Very Early Morning Pages

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way, and I’ve been writing the Morning Pages. Faithfully. For about three weeks now.

I’ve heard mention of the book a few times over the past few years, and recently it came across my radar again, twice, in a very short time. And so there I was on my Amazon account, buying things and thinking, “Before I check out, is there anything else I need?” And the book crossed my mind. So I found it and added it to my cart.

The book arrived a few days later and I contemplated whether I would actually put it to use. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t fully believe I’d stick with it. (I’ve got two skeins of yarns and some crochet needles sitting around the house that, if they could speak, would tell great tales of my inability to see a project through to the end.) The size of the book and the layout of the pages alone kind of fascinated me though. I dove in to read as soon as possible and I got a little bit stuck at the introduction because it laid out the rules for Morning Pages. Write three long-hand pages first thing every morning. Non-negotiable. Just write what’s in your head. The good, the bad, the ugly, the stupid. Just write it. Don’t try to write something. Just write anything as long as it’s three long-hand pages.

I was intimidated and I sat on the idea for a few days. I had a lot of what-ifs and too many doubts about my ability to follow through. How long would it take me to write three pages by hand anyway? Who writes by hand any more? There was also the issue of time. I already wake up very early. I have all my energy in the morning. I like to work out by 5:00 am. It gives me a mental boost to take me forward into the day. How was I going to squeeze in the writing too and still have time to shower, dress, dry my hair and start work on time? And no, I couldn’t really move the workout to a later point in the day. I tried it once. I knew I wasn’t going to stick with it. It’s early morning or nothing.

But I wanted to try this writing thing. I wanted to go on the journey to unblock my creative spirit and (as promised,) reach a point where it becomes so much easier to write than to not write.

So I started the Morning Pages. I made some concessions in my morning routine. Get up just a bit earlier than I already do. Write. Work out a little bit later than normal. Start work a little bit later too. (Because I ridiculously realized that since working from home, I’ve consistently been working more hours a day than expected anyway.)

And so I started writing first thing in the morning.

I thought I would hate it. I thought my hand would cramp up. (It does sometimes.) I thought I’d struggle to find any words to write. I don’t. I became hooked almost immediately. Even while struggling to open my eyes and get out of bed just after 4:00 am, I have wanted to get up and write, every day.

I think the beauty of it is that there’s no expectations. There’s nobody to impress because the pages are not to be shared with others. I’m not even supposed to go back and reread them myself. Just write the words and work out the muck so that my brain is free to be more creative for the rest of the day. Sometimes what I write feels so scattered, so mundane, and other times the writing leads to stunning revelations. I feel these personal break-throughs that were probably sitting there just below the surface, yet I had absolutely no idea. Like the day I realized that I have a problem with anger. Not that anyone would know this because I don’t show it. I don’t voice anger. I just get quiet. I stuff it down inside and I allow it to ruin whole days, whole weekends, or special times that are meant to be treasured but instead get clouded over. I get angry, usually over something really stupid, expectations that I assume someone else understands without me spelling it out. I don’t express anger, I think because I don’t believe I can express it productively and I don’t want to fight. And so I swallow it and go inside myself and allow it steal precious time from me. I am really just punishing my own self. This. This revelation came from writing words I didn’t know were going to come through my pen to the paper. This realization allowed me to start changing for the better, taking the pressure off of myself and learning to let go. It was kind of easy really, and mind-blowing all at the same time.

I started The Artist’s Way and the Morning Pages simply because I want to blog more routinely, like I used to three blogs and a hundred years ago. I like to write. It’s cathartic for me. It used to be so easy and I could barely go a day or two without writing. And then one day I started letting it go and then not writing became too easy. Trying to write seemed like so much effort. I want it to be effortless again.

I worry some days that I’m not achieving what I wanted. I’m still not writing formally all that much. Then again, I’m only on chapter three. The book reminds me that I’m going to go through some stuff. Some exciting, some frustrating. It will all lead somewhere if I stick with it. So I’m trusting it. Maybe I shouldn’t decide what the end result will be. Maybe I should just keep rolling with it and allow it to lead me wherever it goes.

Vittles and Visions

It never fails that when I’ve been on a not-cooking binge, I circle back around, getting highly motivated and ambitious to prepare meals that taste good and are at least slightly less bad for our health. It was a quiet weekend around our place, which made it easier to spend time menu-planning and grocery shopping.

It wasn’t just general guilt about our poor eating habits lately that had me focused on what we’re consuming. Jack had a routine blood draw last week. He has these done in order to keep an eye on certain indicators in his body that may be impacted by his autoimmunity and the medications he takes to manage it. He’s had trouble keeping his liver numbers in a good place and last week we learned they are elevated again. And while this could be due to his medications, we also know there might be things he can do to make positive changes on his own, such as lose a few pounds. Just another reason to pay more attention to what we’re putting in our bodies.

So Saturday morning found me sitting at the kitchen island with my laptop, surrounded by cookbooks. I decided to create a spreadsheet of some favorite meals and listed them along with the specific ingredients needed for each. The plan is to build on this spreadsheet so that I’ll ultimately have a quick-pick list of meals that’s also an easy reference for my grocery list. I included a few new recipes from an InstaPot cookbook I recently bought, and I made two of those meals this weekend. On Saturday I made Thai Pumpkin Chicken Soup, which we both deemed to be interesting though it’s probably not something I’ll make again. Jack had two helpings of last night’s Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili and he also took it to work today for lunch. I really enjoyed that one as well and it will definitely go on the list for future meals.

