Though my Dad has been gone from this world for more than twenty years, his presence in my life is still strongly felt.
A sharp, unexpected rebuke evokes my Dad’s presence. And still, even with all my age and experience, tears spring to my eyes. I am embarrassed, and whoever made the remark is surprised at my extreme response. “It’s not you,” I want to explain, “and it’s not really me.” It’s actually more like ten-year-old me, when Dad’s mood turned without warning.
When I hear a child’s giggle, that almost-hysterical, crazy laugh that comes with extreme glee, I think of my Dad. He was a teaser and a tickler. He’d bounce a child on his knee, or toss them over his shoulder “like a sack of potatoes,” or hold them upside-down to “shake the dickens” out of them, because he loved to hear that reaction.
Dad comes to me with the smells of freshly-cut grass, or newly-turned earth. Sometimes I catch the scent of wood smoke, sweat and beer, and I feel Dad must be close. When I work in the garden I feel him at my side, ready with advice and an approving nod. When I’m struggling with a big project, I think of Dad, patiently working away at major undertakings in the meager hours available around his outside job.
My memories of Dad are strong, and good. His presence in my life is more, though, than just what I recall. His influence is a constant in my life, in hundreds of little ways. It’s always a comfort to feel him nearby. Today is my Dad’s birthday. Though he’s not here to celebrate, he’s definitely on my mind.
Yesterday morning, I got caught up in the news, and let time get away from me. By the time I headed out the door for my morning walk with the dogs, I had to hurry, or I would be late for work. I put on the eighteen minute “walk-to-run” program, and allowed not a single distraction. No time to admire the sun shining through the autumn colors; no time for photographs. The dogs got their morning exercise with hardly a rest, and we were all a little breathless by the time got back home.
I made up for it in the afternoon. I put a big handful of kibble in one pocket, to use as praise and encouragement for the dogs along the way. I slid my camera into the other pocket, to capture some of the beautiful foliage. We set out to enjoy a mild and glorious fall day. This time, I let the dogs set the pace. I chose the route.
We started off down Cotter’s Trail, then turned onto the grassy path that winds through woods and open fields. We followed it until we came to the back of the Murray’s big yard, then along the border of their property to the wood-chip covered two-track that curves through the trees. Wet from last night’s rain, it took a little navigating to keep my shoes dry. That path took us to Hoopfer’s camp.
When the guys are there, as they were last week, sitting around the fire pit having refreshments, the dogs enjoy making friends. When it’s not being used, the dogs simply enjoy the big, clear yard. They break into a run, and circle every structure, tree and stone before following me up the driveway.
At the end of the driveway, we are once again on Cotter’s Trail. If I turn to the left, I’m headed back home. Instead, we turned to the right, and followed the trail to its end, where a cluster of newer sheds and outbuildings share the clearing with the little cabin that originally belonged to Cotter.
Finally, we got back on the trail and took it back to the Fox Lake Road, and home. The colors are at their peak, or nearly so; the sunshine added both brilliance and warmth. It was a perfect day for a long walk.
Yesterday, I told about a hectic morning when a ringing telephone set off a series of events that culminated in a big mess. Turning toward the phone, I knocked a cup off the counter. It broke when it hit the floor, which had just been given a coat of paint. Hot coffee, fresh paint, shards of glass and three curious dogs already antsy for their walk combined to create havoc!
While all of this was going on, I was on the telephone. As I covered the hot coffee and broken pieces with a towel and shooed the dogs off the fresh paint, I had the phone wedged between shoulder and ear. As I dragged a broom through the gooey mess, and watched the dogs make patterns of dog prints across the surfaces of three area rugs, I was murmuring responses into the receiver. There were reasons for that.
On the other end of the line was my daughter, Kate. Any call, from either of my daughters, is a special treat. My heart leaps with joy when I pick up the phone and hear their voice. They are busy, and our schedules don’t always mesh; it can be difficult to touch base. Time between actual visits is vast. Even the space from one telephone conversation to the next is too long. Kate is working in New England this fall; I feel the distance. A chance to speak to her is always welcome, no matter what.
My daughter was dealing with a series of maddening circumstances, and wanted to voice her frustration. Of course, I was happy to listen. Because I care, and also because Kate has done the same for me. When I want to complain, Kate is one of my favorite people to talk to.
We all have grievances, big and small. I am a fairly positive person, but sometimes it’s nice to just be able to vent. I live alone, so often let things build up; it helps to sometimes give voice to minor aggravations. I’ve learned, over the years, to pick my audience carefully.
