Coming Back to Life

Daylight! We have daylight again! I have missed it so much. It might even have been worth losing that hour of sleep earlier this week just to be able to end my workday with the sun still streaming through the window. I know it’s not just me. The past few months have felt darker than most years. It’s amazing what a little natural light can do to lift the spirits!

It’s funny how the changing seasons can transform the same patch of sky that I see every single morning from my windows. Day after day, there’s a new piece of artwork inside the same frame.

The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter by the day. I can breathe again and can’t seem to get outside enough to soak in all of this nearly-spring weather. Lucy and I have been going for walks after work. She’s a little bit out of shape and needs the exercise. And even my four-legged baby senses the renewal taking place, displaying her funny sense of exuberance. As we trek through the neighborhood, she gallops as far as her leash will allow, and sniffs every patch of grass, every stray leaf, every place her nose can reach. As soon as she feels the leash go a bit slack, she bursts forth again in the hopes of more new scents, more sights to see. When her initial energy wanes, she slows to a prance, her head held high, searching right to left, up and down, making sure she doesn’t miss a thing.

I’m seeing people again, a friend in the neighborhood strolling out to the mailbox who flags me over to catch up for a few minutes. There are little kids playing in driveways who don’t know me but who eagerly shout, Hi! Hi! Hi! and wave frantically as Lucy and I pass by. I smile and wave back and Lucy’s tongue lolls out of her mouth as she considers them for the briefest moment before pulling me forward. Birds chirping. Squirrels racing. Geese honking. I have missed all of this during the long quiet we’ve just been through.

Things are slowly returning to normal. I worried that this Easter would be another lonely pandemic holiday. But I am so grateful it won’t be. We can gather together again. A bit. Normally, holiday preparations stress me out while I impossibly try to make everything perfect and conjure up expectations that can’t possibly be met. Now, as I plan to host Easter brunch with my immediate and some extended family, I’ve discarded any ideas of perfection. I’m not complaining to myself that no one else offered to host a gathering at their homes (again.) No. Like Lucy, I’m exuberant. I have missed life. I’ve missed my people. I won’t soon take either for granted again.

Winter at the Cabin

For years, Jack and I struggled to make time to go to his family’s cabin in the summers. We’ve always loved to go to the lake, but we had kids in sports for many years which meant that evenings and weekends often found us sitting and cheering at a ball field. Jack’s job was sometimes a roadblock as well with its rotating schedule that kept him at work every other weekend. Then my parents’ health began failing and their need for help became a priority over up-north escapes.

But the years passed by, the kids grew up, my parents passed on, and Jack’s work situation changed. Suddenly we had time again to get away to the lake, to unplug, to commune with nature and simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings of my father-in-law’s happy place. We have made a true effort to get there more often lately, to make use of it and help manage the upkeep the way Jack’s dad would have wanted us to do.

The cabin is a rustic dwelling and lacks many of the conveniences we enjoy at home. To be honest, that’s part of its charm. It’s small but it has a big farm table to accommodate the large extended family. There’s no cable television, (so get outside and play!) The rooms are few but there are many places to sleep. Just don’t expect any privacy. There’s no central air conditioning; just a small window unit used only on those days when the air is truly stifling and it’s too hot to sleep. There’s no furnace, but there’s a small stove to heat things up in the fall when the guys gather for hunting trips.

Jack and I have never gone to the cabin in the winter. The conveniences are even fewer during the cold and snowy months. Since the cabin isn’t occupied on a regular basis, the water and heat are shut off after hunting season. That’s not to say that we can’t go in the winter. It just takes a more effort. It takes a couple of hours for the cabin to heat up to a comfortable level, and using the bathroom means walking outside – day or night – to use an outhouse.

Last summer while spending time at the lake with extended family, the talk turned to planning some winter trips. The idea took hold and last weekend, we made it happen.

