Britain started vaccinating yesterday.
The NYT Daily calls it the “beginning of the end”.
What does that mean for us? So many seem to think we’ll be going back to normal soon. I’m not sure I even remember what “normal” looked like. I cringe when I see photos from the beginning of the year. We used to hug each other? We crowded into restaurants full of strangers with other people cooking our food? What did we expect would happen?
How will we know if someone else took the vaccine? I don’t trust my fellow Americans anymore. A plague of hate and fear stalks and divides even life long friends. I don’t want to catch it. The virus can be survived, but the plague of emotional wretchedness has no vaccination or cure. And, even if there was, most would rather die than take it. I sit here comfortably from my quarantine gazing at the lights of my lovely Christmas tree. Where do I go from here?
Today begins with no alarm. I have no place to go. No workplace beckons me. I lay for awhile and ask myself how I’m feeling today. “Content” she says. What do you need? I ask as I do a body scan to determine today’s baseline. “I want my coffee,” I say back to myself. I stir beneath the blankets. My cats start meowing for food. My dog, who seems depressed and tired of this situation or her life, just lays there for awhile. I pet her head, and I get up. My right ankle feels creaky supporting my weight. I move it around tenderly and grab my robe. I’ll get dressed when I feel like it.
Ashok stands in the yard alert. She stalks and eventually scares a rabbit grazing in the yard. I step out to look at the moon and stars. We both climb the back stairs into the kitchen. With the excitement of a meal, my pets are energized. They run and cry. I fix their bowls, give them some clean water and give Ashok her meds and vitamins. Wanting distraction, I play the Daily podcast while I prepare my pour-over coffee. I accidentally boil my oat milk and listen with interest to the comments of the British about the vaccine. Some are excited. Some health care workers weep with relief. Others don’t trust it. Vow they won’t take it. Most feel duty-bound to end this thing.
My coffee mug warms my hands as I peruse the New York Times’ year in pictures. With each photo I remember where I was during that time. I remember the fear of February when I realized that Covid-19 would end up here. The abrupt closure of my workplace in March sent me home. The boredom of working on Zoom and my aching back fueled the relief I felt after opening the email offer to retire with a generous package. How quickly my life became formless and restful, a blank slate for me to design my new “normal”.
Yesterday’s big event was the making of a Christmas Stollen. It was a long meandering process that required two trips to the store for forgotten ingredients. I had a beautiful holiday dessert after dinner and now have a couple of gifts to deliver today. Everyday I get an hour of exercise. I meditate. I call at least a couple of people to stay connected. I walk my dog. I do some kind of work on a career search or to jumpstart my writing. I cook and eat my meals at home. I drink lots of lovely teas and enjoy hot chocolate and coffee. I take naps with abandon. I go hiking. It is all very soothing.
Today I will deliver the stollen to friends. I’ll spend some time in my online writing class. I’ll peruse LinkedIn or some other site for jobs or networking opportunities. I’ll take a networking call with a Memphis woman that I met on LinkedIn. My coach is hosting a virtual retreat this afternoon, and I have a conference call with several retired friends tonight. At some point I will run or take a hike with my dog. Nothing is required. Everything is encouraged.
The beginning of the end…. I believe it’s the beginning of a new beginning. Our hope for things to be “normal” is probably a mirage. We will have a “normal” but it won’t be what we remember. It will be new. Some things will be a welcome change. Losses will be permanent. Other things will come back as they were but people may no longer be interested. As we look back on 2020 in the next decade, I don’t think we’ll see a stop/start kind of trajectory. We’ll see an evolution to a new way of living that is both good and bad, painful and celebratory – just like the normal we had before the plague.
After posting my blog yesterday, a couple of my readers commented about my judging my messy process in a negative light. As I read their comments, I had a defensive reaction because I actually didn’t think of it that way at all. They do have a point. Messiness in general is considered dirty or not in good order. So, I dug a little deeper into my feelings over this word. And, to be frank, I’ve had reactions to this word most of my life. (So thanks to my readers for pushing me on this!)
This summer a friend of mine was talking about a friend’s two daughters. One was “very successful” and the other one was “a bit of a mess”. She was standing outside her tent, and I remember reacting really strongly about why someone being “a bit of a mess” was not successful. In fact, I might argue that the one that is a “bit of a mess” is authentic and real without judging themselves harshly or trying to shoehorn themselves into some definition of success that might not work for them. I didn’t say anything, but I’m pretty sure it bothered me for hours. I’m not sure who I was trying to convince, but I did not think being a “bit of a mess” was a bad thing.
I’ve never been tidy. I clean up my house and my car but it’s never on a regular timetable and often happens right before someone else is coming for a visit or going for a ride. There’s a part of me that knows I will be judged by others, but the motivation to keep a neat house does not emanate from inside me. It’s something on that list of things I should do. I hate that list.
