#5. Invisalign

“I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.” – Diane Vreeland (Former Editor in Chief of Vogue)

Damn the selfie. Damn it all. Actually I love the selfie. It allows me to take incredible photos of myself and my kids, friends, husband, etc. that I may not have been able to take without asking a stranger. But, with all good things there seems to be a price to pay, and for me it was a critical eye focused entirely on my teeth.  And THEN I got a head shot for a conference I was asked to speak at. The horror! When picking the best version to send I didn’t automatically scrutinize my crow’s feet and laugh lines (for these were signs of laughter and years spent smiling), the ungroomed eyebrows, but instead went to what others have reminded me were ‘perfect’ and ‘great’. My teeth.

I was a child of orthodontia. With the dreaded key-laden palette spreader in 5th grade, and then braces (with headgear!) between 6th and 8th grades. My teeth had seen their fair share of metal. Like millions of others I received my plastic and metal retainer along with the bag of tootsie rolls and caramels when I left the orthodontist for the last time. And like millions of others, I wore it sporadically, if ever, and didn’t think of it until it was returned to me about 8 years ago in a box of “memorabilia” saved by my dad. Want to know what 25-year-old retainer smells like? You can guess.

I’ll blame the iPhone and my armageddon nature for wanting to focus on my teeth. As I have also worn glasses since the 6th grade, I have long been considering either Lasik too, but recovery and the basic fact of lasers cutting my eyeballs made me shy away from that procedure.

I began the inquiry of Invisalign with my dentist last year. He also asked why I was interested given the great state of my teeth, and as he also treats my father, my dentist can literally see the future state of my teeth by looking at his (note: My dad has beautiful teeth, but my concerns over my shifting eye teeth, etc. are valid). I worked out the budget: $500 up front for impressions. Impressions are sent off to Invisalign to determine how long it will take, or how many “trays”, to get the teeth straight. That length of time determines the total overall cost and frankly, the total overall life imposition. Good news for me though – I qualified for the shortest time, 10 trays or 20 weeks. The $500 from the impression step would roll into the total balance If I chose to move forward. With 10 trays, the total estimate was around $1,800. The impression step was done in December, the first several trays were ready in a few weeks, and I went back just after the first of the year to pick them up.

My expectation: I’ll show up, get the instructions, slap the retainers on my teeth, walk out with a mild lisp for a few days but overall no one will be the wiser until I don’t have to wear them anymore in June.

The reality: I showed up and after my dentist took a tiny double-sided saw between all my teeth to sand them down and establish ‘room’ to move, he and his assistant applied “buttons” to many of my teeth – top and bottom. These buttons are on my teeth directly, and enable the trays to move my teeth – they are not removable, so even if I’m not wearing the trays, someone can still see the buttons and more importantly I can still feel them. After I literally swallowed my pride and dealt with the karma b*tch slap across the face (I was doing this for vanity’s sake and the universe is subtly reminding me of that fact by putting these permanent things sticking off my teeth for the next 20 weeks), I put on the clear plastic retainers and sounded like I was in 5th grade all over again. Awesome.

That was almost 6 weeks ago. Tomorrow I’ll be putting on my fourth set of trays, and after gentle ribbing from the husband (“I thought you were perfect before.”…aw shucks), my kids constantly poking at them, and a few co-workers calling it out after failed attempts of finding words that do not have “s” in them to finish my thoughts, all is good. I’m starting to see some progress which is heartening.

A final post will be written with the experience debrief – likely to include some “tips”, and “don’ts” of Invisalign, but overall I’m sure I will be very happy that I invested the money and the time to do something for myself, resulting in a change I wanted to see, without surgery, debt or disfigurement.

Total Investment: $1800, $500 “Down” and remainder when treatment started.

Total Covered by Pre-Tax FSA: $1800

BEFORE: Me and the Hubs

Invisalign

VANITY

#24: Dermatologist

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

 Helen. You had it right my friend. And getting my skin checked, along with all the other things that a person has to get checked as we get older (including all the boxes on my list), can be intimidating and scary. All those insurance risk tables start to become a bit more real, the “likelihood” age ranges come into view, and self-care becomes much more important to ensure longevity.

