Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Turkey or Ham for Thanksgiving?

Mara here:

So yesterday was Thanksgiving.

I actually visited my parents for a couple of days and then my daughter and I flew home early Thanksgiving morning to spend the rest of the day with my husband. In a moment of madness a month ago, I thought that catching a 6:30 a.m. flight was a smart thing to do. We'd get home early and there would be a much smaller likelihood of getting delayed.

However, faced with the actual prospect of having to deal with my teenager at 5:00 a.m. to get her to the airport made me rethink that decision.

Let's just focus on the good things.

Turkey. I love turkey. I love the turkey wings. I love the whole idea of eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I even love the turkey leftovers. I think to myself every year that I might make turkey soup. It hasn't happened yet, but it might.

So it was very confusing to me when I married my husband and he asked me if we were going to have turkey or ham on Thanksgiving.

Um, what?

I had never heard of not eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I didn't even know that was an option. If you have ham there's no carving of the turkey. There's no wishbone. There's no turkey sandwiches.

How can there be no turkey?

Apparently, lots of people prefer other meats to turkey at Thanksgiving. I am suspicious of these people, but they do exist.

My husband loves ham. It's not that he minds having turkey. He likes turkey. But given the choice, he'd probably pick ham over turkey. And I'd probably agree with him on every other day of the year...but not on Thanksgiving.

Here's a funny story about when we were living in London. One of our local friends very kindly hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for us. It was surprisingly strange to be living somewhere where Thanksgiving wasn't celebrated.

So we arrived at our friend's house and one of the dishes served was a root vegetable medley. He wanted to know if that was a common dish because he had looked up "American Thanksgiving Meal" and that's what had popped up. We sheepishly admitted that "No, we don't usually eat root vegetables on Thanksgiving." I can only guess that he was looking at Martha Stewart's menu for a colonial American meal. The dish was delicious and it was such a sweet gesture. We were so thankful for his friendship.

This year we made a turkey because, although I no longer insist there be turkey, I prefer it. It always gets my vote.

So what about you? Do you prefer turkey, ham or something else for Thanksgiving?

My mom and I are so thankful to everyone who takes the time to spend a few moments reading our blog. We hope everyone had a wonderful day!!




Sunday, November 19, 2017

Coming Thursday: Stuff Your Face Day and Think Thankful Thoughts!

Mara here.

Thanksgiving is almost here which means it's time to reflect on how grateful we are and be thankful for the bountiful gifts we have in our lives.

I'm kidding. Let's face it, it's about eating.

I'm mean, yes, it's a good time to remember to think thankful thoughts and project out there into the world that Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. But in the grubby real world (not the shiny Hallmark world) for those of us who are lucky to have close family and friends to spend the day with, the holiday is really about eating until we're so full we want to cry and then sleeping over the long weekend.

Don't yell at me and tell me that I'm wrong and you are proof that there are people who spend the day piously having thankful thoughts all day. I will concede there are some people who make that the focus of the day.

But I'm not one of them.

And the people I know who come close to putting a jubilant "Thanks" in Thanksgiving are pretty much like that every day. So it's just another regular day for them...with lots of food.

But I'm not completely hard-hearted to the sentiment of having a day of thanks.

The other day while I was doing dishes, Malia (my daughter) was asking me about my relationship with Brad. (For new readers, that's my husband and her father.) Because, while Brad and I have many faults, being outwardly appreciative of our marriage and each other is not one of them. We are grateful for each other.

So she was asking me if we had the same relationship now as we did when she was younger. She wanted to know if we had always been so happy together.

And I had to think about it. My initial instinct was to say, "of course." But if I am being honest, that's not true.

Malia was born when I was 27. Looking back I cringe at how young I was. But at the time, I felt very adult. I didn't realize how much life changes—constantly. I thought, "Well, here I am. I'm an adult and this is just how it's going to be for the next few decades until I'm 'old'."

Hahaha. I want to pat that 27-year-old me on the head because life has changed dramatically since then.

And one of the biggest changes is my ability to recognize how important gratitude is and to actively be thankful for all everything and everyone who makes my life what it is.

That twenty-seven year-old me was a bit too hung up on wanting more instead of being thankful for what I had. And while I was always very happy with Brad, the younger me didn't appreciate him as much as I appreciate him now. And the 30 to 40-year-old me wasn't as thankful as I am now for all the amazing things that have happened in our family. 

The forty-three year-old me of today is thankful all time in my own kind of sarcastic way. I mean there's still stuff I want. And I get irritated all the time. But I no longer believe that my happiness is dependent on things that may or may not happen in the future. I don't assume having something or getting something will make me happy. And that has been a huge change for me in my life. 

And for that I am truly thankful.

Whatever it is that you are thankful for, I hope you have a wonderful holiday next week! I hope you get to eat lots of food! I hope you think about being thankful and what it means to you! (But mostly I hope you get to eat lots of food!)

For those of you who struggle during the holidays, we will be doing a blog post about that next week!

Here are two questions I asked my mom about being thankful and about celebrating Thanksgiving.

How do you maintain an attitude of thanks even when it's not Thanksgiving?

Before I start, I want to acknowledge that we have a lot of readers who don't live in the U.S. and so either don't have a Thanksgiving holiday or celebrate it on another date. (I lived in Canada for several years where Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October.) To all those readers, I hope you enjoy our reflections even if you don't have a big feast coming up on Thursday!

As to your question about maintaining an attitude of thanks, it can be hard, especially when this chronic illness limits what I can do so much. Just last weekend, as you know, your dad went down to Berkeley (a little more than an hour from where we live) and spent the evening with Malia and Brad and with your brother and his family. And where was I? At home in or on the bed as usual. 

Readers of my first book, How to Be Sickwill have followed my struggle to come to terms with missing out on so many of life's joys, such as last weekend's Berkeley gathering. I came to terms with it with the help of a lot of wisdom from the Buddha. (There are many wise teachers out there; he's just the one I drifted to.) With his help, I learned to accept my life as it is and to be grateful for what I do have (a supportive family, a roof over my head, food to eat, the ability to connect with others on the internet—to name a few). 