I’m often guilty of having expectations that are too high, ending up disappointed when things don’t play out as perfectly as I imagine. As the weekend drew near, I daydreamed of perfect weather that would ensure snow on the ground but not too much. I wished for temperatures cold enough to maintain the snow cover and to keep the ice strong on the lake, but not so cold that we’d be forced back inside. I envisioned all of my kids and their significant others being able to join us. And I pictured all of us frolicking outside happily until we were exhausted and starving for one of those simple cabin dinners that always tastes best when every chair at the table is occupied. I had to keep reminding myself to take the weekend as it came, and not to be upset if everything wasn’t perfect.

I’ve made a concerted effort to find reasons to be grateful over the last year. Our winter cabin weekend made it so easy. I sincerely could not have asked for more. All of my kids and their significant others were able to join us, as well as Jack’s younger brother and his family. The weather was spectacular! Saturday was overcast with really comfortable temperatures. Sunday brought a clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine and temperatures just a bit colder than the day before. And we did it all!

I have to give credit to my brother-in-law who is just a big kid at heart. He talked Jack into participating in this weekend when I couldn’t. And once we were all at the cabin, he bounced around encouraging everyone to do this and try that. He was like a cruise director, making sure everyone was happy and having the best time imaginable! We rode sleds and tubes down the hill from the deck of the cabin down onto the lake. We made and threw snowballs. The guys did some ice fishing and the dogs ran, and ran, and ran! Thanks to my brother-in-law, I learned to drive a snowmobile as well as how to cross-country ski. The snowmobiling was exhilarating and fun! The skiing was more work than I’d imagined but such a peaceful experience. I definitely want to do more skiing.

After so much activity, I truly did work up a hunger such as I rarely feel. The food, though simple and convenient, tasted so good because it was shared with loved ones. When it was too dark to be outside any longer, we gathered around the table and played board games together, our voices growing louder as the night went on and laughter bubbling over easily. Leaving at the end of the weekend was, as it always is when departing from the cabin, bittersweet. I was anxious to get back home to a shower and a comfortable bed. But I was reluctant to see it all come to an end.

I needed this weekend. It was an opportunity to escape the sense of COVID fatigue for a while. And it is so rare that we’re able to gather all of our kids together in the same place for any length of time, much less an entire weekend. My heart swelled with love as I watched my kids talk and play together. I love seeing the incredible adults they have grown to be and the way they’ve grown closer to one another as they’ve matured. Everything about this weekend was simply amazing and I was literally overjoyed. Before I closed my eyes last night, I said a prayer of thanks for such a beautiful gift.

Too Cold to Go Outside

I haven’t been getting outside to walk for the past week or so. It’s too cold! I was really sticking with it too, well past the point in the winter that I normally do. Usually I’ve given up long before now. But if I can say anything good about a pandemic and working from home and rarely going anywhere, it’s that it has motivated me to go outside, see something besides the walls of my own house, and breathe fresh air. But the past couple of weeks with their sub-zero temperatures broke me. I’m pretty hardy, but I draw the line when the temperatures are cold enough to pose the risk of frostbite on skin exposed longer than five minutes.

It was eighteen below this particular morning.
An enjoyable view from inside the house

I miss my walks. I miss my friend and neighbor who walks with me. It always refreshes my spirit to get out of the house and talk with someone who doesn’t live with me. When the temperatures started falling, I told myself that if I couldn’t go outside, I’d still step away from my desk for a while each day and read a book, eat some lunch, watch an episode of something, or even do some laundry. But I never do. Without even giving it much thought, I just keep working. Oh, well. I’ve accomplished a lot at work and that in itself is fulfilling. It’s probably not a great long-term plan though.

This weekend promises a slight warm-up, thankfully, and next week looks good for getting outside again. I can’t wait!

Other benefits of these long, slow, quiet days? I’ve managed to stick with my goal to plan meals, cook, and eat better. I’ll dare to say that I’m well on my way to creating a solid habit of planning and shopping so that I have ingredients on hand to cook some things we’ll enjoy and feel good about eating. I’m only slightly worried I might start slacking off when spring and summer roll around.

I’m doing a ton of reading and really enjoying it.

I’ve not really worked much on crocheting. I got very excited about it at first and then I just fizzled. I’ve been too wrapped up in my books, I think. I’m not worried though. The yarn and hooks aren’t going anywhere. And obviously, neither am I!

