The Blog

Life unfolds at its own rate.

Ever notice that? It’s why I’m amused by people who talk about surrendering to the unknown -- as if they have a choice. The unknown’s kind of in charge that way.

The other day Darrell and I reminisced about how badly I wanted to go from “intern” to “anchor” at the Minnesota News Network. I came close. Not getting that job hurt a lot. But had I snared it I wouldn’t have met Darrell and there wouldn’t have been a Katie.

Whew.

The experience taught me to grip my dreams more loosely, as my friend Becky Blades might say. It’s eerie, really. The worse something feels the more delight there is around the corner.

Which reminds me I’m not the only one writing my life story.

And, you know, thank heavens.

I have a dream. Nothing too ambitious, mind you -- not this one. But I think it’d be pretty cool to fit everything I care about -- stories, photos, and quite the audio archive of memories -- on a jump drive in my pocket.

Barbara Hemphill makes a living helping people see clutter for what it is, postponed decisions. The last time she joined us on the show I shared my dream with her, and she told me it’s an effort to cope with emotional clutter.

Busted.

Sometimes I wonder how I accomplish anything with all that emotional clutter, a veritable wasteland of inverse success principles. It’s interesting in there, though. Darrell’s amused by my ability to sit for hours -- in the car, for example -- with nothing to entertain myself but my thoughts. I remember working in a restaurant many years ago and hearing the hostess announce a table for someone who was dining alone. After that person’s name she’d said, “Party of one.” And I thought, “That’s me! I’m a party of one.”

The task is to keep it a party -- soothing voices, a festive mood. Not looking up from the latest reverie to see a mountain of paperwork I haven’t dealt with helps.

What helps you cope?

Detroit LakesIf you had to describe me in one word it would probably be something along the lines of excitable -- in a good way? -- as opposed to, say, unflappable. That’s because you haven’t seen me driving through Manhattan during rush hour. Darrell’s too busy freaking out -- which isn’t generally his style -- to notice. Katie’s impressed, though. Of the three of us, I’m the one you want at the wheel -- and I’m not kidding.

Bedlam feels like home. It’s relaxing. It requires focus, which is soothing.

It isn’t boring.

One thing people in our small town notice about me is how rarely I strike up conversations in the grocery store with anyone who’s not already a close friend. One thing Darrell and Katie notice about me when we’re traveling -- especially to big cities -- is how likely I am to have a meaningful exchange with a stranger. That’s because I won’t be asked to update that stranger on the exchange every day for the rest of my life, which would happen if I did it here.

Which isn’t bad, unless you’re me. Then it’s claustrophobic.

Yeah, I know. No one’s forcing us to be here. You know what’s funny? I barely remembered we lived in a small town before Katie went to college, that’s what a sweet and all-consuming distraction she was. After she left I suddenly realized, “Oh, that’s right. I hate this!”

We haven’t sent a change of address form to the post office just yet. It might be a little while. But that’s okay. Knowing it’ll be on the to-do list someday is excitement enough for now.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

When we travel it’s difficult to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I do at home. When we stop for gas I’m not really on the lookout for a bag of broccoli. Call me crazy. I’d rather have a few pumpkin seeds and head back down the road.

So before we leave I bulk up, so to speak, on broccoli and spinach and frozen blueberries. There isn’t room for much in the way of whole wheat pasta, for example, or New England Brown Bread.

Then something unusual happens. My energy -- which rarely flags, not the way I live -- shoots up to borderline disturbing levels. I’m not kidding. How I feel without bread and pasta is as different as how I felt years ago after giving up junk food. I have so much energy I have to cut back on coffee or it would take me hours to fall asleep.

I’m not sure what to make of this yet, but you can bet I’ll be chewing on it for a while!

Ever notice how little criticism you get from happy people? If you haven’t, I invite you to think about that as you move about your day. When people fire shots from the sidelines, consider the possibility they’re bored or angry. That’s their story. It doesn’t have to be yours.

When it comes to letting people be, Darrell’s the master. I’ve learned so much from him. I’ve warned him this move or that one isn’t going to increase the happiness levels of people outside our immediate orbit, and he’s smiled. “You’re probably right,” he says. With a shrug. As if, you know, whatever.

That’s it?

Yep. That’s all it has to be.

You can’t keep everyone happy. It’s impossible. People disagree with each other.

It’s just math.

I’ve practically made a career out of downplaying the 3.0 GPA I graduated with when I got my degree in civil engineering. As if, you know, the professors gifted me with B’s to make sure I got the heck out of there. Perhaps they were rewarding me for keeping things lively by wearing Mr. Bubble T-shirts to class and posing seemingly silly questions.

How Not to Be Wrong author Jordan Ellenberg challenged my version of that GPA on the show recently. Stereotypically but also statistically speaking, he says many more women describe their grades with some variation of what I just described. Men are much more likely to look at a B average as more proof of their intelligence.

Suddenly I remembered the three initials I could put after my name when I graduated besides BSCE: EIT. I was an official Engineer-in-Training. I passed the exam engineering students take as their undergraduate work winds down. The people who graded my exam, I suddenly realized, couldn’t have padded my score because they liked my smile or were amused by what I wore that day. They weren’t in the room with me.

No. I passed. Fair and square. And it’s time to give myself credit for that.

Thanks, Jordan!

What’s your strategy for staying healthy?

What? No strategy?

It’s none of my business, until I pick up something in the store you touched while you were sick.

Darrell and Katie and I go years in between having so much as a cold. Here are a few things that might explain it. We eat well. We work out. We get enough sleep. And we keep the stress at bay by taking regular breaks -- weeks at a time, when we can -- where we do almost nothing. We unplug, recharge, reset.

We also follow the Bon Jovi rule: “No hands to the face.”

There’s one thing I do that has no appeal to Darrell or Katie. I mix a week’s worth of the recommended dose of garlic into some plain Greek yogurt and down that wretched concoction as quickly as I can.

Does it keep me from getting sick? Who knows? Maybe it’s the placebo effect.

Then again, the placebo effect is a thing. You can look it up!

Twenty years or so before I had Katie I watched a new mom watch her husband change their baby’s diaper. It didn’t go well. Mom was not happy with his performance. It made me wonder how the guy held down his so-obviously important position in cubicleland when -- at least according to her -- he couldn’t manage a diaper change.

I’d changed hundreds of diapers by then, babysitting my brothers and sisters and the neighbor kids when they were little. From my vantage point Dad was doing just fine. Why was Mom so difficult to please? Suddenly I wonder if that little bundle of marital strife represented more than just a baby. Maybe the woman needed to get out more. To the mailbox and back, at least. Something.

Darrell was in charge of a few diaper changes himself when Katie was little -- if she got up before I got home from two or three hours of work in the morning, definitely for an hour or two at lunchtime when I was back at the office, and then again for another hour or two in the late afternoon. I scaled way back on work after she was born, but I never completely dropped out. I stayed interested in my own career.

Which accomplished at least two things. It helped me remember I’m a person, not “just” a mom -- which was such a gift to both Katie and me. And it bonded Darrell and Katie in a way people just can’t believe. She had our undivided attention several hours a day -- each of us, alone with just her -- and more than one friend wondered what kind of person she’d become for having grown up in what felt like a lab, that’s how experimental it seemed.

Now we know!

You can spoil a kid with material things. Believe me, I’ve tried. But you can’t spoil her with attention -- as another friend pointed out -- if it’s healthy. Go ahead and try. I dare you!