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.

The Things I Didn’t Know I’d Miss

Today marks the last day of a five-day stretch of weekend for me. Whenever I’m able, I love to take a bit of time off from work to enjoy some unscheduled days over the December holidays. But never before have I looked forward to getting back to the normal groove the way I do right now. Because there’s quiet. And then there is too quiet.

This pandemic has proven to me that I’m not so much of a homebody as I always claim to be. It’s now obvious that the reason I love lazy at-home days is because they feel so good when balanced with some social time. Jack and I have managed some cautious small-group gathering over the past year, but didn’t celebrate any of the holidays with extended family. I really miss being able to gather with others. I miss family parties, and going out to restaurants. I miss evenings at the bowling alley with team mates and league friends. I miss neighborhood happy hours and the local and state fairs. I even miss being able to attend funerals. And I really, really miss hugs.

Although the past few days have been slow, they’ve had their benefits. I’ve watched too much television, but caught a few worthwhile flicks along the way. I’ve done some reading, some writing, some cooking, and some organizing. I repotted all of my succulents and African Violets, both of which seem to be reproducing at an alarming rate. (My Grandma T. who had the greenest thumb ever would be so proud!) I fell asleep before 2021 arrived and didn’t mind one bit. In fact, I slept really well every night. And I’ve walked. In spite of the cold and snow, I’ve done a lot of walking. Which is probably good considering how many cookies I’ve consumed lately. This morning it was cold enough to make me think twice about going out. It was well below freezing. But the sky was clear and the sun made the snow on the ground sparkle brilliantly. It felt so good to be outside before really starting my day, taking in the beauty of the morning and getting my head in a good place.

And oh how good that cup of coffee tasted afterwards!

It’s all about perspective, I suppose. I never really knew how much I could appreciate busyness, commitments and activity … until they were no longer there. So while I’ll continue to look for the silver linings in the stillness of these days, with each one that passes I’ll be looking forward with a new appreciation to all those things I miss so much.

January 1, 2021

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

The door has been closed on 2020, one of the darkest years I can remember during my own lifetime. There’s very little tangible difference in the world today since yesterday. But for me, this day, January 1, 2021 brings more hope and a greater desire for positive change than ever before.

In the later months of 2020 I experienced a sense of anxiety like I’ve never felt before. It was so intense at one point that I literally made myself sick. While my brain knew all the right things to say to combat it, my body wouldn’t listen. I prayed. I meditated. I took deep breaths and did yoga. None of it helped. And nothing anyone else said to me could make me feel more rational either. The whole thing gave me a small glimpse into what those with true diagnosed anxiety must fight against on a regular basis. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Thankfully, the thing which caused me to spiral into such an intense panic came to pass without my worst fears coming true. While the pandemic continues to contribute to a general sense of anxiety in me, it’s mild on most days and I’ve felt much more “normal” ever since that time.

Today I look back on those really dark days and realize that it was the unknown that weighed so heavy on my heart that I almost couldn’t function. I dwelled so heavily on the worst-case-scenario that I couldn’t see anything else. Now that I’m beyond it, it’s a stark reminder that this is why I strive to keep deepening my faith in God. It gives me a reason to remain hopeful, to understand that every experience, even the bad, stressful, and sad ones can serve to help me grow in some way. And while not everything in life is going to transpire as I might wish, I can use all of it to learn, and to become a better person, and maybe to make things easier for others.

While I wait for the world to return to normal, I remember that we need to leave some of the old normal behind. Today brings an immense sense of hope for almost no other reason than it is the first day of a new year. I guess I should really have this kind of faith and ambition every single day, but I will take a moment to appreciate that January 1st serves as a reminder to go forward better than I did before, and to hope that the world will collectively reach for the same. What I strive for in the coming year is much like what vow to do every year. Love better. Be more generous. Live more gratefully. And don’t take a single day for granted because tomorrow is never promised.

And on that note …. I did it! I resolve to incorporate more play time in 2021!

