Posted in A Day In The Life

O Christmas tree

It occurred to me this morning that I can have a different colored tree every day till Christmas.

I make no apologies for being THAT person… the one who’s excited about Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I missed roughly half of the Christmases in my life because I was a Jehovah’s Witness, so I am making up for lost time. I send Christmas cards, I love picking out presents and wrapping them. One of my favorites is Santa duty. Christmas morning comes, I get up early, and I set out the presents in sparkling packages, carefully arranged, and then lie on the couch to admire my handiwork and the way the tree’s lights twinkle on the packages. And I LOVE putting up the tree.

My son Brandon, who is 25 this year, loves it just as much, and is my Christmas cohort. Part of the reason I treasure this time of year so much is because I get to reminisce with Brandon. This is what past tree-putting-up-days looked like: he would help me go to the garage and get our two sets of ornaments, blue and silver or deep red and gold. We’d pick one. We’d parade in circles around the tree with lights and garland, then put up the nostalgic ornaments, the ones we made the first few Christmases after we started celebrating again, and talk about Christmases past while we listened to Nat King Cole and Dean Martin croon old carols. Then we’d turn off all the lights and admire our handiwork and yell at cats to stop bothering the tree, and enjoy the fact that Bran’s old dog, who is almost 19 this year, is still with us.

Not much has changed, really, with one exception: we no longer hang those old ornaments (I wish I had room for The Tree in the living room and a smaller nostalgic tree, but my house is small). Instead, a few weeks to a month ahead of time, we start texting each other and planning. I had the idea a couple of years ago to light the hell out of our white tree and put black ornaments on it so that they would be silhouetted against the supernova.

Last year’s tree. There are a thousand lights on this sucker.

My son is as creative as I am (he’s got a Fine Art degree) but his creativity is usually happiest married to some tinkering, technical aspect of a project. His original plan was to buy LED strip lights to go on the tree this year, and I had the idea to turn it into a giant candy cane, with the red lights as the stripes. We plotted together, went to Hobby Lobby to buy bright red and white ornaments, and he got the lights.

Only, it needed red garland, and I didn’t buy any. And the red on the strip lights was too orangey. Plan B! We sat on the couch and played with the lights’ remote control, looking at all the colors, and ultimately decided that we loved the bright white because it was so frosty-looking. Bran had the BRILLIANT idea to turn the LED strip lights inward, and with the white tree bouncing the light around it looked like the whole thing was lit from within. We covered the strip with white garland on the outside, so that you really can’t see the lights except where they are twinkling through the tree. We didn’t put any traditional lights on it at all.

We decided to deck the tree in only white and clear ornaments, and snowflake bead garland, and snow-white sparkly poinsettia flowers. We sat back down with the lights in the house off to play with the remote. It still needs a tree topper, and my plan is to buy a twinkly white snowflake for that. I loved the white lights the best still, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with the colors and the white ornaments look great in any color, or all of them.

And it was fun to sync with techno, too. Note beloved old Rascal basking in the neon lights.

Next year, red garland and all those ornaments I just bought. And maybe some high tech controls for Bran to play with. Or, you never know, we may go with another idea entirely, or a new tree, because that’s how we roll.

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Posted in mindfulness

Rituals of Gratitude

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

— Three Gratitudes, Carrie Newcomer

Happy Thanksgiving.

For most people, this holiday is about gathering, family, and way too much food, but my wish for you is that it is also about actual giving of thanks, whether you thank the people who loved you this year or give thanks to the divine. It doesn’t matter. Gratitude changes us in wonderful ways, and I firmly believe that it should be among our regular practices not just one day a year, but every day.

My mother recently told me that she and my father, who has a great deal of problem with anxiety, have begun a daily Gratitude Practice together, each sharing three things at the dinner table for which they are grateful. She said dad called her up one day to tell her he “had a thing!” to share with her that evening. For me, I keep a journal, and each day I write three things (at least) for which I am grateful.

When you make this a yearly practice, you hit the big ones: family, health, home, well-being, friends, community, employment, gathering. When you make it a daily practice, everything changes. You start looking for little things to be grateful for, that you can write or share at your daily ritual. You start to focus on what is right with your life when it is so very easy to focus on what is wrong. And I believe, when you focus on the positive, you invite more of it into your life. People are attracted to positive people. You start to like the grateful person you see in the mirror every morning. You gain confidence that good things WILL happen.

It truly is life-changing. I beg you to try it, for a month at least. Share it on Facebook or Twitter. Write it in a journal. Make it a ritual in your family.