When I complained to my husband about a boss, co-worker, friend, family member, or even just a rude stranger, his response was immediate and always over-the-top. There was never an understanding nod. Instead, he was prepared to go track the culprit down and give them “a good talking to,” or, worst-case scenario, “beat the hell out of them.” Before I even had time to get my frustrations voiced, I was forced into the position of defending whomever I was mad at, and talking him down from his anger.
My sister, Brenda, is a wonderful, sympathetic listener. Still, her ability to put a positive spin on every single thing can be frustrating. I once called her, sobbing, about a painful break-up. “Aren’t you glad that happened?” was her response, “You’re going to be better for it.” She was right, of course, but I wasn’t ready to hear it.
At times like that, I should call my friend, Chris. She is always willing to commiserate with me in the very depths of my misery. If I’m trying, though, to work my way out of despair, rather than just wallow in it, Chris is not the right call.
There are people who, when they hear about an issue, want to fix it. Others want to explain how I brought it on myself. When I just want to gripe, neither reasons or solutions fit the bill, no matter how helpful. When I’m frustrated, I want empathy and understanding. I want an “oh, that sounds awful” or “I’m sorry you’re going through that” or “boy, that really sucks!” I’m fortunate to have a few people who give me exactly that. Kate is one of them.
So, when I hear my daughter’s voice on the telephone, at any time of day, no matter what’s going on at my end, I am happy to listen. Even when she is sad, angry or frustrated, and even when I’m dealing with wet paint, broken glass, hot coffee and dogs, talking to Kate always brightens my day.
I am a master planner. I am great at thinking of big projects that I want to get done. I’m not so good at the “follow-through.” Plotting things out in my mind or on paper is one thing; getting started is quite another. I’m also a master procrastinator.
Let me make a little aside here. I recently heard a motivational speaker say, “Procrastination is not a real thing!” What?!? I beg to differ! I’ve been a procrastinator since long before I knew the word for it! It is wrapped up in anxiety, fear of failure, perfectionism and probably (Mom was right) a bit of laziness. It’s not something I’m happy with, and I’m not proud of having that personality characteristic, but it is certainly a real thing!
Once I – finally – get a project started, I am also very easily stalled. A year ago, I started the very ambitious undertaking of painting the floor. I was fixing the dryer at the same time, so there were a few delays in waiting for parts, materials and courage. Eventually, though, I painted the bathroom floor, pulled out the dryer, made the repair, primed and painted the floor where the dryer would sit, pushed it back into place and hooked up the new dryer vent. Hurrah!
The logical next step would be to pull out the washing machine, prime and paint the spot where it sits, put it back in place, then continue on with the laundry room floor, the entryway, the kitchen, and on through the rest of the house. I was stopped at the washer. I couldn’t figure out how to disconnect the hoses. Now that the dryer was hooked up to the new venting system, there wasn’t a bit of room for zig-zagging the washing machine out of its spot. It had to be pulled straight forward, and I couldn’t do it.
Stalled! I allowed that problem to put the entire job on hold, for a whole year. Finally, in a moment of clarity, I thought, “why not just paint around the washer? I could always paint under it at a later time, if and when circumstances change so that I can manage to get it out of its spot.
So, back to my original plan, I’ve been working my way through the house. It takes a little planning, because 1) I live here, 2) most of the house is basically a hallway, with the bathroom at the far end of it and 3) I am of an age where I need to have access to the bathroom at all times. The primer goes on first, and has to cure for twelve hours. That’s followed by two coats of dark gray floor enamel.
I worked my way through the laundry room and entryway. I painted a strip along the row of kitchen cupboards. I pulled out the freezer, and did the spot where it sat. I painted a wide swath against the stairway wall. That left one long pathway right down the middle of the kitchen yet to be painted. I primed it in the evening, putting chairs at either end to remind me where to walk. The next morning, I got up early and put the first coat of paint on it.
Very proud of my progress, I carefully guided the dogs to the back door for our morning walk. Then the telephone rang. When I turned, my elbow hit my coffee cup, and knocked it to the floor. To the freshly painted floor. Where it broke into a dozen pieces, and splattered hot coffee into the paint. At which time, the dogs decided it looked interesting, and rushed through the broken glass and wet paint, to lap up the hot coffee.
I dropped a bath towel onto the mess, wanting to get the coffee sopped up so that I could sweep up the shards of my favorite mug. As I shooed the dogs away, they tracked wet paint through the house, leaving white paw prints where they had stepped in the paint, and depositing dark gray prints all over three good rugs. Meanwhile, I ruined a bath towel, caked the broom with wet paint, and lost all of my momentum.