On Being Ruined

I woke up at 3:00 the other morning and failing to fall back to sleep, lay there just letting my brain run in all directions. A particular realization rose to the surface, a feeling of being unsettled. Unsettled seems to be my constant companion, sometimes more apparent than others but always hanging around. The past year has moved me out of my comfort zone and I often feel as if I’m hovering in a sort of gray state of anxiousness, melancholy, and world-weariness.

I miss having plans. I miss seeing people. I miss looking forward to anything much more exciting than my weekly grocery run. It’s hard sometimes to stay positive when everyone you love is so close and yet so far away. Virtual reality helps, but it’s simply not the same. I want think about being in the world again, and spending time with people without the underlying fear that we might harm one another by breathing in the same space.

I see the ever-increasing divisions in this country and realize I’ve probably spent much of my life blissfully ignorant. This … everything the world is going through right now … this is nothing new. It has happened time and again, hasn’t it? I’ve just been fortunate enough to have lived most of my years in relatively calm times – or more likely was simply sheltered from the really worrisome stuff. When I was in the third grade, my elementary school suddenly enrolled a population of Vietnamese children. I remember being fascinated with the fact that they didn’t speak English. I noticed their mismatched, often ill-fitting clothing, but at that age it never occurred to me to question why, or to imagine their lives hadn’t been every bit as safe as mine. Somehow, my best friend that year was a Vietnamese girl who’d been placed in my class. We barely understood each other’s words, but we connected. And I had absolutely no idea for a very long time where she’d come from and the war that had happened in her country, or our country’s part in it.

This has happened a lot to me over my adult years, a dawning realization years in the making. Events that had previously seemed little more than a history lesson during my school years, I suddenly realized had occurred during my grandparents’ lifetime. My parents’ lifetime. My lifetime.

I often have to turn away from the news these days. I can’t ask Jack not to watch, but sometimes I have to close myself off. Sometimes when I’m cooking or doing chores, I’ll turn the television on for some background noise. I’ll find something that is just enough to keep me company but not enough to distract me from what needs doing. I’ve been watching Eat, Pray, Love on Netflix lately, either while falling asleep or while doing some chore. I long ago read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, but had never bothered with the movie. I almost always think a book is better than its movie, so this was, in my mind, the perfect one for background noise. Except that a particular line in the movie captured my attention.

Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.

Elizabeth Gilbert

I found myself sort of ranting to Jack two nights ago. He had the local news on and I was allowing myself to watch. There was a story about parents appealing to the governor to lift mask mandates for youth sports. Apparently several children have passed out while playing, presumably because the masks make it difficult to breathe during activities requiring such exertion. I watched as parent after parent was interviewed, all expressing the unfairness of requiring children to wear masks while playing a team sport. (Ironically, the story went on to say that statistics show there has been no increase in incidents of passing out as compared to before the pandemic.)

I’m normally not one to express an opinion out loud about such things. Everyone is entitled to their passions. The past year has taken its toll on everyone, and what’s a priority to some may not be a priority to others. We’re each seeing the world right now through our own unique lenses. But this news story fired me up. I looked at Jack and threw my hands up, asking, “What’s more important? That your kid gets to play basketball, or that your kid gets to play basketball in a way that offers a slightly better chance of keeping her and others around her safe? If you feel your child is at risk from wearing a mask while playing basketball, then maybe the choice should be not to play basketball this season! I mean, should we all be allowed to do the things we think we’re entitled to do? Or should we be doing whatever it takes to get beyond where we are now?”

I’m tired of it all too. I’m tired and I’m getting bored. But I also don’t think we should just throw out all precautions and play a real live game of survival of the fittest. My kids played sports. I remember how important it was to us. And yes. It’s unfair the way so many things are right now. It’s unfair that kids are falling behind because they’re not learning in the structure of a traditional classroom. It’s unfair that we can’t hold birthday parties or celebrate holidays with large groups of family and friends. It’s also unfair that people are dying.