Hopefully all of this will help us stay on top of our nutrition a little better from now on, though I think I’ll still give meal kits a try. There are weekends when Chesney and Farm Boy come to visit and the whole food thing falls apart because I’d much rather have fun with them than spend time at the grocery store. But even that is just a matter of planning ahead somewhat.

In other news, we were supposed to return to our bowling league this weekend after it was shut down in November thanks to COVID. Jack and I opted not to participate in the second half though. Since his health has seen some pitfalls in recent months, we just felt it was best to play it safe. Plus, bowling under the current restrictions (masks on, limited mingling with friends, and having to leave as soon as the games are done) just takes away all of the fun.

It’s hard to stay busy and entertained sometimes with all of the official and self-imposed restrictions on ourselves. Our kids have continued to visit periodically, but otherwise we’ve been fairly careful. As much as I look forward to the weekends after working all week, they often start to feel long and boring before Monday comes around again. I wanted to give myself a good project to fill the quiet this particular weekend. I’ve never made a vision board before, but I’ve been contemplating making one since the year began. Last week in a team meeting, a coworker shared the one she had been working on and it made me ambitious to get started myself.

I checked out a few how-to articles and then made a stop at the dollar store yesterday to buy a board and some double-sided tape. Thankfully, Jack had a stockpile of outdoor magazines and catalogues from the past year that he had yet to recycle. I spent the afternoon clipping words and images that spoke to me. After dinner, I got to work organizing my clippings on the board and then securing them in place. The effort reminded me of art projects I’d done in my school days which made me feel just a little bit silly. But I didn’t really care. It was an enjoyable way to spend a quiet, cold evening. Certainly way better than zoning out in front of the television. I’m not sure the end result truly qualifies as a vision board, but I was proud of it anyway. It ended up being a sort of potpourri of goals, inspirations, positive messages, and things that are simply important to me. It includes references to family, faith, and the outdoors, as well as ambitions about writing, work, and fitness, all things that I strive to improve with each day that I live. I know when I look at it, I’ll see words and images that are uplifting and inspirational.

I’m really happy with it. And who knows? Maybe this will become something I do at the start of each new year from now on!

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.

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? 😉

Boosted

I talked to my friend, Kim yesterday. She is an amazing friend and always such a source of encouragement!

I first (virtually) met Kim years ago when I began blogging. I’m not exactly sure how many years it’s been since we began to form the bonds of friendship, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve stayed connected for more than ten. We’ve met in person only once, and it continues to amaze me that our friendship has not only endured, but has grown as deep as it has . After all, when I first started doing this, I didn’t really consider that any connections I made online might actually turn out to be real. And while Kim and I have both continued to write throughout the years, she’s undoubtedly done it much better than I. While I’ve written hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts, I’ve shut down a few websites and started fresh on new pages several times over. There have been long gaps between my writings. It used to be I couldn’t imagine a day without writing. For the past few years, I’ve been lucky to write something once every few months. In stark contrast to my scattered patterns of writing, Kim has maintained the same blog where I first found her, and more importantly, if she wasn’t blogging, it’s because she was busy writing and publishing several books. (And she’s good!)

At some point in recent years, Kim texted me and asked me to download an app to my phone, one called Marco Polo. The app allows us to record and send video messages to one another. I felt awkward about it at first, but really grew to look forward to Kim’s messages and to sending my own in return. With such busy lives, Marco Polo allows us to actually talk to each other without both having to be present in the very same moment. But like my pattern of blogging, sometimes Kim and I will stay in touch regularly, and other times there will be long periods of silence. For most of this summer, we had been out of touch.

After my couple of days of deep thinking last week, I was alerted to a Marco Polo message from Kim. As soon as I had a chance, I watched and listened as she shared some good news about a new opportunity she’d just accepted, something she’ll be doing in addition to her full-time job, in addition to taking care of her family and parenting, and in addition to her writing. On Saturday morning, I had a chance to respond and tell her how impressed I was with her seemingly endless energy. I also wanted her to know that her timing couldn’t have been better, and told her how much she encourages me. I gave her the cliff notes on what I’d written about just that morning, about the funk I’d been feeling for much too long, and explained that I was finally feeling as if the clouds were beginning to part. I told her she was such a great example of embracing all the life that is right in front of her, and she just made me feel as if anything can be possible if you can keep steering your mind in the right direction, which admittedly, I haven’t done so well lately.

IMG_8580[975]What followed was a quick succession of messages back and forth, with a few tears on each side, and much laughter as well. In true Kim fashion, she was not about to let me slide backwards now that I’d expressed a desire to make some positive changes. She gave me some clear directions on what she thought I should do to keep moving forward, including the purchase of a BIG dry erase marker, specifically purple or pink, with which I would write daily or weekly goals on my bathroom mirror. And she instructed me to identify in those goals how many chapters of a book I would commit to writing and finishing during specific time periods, and the goal for completion of said book.

Kim has a lot of faith in me! And I am so very grateful for her!

But … I was soon recording my laughing response. I promised to make a list (although it will more likely reside in a notebook rather than on my bathroom mirror. However, I do think I can agree to making it purple or pink!) I also told her that I was thinking I should start with baby steps, rather than ginormous, Big Foot steps. I don’t – and may never – have any great ideas for a book. But writing does make me happy. It’s cathartic, and this blog is a good place to begin (or more accurately, resume.)