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How I Finally Found Time for Podcasts

podcasts

podcastsI was a bit late to the podcasting party. I did binge-listen to Season One of Serial when it came out. And as a former Chicago Public Radio employee, I’ve been a faithful fan of  This American Life since the show was launched in the mid 1990’s.

But for someone with a background in radio, it was strange that I didn’t listen to more podcasts once they became all the rage.

The main thing stopping me (or so I thought)?

Time.

When I got laid off a year and a half ago, I’d already committed to reading more. I made the conscious decision that I would continue to read fiction at night, but would begin reading more widely in the non-fiction arena every morning, even if that just meant reading for 15-20 minutes. I really wanted to stay up to speed on developments in the longevity space, and this was the only way I could figure out how to do it. It worked.

I made a similar decision about podcasts a few months back. I kept hearing about all these fantastic shows from people whose tastes I really admired, but somehow I wasn’t finding time in my day to listen.

So I took the advice I give other people (not terribly original, but useful nonetheless), who often ask me how one makes time in a busy day to contemplate career change…or start writing a book…or take up the violin. I told them about the “15 minute rule”: find 15 minutes in your day to experiment with this new thing. Not everyone can find an extra hour in their day; but everyone can find 15 minutes.

That might mean waking up 15 minutes earlier to tackle said activity. It might mean re-allocating 15 minutes you currently apply to something else to this new thing. Or it could mean multi-tasking, if the two activities, like exercise, can be done simultaneously.

In the case of podcasts, I took advantage of two windows in my day: first, the time I set aside for my old-lady stretches. That’s at least 15 minutes every morning and every evening a piece that could be prime listening time. Second, because I don’t have a car, I do a lot of walking around London, especially to and from the local tube station (in addition to the local swimming pool.) Boom. That was another 20 – sometimes 40 – minutes of daily listening.

Before I knew it, I had a whole bunch of new podcasts in my roster and people are now asking *me* for advice on which ones to listen to! (Quick plug for my monthly newsletter: I recommend one podcast a month).

I’m always reassured when solving a problem turns out to be so much easier than I imagined it would be, simply by applying some ingenuity.

How about you? Have you ever sworn that you didn’t have time to do something new and then learned how to sneak it into your day without it overwhelming you?

Share your lessons in the comments section.

Image by Colleen AF Venable via Flickr

 

 

Halloween in London: Why I’ll Never Make It As A Brit

jackolantern

jackolanternToday, in honor of Halloween, I am re-running a post I ran seven years ago about what it’s like to be a grown-up American running around London in a Halloween costume:

So today is Halloween.

And like all good Americans, I arose early and donned a costume.

Neither of my kids’ schools were dressing up this year. But Halloween is increasingly popular here in London, especially in neighborhoods like mine, which are home to their fair share of Americans. So even though my kids weren’t putting on their costumes, I thought: “What the heck?” and threw mine on for fun.

And that’s  – as we say over here – where it all went a bit pear-shaped.

You see, for the past five years I’ve dressed up as a witch on Halloween. This basically amounted to wearing a large, black, pointy hat, a black sweater and some black jeans and boots. But I was tired of being a witch. Plus, my hat had started to droop. So this year, when browsing for my son’s costume in a local shop, I decided to go crazy and buy a wimple.

For those in the know,  a wimple is that black and white thing that nuns wear around their faces.(Think Maria, pre-Captain, in The Sound of Music.)

From there, it was just a  matter of rummaging around in my closet for a frumpy, over-sized, white turtle neck, a plain, black skirt, some dark tights, a pair of clunky shoes, a semi-gaudy cross and – within minutes  – I looked just like my father’s Irish cousin, good old Sister Claudette.

Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with myself. (It’s amazing what can impress you when you’re unemployed.)

But then I went outside. And that’s when the fun really started.

You see, no one realized that it was a joke. That was fine, when I was walking through my neighborhood at eight a.m. past all manner of  harried parents, construction workers, commuters and shop owners. They could be forgiven for thinking that I was either a real  nun or just…a bit strange. But by the time I hit the school run and – STILL – no one had gotten the joke, I knew I was in trouble.

The first person I ran across was a good friend – (and fellow American, though she’s lived here for 15 years) – who was rushing to catch a train. I greeted her with something on the order of “God Bless you, my child,” at which point she did a double-take and paused to take me in.

