Missing…

Yesterday, I learned of the death of a writing acquaintance. I didn’t know her outside of our writing circle, but the loss still hit me. It immediately brought to mind other deaths that have impacted me in the past year. Standing outdoors in the sunshine yesterday afternoon, I looked up into the sky and the image of an escaping balloon came to me. Have you ever seen a balloon seller holding a fistful of balloon strings, only to have one balloon somehow escape and drift heavenward? The bunch of balloons that’s left behind is still colorful. But it’s changed. One balloon is missing.

The pandemic has brought significant change for us all. We talk about getting back to normal and can easily make the mistake of thinking it’ll be the same as it was before Covid-19. But there’s a global sense of grief to work through. The people I’ve lost didn’t die of Covid-19. But still, they were there before we all went into hibernation and they won’t be there when we get back together. Extended families, clubs, organizations, companies, and work places will be missing people. Not that all the missing people have died, necessarily, but they’ve pulled back, been let go, quit, or moved on. Things won’t be the same. And the best we can do is acknowledge that. And move forward.

Have you ever watched a drifting balloon climb higher and higher, until it’s no more than a tiny speck in the sky? A strange mix of loss and appreciation accompanies the sight. That’s how I feel right now, thinking about the losses of the past year. And I’m left trying to focus on appreciating every varied person and thing in my life — like colorful balloons tethered together in a big beautiful bunch. 🙂

 

A Taste Or Two Of Spring

You know that little thrill of licking brownie batter off the spatula just after you put the pan in the oven? (Oh, is that just me??) Anyway, we all like to sample a bit of whatever we’re whipping up in the kitchen, don’t we, — especially if we’re cooking when we’re hungry? It’s so hard to wait. And that’s how this past week felt to me with the tease of a couple of warm March days. I could taste spring!

My first taste involved one of my daughters and the mitre saw she inherited from my Dad. (Stay with me here.) We’re going to be building new garden beds for my backyard this spring. Several weeks ago, we took a road trip to the only two Home Depots in the area that carried the cedar two-by-sixes we needed. Long story, short, we spent an hour or so cutting some into four-foot lengths and trimming the rest to eight feet. We’ve got some work ahead of us still, but seeing them all cut excited me. I can’t wait for gardening season!

The second taste involved another of my daughters. She lives almost two hours away and works as a baker. For both of those reasons, we had’t seen her in person for months. I’d been waiting for decent weather on one of her days off, so we could spend some time outdoors together. Last Friday, the promise of temperatures in the high fifties, or even maybe sixty degrees, was just what we needed. And it did indeed turn out to be a beautiful day!

We hiked a trail at a local state reservation. We watched for birds and talked a bit about photography as she tried out the new camera she got for Christmas. It was midday, so bird activity was minimal. After walking for a while, we actually thought we might not see any. But then a few nuthatches and chickadees flew right across in front of us and sat chirping in the trees for several minutes. We walked on and saw a large black-ish bird fly by at a distance. When we got to the spot, we discovered a pileated woodpecker. A second one flew by a few minutes later. Even though they moved too fast and stayed partially out of view, I took one poorly focused picture — enough for proof, if not for hanging on a wall. All in all it was fun and left me pining for more warm spring days.

An Empty Drawer

Spring is around the corner. It could be the warmer weather, or the extended hours of daylight, or the season of Lent that many of us celebrate, but something about this time of year moves us to want to clear the clutter from our lives. Spring is a season for purging, whether your clutter is physical or of a more spiritual nature. It’s just that time of year.

The other day, I tackled my bureau. Well, no, I didn’t physically take it down. But I faced the once-organized-but-totally-neglected mess in its drawers. I can’t remember the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose, yet I’d managed to stuff at least a dozen pairs into a shoebox-sized bin in the top drawer. Fashionable scarves that I haven’t worn once since this pandemic began were squished into a second bin. Socks and belts and random boxed jewelry filled in the spaces between the bins. And that was just the top drawer.

Everything came out of the drawers. I vacuumed them out and then neatly put back what I decided to keep. I could go into detail about how I made those choices, but that’s a subject for another day. And not the point I want to make today. Instead, what I found interesting, was that when I’d finished, more than half of the large, deep bottom drawer was empty. And my immediate impulse was to figure out what I should put in there. Surely I had other spaces that I could clean out and better organize, transferring some of their contents to this mostly empty drawer.

But I left it mostly empty, instead.