None of us gets to do all of the things right now that we were used to doing before. And who knows if or when we’ll get to do them again. Maybe this is where my feeling of being unsettled stems from. That we might never again get to do of the things that define life as we think we know it.

The world sometimes feels to me like it’s falling apart. But isn’t this the bigger picture? Sometimes I begin to feel so defeated at all that’s going on, and then I watch the history channel and am reminded just how awful things have been before. Hasn’t this happened time and again throughout history? A ruining of sorts? What was taken for granted by one generation fails to exist for another. And it works both to our benefit and sometimes to our detriment.

I knew all of this … this trying to carry on through the pandemic … was going to get really difficult for me about this time of year anyway, with days that are still too short and when darkness comes too early. Not to mention, it’s a sub-zero deep freeze outside and that certainly doesn’t help. It’s made me a bit mopey at times, but also more introspective as well. That quote from Eat, Pray, Love keeps coming to mind. This is all so much bigger than us. So much bigger than I’ve imagined it would ever transpire to be. I’ve gone from disbelief that the virus would really affect us , to being literally afraid of it. I’ve gone from believing a resolution is just around the corner, to finding ways to stay positive and move on toward a day that’s still much too far away. I’ve experienced exhaustion and sorrow over too many other devastating and historic events that just seem to pile on top of a world that already feels much too fragile.

We are experiencing a ruining right now, I think. Funny thing is that whenever I’ve imagined such a thing, it was instantaneous and totally devastating. Before now, the world going to ruins was merely a far-fetched invention of the imagination. But I’m beginning to understand it’s not an illusion. It’s real. But it’s happening in slow motion. And this means we have some control over it, a chance to ensure that something good comes of it. It could really go either way, but I pray that our transformation holds more growth, more good than anything.

I’m Hooked

We’re in the midst of a deep-freeze. This isn’t exactly abnormal for Minnesota. We spend a small stretch of time most every winter in the below zero to single digit temperatures. But with the added limitation on outside-the-house activities thanks to COVID, I was desperate to find something creative and new to do with my time.

I’m not sure what possessed me. Maybe it was my pending grandmother-hood. Oh, the idea of making baby blankets, baby booties, and baby hats! And how about those beautiful afghans made out of colorful squares! Dish cloths, coffee sleeves … the possibilities are endless! Whatever the draw, I’ve had an urge lately to learn how to crochet. When I was young, my grandma tried to teach me, as did a sweet aunt. My female relatives were extremely talented with all crafts requiring needles, hooks, yarn and fabrics. Growing up, my siblings and I had an endless supply of colorful winter hats, scarves, and mittens, all lovingly created by our grandma. Unfortunately, any efforts to pass those gifts on to me mostly failed. I’ve always had a small degree of creative skill, but I never managed to advance in the art of crocheting beyond making a single chain. And even that has long since been forgotten.

I’m going to give the yarn and hook another try though. Apparently you can learn any number of skills on YouTube, including how to crochet. I watched a beginner episode to determine what supplies I’d need to get started. Last weekend I picked up a set of crochet hooks and a couple of basic yarns. Yarn balls? Yarn spools? No, wait … skeins! They’re skeins, right? See? There’s hope for me. I’m learning the lingo.

And look! I’m still making single chains! Actually, I did manage to add another row at one point, but I unraveled it and decided to continue making chains until the loops are more consistent and even. Once I really get that down, (assuming I’ll get that down,) I’ll try moving on to bigger things.

This is Me Not Cooking

I probably should be cooking. It’s that time of day to be making something for dinner, and Jack will be home in a while, most likely wanting to eat. I have a love/hate relationship with the preparing of meals. I actually don’t mind cooking. In fact, I kind of enjoy it. It’s the menu-planning, grocery-list-making, and shopping that I can’t get excited about. I neglected to do those things last weekend which makes it difficult to know what to make for dinner now. So I’ll probably wait until Jack walks through the door and say I’m going to make grilled cheese sandwiches or pancakes. To which he might say, “Why don’t I go get Chinese instead?” To which I will say, “Okay.” I love breakfast for dinner, but he doesn’t. And I can eat healthy-ish again next week, right?