“Are you going to wear that all day?” she asked, somewhat aghast.

Then I hit the school gate. After a few odd looks on my way in, I found myself standing in line behind a recent immigrant from Lebanon with the improbable name of  – wait for it – Jihad. It was Jihad’s daughter’s first day of school and he had all sorts of questions for me. I got so caught up in orienting him about the school that I completely forgot that I was dressed as a nun…until, of course, I turned to introduce him to my daughter and I noticed that he looked a bit uneasy.

“Oh! Right!” I chuckled, glancing down at my habit. “This is just a Halloween costume. I’m American,” I added, by way of explanation.

“It’s O.K., Madam,” he answered, smiling politely but looking over his shoulder as if a taxi might miraculously present itself within the school yard.

At line-up time, I ran into another acquaintance. While not American, she’d lived in the U.S. for at least five years. But when her gaze fell upon my costume, she looked positively grief-stricken.

“It’s for Halloween!” I said, clapping her on the shoulder, thinking that she didn’t recognize me and was wondering why my daughter had been escorted to school by a nun.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I thought that maybe…maybe…” Her voice trailed off.

You thought that maybe I’d gone into the convent over half-term?

I left my daughter’s school, dejected. No one seemed to get the joke. No one seemed amused. They all seemed perplexed…and mildly concerned.

Of course, I should have been prepared for this. I’ve appropriated a lot of things during my five years living in the U.K. – The BBC, The NHS, even a fair bit of British slang. But one thing I’ve never quite internalized is the whole buttoned-down, reticent thing.

For better or for worse, I’m loud. I’m chatty. And, no. I’m not afraid to walk around dressed as a nun at nine o’clock on a Monday morning in October. Especially if it’s Halloween.

On my way home, I ran into one of my son’s ten-year-old friends who did recognize me, wimple and all.

“Bless you, my child,” I said, half-heartedly making the sign of the cross.

He studied me carefully, looking me up and down.

“But that’s not scary!” he finally exclaimed.

Oh, my dear, you’d be surprised.

Image: Halloween pumpkin lantern by Barnimages.com via Flickr

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Why I Hate Sundays

Mamma Mia

Mamma MiaI saw Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again recently with my 14-year-old daughter. I need to get that out of the way up front in case there are any ABBA haters out there. Yes, the film is cheesy as all get out. And yes, Cher makes an appearance in a platinum blonde wig towards the end, improbably cast as Meryl Streep’s mother and Andy Garcia’s long-lost lover.

My daughter kept asking me who “Cher” was.

“Be quiet!” I hissed, brooking no distractions as I drank in Cher’s velvety rendition of Fernando.

Sunday Dread

I saw the film on a Sunday. Watching Mamma Mia was probably the best anti-depressant I could have hoped for. I hate Sundays. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who could enjoy them as much as I enjoy Saturdays. I desperately want to experience it as just another day of rest a day when – as The Lord’s Prayer so aptly puts it – you can “protect yourself from all anxiety,” kick back with a craft beer and read The New Yorker.

But it’s never been like that for me. Invariably, I wake up early, even though it’s the only day of the week that I don’t set an alarm. I always feel like I’m right on the edge of a tidal wave of despair, but that if I swim fast enough, I can just escape being swallowed up. So I douse any lingering anguish with a double espresso, and hope for the best.

I call this feeling “Sunday dread.” I used to think that it all stemmed from an underlying fear of Mondays and the resumption of normal activity. But I’ve been in a career transition for the past year, so I don’t have that excuse anymore. Monday can be whatever I want it to be. And still the Sunday dread arrives.

I’ve tried to flee this awful feeling at various points in my life with all manner of activities: swimming lessons, phone calls to old friends, elaborate brunches where I experimented with the kinds of foods I imagined people in Southern California to be eating: kale burritos or banana chip loaf. You know, relaxed people.

But it’s to no avail. I can’t escape the underlying anguish. It’s sort of like having a hangover, except that I don’t really get drunk anymore. Still, there is that vague undercurrent of nausea and fatigue, exacerbated by too much caffeine. Over the course of the day, what might have been depression morphs into a prickly disquietude. As with a hangover, I know I just need to ride it out until it passes. And eventually, it does.