2020 – Taking Some, Leaving Some

Never in my life have I been so willing to say goodbye to a year. And while I know that tomorrow won’t magically turn the page on events that have worn us all weary, I am confident that better days are in our sights.

Sayonara 2020! And good riddance!

Truth be told, I actually feel a bit sorry for 2020, it being a year that will live on in infamy. After all, it isn’t 2020’s fault that a pandemic fell into its lap, exacerbated by racial and political tensions boiling over. To be fair, on this last day of 2020, I should at least acknowledge that its events, if we’re wise, might serve to open our eyes to very necessary change. I should even admit that the past 365 days brought some goodness into my world, including a necessary slowing of life’s pace, a deepening of my trust in God, and a greater appreciation for all that I already have. In fact, in spite of all of the year’s darkness, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my family has experienced some true blessings.

As I replace the old calendar with a brand new one tomorrow, I’m reluctant to be too bold in making resolutions. I think I should instead face whatever comes a bit more deliberately. If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that my own reality isn’t necessarily truth. And the older I get, the more I realize that don’t always know what I think I know. So I hope that 2021, for me will be about taking a step back and taking a few deep breaths. Which plays into the one true goal I’m setting for the new year… to stop worrying!

Okay, that’s pretty bold. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think it’s time I tackle this bad habit. I am a champion worrier. Always have been, from the time I was very young. I’ve always worried what people think of me. Too much. I’ve always worried about what-ifs. Give me a worst-case-scenario and I’m going to dwell on it. I worry about things that have happened, and things that might happen. I get anxious about my loved ones and friends, their safety, their health, their emotional well-being. And I only breathe a sigh of relief when the bad thing I’ve imagined doesn’t come to pass. This is no way to live.

I think that I’ve convinced myself that I’m not loving well if I don’t worry about others. But recently, I’ve realized just how much sleep I’ve lost over the years with this habit. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times, that nothing good can be gained by worrying. It can’t change the outcome of any circumstance and only serves to take away my own peace of mind. Also, I know I’ve often placed a weight on others when voicing my own worry.

It seems odd that I might think I can just choose to stop worrying, but I think I have, and it’s working. I’ll give some credit to habits I’ve made more consistent in the past year, specifically, prayer and meditation. In fact, it was serendipitous timing that my HeadSpace app sent me this reminder today:

“A day thinking about what could happen, should happen, or what might have been, is a day missed.”

Quite honestly, several times lately, I have simply chosen to stop worrying and I truly surprised myself when I succeeded. When a snowstorm hit our area the other day, for instance, normally I would wring myself out with worry about my kids’ safety while driving to and from work. This time, I just chose to stop. For some reason I can now accept that it doesn’t make me a bad mom if I don’t get into a panic about my kids’ safe arrival at work. If something were to happen, then would be the time to focus my thoughts on it. If not, and if I haven’t worried about it, I haven’t wasted precious time being anxious for no reason.

This. This is what I need more of. This is my resolution for 2021.

I do have one other goal that I’m confident I can accomplish next year. Stand-up paddle boarding. I tried it a few years ago and loved it. I’m good at it too. Not that it requires much in the line of physical greatness. You stand up on the board. You balance. You paddle. This I can do. I’ve seen others who can’t manage the standing and balancing and therefore, I’ll personally claim this ability as a skill. I’ve pondered buying a good board for years now. They aren’t cheap and I’ve never allowed myself the extravagance. But I received a holiday bonus from my employer this month and I’ve decided what to do with it. If there was ever a time to spend money on something fun, something that’s also good for the body, mind and soul, it’s now.

So I’ll say goodbye to 2020, and thank it for the lessons learned. I look forward optimistically, yet cautiously to a brighter year ahead.

Quietest Christmas Ever

Christmas 2020, as so many speculated it would be, was quiet, different, and a bit strange.