What was it about an empty drawer that made me uncomfortable or dissatisfied? Why do we always need to fill the empty spaces? I don’t think there’s an empty drawer or shelf anywhere in my house. Why is that? I saw an ad on tv the other day for a closet-design company. The poor people in the ad needed help because they had too much stuff and no where to put it, so the closet designers solved their problem by creating a wonderfully organized space for them. Now they had room for all their stuff. And more! How satisfying. But, I thought, what if they just got rid of some of their stuff instead? We’re so programmed to not consider that option. But, it is an option.

I wonder, if you and I looked around our homes today, would we find an empty drawer or shelf or cabinet or closet or tabletop? Or do we just spread our stuff into every available space, buying something because it will fill that one empty spot? How would you feel if you emptied one of these spaces and left it empty? Would it feel great, at first, but then feel like an itch that needed to be scratched? A void that needed to be filled? Why? I’m not trying to answer that question here. I just find the question very interesting.

You?

 

Off The Hook

I started writing a different blog entry today. I’ve been on a weekly blogging streak since the end of November and felt compelled to get something out today. But the piece I was writing got so bogged down in heavy questions, without a lot of satisfying answers, so I left it for another day.

Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to do that. I’d have forced myself to plod along miserably until I’d made my point and finished my task. But, life is short, time is precious, and I decided it’s ok to let myself off the hook once in a while. It’s one small step in learning to take better care of myself.

What about you? When was the last time you let yourself off the hook for something? With no guilt allowed? Beating yourself up for what you haven’t done is highly overrated, you know. Nobody wins.

So, instead, I’ll say: It’s Sunday afternoon, the last day of February. The snow cover outside is shrinking, and I actually saw green daffodil tips poking out of an exposed patch of garden earlier. Spring is coming. And I’m good with that. 🙂

A Lengthening Of Days

Lent. Literally, the lengthening of sun-hours each day as we emerge from the darkness of winter. Light emerges from darkness, and in Lent we acknowledge the darkness of both individual struggles and societal difficulties.

The whole world is emerging, slowly, from the dark grip of a pandemic. We share in this global experience, yet we each have our individual challenges, ones that may have been thrust into focus by the shifting tide of what “normalcy” means. For some, life has become an overwhelming daily battle on the front lines of this disease. For others, it’s been a time of withdrawal, swallowing losses in rapid succession. For some, it’s become a season of reflection and assessment. A friend recently confessed to me that it’s given her time to reflect on her use of time. And I think that’s worth looking at.

How did you and I spend our time before this pandemic hit? Were our activities rewarding and fulfilling? Did we make time for things that we professed to be important? Or were we overwhelmed with busy-ness? Have you had time to ask yourself how things might be different as you emerge from the isolation of quarantining and social distancing? I know it’s a question I need to ask myself. If we take a moment to be quiet, away from distractions, and really face that question, are we brave enough to listen for the answers? If we are, the answers are there, I believe. God speaks in that quiet. And if you don’t believe in God, the quiet will answer anyway. God, or the deep truth that lives in the stillness at the center of who you are, will offer guidance. The challenge is being willing to listen. This is light emerging from darkness. This is what it means to live a Lenten journey.

Vaccine Success

Yesterday, I took my almost-eighty-five-year-old mother for her first dose of the Covid vaccine. What a relief to know she’s on her way to better protection from this nasty virus.

Signing up for the appointment was somewhat frustrating, in that each time I’d run through the preregistration questions, I’d get to the end and my chosen slot would no longer be available. I’d have to start over, answering the same questions again. I finally got wise and skipped ahead, over the next available time slot, and managed to secure her an appointment. That was a few weeks ago. I hear the Massachusetts website has been upgraded since then.

Anyway, we arrived a few minutes early to the vaccination site — a hotel about a twenty minute drive from her home. Everything ran smoothly, starting with the officers who directed the cars entering and exiting the parking lot. The building entrance was a long walk from the parking lot for an elderly person using a walker, so the first officer directed me to the front curb where a second officer helped me get my mother out of the car and set her up with her walker. Then he escorted her into the building while I parked.

Inside, signs marked our way toward the hotel ballroom which held a dozen or more vaccination stations. Chairs were set out along the way, from the front door to the ballroom, for anyone needing to sit for a minute. At the entrance to the ballroom, we were directed to the left, to one of many rows of three chairs, where people waited to be called to a station. We waited no more than a few minutes, just enough time for my mother to remove her coat. Vaccination station #2 waved their sign and beckoned us to them.