I am seriously thinking about trying out one of those meal kit subscriptions. Then I can just fill in the other food necessities with a Target run now and then, because who doesn’t love going to Target? And yes, I have tried just ordering my groceries for delivery. I realized afterwards that even when I make a list, when I’m actually in the store I pick up a lot of things I didn’t think about during the list-making. And so I miss those things when I order groceries. Why does food have to be such a necessity? And also, why do we have to like it so much?

Also contributing to my lack of culinary motivation is the fact that it has been a week! I’ve just worked two full weeks in a row, which I think we can all agree is a hard habit to get back to after the holidays and all of their slow-downs and time off and such.

Clearly, everyone who spent most of December using up soon-to-expire vacation time is now back in the swing of things and wanting to get work done. And I felt this. And even though I just read a really helpful book called Calm the F*ck Down, my coping skills still need a lot of work. There is just so much to be done all of a sudden. I felt all the stress and anxiety this week. And there was that thing yesterday when someone said to me, “Don’t give this a second thought. It’s not a criticism in the least. But before you say something like [that thing I said] in an email to this group, just run it by me first.” That thing I said was just me talking like I talk and it was nothing. Really nothing. It was just me saying how I had something to provide to the group but I wanted to refine it first. And even though I was assured that I should not give the assessment of that thing I said a second thought, I allowed the insinuation that I somehow gave others the idea our team is less than perfect (which we are) to stress me out to the point I couldn’t stop worrying I would fail miserably on everything else job-related from now on. Everything on my to-do list suddenly seemed insurmountable and I felt like I should have had it all done yesterday, even though much of it isn’t due yet. And by the end of yesterday I just wanted to dissolve on the couch.

Of course, by the time I woke up this morning, I was asking myself why I’m so crazy sometimes. And everything looked well and manageable today. And I was no longer taking personally the assessment of the thing I said.

Also, on Monday I thought I might have COVID. So that did not help with the goal to reduce my habit of worrying. I started sniffling and sneezing at 5:00 am and it continued ALL DAY LONG. When Jack came home from work and heard me sneezing, he asked, “You got COVID, or what?” He was joking, of course. But of course, I hadn’t thought I might have the virus until he said what he said. And the thing about being in this pandemic is that, at least for me, every little thing in my body that feels the slightest bit off suddenly makes me think I might have COVID and I’ll infect others and it will be bad, oh so bad. (Can I just get that vaccination already?)

But it was not COVID. I woke up on Tuesday morning and nothing. No sniffles. No sneezing. Literally nothing. So all I can think is that I was allergic to something in the new sweater that I wore on Monday without washing it first. Definitely not COVID, but probably the fault of Old Navy.

All this makes me really grateful that I have a three-day weekend ahead. I am really going to need it after working two whole five-day work-weeks in a row. Maybe I’ll spend the extra time planning some meals and going to the grocery store so that next week I can cook again, and also eat like a person who wants to stay healthy and live longer than a few more years. That’d be nice, huh?

Fatigued

I was so very tired this morning when the alarm went off. Oddly, I slept pretty hard. It’s a rare night when I don’t wake up and fight the battle to shut off my brain and go back to sleep, but it wasn’t an issue last night. I didn’t hear any of the usual household noises, didn’t wake up having to employ a list of tactics to help me drift off again. And yet, I was exhausted upon waking.

I probably watched way too much of the news yesterday afternoon and evening. I was oblivious to the siege on our nation’s capitol until late afternoon when a coworker incredulously described what was happening. That’s when I turned on the television and found myself unable to tear my eyes away for several more hours. And I can only think this is why I feel so bone-weary today.

I think we’re all tired. I’m tired of feeling like the world is full of people who hate each other and who think blame is the only way to address injustice. I’m tired of the news media, of not knowing whether I can trust the information it dispenses. Like we all are, I’m burned out on the endless succession of days of isolation because of a pandemic. And I’m so very tired of the fighting over how to get beyond all of this.

