Blissfully Peaceful

I didn’t sleep well last night for no particularly apparent reason. I was awake this morning long before the alarm went off.

I work out each morning before I start the rest of my day. The physical activity gives both my body and mind a boost and helps me feel more prepared to face whatever may lie ahead. And if I get up on time, I might also have a few minutes to spare after a workout to meditate before the day’s demands start piling up.

I started exploring meditation in the past couple of years with the help of some free apps. I quickly found that it can help alleviate a general sense of anxiety that I seem to hold onto. My boss is extremely invested in wellness and self-care of all sorts. She’s big into yoga and encourages us to schedule daily breaks from work to go outside for a run or walk, or to meditate. So I considered myself very fortunate when she spent part of the department’s budget on HeadSpace subscriptions for the entire team. I use it often. I’m not consistently good at it, but I’ve found a sense of calm through these meditations frequently enough to want to keep working on it.

In spite of my lack of sleep, I didn’t feel fatigued or out-of-sorts this morning. It probably helped that today’s workout wasn’t so much a workout as a recovery routine, a yoga-inspired series of flowing and stretching. It helped me unwind and put me in a good frame of mind. I had plenty of time afterwards before I had to feed Lucy and then take a shower, so I pulled up my HeadSpace app and selected the day’s featured meditation.

Unlike so many other times, today I didn’t have to fight the constant interruption of thoughts or remind my muscles to relax as I tried to meditate. My eyes closed easily and my lungs filled slowly and deeply with each breath. Finally, a deep calm settled over me along with a sense of floating on clouds. It was blissfully peaceful, almost a high. I wanted to stay there forever, but of course, I couldn’t. Still, I realized how wonderful it was, even if only for a short time, to let go of the need to leap from one thought to the next, the constant list-making, and the compounding of expectations that so often occurs in my brain. All I felt was a deep sense of quiet and peace.

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This was the first thing for which I was grateful today. If nothing else went well, at least I had this.

Finally a Normal Saturday (I guess I’ve missed these.)

I think every year around this time I speak (about 600 times) some really (not so) original words of wisdom along the lines of, “The holidays are always wonderful, but there’s something to be said about getting back to normal.”

There is. I’m one of those people who loves Christmas time … really loves it! I relish the joyful and generous spirit that permeates the air, the planning and giving of meaningful and simple gifts, the idea that our Christmas gatherings will be absolutely, totally, completely perfect in every way … even though the beauty of it is that they never will be. I love Christmas time so much that I usually experience a bit of blues in the days immediately following. This year was no exception. I woke up on December 26th, on break from work. I worked out. I showered. I drove the neighbors to the airport. While driving back home, I listened to Little Women on audiobook and contemplated grand plans for immense productivity during the remaining hours of my day.

Upon arriving home at approximately 10 am  … I promptly plopped onto the couch, reached for the remote, … aaand spent the next several hours watching movies and napping.

I can’t say I felt good about that. I tried to. I told myself, You’ve earned this. You entertained on Christmas Eve. You shopped. You wrapped. You cooked. You baked. You gave up precious hours of sleep. I told myself that my lounging was well-deserved self-care. But I’m not a person who feels refreshed after such a day. Unless I’m doing it due to illness, I just feel guilty. It’s one of those things I want to work on in this new year. Sitting and being still once in a while. Though maybe a bit more purposefully, and probably not while zoning out in front of a screen.

This brings me to my point which is that I woke up this morning feeling grateful for the relatively normal weekend that looms ahead. Sure, the Christmas tree still needs to come down in addition to the usual household chores and errands that I typically tackle during my weekends. But if I don’t get it all done? Who cares? Because no one is coming over to see my messy house! And if they do? Well, that’s another one of those things I’ll continue working on in the new year. NOT thinking that no one may come over until I have a Pinterest-perfect house. Besides, if I wait for that day, no one will be allowed over. Ever.

IMG_8999It was nice over the holidays. There were moments between the chaos when I glanced into the living room where all of my adult kids (and Lucy Pie) were lounging together, the Christmas tree lights glowing in the corner, and the kids’ teasing and laughter like music to my ears. Those moments filled my soul with such warmth and happiness. I adore those moments and will gladly take as many more as I can get. But the rest of it? It was wonderful but a bit exhausting as always. So today, the pressure is off. I’ll get to the shower when I get there. If my vacuuming doesn’t make it to the lower level this weekend? Oh, well. Today I raise my coffee cup in a toast to routine and normalcy.

Weekend to Weekend

2019.10.20_2bLast Saturday and Sunday were brilliant weather days, and left me with such an immense feeling of gratefulness and contentment. Clearly, this is my time of year! With Jack off on a hunting trip last weekend, I got the house cleaned and in order, and then spent Sunday afternoon fulfilling a promise to bake cookies with the little guys from next door. We had agreed on “after lunch,” so when my doorbell rang at 8:50 am Sunday morning,  I was taken by surprise. I pulled the door inward, only to find E standing on the front step beaming hopefully and asking if I was ready. I gently asked him to come back later, after I’d made a trip to the grocery store and when I’d be more prepared.

