Dear Mom

Pink Rose in the sun

Now I know why you didn’t like to get your picture taken. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself in pictures. I take them anyway, since looking at them brings me joy and reminds me that I have a great life!

I know why you spent all of your time with your family at the expense of outside friendships. I want to focus on the people who are most important to me. Some of my friends are like family to me.

Now I know why you always preferred to work in an office where you were the only woman. Relationships, particularly with other women,  can be difficult. They can be complicated and painful, and at the same time they can be joyful and loving. I have learned a lot about myself through the lens of my relationships with others.

I understand how it annoyed you when dad made a mess of your kitchen when he cooked. I’m glad that familial roles have blurred and aren’t as clearly defined anymore. I think that this has made us relate in a different, more intimate way as a family.

I know that you loved me equally as much as my older brother and sisters, even if you didn’t exactly plan to have a fourth child. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly love another child as much as my first-born son. My heart found a way when my daughter was born.

I know how happy it made you when all of your children got along with each other (we still do)! I love that mine do and take comfort that they will always have each other.

Now I realize how much your happiness was tied to ours, when my kids are happy, I’m happy.

Now I understand why you were so upset when I moved to another state, even though it was only an hour away. It meant that we wouldn’t see each other as often. I feel the most full when I’m with my kids and miss them whenever we’re apart.

I know how difficult it must have been when your mom passed away and how much you missed her every single day. I know how many times you must have wanted to pick up the phone to talk about your day, hear words of encouragement, share some happy or sad news or just to hear her voice. I know how important that unconditional love was to you and how, with your mom, no matter how old you were, she would always make you feel loved and protected.

I miss you terribly and it’s not the same without you.

But now I realize that I was always capable of loving myself just like you always had.

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Making New Habits (Mindful Shopping)

shopping

Old habits and routines are hard to break. I used to go shopping at least one day a week, usually on the weekend, and most of the time I didn’t really need anything.

My routine was the same. I would be on the hunt for one or two things, like the perfect shirt or home good. I liked to canvass the entire store, check out what was new, take a closer look at some things along the way, and I was sure to check out the sale items. I didn’t miss anything! 

These days I don’t go shopping unless I really need something or just to tag along with someone else. I spend my time and money doing other things.

But old habits are hard to break. I’ve been in my small house for a few months now and I felt I needed to create more storage space in my cabinets by putting some items in baskets. My plan was to take a few of the lighter things out of the drawers in a dining room hutch, put them into decorative baskets and put them on top of the hutch. This would free up some drawer space for other things.

I knew exactly which baskets I wanted to buy, too. They were dark brown and rectangular shaped, with a lid. My daughter and I went to a craft store where I had seen them before. I was excited to find exactly what I was looking for!

And then I started to second guess myself. Perhaps the baskets should be a little bigger. After all, if they were going to free up some cabinet space, the more space freed up, the better, right? What am I even making room for? All of my stuff fits in my cabinets now and I’m not planning on buying a bunch of new stuff. This minimalism thing is really working for me. What was I thinking?

After talking things through with my very patient daughter, I realized that I didn’t need the baskets to free up more space since I didn’t need more space. We left the store empty-handed and grateful that we didn’t have to wait in the long check out line.

I think we are so conditioned to shop, buy things and create more space for more things that we’re not even mindful of what we’re doing. It just becomes routine and automatic.

Thinking things through and being mindful of my purchases is a new way of thinking and being. And I like it!

What’s Under All of Our Stuff?

It’s been a year of do-ing. We sold our big house and did a major remodel on a house less than half its size. We sold, donated or discarded most of our stuff, except for the contents of one container of things that we weren’t sure we wanted or would fit in our small home once we placed the furniture that we were definitely keeping. That container was a source of comfort, at first, but quickly became a source of stress. Deep down I knew we’d have to get rid of most of its contents,  since these things wouldn’t fit in our new space. I scheduled a pick up date for the container so that we would have a deadline to have it emptied.  We pared down yet another bunch of stuff, kept only what we wanted and would fit in our tiny loft storage, and met our deadline.

We are continuously organizing what we decided to keep and have been working on creative storage solutions for our living space. This has actually been interesting and fun! It’s also been an exercise in patience. It takes time to fully understand and identify a need, since it’s based on our family’s habits over time. Once the need is determined, I try to figure out an attractive, useful, space-saving system that works. For example, instead of a bulky desk in the corner of our dining room to store some office supplies, we are going with open boxes made of left over reclaimed lumber that hang on the wall. The office supplies will be tucked into attractive baskets that slide into the boxes.