I probably set myself up for this, coming into the new year with all kinds of hope for brighter days. I know those days are coming, but I need to be more realistic. The sort of transformation we so desperately need isn’t going to come quickly or easily. Finger-pointing and violence will never shine a light on this darkness. No matter who sits in the White House, that person isn’t going to save the country single-handedly. We need to look inside ourselves. We have to make compassion and respect a priority, and be willing to work for the kinds of change we want to see.

I wonder if everyone begins to feel a bit jaded as they grow older, after having the opportunity to see the many ways the world really works. Or are we truly in unprecedented times? I can’t imagine today’s climate is worse than it was during civil and world wars, and times of great racial unrest. Shouldn’t we by now be able to do better at addressing our differences and rise above them?

I’m so tired of the bickering, the accusations, the distrust, the disdain for anyone who doesn’t share the same opinions. Our political leaders and system are not what’s going to create the love, kindness, and compassion we so badly need. But it’s all so much bigger than me and today, I am just drained.

Why do I worry? Because I have to do it for everyone.

We went back to work yesterday, Jack and I. No more vacation days. No more waking up without an alarm. No more over-indulging in Netflix or sneaking a few more leftover Christmas cookies out of sheer boredom.

Thanks to a tracking error on his employer’s part, Jack was informed in mid-December that he had fifty-some hours of vacation time to use (or lose) before the end of the year that shall not be named. (A coworker introduced me to that label today and it made me laugh out loud, so I am using it henceforth!) So my hubby had been at home for the last two weeks without anything particularly pressing to do. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. Not that I was keeping tabs or anything. Near the end of his vacay, he said he was looking forward to going back to work this week. I said I was glad he was going back to work too. (I’m kidding. A little bit.) I also was looking forward to returning to my work. Having time off during a pandemic just isn’t that fun.

Alarm clocks sounded yesterday morning. We got up before the sun. Off we went to work. Well, off Jack went to work. Off I went to the family room in our lower level which continues to serve as my office until we tackle some projects which will allow me to convert a spare bedroom into a better workspace. I can’t do that right now since there is a new bathroom vanity taking up a large chunk of space in the bedroom. So first, bathroom remodel. Then bedroom remodel and new office space. Soonish, I hope.

It felt good to be back in the swing of things at work, using my brain for something more stimulating than watching the Hallmark Channel. Not that I’m knocking the Hallmark Channel. I got totally sucked into the non-stop holiday flicks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After I decided to boycott watching any channel cycling non-stop news of COVID and politics, hatred and violence, the Hallmark channel saved my sanity. I could pretend the country wasn’t spiraling out of control and just get lost in beautiful people who live in quaint, cozy small towns where nobody ever really seems to work, and everyone is filled the Christmas spirit all the time, and love always wins in the end. Sigh! Funny thing about Christmas movies though. Even though Hallmark offers them … What? Year round I think? They’re not nearly as charming and actually feel a lot cheesier when it’s no longer the Christmas season. Besides, I was beginning to see reruns. And after the New Year’s Eve celebration that wasn’t, going back to work sounded awfully inviting.

So there I was yesterday morning, about three hours into my work day and participating in a Teams meeting when I heard the front door open. Thinking that was very odd, I heard footsteps come down the stairs and suddenly there was Jack. He looked wretched. I muted my microphone momentarily and leaned away from my web cam. Without me having to ask, he muttered, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m going to bed.”

I could feel the blood drain from my face because of course, I instantly assumed COVID, which where Jack is concerned, scares me to death. With his autoimmunity and some other health issues of late, I really worry about how he would manage if he got the virus. But of course, I was stuck on my meeting for a few more minutes and couldn’t drill him with questions at that exact moment. After he walked out of the room, I tried to continue to pay attention to the topic at hand. And by the time the meeting ended not long after, Jack was sound asleep in bed and stayed that way for hours. Around mid-afternoon he resurfaced from the bedroom and said he felt a little better. I asked what had been wrong. What he described certainly didn’t point to COVID, but definitely didn’t ease my mind. He used words like “dizzy,” “light headed,” and “nauseous.” Also, there was “short of breath” and “felt like I was having a heart attack.”

“A heart attack? And you drove yourself home?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, I sat for about an hour at work until the worst of it passed and when I felt a little better, I figured I could drive home,” he replied.