I’m not sure what the magic of three is. You don’t have to do three. You can do one. But for some reason three makes me push past the one big thing in my day that makes me smile, and encourages me to find more. There is always more. There is poetry in it. Yes, the sun is shining today, and it’s nice to notice that, but I can be grateful for the cheering glow behind my eyelids while I’m basking in it. I can be grateful for the long golden shadows at the end of the day. I can be grateful for the relief I feel after many gray days when the sun greets me and makes me realize that I didn’t know how much I needed to see it. Push your gratitude farther this year, dig into details and your feelings, let it really make you present. Why is the sunshine good? Why is your marriage good? Why is your job good? What is good about gathering with family, today? Yes, there is stress about the gathering, but you keep doing it year after year. Surely it’s not solely out of a sense of obligation. You’re not obligated, not truly. Find the joy in every small thing, the reason you keep doing it, and if you can’t… why are you still doing it? There is truth in gratitude, as well. Honesty. Maybe a wake-up call.

I am thankful that you are here, reading my words. I have known since I was small that words were my blessing and my craft. I have written a lot of words in a lot of journals since then, but now I am honored to bring them to the Internet, and more honored that you took the time to stop and listen to my thoughts. May this holiday season bring you joy that you have been forgetting to look for. ❤

Posted in Uncategorized

Introvert Exhaustion

I’m tired. Are you?

I’m a social introvert. I love people, and overbook my social calendar all the time. And then, I hit a wall and I absolutely have to shut down. I call this Introvert Hibernation Time.

I love you. Go away.

If you’re a introvert I know you’ll relate. Introverts aren’t shy, necessarily; the difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts get energy on interaction with other people and introverts get energy by being alone, or with one (rarely more than one, but few at most) very special people.

I hit the wall this week. Stress from my husband’s illness, stress from college assignments, and I found myself with little or nothing to give and wanting to lock myself in a room and… what?

How do you fix this?

The answer, of course, is time, and being gentle with yourself, but I have a few other tips I’d like to share.

1. Know your limits and put them in writing. I can look at my jam-packed calendar and know I’m going to need to schedule IHT (Introvert Hibernation Time, remember?) afterwards, and I will literally put it in my planner that way, with SCHEDULE NOTHING at the top of the day(s). And hey, if you surprise yourself and feel great that day, then you can always dial up the social interaction to exactly where you want it. Coffee with your bestie? Snuggle time with your love? Go for it. Hopefully both of those people will understand if you don’t.

2. Know what drains you. I can do a whole lot of church stuff and it doesn’t drain me, but one craft show will usually knock me out for a few days. Phone calls drain me if they’re important, or full of conflict, or something I’m dreading. Settings where there’s a lot of noise and chaos drain me, even if I’m having a good time. If there are bodies in my personal space, especially in a crowd, my reserves are leaking like a sieve. Consider making a list in your journal, if you’re a journaler.

3. Know what re-energizes you. This is a much more fun list to make. Here are a few ideas: Spending time in nature. Doing something creative. One on one time with someone who is awesome. Spending time with animals — taking my dog for a forest hike is a double whammy for me, and if I add in a creative thing like taking wildflower photos to paint later. Ooh, that’s bliss. Finding QUIET. If you have to go somewhere away from home to get that quiet, find a corner of the library, or hit up that forest again. Music can fill some people’s wells. Indulging in a good novel (be careful here, sometimes lying around in your pajamas bingeing Netflix can be well-filling, and sometimes it can just make you feel like a bum and more depressed). Chances are, if you make a list of things you absolutely love, you can go back and highlight the things that are also well-filling, it’ll be most of those things. For me, a social introvert, they don’t match entirely, but it’s a good start. Definitely make this list too. In fact, consider making the list anew every time you’re feeling burned out.

4. Schedule a play date. Setting up a couple of hours of just-for-me-time/self care on a weekly or otherwise regular basis is good preventative medicine.

5. Know the signs of introvert exhaustion. Sometimes, we’re getting irritable, or depressed, we don’t realize it’s because we need a little alone space. We introverts can often get very deep into our own heads, with thoughts swirling endlessly, firing judgments at someone who is getting on our last nerve, without knowing that it’s really not them, it’s us. We lose touch with our actual feelings. It’s different for everyone, but here are a few that should make warning bells go off:

  • Noise drives you insane and you feel overstimulated just listening to someone talk.
  • You’re tired all the time even though you’re sleeping.
  • Or, insomnia.
  • You’re uncharacteristically irritable.
  • Emotional sensitivity.
  • Tough to get motivated.
  • Your eyes glaze over when you try to focus and you find yourself staring into the middle distance and shutting down emotionally.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms. You hurt somewhere even though you don’t remember hurting your back, your knees, your neck. Even of you understand that you have chronic pain in this place, did you ever injure it? If not, please do some research on Tension Myositis Syndrome and see if you fit this picture. Finding out about this changed my life.