Stalled, once again. That day, after cleaning up, I still had to walk the dogs and go to work. I just shook my head at it when I got back home. The day after that, the same. The next day, I put the rugs through the wash. This morning, I put one coat of paint over the mess. Maybe, just maybe, I may have the stamina to get back to my project!
I am a walker. That’s one of the things I would always consider a part of my identity, right up there with “I am a mother,” and “I am an artist.”
As a child, I walked through the fields behind our home. I walked to the store, and to various babysitting jobs in the neighborhood. My school days were punctuated by walks to the bus stop, the library and the park.
That didn’t change when I became an adult. As a young mother, I’d load my babies into the stroller and take long walks with them. As a college student, just getting around campus involved covering quite a distance on foot. Of course, as a waitress, walking several miles per day is incorporated right into the job. Currently, my job at the hardware involves lots of walking, too.
Beyond that, walking has been my chosen form of aerobic exercise for much of my life. I’ve tried other things, without much success. I’ve never been much of a runner. I’m not good at following the choreography of even the very simplest aerobic videos, and find those workouts too confusing (and exhausting!) to be fun. I could bicycle, but not in the winter, and not with three dogs. I can always walk, though.
Having said that, I’ll tell you it’s pretty amazing how quickly an ingrained habit can disappear with neglect, and how quickly an ability can falter. It was never just one thing that caused me to waiver in my daily practice, but a combination of circumstances combined with a lackadaisical attitude. An arthritic older dog, a hard day at work, a bum knee, mosquitoes, rain, wind, ice, snow, lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of ambition…if I wanted an excuse, I could always find one. Before I knew it, my lifelong daily habit was reduced to a sporadic whim.
That had to change, but change is not easy. Newton’s law states that “an object in motion remains in motion,” and (most pertinent to my life, and this discussion) “an object at rest remains at rest, unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.” I had become that “object at rest.” It became more and more difficult to compel myself to get out the door for a walk. I was frustrated and constantly disappointed in myself.
In my life. the “external force” that compelled me to action was Blackie Chan. This sweet eight-year-old chihuahua joined my household last spring. He has lots of energy to burn and a need for a routine. Regular walks were the answer. The little dog learned the pattern right away.
By the time I finish my second cup of coffee in the morning, Blackie Chan is quivering with anticipation, anxious to get moving. When I get home from work, he’s waiting at the door, ready to go. My big dog, Darla, has always been happy to come along. At first, the second chihuahua, Rosa Parks, with sore joints and a love of leisure, had to be coaxed to participate. Now, she loves the walk, too.
When we started, a quarter mile down the road to the real estate sign and back seemed like a lot. I kept it up, though, morning and evening, and that quarter of a mile expanded, as my stamina improved and time allowed. I continued to walk every day, twice a day.
Now, we go at least one mile each time, usually two. When I have a day off with no time constraints, we go further, and sometimes add a midday walk as well. In addition, I’ve been incorporating some other benefits into my time. I’ve added speed walking and jogging intervals into my walk at least once a day. Sometimes, when I walk on the trails rather than the road, I practice walking meditation and breathing exercises. Often, my walk is timed by the length of a chapter in an ongoing Audible book.
Once the habit is in place, things that seemed like impossible obstacles are proven to be manageable. When the mosquitoes were out, my walking gear included head-to-toe mosquito netting. If it’s cold, I add an extra layer. When it rains, I wear a plastic poncho. If I come home absolutely exhausted from work, I focus on the enthusiasm of the three dogs, and just continue to put one foot in front of the other.
No matter what my temperament is when I start out, I feel better after I’ve gotten a walk in. If I’m tired, the walk usually restores my energy. The foulest moods are improved by moving myself along, out in the fresh air. At the very least, I feel good having done well by my four-legged friends, and a sense of accomplishment for following through. Once again, I can truthfully and confidently state, I am a walker.
There are nights, though rare, when I turn out the light and fall fast asleep right away. Too often, it goes another way. I read in bed until I can barely keep my eyes open or hold my head up. I take off my glasses, turn off the light, arrange covers and pillow, and settle in. Then a million thoughts come wandering through my brain, Keeping me company. Keeping me awake.
I try relaxation techniques to calm my mind and my body, to allow me to drift off to sleep. I use methods that are helpful in meditation: notice the thought, and let it pass on. Breathe. Think only of the breath. I lay still,, reminding myself how tired I am, willing myself to fall asleep.
I rearrange my position. I start to analyze the bothersome thoughts in detail, supposing that a closer examination might rob them of their power. I review each worry, every idea, all concerns. Some, I am able to discard as nonsensical. Others, I try to work out solutions, or at least a direction to pursue. Time marches on. Still, sleep doesn’t come.
