January 16, 2019 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

After taking down all the holiday decorations in my house, which included some evergreen cuttings that I put in a kitchen corner (as shown here), I felt like things were awfully plain and bare! So, when I was at the supermarket, I bought a new houseplant to brighten up that corner.

Kalanchoe plant with red blooms in a small pot with red tissue paper.

The plant is a kalanchoe, which is in the category of succulents and thus doesn’t need much water. It is commonly sold as a winter houseplant because it needs even less water than usual in the winter, and it actually flourishes in the dry indoor air.

I would say it’s a good reminder of how changes in our environment affect us. That little splash of red in the kitchen cheers me up when I get my breakfast on dark winter mornings; and because I’m not as well adapted to winter dryness as the plant is, seeing it also reminds me to turn on the aromatherapy diffuser on my desk, which improves dry sinuses by adding both humidity and helpful essential oils.

And, looking at it from a broader perspective, the plant has me subconsciously feeling more in control of my environment because I put it there, which in turn should improve my perception of how capable I am of making other positive changes. It’s all good!

One advantage of getting older is that every passing year comes with more perspective. The list of entries grows longer in what I call the Portfolio of Past Problems. Just like we keep track of our job accomplishments by writing resumes to show employers how proficient we are in our jobs, solving problems in our personal lives also gives us valuable experience and makes us more capable. Rather than feeling gloomy because not everything came out perfect on the first try, we should give ourselves credit for work well done!

No matter how troubling a particular situation may be, the chances are good that when looking back on it many years later, it’s probably just going to be another one of the many things that worked out all right.

Word-art that says "Problems are like washing machines. They twist us, spin us and knock us around. But in the end we come out cleaner, brighter and better than before."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

My daughter and her husband came to visit for a friend’s gender reveal party. The friend has two daughters and was kind of hoping for a boy. As the designated revealer, my daughter picked up the ultrasound photo from the doctor’s office and was the only one to know until the party a few hours later (which was at a pizza restaurant yesterday).

Although I’d heard of such parties, I had no idea how they went, so it was fun to watch. My daughter decorated a clipboard with cute drawings, and everyone voted on it with tally marks for “girl” or “boy.” Then the reveal was done by putting a little toy duck into a bowl of water; it had a chemical that made the water change color. The ducks are sold online in packs of two, with a “boy” duck that turns the water blue and a “girl” duck that turns it pink. The revealer brings the appropriate one to the party after taking off the identifying sticker.

The water turned pink, so there will be a third girl, much to the delight of her sisters. My mother-in-law came to the party too; she adores the little girls. We had a good time, except for getting sideswiped by a careless driver on the way to the restaurant, which left my husband with the unwanted chore of buffing the scraped fender and applying touch-up paint. Could have been worse, though.

This morning my daughter, her husband, and their dogs packed up and left, and the house seemed very quiet again. After an unseasonably warm day, it had gotten much colder overnight, with snow flurries and howling winds. I put this image of a lonely canyon on my digital art display.

Dry, lonely canyon under an orange sunset.

Even though it’s not a real window, changing the landscape to match the feeling of a particular day seems to improve my mood by making clear how quickly everything changes. Just like the image on the display, a lonely house and the winter blues won’t stay too long.

I did some after-Christmas shopping and got a new electric skillet yesterday, with nonstick ceramic coating. It replaced a worn-out skillet that wasn’t keeping food from sticking anymore. Last night I cooked hamburgers to try out the new skillet, and it worked very well and was easy to clean up afterward.

Electric skillet on kitchen counter with refrigerator in background.

I had been meaning to replace the old one for months, but did not get around to doing it earlier because I was busy. Of course, putting off the errand didn’t save me any time, and in fact caused me to waste time scrubbing the old skillet. Even though we may think we’re too busy for simple things that make life more comfortable, there is really no good reason to neglect ourselves like that. It’s just a bad habit.

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Although I had a self-improvement resolution in mind before the holidays, it wasn’t until yesterday that I found one word of intention to sum it up. My plan for 2019 is to keep a Kindness Journal in which I write at least five kind things that people have done for me each day. This is a variation on the familiar gratitude journal, but with a specific focus on seeing the world as a kinder place.

Our culture gives us so many negative messages about random cruelty and never-ending strife, it’s not always easy to notice the small, everyday acts of kindness all around us. Just one rude or grumpy person can put us in a bad mood, even if we’ve heard nothing else but pleasant conversation the entire day. When we’ve been told many times that the world is a cruel and unsafe place, we subconsciously give more weight to events that fit the expected narrative.