Childhood Sundays

I blame my father for my hatred of Sundays. As a child, he forced all four of us kids to go to church on Sunday mornings. He was a devout, if deeply conflicted, Catholic. My mother had left Catholicism when I was born, refusing to carry on submitting to a religion that obliged her to keep having children. I was never quite sure what to make of the fact that my birth simultaneously prompted my mother to abandon religion and my father to quit drinking.

But the upshot was that she stayed home and slept while the rest of us trudged off to Mass. So, church was never a neutral experience for me. It was always entangled in some sort of deep, unspoken conflict between the two of them, glimpses of which would occasionally bubble to the surface and then recede.

In the late afternoons, we’d drive down to visit my Grandmother on the outskirts of Newark, NJ, where my father had grown up. Our family had long since “graduated” from this part of Jersey. My Dad became a successful lawyer and escaped to a big house in a good school district further North in the state. But Sundays meant revisiting the bleakness of East Orange – a town name that still rings with the false promise of a Fitzgerald novel. To my seven-year-old eyes, it was nothing but a string of shuttered factories and faded corner stores with chipped paint, all surrounded by shady looking men drinking out of paper bags.

The Warmth of New Possibility

I live in London now. This means that if I’m up before 9 a.m. on Sunday – as I was the day I watched Mamma Mia – I can listen to the “Sunday worship” program on the BBC (a live broadcast of an Anglican service), while I empty the dishwasher. There’s no separation of Church and State in the U.K. So you often get this weird (to an American ear, anyway) co-mingling of the religious with the secular. Still, I find it soothing to listen to the rote mumblings of the Episcopalian service, which is so similar to a Catholic mass…and yet, distinct.

Yesterday, the weather here conspired to make me feel even worse than usual. London is experiencing its first proper heat wave since 1976. This is not a country that’s set up for this much heat, and I don’t just mean the lack of air conditioning. The baseline mood of your average Brit hovers somewhere between dour and nonplussed. So, when it gets above 80 degrees Fahrenheit – as it has on several occasions in the past six weeks – people lose it. They just don’t know how to operate with this much…bright light.

For me, however, the sun has been an unexpected blessing. In a summer where I’ve been trying to land an agent for a book I’ve written and launch a new business, the weather has lifted my mood. Every day has felt full of possibility. Like it was all within my reach. And work might finally be, I don’t know…fun?

Until yesterday. For the first time in over 45 days, it was windy and rainy, and we reverted to the London of Charles Dickens and Graham Greene.

Which brings us back to Mamma Mia. Cher sang: “There was something in the air last night, the stars were bright, Fernando.”

And for two hours, I could breathe. When I stepped out of the cinema into the light rain, I felt hopeful again.

Image: Mamma Mia by Nick Grabowski via Flickr

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things To Do on a Staycation

War and Peace

War and PeaceMy family is doing a staycation this year. We’re taking a few local trips here and there. But mostly – due to assorted work deadlines and general exhaustion with, well, life  – we’ll be at home in London.

Apparently, we’re not alone. Here in the U.K., anxieties around Brexit have prompted many more British people to vacation at home this year. In the United States, the word staycation is  now enshrined in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

I love London, so I don’t really mind being here in the summer. Still, the longer days, warmer weather, and changes to the kids’ schedules do inspire me to do things a bit differently, if for no other reason than to shake up my own routine.

So if, like me, this is a summer when you’re going to give traveling a pass, here are some ways to mark the occasion:

1. Discover a new place. One way to make a staycation feel special is to travel somewhere new near your home. This might be a new museum, a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, or that park that’s just a bit too far to visit during the school year. At the top of my list is to take a backstage tour of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London’s oldest theatre. On their tours, a group of actors perform key events from this theatre’s rich history while you look around. I may even do this on my own, since I don’t think any of my friends or family quite share my thespian enthusiasm. (Adulthood fantasy #6 is where I manage a community theatre troupe in which I also make the occasional cameo. Hey, we all need to dream…)

2. Get a new toy. Usually, we associate the novelty of a new toy with children. But it’s an equally valid concept for adults, who also need to play. One year, my summer treat to myself was a collapsible bicycle (a Brompton, for those in the know). We don’t own a car, so I used the bike as a way to commute around my neighborhood. This year, as our espresso grinder gasps its last breaths, my new toy is more likely to be from the coffee gadget family (always a winner in my household).