“Maybe it was a panic attack,” I suggested. I’ve heard people say they thought they were having a heart attack and it turned out to be anxiety, although even as I was saying it I was thinking that would be much more likely to happen to me, not Jack.

“You had two weeks away from work and maybe you were worried about catching up on things.”

He really didn’t think it was anxiety and said he figured he just had the stomach flu. But I insisted that the heart attack feelings didn’t jive with a stomach bug and he shouldn’t have driven home afterwards. I have about sixteen jillion hours of PTO and could easily have come get him. Also, now that I think about it, there’s an emergency squad where he works, trained First Responders. Maybe he might have called on them? Maybe? And also, feeling like he was having a heart attack warranted a call to the doctor. “Now,” I said.

He brushed me off, saying he felt better now.

“I don’t,” I said. “Call the doctor.”

“They’re wrapping up their day by now. I’ll call tomorrow.”

“It’s 3:15. They’re not wrapping up. If you’re feeling better in the morning, you’ll go to work again and you’ll forget to call. Do it now and at minimum, you can leave a message asking for a call back.”

“I don’t have a card with the phone number.”

The excuses with this man!!!

“There’s this thing called Google,” I deadpanned. “Helps you find all kinds of information.”

I insisted that particularly with his health issues, he shouldn’t mess around and should at least check in with a professional to see if we should be more concerned, or maybe go to a hospital. He finally acquiesced and called his specialist’s office, actually reaching a live person and getting put directly through to a nurse. (Go figure!) She drilled him with questions and when she didn’t insist he head to the E.R. I felt a bit better.

Later on, Jack ate dinner, watched television, and slept through the night without incident. He went back to work today, put in an entire day, and lived to tell about it. His specialist’s dedicated nurse also called today and eased my mind even further. She said the doctor didn’t feel his incident was related to his health issues or current medications. It might have just been a fluke thing, a virus, stomach bug. Who knows? And if he continues to experience the same symptoms, he should GO SEE HIS PRIMARY DOCTOR. (Imagine that!)

Seeing as how Jack is feeling back to his normal self today, I guess we are going to let this go. But this sure put a damper on that whole not-worrying thing!

A Winter Night’s Walk

Today was my last day of work for the year and it ended with me feeling like I could crawl out of my own skin. It was probably an inevitable occurrence after ten months of (and now permanently) working at home, when leaving work merely means shutting down the computer and walking upstairs to the kitchen to make dinner. Also, Christmas is over and it’s all of a sudden too quiet. The evening routine has become painfully, well … routine. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I don’t need to be reminded how fortunate I really am. I think tonight’s mood is just courtesy of 2020. I’m actually surprised it took this long.

A winter storm has been playing out since early afternoon. I paced around the house after reheating some leftovers for dinner. I stopped at a window several times to stare out into the darkness and watch the snow showering down from above. Jack asked what was wrong, twice. I told him I was bored, twice. I hated that I sounded like a spoiled child. It’s not as if I couldn’t find something to read, or tackle some project. I just was at odds with myself. He asked if I wanted to go shopping and offered to drive me.

“I don’t want to spend money just to cure my boredom,” I moped. “Bad idea.”

“Go outside and shovel,” he suggested.

You go outside and shovel,” I mimicked under my breath. Of course he would suggest that. I was mildly irritated because much as I hate to admit we’re still this old-school, the outdoor jobs are, by default, his responsibility. Since he doesn’t contribute much inside the house, those kinds of jobs fall on me. Also, it seemed kind of pointless to go out and shovel the driveway when there’s a perfectly good, new-just-last-year snow blower sitting in the garage that I know he’ll be just dying to fire up tomorrow.

I had to admit Jack was onto something though, since I soon found myself shoving feet into boots and digging in the closet for a hat and scarf. I’d gone out for my lunchtime walk earlier today, as usual, but I still needed to burn off some steam.

So I layered up in all my outdoor clothing and went out to shovel the driveway and front walk. By the time I was done, there was already a new layer of snow covering it all up again, so I ran my shovel back and forth again, which was clearly proving to be a futile effort and which hadn’t produced the desired effect on my psyche anyway. I poked my head inside the door and called out to Jack that I was going for a walk.