Then, restlessness sets in. How long have I been laying here, anyway, wide awake? I shift my position, rearrange my pillow, stretch out my legs. I give one dog or another a good rub down. I turn the lamp back on. According to the little clock, I have been lying in bed, wide awake, for three hours. I allow myself to read for a bit.
When I turn the light off again, I am sure I’ll be able to drop off to sleep…but no. Now, along with all of the other cares that are disturbing my rest, there is one more problem. Now, if I don’t fall asleep right away, INSTANTLY, I will be exhausted tomorrow. That added pressure does not help.
I start reviewing possible scenarios. If I get up, use this awake time to do something useful, I will probably be ready to collapse at just about the time the alarm goes off. If I just lay in bed, not sleeping, I will be just as miserable at work tomorrow. Maybe if I got up and had a bowl of cereal. If only I had cereal in the house. Maybe oatmeal.
Finally, I get out of bed. It is raining outside. The house is chilly. I put my robe on over my pajamas. Each of the dogs goes out and comes back in. I make myself a cup of “Sleepy Time” tea. I am sipping it as I sit here at the computer. Rosa Parks is resting in my lap. I don’t know if I should count this sorry bit of writing as accomplishing “something useful,” but at least I have gotten to the point where I think I might be able to sleep. I’m going back to bed!
Tuesday announces itself to me with a sense of urgency, from the moment I wake up in the morning. It comes with a nervous feeling that shows itself in various ways. I may notice a rapidly pounding heart or an upset stomach. Sometimes it’s a severe headache. Often, it’s a combination of many things. At the same time, my brain is working overtime, compiling lists and sorting through possibilities.
Tuesday is the end of my “weekend.” Tomorrow, I go back to work. It’s not the job that causes the stress, but all of the things I wanted to accomplish on my days off. Tuesday is the day of reckoning.
Tuesday is the day I chastise myself for the things I didn’t get done on Monday. No matter how much I believed, on Monday, that I deserved a “lazy day” to catch up on sleep, Netflix, and social media, by Tuesday, I regret it. Why, for heaven’s sake, did I feel justified in taking the dogs for three long walks? And whatever made me think it was okay to just sit and read?? What insanity made me believe I could put everything off until Tuesday??
I do the same thing every week. No matter how much I get done on Monday, it seems insignificant by the time I wake up on Tuesday. Whether my accomplishments are many or few, Tuesday always has an impossibly long list.
This week on Monday, I stripped the bed, washed the sheets and comforters, and finished the rest of the laundry. I swept the floors. I balanced my checking account, and paid bills. Outside, I pulled up the squash and bean plants, and hauled the vines to the woods. I stacked the tomato cages. I worked on weeding in the garden and in the flower beds. I picked up windfall under the maple trees.
Tuesday, what torments me are all the things I did NOT do on Monday. Along with big indoor projects (like painting and putting up baseboards), there are still plenty of large outside jobs to finish. The lawn needs to be mowed once more, before the end of the season; the garden needs a lot more work to put it to bed for the winter. There are rose bushes and berry bushes to prune. Beyond that, there are studio projects to give my attention to.
When I’m working, I look forward to Monday, and protect it like the Holy Grail. If I have to schedule something away from home, or go to town for any reason, Tuesday is the day I choose. That’s why, today, with my long list of things to do at home, I also had to go to town for a meeting at the school, and a trip to the post office. I passed on the transfer station, the grocery store and the gas station; I’ll find time on a work day to take care of those things.
Tuesday is the day to think about what I’ll pack for work lunches for the next several days. It’s a day to get more exercise in than I can manage around my work days. It’s my last chance to get the house, car and yard in whatever condition I can live with for the next week. It’s a good day to spend in the studio, if I’m ever caught up enough to allow myself that. It’s the day I try to write this blog. It’s all too much!
So, Tuesday also becomes a day of bargaining, trade-offs and multi-tasking. Right now, waiting by the back door, I have a box of donations waiting to be loaded into the car, a small bag of papers to be burned in the fire pit, and the annual tags that should have been put on my car in August. Toilet bowl cleaner is doing its job. Two bottles of spray cleaner and a couple rags sit on the table for when I’m ready to clean the windows, cabinet fronts and other surfaces. As I write this, I have homemade soup simmering on the stove for weekday lunches. It must be Tuesday!
Today, the sixth of October, is a lovely day, sunny and warm. I added just a light jacket to head outside with the dogs this morning, and had even shed that before our walk was done. At the hardware store, we kept the door wide open to welcome customers. There will be few enough days left in this year when that is possible. Home, I considered opening windows to let in the fresh air and warm wind that is playing through the trees outside.