I've also learned how to keep from being resentful and envious when I can't do things. I practice what's known in Buddhism as muditawhich means empathetic joy, that is, feeling joyful when others are happy. I used this to help me handle missing out last weekend. I knew that everyone was having a good time, so I practiced feeling happy for them and feeling thankful that they could gather together even though I couldn't be there. When I'm able to tap into that joy and thankfulness, resentment and envy fade and I feel at peace with my life as it is. It's the life I've got; fighting it only makes me feel worse. Resentment and envy are formidable emotions, but the peace that comes from feeling happy for others and being thankful for what you do have is a good way to tame those critters.

We've never really had set traditions in our family for Thanksgiving. (I'm reminding you of the year dad decided to make a polenta pie thing instead of turkey ... I wasn't traumatized at all can you tell?) Did you have Thanksgiving traditions growing up?

Ha! I don't even remember that "polenta pie thing." Maybe the trauma it inflicted on the family made me forget! But you know your dad. He can be goofy and he likes to swim against the current, so I'm not surprised he did that. His heart is in the right place though.

As for when I was growing up, my family always ate the traditional Thanksgiving meal—turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce (which I've never liked), and pumpkin pie. All I remember is eating a lot!






Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Do You Survive the Flu?

Mara here.

I was sick last week. That's the main reason we only had one blog post, because normally I write the second post mid-week, but I just couldn't get my brain to work last week.

I'd been feeling run down for a while. I thought I was sick a few weeks ago, but never really got sick-sick. Then I thought I got better, but was still achy and  feeling run down. I wasn't sick enough to allow myself to be sick, but I was feeling unwell enough that I was taking Advil constantly and wondering if I was developing some other kind of weird chronic problem. Or I thought maybe it was just allergies.

And me, being me, I was suffering through my daily jogs. Sometimes I would have to walk because I felt so exhausted. And other times they felt okay, but the jogs felt harder than they seemed like they should.

Everything just felt hard.

But then I woke up last Wednesday and everything in my body ached. It felt as if I had run a marathon in my sleep. All my muscles ached. It hurt to move.

And I had to just recognize I was sick.

It's hard for me to allow myself to be sick if I don't have something I can label. If I get bronchitis—I'm sick. If I have a cold and can't breathe through my nose—I'm sick. If I have a high fever—I'm sick.

But just feeling achy? Just being exhausted? That doesn't seem "sick enough" to me most of the time.

But last week, I gave in. I was sick. I didn't have a fever or infection, it was just some strange virus. I basically had a generic flu. I was completely exhausted. I couldn't concentrate. Everything felt overwhelming. My whole body ached and no amount of Advil was relieving the discomfort.

So I gave into it. I didn't force myself to go on my normal jog, and I didn't sweep the house or do the dishes. I didn't write the blog.

And as is always the case when you're forced to step back from things, you realize that it's fine to be sick. The world doesn't fall apart and people don't really care if you can't do all the things you normally do.

So what did I do?

Malia and Brad went out of town, so I was on my own, which is ideal for me when I'm sick. I'm not a person who wants to be taken care of. I really just want to be left alone. When other people are around, I feel as if I should be doing things for them. But if I'm alone, I can sort of melt myself into bed and shut the world out.

So here's what I did. I got out my heating pad. I don't normally use one, but when I get sick it helps me with my aches and keeps me warm. So I turned it on and let the heat soothe me. I binge watched a 12 hour Australian baking competition show on Netflix called Zumbo's Just Desserts. I like watching cooking shows because I don't have to really concentrate much to follow along. And if I fall asleep and miss part of it, it's not a big deal. When the show was finished, I schlepped out of bed and took a shower, ate chicken soup and returned to bed. Then I watched a movie called Megan Leavy on Amazon.com (cried at the end and had to do some intense cuddling with my dog Pidu) and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up—still achy. So I watched the first three episodes of a series on Netflix called Alias Grace. I took a break at some point and ate some candy for breakfast. Then I took a long hot shower and took a nap. When I woke up, I watched the rest of Alias Grace. When that was finished, I ate some toast and more candy. I then watched Florence Jenkins Foster on Amazon.com. I was watching it on an iPhone, so I could wander around while I watched it. I watched it in bed, then I took it into the kitchen so I could eat some chicken soup and toast with jam. Then I crawled back into bed to finish it, but I fell asleep before it ended.

The following morning I woke up feeling better. I was still tired, but the intense aching was gone. I allowed myself a lazy morning. I went back and finished the last 15 minutes of Florence Jenkins Foster. When that was done I got up and took a shower and assessed how I was doing. I definitely felt better. Malia and Brad were due home that evening, so I cleaned up the house and did some laundry. I even managed to go to the grocery store and pick up some food to make for dinner.

I still felt a little tired, but I was definitely perkier than I had been in a while. The sick time I had allowed myself had paid off and I was feeling on the mend.

So that's how I survived the flu. It took me many years to figure out that when I get sick, I need to just allow myself to be sick. When I was younger, I would fight it until I pretty much collapsed or ended up with an infection that would necessitate a trip to the doctor. It was only if I had "permission" from a doctor that I would allow myself to be sick.

But now I don't want to push myself that hard anymore. I don't need to. (I never needed to.) I try to allow myself to be fallible. It's okay that sometimes I don't feel well, and it's okay that sometimes I need to take care of myself.

Toni here. I enjoyed reading about how Mara handles an acute illness since I've been chronically ill for over 16 years. I wake up every morning feeling as if I have the flu. Mara's experience is a short version of what I went through when I initially got sick in 2001. At first, I refused to accept that I hadn't regained my health. Readers of my book, How to Be Sick, will remember how I forced myself to go back to work because I simply could not believe that I hadn't recovered from what appeared to be a simple virus. I'd go from the bed to the classroom, teach a class, and return immediately to bed.

What took Mara a couple of weeks to accept about her acute illness ("I'm sick; I'd better take care of myself") took me about 5 years. Five years is a long time to be fighting what's happened to you. In fact, it was only after I accepted that I was chronically ill that I was able to start writing books. It's as if a whole new door opened for me. I write them from the bed and it makes me feel as if I'm contributing something to the life of others who are chronically ill.

The one thing I'd like to pass on is something Mara mentioned at the end of her piece: it's okay to be sick. Acute or chronically. Okay, I admit that some days, it's still not okay with me and I cry out to regain my health. But most days, I'm okay with being mostly housebound. This is what's happened to me in this life and I don't want to make things worse by fighting a battle I can't win. So, I give in. (You might like my piece on this subject: "When You're Chronically Ill: Giving Up Versus Giving In."