3. Learn a new skill. On a previous staycation, my husband and I took the command decision that it  was an opportune time to teach our then (gasp!) nine year-old how to ride a bike. This year, given that I’m about to launch my own business, I’m thinking of really mastering powerpoint for once and for all. Don’t laugh. It’s a really useful skill!

4. Tackle something on your “dreaded” to-do list. I once wrote a post entitled “Five Ways To Get On Top Of Your To Do List.” One of the strategies I recommended was to divide your to-do list in half into long-term and short-term items. The idea was to tick something off of the short list every day, and to take a step towards removing something on the long list every week. I think this strategy works very well. But it does pre-suppose that every so often, you really do take that crucial step on the dreaded (long) to-do list. In my case, I’ve had “hang rest of pictures up” on my long list there since we moved into this house four years ago. Not kidding. This may finally be the year I do it. After that? Wash duvet cover…

5. Read some really long books. Let’s face it. We all have a list of books on our bedside table which – tempting as they might seem – we never get around to reading because they’re just too long. And I don’t mean the medicinal ones that you feel you *ought* to read so that you’re up to speed on such and such a topic. (Eternal Message of Muhammed anyone? Oh, is that just me?) No, I mean the really good ones that entail a level of commitment that’s just beyond your comfort level during a busy week. I love Karl Ove Knausgaard but many are his books intense. August just might be the time to tackle Autumn. If time, there’s always Tolstoy’s War and Peace. No, seriously.

What are you doing this summer around home?

Image: War and Peace book via Wikimedia Commons

Important announcement! If you like these Friday round-ups, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Weddings Make You Feel Young

wedding

weddingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always loved weddings. When I was younger, I saw them as a giant, free party.

And I still do. But as I age – and move out of the wedding phase of life and into the era when everybody starts getting divorced – I don’t go to all that many weddings anymore.

So when I do,  they are a real source of rejuvenation for me personally.

There are the obvious reasons for this: true love, the pageantry, Pachelbel’s Canon etc.

But there are also other ways in which attending a wedding will give you an much needed energy boost. Here are five:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Romantic Weddings at Janna Sur Mer d’Amour, Lebanon via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Adulthood: Five Signs You’d Make a Lousy Housewife

ironing

ironingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I have tremendous respect for women (and men) who choose to work inside the home. And yet, when it comes to myself, I’m fairly certain that – even if I wanted to – I could never make it as a housewife. (Or house husband, as the case may be.)

If you’ve ever wondered whether you were meant to work primarily inside or outside the home, here are five indicators that should influence your decision:

1. You need help operating basic appliances. I’m not talking about fancy, fuzzy-logic rice cookers or super-deluxe espresso machines (replete with matching grinders). I’m talking boilers. Last summer, my husband and I noticed that the heat would come on at seemingly odd times. We tried tinkering with the thermostat in the hallway, but that had no effect. But then the heat would go off again and we’d forget all about it. The other day, while a service repair man was at my flat fixing our washer/dryer, I asked him if he could take a look at our boiler to figure out what the problem was. He opened the cabinet, looked at the boiler for about three seconds, and then turned to me and said…“Um…Madam? See this large red button here that says ‘On?”

Read the rest of this post over at Kuellife…

Image: Four clothing irons on an ironing board by Your Best Digs via Flickr

My New Year’s Resolution: Slow Living

Hello there. And Happy New Year!

It’s been a while since I forced myself to set some New Year’s Resolutions. The last time I did  it – at least publicly, on this blog – I not only listed the resolutions I’d set for myself that year, but offered some tips for keeping them. (And yes, I’m pleased to report that of the five that I put down that year, three of them  –  getting a job, eating less meat and seeing more of the U.K. outside London – have all been realised.) Still need to work on “being more romantic” and “easing up on my kids.” Sigh.

But I thought I’d do something different this year, which is to set a goal for myself that I hope others will also emulate: to begin to consciously practice slow living.

