When the Dog Won’t Go Out and Your Eyelashes are Frozen

“If your dog wasn’t such a diva,” Jaeger said to me, “she could go outside in the winter without a jacket and boots.” I defended Lucy, saying that she’s not a diva. She just has short fur and sensitive paws, and … Okay, maybe she is a bit of a diva. But I love her in spite of it.

My oldest son and I were talking about the sudden drop in temperatures which lately have reached an uncomfortable kind of cold. People around here will complain and brag in equal measures about how much cold we can tolerate. Personally, since I work from home, I’m fortunate not to be all that inconvenienced by the weather, except where my dog is concerned. It takes some effort to get her into her jacket (which she loves) and her doggy boots (which she hates). Think Randy in A Christmas Story only instead of a mom stuffing her child into a snowsuit, it’s me coaxing my dog’s paws into the booties that she barely tolerates. Yet if she doesn’t have them when thermometer goes below zero, she comes back inside favoring her paws and I feel like a bad dog-mom. But even with the boots yesterday, Lucy was reluctant to go out. I can’t tell you how many times I got her all bundled up only for her to stop in her tracks a few feet out the door, her body language saying NOPE in no uncertain terms as she turned back to the patio door begging to come back inside. And in case you’re asking, “Why all the fuss? When she really needs to go, she’ll go out, right?” Wrong. All of this effort is to avoid the bladder infections Lucy has given herself in previous years when she would just hold it rather than endure the cold.

You can’t make me go out there!

So it was that cold and I didn’t go out for a walk yesterday. But as I drove to the grocery store, I saw a brave soul making a hardy trek down one of my regular walking paths. And I contemplated, “I could put snow pants on too and get out there after I’m done at the store.” But then Chesney texted some photos. She and Farm Boy were spending time outside with his family after their annual New Year’s Day lunch. The little ones wanted to go sledding, and she wanted to show me her frosty eyelashes and Farm Boy’s frozen beard. I think that sealed the deal for me. No walk.

But I need to walk. Walking is usually an almost daily thing for me, except since I suffered an acute muscle strain in my lower back almost a month ago. I’d love to brag about the admirable and strenuous activity I was tackling at the time of my injury. But I can’t. I acutely strained my lower back while bending over. I was bundling up for my daily walk. I had donned my jacket, scarf, and hiking boots, and was just reaching down to pick up my ear muffs which had fallen to the floor where I was standing in the foyer. And that’s when it happened. I reached for the muffs and felt something like a snap, and then a fire spreading in my lower back. I paused for a moment in surprise and a bit of panic. I told myself, “Don’t let this defeat you! Get out there. Walk it off. WALK IT OFF!”

I tried. I really did. But there was no walking it off. I made it one block to my neighbor’s house where she met me at the corner and commented on how it appeared I was limping. I briefly explained what had happened and said I was sure the walk would ease out the kinks. But another block later, my muscles were tensing even more and I began to fear I wouldn’t be able to get back home. I admitted defeat and turned back. The next day I could barely get out of bed and could hardly move around the house without shooting pain running down my left hip. I had to steady myself for a few moments when getting up from a chair before I could take a step. It was all rather humiliating for someone who makes a good effort to stay as healthy as possible.

Three days later when I managed to get to a chiropractor appointment, my doctor told me this kind of muscle strain is really common, which made me a little better and slightly less decrepit. He also said that it would take some time to heal and that I needed to take it easy for a few weeks. A few weeks? I honestly didn’t believe it would take that long. After all, I have a pretty regular habit of moving my body, both with various workouts and walks. And for crying out loud, I’m in my mid-fifties, not the mid-nineties!

I figured I just needed a week to get back to normal, but sadly, I was wrong about that too. I really should learn to trust the chiropractor, I think, with his umpteen years of education in this area.) Prior to the muscle strain, I had really been pushing myself in my workouts, thinking the harder I pushed, the more I was fighting the aging process. But as my chiropractor also said to me, “When we reach the age that we are,” which was kind of him to say since he’s five years younger than me and in really great shape, “we have to start listening to our bodies a little more closely.”