This works both ways, of course—when we expect kindness, we’re likely to find more of it and to feel safer in the world. So, by keeping a Kindness Journal in 2019, I plan to shift my mindset toward seeing other people as generally kind and helpful, which should in turn reduce subconscious fears of being randomly targeted for something nasty. Those fears don’t have much basis in present-day reality, but just saying so isn’t enough to banish them. Instead, a different and healthier story needs to take root in their place.

While I could explain all that in three paragraphs, trying to condense it down to one word of intention for the New Year was more of a challenge. “Kindness” didn’t seem accurate because the focus is on being more aware of others’ kindness, rather than on being kinder myself. “Awareness” was much too general. I couldn’t find anything that felt right, and Christmas came and went without further inspiration.

Then, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I woke up with one word in my thoughts: “Sublime.”

In the original Latin, this is a compound word that literally means under the limit, or under a boundary or threshold. Figuratively, the word means “as good as it gets.” Modern-day English has two distinct forms of the word. One is an adjective that means excellent or awe-inspiring. The other, a verb, is a chemistry term that describes a phase-transition process in which a solid substance transforms into a vapor without first becoming a liquid.

Sublimation occurs, for example, when the polar ice caps on Mars get above the freezing point. There isn’t enough atmospheric pressure on Mars to keep water in its liquid state, so it changes (sublimes) from ice to vapor. Even right here on Earth, unusual weather conditions can sometimes cause snow to evaporate directly into fog without first melting.

Fog rising over snow and trees.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Also, there are some related terms in psychology, like “subliminal,” referring to subconscious mental processes and effects. The primary meaning that I have in mind for my 2019 word of intention is closer to the chemistry term, though. I want to create a low-pressure environment in which my old fears evaporate and blow away on the wind—directly, without first melting into muddy, icky puddles of stagnant emotion.

And then, maybe—after the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, bright and clear in a deep blue winter sky—I’ll look around and discover an internal landscape that is excellent and awe-inspiring.

Friday morning was unusually warm for midwinter, so my husband and I went rowing in our double scull. We had the boathouse and the river all to ourselves. When the sun came out, it felt like a pleasant early spring day. Although we weren’t rowing fast, my hands got a little blistered because my calluses go away quickly when the rowing season ends. My husband, who has tougher hands, was fine.

The blisters didn’t really bother me because we had such a good time getting outdoors in the lovely weather. Of course, it did not last long. Soon after we returned home, the temperature started to drop, and by evening we were back to ordinary winter weather.

I spent the afternoon playing a computer game with my husband and then re-reading The Princess Bride on my Kindle. Nothing came to mind that had to be done. That left me with an odd feeling, as if the mainspring on some kind of mental machinery had gotten close to winding down, like a mechanical toy or music box with a winding key. This wasn’t the same as my lack of energy before Christmas vacation—I had gotten plenty of sleep all week, and rowing had not left me physically tired.

Wind-up toy with a large key at the top.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Rather than spend any time pondering this oddity, I decided that whatever tasks might need to be done could wait a day or two. Surely I would think of them in the morning. In the meanwhile, this seemed like a good night to stay in and watch one of the movies that my husband had just bought. I went to bed afterward and slept well.

When I woke up, there was no doubt something had changed. In the mental space where the imaginary wind-up machinery had been, there was only silence. After a minute or two, I realized what had happened—my internal to-do generator had shut down. You know, the one that switches itself on sometime in the teenage years, or perhaps even sooner, and chugs along continuously forever.

How could this be? I’d had vacations for a week or two before—plenty of them, in fact—but the to-do list never had spontaneously evaporated like this. Was it even possible for a modern-day adult to function without having a long list of tasks automatically load itself into the brain at boot-up?

Most likely, it would come back sometime later in the morning, I decided. Kind of like a brief power outage. No reason to worry. So I got my breakfast and opened my Kindle to the page where I’d left off yesterday. There was certainly nothing wrong with a nice relaxing morning while on vacation.

Afternoon came and I still didn’t have anything in mind to do. That was when I began seriously wondering what the heck was going on. Maybe I was coming down with some strange new disease. I hadn’t noticed any changes in my health this week, though, so I didn’t rate that as likely. As far as I could tell, I was generally healthy—about the same as always, but for the mysterious disappearance of the to-do list.