How many years, fueled by stress, lack of sleep, or family drama, have I sulkily threatened to skip Christmas next time around? Even minus a set of holiday-frazzled nerves, I’ve often contemplated if anyone would really miss us if we we chose instead to spend a quiet Christmas at home, just our immediate family. Well guess what? Maybe when you wish for something often enough it actually comes true. And maybe it doesn’t end up being all it was cracked up to be.

Don’t get me wrong. My Christmas was good. I’d even go so far as to say it was wonderful. My kids are all doing well, each of their lives on the precipice of the next leg of a journey. When they’re happy, I’m happy. And I’m reminded daily how fortunate we’ve been in a year that has been cruel to so many. Perhaps I needed this change from our holiday standard to fully realize how blessed I am – to have siblings and in-laws, nieces and nephews (plus an ever-growing number of their significant others,) and even great-nieces and great nephews. This Christmas showed me that extended family, with all of its joys, differences and yes, its inevitable drama, is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Instead of being with my side of the family on Christmas Eve as usual, we gathered with only our children and their significant others. Other than the fact that I made way, way too much food, it felt much like any other family dinner. We opened our gifts afterwards and it was all done much too soon.

Christmas Day is usually spent with Jack’s enormous family, an all day affair at the home of his older brother, the only one with enough space in his house to accommodate what would have been forty-eight of us this year. Yesterday, Jack and I instead spent the day at home, alone. I cleaned up the kitchen a bit and gathered boxes and stray wrapping before making a day of watching Christmas movies, napping and shopping online for new flatware. (Several forks have noticeably gone missing. It’s time to replace the old set!) Jack watched football and balanced the checkbook. One of Jack’s sisters and her husband stopped by in the afternoon to drop off some home made fudge and a bottle of wine. They stood by the door wearing masks and we kept our distance doing the same. We exchanged a brief hello and Merry Christmas before they were gone again, and otherwise the day was uneventful. Doing nothing wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it would be either, but it’s given me a sense of ambition for today!

After this Christmas, I refuse to let bitterness be the thing I carry beyond 2020. Although I know my emotions may always have the potential to get the best of me, particularly during intense situations, I’ve promised myself to try never again to take for granted how blessed we are to have family and friends who are both like us and so different all at the same time. I vow to show others more appreciation and to give voice to the love I feel for them.

Take that, 2020. We win.

Handling Things

The novelty of a reclusive lifestyle has begun to fade. I’m trying not to let my mind go too far in that direction though since the reality is this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been working hard to maintain a healthy mental balance between being responsibly informed about the impact of COVID-19 and becoming over-saturated with information, opinions, and falsehoods. I think it was Tuesday when the evening news became just too much for me. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, but I recognized the need to walk away sometimes.

Exercise helps. I work out every morning, except on Sundays. I shower, get dressed, do my hair and put on some make-up every day. I listen to an audio-book or an online sermon while I’m getting ready for my day. I’ve made a habit of saying a quick prayer while washing my hands, asking God to keep us safe, or asking for peace for those who have suffered losses. I remember that I’m fortunate to be able to continue working. At home. All of this helps. I remind myself that my struggles are far, far less than some are facing right now.

Jack and I started watching a series together on Netflix, one that was highly recommended by a friend and is very popular. I’ve struggled to stick with it lately. It’s great historical fiction, with fascinating, beautiful main characters. During normal times, I might completely lose myself in it. But some of the scenes are so graphically violent that it’s more than I can stomach. I walked away from that this week as well and started writing letters instead. When my mom passed away and we cleaned out her townhouse, one of the things I kept was a huge stash of greeting cards, the kind that charities send to their donors, I suppose in the hopes of ensuring additional donations. I chose a few colorful cards with pretty birds on the front and a thinking-of-you sentiment. I wrote to my mother-in-law and two aunts, filling the cards with chatty words and news about our family. It helped me feel connected to them, and I hope that receiving some personal mail will bring each of them a smile, especially as two of them are confined in senior living facilities. All are single and none can have visitors. Maybe I’ll make this a regular thing. For the elderly, who tend to be very lonely anyway, this must all be tremendously more difficult than it is for the rest of us.