His face appeared in the stairway from the lower level. “Are you okay?”

“Yes… No… I just need to get out for a while.”

“Okay,” he said a bit warily as I closed the door behind me. And I trudged off.

I love the path that runs behind our house. On nicer days, I can follow its entire loop (about five miles) and arrive right back at home. Tonight, in the dark, with the snow falling steadily and my feet kicking up a poof of fresh powder with each stride, it was enough to walk up the hill, across the bridge and then turn around to come back again.

It felt so good to be out of the house, away from the same old walls and the constant sound of a television. I took long, purposeful strides and filled my lungs with the wintry air, hoping to replace the stale feeling inside of me with something cleaner and lighter. The blanket of white on the ground muffled the sounds of cars as they drove by, but magnified the steady note of a train whistle. At the house next to the farm, someone was driving a four-wheeler around the yard and pulling a chain of strung-together sleds filled with kids. The kid in the caboose waved at me as I walked by. That made me smile. I waved back and felt a little better.

Christmas lights still adorned trees and twinkled outside many of the neighborhood houses. Chunky snowflakes pelted my cheeks as I kept moving ahead. I crossed paths with a guy sporting a full, black beard turned white with snow, but otherwise had the path to myself. The tops of my boots filled with snow and the lower half of my jeans got wet, but I didn’t care. Whatever it was that had been churning around inside me was finally gone by the time I came back home.

Jack looked relieved when I came back through the door.

“Better?” He asked.

“Better.” I said. Much better.

Practicing Gratitude

I’m feeling funky lately. Everything seems to be getting under my skin. I rarely want to wish away precious time, but lately, I keep wishing this year would just fast-forward and go away.

My fitness accountability group so often helps me keep my head above water. This is usually a daily opportunity to check-in online to seek or offer support in regards to exercise and nutrition goals. But self-care is also a frequent topic and lately, it’s often simply about helping each other be okay. A lot of us are struggling right now.

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This week brought a reminder that no matter your size or how well you eat, no matter how many pushups you can do or how much weight you can lift, if stress weighs you down, you just aren’t healthy.

I looked through the list of tips for living more happily and immediately recognized that I’ve been allowing myself to get sucked into the fear, the anger, and the frustration of the world today. Even typical daily hurdles sometimes feel monumental. I picked out a few things to work on, with my main focus being to express more gratitude. I’ve not been very grateful lately, even while I recognize that my life is relatively easy and peaceful.

IMG_0002[3420]A few weeks ago while doing some shopping, a small notebook caught my eye. I remember thinking it could be a gratitude journal but (typical me) I’d tossed it aside and hadn’t done anything with it. But now I’d found some motivation and have since started writing in it. And I’m reminded that gratitude takes practice. I’ve allowed my mind to sink, to wallow just a bit too much, to hang onto darkness and a sense of helplessness. Finding reasons to be grateful has taken some real effort. But I’ve been making myself write some things down almost daily. I try to find at least three things a day to write down, even if what I’ve written feels stupid or mundane. Sometimes I only manage one thought. Sometimes I don’t write anything. But I do it if at all possible. 

One of my fitness friends shared that she often has to find reasons to be grateful in the most unlikely of circumstances. She tripped over a bunch of shoes in her house one day. Instead of being annoyed that no one could put their shoes where they belong, she told herself that she was lucky to have a houseful of big-footed teenagers who just so happen to have great taste in athletic shoes. Following my friend’s lead, I’ve been grateful to wake up to the sounds of birds singing outside my open bedroom window. I was thankful for a busy workday, particularly after a recent lull made me worry about job security. I professed how much I love my dog, Lucy, and how I appreciate her constant companionship while I’m stuck have the privilege of working from home. I appreciated a text from a friend that simply said she was thinking of me and wanted to say hi.

I would really like to deepen my sense of gratitude. After all, it’s kind of hard to be sad and mopey when you’ve got pages of things for which to be grateful. I’ll keep working at this.