So, how about you? How do you survive an acute illness like Mara's flu? What do you do to rest and recover?









Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Holidays: Pumpkin Spice Everything!

Mara here: I'm going to blame Starbucks for the fact that it seems as if, on the stroke of midnight, November 1st, before the sugar high of Halloween had worn off, it was suddenly gingerbread and pumpkin spice season.

When I was younger, after Halloween, came Thanksgiving. And then once Thanksgiving was over we moved to Christmas. But now there's a generic "holiday season" that starts when school goes back into session in the Fall and gets going full steam after Halloween.

And it's a mix of a lot of holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah.

I was walking around the grocery store early Halloween morning and employees were busy putting holiday wreaths over all their freezer sections. (At least all the ones that could hold them. The one on aisle 5 is apparently not wide enough.)

And while it seems kind of crazy that the holidays literally blend together, one right after another, in today's commercial world, I have to admit I don't mind it.

I love holidays.

And I especially love the run of holidays from Halloween to New Years.  As far as I'm concerned, the more Christmas there is, the better.

Christmas trees, turkeys, wreaths, shiny balls, sparkling lights—all of it just makes me happy.

But one thing that does make me pause is the sudden influx of items that are scented or flavored with  gingerbread and pumpkin spice.

I remember people making gingerbread cookies when I was younger. But most people didn't really love them. It was more of a tradition. People preferred chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies with frosting. Gingerbread was the default cookie that was there because it felt like it should be there.

But then Starbucks popularized the Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice Lattes and there's been no turning back for commercial America.

I actually saw pumpkin spice scented toilet paper in the store.

Seriously people, there is a line.

I enjoy a little pumpkin spice aroma wafting past as I walk through the mall, but there is such a thing as too much. Pumpkin spice dog treats? Do people honestly think their dog wants that? I mean, dogs want anything so of course they want it. But do you really think your dog wouldn't prefer a nice chicken scented treat?

There's even an image of Pumkin Spice Balogna making the rounds on the web. (Pictured below.) I think it might be a joke but the sad part is that I don't know for sure! I wouldn't put it past the fine people at Oscar Meyer to think there was a market for it.

I do occasionally have a Gingerbread Latte. We always make apple and pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. And in the Fall, my husband often makes a delicious spicy pumpkin soup that is a family favorite.

I do love the holidays. I am happy to hear Christmas music playing right after Halloween. But I'm not on the gingerbread pumpkin spice everything bandwagon. I love pumpkin pie, But I don't need every item in my life to smell like one. I know there are people who disagree. (My daughter is one of them.)


***

Toni here. I loved Mara's piece and got a kick out of how we have different feelings about when to celebrate the holidays, particularly Christmas. I think it has to do with my upbringing. My dad and his sister owned a gift shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Not surprisingly, Christmastime was the best time of the year for sales. 

When they first opened it (they eventually expanded to three more stores in the L.A. area), similar stores to theirs put up Christmas decorations on December 15. Yes, December 15th! It was unheard of to even be selling Christmas stuff before then. Then the 15th became December 1st. Then it became right after Thanksgiving. Even though, as I said, this was their most profitable time of the year, they felt sad that Christmastime was starting earlier and earlier every year.

My dad died while he was still young and my mother sold the store, so he wasn't alive to see how early in the year Christmas starts (I think it's August by now). 

And so, I hate to be humbug...but I'd prefer that Christmastime celebrations begin at the earliest in December.

Now, as for pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING, I'm with Mara. A line must be drawn!!

Mara and I would like to know about you. Are you a fan of the gingerbread and pumpkin spice invasion that takes over everything during the holidays?


Is it real? I don't know. Would I buy it? No.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How Quickly Do You Feel the Burn?

Mara here. There's an old parable about how if you put a live frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put the same frog in a pot of cool water and slow heat it up until it's boiling, it will sit calmly until it boils to death.

Not really a testament to the survival instincts of the frog, but definitely an interesting perspective on how we, as animals, adjust to change.

When it's too abrupt, our instinct is to rebel against it.

When it's slow and steady, we adapt and adjust.

I was thinking about this idea of accepting change because of something my daughter said in the car the other day. We were talking about learning to drive, and she said, "Well my kids probably won't even have to drive. Cars will just drive themselves."

And my initial reaction was to feel alarmed. No drivers? Full automation? That's dangerous! That's a world out of control! Machines can't be trusted!

But then after a moment, I realized she's probably right. And then I felt a pang of sadness. I had a moment of sentimentality that made me feel like pushing against the idea of allowing change. And I was fascinated by that reaction.

My dad has always been an early adopter of technological change. (And sociological change for that matter; after all, I was one of the first interracial adoptions in our town.) We had one of the first Macintosh computers. I was the only kid I knew with a computer for a long time. We had a VCR before any of my friends had one. And my husband is the same. He likes to buy the latest gadgets.

But what would feel like too much? And why do some people wait so long to jump onto the newest trend bandwagon?

There's an interesting scene in one of my favorite TV shows, Downton Abbey, where the matriarch of the family is alarmed at the new electric lights. She found them garish and unpleasant. Today, this sounds silly, but electricity was a huge change for people at the turn of the 20th century. For some, it was scary. We find that attitude quaint, but think about some of the monumental changes we are facing today and ask yourself what would feel scary to you?

Sociological changes are even harder for people to adjust to. Changing the way people view others, such as race or gender, has proven to be hard for many people.

As we've discussed before, change is constant and most people find it uncomfortable. But people clearly have different tolerances for how quickly they can absorb and accept change. My daughter is ready for there to be driverless cars today, whereas I complained the other day about the fact Amazon.com had changed the design of their boxes!

For the most part everyone keeps up with the tides of change even if they find it uncomfortable. After all, I don't know anyone who doesn't have electric lights or a cell phone. And I don't know anyone who would (at least openly) say that women or people of color shouldn't be lawyers, teachers, etc.

But people's tolerance for change varies and people adapt at different rates in different ways. We all have different tolerances regarding when we start to feel uncomfortable. If we were frogs, we would all boil at different rates.  

Here are some questions I asked my mom on this subject.


Could you have imagined that the world would change as much as it has from when you were a child?

No way! My guess is that most people would answer as I have except perhaps for science fiction buffs who learn to expect the unexpected; perhaps they're not as surprised by change as the rest of us are. 