So I’m trying to keep my sense of humor. If there’s one thing Facebook is good for, it’s the memes!ZYX

ZYXZ

This particular Saturday morning arrived with sunshine after a day of snow and chill. It holds the promise of a warmer day and I have plans to get outside and stretch my legs.

So we’ll keep getting through this. I’ll keep getting through this. One day at a time.

Strange, Quiet Days

Lately, I have to focus on keeping fear from being the biggest thing I feel, thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some days I’m good. Others, I feel like I’m fighting off a heavy fog of anxiety. This is bad, this virus and its rapid progression across the world. I know. We should all be worried. But I also know that I have to find a balance between responsible worry and sheer panic.

I could never have imagined living in such strange times, and how quickly things escalate. Just a month ago, Jack and I, along with four friends, left for a week’s vacation in Mexico. We’d been hearing news of the virus in China for several weeks, but it still seemed so far away and somewhat irrelevant to us. Looking back now, I realize how easily my mind can brush off such grim warnings. Media hype has become so common that my first reaction to most news is skepticism. I remember while packing my suitcase, questioning whether we should cancel and stay home. The vacation was fully insured and we could have received almost a full refund had we chosen not to go. But just as quickly as the question came, it was swept away. I knew plenty of others who weren’t canceling vacation plans, and no one else in our group appeared to be worried. And so we went. The airports were busy as ever. The resort was full, and while there were daily reminders of the spreading virus, our tropical and relaxing surroundings kept it from weighing heavy on my mind. Our vacation was lovely and life seemed to march forward unperturbed.

One week later, by the time we were back home, the virus suddenly had the country’s and my full attention. Had our trip been scheduled one week later, I don’t think we would have gone.

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She likes to hold “hands.”

I’ve been working solely from home for the past two weeks and expect to continue to do so for at least another month. Maybe longer. Who knows? If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to expect the unexpected. I’m grateful that working from home was already an option. It means that I already had a comfy workspace set up at home, and I’ve long been familiar with logging in to the company network through the VPN and managing my workload away from the office. Lucy Pie keeps me company and seems to appreciate having me around all day long, though I worry how all of our pets will handle our transition back to normal workdays when the worst of this has passed. Fortunately for Lucy, I have the benefit of working from home whenever I like and have typically done so one day per week. I have space in the company’s office here in Minnesota, but since the rest of my team is in Wisconsin, it makes no difference to them where I work. I’m contemplating staying at home more regularly in the long run. I’ve begun to really appreciate the extra time and sense of calm I gain simply by not having to leave the house for nine or more hours a day.

Since the rest of my team is usually together in the same space, they are battling feelings of disconnectedness and loneliness. Our boss set up a daily team meeting to allow us some virtual time together. We can talk about work, or things completely unrelated. I struggled a bit to relate to her during my early days on the team, but it’s become very apparent to me now how hard our boss works to make sure we are all in good places. She’s hyper-focused on her team’s mental well-being. Even before all of this, she always made it a point to begin meetings by asking how everyone is doing. When something is off, she wants to help fix it. She’s interested in our personal lives and likes to hear about our families and pets. She’s big on mindfulness and even went so far as to buy a meditation app for each of us, which has been a godsend for me during these past few weeks. Having worked in the past for a supervisor who lacked any sense of compassion, I feel fortunate to have landed where I am. This pandemic has allowed me to be much more in tune with my team than ever before. Feeling disconnected is my norm. The daily opportunity to bond with the team has been a significant blessing for me.

I’m also grateful that a year ago, I quit my gym and joined an online fitness community instead. I’ve had all of this time to gradually build a supply of weights and other equipment. I’m already part of an amazing online community that encourages and uplifts one another on a daily basis. My daily morning workout has been a lifesaver in helping to manage stress and anxiety.