The do-ing has finally slowed down and I’ve had more time to just, “be.” Minimalism can expose emotions we didn’t know we had or new feelings can arise from living in a smaller space with less stuff.  

I couldn’t even identify or put into words what I was feeling at first, I just felt out of sorts and cranky. I finally realized that I needed some down time after work and quiet time, in general, to think and process what I was thinking and feeling. In our bigger home, time to myself was automatic, given the amount of space we had. Oftentimes, I would be in our bedroom reading and my husband would be two floors down watching television. Or one of us would be starting dinner while the other one would be sitting on the porch. We always looked forward to a family dinner together and spending the rest of the evening in the same space.

With less physical boundaries creating separate space for alone time, I’ve had to communicate my needs and have had to learn how to be alone while sharing the same space.  As I write this post, my daughter is watching football and my husband is lighting a fire after working outside for a few hours. We are all in the same space, doing our own thing. It works!

What’s under all of our stuff? I guess it depends on what we make of it. I decided to plant grass seed in the bare spot left from where the storage container sat in our front yard.
under all our stuff

Bag of Tricks

There’s almost nothing that a nap, yoga and a cup of herbal tea (and a farm full of animals) can’t cure.

 

catskill animal sanctuary

The Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY

 

I haven’t written in a while about feeling anxious or depressed, since I’ve been feeling pretty balanced. Although I’m curious about why I feel the way that I do, I try not to dwell too much on what I can’t control, and move on.

The truth is, I still have moments when I feel a little low and dwell a little longer than I’d like.

I’m so grateful that I have a menu of things to choose from to help me feel better and more balanced during these times. I think of these things, collectively, as my bag of tricks because they have proven, time and time again, to be helpful.

Some of the things in my bag of tricks are gardening, walking, hiking or just being outside, playing with Ellie, my daughter’s dog, meditation, healthy eating, writing and getting together with people I love. I choose what I need depending on how I feel, the weather and who or what is available.

I felt a little low recently and not very motivated at all. It was a cool, rainy day. I took a nap, did yoga and had a cup of one of my favorite herbal teas. I felt better!

Holding a chicken is pretty awesome too!

What’s in your bag of tricks?

 

 

 

Creating S P A C E for Me

cairn

The more curious and open to learning new things I’ve become the more I’ve realized that creating space can make some positive changes.

Space in my closets

Means that I don’t have to spend time picking through outfits that don’t fit, are out of style or aren’t flattering.

I donate clothing on a continuous basis and strictly adhere to the “one in, one out” rule: I don’t buy a new item of clothing unless I get rid of one first. This keeps my closet under control as I continue to figure out my style and what works for me. I’ve gotten many tips from Courtney Carver on how to pare down my wardrobe, and hope to get up the courage for Project 333, her minimalist fashion challenge course (https://bemorewithless.com/project-333/), soon.

Space in my cabinets

Means that I use what I love and nothing goes to waste.

I’ve eliminated duplicates, use quality items and waste less food (hiding at the bottom of my freezer or in the back of my cabinets).

Space on my countertops

Means that clean ups are easier.

Less clutter makes me feel more relaxed.

Space in my social calendar

Means that I have time to do what is meaningful to me.

I’d rather give more time and attention to fewer things than rush through an overwhelming social calendar.

Space in conversations

Means that I am a better listener and that I am able to respond rather than react.

I used to let my emotions get the best of me and feel the need to react immediately. Oftentimes, after thinking about a previous conversation, I would see things in a different way and even regret some things that I’ve said. Although I’m still working at this, I feel like I am able to provide a more thoughtful response rather than an immediate reaction.  Sometimes, “sleeping on it” really does make a difference when it comes to emotions!

Space from TV and internet

Means that I am more engaged in mind and body activities (rather than things that are mind numbing).

I was raised on TV and admit that watching television is one of my favorite pastimes, but by watching less I can do more things, especially things from my self-care routine (like yoga and meditation), that have more lasting positive effects. Since it’s easier to pick up the remote after a long day, this can be challenging for me. What has worked for me lately is reducing my screen time slowly or putting my phone out of sight for a few hours or even an entire weekend.

Creating space means

More time

More quality

More calm

More meaning

More presence

More thoughtfulness

More creativity

More self-care

More gratitude

More love

More ME

The Sum of Small Efforts

Did you ever feel as if you’ve taken two steps forward and one step back?

I’ve been feeling this way lately, but my daughter’s dog  Ellie actually reminded me  to look at the big picture and that growth shouldn’t be measured by any one act. She’s so smart.

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.