It seems that most stories published about cancer treatment start with “It was just a regular check-up…”, and that was why I have been putting off going to the dermatologist. Fear that my pale, freckly skin, would show an anomaly. I’m rational enough to understand that knowing is better than not knowing, but I’m also rational enough to understand that ignorance is bliss. Sometimes.

Time to be an adult. So adulting I did. When I wrote the list, I took some easy steps to check off items. Knowing that the dermatologist typically backs up about 4-5 months for appointments I got one booked for October of 2017. And went. And have since lived to write about it. My dermatologist is great. Works quickly, checking and chatting. If she pauses to look at a mark more closely, she will be consistently talking to put my mind at ease. And for the most part the checkup went smoothly.

She did pause on a mark on my back that she had noted in her files a few years ago. She said she was going to pull in another doctor to validate what she saw – that it was nothing to worry about, something to watch. The other doctor came in, and with very little fanfare said “you’re right”, and walked out. That was the only minorly upsetting part about this appointment. And now that it is marked, I will start to go back every 6 months for evaluation.

And every 6 months I will put my fear in check, and get checked out. Because knowing that if anything happens to my skin, I’ll be doing something about it within months of it coming to the surface, not years. And that is going to help me sleep better between now and then.

 SELF CARE

#35 – Write letter to nemesis, burn it, move on.

“The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.” – Eldridge Cleaver

Everyone has a story of someone who has wronged you – intentionally or unintentionally. Or even the person who you feel is out to get you. Or perhaps more in line with the Herman Hesse quote, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

Yeah. That.

Going into a new, albeit arbitrary, stage of life, I feel no compulsion to carry with me the weights of the last few decades. There is enough hate in this world, and I work so hard to preserve feelings of love, that I need to let go of my ill will for a few select others that most likely don’t know about my feelings (and never will). I do not claim to know these people well enough to know why they behave the way they do. And therefore should not claim to know why they would try to make me feel the way that I do. Perhaps it isn’t them. Its me.

I did hear about this amazing thing called wish paper recently. A light type of paper that you write on, twist together, light and watch it float away – brilliant and so appropriate. For this item on my check list I’ve bought some from Amazon with hearts, the irony. I’ll post photos and a recap after I’ve checked the item off the list.

The upside for all readers is that if you are reading this, you likely won’t have a letter written about you. Here’s to letting things go…

RELEASE

#38 – Kayak (more) (with different people)

“Yeah, down by the river

Down by the banks of the river Charles

(Aw, that’s what’s happenin’ baby)

That’s where you’ll find me

Along with lovers, muggers, and thieves

(Aw, but they’re cool people).” – Dirty Water, The Standells

I was recently at a baby shower. The hosts requested that each guest write down some advice for the new parents. Brilliant idea. Why read 10 different books when you can read 25 practical, “worked for me”, snippets from friends who have your best interest in mind? As our small group debated what would be the best advice, one dad wrote down, “When in doubt, put them in water.” Brilliant again.

From my early parenting days, this advice would have been welcome during the days full of fussiness, discomfort or boredom. And those are just words to describe me as a parent, not even the wee ones. Babies are created, and subsequently live in a water-like environment for 9+ months. They are used to that feel – the slosh, and splash, the experience and sounds of water. And for those bigger than 6 months, discovering toys and bubbles is a lot of fun and a great distraction.

That single piece of parenting advice inspired “Kayak (more) (with different people)”. Getting out onto (note: onto, not into) a body of water inspires movement, but in a calm and peaceful way. There typically isn’t a race or challenge being accomplished. There is just kayaking. And being in a kayak doesn’t have to be a solo activity like swimming can be. I have found on a few occasions that going out in a tandem kayak with my oldest daughter gets us talking about different things than what we’d discuss at the dinner table or even on a walk. Perhaps because we aren’t face to face, perhaps because we are looking at different things from our everyday, or better yet perhaps because we are looking at things we see every day, but from a different ANGLE.