There’s an entire philosophy underpinning the slow living movement, which I’ve yet to immerse myself in. (For a great primer, check out Carl Honoré’s book and blog.) Here’s how he describes it:

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace.It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

I got wind of it through my husband, who happened upon this BBC Radio 4 special on slow living – featuring Carl himself – and recommended that I listen to it. (My husband and I have an ongoing I go too fast/you go too slow dynamic in our marriage, although in the last year and a half since we’ve both taken on new, incredibly busy jobs, I’d say that we both suffer from the “going too fast” dynamic.)

Revealingly, the first time I sat down to listen to the first segment of this programme, I found myself simultaneously paying bills, checking emails and shopping for post-Christmas bargains Online. In other words, although I recognised the value of forcing myself to listen to a programme about the virtues of slowing down, I couldn’t seem to find the time to slow down and actually listen to it. Exhibit A.

But then my husband suggested that we listen to it together, over coffee, one Sunday morning during the Christmas holidays. And so we did. And the more I listened to the three people featured in the BBC programme, all of whom desperately needed advice from Carl on how to slow down, the more I saw myself – or better put, versions of myself throughout the day: as wife, as mother, as worker – grafted onto their lives.

I won’t ruin the programme for you, which is well worth listening to. (Note: it’s on the BBC website for one more day, and the second part airs tomorrow.) But here are three actionable items I took away from it – the “learnings,” as we say at my office – which I hope to implement immediately:

1. Do something slow every day. It could be gardening. One guy on the programme takes up ironing. I myself made a banana bread today. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as the activity allows you to perform a slow, repetitive motion that enables you to practice, physically, the art of slowing down.

2. Create larger spaces between activities. If you’re like me, you race around from activity to activity – especially those involving your kids – leaving yourself just enough time (if that) to make it to the next thing. You actually feel lucky if you manage to eek out an extra five minutes to run to the dry cleaner or return a library book. But one of the things Carl recommends is deliberately building more time in in between activities, to eliminate that feeling that you are always “just in time.” (Phew!)

3. Say no to one thing everyday. Of all the kernels of wisdom that I gleaned from this 30 minute segment on slow living, the one that must rung true for me was the piece of advice to “say no to one thing every day that you’d normally say yes to.” It could be coffee with a neighbour when you’re completely fried. It could be volunteering for that extra bake sale at the PTA. These days, for me, it’s usually something at work. Someone asks me to edit an article that isn’t technically part of my job. Someone asks me to go to a meeting that I don’t really need to attend. I’m given an impossible deadline but fail to ask for an extension. There’s something truly liberating in learning the word “No.” Try it sometime.

I don’t know about you, but all of this feels very right to me at this stage of my life, both personally and professionally. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What have you resolved to do differently in the new year?

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Weddings Make You Feel Young

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always loved weddings. When I was younger, I saw them as a giant, free party.

And I still do. But as I age – and move out of the wedding phase of life and into the era when everybody starts getting divorced – I don’t go to all that many weddings anymore.

So when I do – as I did some weeks back – they are a real source of rejuvenation for me personally.

There are the obvious reasons for this: true love, the pageantry, Pachelbel’s Canon etc.

But there are also other ways in which attending a wedding will give you an much needed energy boost. Here are five:

1. Dancing – I’ve loved the weddings I’ve gone to in a friend’s basement as much as the ones I’ve gone to that took over an entire hotel. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. But I must say that if you haven’t gone out dancing in a while – (and let’s be honest, who does that after they hit 40?) – boy, is it fun to go to someone else’s dancing party. At the wedding I attended recently, there was a large age spread among the guests. So the DJ went out of his way to alternate a bunch of contemporary music – which brought out my teen-aged nieces and nephews – with some classic music that got the – ahem – older crowd out there.  I mean, seriously. Come On, Eileen followed by Twist and Shout? What’s not to love?

2. Drinking – I don’t know about you, but ever since I turned 40 I can’t drink more than two beers without getting a hangover. But sometimes it really is fun to throw caution to the wind, stock up on your migraine medicine, and get out there and belly up to the bar. (Especially when you’re partying with 18 year-olds…) I hate to say it but it *will* make you feel young again. (Until the hangover kicks in, anyway…)

3. Socializing – Yes, as I age I’m all in favor of hanging out in smaller groups. But once in a while it’s exhilarating to enter a room with 100 people and…mingle. At the wedding I went to recently, I spoke with friends from high school, relatives ranging from 3 to 83, and complete strangers. My favorite guest was one of my nephew’s friends, a 20 year-old guy who kept repeating the phrase “I’m just here to have fun” and became the Zelig of the entire event, appearing in every photo and dancing to every tune. I dubbed him “random party guy” and kept circling back to check in on him throughout the weekend.