E and Little J later showed up at the agreed upon time with a friend in tow, the little guy from the other next door. Not long after, Big J and yet another neighbor boy came knocking at the door. Apparently Little J had told them I would only allow three boys to come bake with me, but Big J thought he and his friend would chance it and I welcomed them inside. I hadn’t planned on hosting a party, but they were all (mostly) so polite, and the house was filled with their laughter as they made jokes about pumpkins and underwear. As I watched them sneak candy sprinkles and dabs of frosting into their mouths, mix the frosting colors together, and generally make a big mess, I realized my patience has grown significantly since I was a young mother. We had a great time and everyone took home a plate of Halloween cookies.

After last weekend’s picturesque days, this past Monday arrived bringing with it an all-day rain and chill, along with a heavy dose of the Monday blues. The rain began to subside on Tuesday, but clouds and cold remained. By Wednesday, the sun returned and I took a break from work to go outside on my lunch break. A friend and I took two laps around the pond, kicking through a blanket of dry leaves and inhaling deeply the crisp scent of autumn. It’s the time of year that I always wish desperately would hold on just a bit longer. Driving home from the office on Thursday, I marveled at the explosion of color all around me. It wasn’t just the leaves on the trees. Even the air seemed tinged with a golden hue.

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View from my parking spot at work

It’s such a bittersweet time of year. The landscape will soon be gray and still, the temperatures encouraging a reluctance to leave the house. And like every year at this time, I’m contemplating ways to enjoy the outdoors so that winter doesn’t feel so depressing. I’ve been considering cross-country skiing, though I’ve never done it and have yet to get serious about finding some equipment.

The past week seemed sluggish after the previous week’s travels to Madison, and yet also felt a bit whirlwind-ish. While I returned to the routine of going to my own office, the workdays were hectic, in addition to the fact that Chesney’s life is changing course quickly. All I can do is sit back and watch. Her job interview went well. She was offered the position and she accepted. She moves out next weekend already, and starts the new job on the fourth of November. I can almost hear a clock ticking in the background during the hours we spend together. I’m so very happy for her, and yet still want to put the brakes on her time at home. She’s my dinner cooking partner almost every evening, and my go-to person for conversation of all sorts. We share the same weird sense of humor and taste for t.v. shows that offer an escape from the often dismal stream of world and local news. We encourage each other in our efforts to be healthy and share a mutual adoration of the family dog.

As news of her engagement, new job, and pending move spreads, she tells me that many people ask her how her mom is taking it. “Not great,” she tells them, and we laugh each time she conveys another of these exchanges. She’s kidding, sort of, when she’s says I’m not handling it well. I’m not desperate that she’s leaving and there’s never been any question in my mind that my kids would all someday leave the nest. Still, I’ve made no secret that I’m a bit saddened at the idea of not seeing her every single day, and I do love having her at home. But we both know that if she were to remain at home indefinitely, neither one of us would be completely happy about it. Her time has come to spread her wings. And it’s probably time for me to spread mine again as well.

This morning I awoke long before the sunrise. I tried to go back to sleep, but with Jack’s elbow in my back, and the rumble of his snoring filling the room, it was not to be. I start most mornings with a workout I choose from an at-home program I joined last March. It’s my habit to tackle it before I do anything else each day. So still yawning, I changed into my workout clothes, figuring I’d get it done in time to have coffee with Chesney a bit later on. I’m in the midst of an eighty-day program and just finished the first third of it yesterday. Today was supposed to be a rest day, but I felt the need to stretch out, and decided to try a yoga routine from the library of options. While the stillness of the night encompassed the rest of the house, I rolled out my yoga mat and pushed play on a beginner’s course.

Lucy tends to be an early riser too, especially if she hears me moving. I filled her dish with kibble, waited for her to finish, then let her outside and back in again before settling down on my yoga mat. As the recorded program walked me through some initial breathing exercises, Lucy sat square in front of me, trying to lick my face and making me laugh. I knew I wouldn’t master my breathing this way, but I couldn’t help reaching out to stroke her fur and give her a kiss. As long as I was sitting in the cross-legged position, Lucy continued to try to look into my eyes, and kept resting her paw on my knee. She finally gave up when I moved to get on all fours to do the cat and cow positions. She lifted herself up onto the couch then, settling into her morning nap on a blanket that had been left strewn there the night before.

As I finished my “practice,” the household began to come alive. I made some protein pancakes for Chesney and myself, the only ones who regularly eat breakfast. Jack got up and quickly left to go help a family member with a yard project. Chesney left for work, reveling in the fact that it’s the last Saturday she’ll have to spend at work from now on. Ryker, ever the night owl, remained sleeping in his room. (Nope, the nest still won’t be empty as long as he remains a full-time resident, though it will be much quieter. He’s rarely here except to sleep.)

For now, at least until mid-afternoon, the house is mine and the weekend is here. Two whole days to catch up, catch a breath, relax and take whatever these days may bring.