Being on the same level with the water brings me a lot of peace. There are sounds on a river or lake that are tremendous distractions from nagging thoughts. There are lots of other beings on the water that bring about perspective as to how big the world is – dragonflies, fish, ducks, geese, herons and water spiders. Their world is all around you. Their world does not include the gridlock of 93 South into Boston on a Monday morning. Ah. Peace.

I don’t own a kayak myself. I don’t think I’d benefit from owning one as the first thing I’d see is the hassle of buying a roof rack, paddles, a wet bag, and then finding time to use it enough for a ROI. However, I’m lucky enough to live in New England where there are plenty of great places to kayak, and kayak outfitters who rent by the hour or day, and provide excursions, life vests and instruction. Kayaking is a great group activity, and easy enough to do – no special fitness level or gear – just an interest to get a bit closer to nature.

Kayak Adventure 1: Ipswich River, Foote Brothers Canoe & Kayak Rental / I spent an interesting hour with my oldest daughter on the Ipswich River this summer. Interesting in that it was incredibly peaceful, and that completely freaked her out. We’ve been kayaking before in an open pond, but to her kayaking along a fairly tight portion of the river, and not seeing any other humans for stretches, made it a very lonely experience. She saw a beaver dam, and thought said beaver would tip us over. While this type of kayak environment didn’t work for her, I’d recommend Foote Brothers and an Ipswich River adventure to anyone. It is a beautiful paddle.

Kayak Adventure 2: Charles River, Paddle Boston / As you can see from the list item title “with different people” is critical. Conversations while paddling (you can’t exit the boat, you have a common goal of moving forward, and no easy access to your smart phone for distraction), and hopefully the cold beverage following, is fun with lots of different types of people. I had the pleasure on August 14 to enjoy a post-work paddle with an old colleague. She had been kayaking once before, but spent most of her time running the paths around the Charles River. Paddle Boston’s outpost along Boston’s Soldier Field Roa in Brighton made it easy enough to park and paddle, and not once did I feel like we were floating between busy sections of Boston roadway at rush hour. We paddled up river for about 45 minutes without really noticing the time, only recognizing the distance paddled by the bridges that crisscross the river at increments. The conversation made only sweeter by the refreshing beer at the local afterwards.

Remaining Kayak Adventures: Open Sea Kayak, Kayak Outside of MA, Kayak with Youngest

NATURE

#19 – Escape the Room

“Man is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other.” – Charles Lamb

For as long as I can remember I have been part of a team. As a Brownie, playing soccer, softball, our neighborhood summer evening “Man Hunt” games, and the never-ending team based projects in college. As an adult we get to be part of teams in the workplace, or perhaps within the volunteer world, but that dig-in, come-together, work-it-out teamwork opportunities aren’t as prevalent (or perhaps not as satisfying). No one really enjoys trust falls, or the team building games that were cutting edge when I started in the workforce, anymore. However, experiences like Escape the Room lend themselves to fun, engagement, activity, learning and did I say fun?

Escape the Room is a concept in which you and a few friends, or strangers, gather in a space, are presented with a challenge a-la-Jason Bourne. You need to work together to solve the problems, that eventually lead to your getting out of the room. I’m certain there may be some savants who could get out of the room as fast as they can solve a Rubik’s Cube…but that isn’t the point. There are the pressures of time – 60 minutes, but luckily the only thing to be shattered if you don’t get out of the room is your pride.

The reason I put this type of activity on my list to complete this year is because like some other great ideas for team building (Drink & Hunt coming to mind – pub crawl, team trivia and scavenger hunt combined!), they may be considered “fad” and not be around in perpetuity. I want to ensure I experience it.

The beautiful thing about #19, is my husband has already paved part of the way to experiencing this. A gift certificate for 4 people to Escape the Room. I can’t wait. More to come following the inevitable escape of the room.

