter Family to Merle Haggard to Gram Parsons. It is Gram Parsons though who's music and story has stuck with me all these years. 

He introduced us to Parsons by playing "Love Hurts" for us in class. His intent was to differentiate for us the difference between pathos and bathos.  (Pathos is the quality of evoking sympathy and sadness in someone. Bathos is when the attempt at pathos goes overboard into ludicrousy or gross sentimentalism.)  The class silently took in this song, a duet between Parsons and Emmylou Harris, whose voices blend together more beautifully than any two voices I've ever heard. When the song was over, the class sat silently, reverently. Dr Cochran laughed.

"I see you guys were taken in by that song. I was trying to show you bathos, but you all bought right in to the sentiment."

He may have forgotten that while he had all the wisdom of his 50 plus years, we were all still children living and breathing the raw truth that love hurts. 

The story of Gram Parsons is just as enticing as his music. Or maybe just the story of his death. His life was that of a typical 1960s rock star - nudie suits, tours, drugs. But his death - what a story!

He was found dead in his hotel room during a tour; the official report was drug overdose. Not uncommon. But his step-father, who had very little to do with him, requested that his body be returned to Louisiana, allegedly due to a family estate issue, and arranged a small funeral for him, excluding all of Gram's actual friends in the music industry. Gram had recently expressed wishes to be cremated when he died and have his ashes spread in Joshua Tree National Park, his favorite place on earth. So what did his loyal friends do?

They stole his dead body from the airport, of course, borrowed a hearse and drove Gram's coffin to Joshua Tree.  Unsure of how to actually cremate a body, they just poured gallons of gasoline on the coffin and lit a match, while drinking beer and sharing stories of their deceased friend. It didn't result in the small, funereal fire they expected, however, and the raging fireball resulted in a police chase. Gram's friends couldn't be arrested though, because there was no law on the books against stealing a dead body. They were fined for stealing a coffin, and that's about as much the law could muster against them. Gram's wishes were - sort of - granted.

That's friendship. That's rock n' roll. That's - bathos?

Yesterday in a coffee shop, I heard "Brass Buttons" playing in the background, another Parsons' tune that tows the line between pathos and bathos. It reminded me it's been too long since I listened to Grievous Angel, my favorite Gram Parsons album. That would be due to my CD snapping a few years ago in our move from Scotland to Arkansas. But Amazon Prime Music came to the rescue, and I was able to download Grievous Angel and listen to it three times in a row back to back. Honestly, could Emmlylou and Gram's voices weave any better?

(Apparently, Emmylou hated touring with Gram. Apparently, he was a bit of an asshole.)

Anyway, thank you, Starbucks, for reminding me of the fantastic rock fairy tale that is Gram Parsons, of the most interesting college class I've ever taken, and that love doesn't really hurt so bad in the end, once you find the good kind.

Monday, September 05, 2016

A Little Less Wise

Kitty cat healing therapy
September has sure gotten off to an interesting start. 

A couple of weeks ago, one of my wisdom teeth, which has been impacted for a while but not causing me any pain, starting hurting. Within days, the pain grew exponentially, and I knew it was time to get it taken out.

I arranged a consultation with the oral surgeon for Wednesday, August 31st.  They had me booked in for the extraction of all three wisdom teeth (I only have three), all of which needed to come out, for Friday, September 2nd. Thus began my Labor Day weekend.

Despite being extremely nervous about the procedure, all went well. I was put under general anesthetic and sent home after I awoke. I spent all day Friday dozing in and out on the armchair downstairs, watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, with an ice pack wrapped around my head and bottles of tablets for pain and nausea. It was fun.  Thankfully, my dear friend Eugenie took all three of our kids from Friday after school until Sunday morning, which was the biggest favor I could have ever asked for! I was way too out of it to even really notice if the kids were there or not. I was in a Percocet stupor for two whole days.

Face packs are so hot right now.
However, by Saturday night, even though I was still away with the fairies and still in a fair bit of pain, I got picked up by a friend to go to book club. I simply did not want to miss book club. I slept on the couch most of the night surrounded by friends, and again, even though I felt pretty crappy, I couldn't have felt crappier in a better place than surrounded by people I love!