The vaccination itself felt a little anticlimactic. I guess I wanted cheers or maybe music and fireworks. Nothing. So, I’ll now provide my own:

I’d been hearing about the new “buddy” proposal in Massachusetts, where the one who brings the eligible person would also be offered the vaccine. That plan hadn’t been discussed yet at the time I’d made my mother’s appointment, but I’d heard that some “buddies” were being offered the vaccine on the spot, even without their own appointments. I wrestled with the question of whether or not I’d take the vaccine if offered. I’m not in one of the high-risk groups. So many people need it more than I do. I probably won’t be eligible for months to come. What should I do? After reading a NY Times op-ed about this very dilemma, I decided that I’d take it, if offered. Well, they didn’t offer. So, no fireworks for me yet.

Before we left the vaccination station, they scheduled an appointment for my mother’s second dose, writing it on a small card that serves as her proof of vaccination. We were directed to the far end of the ballroom for observation. Again, we took seats in one of many three-chaired rows and waited the required fifteen minutes, along with many others who’d just received the vaccine. We’d actually been given a Post-It note with the time of our allowed departure written on it. When our time was up, my mother asked, “Now what?” The significance of the experience seemed somewhat lost on her and she was relieved to hear that it was time to go home.

The whole experience gave me hope. Hope that someday most of us will be vaccinated. Hope that fewer people will be sickened, debilitated, or killed by this disease. In the meantime, I’ll continue to do my part by wearing my mask, washing my hands, and practicing social-distancing. And reminding my mother to do the same. 🙂

 

Finiteness

Have you ever experienced a perfect storm of events that seem to come together just to wave the flag of your own finite nature right in your face? It can trigger some soul-searching and spark some deep questions. And lead to us to new insights, too, if we’re willing to go there. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of just such a storm.

The first event happened about two weeks ago; two friends celebrated milestone birthdays. That’s what I call those birthdays that count your life in decades, instead of years. One friend turned fifty and the other, seventy. It reminded me that my middle daughter is also celebrating a milestone this year. And since she was born the year I turned thirty, I’m headed for a change of decades, too. I remember thirty as a tough year for me — giving birth, leaving my twenties, and the sudden death of my mother-in-law. Teetering on the brink of depression, the weight of my own mortality drew into sharp focus. This year, although I’m in a healthier state of mind than I was at thirty, my milestone birthday will still give me pause.

The second experience came in email form. I subscribe to several writers’ email lists. These writers send regular doses of writing advice and inspiration. One day, I received an email from Suzanne Lieurance of Write By The Sea. She’s usually very encouraging. Most days, I read her emails and feel ready to conquer whatever roadblocks stand in my way. That particular day, her note was entitled, How To Be Ruthless With Your Writing Time.  It was more like a slap in the face than a note of encouragement. She basically said if you’ve made a time-management plan and are failing to stick to it, then be warned that you can’t get that time back. Your time is finite. Woah! Its not like we don’t know this. But, boy, do we do a good job of living in denial. Whatever our goals are, however we try to plan our time in pursuit of those goals, we don’t have forever to accomplish them. Truth.

And, then, two days ago, I attended a funeral. There’s nothing like a good funeral to bring mortality to our attention. Thanks to streaming technology and the Covid19 pandemic, I actually watched the funeral from home. A faith-filled, eighty-five year old member of our church had died of a brain tumor. The priest giving the homily spoke of this man’s grappling with the prospect of death. He likened it to the interplay of Tevye and Golde in Fiddler On The Roof — rewriting the scene as a dialogue between the dying man and God, with the man asking “Do you love me?” and God answering, “For eighty-five years…” However long we have, and whatever we try to believe about an afterlife, we still have to come to terms with the fact that our time on earth ends, eventually.

Lastly, on the advice of a friend, I watched the Disney movie, Soul. What a beautiful story of life and death, meaning and purpose! In the end, life’s purpose isn’t to be found in one extraordinary accomplishment, but in the living of every moment to its fullest. Our time here is finite. Hopefully, that thought spurs us on to make the most of it, rather than waste it. Time is a precious commodity. Let’s each spend it well.

 

 

First Month Check-in

We’ve come to the end of the first month of this new year. The year still feels new-ish, despite some lingering difficulties from 2020. And it’s a good time to check in with our goals and expectations for 2021. (Notice I didn’t use the word resolutions. Goals sound more hopeful, don’t you think?)