-Robert Collier

I may have taken a step or two in the wrong direction, like when I felt I was inconsiderate to a friend,  or when I’ve eaten too much junk food or been a couch potato, or even when I’ve been mildly obsessed with the latest Twitter rant from the POTUS (or the live video feed of April, the pregnant giraffe), but it doesn’t mean I’m inconsiderate, unhealthy or not mindful.

I’ve learned so much  about what makes me happy and healthy  and have been steadily moving forward. THIS is what defines me. I’ll never be perfect (and I’m not sure I ever want to be), but I’m moving in the right direction!

How did I learn all this from Ellie?

I smiled when I looked down to put on my slippers the other day. I found Ellie’s bone tucked inside the left one, the one she had chewed on months ago. Ellie had left me a gift! Such a sweet, loving act. THIS defines her!

slipper

 

 

 

What a Difference a Day Makes

Patience is not my best asset, at home, at work or in relationships. If I have something to say, I usually say it, sooner, rather than later. My words aren’t always wrapped in a nice, neat bow or palatable to those receiving them, but I’m learning to pause more often, respond rather than react, and to listen more than I speak (sometimes).

Yesterday began like any other day. As I was rushing around getting ready for work, I clumsily walked into the corner of my stairs. Ouch, that really hurt! I immediately felt the pain on the top of my foot, but didn’t give it a second thought as I walked out the door and got into my car.

I sat most of the day, grading exams, which happens only twice a year. As a high school teacher, I’m used to being on my feet for 6 hours a day. I walked in my front door at the end of the day feeling happy that the weekend was ahead of me, but I was quickly reminded of the morning mishap. My foot really ached!

I brushed it off and went on with my usual end of the day routine, checking social media, texting, talking on the phone, and figured the pain was only temporary. It must be. I hadn’t felt anything all day.  It was the end of the work week  and nothing would come between me and an enjoyable (pain-free) weekend. I was sure I would feel better in the morning.

After about an hour, I couldn’t deny it any longer. The pain and stiffness in my foot got worse, and I couldn’t put any weight on it. I needed to get it checked out by a professional as soon as possible.

I couldn’t drive, but my husband was due home in 30 minutes. He took me to a local Urgent Care facility for an x-ray. The pain had gotten so much worse that I flinched when the physician’s assistant gently manipulated my foot. I even had to be transported to the x-ray room in a wheelchair.

Oh, man, was I in a bad mood. I was in excruciating pain (a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) AND I was helpless. I just wanted to get the x-ray results, get out of there, and get back to the security and comfort of my home and my couch.

When the PA returned  with crutches and an ace bandage, he said, “Don’t worry, this isn’t as bad as it looks.” He went on to say that nothing was broken but he wanted to wrap my foot, and that I shouldn’t put any weight on it for a few days.

Great news! Now I just wanted to get on with my weekend. I got a quick lesson on how to use the crutches, which it turns out I’m not very good at (since I almost fell), and we were out the door in the time it took my husband to pull up the car and for me to hobble out the door and into the passenger seat.

crutches

We arrived home and I wasn’t going to let a few stairs keep me from getting into my front door so I crawled up them! I was feeling pretty desperate and still in a lot of pain, as I snapped at my husband for cracking a joke. Looking back, I’m sure I did look pretty funny and  knowing my husband, he was just trying to make me feel better and lighten things up a bit.

I followed the “doctor’s” orders, took some ibuprofen, applied ice to my foot and elevated it for the rest of the evening. By the time I went to bed, my foot was feeling better and I was hopeful that I was on the mend.

I kept the crutches near my bedside in case I needed them during the night, but remarkably, I didn’t need them! The pain in my foot got progressively better and I was able to walk without pain in the morning. I was so happy and relieved!

What a difference a day can make!

Sometimes, our lives can change in an instant. From normal to the unexpected or even the unimaginable. From good to bad, or as was the case with me, thankfully, from bad to good.

Be patient, with yourself and others. That old saying that I know I’ve heard many times from my mom to, “sleep on it” has a lot of merit. I’ve felt emotionally charged on many occasions and rather than hit send, open my mouth, or make that call, I’ve waited to respond (some of the time).

With the passage of time, my foot didn’t hurt as much. I felt much better, physically.  This experience made me think about how the passage of time can also heal or prevent emotional wounds and improve communication. I’ve found that when I don’t react so defensively, it can make matters better, not worse. I can communicate my feelings more effectively, and find that people are more willing to listen.

This takes some finesse and lots of patience, which definitely do not come naturally for me! I practice being patient every day and when I slip up, I learn from it and move on. I’m sorry I snapped at you, Kevin and thanks so much for making dinner, Adella.

Sleep on it! It’s never too late to follow mom’s advice. What a difference a day can make.