“Longest Short Week Ever”

This was the description offered by a coworker yesterday, and I couldn’t have agreed more. After a six-day stretch of time off through New Year’s Day, I was pleasantly surprised when I scanned my inbox upon returning to work Wednesday morning and finding literally nothing of consequence. That peaceful feeling lasted approximately 5.2 seconds, just until three different people sent three separate emails asking me to look into the very same problem.

And so the week began, ending with a frantically paced Friday during which I was either on the phone or in meetings so much that I was literally tired of speaking by day’s end. And I’d done so much meeting and phone-calling that I’d failed to complete much actual work. I guess it’s to be expected. There’s always a nice little lull over the holidays, and then everything kicks back into high gear. Having been through my share of corporate change and uncertainty, when I start to feel overwhelmed, I always try to remind myself that busyness is a good problem to have.

20190103While racing around the house one morning, trying to get out the door and on the road to the office, I opened up the garage so that I could start my car and get it comfortably warmed up before getting in. The view of the sunrise through the garage door stopped me in my tracks. I felt God tap me on the shoulder, saying, “Stop all this hurrying and rushing around, or you might miss the really good stuff.”

Perspective. Just have to keep it all in perspective.

In the middle of this three-day week, I received news about my 90 year-old Aunt Shirley. I last saw her just before Thanksgiving, when I thought I’d be saying my last good-byes. But upon arrival at her nursing home then, we happily found a bounced-back version of my dear aunt. Unfortunately, I now know that this was one of her last really good days. A cousin, her oldest daughter informed us that Aunt Shirley has been dwindling ever since, and especially since Christmas. She spent a few days in the hospital and is now back in the nursing home, but on hospice care.

My sister, niece and I went to visit Aunt Shirley on Thursday after work. Having watched my own parents and father-in-law go through their end days in the past four years, I was prepared to find my little spitfire of an aunt fading and barely conscious. She was lying down when we arrived, but she was surprisingly lucid and conversational. When we came through the door, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Oh, I was just thinking about all of you!” Even in her diminished state, she managed to convey such exuberance at the sight of us. She has always made me feel so good, and even now continued to make me feel so warm, welcome, and so unconditionally loved. She did however admit that she was tired. So extremely tired. The last time we visited, she had explained she was certain that the end had come, but God must not have been ready for her yet. And she was glad for that, because she didn’t feel ready to go just yet. In stark contrast to just a few short weeks ago, this time she readily admitted that she is ready to go to Heaven now.

Even though her admission brought immediate tears to my eyes, I was sympathetic to her need to stop fighting age and disease. And I couldn’t help but admire her confidence and lack of fear at the prospect of dying. Aunt Shirley’s light is undoubtedly fading, but she knows where she is going and she’s excited to get there. There was some consolation for me as I imagined how happy my mom and Aunt Elaine will be when their sister joins them in Heaven.

Aunt Shirley remained relatively talkative during our short visit, and as we chatted, a highlight reel of memories ran through my mind. She was always such a nurturing person, quick to offer hugs and praise, and usually addressing others with terms of endearment. In my younger days, Aunt Shirley often invited my sister and I to spend a few summer nights at her house, so we could hang out with our cousins. My sister and I reminded her of those times, reminiscing about how much we loved those visits … and especially the homemade chocolate sauce she always made to accompany the ice cream that was always, always offered. We told her how much we appreciated the skills she taught us (or at least tried to teach,) like knitting, crocheting, and sewing. She always demonstrated for us the joy that can be found in such simple, humble pursuits, such as gardening, cooking and baking, keeping a home, and taking care of a family. We told her we’d never forget the way she spoiled us. She smiled when she heard this and asked, “Did I spoil you?”

That response epitomized my aunt’s personality. She has a spirit of generosity and has rarely given it a second thought. When she leaves this world, she will be dearly missed. But her departure will be one that leaves others smiling through their tears. Her shining example of a life well lived will remain, and I only hope that I can follow it at least half as well as she has.

Day One

This household is rolling quietly into the new year and it’s honestly not a bad way to start things off. I’m well rested and full of energy. We initially had plans to celebrate with another couple last night, but one of our friends fell ill, and Jack was showing signs of coming down with the cold virus that I’ve had for the past week. So we all decided it was best to keep our distance from each other. We stayed home and I went to bed well before midnight.

IMG_7402[726]Once our plans were cancelled, we made a last-minute trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of lobster tails for our New Year’s Eve dinner. We made some baked potatoes too, and snacked on the veggies and dip I had planned to bring to our friends’ house. That was the extent of our New Year’s celebration.

Lucy was more than happy that her people stayed with her rather than going out. As snow flurries gusted outside, I was stretched out and cozy on the couch under a fleece blanket, reading a book while Jack periodically flipped t.v. channels. Lucy decided to climb up and over me, stretching out between the length of my body and the back of the couch, nestling her face in my armpit. She quietly snored the evening away. I was content to be cuddled up with my fur baby.

So this first day of the new year is shaping up to be an uneventful day. I’m happy to be well-rested and minus any ill-effects of too much “celebrating.” It’s a chance to get my mindset back to a more typical routine and ready to return to work tomorrow.

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