I think it helps to remember that as much as change can make us feel uncomfortable, it can be a great thing. I wrote an article about this for Psychology Today. It's called "Romanticizing the Past Makes Us Feel Bad about the Present." The link is here

Have there been any major technological or sociological changes that initially made you nervous?

Good question. I remember reading that when TV first became available in the home, some people thought it signaled the end of Western Civilization, as the expression goes. I doubt anyone would say that today.

I can't think of any technological changes that initially made me nervous, but I will say that, despite its great value (and I do value it a lot), the Internet makes me nervous now.

Yes, it's been and continues to be invaluable to me in many ways. A couple of years ago, I managed to diagnose a rare spinal infection that my dog had by spending a few hours on the Internet doing research on her symptoms. It was pretty amazing. Even our vet was impressed. And because I'm virtually housebound, I connect with others mostly through the Internet.

And yet, I no longer trust what I read online and I no longer assume that a photograph is authentic until both been confirmed by multiple sources. I can adjust to that, but it troubles me a lot that a false story or a doctored picture can go viral and ruin a person's life even after the falsehood has been revealed. And so the Internet has become a technological change that makes me nervous. No doubt about it.

As for adjusting to sociological changes, I'm having trouble adjusting to the fact that it appears I've been terribly naive about the state of race relations in this country. Two years ago, I didn't worry about the fact that both my children are in interracial marriages. Now I worry. I had no idea there were so many white supremacists living in our midsts. It scares the living daylights out of me. And so, I'm "feeling that burn" right now.

I hope some of our readers will contribute to this discussion.





Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Baseball: To Love or Not To Love, That is the Question

Mara here:

I love baseball.

The 2017 World Series will be over by the time this blog is posted, and it was a particularly great series. The teams were very well matched and the games were mostly been close and exciting.

In fact, the excitement of Game 2 prompted me to post on Facebook that I couldn't understand how people could dislike baseball and I got a wave of responses from my friends who are baseball haters.

Okay, they're not haters. But they clearly are not fans. They don't get it. They think it's boring and they can't understand why some people are so invested. The most common complaint is "It's too slow."

Baseball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I never played myself, but my brother played as a kid and then all through high school. And my parents were avid fans of the San Francisco Giants. When I was in junior high, we had season tickets, so I went to a lot of games. 

I didn't always love baseball. In fact, for many years I didn't even like it. Like many of my current friends, I thought it was boring. To the young me, it seemed as if the players didn't do much. It was usually hot out when the games were played, so I was sitting in the hot sun for hours watching what looked to me like nothing. And I was forced to go to countless numbers of my brother's baseball games, which became slightly more bearable when I discovered I could get my parents to buy snow-cones and candy.

As a young child, going to Candlestick Park for professional games was a particularly torturous affair. It took a couple of hours for us to get to San Francisco and then the games were long. Once again, the only saving grace of these outings was my love of some of the food, this time chocolate malts and hot dogs.

But something changed for me around 7th grade. I started to understand the game. This was around the time my parents had season tickets, so I found myself at a lot more games. I became familiar with the players and started to understand the rules. The nuance of the various strategies finally made sense to me and I found myself looking forward to the games.

And the games were suddenly exciting! What used to feel boring was suddenly filled with tension and suspense. The fact that the games are slower gives you more time to wonder what the next move will be. It makes everything feel like there's more at stake. You can really analyze what the players are doing. And when the action does ramp up—it's thrilling! There's nothing like watching a pitcher walking a batter to load the bases...or the thrill of a double play that ends an inning that could have changed the outcome of the game. When you become familiar enough with the game to know that there's decision-making happening at every moment, then game is no longer boring.

My love of the game became so extreme for a while that I spent hours making posters and collages of all my favorite players. I bought the programs at the game and would meticulously cut out pictures of the players and glue them onto poster boards and hang them on my walls.

This obsession with the game went on for a few years. I'm not sure what happened to stop it, except I think I just got too busy to follow closely enough to feel as involved. These days I don't watch all the games. And I don't actively follow any particular team. I will always have a love of the Giants, but I don't dedicate the time to being an active fan every year. But when World Series time rolls around every year, I like to watch the games. It's always great when the Giants are one of the contenders, but I'm happy to root for whichever National League team is in the series.

And I always feel a little sad when people don't appreciate the game. I understand how people could think it was boring. We live in a fast paced world, and baseball is more subtle. But I always think to myself, "If they just gave it some time, they would discover how exciting it truly is!" Maybe not...maybe there are people who just don't like the game. But I am glad that I am one of those who love it.

Toni here:

I love baseball, even though I don't follow it as closely as I used to. I second everything Mara said about the excruciating tension that can take place when the game is on the line: bottom of the ninth; the home team trailing by one run; two outs; runner at third. Will there be a hit? A wild pitch? An attempt to steal home? It can be so exciting!

Mara and I have switched places geographically so I loved reading that she still has a fondness for the Giants. She grew up near Sacramento, where either the Giants or the Oakland A's are the "home team." I grew up in Los Angeles and was an avid Dodger fan. My brother and I would take the bus to the games and sit way out in left field next to the bullpen. Some of the pitchers got to know us and would come over and chat. Those outings are one of my favorite childhood memories.

Now I'm the one who lives near Sacramento and Mara's the one who lives in Los Angeles. I have to admit that, as a fan, I switched my loyalty from the Dodgers to the Giants. I'm sure it's partly because it was such a great family outing to go to all those Giants games at Candlestick Park. 

Unfortunately, now that I'm chronically ill, I can't go to baseball games but I'm hoping to be able to go to a softball game that my granddaughter Cam is playing in this weekend. Her team is traveling to the Sacramento area so it won't be too far from where I live. It will be such a treat!

Mara and I would love to know about you. Do you love baseball? What is it you love or don't love about it? Do you have a favorite team? 









Sunday, October 29, 2017

We Are All the Same in Different Ways

Mara here.

I've been thinking about this topic for a while...years actually. I have struggled with the concept of being different for my entire life.

I don't really understand why it's so hard for most people to stand apart from their fellow humans, myself included. Most of us want to simply blend in. We don't want to be different. And it's uncomfortable for us to feel as if we have experiences that nobody else has.

There are some people who revel in their differentness. There are people who dedicate their lives to doing things nobody else has done. But most of us want to simply chug along with everyone else.