The kids came home Sunday, and I spent most of the day in bed.  I watched more Gilmore Girls last night and went to bed around 11 pm, hoping my pain meds from 8 would last me through the night.

Instead I woke up at 2:30 (appropriate) to more pain and had to redose. I've been in and out of consciousness and pain all day today (Monday). I'm concerned about my lower right side extraction might have developed a dry socket. I plan on calling the dentist in the morning if the pain there still hasn't subsided, which it seems to have little chance of doing at this point. Owwww.

What a fun way to spend Labor Day weekend, huh?!

Besides that, it kind of messed with my September Shopping Challenge. On the first day of September, I had to go back out to the grocery store to stock up on soft foods to get me through the first few days. (I've been living on mashed potatoes, ice cream and Campbell's soup all weekend.) Not to mention the walloping copay I had to pay to get the procedure done in the first place. It's probably a good thing I'm doing the shopping challenge after having to dish out that huge chunk of change unexpectedly!

A healthy diet of soft foods
So here I am, three teeth lighter and a little less wise.  And still in somewhat of a pain med fairyland. I just put a banana loaf in the oven, and I can't guarantee all the ingredients were applied in the correct proportions.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

September Shopping Challenge: Essential Prep

So for those of you who are joining me in the September Shopping Challenge for the first time, here are a few tips for getting started.

The key to success in this challenge is prep prep prep. It's essential that you plan ahead, budget and keep track of your spending.

When it comes to meals, menu planning is a must. We have in our kitchen four planning boards - meals, kids' schedules, parents' schedules ... and a fourth that has yet to find a real use but was needed to make the space look right. Chore schedules would probably make sense, if I'd just get around to it. This month, though, I've made the fourth board a shopping challenge record board.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on

Usually I only plan meals for the two weeks of the pay period, but this month I went ahead and planned for all month. I included eat-out days, so they could be budgeted as well.  Using my scheduling board, I made sure that the meals I planned corresponded with our schedules. For instance, Lolly has soccer practice two days a week; those days, the dinners I've planned are quick and simple, so she can eat and be back out the door in time for practice.  I have book club on the 3rd, so I planned out an extra dish to bring along to that. Don't forget to plan for Labor Day weekend too - will you be going out? Barbecuing? Menu planning around your schedules is important.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on

Then you need to plan your grocery list around your menu. I made my shopping list in the kitchen, going through each day and writing down what was on the menu and what ingredients I'd need for each thing. I also made sure I checked the fridge and the pantry in case I already had some of the ingredients or in case I thought I had some but didn't.  I also checked my household lists for "other" items I needed to buy.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on

Finally, it's useful, if you have the time, to make sure everything on your list will fit into your grocery budget. For our family of five, our budget is $300 a fortnight for groceries. I know from experience that my grocery list is almost always going to fit into that budget, so I no longer write down the numbers, but I still write down the actual costs as I'm shopping so I can tally up before check-out, and if I've overspent, I can put some things back.  For those of you new to budgeting though, I recommend playing your own version of the supermarket game, if you have the time. I did all of this on Saturday while the kids played on their iPads and computers, so I could have enough time to really plan all this out. However, I know we don't all have tons of spare time to be super meticulous. If you have the time, though, the supermarket game is a great way to keep yourself from overspending or buying extra items while at the store.  Follow the link to read in detail, but a quick summary of the game is this:

1. Next to each item on the list, write down what you suspect each item will cost. (I round up to the nearest $0.50 or $1.)

2. Total it up so you know what you think you will end up spending. (If that total is over your budget limit, go back through and see what you can cut out.)

3. While at the store, write down how much the item actually cost. You can even grade yourself on how well you guessed by giving yourself a point for each item you either got exactly right and two points for each you spent less on. Take away a point for each item you spent more than your estimate. Take away another point for each item you buy that wasn't on your list. Give yourself no points but do not take away if that unplanned for item was a true necessity. (We all forget sometimes that we need butter or have run out of baking soda.)  Each item on your list started out as a single point, so at the end of the game, how close to your original list did you get, point-wise?

(I also write down each extra item I buy with its cost, so I can keep track of what I'm buying and where the extra expenses came from.)