Point taken. We will start listening to my body a little closer. I’ll continue to start my days with some kind of workout, but I’ll incorporate more gentle movement. And from now on, if it hurts, I’ll modify instead of thinking I can push past the pain. But the one thing that really seems to loosen those back muscles is walking. And I really need the weather to be more cooperative so I can get back to it. Today’s high is predicted to be three degrees, and that’s not going to happen until after I’ve gone to bed. So I can’t promise I’ll break out the snow pants and get out there today. (Maybe I’m a bit of a diva like Lucy.) The next three days, however, look much better with highs in the double digits. And I promise myself I will get out there again.

Moot Points/Mute Points and the Expansion of my Vocabulary

I have frequent meetings at work with a person who commonly says, “It’s a mute point.”

Before the words are even out of his mouth, the voice in my head insists, Moot! I never actually say anything out loud, though sometimes it’s tempting to respond, “What? Can you repeat that? I couldn’t hear your mute point.” But any attempt to correct his misuse of the word would likely fall on the same kind of deaf ears as my husband’s when I try to correct him when he says “Not doing nothing.”

Me: “Then what are you doing?”

He: “What? I said … nothing … ?”

Me: “Then that means you are doing … Oh nevermind.”

He (cheekily): “Nothing!”

Jack and I have had this conversation so often, that I know he gets it. I just think his use of the phrase is so ingrained that it comes out of his mouth before he can think twice about it. Or more likely he simply refuses to let me win this battle.

Anyway, the mute point guy makes us our meetings fun and we laugh a lot at his many “-isms” so I think I’ll just leave him be. Besides, who am I to be poking fun at others’ use of the English language? I don’t even know what I don’t know! I read a new book over the past week and found myself periodically happening across a word that, although its meaning was obvious to me by its placement and context, was unfamiliar. I appreciated that because I was reading on my Kindle I could just press my finger to the word on the screen in order to link to a definition and pronunciation. I really love books like this! Fifty-four years old I’m still learning new things every day. Keeps the ol’ brain from getting too rusty!

It was a fantastic book, by the way, called This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. The story surrounds a family with five boys, the youngest of whom at a very young age displays signs of gender dysphoria. It was such a compassionate perspective on how and why any parents might decide to not only allow, but encourage their son to live his life as a girl. In addition, I love the way this author writes, with words that are so colorful and descriptive, flowing and beautiful. It gave me insight and perspective I could never have otherwise known, and I often felt gut-wrenching sympathy for the characters in their various experiences. The book frequently inspired jealousy that my brain isn’t able to craft such artistic, impactful combinations of words. And I was so disappointed to arrive at the last page. Five stars for this book! Highly recommend!

It occurs to me that I often also learn new words and phrases in my job. A few years ago, before I started working with lawyers, I thought I had pretty strong skills where words are concerned. It didn’t take many conversations with my new teammates before I started jotting down words in my notes that I intended to look up after the meeting. Talk about humbling!

So the moral of this story is that I, myself still have a lot to learn, and I should stop making fun (even only in my head) of the way others express themselves.

P.S. Do you know what a “stuffy” is? I read this term in my just-finished book and honestly couldn’t work it out in my head at first. If you’re in my age range, and/or you haven’t had young kids around for a while, you may also have missed the movement toward equality among stuffed toys. No more “stuffed animals,” just “stuffies.” Now maybe you’ve learned something new today too. Or quite possibly, I am just behind the times.

This is me not sleeping

Thoughts that daily make their way through my brain…

When this is over

When things are back to normal …

Maybe it will never be truly over. Maybe fragments of where we are now will stay with us forever. Normal might never be again what we once believed it to be.

I don’t always sleep well. Probably a symptom of my age. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve developed a permanent low level of anxiety (thanks to a virus) that prevents me from truly letting go long enough to sleep through the night. Maybe I haven’t. But maybe I have. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep for a long time, or I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep. My brain doesn’t want to shut down. I think as normal as I try to make things, there’s a part of me that knows that none of this is normal and it makes me feel so unsettled sometimes.

I go through the days and I do my normal things. It’s kind of nice to be able to work at home, to have those extra minutes to get something done beyond driving to and from an office. I can toss a load of laundry in the washer in the middle of the day. Put some outgoing mail in the mailbox. Pull something from the freezer for dinner. Stop for a minute to hug and kiss my dog. All things I couldn’t do if this was the old normal and I was away from home for nine or more hours a day.

