Archive for June, 2014

The gift of time and lazy Saturday naps

I’ve only learned the value of napping in my twenties.

During my first couple years of college, I flat-out refused to nap, seeing it not so much as a sign of weakness or a lack of motivation, but as something only boring people did.

There were way too many basketball games to watch, video games to play, new music to listen to, people to meet, things to learn and places to explore in college to waste any time during the day idly napping.

But my disdain for napping vanished as I hit true sleep deprivation sometime during my junior year. Naps became refreshing, enviable, necessary. I realized the right time to take a nap was when none of those otherwise fun things – like Mexican food with friends, a football game in the student cheering section or a “Sex and the City” marathon with my roommates – seemed like fun. When I lacked the energy to do anything but stare into space, I learned to take a nap.

And that ability has stayed with me, even though the severity of my sleep deprivation, thankfully, has faded.

Now, I’ve “put in my time,” got promoted out of my new-kid work week of Tuesday-Saturday, and discovered the joy of lazy Saturday afternoon naps.

I’m still not the type to let life pass me by or sleep away an entire day. I tend to wake up around 7:30 on Saturdays, go for a run, eat breakfast or brunch, do a little cleaning around the apartment and cross a couple chores like grocery shopping off my responsible adult to-do list.

But when I’ve got nothing specific left that I absolutely must accomplish and a few hours until dinner, I’ve come to enjoy making this nap time. It seems the second I lie down and flip to something boring on TV, I’m relaxed, groggy and soon to be sleeping. So when it’s not a day for a lazy Saturday nap, I’m careful not to plop in front of the screen for even a few minutes.

But when it is Saturday nap time, it’s glorious. And coming from someone who just five or six years ago saw “nap” as a bad word, that’s saying a lot.

Maybe I’ve learned a bit about how to relax. Maybe I’m cutting my overachieving self a little bit of slack. Or maybe I’ve still got quite a ways to go before truly accomplishing either of those things.

But when I’m restfully enjoying a Saturday afternoon on the couch, I like to think I’m making progress.

Now, if only it were Saturday …

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In the ABCs of twenty-something life, I is for Idols

If this isn’t a saying, maybe it should be: “Whoever you idolize says a lot about you.”

Because it does. If you’re someone whose idols are pretty literal – celebrities, American Idol winners, professional athletes – that says a certain something about you. Same as if your idols are all historical figures, politicians, musicians, popular authors, family members or personal figures within your own life.

I’d say a healthy mix of all of the above is what we should strive for in terms of idols, role models, mentors – whatever we want to call them.

I’ve got my share of inconsequential idols who really don’t direct how I live my life. Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls, Brian Fallon and Gaslight Anthem, Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City” … you get the gist.  And I’ve got a handful of writers I admire and co-workers I look up to, one because he gets to do what I would consider my dream job. As far as idols go, these ones are middle-of-the-road. They’re people who can set a good example for parts of my life but have no bearing on other aspects of it.

But the most important “idols,” I’d say, are the ones no one else would recognize. These unknown, personal idols are the ones who truly inspire and motivate us because they truly know us. They’re our mentors, friends and family.

I look up to my toughest college professor who hired me to be a research assistant for her book about campus architecture. She helped me learn to “just write it” first and perfect it later, and she instilled in me an interest in old buildings. If my career turns out like hers, I’ll be satisfied.

I’m always drawn to people who are unselfish and have figured out something I still struggle with – the way to focus on others first. I have a couple of friends who truly stand out in this area, and I admire the example they set.

And in my family, it’s hard not to idolize my parents for their unconditional love, gracious listening, generosity, hard work and constant support

But the man I’m realizing I idolize more and more is my Grandpa. My best talents, abilities and habits all seem to stem from my Grandpa, who studied journalism and went on to be a college professor. I remember reading my first chapter book (something about the pink Power Ranger) while sitting on his lap. He gave me my first “Memory Book,” which helped me start a lifelong habit of journaling. And he accurately predicted that my complete lack of algebra skills would lead to success in geometry. If my life turns out as complete and well-rounded as his, I’ll be satisfied.

I’ve got my idols – from the ones I watch on TV and hear on my iPod, to the ones who actually help guide my life. And I’m sure you have yours. So what do they say about you?

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Three tips on what to get the parents

My friends and I struggle, on occasion, when it comes time to buy our parents a gift.

And by “on occasion,” I mean any occasion. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, Christmas/Hanukkah/holidays, etc – every time one of these dates rolls around, what to get the parents is a challenge.

We want something that shows our gratitude for all they’ve done for us and illustrates just how grown up we are. We want something that shows the appropriate amounts of thought and spontaneity. And we want it to be cheap but not seem cheap.

That narrows the list of possible gifts significantly. But there’s more.