TEAMWORK

#3 – Clean Up 401k

“I planned each charted course, Each careful step along the byway, And more, much more than this, I did it my way…” Frank Sinatra, My Way

Administration of life is (sometimes) as important as living the life itself. The reason being is that when you are actually done living, it shouldn’t be someone else’s responsibility to clean up your stuff. I’m a firm believer in this given how much I dislike people talking about me (praising me is 1000% ok), or hearing disparaging remarks about someone else when I know that they could have prevented. I can picture it – after the grief that is – “Why the hell didn’t Ashley just close that 20 year old Hotmail account?” or “I thought she updated her Spotify account not to auto-renew?” or “I need her password, what was her favorite kind of dog?”.

When I prepared this list, I thought about the ways I could make things easier, and clean-up activities that I should have been doing throughout my life. The irony of “Clean up 401k” is that I was in fact just moving money from a 401k of the mutual fund firm where I worked for a few years. I worked there…a mutual fund company!…and it took 11 years at a new company and this list to finally close that account and roll the investments into my current 401k. I won’t discuss the benefits of a 401k here, there are many, and they aren’t relevant to this post, but I will write that while I thought “rolling over” a 401k was arduous and required lots of paperwork, I was surprised at how easy it was to move the investment value from one holding company to another. I didn’t get fancy with a Roth or other tax-deferred investment option, I simply moved the money management from my old employee plan, to my current. The value of this is two-fold. 1, any investment decision I make is applied to all my investments – go big on Growth, or invest more conservatively with a Fixed Income fund; money in one place means one decision, one update and done. 2, I only have to remember to update beneficiary information in one place, and leave information for my family about one investment portfolio. This leaves it nice and clean.

Let’s break down what I did.

Step 1:  Have at hand your old and current investment information – 401k provider and their customer service #s. I was asked what my current balance was on my old account to qualify it was in fact me calling.

Step 2: Call current plan provider. Explain you want to roll money into the account. (They subsequently called the transfer hotline at my old provider and managed all details on the phone, with me validating my wishes, in about 10 minutes.)

Step 3*: Not always needed, but my old account was in my maiden name. I had to provide to my current plan a copy of my marriage certificate so that they could put on file and accept the funds. Note: If you are married and have changed your name, having this document in an easy to find place is a good thing. My Marriott Rewards is also in my maiden name, and I can’t change without this certificate.

VOILA! About 7 days after the phone call, I received email confirmation that the funds were transferred. BONUS: upon logging in to my current plan provider to confirm the funds had moved, I discovered my beneficiary information was not entered. Filled that out, and now the original intent of this item on my list is 100% complete.

While writing this blog post, I had to pause and attend a funeral. It was for a dear friend’s grandmother, affectionately nicknamed “Wing Ding”. She was 92. Well loved, and surrounded by family, friends and fans alike, she will be buried in her favorite outfit, a New York Yankees sweatshirt (a die-hard New York Yankees fan – hard to come by, and hardly tolerated in Massachusetts). Her service was formally informal. Hosted in the funeral home, those who gathered for the wake were able to stay and attend the short service. It wasn’t the simplicity of the service, the beautiful eulogy from one of her fans, but rather the musical tribute to the New York fan at the end that struck me as just plain awesome. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, a frequent hit on the juke box in the bar she tended. Sitting in the back of the room with a bird’s eye view, I could see everyone taking the song, and Wing Ding, in. There were tears, but an overwhelming amount of smiles, and those half-smiles where you are remembering something funny, but know it’s inappropriate to laugh. A few hums here, a few words there, and the back part of the room was officially singing. Frank Sinatra. At a funeral. It was awesome. She was awesome. The words of the song are awesome. Life your life your way (and clean up your 401k). Rest in peace, Wing Ding. 

Check

#33 – Buy Swim Goggles

“Spectacular achievements come from unspectacular preparation.” – Roger Staubach

Seems simple enough. Why even make a list with the item “buy swim goggles” on it?

I know myself. Over the years I have realized that in order to achieve a goal, I also need to detail out and execute the steps in required to perform. I can intentionally sabotage myself by ensuring that I cannot perform the goal – making the goal another thing that just takes up space in my thoughts, gets me frustrated and making me beat up myself about it. No one needs that!