Sometimes I wake up in the night and my brain immediately wants some kind of reassurance that just isn’t to be found. No matter how much I try to tell it calming, fun, happy things, think about the best things in my life, or just breathe deeply in and out, my brain goes into overdrive and sleep won’t come back. When will I stop wondering every day if I’m going to catch the virus and – not that I’m very worried for myself – but what if I pass it on to someone else and do them harm? I can’t stop thinking about my poor mother-in-law in her little apartment for months on end without any real visits from family. It hurts my heart to hear the daily death count on the news, about the shortage of vaccines, and the mutating strains of the virus.

Maybe I can’t sleep because it’s impossible to truly relax while there’s no end in sight and the world just isn’t safe for everyone. (Not that it ever was, really.) But this virus!

Of course then I remember that this probably isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. There is an end in sight and I just need to be patient a while longer. My livelihood isn’t at risk which in turn makes me able think about (and do) more for others less fortunate. There’s plenty of food on the table. I can binge watch Netflix without the usual level of guilt. Got lots of time to read books or do some project around the house. I spend a lot more time outside – in the winter even – than I ever did before. I can go to work in leggings or sweatpants if I want to. All really great perks, right?

The view outside isn’t bad.

Imagine how terrifying it must have been to live in a time when you couldn’t protect your child from polio. When a vaccine couldn’t even be imagined. And when it could, it was years away. And I think I have trouble sleeping! This isn’t so bad then, is it?

Maybe normal is never coming back. Maybe the new normal is that time passes a little bit slower. And church isn’t a building. Maybe it’s forgiveness being extended more generously, not having to be first, loving others exactly for who they are and for who they aren’t. Hugs might be a little more scarce, but personally, I hope they come back in droves. Maybe the new normal is that we all have a lot more grace to offer.

Sometimes I wonder if the bigger purpose to all this is to deconstruct everything we take so much for granted, in order to take us down a few notches. Maybe when this is all over, the world is different, better in ways we never dreamed. I have to believe there’s a purpose for what is happening in the world today, this big thing that is beyond anything I could have imagined in my lifetime. I remind myself to live in it and through it, find something redeeming each day and not just constantly look for the end of it all. But I will be so happy to get beyond it.

Maybe this is why I can’t sleep at night. Then again, it could just be my age.

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!

Reflections on Age, Cancer, and Gratefulness

There was a twelve-year-old talking on the sports radio station in Jack’s truck. Or so it sounded to my fifty-three-year-old ears. Jack explained that he was a former University of Minnesota football player. So he’s not that young.

Well, he sounded young to me. I think back to when I was a kid and how every adult fit into one category for me. Old. My dad was fourteen years old when his brother was born and not much older when his youngest sister came along. I remember visiting my grandparents as a child. My aunt and uncle were always there at my grandparents’ house. Of course, they were! They weren’t much beyond their high school years and still lived at home. I thought they were cool. They gave my sister and me their old forty-five records. We took them home and listened to the Beatles and Lobo over and over and over again. My parents didn’t have forty-five records. Dad listened to the polka station on AM radio in his car. Mom had Elvis’ G.I. Blues and a Charlie Pride album that she’d play on the stereo which resided in our living room.

Still, I didn’t draw the distinction between my dad being an adult who held a job, owned a house, was married and had four children … and my aunt and uncle who were technically adults, but still very young adults. All of them fell into my mind’s very vague category of “old.” I was young. They knew everything and they were old.

Now I’m old. Sometimes I feel definitely old. Especially when I look in the mirror and notices the “eleven” lines between my eyebrows and the smile creases around my mouth. Most of the time I still think of myself as young though. I try to maintain that mentality. Maybe keeping a young heart and mind will help me live longer and better. Or just help me live better while I’m here.

When I was a child, death and funerals were such shocking and traumatic events. I was in second grade the first time I truly experienced the heartbreak of losing someone I loved. It was my sister’s godmother. Our families were close. Kenny was just a year older than me and I remember crying over the fact that he would have to face the world without his mom. I was just shy of my eleventh birthday when my grandpa died. It felt like I cried forever. I couldn’t imagine how any of us could ever be happy again.