4. Travel – One of the nicest aspects of weddings is that they often take you to places you’d never go otherwise. And that gives you a chance to soak up a different atmosphere, whether it’s the Deep South or a remote beach or a foreign country. Over the years, I’ve been to weddings in Birmingham,Paris, Cape Cod and Daytona Beach. And part of the appeal of each one was the chance to soak up the local culture. The wedding I went to recently took place on a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island. I didn’t even know they had vineyards on Long Island but it was absolutely beautiful. (And helped out with #2, natch…)

5. Cake – I will not pretend otherwise that my favorite dessert on earth is wedding cake. If at heart you have the dietary preferences of an 11 year-old boy, it gets no better than this.

 

Image: Wedding Cake by THEMACGIRL via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You’re Not “Settled In”

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One British phrase I hear a lot these days is “How are you settling in?”

I get it with respect to my recent move. I also get it with respect to my new job.

And my answer, I fear, is “Not very well.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love our new flat. And while the job has been super-busy, it’s also very interesting and I’m learning a lot and getting terrific experience as a manager.

But “settled in?” Not hardly.

There are lots of reasons for this, but I think the main one is that a lot of the basic things I rely upon to give my life some semblance of order have been absent over the past couple of months. Which has caused me, in turn, to reflect upon what it is- exactly – that furnishes us with a sense of control over our day-to-day existence.

So here’s my list of what throws me off-kilter when it goes missing. I’d love to hear yours:

1. You lose your phone. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time not so long ago when none of us had a cell phone. We do so much on our phones now – from texting to scanning the news to mapping journeys to updating our status on Facebook – that they really have become an all-purpose gadget in the digital age. But  I don’t think you quite realize the degree to which you are dependent on your cell phone until you lose it or it breaks down, as mine did last week. Boy, was that an eye opener. Not only did the temporary phone the store gave me lack about half of my contact list, it was also a very primitive model, so there was no internet access/no weather/no Twitter/no bells and whistles/nothing. If you want to feel disoriented in five seconds flat, try texting someone  on a phone you don’t know how to work. Your text will look like a ransom note and you will suddenly feel like you have lost complete control of your life.

2. Your house is in disarray. Thanks largely to my husband, our move to a new flat this time around was about as smooth as it’s ever been. But as anyone who’s moved house regularly knows, there’s moving in and there’s moving in. We’ve done about 80% of the work now – the furniture is where it’s meant to be and the dishes are on the right shelves. But behind every sofa still lurks a pile of unhung picture frames and if you open any random drawer you are likely to discover a surfeit of random medical supplies. After my last move, I wrote a post about living with mess and coming to “radically accept” that unfinished feeling. But boy it ain’t easy.

3. You’re off social media. Granted, this one isn’t going to be as unsettling for some as it is for others. But if you’re used to being Online several hours a day for several years, to wake up and suddenly find yourself “somewhere else” during the day – in the dreaded “real world” – is profoundly disconcerting. In my case, adjusting to less time in cyber-space has been compounded by a glitch in my Seesmic account, which – for the non-initiated out there – is a fabulous, free software program that enables you to manage things like Facebook and Twitter all in one place. I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, but – as with the lack of my mobile phone –  I feel decidedly handicapped by the transaction costs entailed in using less sophisticated technology to access them. Simply put, I just don’t have all of my usual tools at my disposal.

4. You interrupt your exercise schedule. This is really key. For many of us – even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as particularly sporty – having some sort of exercise routine is a key way that we instill a sense of order and purpose into our weeks. In my own case, I’ve been pretty good for the last several years about running three times a week and doing yoga or Pilates on a fourth day. But since I moved and changed jobs, that’s all gone out the window. I’m still keeping up the running (more or less), but Pilates has virtually disappeared. And I’m feeling the consequences, both physically and mentally. I can’t afford to let this happen. Nor can my back. So until I resume Pilates, I know I’m going to feel off my game.