I felt so relieved in my late 30s when I discovered that my personality type has a “messy” process in work. There was no judgment in the words. In fact, what I read made it seem perfectly normal to have a messy process. The profile also gave me tips to manage through the messiness and help others understand how I work. I became very open with my team that my process was messy and owning it. When I became a manager, I had to be very clear that I was still exploring options or I’d end up with a group of people working toward a goal that I hadn’t quite set yet.
Creativity is messy. Where I end up is never really where I thought I’d be, and it often takes several iterations before I am satisfied. The outcome is often better than my initial vision, so the journey is worth it. Life is very much like that. I know where I wanted to end up, but life had a way of changing the course. I still ended up happy with my situation, but it doesn’t look at all like I thought it would. For me, the meandering in the messiness is part of the gift. I like things that interest me, and a linear path is a bit boring and predictable
I have often felt judged about being messy. Women apologize all the time about their house being a mess. I look around and see a house that’s very organized and usually things are pretty much in their place. It makes me wonder where the bar is for being messy. I see their almost immaculate house that is a “mess” in their opinion, and I am embarrassed about every time they have ever seen mine. A friend of mine the other day apologized profusely because her car was a “mess”. It looked about like mine, and I assured her I was a “messy car” person. It is what it is. To me, it just says they have better things to do in their car besides clean it up. And I feel right at home. But it does send me a message that I have something to apologize about.
So, I don’t think I’m judging myself for the messiness in my process, as I know it works for me. Being messy is a rebellious act. Yes, I could probably put in the effort to look perfect and keep moving steadfastly toward my goals. But I don’t think I would end up where I need to be. I might end up where it looks like I should be, but how would I ever know if that’s where I really want to be. Most of the lessons I’ve learned in my life have been learned on detours and missteps. Besides, it’s much more fun to meander a little, reach some dead ends and discover a few surprises.
I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude this week. I’m working with a coach, and I set a goal this week to start working through my writer’s block. In some ways the logjam has been a gift as I mentally and emotionally work through the transition I’m navigating.
My process is messy. I have to butt my head and bruise my ego before I’ll try a different route. And I get very excited about all possibilities that pop up in my head. My friends probably think I’m crazy, and to some extent they are right. One week I’m chucking it all to become a baker in a seaside town, and the next week I’m madly throwing resumes at job openings on LinkedIn. It’s super confusing to me, and it feels really messy. So, I’d rather not write about what I’m feeling day to day. Being quiet is a bit of a gift. In the midst of my emotional roller coaster, I don’t have to worry about what it looks like to people I care about or, even worse, to complete strangers.
So in my coaching session last week, I began to process my writer’s block. My biggest barrier is vulnerability. It is also my most cherished gift. My best writing comes from being emotionally raw and highly introspective. But my fragility around being judged critically is hard to anesthetize enough to produce words. Just the thought of looking imperfect sends me to the trenches in silence.
Gratitude will lead me to the right words. There are times when I need to wallow in my pain, and I trust my gut that I will know when it’s time to stop wallowing. The wallowing allows me to feel. As soon as I start being grateful, I will rise. I have a lot to be grateful for in my life. 2020 has been no exception. It’s a transformative choice for me to re-focus.
This year has been a year of grief, horror and exponential pain. Over 1/4 of a million people have died of this deadly disease in our country, and that’s probably a gross understatement. For over 1/4 of a million families, 2020 has been an unimaginable gut punch. Not only have they lost a loved one unexpectedly, but they generally did it alone. I can’t imagine the sorrow that must come with that. Millions have lost their jobs and literally thousands are closing doors on their businesses and waiting in food lines. Fires have pushed people out of their homes, and multiple hurricanes have pounded the coasts. We are isolated and divided as a country and as individuals. And I don’t believe this is 2020’s fault. We will be left to work out these issues even as 2020 ends.
Given that bleak outlook, there are silver linings for me. I hope to explore some of those in the weeks to come. If you are struggling with isolation or grief or fear of what’s to come, I understand. This is not a call to be grateful. You have your own process. When you are ready and able to rise, you will find your way. I want to write. The only way I can write is to get out of this ditch and reflect on where I’ve been. This search for silver linings is part of my process. And part of my process is to write. I am grateful to have a place to process my feelings out loud. Forgive me for my messiness as I stutter start this battered ship. I have to start somewhere.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us the “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein
Some people describe life like chapters, and sometimes I say that, too. But, to be honest, my journey doesn’t feel like chapters at all. A chapter provides a beginning and an end with a lot of story in between. I don’t see beginnings and endings as each story bleeds into the other much as one ecosystem in nature gradually evolves into another. I feel like I’m traveling on a very long and diverse trail. Perhaps that’s why I like hiking so much. Swamps support rivers. Prairies slowly turn into hills and then rise into breathtaking mountains. Storms, wildlife and insects present obstacles and interest along the way. The trail looks different in every season, and in every season it is lovely if I just keep the right attitude.