Fast forward to old me. Lately, I’ve had thoughts of stocking up on sympathy cards so I’ll always have one at the ready. Older relatives, and parents of friends are leaving this world with some frequency these days. It’s an inevitable consequence of an ever-widening circle of family and friends, as well as having lived this long so far. And the older I get, the better I seem to cope with it. My faith has matured and my fear about the afterlife has significantly decreased with age. My sadness is often accompanied by a fascination and something along the lines of jealousy at the thought of the beautiful place I imagine and believe people go when they leave this world.

Regardless, I always still feel a bit shell-shocked at the news of a terminal diagnosis or death, especially when it comes much too soon. Even though death is a given, an inevitable, I guess I’ll never fully get used to it. I was reminded of this recently when I learned that a high school classmate’s life had been derailed by cancer.

I didn’t know Dee well at all in high school. We were not friends. At best, I can say that I knew who she was, and I’d be surprised if she knew who I was. She ran with the in-crowd. I was awkward and painfully shy and did my best to start forgetting my high school days the minute I graduated. A couple of months ago, Dee sent me a FaceBook friend request. I wasn’t entirely surprised. I’ve received my share of friend requests from people I barely know or don’t know at all. Besides, I know some of the high school crowd like to maintain connections with as many classmates as possible.

I didn’t think much about Dee’s request, and merely noted with mild interest a handful of posts she made on FaceBook. She seemed to be doing well and living a good life, at least as far as I could tell from the highlight reel of social media. And then one day, she posted about her cancer diagnosis. It’s bad. Really bad. I’ve been following her updates lately and can’t help compare her situation to that of my best friend who passed away three years ago at the age of forty-seven. Dee wrote a New Year’s message reminding all of us to wrap our arms around our own lives and loved ones. She said most of us don’t know when or how we will die. She doesn’t know when, but she knows how. She’s working with a palliative care nurse, so I know she has accepted that the end is coming, and coming soon.

Cancer RibbonDee is heavy on my heart every day. I’m not entirely sure why a person I barely knew then and barely know now remains so present in my thoughts, although it stands to reason since when I think about her, I think about my best friend. I think about Dee every day and I pray for her. I pray for a miracle for her, and then I don’t know whether or not to hope for it. I prayed for a miracle for my best friend. I never for a moment believed she would actually die until I was sitting next to her hospital bed, holding her hand and praying for God to take her from the pain she was in. She died the next morning. The miracle I was hoping for did not happen.

Maybe Dee is so often in my thoughts because I’m supposed to do something for her, even if that is merely to pray. Maybe it’s to remind me that life is short and there may not be endless days ahead to do all the things I want to or should do. Whatever it is, the thought of her continues to remind me to be as happy as I can be, to relax, to be gentle with those around me and forgive often.

Today as I think about Dee, I am grateful for my health, to have come this far protected from trauma and disaster, and for the blessing of an imperfect yet beautiful family and wonderful friends. Today I will be grateful for the single day that lies before me and not worry about the ones ahead. Today, I am very grateful that a person I barely know so poignantly reminds me of what is truly important. And I will continue to pray for her.

New Year’s Resolution? Be Better.

Oh, how cliché. It’s New Year’s Eve 2019 and I’m making a pit stop at my much-neglected blog. Forgive me WordPress, for I have sinned. It’s been two months since my last post!

Cliché or not, I have the time (paid holiday) and inclination (new year inspired stirrings) to write something today. I’d like to say this will become a regular habit again, but I make no promises. After fifty-three years on this earth, I’ve learned that simply making resolutions and thinking that’s enough to make them stick is only a recipe for failure. I have one goal as we round the corner into a new decade. Just keep working at being better.

One thing I appreciate about getting older is that I’ve relaxed a little bit. My perspectives toward others and toward myself have softened. We are all human, and humans fail. Repeatedly. Some worse than others. What I’ve come to realize is that not all behavior is a conscious choice, but often the result of circumstances and environment. I think we can all love each other a little better if we remember that. And so maybe we can love ourselves a little better as well. I’ve begun to understand at this point in life is that the only true failure is accepting the shortcomings. Without hope, without perseverance, life can get pretty miserable. In 2020, I will keep pushing forward, pick myself up when I fall, and take another step.