I was most recently reminded of this struggle during the flood of #MeToo hashtags that popped up in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault accusations. If you're not familiar with it, it was a movement to encourage people who had been victims of sexual assault or harassment to share their stories. And even if people didn't want to share the details of their experiences, simply sharing #MeToo on social media meant that you had had an experience. It meant you were part of the growing group of people who were no longer willing to keep their sexual abuse or harassment experiences hidden.

It was amazing how many people came forward, and I saw a lot of comments and articles about how surprised people were that so many people had had similar experiences.


How is it possible that so many people could have been victims of harassment and abuse, but nobody was aware of how pervasive it was? Why is it only during moments of group sharing that most people are willing to come forward? Why do we keep so many of our human experiences secret from each other?

People are sometimes criticized when they come forward with allegations of abuse if they hadn't come forward immediately after the incident occurred. This attitude surfaced as many women (and some men) came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein. People were asking, why are they only willing to come forward now? Why are they only willing to say something if other people are speaking up? Why are they "jumping on the bandwagon?"

The thing is that it's scary to come out and say something that will make you stand apart from what's considered "normal." Aside from whatever legal, financial, or professional aspects that people have to consider, it's hard to come out and accuse someone of something that will make you feel like a target yourself. Aside from the stigma of accusing a man (or woman) of sexual assault, it's hard to accept that once you make an accusation, you are forever identified as a subset of people who are different from everyone else.

And admitting you were a "victim" can make you feel weak.

In addition, because nobody talks about it, it's easy for a person to convince themselves that they are the only person who's had this experience. And that makes them feel different.

It seems as if there is something about human nature that makes us instinctively self-protect by not standing out. Perhaps it's something about the predator and pray nature of being an animal in this world. Standing out from the pack makes us more vulnerable.

So we often hide the things about ourselves that we feel are different.

I had a sort of parallel experience recently, although obviously it's in no way the same level of severity as sexual assault. We had a crane fly infestation at our house. In fact, its level of "not-a-serious-problem" reinforces the point of my piece.

In January and February we had an unusual amount of rain. By the time the spring rolled around, plant and bug life was flourishing with unusual vigor. This included a crazy number of crane flies. Crane flies are bugs that look like flying spiders. They have very long legs and look a little menacing, although they're harmless.

I have a daughter who is maniacally afraid of spiders, so having these flying spider things buzzing around the house was not fun. Malia would run into the house from the driveway and anytime the door opened she would scream because two or three of the critters would swoop into our livingroom.

And I felt a little overwhelmed by them, too. On one hand, I knew that the flies were "normal." We get them every year, just not usually in the massive numbers we saw this year. But I didn't want to tell anyone about them. I had some people over to the house and I spent time spraying the doorways in hopes of keep the flies away long enough so our guests wouldn't notice them. I felt like somehow it was an individual failure on my part or with our house that, for some reason, we were swarming with flies.

My daughter would moan about how it was awful we lived in a swamp and she'd ask what was wrong with our house that we had flies bombarding us. And I would reply with the rational adult answer, saying that they were fine—a natural occurrence and that there was nothing wrong with them.

But secretly I couldn't help wonder if there was something wrong with our house. Did we have some kind of weird crane fly nest around our house? Was it because I didn't keep the outside of the house clean enough? I spent days brooding about whether or not I had done something that was causing the infestation.

And then a friend of mine posted a status on Facebook that simply said, "What's up with all the crane flies?" And I felt this crazy rush of relief flood over me that I was not alone in my struggle with the flies.

And then I felt ridiculous for keeping secret and worrying over something as silly as having more than the usual number of crane flies around. Years of working on accepting myself have resulted in my feeling more at easy with my concept of self. I'm much more comfortable in my body and with my self-critical thoughts. But somehow the crane flies threw me for loop. They felt so out of the realm of my control.

Honestly, why didn't I just ask someone about them? Even if I had somehow been doing something that was attracting all the flies, why did I assume it would somehow reflect badly on me?

And then I realized how easy it is for us—even someone like me who is relatively self aware—to get caught up in the need to not have any outward appearance of difference in a negative way. It was surprising that something as innocuous as the crane flies triggered that mental defense mechanism of trying to pretend nothing was wrong. It reminded me how strong the instinct is to believe that the negative things that happen in our lives are the result of our having done something wrong.

And that's the thing about the people who are coming forward after-the-fact with stories of sexual harassment and abuse. When you know other people have experienced the same things that you have, you realize that it's not your fault that the experience happened. You feel freer to admit you had an experience when you know that other people have too.

We are so quick to blame ourselves for things. And sometimes we are to blame—or at least we contributed. But we also need to be able to recognize when we are truly victims. And we need to realize that sometimes things happen for no particular reason. It's not always personal to ourselves. Sometimes things just happen.

It's been helpful to me to try and regularly remind myself that, given all the humans who exist and have previously existed, there's probably not much that any of us experience that is truly unique to us. 

So hopefully we can all be a little easier on ourselves. And hopefully we can all be a little easier on each other. There's nothing wrong with being different. Because the thing is we are all different—we're just different in different ways. In that regard, we are the same.





Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Halloween Memories

It's Mara here.

I am a fan of Halloween. I don't go crazy and I don't dress myself up. But I get excited when it's October and Halloween decorations start popping up in the neighborhood.

I think my love of Halloween started because I loved candy. And a night when you get to dress up, hang out with friends and get a whole bag full of free candy—well, what's not to like?

When Malia was born, I was so excited to dress her up and take her out for her first Halloween experience. And when she was young and would let me dress her, I'd try to make her costumes fun and not just something cookie cutter. The costumes were always store bought, but I would add face paint or a wig or fun accessories. A few of her costumes over the years have been: Minnie Mouse, a ghost, a fairy, a dark fairy, Cinderella, and Cat Woman.

I have a notoriously bad memory, so I can't recall all the various costumes I wore over the years. However, I have very strong memories of one year when my mom made me an amazing costume.

I wanted to be a princess. I wanted to be a princess with a giant puffy skirt that made it look like I was floating. So I asked my mom to make me one.

Looking back on it now, my mother was crazy for agreeing to make me this costume. I'm sure it cost a ton of money and took her hours and hours to sew. But being the super-mom that she was, she agreed. And we spent time picking out fabric and creating the design.