OR, just the opposite. I’ll set my mind to doing something and will rush out to buy all the gear I need to do it. Then never do it. This example is actually most likely, and relevant to a lot of items on this list (see #17).

Over the past winter, I watched my girls diligently suit up (pun intended) for swim lessons. Suit, swim cap and goggles. They entered the pool deck just as the adults were instructed to clear the lap lanes. The adults spanned ages – but two things were certain. They were all fit and they all had goggles. If I wanted to achieve #32 – “Swim Laps (?) at Y – pretend you are a real swimmer.”, I’d have to get some goggles.

I happened to be running errands with my girls the first weekend following my 39th birthday. Outfitting them as my coaches – whistle for my run coach, #SuperE, and stopwatch for my squat coach, #SuperL – and I let them select my new wet-specs. Modell’s was great – I’ve never been in this particular store before. It was clean, easy to find items, and had friendly staff. Now I have no excuses not to begin to work on #32 (with the bonus of becoming a member of Modell’s loyalty program too).

Watch out Michael Phelps.

Swim memes are hilarious – who knew? My favorite when searching for “goggles” in Google images.

Image result for swim goggle funny photo

CHECK!

 

Getting Things Started

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” – Seneca

I am not a writer of lists. Scratch that. I write lists. I am not a FOLLOWER of lists. I write them, but rarely reference them, or retain them. Once I write an item down I remember it, mostly. Stuck in my head, and in all best efforts sometimes to get rid of the things I’m supposed to do, or forgot to buy at the supermarket, I can’t.

With this in mind, and after spending a lot of time on my daily commute listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier”, I got to thinking about how I manage my obligations to myself and others, and how I might want to change that going into my fourth decade next year. The large and powerful “40” over on the horizon, coming towards me ever quicker, has made me panic. No idea why. I’m not afraid of 40 or what it represents (OR AM I?!?), but I have not slept well, questioned all long-held beliefs at some point, caught myself daydreaming and wistfully sharing lifelong dreams with strangers (or really patient coworkers).

Rather than stew for another year. Rather than go into my fourth decade with the same old nagging thoughts/wishes/hopes/dreams/”can I?”s, I excitedly made a list. I’ve seen others write their lists, and end up on the other side of 40 full of stories, incredible memories, and an overall sense of “take-that-40” when the birthday actually hits. I WANT THAT. The list is composed of 40 things I need to accomplish before turning 40 (summer 2018).

What THIS is, is a journal of said list – going through each item, and discovering the journey between. Journaling is one of my “things”. Having a lot of solo time growing up, I mused and mused in a handful of journals. I was such a good listener to my own thoughts. Without that outlet over the years I have continued to be a good listener, but not a good actioner. Hopefully this exercise becomes a blend of both. I also hope to have my brother join in on the fun. I’ve asked him – rather told him – that we were going to do this blog thing together. He’s busy, has a family and career of his own, but as a means of staying closer and communicating on a regular basis I thought it would be fun. For the most part we get along, and for the most part we challenge each other’s opinions.

I plan to journal about each item – its genesis, what will be difficult and what will be easy about taking it on, and as some items are going to take longer to check off the old list, I’ll journal about the journey. I’ll include photos, quotes, feedback from friends and those who have offered to help me achieve my goals. And above all else, I really want to capture what checking items off an actual list feels like. Doing what I say I’m going to do – FOR MYSELF. These items aren’t for my husband, my kids, my family or friends, or my work – although I do hope that this process will help me improve my relationship with all of them.

Beginning: Like journaling in high school, I loved quotes. I have a well-worn old paperback quote book that I referenced in the age before the internet. It was a companion in writing English papers (what good English paper doesn’t start off with a proper quote?), a love letter ghost-writer, and a muse. I’ll dust this off to channel my inner teen as well.

Quoote Book
Quote book I used growing up – a snapshot in time of the “revolutionary new format…”.

Ending: As important as beginning, each post will end with a word that captures the essence of the post, or a reference resource that I’d recommend on the topic.

Fresh Start