Being somewhat of an introvert, as well as a homebody at heart, I know that social-distancing has been easier for me to manage than most. One of my coworkers is an extreme extrovert, and this is really taking a toll on her. I try to call her often, rather than email or send an instant message. She’s made it clear that actually talking with others is a necessity for her.

I worry about my kids and my hubby. Somehow, all of their jobs have been deemed essential and none have the option to work from home.  While I’m grateful that all are fortunate to continue earning a paycheck, there’s a part of me that would rather just pull them in under my roof and keep them safe with me. The world is going to be a very different place very soon. I worry about their financial well-being and alternately remind myself that nothing else matters except that they stay healthy. Jack has autoimmunity with the potential to develop into an auto-immune disease. His doctor is closely watching it but I worry about his increased risk. Our kids have youth on their side, though we’re quickly learning that’s no guarantee either.

We’ve supplied ourselves with groceries over the past couple of weeks, but are by no means hoarding. Thankfully, I always buy a Sam’s Club package of toilet paper and had just purchased one before the craze ensured that TP would become such a hot commodity.

I’m trying hard to focus on gratitude during these days of isolation. My house has never been cleaner and the laundry is always caught up. And quite honestly, over the past few years, I’ve had a constant sense of unexplained pressure. My kids are all grown and I expected to feel more relaxed, and yet I always seemed to feel as if I was falling short somehow. If I was keeping up around the house, I felt bad that I wasn’t putting enough energy towards relationships with relatives and friends. The pace at work has been almost frantic at all times. And the more I heard about others’ experiences eating at new restaurants, seeing movies, visiting fun places, the more I felt as if I was falling short if I was living a quieter existence.

If there’s one thing that’s become apparent to me, it’s that maybe I needed to slow down and lower my expectations. I’d become so embroiled in trying to keep up with everything and everyone else that I’d abandoned almost all of the things that fueled my own soul. During these quieter days, I’m reading again, listening to audiobooks, online sermons, worship music, and podcasts that nurture my mind. Jack and I have found a series to watch together (rather than him spending time in front of the downstairs television while I sit in front of the upstairs t.v.) I’m so grateful that we had a relatively mild winter. The snow is gone and the temperatures have been warm enough to get outside and go for a walk, something I haven’t done in a long time. My neighbor and I have been meeting up during our lunch breaks to walk together (a healthy distance apart) and breathe in some fresh air while enjoying a change of scenery.

Something that occurred to me this week is that while the outlook seems so dire, many people are coming together, working to keep spirits up and support one another in whatever ways are possible. While there will always be many divides in this country … and the world, I appreciate the way people are virtually locking arms and creating a sense of community. I know the worst is yet to come, but we have to do the best we can to focus on the positives while we ride out this storm.

Blanket Forts

Blanket forts. The other day, I was remembering how much as kids, my siblings, our friends and I loved blanket forts. My mom had some old blankets she kept just for this purpose, and in the summertime especially, we’d take them outside along with a handful of Mom’s one-piece wooden clothespins. We’d secure one edge of the blanket against the top of the chain link fence, and hammer a few more clothespins through the bottom edge into the grass. Some days, between us and the neighborhood kids, we’d have a row of tents fastened against that fence.

We could spend hours running in and out of those forts, make-believing. Simple times.

It was my coworker, Jason who made me think about those forts. His work space is next to mine, and we both have stand-up work stations. He’s a highly intelligent, tech-minded, yet very creative person. Because we’re both often standing up near each other, we can’t help chatting. It usually begins with something work-related, but because he’s easy to talk to,  before we know it, the conversation topic has meandered along to something like blanket forts. It was the millionth time since February 1st, when my mom died, that I’d remembered how much simpler life used to be.

My fifth decade on this earth came along almost two years ago now and most of what I knew to expect is proving to be true. It’s harder to get a good night’s sleep. My body doesn’t want to retain the look it used to have, no matter how hard I work at it. But most often these days, I recognize that I’ve always had things a lot better than I thought I did at the time.