One thing that I will not have to work hard on is fitness goals. That’s because, over the past year, I’ve found something that works for me. I have never been an athlete, and for the first thirty or so years of my life was not particularly health-oriented. When I finally made some changes for the better, they were pretty limited. I just didn’t know how to make the right changes. Still, it all worked well for a while, until it didn’t. As I entered my fifties, my body began to rebel. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time caring for elderly parents and I was simply tired all of the time. When my gym buddy’s schedule no longer fit with mine, I chose to stay in bed more often than I chose to get up and go to the gym … where I was barely breaking a sweat anyway.

IMG_8975One day my daughter mentioned that she was curious about a particular at-home workout program. It sounded familiar, and I remembered a former coworker who was active and coaching in the same program. I contacted her, signed us up, and was invited to join an online accountability group … a tribe of wonderful people who encourage each other through the failures and successes on a daily basis. That tribe was the key. I learned to eat better (not that I always do!) And I started out slowly, streaming the at-home workouts and committing to move my body regularly with a four-day per week program. Instead of doing the same few stale exercises day after day, during which I never broke a sweat anyway, I learned a multitude of new moves. I discovered that I can and do sweat! I learned that I could get stronger. I woke up in the mornings excited to start my workouts and didn’t even have to leave the house to do it. My confidence grew and soared, and it felt SO good. Every time I finished a day’s workout, I gained momentum and motivation to come back for the next one. And just this week, I finished the eightieth and final day of one of the more intense programs. I worked out and worked hard six days a week. I’m seeing toning in my middle – a place I never thought would be toned again. I’m noticing muscles I didn’t know I had. My body feels better than it has in years, but more importantly, so does my mind.

The workout program I just finished is something I never before would have attempted. And without the support of my coach and other challengers, I likely would never have kept trying. I literally cried with happiness when I completed the last day. It makes me want to keep working, and I will. I want to be fit and healthy so that I can not only live longer but live better during the years I’m around.

The realization that I can tackle hard things makes me believe I can do other things I’d sort of given up as lost causes. Every year, as one year comes to a close and a new one looms ahead, there are things I think I should do better, or simply start doing. Spend more time with family and friends. Write. Volunteer. Go back to church. There are things I used to do routinely, with little thought. I just did them. Some of these things seem so simple, and yet now that I’ve let them go, I struggle to take the first step in getting back to them. Next thing I know, a whole year has gone by and I’ve failed to do most of them. The days and weeks pass in a blur. When I come home from work, I often give in to the belief that I’m too tired to do anything productive. I tell myself I deserve some down-time to relax at the end of a long day. And sometimes that’s true. But sometimes, it only compounds the belief that there’s nothing left in my tank. I think I could use a bit more balance. I know that often, when I have specific plans after work, or simply talk myself into doing something more productive than vegging on the couch, it’s easy and it feels good. I feel accomplished and less sluggish. I want to do more of that. The mind is such a powerful muscle. It can literally make you … or break you.

This coming year, I’m not holding myself to a checklist of things that ultimately adds up to a list of failures and successes. I’ll be kinder to myself. I’m not saying I won’t try at all, but instead, I’ll encourage myself – like my fitness accountability group does – through both the accomplishments and the pitfalls. I’ll talk to myself like I would if I were talking to my daughter or my best friend. One day at a time, I’ll just keep trying to be better.

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.


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.

And all of a sudden…

As I write this, the sky is dumping fine grains of snow to the ground here in Minnesota. On October 12th. This is a bit too early for my liking and I’m holding out hope that this is a fluke thing and the real fall will return again before winter truly sets in. But considering this, it’s no wonder I often find myself marveling about how quickly time passes. Then again, I guess it all depends on where my mind is focused, because at other times, life feels like stream of dull routine that seems to bleed slowly from one day into the next.

Not long ago, feeling tired of viewing life as stale and rote, I jotted down some goals intended to keep me invested in things that would improve my mind, body, spirituality, and relationships. The neighborhood dinner we hosted a week and a half ago was the result of a goal to spend more time with people and doing things outside of my own household. (The dinner was a huge success, by the way. The lasagna was a hit. Little Man next door who seems to like nothing but Pop Tarts and soda ate two pieces and took leftovers home.) We took a vote to keep doing it. Next time I get to relax and just be a guest.

My other goals are aimed at trying to spend some time in the Bible at least a few days a week, working out at least five days a week, and writing one to three days a week. Three out of four ain’t bad, right?