Did you set some goals — general or specific, long or short-term, written down or mentally noted — at the beginning of this year? How’re you doing with them? I’m not here to judge, believe me. Instead, I encourage you to ask yourself that question. And if you didn’t set any goals, it’s not too late, you know. Never is. Like I’ve said before, just make them realistic and achievable.

One of my goals is to create new garden beds before this year’s planting season, complete with rodent-proofing. After several design attempts and pricing quotes, I’ve settled on building them myself (with some much appreciated help). The wood has been purchased, other supplies will be purchased soon, and construction will begin in my daughter’s garage (since that’s where the saw is. 🙂 ) It feels good to take steps toward the final goal. Each step is an accomplishment in itself.

I’ve also made progress on some of my writing goals already (although a few have been put off until after the garden beds are built). Today also marks the end of Storystorm, hosted by Tara Lazar, a realized goal of mine in which I had to come up with a picture book idea every day for the month of January. Challenging! And another goal is to create a collage using a new (to me) painting technique. Again, I’ve taken steps in the direction of this goal. (See the photo above.) It’s been fun, stretching my creative muscles! And it’s been a great distraction on cold, snowy days.

Setting goals and reaching for them is worth the effort. However, life is a process, and sometimes goals need to be revisited, adjusted, and refined. That’s ok.  But I encourage you to care for yourself, and those around you, by living with purpose, setting goals and taking daily or weekly steps toward them. Every small accomplishment can be satisfying. And if you’ve taken steps toward one of your 2021 goals, give yourself credit. Celebrate your success. And have a happy new year!

Put In A Good Word

Words have power.

I don’t put any stock in the old adage, “Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words do impact us. Look no farther than former President Trump’s vocal accusations of fraud in our recent elections. Or Amanda Gorman’s stirring recitation at last week’s U.S. presidential inauguration.

Words stir our emotions. Sometimes, words rouse people to action. They can soothe, disturb, incite, or unite. How aware is each of us, really, of how our words effect those around us?

Since the transfer of power in our country last week, I’ve seen an interesting shift on social media. I’ve seen hopeful posts about the new direction of this leadership and about the  healing of division. But I’ve also seen an immediate need for many to keep complaining, latching on to the most disagreeable thing they can think of, as if their lives wouldn’t be complete without sowing an undercurrent of constant dissatisfaction. I’m not talking about differing opinions, healthy debate, or trying to right social injustices. But there’s a way to express these without tearing people down or pointing out darkness just so it will weigh people down. We’re all low enough after a full year of living under Covid19’s shadow.

Have you ever pledged to spend a whole day without complaining or saying anything negative? Maybe this is easy for some people — but not for me. And I suspect it’s challenging for most. But I propose that we all try it. That goes for social media posts, too, by the way. And, to take it a step farther, find some good words to say instead. Let our words stir hope or soothe. Let them lift someone’s spirits. Let them call for change in a way that rouses others to positive action. We may find that the hope and comfort and inspiration they offer come right back around to us. Wouldn’t that be a blessing!

So, let’s put a few good words out there… and see what happens. 🙂

Notify Yourself!

Notifications. They flood our inboxes, ding from our phones, and buzz from our smartwatches. They keep us informed — and on edge. That’s life, though, unless you’re the type of person who doesn’t do social media and says so with a wrinkled nose, like you’re handling someone else’s dirty tissue. Are these our only two options? Is there a happy medium? I think there is.

Imagine your friend, or perhaps only a casual acquaintance, calls you on the phone several times a day to tell you what they just ate or to recommend a song they just heard or to tell you a stupid joke someone just told them. Imagine if ten friends did that. Or twenty. Annoying, right? But many of us allow this constant bombardment from our social media accounts and call it normal. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. But missing out is not always a terrible thing.

Several years ago, I turned off all my notifications. It doesn’t keep the apps I use from trying to strong-arm me into turning them back on again. But it’s been worth it. Now, it’s up to me to check my Facebook pages, websites, and other social media sites for activity. What a concept! Choosing to notify myself. (Of course, there’s still the real danger of getting sucked in and spending way too much time scrolling. I keep telling myself to put a timer on before I log in. Do I always listen to myself? No. But at least I know it’s possible to practice healthy distancing from my newsfeed.)

If you’re looking for a way to de-stress in this new year, may I suggest taking control of and responsibility for your own notifications. Stop allowing the apps that are there to enrich your life have so much control. Notify yourself, instead. And happy new year. 🙂