And sure enough, on Halloween, I got to wear my very fancy princess dress, complete with a hoop-like skirt and yards and yards of fabric.

I don't think we have any pictures of it which is too bad. Although, perhaps It's better this way. I'm guessing my childhood memories of the dress are more magical than whatever the reality was. And in my memories it's the most amazing, beautiful dress that ever existed. It's my favorite childhood Halloween memory.

Now that I'm an adult, (an older adult) I don't really do anything for Halloween, although I make sure our candy bowl is well-overstocked, so there are lots leftover after the neighborhood kids have come around. I do this because it's now what I think of as my Halloween candy. And yes, being an adult-type person, I could buy myself candy any time—but nothing tastes as good as Halloween candy.


***

Toni here. I remember shopping for the fabric and then spending hours making Mara's princess costume, so it made me so happy to read her description of how much it meant to her. In fact, tears came to my eyes.

I can't remember any of the costumes I wore when I was young, but I remember some that I made for my kids. Top of my list for Mara is, of course, her princess costume. And top of the list for her brother, Jamal, is the spiderman outfit I also spent hours making. 

So what about you? Do you have a favorite Halloween memory? Did you have a favorite costume? Do you still dress up?

Malia dressed as a ghost in 2005.



Sunday, October 22, 2017

When Do We Stop Raising Kids and Start Raising Adults?

Mara here: Being a parent is a murky experience.

For starters, everyone is different, so his means that kids are all different. As a result, it's almost impossible to be prepared, in a traditional sense, to be a parent because literally every experience is different.

There's no definitive handbook.

If you don't have kids, it probably seems as if there's only so many options for how it's going to go.

But the reality is that it's a day-to day-mystery. It's kind of like driving a car at night with no headlights. You know how to move the car forward, but you don't actually know where you're going, and it feels as if you could crash at any moment.

People are complicated. Kids are complicated. 

When my daughter was born, I felt pretty confident I could take care of the basics. I could make sure she was fed and clothed. I could buy toys and teach her to read. You can find out how to do those things in books. 

Where it gets trickier is when it's not just about keeping your kid alive. It gets much harder when raising your kids transitions to raising your kids to be adults.

When does parenting stop being just about the basics? A doctor can give me a schedule of when my child needs shots and check ups. But there's no manual for when kids need to be told about the more complexities of life. When do we prepare kids for the realities of life as adults?

As parents, our instinct is to shield our kids. We don't want them to hurt themselves, and we don't want them to be hurt. But I wonder if that means that sometimes we don't prepare our kids for some of the harsher aspects of having to be independent in this world.

No parent wants to burden their kids with worrying about money. But if we don't ever talk to them about money, how do they learn to manage a budget? How do they learn to appreciate that money is limited? How do they learn to make smart choices?

Or, if we tell our kids that winning doesn't matter and that everyone is equal, how do we prepare them to handle disappointment? We don't live in a world where everyone gets a prize or even a consolation prize for everything.

I think the difficulty is that we as parents want our kids to understand that nothing—money, awards, grades, etc.—affects their value as a person. Parents desperately want their kids to feel as if everything's okay, regardless of their achievements and disappointments.

But I wonder if we haven't taken it too far. I feel as if parents are now made to feel that we are supposed to shield our kids from anything that might possibly make them feel any negative feelings in any way.

In a perfect world, I would absolutely do that for my daughter her entire life.

But the world doesn't work that way. And if we shield our kids too much as children, are we preparing them to be functional adults?

And then, of course, if we do want to prepare them, it's a matter of deciding when we think our kids are ready to handle things. Whether or not it's appropriate to tackle different topics is completely dependent on that individual kid.

For myself and my husband, we've decided that we would rather have the difficult conversations with our daughter now, as opposed to having felt we hadn't prepared her to handle the ups and downs we imagine she'll face as she gets older. 

We'd rather have the tough conversations now about making financial choices, personal choices, educational choices—now, when she still has time to explore and experiment. If she makes mistakes now and we already have a dialogue going, we'll feel more confident that she'll know how to handle things when she's older and realizes there are more consequences for making "bad" decisions.

Ultimately, every parents has to make these decisions for themselves. And really, there's no right or wrong answers. But I do think it's important for parents to realize that our kids don't just turn into adults when they hit a certain age. Kids don't just turn 18 and magically know how to manage a budget or deal with rejection. Kids have to be taught to be adults. Kids have to be guided to learn how to make adult decisions and deal with consequences.

As with many things, practice makes perfect. Okay, nothing is perfect, but practice makes things more manageable. Kids have to be given the opportunity to practice being adults. They have to be given responsibility incrementally and they have to be given the opportunity to fail. If we try to protect our kids from any kind of failure and disappointment, they never learn that it's okay to not always be successful. And if they never face disappointment, they never learn it's okay to feel sad. And most importantly, if they never face any adversity, they never learn that those feelings and experiences pass and we survive them.

It would be easier for me to shield my daughter from the hard stuff. In fact, it often feels as if my duty as her mother is to try and take on all her hardships and challenges and make life easier for her. But that was my job when she was a baby.

And even though I will always think of my daughter as my baby, she isn't a child anymore. I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point my role as a parent transitioned from raising a kid to raising an adult.

And just like being a kid is different from being an adult, raising a kid is different from raising an adult.

I asked my mom a few questions about this subject.


Is there anything that you think would help parents with the difficulty of allowing their kids to be more independent?

First off, Mara, I thought that was a stunning essay. Thank you. As for your question, I think it would help parents it they think long term, meaning thinking about how they want their kids to be when they've grown up. If they're like me, they want them to be independent, make good decisions, take responsibility for their lives, and be kind to others and help them when they can. Keeping that in mind as a goal can help you prepare for how to be a parent while your kids are growing up.

Mara, you touched on how to do this in your piece; start while they're young to teach them these skills.


Do you think you started early enough to teach Jamal and me to be adults?

Well, after telling everyone to start while your kids are young, after watching how early you taught Malia these skills, I think it would have helped you and your brother if your Dad and I had started earlier. 

It may well be easier for Malia to transition to adulthood because of the job you did as a parent. I will say, though, that despite my thinking we could have started earlier, it seems to have worked out because we think you and Jamal are doing great as adults. I love how independent each of you are. I know other kids in their 40s who still call their parents when their plumbing backs up! 