Last weekend, daughter Chesney’s boyfriend of nearly four years, Farm Boy spent the weekend here with her. Saturday was another day in a long line of rainy, cold and/or generally miserable days. But when the sun rose on Sunday, the weather was exactly as the weatherman had promised … a picture-perfect fall day with a clear, blue sky. The sun’s golden rays beamed brilliantly down to the ground, and the trees rejoiced in their autumn colors. Chesney and Farm Boy suggested we all go to the apple orchard. This played nicely into my goal to get out of the house and do something interesting more often, so it was easy for me to agree. We decided to visit a quaint little family-owned orchard that we’d discovered and enjoyed last year. When we arrived, Jack steered the truck past the old farmhouse and down a muddy dirt driveway to a grassy and soggy “parking lot” in back. We then trekked our way back toward the house to the orchard festivities along with a throng of other fall revelers who had similar thoughts to enjoy the pleasant weather while it lasted.

There was a food stand, a band, areas for photo ops (of which we took advantage,) and there were chickens and goats in large pens. Visitors were allowed inside with the chickens and we laughed, watching young parents encourage reluctant toddlers to approach the curious chickens. Down a small hill, just beyond the animal pens and a make-shift store (a garage in reality) was a large pumpkin patch. We strolled down to the patch and perused the pumpkins, looking for the most likely candidates for carving. Upon making our selections, we decided to first pay for the pumpkins and take them back to the truck, before moving onto the apple picking.

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The orchard offered rows and rows of trees, bursting with ripe apples. Jack sent Chesney and Farm Boy toward the rows of Honey Crisp trees while he and I went a bit further to see what other varieties there were. We tasted a few and picked some before heading back in the direction of where we’d left the kids. Just as we walked past a particular row, I heard my daughter’s voice call out, “Mom!”

IMG_8685We turned and headed down the row toward her. Farm Boy was holding a nearly full bag of apples as Chesney said to us, “Guess what!” Before we could guess, she pulled her left hand up in front of her and it took only a split-second for us to notice that the sunshine was sparkling brilliantly off of her hand!

Knowing full well what I was looking at, I’m not exactly sure why I exclaimed, “What is that??? Is that an engagement ring?” My eyes brimmed with tears of joy as Chesney nodded, Farm Boy beamed, and Jack and I took turns hugging each of them.

While we spent a weekend at the cabin last July, Farm Boy had sought Jack’s permission to ask for Chesney’s hand in marriage. An old-fashioned boy he is! No wonder I love him so much! He had said he wanted to propose to her down on the dock with the lake in full view – one of her favorite places. It didn’t happen that weekend, or the next time we were all there together. For a while, we waited in anxious anticipation for him to pull the trigger, and then I guess we just stopped thinking about it so much.

I hadn’t thought about the pending proposal at all last weekend, and then all of a sudden there it was! My baby girl is going to get married! We couldn’t be happier! She and Farm Boy clearly adore each other and he is so good to her. I couldn’t ask for a better man for my girl.

And also … my baby girl is going to move out. I mean, not right now. But eventually. Not like I didn’t know this would happen at some point, but it’s been almost four years since she graduated college and moved home. She’s been here ever since. It’s been longer than I thought she might be here and I have loved every minute of it. Every day I thank God that we have such a close bond, that she enjoys hanging out with me, and that we just get each other. When she moved away to college it was hard for me. Really hard. But I got used to it. I guess I’ll just have to get used to it again.

However, I was not prepared for everything to start happening so quickly. First came the proposal. And it’s been no secret that Chesney and Farm Boy have been looking for a home to share … probably closer to his parents and the family farm where he’ll continue to lend a hand for the foreseeable future. That’s about an hour away. Still, the engagement just happened last weekend, and, in my mind, Chesney moving out again was still someday away. Until the middle of last week when she was offered a phone interview for a job with a company in the town where Farm Boy lives. Yes, I know it’s just a phone interview which may or may not transpire into a job offer. But still.

Chesney and I chatted one day this week about all of the looming plans and possibilities. She mentioned that Farm Boy had said he knew she was going to cry when she had to leave her mom and Lucy Pie. Just hearing her say that brought tears to my eyes and I told her I couldn’t talk about it anymore just then. Jeez, I love that kid! I always envisioned her living within fifteen minutes or so from me. I imagined calling her up on a Tuesday and saying, “Why don’t you come have dinner at home tonight.”