This has been a hard year, following a few challenging years. But that chapter is over now. Both of my parents are gone now, and I don’t care how old I am, it just doesn’t feel right that they’re gone. But day by day, I’m getting used to the new way of things. And with every passing year, I thank God more for giving me the life I’ve been lucky enough to live.

I feel the impact of Mom’s last days more severely than Dad’s, though. He had Mom to watch over him, and to reach out to one of us when needed. Because Dad left before she did, I had to hope that Mom was capable of reaching out to me herself when I wasn’t there for her. All of those days that I worried about Mom … that I wasn’t doing enough even though I was doing all that I could, they’re over now. I still so often expect the grip of anxiety to wrap itself around me before I remember that I can relax now.

The biggest thing? The most phenomenal, unexpected, unbelievable thing? Our family is healing. In those last most difficult days of Mom’s life, I was sure I was losing the last threads of our family bond along with losing my mom. I was certain we siblings would go our separate ways for the rest of our lives. But death has a way of changing so much. It opened my eyes. When I realized during that last week of her life that our mom was leaving us, all I wanted was to pull my siblings close. I thought they owed me an apology, but I found myself asking their forgiveness for contributing to the wedge that had formed between us.

I’m sure that if I were still in the midst of it all, I wouldn’t be able to see what I see now. But I now realize (cliché and lame as it might sound to anyone not standing where I am today,) that everyone has their own way of dealing with things. And no matter how much you think you know, you don’t know what other people’s lives are like. Anyway, now that it’s over, I just don’t care why it was the way it was anymore. I don’t need to think anymore about how alone and scared I felt back then. It’s over. Those pages have been turned.

Most of this year since Mom’s passing, I’ve been dealing with settling her estate. Mom made it easy for us. She had no debt, and most of her affairs were in order. The one hiccup was that there wasn’t a transfer-on-death deed for the townhouse. So most of the summer was spent working with an attorney and getting the appropriate forms filled out, but we got it done pretty easily. It just took time.

The house is now sold – to a dear friend’s mom, and I couldn’t be happier. My parents did what they’d always wanted to do. They left each of their kids with a little something to make life a bit easier. But more importantly, they left us with a life model we now strive to mirror in many ways.

Life moves on. I’ve spent the summer feeling phenomenally grateful to have been where I was, and to have arrived where I am. I walked a lot. Almost every morning, I left the house at 5 am, and many of those days, I walked a few miles, alone, along the trail that runs behind our house. I walked before the noise of daily traffic began to fill the air. I listened to the birds sing their beautiful songs and watched as the sun rose in the sky. The sun is incredible, by the way, when it rises on a warm summer morning. I took enough pictures of the sky the past few months to fill a book. It’s late in the season now and it’s too dark to feel safe going out alone, but those were beautiful days that gave me the chance to find some peace with everything that has happened.

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I feel a little bit older now, a little bit wiser. Would I want to do it all again? No. But would I do it all again? Yes. The thing about having come this far in life is that it allows me to look back and see the purpose in so many things, to realize how I’ve grown as a result, to see that we all have to suffer some unknowns in order to keep growing up. Fifty-some years and losing loved-ones has helped me learn how to be grateful.

My life is my own again, and yet I still miss my parents so much. But most of the time I can now see that it had become too difficult for them to face another day, take another breath, fight their failing bodies. My parents brought God into our lives every single day. There were times I resisted, but I’m now so thankful that they did. I’ve had time to learn to understand some of the ways of this life. I take comfort in knowing they are with Him now, living in peace without the chains of age and disease. I can’t be unhappy about that.

Like I said, life has moved on. Good things are happening in my little world, and I feel myself changing in positive ways. When I sat down this morning to write, I thought I’d write about that. But I think for now, I’ll leave it here … with memories of blanket forts.