Meanwhile, my husband was sitting at the computer writing programs, which he likes to do when he’s on vacation to keep his skills sharp. Ordinarily when he does this, I’ll spend some time writing stories and blog posts, or maybe work on some other creative project. When that thought came to mind, it left me worrying—what if the disappearing to-do list might be a variation on the dreaded Writer’s Block? What if all my creative energy had drained away, too?

That, at least, could be tested. I got a notepad and pen, sat down on the couch, and started writing the first draft of this blog entry. I didn’t have any problems getting my thoughts organized on the page, which was a relief. Once I took a break when I wasn’t sure how to end a sentence, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. Apparently, my brain is still functioning much the same as before, except that the day is almost over and I still haven’t seen hide nor hair of the vanishing to-dos. Maybe they decided to take a vacation too.

I’ve been getting more rest while on vacation this week, and because of that I’m feeling more relaxed. Tuesday night my Fitbit said that I slept for 10 straight hours. That wasn’t quite accurate, as I remember waking up a few times. Once I dreamed of wandering around in a hotel with confusing passages, where I wasn’t sure if I could find the way back to my room. Apparently I didn’t move enough when I woke up for the device to register it, though, and I must have fallen back to sleep soon.

This morning my husband was sound asleep for a long time. Usually he gets up pretty early. After a while, I thought I’d better check and make sure he was still breathing, although he is healthy and there was no cause for concern. He was fine, of course—just needed a little more rest, the same as I did.

The holidays won’t last forever, and we’ll get back to busy days soon enough. That is not a problem in itself—everyone needs both rest and adventure. What’s important is to find a good balance between them.

Word-art that says "Every morning you have two choices: continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

December 26, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

This year we had Christmas dinner at our house, for the first time. My husband’s parents always hosted it before now. Although everyone liked their home-cooked meals, this year our daughter offered to do the cooking to give them a break. (She actually bought the macaroni and cheese from Sam’s Club and the green beans and pie from Bob Evans, but it was all pretty good and I didn’t have to cook, so I’m not complaining.)

One advantage of having everyone come here was more space. Because my in-laws couldn’t fit all the Christmas dinner guests in the same room, one group would sit in the dining room, while the others sat around the kitchen table. Our son always got relegated to the living room recliner with his dinner on a TV tray. He didn’t object to that, but obviously it was not the ideal situation.

Our house has more space because the great room always was left empty, with the exception of a rocking chair in the corner (as shown in this post), which we relocate every year when we set up the Christmas tree. Truth be told, our first few years in this house, we simply couldn’t figure out a good way to furnish the room. Then we decided it made a good place for parties and get-togethers as it was, bare and minimalist—with plenty of room to set up temporary tables.

For Christmas dinner we set up the folding tables in an L-shape around the tree, and our daughter cheerfully decorated them with holiday tablecloths and placemats from the dollar store. The photo below was taken while she was still experimenting—the tablecloths ended up being in a different arrangement.

Tables pushed together, with holiday tablecloths, around the Christmas tree.

The chairs were totally mismatched because they came from the dining room set, the kitchen table set, other random chairs that we had around the house, and one that we borrowed for the occasion. Everyone had a comfortable place, though, and that was the main point.

After all the plates had been cleared away, we could easily open the gifts while still gathered at the table around the tree. My husband got me one present that was too big and heavy to lift up to the table, so it had to be opened on the floor. (I’ll post a photo of it another time.)

Overall, the holiday dinner went well, and it was very good to see our daughter’s thoughtfulness in offering to make Christmas easier for her grandparents. We are proud of how well she has grown up!

One of my husband’s relatives, if asked what he wants for Christmas, will generally answer by saying “I have everything I need.” Other family members often find that answer a bit annoying, as if he is being a Grinch or a party pooper by not getting into the Christmas-gift spirit of frivolous wants. What do you get for a guy who doesn’t seem to want anything? Another ugly holiday sweater?

I do have to give him some credit, though, for keeping a positive focus. In that regard, I’ve reposted the word-art below (with permission) from an article on money quotes and affirmations, which can be helpful at this time of year when we’re all likely to spend more than usual.

Word-art that says "If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough." -Vicki Robin

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I’ve had a tiring week because of the upcoming holidays, overtime work, and catching a cold, all of which have left me feeling very low on energy. As a result, I haven’t felt much inclined toward blogging. Rather than skip Nurturing Thursday, though, I’m posting this little cartoon I came across recently. As with all things, this too shall pass…

Cat picture that says "One day things will get better. Until then here is a drawing of a cat."

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.