We can no longer use a lot of the gifts that got us through our childhood and teen years. Stick-figure drawings or sloppily painted pottery from art class just aren’t cute anymore, coming from someone who’s 23 or 27. iTunes money can only fly every so often and giving just a card (or a card promising to do our own laundry for a month, dry the dishes for a week or clean our rooms) doesn’t do it anymore, either.

Trouble is, many of our parents have few real hobbies. They might like World War II movies or golfing, romance novels or celebrity cookbooks, but we’ve bought all the decent gifts we can think of in those categories already. This is why we feel stuck.

Luckily, at least a few strategies exist for twenty-somethings in need of a parental gift.

1. Usable, useful, gone

For the parents who have everything, and like nothing, a gift that’s not disposable, but not permanent, either, may be the way to go. Things in this “usable, useful, gone” category include anything edible – chocolate covered peanut butter pretzel nuggets, one of those “instant soup in a jar” recipe concoctions, fudge from Door County, a deep-dish pizza (even if it’s deep-frozen and shipped across the country), or anything your parentals like to eat but don’t normally buy. Drinkables fall into this category, too, although not everyone has the type of relationship where buying alcohol for their parents seems like a good idea. Other useful favorites that won’t stay around forever include stationery (as long as your parent doesn’t run a school supply business like my dad does), lotion or candles. Go for these types of gifts if your parents are packrats or hovering anywhere near the line between keeper-of-clutter and hoarder.

2. The spy

Turn on your secret cameras and hidden audio recorders for this strategy, because it requires you to listen carefully to things your parents say, remember them, and turn them into ingenious gift ideas. If your dad tells a story about almost losing his credit card and driver’s license because they fell out of his 1980s-era wallet, a new one could be the perfect Father’s Day gift. If your mom says her favorite author might have a new book, scope it out and pick her up a copy. There’s really nothing to this method of gifting … except the difficulty of remembering these “hints,” which often are dropped stealthily into everyday conversations about anything but upcoming holidays and gift suggestions. That’s why you have to purposely switch into spy mode at least a few weeks before each occasion requiring a gift, and then use some method of recording anything that might be helpful. Write it down in your planner, text it to yourself, start a draft in gmail – do whatever you have to do to make sure your secretly acquired gift idea isn’t forgotten. And then keep the secret until it’s time for mom or dad to unwrap in surprise.

3. Time warp

If all else fails, don’t give up, just pull a repeat. If you gave your parents a certain type of gift years ago and they liked it, odds are, they’ll like it all over again now. Plus, they’re your parents. They’ll love you even if you give them the same thing twice … or three times, or every time … Just don’t push it. Happy gifting!

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In the ABCS of twenty-something life, H is for Health

Health was yearly check-ups and Band-aids on boo-boos when we were kids.

It was a class when we were in high school, and it probably involved “don’t do drugs” lectures, condom demos on bananas and not much else.

In college, health was something that could be neglected for pressing situations like 20-page paper deadlines or 21st birthday barcrawls.

And now, health is just one of our many important responsibilities. Gotta love twenty-something life.

H could be for health in any era of our lives, but this is the phase when we become more financially and personally liable for our physical and emotional well-being. If we’re not yet paying for our own health insurance, we soon will be, and that changes things.

Having to pay for health care might not consciously shape our decisions about eating, sleeping, exercising and managing stress, but subconsciously, it makes a difference.

We’re more likely to eat when we’re hungry, sleep when we’re tired and exercise regularly when we not only have a little more free time than we did in college, but when we also have more motivation to stay in good health. When we’re taking paycheck deductions for health insurance and shelling out for co-pays when we do need to see a doc, our pocketbooks become our motivation.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll stop nibbling on junk food at game night even if we’re full or that we’ll go to sleep every night with enough time to get eight hours in before we have to wake up (I wish!). But it does mean we’re halfway there to learning to make healthier decisions and actually enjoy them.

Maybe we’re packing fruit and vegetables to snack on at work. Maybe we’re taking walk breaks in the afternoon or doing jumping jacks during the commercials of our favorite TV shows. Maybe we’re writing in a journal or giving yoga a try when we’re overwhelmed and stressed out, and maybe we’re experimenting with Greek yogurt, kale, quinoa or vegetarian recipes – even if only because they’re trendy.

These changes are certainly taking place among my friends, as even the most coffee-addicted of former college newspaper staffers now are running 10Ks and scaling back caffeine consumption to only the occasional iced tea.

It’s all part of becoming more mature, more adult. It seems to happen naturally and it only becomes scary or strange when we pause to think about it.

So in the interest of mental health, that’s enough of that. And in the interest of physical health, I’m out to seize this day and make it one of some morning pilates, a productive but long work day, nutritious food and, if I’m lucky, a bedtime journal entry – because that’s what good health means to me.

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