Third Day, an Easter Cactus, and More

Seventy (almost) degrees last Saturday. A dusting of snow on the ground this Saturday morning. In many years past, we’ve still had measurable amounts of white on the ground at this point in the season. I should be grateful that today, the winter layers of snow are all gone. But if I’m honest, last weekend’s weather makes a thirty degree plunge hard to swallow. I’ll get over it. Spring is just around the corner.

I still seem to be struggling with writing here regularly, so in the interest of catching up, I’m going to follow my friend MJ‘s lead, and offer some of what she would call “randoms.”

In music: I went to a concert last Saturday with a friend from work. We saw Third Day, a group that falls into the category of Christian music. If I’m honest (again,) I’ll admit that what first drew me to the group was the lead singer’s voice. Is it wrong to admit that I found his voice to be sexy? Listen and tell me I’m wrong.

But I’ve remained a fan because Third Day’s music is so much deeper than their appealing voices and sound. The concert was fantastic and uplifting, and we were so glad we attended. We left there feeling joyful and sorry it was over so soon. Still, I’m going to say that having now seen Third Day in person, the lead singer is not hard to look at! (Those dimples!)

In plants: For all the years of little ones running around the house … not to mention the cats … I could never have plants in the front window where they’d enjoy the most sunlight. My plants were always in sad shape, barely thriving. Now with kids grown and cats gone, the front window can finally be a good home to my plants. There resides an African Violet, as well as the Christmas Cactus that my sister gave me last Christmas. It’s almost Easter, and the Christmas Cactus is blooming! So is the Violet! My grandma, the queen of African Violets, would be so proud. Maybe if I get an Easter Lily, it will bloom on the Fourth of July.

In birthdays: A group of us at work have become a sort of informal birthday celebration committee. We make sure there are decorations and goodies on our coworkers’ special days. It was Tom’s birthday this past week. Being the last one to leave the office the day before, I took the responsibility of decorating his cubicle. I went a little overboard, decorating both outside and in, criss-crossing banners and crepe paper across his work space. As employees walked by, they would stop and chuckle. One called me sneaky! Tom was a good sport when he arrived the next morning. He worked all day in the midst of all the decor, even though that meant ducking in and out of his cubicle.

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In dog-loving: My former boss, now my boss’ boss, who is also my friend, stopped by this week to share a story about how her daughter rescued a lost puppy last weekend. She didn’t share this, as one might expect, to see if I needed or wanted another pet, but just because she’s a dog-lover. She said that as a dog-lover myself, she knew I’d appreciate the happy ending. (I did. New owner volunteered. Original owner found.) After we returned to our respective responsibilities, my phone buzzed with a text message.

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I smiled because I couldn’t have agreed more.

In Mom news: My mom had lots of plans this week. A friend of Mom’s, my niece, and my youngest brother had all made dates to have dinner with Mom, resulting in a “free” week for me. I was grateful as I had a lot of catching up to do at home. And I accomplished much. I finished and mailed invitations for the bridal shower I’m giving for my niece. Jack and I went out to dinner one night. I picked out paint samples to help me decide colors for the main level, (which I’ve been wanting to paint for three years now.) And I bought a dress for my niece’s wedding which takes place in May. (It’s red, with some bling. Chesney says it might be too flashy for a wedding, but we both agreed if I’m happy with it, I should go with it. I’m keeping the tags on for now, just in case I change my mind.)

As of yesterday, I hadn’t seen Mom since last Sunday! I called as I was leaving work because I missed her and wanted to stop by. Before I could tell her so, she said she missed me. She wasn’t used to going so many days without seeing me. She was thrilled when I asked if I could stop by before her dinner date with my brother. I did so, and we made plans to attend the Sunday evening mass at her church. We did that last week. She was happy to have someone to take her to church and I enjoyed the more contemporary music. A win-win!

And how was your week?

Cold but not complaining

The real Minnesota winter reportedly arrives tonight. We’ve been spoiled so far. There’s a small amount of snow on the ground, but for the most part, temperatures have been pretty bearable ever since summer ended. That all ends today and it’s all they’ve talked about on the news these past few days. Especially as this weather relates to a pretty important football game which takes place here tomorrow. In an outdoor stadium. Where the high might reach 4. I’m glad I’m not a football fan but there are plenty of die-hards who are braving the weather to support the Vikings this weekend!