4. When you check out, if you stayed under your budget, you win! If you went over, you didn't "lose" you just know how to estimate better next time. Tally up your points too and see how well you did. Did you estimate everything well? Did you underspend more often than you overspent?

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on

This is how I keep myself on budget with meals and groceries. This month, I'm also keeping a record of what I've spent in groceries and in my personal spending allowance. Seeing it in black and white (rather than in a bank account) somehow makes the money seem more real to me. I know using a checkbook transaction log is good, and I should really start doing that again, but I tend to use that only for  my checks. If you are already using a log, that is great! If you aren't logging anything at all, I'd suggest you find an easy way to do it. My log is just a sticky pad I keep in my car with a pen. As soon as I get in the car, I record what's on the receipt (or a rounded-up estimate if I've already managed to lose the receipt.) Whatever works for you. But I highly recommend logging your spending somewhere, somehow.

A photo posted by Lori McFarlane (@lorimcfarlane) on

Get planning, folks! September starts Thursday!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

September Shopping Challenge 2016

Hello, my name is Lori, and I'm a shopaholic.

I love shopping, any kind, anywhere. Grocery stores, big box stores, boutiques, bookstores, malls, Amazon. My sister-in-law even took me into a tractor store once, where I discovered how badly I wanted to buy a chicken coop. When I have had a stressful day, my therapy is retail therapy. It's a weakness, a flaw, a sin, but I am hopeless. Every pay period I vow to do better, then a new pair of shoes calls to me or Terry Gross reviews an author of a new book or Facebook tries to sell me a Bernie Sanders action figure. (I have almost bought that so many times.)

In 2013, I started the September Shopping Challenge to help me learn to curb my spending and control my budget. We had just moved back to America, Scott had just started his new job, and we were at the start of trying to rebuild our lives. We had no furniture, no car, no books or toys, just the suitcases-worth of belongings we'd brought over from Scotland. I started the challenge to help me manage spending in those early, stressful days.

I did the challenge again in 2014 as a refresher course in budgeting but skipped 2015. This year - 2016 - I am going to attempt the challenge again, because my shopaholic tendencies of late have been getting the better of me.

Each year, I come up with new SCC rules to help guide me through the month and to outline areas I need help with my habits.  They usually involve only going shopping once a week and making lists and sticking to pre-planned menus, schedules and budgets. Then I add any other rules or exceptions that I feel are needed to make the month successful.

You can read about the origination of the September Shopping Challenge, the first year executive summary, and the second year's game plan for a little more background. Here are some helpful lists. If after reading this, you think you'd like to join me in this challenge, leave a comment (with your blog if you plan to blog about it!) and we'll keep each other motivated.  How does that sound?! (Ridiculously fun, y'all, for real. We could start a Facebook group and everything.)

This year, I have outlined the following rules.

1. Grocery shopping. We get paid every other Thursday, so the weekend is usually the best time to get the shopping done; however, usually by Wednesday, our kids (and my husband) have managed to eat everything in the house, so waiting until Saturday is almost always impossible. So in September, I will allow myself two grocery days a fortnight: Thursday (or Friday) after work and then Saturday or Sunday.  The in-between week will have one grocery day allowed for picking up any necessities we're running low on - milk, cereal, bread. Not brownies. No, Lori, brownies do not count.

2. Budgeting. We have a pretty well organized budget as it is, but we always try to leave a cushion which ends up being treated as free play money, not the cushion it ought to be. This September, that cushion will be filled with fluff and will remain fluffy. (Cushions, fluff, you get the metaphor. Give me a break. It's 9:30 pm, and I'm tired.) Regarding the budget, I will also make one other adjustment which I hope will become a permanent one. Knowing that we have that cushion money, every paycheck before I've had time to sit down and pay the bills and allocate the funds to the appropriate accounts (we have several actual accounts, like we're a family business or something), I have a bad habit of doing a little pre-budget spending. That might be getting pizza for dinner that night, ordering a book from Amazon I've been dying to read or buying something new for the kids.  My goal for this month is to do that little bit of spending AFTER paying bills and allocating funds.  That way I have a better method of tracking which fund or account that money came from. Was it from my personal spending money? Grocery fund? It needs to come out of something other than the cushion fluff.