Yesterday was a different story. My house was down-right cold when I got out of bed. The thermometer read 47 degrees fahrenheit. The humidity was at 80%. A strong, cold wind was pouring in through the kitchen windows.
They are not good windows. They were old, used, and headed for the dump when I acquired them, and they’ve now been in my kitchen for at least twenty-five years. Single-pane sliders, drafty at every joint, and almost impossible to slide in their tracks, I often wonder if the view they offer is worth the trouble of opening and closing them.
That task involves climbing onto the counter top, or standing, hunched over, in the sink for leverage. I need at least a mallet and a screwdriver. If dampness has caused the wood frames to swell, a crowbar is sometimes helpful.
I usually open them only once each year, when I am absolutely sure summer weather is here to stay. I hold off on closing them until fall has made a definite entrance. Yesterday, I decided, was the day. Closing the windows alone was not going to fix the cold coming in, though.
Last summer, more than a year ago, in an overly forceful effort to kill a mosquito that had landed there, I broke one of the window panes with my bare hand. Last winter, unwilling to pay the exorbitant sum I’d been quoted to replace the window, I covered the opening with plexiglas, bubble wrap and duct tape. It was an ugly repair job, but it kept most of the drafts out.
I was determined, before another winter came around, to buy the replacement window myself. I’d looked on-line at building supply stores, and knew I could purchase a serviceable double-paned window for a quarter of the price I’d been quoted. I felt sure I could find someone to install it for a more reasonable price, too.
As it happened, though I’ve left the island several times over the course of the last year, I never got to a building supply store. Though I carried the dimensions around with me, I never got the opportunity to buy the window. Was there still time? Maybe. Maybe not. How many mornings did I want to wake up to a cold house? How long did I want to wait before turning on the furnace?
I decided to, once again, patch the window opening. I spent a little more time getting it right, this year. I covered the plexiglas panel with over-lapping layers of bubble wrap, wrapped around so that both sides were covered. I used clear duct tape to cover every seam, and to frame the outside edges of the panel. I fit it into the window, and taped it into place. I cut strips of styrofoam to fill the gap between the top of the panel and the window frame, and I taped that in place, too.
It’s not attractive, but it’s probably the most air-tight window in this whole house. Finally, I draped a lace curtain over the curtain rod to cover all the ugliness. I still have lots to accomplish before winter, but I feel ready, now, to head into fall!
Starting today, October 1st, I’m participating in “The Last 90 Days Challenge.” It’s one more self-improvement strategy cooked up by Rachel Hollis and her company. With best-selling books, wildly popular seminars, blogs and social media, her topics range from building a business to fitness to decorating napkins for a child’s lunch box. I’ve aged beyond the need for much of her advice, but I’m always drawn in by self-improvement.
The purpose of the “last 90 days” is to prepare to start the new year strong. Rather than ending the year on the downside of all the neglected plans and ignored resolutions that were made last January, this is a way to finish with a bang!
The plan has five basic requirements:
Hydrate! This one is hard for me, as I’m not much of a water-drinker, but it’s an area that I know I have to improve. Many days I only drink the water I need to take my pills and vitamins! This will be a good time to make an extra effort. They recommend drinking half your body-weight in ounces of water. My personal goal is to increase my intake, and keep track of it.
Wake up earlier. One extra hour in the morning, to read, exercise, write or meditate. It’s a good idea; it will be a big challenge.
Give up one category of food or drink. I’m doing this in 30-day increments because, you know, Thanksgiving and all. For October, it’s alcohol and candy. There are things that are bigger indulgences, and would do me more good to abstain from, but too bad, I’m starting this way.
Move your body at least thirty minutes a day, every day. That’s easy. I have dogs, and already have the habit of walking them morning and night. At least one of those walks is a combination of speed walking and intermittent jogging. I have a job that often requires quite a bit of physical activity, too. I’m going to try to be more regular about other exercise, especially strength training, for the rest of this year.
Practice active gratitude. They suggest writing ten things, each day, that you are thankful for. This is also something that I’ve been working to incorporate into my life. Time, now, to be more disciplined about it.
That’s it! In addition, I plan to keep up with my “Morning Pages” every day, and blog posts twice a week. I intend to get my studio organized so that it’s a pleasant place to work again. I have one window to repair before the cold weather sets in, and a couple house painting projects. Outside, the garden has to be readied for winter, and the lawn will need one last mowing. I could make a longer list of things I want to get done, but it would probably lead to disappointment and failure. At this stage, I prefer to keep my expectations in check, and plan for good results from my effort!