6. Get mindful. This kind of links to the above, but if you’re zoning out and you’re not aware of your own feelings, you need to bring yourself back and be fully present. If you’re currently totally overwhelmed, retreat, and then get mindful. Sometimes we get so much in our head we can’t even feel our bodies. Meditation is the best training for this. If you have a hard time doing sitting meditation try walking meditation, or coloring, or Zentangle, or another meditative activity. Connect with your breath (hey, you’re alive, yay!) and sort your own feelings out.

7. Don’t make IHT a habit. I know this sounds contradictory to what I said above about scheduling IHT days. But what I’m telling you is, you need social interaction. If you find it incredibly difficult to socialize with any people at all, you might consider getting help for depression, because while introverts need their alone time, we need our social time too, even when it’s a struggle. Find a buddy, preferably another introvert, to help you with this. Get out sometimes and get social. Find a safe space/group or at least a safe person where you can be yourself. It doesn’t have to be in a crowd.

8. Love who you are. You’ll never change what gives you energy. What you can change is your level of confidence and the people you surround yourself with when you are ready to surround yourself with people. Choosing your companions is a form of self care. Find some who get it when you say you need a break, people you don’t have to lie to in order to get your alone time. Introverts are amazing people! We are the thinkers, the creators, the poets and songwriters, and often, we’re sensitive people who are so very good for others when we pop our heads out of our shells. We get people, we just don’t want to be in the middle of them all the time. It’s only a matter of finding a balance between social and alone, and you can use both of them to make the world a little better.

Posted in Uncategorized

Time Change Blues

Doggone it, what happened to the morning?

I woke up incredibly sluggish this morning because Daylight Savings Time makes me feel jet-lagged for up to 2 weeks afterward, every time.

Because of my sluggishness (which Otto feels too, as you can see), I don’t have a lot of time to write this morning, but in thinking about whether I should bother at all, I thought I’d share a tip.

If time changes bother you too, I found a way to make them much less awful a couple of years ago. A light therapy light, the kind used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. I sit in front of it while I’m journaling for about 45 minutes a day, starting two weeks before we fall backward. Trust me, it cushions the blow. My jet-lagged days usually last less than a week now. You can get one of the lights on Amazon for less than $30. Make sure it’s 10,000 lux or more.

And, I keep using it all winter long, up through the spring time change. I used to have a lot of problems with post-Christmas winter blahs, but February doldrums are now less of a problem too. Light=happiness.

Hope the sun is shining where you are!

Posted in Art and Life, Uncategorized

Don’t Be Afraid

Someone asked me a while back, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? And I said, “Don’t be afraid.”

The advice was given years ago by this lovely lady, Karen Walton. She was my painting teacher. It wasn’t something she said once in the course of my instruction, she said it rather often. She had a sense for when that “oh no.. what do I do now?” feeling was coming up. If you’re an artist of any kind, you know what I’m talking about. It begins with the fear of the blank page, and comes up again when you’re not sure what’s wrong with the thing you’re working on but something’s wrong, or when you’re not sure what the characters are supposed to do in the next chapter or whether you’re finished with the drawing or not. Fear, it seems, is part of art. The more attached you are to the final outcome, the more the fear paralyzes you. This happens to me every time I accept a commission.

“To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do — away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes. Believing that the artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct). Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the patterns itself achieves perfection — a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit.”

— From Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Baylee’s and Ted Orland

Maybe fear is preventing you from making art at all. Maybe you wish you could make art, but ever since Mrs. Smith the art teacher in elementary school told you that your work was not good, you’ve told yourself you “can’t draw a straight line.” But you love to create, so you make regular trips to your local hobby store and do “crafts,” by which I mean follow someone else’s instructions for creativity. Don’t misunderstand me, I am a crafter and I am not downplaying crafting, which is a vehicle for the artistic spirit, but if you limit yourself to paint-by-number and adult coloring books and step-by-step Pinterest projects, you will never discover what you can do, and you will never learn to trust yourself.