I’m on a ridge right now. It’s a sweet spot where I can take a wider view. The traveling is not hard, and I journey through little ups and downs and occasionally over a small boulder or two. I’m spending time reflecting on how far I’ve come and dreaming about where I might go. If I want to sit a bit and take in the view, there’s always a pleasant place to do it. And if I want to descend, there are many options. I’m choosing to stay on the ridge at the moment. When I am on the ridge, I can’t really get lost. But getting lost in my dreams is a perfectly sensible option.
I suppose I’ll take a few side trails eventually and maybe even climb another peak or two. I have a few thoughts in mind of where I’d like to go. But right now I’m enjoying the rest after a long, grueling climb. I feel strong, invigorated and even tired in a good way. I don’t feel the need to scale mountains anymore. I like the gentle climbs, sweet breezes and the mystery of the trail. It feels good up here on the mountaintop. And if I’m lucky, I have miles to go before I sleep.
I was wrong. I have never been fond of chocolate mint. Well, I do love peppermint patties, but I never was a fan of mint chocolate ice cream or any other mint chocolate flavors. Even the Girl Scout mint cookies weren’t a favorite. I would swoon over the Peanut Butter sandwich cookies instead. As for ice cream, give me Rocky Road or Pralines and Cream. Mint Chocolate Chip…. ehhhh. Whatever? It’s good in a pinch, but I would never buy it on purpose. Besides, one of my exes had an obsession with Peppermint Patty candies, and I’d rather not revisit that.
I stocked up on Teeccino herbal coffee a few years ago. In order to get free shipping, you had to buy an inordinate amount of product, so I took the opportunity to buy a bunch of different flavors and samplers. I was in one of my “trying to quit coffee” stages, and Teeccino is a good substitute. It tastes similar to coffee but without caffeine and the acidity. It’s yummy and sweet with more of a coffee-like depth than tea. I did not buy the Chocolate Mint flavor. I flashed right past that one and settled on some of the chocolate and vanilla flavors. I couldn’t wait for all of my warm coffee-like goodness to arrive.
Instead of receiving my package, I received someone else’s order. It had a bunch of flavors that I would not have chosen including Chocolate Mint. I called the company, and they willingly resent my order. But instead of sending this one back, they just told me to keep this order, too. Needless to say, I had enough Teeccino for years. A couple of times I tried to give away the Chocolate Mint but never had any takers. I’m now down to my last bag of Teeccino, so I opened the Chocolate Mint and thought I’d give it a try. Who knows? I could always through it out if I hated it.
I was so wrong. I can’t believe that bag of yummy goodness has been sitting on my shelf for years. I love this stuff. I mix it with a little stevia and milk, and I feel like I’m drinking down a pure peppermint patty (with no bad memories or calories attached). I like this better than hot chocolate on a cold Michigan night. The chocolate is deep and flavorful, and the peppermint has just the right holiday kick for my taste buds. It’s the perfect warming combo to pair with Christmas music, a cuddly kitten and warming incense. Come to think of it, maybe I wasn’t wrong. Maybe I’ve just changed. Maybe the girl who turned up her nose at Chocolate Mint has become a woman with more refined taste! That’s it!
What are you sipping on for your chilly nights?
The COVID-19 positivity rate in my county is over 20%. This feels alarming. The goal is 5%, and Thanksgiving is next week. I am grateful to have information to help me make decisions about what I want to do. This morning Ashok and I hiked at Warren Dunes. We ambled through the woods in piles of fallen leaves until we topped a giant dune. The lake glistened in the sunshine, and we were the only souls for as far as I could see. Social distancing wasn’t necessary. No masks required. Sanity restored.
I needed a dose of nature today. Just thinking you might need a little dose yourself. Enjoy!
The paw prints of my deceased kitties Simba, Nala and Buster cast shadows on the windowsill. Luna will never know them in the flesh, but he soaks up their sunshine as he snoozes and grooms. I have adopted many little souls over the course of my lifetime.
My feisty, sassy childhood Siamese was named Bonni. I fell in love with her at first sight. This exotic creature would live into her 20s. She looks heaps of abuse from me and my siblings. You probably had to be there, but my favorite torture was to put pantyhose over her head and call her the cat burglar. She probably lived so long just to spite us.