3. Spending money.  Now that Scott and I are both working, we pay ourselves an "allowance" that is totally our own business. Scott does with his spending money whatever he likes and I do the same. The only problem is, I put the grocery money in the same account as my spending money, which often means the two get hopelessly intertwined. Some weeks I end up using my fun money on groceries or kids' needs, and others I end up taking a little out of the grocery fund to cover something for myself. This month, I'm going to keep a transaction record to keep the two separate.

4. No spend days.  This is the hardest part for me. I like to spend money. I like to shop. If I need to get away from life, I like to go to the book store and wander the aisles for hours. (And it's humanly impossible to leave a book store without a book or four.)  Online shopping has made this even worse. Why, just today, I was at a Women In Networking luncheon where the speaker, Emily Reeves Dean, was talking about her book that she self-published, and me being a big supporter of local authors and self-publishers, ordered her book from Amazon. Just sitting there, sipping my iced tea, I spent $11.99. So through the month of September, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be firm No Spend Days.  Thursday or Friday and Saturday or Sunday will be grocery days, but only two of them, not three or four. The other two remaining days will be No Spend Days too.  If I want to spend my fun money, I will wait until one of the shopping days. The benefit of this is that I do not make tiny little purchases throughout the week that add up. If it's something I want badly, I'll still want it at the end of the week. If by the end of the week I don't want it anymore, then it wasn't worth buying to start with.

5. Exceptions. There will be one exception to all of this. Scott and I allow ourselves one evening a week to eat out unplanned.  This is usually on a day where work was exceptionally draining and neither of us want to cook. Lolly's soccer season starts back up in September too, so it might come on a night when we have soccer practice and did not get dinner beforehand. I will continue having this exception. It's needed for my well-being. It may fall on a No Spend Day, but that is okay, because this is the exception and comes out of one of our personal spending allowances. Either Scott will treat me or I'll treat him (and the kids, of course.)

So that's this year's September Shopping Challenge plan. Create your own plan or budget for the month and see what kind of savings you can make or good habits you can form! It'll be fun, I promise! (And by fun, I mean torture-but-worth-it-in-the-end.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Last First First Day of School

Last week, all three of my kids started school. Fifi went into fourth grade, Lolly into second, and little Baby Jaguar - not a baby anymore - started Pre-K.

All three kids went into the same school building at the same time for the first time. For two years they will all be in the same building for the only time in their lives. Fifi will head off to Middle School, and from then on they'll all be off doing different things for the rest of their childhoods.

I remember Fifi's first day of P1 (the equivalent of first grade). It was different than when she went into Nursery (two years equivalent to Pre-K and Kindergarten). She was starting all-day school in a uniform like a real pupil. I cried a little. It was a big deal.

I remember Lolly's first day of Kindergarten. She did NOT want to go to Kindergarten, but I managed to convince her to try at least one day of it. And of course she loved it. I didn't cry. I was happy to see her excited and willing to stay.

Last Monday, Jaguar started Pre-K. It is like Nursery but much more formal. He doesn't wear a uniform, but it's all day and we pack his lunch and he gets a folder that we have to sign each night. Because it's not Kindergarten I didn't think I'd be that emotional about it. But then he went into class the first day. There were tables and chairs and backpack hooks and a place to put his signed folder every morning, and I realized, this was it. This was Jaguar starting school. This was the beginning of the routine he'll follow for the next fourteen years. 

He was so grown up. He wasn't shy. He was impressed by the toys and the alphabet rug and the other kids. He hastily gave me a hug and a kiss, and then I was extraneous. I said a feeble goodbye to the teacher, and Scott put his arm around me, seeing the tears spring in my eyes.

It was my last very first first-day-of-school. From now on, this is our family's routine. Kids to school each morning until Fifi graduates high school. No extra daycare stops. For this year and next we'll drop them off at the same school each morning, but the following year, they will all split up again. Lolly and Jaguar will be in school together, until Lolly catches up with Fifi, just in time for Fifi to head off to Junior High. They will chase each other through the school system until college.

All three of my kids are in school now. Jaguar was only a baby yesterday. Come to think of it, they all were just babies.

"Nothing is as far away as one minute ago."

Time passes too fast.