So, back to my story about Karen. She would say this, “Don’t be afraid.” When I was working on my second painting, the portrait of a horse, I meticulously painted a highly detailed and perfect eye on it… and then realized it was in the wrong place. And then I froze. Karen came over with her paintbrush, dabbed it in my paint, and then painted out my carefully crafted, wrongly placed eye. That’s the glorious thing about oil paints: at any point you can paint over the thing and start over. I did. I was so proud of that painting.

I don’t know when I realized that this was a lesson for life, too. I journal every day (I will talk more about that later), and I thought about how fear paralyzes us in doing The Thing, whatever the thing is. We marry ourselves to the outcome in our minds, and it’s much nicer as a fantasy than it is as a dream that failed, so we take the safe route and don’t try The Thing. In our minds, we could have been amazing at it but life got in the way. It’s not life that gets in the way. It’s fear.

So I’m telling you this: Do The Thing. Don’t be afraid. And when your first efforts get painted out, treat it as a new blank canvas to start fresh, whether you had to paint over a tiny aspect of your project or the whole damn thing.

The world needs people who believe in themselves this much.

Posted in Uncategorized

Cronehood, Take 3

First off, you know you’re a crone when you post a picture of yourself in a witch hat on Facebook, and people say “This is the best picture of you I’ve ever seen,” and “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that suits you.” Ha! Y’all, it might be the makeup I almost never wear.

It’s been a lot of months since I’ve posted here. The last I posted, I was facing hysterectomy, and aware of some of the challenges I would face as a result (I was right about those, they were indeed challenging). What I didn’t know was that my hysterectomy would not go as planned. I had endometriosis so severe that the 40 minute procedure took 3 hours, in which my most excellent surgeon had to extricate my lady parts from my intestines. I thought I’d have three tiny laparoscopic incisions. I ended up cut hip to hip. I thought I would recover in six weeks tops. I am still recovering, three and a half months later, but I think nearly out of the woods? I thought I would get to keep my ovaries and enter menopause naturally, but it all had to go, and I was slammed into menopause. That, let me tell you, was an adventure. My husband is a saint. I am now on a hormone patch and reasonably sane or at least, as sane as I was before, which is to say, sane…. ish.

In addition, I lost enough blood to almost need a transfusion, and until I went to see my family doctor a couple of weeks later, no one told me I wasn’t going to get that blood back fully back for three months. Y’all, I look like a person again, not a grey-ish zombie, which might have something to do with how stunning I look in a witch hat and makeup. The hat would have been more convincing when I was greenish?

The hysterectomy is only half the story. As I mentioned, I was supposed to be recovered at six weeks post-op, and I was decidedly NOT, but classes started again at that point, so I stuffed myself into a pair of panties that are made to hold everything together (ladies who are looking at hysterectomy, listen to me, get some of these!!), and off to class I went.

The previous Sunday, my husband Russ thought he was getting a kidney stone, which is a not-uncommon occurrence for him. But he was really ill on the first day of school, with alarmingly shuddering chills (“rigors”) and an off-and-on fever, so while I went to class, his mom took him to the family doctor, who sent him directly to the ER, who put him in ICU for kidney stone/kidney infection/sepsis. He stayed there the better part of the week, then came home.

I found myself in crisis mode, and it took me these months to process it all. You know what I’m talking about? You kind of shut off your emotions and deal with The Thing(s), until you can get to the other side and ask yourself what the hell just happened. I had class to deal with too, plus a busy craft show season, which is just now over, and I’m taking a breather now to get my bearings.

One thing I have learned and am immensely grateful for, is that my support network is astonishing. Friends came to help every day when Russ was gone for a convention and I was still not recovered, and other friends offered to come and take me to church, and some brought meals, and lots sent cards, and people Russ doesn’t even know showed up to see him in the hospital and support both of us. My family here in Tennessee is amazing, and my church family is awesome, and my D&D family loves us too. If you’re reading this and you helped or showed up for us in any way, then I haven’t thanked you enough for all you’ve done.

You don’t know the strength you have or the support network you have until you fall hard. The net caught me. The strength let me climb back up out of it, and I am still here, still whole, and ready for the next chapter (SO ready…).

I had the idea to ask my Pagan/UU sisters to join me in a cronehood ritual. I have not done that yet, but I still want to. We mark a lot of the changes in our lives with ritual, why not the passage into menopause? This time of year is very much about cronehood in Pagan tradition. Women discover their magic when they become mothers, and I think when we can no longer have children, we discover that the magic isn’t just in reproduction, it’s in us. It’s not in a body part. It’s in mothering ourselves when we feel orphaned. It’s in reaching out and touching the lives of others. It’s in saying to our sisters in this experience of womanhood, I’ve been there. I understand. Tell me your story.