During my first marriage, I took in Bailey, a stray who showed up outside my garage. He lived in there for awhile until I could coerce my husband to let him inside. After the anti-pet dam was burst, we adopted Arf the Pomeranian, Avery (a kitten who died at a very young age), and Benny, a Maine coon who was a ferocious hunter of moles. While my husband was away on a business trip, I adopted my sweet precious Nala. She came from a home who couldn’t keep her any more due to allergies. It was in protection of Nala that I took her in the divorce. Benny was as intolerant of her as he was to moles, and I was afraid what might happen. So Benny and Arf stayed home with John, and I took Nala.
Simba was adopted to keep Nala company while I traveled for work. They were with me when I moved to Seattle and Michigan. In both cases, they flew in the cargo hold of airplanes. Both times they were none too happy with this relocation process. My incessant talker, Buster, was adopted from the Independent Cat Society in Northwest Indiana. Nala, Simba and Buster were my three musketeers as I navigated my newly single life after my second divorce in a quaint little Midtown apartment in Memphis. When my sweet Nala died, I was heartbroken and impulsively took Bella when I went to the shelter to adopt a canine running partner. When you know, you know, and I knew Bella was a part of my family.
Bella, Buster and Ashok moved with me from Memphis to Baton Rouge and then to Michigan. Ashok is one of two dogs I’ve raised. I’m not really a dog person, but I loved Arf and Ashok just the same. I can’t imagine my life journey without them. When I lost Buster this year, and the pandemic lockdown occurred, I adopted little Luna. He’s a handful, but he’s been a welcome spirit in my house during these tense times. Bella and Ashok don’t agree now, but they will come to love him if we all live long enough.
All of these little souls have accompanied me through happiness, loss and struggle, and they continue to purr and snuggle with me through life. I know it’s trite, but they truly have rescued me. So, as Luna snores among the kitty graveyard on my windowsill, I know that he is visited by the spirits of those little souls. Life is short, and I like to count my blessings by the number of little lifetimes I am honored to support.
Do you adopt animals? If so, what has it meant to you?
As the daylight recedes in Michigan, I find myself plugging in the little grapevine lights above my window. During the summer months and the long lighted days, the lights are a waste of electricity. I get up with daylight and go to bed most often before nightfall. Who needs little lights when the sun is taking up all the space? But now I have hours to enjoy the tiny fragments of light in my window. They remind me that as the darkness of winter envelops us, it’s the little lights that will get me through.
I don’t sleep well in the summer. The sun, the heat and the summer energy is just too much. My body is so sensitive to overstimulation, and it’s difficult to calm down when it’s time for sleep. I’m sleeping again now. My body rises early, so it’s a treat to be so relaxed that I sleep in. That happens with some frequency now. It’s just one of the reasons I like fall. I can rest, and when I rest I feel more energized.
The sun is rising as I write this, and I welcome it today. The temps are dipping into the 40s at night, and it will be the sun that warms up the day so I can exercise comfortably. It’s nice to be home with a light schedule so I can run or walk outdoors in the middle of the day when it’s the warmest. This also makes my mornings more relaxing. I can ease into the day.
I’m overstimulated now with the news and the state of the world. I’m disappointed and angry at our leaders. I’m afraid of catching a virus that could lead to long-term health consequences. I’m anxious about finding work in an uncertain time. I’m lonely due to the lack of contact with others for work and social gatherings. There’s a lot to process. There’s not much to do but think. I have too much to intake and not enough avenues for output.
Grief, fear and anger require a lot of energy and suck up most of the air in the room. But there are little bits of joy that remind me how lucky I am. I live in a beautiful place. Lake Michigan’s volatile personality is a touchstone. She can be an angry, vengeful sea in the morning and a placid, soothing pond by sunset. She mesmerizes and enchants me. Her changeability motivates me to wait for another day, another hour, the next minute. My animals are blossoming with my 24-hour attention. Ashok has forgotten what it’s like for me to be gone and is anxious for us to go on adventures. She sits by the door as soon as I start getting dressed and blocks my exit. Her enthusiasm makes me giggle.
I watch television, a luxury I gave up for 20 years. I’m enjoying documentaries and comedies and meaningful dramas. I have time to cook and to feed myself properly. And I’m saving money. Without race fees, frequent eating out and the need for clothing, I’m just not spending that much. This is what life is like when you can only have the necessities. I’m lucky enough that I’m focused on necessity out of a temporary situation instead of living in poverty. I am grateful for my current scenario. It could be much worse.
The sun is almost up now. My little grapevine lights are fading into the foreground of the sunshine. My day is delightfully unscheduled much like yesterday, Friday and the day before. I may run out to the grocery or take my dog for a hike. I’ll eat up the last of my red beans and rice, and I think I’ll make some veggie burgers for this week. I have a few phone calls scheduled and, if it’s nice out, maybe I’ll take a drive up the coast. Today’s little pleasures light my way through the darkness.