Well, you know what they say … Tell God your plans and watch him laugh. Yeah, I know. I’m getting way ahead of myself here, already living in some perceived future instead of just being in the moment. Besides, I’m well aware of my tendency to be a bit dramatic. An hour away is really just an hour away. Some people drive that distance to and from their jobs every day. Still, I told Chesney that when she and Farm Boy find a place of their own, they should be sure to have some space for me. Even a couch. I’ll be visiting frequently. Chesney said Farm Boy had already stated as much. Again … it’s no wonder I love him so much. He gets me too.

Jack, of course is taking it all in stride. And on the flip side of my tears, I thought about the fact that as much as Chesney is one of my most favorite people to be with, because she lives in my house and I love hanging out with her, I’m less likely to make social dates with friends. If she and I are engrossed in conversation as we often are, I don’t make time to write, and I don’t read as much as I might otherwise. I guess that in the years since she’s been back home, I constantly think that I should make the most of her presence before she’s no longer present in my life every single day. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But as parents, it’s our job to push our kids out of the nest and watch them fly successfully into lives and worlds of their own. And maybe … just maybe in this perceived future I’ll enjoy a little bit of quiet and time to focus on my own stuff. And probably … our times together after Chesney moves out will be that much sweeter.

Just last night, Chesney said to me, “You know you’re going to have to hang out with Dad more when I move out.”

Yup. Probably not a bad thing either. Maybe he’ll take her place in the kitchen and begin to enjoy cooking dinner with me. One can dream, right? 😉

Ready to turn a page?

I was doing some deep thinking this week, stepping off the hamster wheel for a rare few moments. And I arrived at a conclusion. Not that this actually comes as a surprise to me, but this stage of mid-life? It ain’t easy.

Within the last several years, I’ve felt a dramatic downward shift inside, probably for reasons that I’ve written about in nearly every post on this site during this time. But it wasn’t until this past summer that I really realized I wasn’t just passing through some typical stage of life, but that I have probably been at least a bit depressed. And I realized this because summer came along and instead of invigorating me as it usually does, I still often felt as if I was trudging through the winter doldrums.

My job, after some honest conversations with my boss, has improved somewhat. But it is still a huge source of stress and something for which I am always fighting to get in control. Outside of work, my days are filled not only with actual to-do lists composed of various chores and unfinished projects, but also with mental lists of areas where I’m lacking, like connecting with extended family or friends that I haven’t seen in too long. Typical of what others tend to feel as the years march on, time seems to pass more quickly with each passing day. And I seem to have developed a habit of always telling myself that whatever I’ve accomplished, whatever I’ve experienced, it’s not enough.

I was wondering why I’ve continued to feel a mild sense of depression for such a long time. This summer, we finally had time to make a few weekend trips to the family cabin. I love it there, surrounded by nature and simplicity, but always felt like I had to catch up in some way upon our return home. Why this constant sense of never being on top of anything and never just being content? Have I allowed myself to get stuck in some stage of grief?  Do I just miss my life with young kids when the future seemed to stretch on endlessly? Am I now so focused on the idea that everything in this world is on a timeline to the degree that I can’t just enjoy any particular moment? Or is it just that I’m getting older and realizing that we don’t have infinite opportunities? That particular idea really hit home when my boss encouraged me to go back to school because the company would subsidize my tuition. I though about it for a split second before I wondered how I would fit this in when I already feel I never accomplish enough in a day and almost always feel mentally exhausted by the end of the workday. How would I even manage homework? Ultimately, I decided that I’m closer to retirement than I am to an entirely new career path. I want to have a life that I can live separately from my job. Besides, I’m satisfied enough doing what I’m doing, and don’t feel a strong desire to climb the ladder any higher than where I am now. But if I were a bit younger, maybe I’d feel differently.

All of these kinds of thoughts have been swirling around in my head for some time to varying degrees of consciousness, and without leading to anything definitive. I’ve just been making my way through each day as best as I can. But in the past few weeks, there have come a few specific ideas about what needs to change. I don’t want to keep riding along in this same rut. Maybe there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

Check Check

It’s nearly the middle of July and summer is passing by too quickly, as it always does. My weeks are busier than they’ve been in a long time. I keep reminding myself to stay grounded inside of each day; to enjoy the hours, the minutes, the moments, instead of always keeping an eye on the weeks and months ahead. It’s a habit I’m not sure I’ll ever really master. If I could, maybe time would slow down a little bit.