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The first post-holiday week of 2016 has gone by already. Can you believe that? I was worried it would seem interminable, considering I probably haven’t worked a full week since the beginning of December and having long weekend at home felt so nice the last two weeks. But it was a really great week. There is forward movement in my job and in my department, and it’s all very positive, team-oriented and exciting. More important than the inner workings and perks of my job though, I was reminded several times why I love not just what I do, but where I do it. And it has so much to do with the people who surround me.

I’ve been employed in this job long enough to have made some deep connections, and I thank God everyday for this. One of these connections is with C. On a professional level, she alternately either drives me crazy with the way her mind and priorities race from one thing to another, or feels like my closest ally. But no matter how annoyed I might sometimes feel, I admire her passion, drive and perseverance, and I often aspire to be more like her. In the past year, our common life circumstances drew us closer on a more personal level. C’s mom suffered and survived a massive stroke early last year and will never make a full recovery. You can imagine the repercussions.

Yesterday, I stopped in to C’s office to get some background on a particular project. After confirming the necessary details, I asked, “How’s your mom?”

C told me her mom was holding steady and that their holidays were enjoyable. She then shared that she came into the new year with a new perspective. Gratefulness. She said that all last year, she faced each day with an attitude of getting past certain circumstances  so that she could get back to a more comfortable and normal life. She told me that before the stroke, her mom was her best friend. C called her every day to talk about what was good, what was challenging, and what was ahead. After the stroke, those deep conversations with her mom were no longer possible. This was such a huge loss, and so devastating for C. But since then, she has developed a stronger relationship with her dad. It’s Dad with whom she talks every day. And they never hang up the phone without saying “I love you.”

I knew exactly what she meant. This stuff changes you. Now that my dad is gone, I can’t leave my mom without hugging her and telling her “I love you.” In recent years, that’s not been uncommon, but these days, our I love yous aren’t trite like they may have been in the past. Both the hugs and the words these days are deep and sincere. I often feel a tug on my heart at having to leave Mom’s side, even though I know I’ll probably see her again the next day.

C said that starting this year, she will try to embrace each day, not just try to get through it and on to something that feels easier. She said she has realized that such devastating circumstances have provided unexpected grace and blessings. She was crying by this time and telling me what a blessing I have been to her in the time we’ve shared such similar circumstances. What was meant to be a quick, professional visit to her office ended with tears and hugging. I said to her, “Don’t cry,” and she replied, “No, it’s okay. This is a good cry.”

She showed me a little journal that has become a part of her new goals. It’s a gratitude journal, and every day, she writes down three things for which she is grateful. She said she would be writing about me in her journal that evening.

I am inspired by C’s attitude of gratitude. For the past few years, I myself have worked towards recognizing and being more appreciative of all that is good in my life. But I have been inconsistent in actually documenting it. I like the idea and am going to try to do so on a more frequent … dare I say daily? …basis.

Well … I’ve got to start somewhere, sometime. Therefore …

  1. C – This one’s a little obvious, but I am grateful to have C in my world. Instead of feeling as if I’d hit the doldrums and dreariness typical of this time of year, she inspired me to rise above them and look forward to each day. She reminded me that even work doesn’t need to make us feel as if we’re going through the motions. There might be a gift inside each and every moment. But we have to look.
  2. Jack’s work schedule – While I’m often annoyed at how my husband’s job often keeps him away on nights and weekends, it allows me guilt-free time to be with my mom. This week, on a night I might otherwise have been eating frozen pizza alone at home, I instead cooked a walleye dinner and shared it with my mom. It was a nice change of pace.
  3. Heated seats – A genius invention. They make me feel spoiled, but I love the fact that even on the coldest day, I can get into my car and feel instant warmth!