5. You lack a routine. When I took my new job, I negotiated that I would be part-time for the first two months and full-time thereafter. This decision was largely dictated by my imminent move and also by the fact that we didn’t have any childcare in place at the time. And while this arrangement has helped me manage both of those things, it’s also meant that I haven’t had much of a routine yet at work; some days I’m there a full day, while others I’m there only four or five hours. Some people groove on the lack of routine, but not me. Having no two days alike just makes me feel out of sorts and I actually think I’ll relax more once I’m there full time.

 

How about you? What kinds of things make you feel like you haven’t “settled in”?

 

Image: Cell Phone by JonJon2Kate  via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Secrets To Dinner Parties

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Once, when I was just out of college and living with three friends in Washington, DC, I told one of my friend’s mothers that my roommates and I were going to throw a party.

“Oh?” she asked. “What will you serve?”

I paused, unsure how to answer.

“Um…beer?” I said, finally.

What a difference twenty five years makes.

While I still love beer, I do believe that one of the hallmarks of adulthood is leaving the phase where beer and (if you’re lucky) chips will do and stepping things up a notch to more grown-up fare.

Which isn’t to say it’s easy. Although I resolved earlier this year to have people over to our house more often (and made good on that promise), it’s taken me a while to figure out how to entertain without finding it stressful. Because even though I’m fairly far out there on the extrovert spectrum, it does make me anxious to have to organise a meal for anyone other than my family.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that things have gotten easier in that department. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Less is more. As with so many things in life, less proves to be more. Once upon a time – partly for efficiency reasons (“I’m cooking anyway“)  and partly because I’ve always subscribed to the “the more, the merrier” school of thought -I would routinely have dinner parties of eight or more. Among other things, it just seemed more sociable. These days, in contrast, six is my maximum. And increasingly, having just one couple over is becoming the norm in our household. Not only is it a lot less work, but when you keep a dinner party small, you can actually talk to your guests and…egads!…listen to what they have to say. Try it. It turns out that having fewer people over to dinner is actually more fun.

2. Clear the decks. For a long time, I thought that the reason I found entertaining stressful was because I hated to cook. Turns out, I don’t hate to cook. I even, on occasion, find it therapeutic. What I found stressful was not having enough counter space to prepare the dishes. So while I was getting ready for the dinner party, I’d constantly feel like the party itself was closing in on me. It helps to have a large kitchen if you want to feel less hemmed in. But let’s face it, I live in London so that’s not happening. But even if you don’t have a large kitchen, if you can somehow manage to clear the counters of clutter before you start cooking – so that your cookbook (see below) isn’t balanced precariously on top of your mixing bowl – you’ll find that the whole thing is much more enjoyable, if not artful!

3. Get a good cook book. I’ve always admired my friends who could just stare at a bunch of random ingredients and whip up something delicious. But that’s just not me. Nor will it ever be. I have learned, however, the value of a good cook book over time. Having a few recipes which you know are a. doable and b. tasty takes a ton of stress out of meal preparation. A few years back, a friend of mine gave me a cookbook called How To Cook For Food Allergies, because of my son’s multiple food allergies. I cracked this book open one day and realized that it was a gold mine – not so much for him (he really doesn’t care what he eats), but for me. It’s chock full of absolutely fantastic, healthy recipes and I’ve been using it as my staple ever since.

4. Practice meals in advance. This ought to be a no-brainer, but I’ve been burnt before on many an occasion so I thought I’d share it with you. Unless you’re super-confident in the kitchen (and I think I can safely say that I’m not), you do not want your dinner party to be the first time that you try out a new dish. Rather, once you identify a meal that sounds promising, try it out on your family and/or spouse first and see how it fares. Sometimes things that sound great are real duds. Trust me.

5. Don’t make dessert. I love dessert. In fact, it’s my favorite part of the meal. But when you’re pressed, it’s hard to find time to prepare appetizers, entrées and desserts for 4-6 people. So even though I don’t mind baking, I usually buy my desserts in advance so that I don’t have that extra task hanging over me before a dinner party. Takes the pressure off.

 

How about you? What are your secrets for making entertaining less stressful and more fun?

 

Image: The Dinner Party by mapgirl271 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.