So, your Dad and I did something right because it seems to us as if, although you love us, you don't need us to help you get by in life.

How do you think Jamal and I are doing as parents?

I am so impressed. You and Brad had Malia before Jamal and Bridgett had Cam, and I think that all of us learned a lot from your parenting style. I admit that you were a lot stricter than Dad and I were, and that sometimes we thought you were too strict with Malia. But, wow, did it pay off. Here she is, about to be 17 in January, and she really is a young adult. 

Of course, she has the emotional volatility of a teenager at times. But I'm talking about her understanding of what adults need to know, from budgeting to being responsible with planning and execution of those plans, and being able to see that life isn't always going to be the way you want it to be. Even when Malia doesn't take that last point in stride, it feels to me as if she understands the truth of it. 

Your brother and Bridgett are doing an great job too—finding that middle ground between taking care of all Cam's needs, but making sure she's also learning to take care of herself in the many ways you wrote about. 

Your Dad and I were—let's face it—hippies at heart, and so you and Jamal didn't get as much direction as the two of you are giving Malia and Cam. But you did get unconditional love from your Dad and me and I also think perhaps a spiritual dimension to your lives, and so I think he and I did okay.













Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Do You Have a Blankie?

Mara here: I will start of by saying I don't have a blankie.

I've actually never had a blankie that I know of.

My daughter had a blanket that she slept with until she was 12. It was a little yellow blanket that was silk on one side and flannel on the other side. And we had had many different versions of the little blanket. When she was really young, the blanket was absolutely necessary so we had back-up blankets. We had back-ups for the back-ups. I even tried to mix it up and get her some blankies in different colors. But she always liked the yellow ones best. She said they were softer.

Honestly, they all felt the same to me, but it wasn't my blankie so it didn't matter what I thought.

Then one day it got lost when maid service in the hotel we were staying in accidentally took it when they changed the sheets one day.

By 12 she had already grown out of it. But she still liked knowing it was there. She had stopped taking it most places with her. And when she went on short trips away from home she didn't take it. But we were living out of a hotel for three months and she had decided to bring it along.

Then it was gone.

And she was fine without it. She had outgrown the little ragged blankie that she had loved and cuddled for those many years. But she never outgrew her love of blankets. She never outgrew the desire to have something fuzzy and warm to comfort her. She still likes to travel with a fuzzy blanket from home.

And it seems like many of us never really grow out of the desire to have comfort item, or a blankie. Many of us still find solace in having special things that are familiar and comforting.

Like I said before, I never had an actual blankie. But I did always have stuffed animals. And I had various favorites growing up. I had a Paddington bear that I loved. I had a koala bear stuffie that I loved because it had a big shiny plastic nose.

And even as an adult, I have this odd collection of little stuffed toys that I am very attached to. And sometimes when I go on a trip I'll even throw one in my suitcase because it's a little reminder of home. My daughter noticed them one day and asked me, rather indignantly, why I had them. And I didn't have a particularly articulate answer for her other than, I like them.

And I do. I have a stuffed oxen. My husband, Brad, gave it to me because one day I had once accidentally texted him something about an ox of love. It was supposed to be an ounce of love, but of course autocorrect struck and it changed it to ox of love. We thought it was hilarious at the time and the following Christmas, he gave me a stuffed ox—his ox of love for me—because we are dorky like that.

I have a little yellow stuffed peep, that looks just like the peep shape of the marshmallow treats that I've previously written my love for.

And on an on.

There's no real theme. And they would be meaningless to anyone else.

But they make me smile and I find them comforting--just like my daughter felt about her blankie when she was younger.

Toni here. If I had a blankie or a stuffed toy or another special thing, I can't remember, because for the past twenty years or so, my "blankies" have been my dogs. It's as simple as that: Dopple, Winnie, Rusty, and now Scout. When I'm feeling blue, I cuddle whichever dog is part of my life at the moment. I love dogs and I love to cuddle them!

So what about you? Do you have something, that might be meaningless to anyone else, but that you find comforting?



Mara's collection of stuffed toys.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Flotation Devices for Rough Times

Last week I wrote a piece that described my awful Monday in the wake of the shootings in Las Vegas. I think it resonated with many readers because we're all feeling overwhelmed by what's happening in the world.

I've asked myself many times recently if things are getting worse or if it's just that, because of technology, we now know what's happening in places all around the world.

I'm not sure. I'm guessing a lot of different factors contribute to what seems like a constant barrage of disasters that hit the headlines each day.

It feels relentless. 

Even this week, I woke up Monday thinking perhaps we'd have a week where things didn't feel catastrophic. But then quickly I learned about the devastating fires in Northern California. My Facebook timeline was filled with stories of friends having to evacuate their houses—and friends of friends whose houses had already burned.

People have lost everything.

I'm not directly affected by this tragedy, yet the enormity of what is happening to people feels paralyzing. How do people push through? How do they recover?

I have spent a lot of time these last few years feeling completely overwhelmed. It's a surreal sinking feeling. It's almost as if I'm literally submerged in water. After years of spending all day in the pool of my family home during my childhood, the experience of looking at the world under the water is familiar. Everything slows down. Everything starts to feel slightly disconnected. My limbs feel heavy and moving is sluggish and requires a huge amount of effort. I can hear things but they're distant and echoed. 

And if you feel too heavy to break back to the surface, you start to panic. 

That's what happens to me sometimes as I think about what's happening to our fellow human beings around the world. I feel panic bubbling. I feel as if I'm stuck at the bottom of the pool and can't get to the surface. 

In a world where the news is mentally and emotionally drowning us, how do we pull ourselves up? What are some mental floatation devices we can cling to make sure we can save ourselves?

I have my own personal flotation devices that have saved me from drowning in my own thoughts at different periods of my life. My family has been my constant life saver. Having pets is always something that instantly reminds me that there is light in the world. They always make me feel joy, which is sometimes all we need in a moment of sadness. Sometimes physical movement can also keep me mentally moving, like forcing myself out for a walk or a jog. And when a day is particularly rough, sometimes I just allow myself to check out mentally for a few hours by taking a nap or watching a movie. 

For many people, I'm sure their religious faith helps them through dark times. 

I think the most important thing for people to know is that it's okay to feel overwhelmed. It's okay to realize that sometimes we need a little help to get through a tough time, and to be prepared with tools and floatation devices to save ourselves when we need it.