I haven’t been here in a really long time. I keep telling myself I’m too busy, too tired to write. How is it that I’ve reached middle-age and somehow it feels that I have less time and energy than ever before in my life? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s mainly a matter of perspective, one that I would like to change.

I’ve been bringing work home with me, both literally and figuratively. When I accepted a new position last September, I brought with me many of the responsibilities of my former job. I imagined this new job to be the answer to my prayers, one that would pull me out of a place of extreme limitation, away from a bad boss, and expand my growth opportunities. Oh, it did! In this new role, there is more work to do than I know how to get done. There doesn’t seem to be anything they don’t think I can do, and they throw it all at me. I mainly report to one manager, and have a “dotted line” to another. And I frequently continue to be the subject matter expert about things for which I’m no longer responsible. (I’ve always had a hard time saying no and I think I’m always still trying to prove myself.)  My main boss constantly thanks me for the work I do. She frequently tells me I’m awesome and do amazing work. And yet something about the whole situation keeps me feeling that I’m falling short. On my last trip to the home office, I said to my boss, “I can’t wait until everything feels like old hat.” Without skipping a beat, she replied, “Never gonna happen.”

And that right there explains my problem. I’m working through every storm thinking there’s calm up ahead, except I work in a department where the norm is high stress and curve balls. I gravitate toward anything with rhyme and reason. I thrive on routine. But there’s no black and white in this place, only gray.

But maybe the biggest issue is a feeling of isolation. I’m the remote employee. This is a first for me, and for the department. They’re not used to accommodating someone who isn’t physically there and we are still working through some of those hurdles. And I underestimated how much I being around people fuels me. I mean, I have people around me in my office. They’re just not my people. I can go entire days in my little corner of the office, buried in my own work, and not have a single in-person interaction. Too many days like that leave me feeling suffocated and drained.

LinkedIn suggested a job opportunity for me the other day, one that suited my skills and personality very well. I seriously contemplated it. And then I realized that it might not be so much that the job really appealed to me as I was looking for an out. And when I really thought about it, I actually like the work I’m doing. There’s just so much of it. It’s hard to ever get really focused on any one thing before something else is banging at my door. And I let myself get frantic in my head about failing to conquer it all when the reality is that no one else expects me to. It hasn’t even been a whole year, and I need to give myself time to reach a better place where I’m at.

On the plus side, I’ve got opportunities to help me disentangle from it all. After my bowling season ended last April, I started right up again in a summer league. And I allowed myself to be talked into a golf league as well! For someone who’s a homebody at heart, it’s a lot to have two regular commitments every week! On a side note … GOLF! I always thought it was a boring game, but I kind of love it. Overall, I’m really bad at it, but when you break it down, there are things I’m doing really well. So maybe someday I’ll start putting it all together and actually play decently. Anyway, this is just a fun league and none of my team mates are too serious about it, so I’m really enjoying it.

Also, we’re making time to be at the family cabin this summer. For years, we’ve been lucky to manage one weekend out of the summer there, but this summer we’ve gone three times already. This was my father-in-law’s happy place and he left it for his kids and grandchildren. It’s an old, rustic place. It’s small, and the entire kitchen sags just a bit lower than the rest of the place. But we love it. There are almost always other members of the extended family there, and I love the communal meals, fishing off the dock together, and the gorgeous sunsets that sink down over the lake at the end of a day. And after dark, there’s always bonfires and s’mores. I love the way that when I’m there, I can lose myself in a book for hours on end without guilt that I should be doing something else.

Where was I going with all this? I think I just needed a reminder of how blessed I am. The other day it occurred to me that I’d been waking up each summer day feeling weighed down by something that feels like the winter blues. This time of year is usually my happy place, but I haven’t been feeling it like I normally do. When I really stopped to think about it, I realized that I’ve been so busy … working … playing … keeping up with responsibilities both at work and at home. There was no space left inside to stop for a moment and reflect, slow down, and appreciate anything. This is just me putting myself in check. I’ll try to make this a more frequent habit.