I asked my mom about this. Here's my question and her response:

Are there Buddhist practices that can help people when they’re feeling overwhelmed by world events?

From my own experience and from years of immersion in the Buddha's teachings, first I'd echo your words and say that there's nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed by what's going on personally or around the world. Life can be overwhelming. The Buddha talked about this in the first noble truth. He went over all the ways that life can be hard. It includes losing what you cherish, which brings to mind both Las Vegas and the fires in California where so many people have experienced excruciating losses.

Contributing to this feeling of being overwhelmed is the fact that life is uncertain and unpredictable. We control much less than we realize. The Buddha talked a lot about this too—how everything is impermanent and how the insecurity that results from that can be hard to bear and often gives rise to mental suffering. 

In my experience, recognizing these truths about the human condition is not a bummer. On the contrary, it helps me put the events of the day in perspective because I realize that, although life can be joyful (a good thing!), it can also be extremely hard and even tragic for people, and that it's been this way since the beginning of humankind. It's part of the joys and sorrows that come with being alive.

Second, feeling overwhelmed is always accompanied by stressful emotions—anger, fear, deep sadness. When this happens, I recall the words of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He said that we should take care of our feelings. It may sound like an odd thing to say (the example he gives is to take care of our anger), but I understand what he means. Turning away in aversion from our emotions tends to make things worse because it often intensifies those feelings. So, the first thing I do is to let those emotions—sadness and fear or whatever I’m feeling—into my heart. They’re what I'm experiencing right now so they're worthy of my attention. I acknowledge their presence and then allow compassion to arise for the suffering I'm feeling due to them. 

It's amazing how just acknowledging how we feel and how it's okay to feel that way can immediately ease the sting of painful emotions and even give rise to a feeling of peaceful acceptance of the way things are.

Finally, I look for what you call "flotation devices." I love that term. I do the same thing. I often call it taking refuge. You mentioned looking to your family and your pets for comfort. That's a wonderful idea. I do that too and I also take refuge in kindness. Sometimes I think: what better way to spend our lives than to be kind to ourselves and others? 

First off, there's never a good reason not to be kind to ourselves. That kindness can take many forms, including what you mentioned—checking out for a time with a good distraction such as one of your favorite movies on TV. And being kind to others is all good—trying to help ease their suffering, even if all we can do is send a small check to a relief organization.

One of my first Buddhist teachers was Sharon Salzberg. Here is a prayer of hers that resonates strongly with me. I hope it does with everyone reading this piece:

"May the actions that I take toward the good, toward understanding myself, toward being more peaceful, be of benefit to all beings everywhere."







Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Things That Drive Us Crazy

Mara here:  Ok, I might just be venting because it's been a taxing week and maybe my ability to tolerate my fellow human beings is low, but honestly, sometimes people are so annoying!!

I have spent a large portion of my life trying to be tolerant of people. I know that none of us are perfect; we all have flaws, etc, etc. But there are a few things that just cause me to lose my mind.

I can be in a perfectly reasonable mood and then BAM: insanity. I actually momentarily revert to a toddler and want to stomp my feet and cry and point fingers and make an adult who is adultier than me fix things.

I usually manage to just throw this fit in my head. And I usually get over it pretty quickly. But, oh boy, there are definitely moments I feel as if the red hot character Anger, from Disney's Inside Out, is in my brain throwing a tantrum.

Here are a few things that absolutely make me lose my mind:

Shopping carts at grocery stores. Why is returning shopping carts to the designated shopping cart return spot so difficult for people that they just leave them in the middle of the parking lot? Sometimes the not-returned shopping cart is literally a few feet from where lots of people have managed to considerately put their carts where they're supposed to.

Seriously, who is so busy that they can't take the extra 60 seconds to walk their cart twenty or thirty feet across a paved surface? Let's say you do have some sort of valid reason for not returning your cart. Let's say you suddenly start bleeding profusely—can you at least put the cart somewhere that doesn't block traffic? Don't leave it in the middle of the row where cars drive. And don't take up an entire parking spot with the cart when there's not enough parking spots to begin with. Argh! I'm getting mad just thinking about it...

Honking when the light turns green. I don't have super powers which means I can't actually make my car start moving the split second the street light turns green. DON'T HONK AT ME because I'm not moving the moment the stoplight changes. My brain cannot see the light turn green, have my foot press the gas pedal, and have my car start moving forward all within the same split second.

Sometimes there's actually another car in front of me. I am unfortunately unable to drive through a solid object. And sometimes there are pedestrians blocking the street whom I am unwilling to plow over simply because you are in a hurry.

Yes, I know, sometimes people aren't paying attention and a polite honk to let them know they're holding up traffic is understandable. But if you can see that my car is blocked by other cars—cool your jets.

Throwing cigarettes out car windows. Why do people do this? In general, I don't understand why people who smoke seem to throw their cigarette butts everywhere. People don't usually throw garbage on the ground as they're walking around. Why do people think it's okay to just fling cigarette butts all over the place?

It's not like they're microscopic. I mean, they're not big, but they're definitely noticeable...especially when there's a whole pile of them! 

And throwing lit cigarettes out the windows of moving cars is dangerous. Most of the time the smoker hasn't even stubbed the cigarette out which means there's smoking ash speeding toward the person who is unfortunate enough to be driving behind the smoker. It's particularly jarring at night on the freeway when you see the spray of sparking ash flying out the window at 65 mph.

I understand not wanting to drive around with smelly cigarette butts in your car—but then maybe don't smoke while you're driving!

Toni here. On the irritation scale, it would be hard to come up with a list as good as Mara's. But here's something funny. Just yesterday, I posted a piece at Psychology Today on things I didn't expect to happen as I age, and one of them was that I didn't expect that I'd get less and less upset when things don't go as I'd like. (Here's the link to that piece: 12 Things I Didn't Expect to Happen as I Age.) 

That said, yes, discarded shopping carts, people who honk as soon as the light turns green, and cigarette butts being thrown out of the window still irritate me. 

And so does this: the robo call I get almost every day that shows up on my caller ID as coming from someone in my own town, which leads me to pick up the phone only to be treated to an overly cheerful voice who wants to sell me a condo in Florida. She (is it really a human voice?) even has the gall to say that she's following up on our previous (nonexistent) chat. 

Mara and I would love to know what drives you crazy!