Winter Diary: Good Morning Saturday

It’s early. Rain pitter patters on the metal frame of my picture window. My still bedecked Christmas tree twinkles a reflection in several windows. I could be in a lighted forest except I’m warm and cozy under this Michigan-made red plaid blanket. In a real forest I’d be hating the sound of the rain on my tent and wishing it would stop before daybreak. Tucked in here among my cats and Ashok, it could rain all day for all I care. Twinkle away, beautiful tree. Pitter patter, rain. I am content.

I slept well last night. I have insomnia often enough that I feel great joy when I awake after a good 7-8 hours of shut-eye. I feel the same sense of accomplishment on getting a full night’s sleep that I feel at running a half marathon. I remember months and years where a good night’s sleep was elusive. I treasure the more consistent success I have now. Thank you, acupuncture, Chinese herbal supplements and meditation. Sleep is the foundation of a beautiful day and good health.

Ashok snores softly beside me as Buster purrs. My two elderly pets’ days are numbered. Sometimes I’d like to have a heads up on how long we have and other times I’d rather be blissfully unaware. I know it is entirely possible both will have many more years with me. And, right now, they are both healthy and happy.

A weekend with no commitments floats before me. It’s supposed to rain and then turn to freezing rain and snow overnight. It’s so weird for January to be snowless. Lake Michigan storms eat away at the beaches without ice banks to protect them. Mud clings to my boots in the place of slush. Last night’s muggy run felt good but oddly out of place.

It’ll be a good weekend for writing, visiting a coffee shop or two, chatting with friends and catching up with chores. Maybe I’ll nap a little. I have to pack for a business trip next week, but I don’t want to think about that now. Right now I’ll sit for a bit sipping on a homemade mocha and treasuring the effects of a good night’s sleep. I’m not sure what I’ll do today, but I’ll worry about that when it gets here.

Have a good weekend, y’all! Maybe I’ll feel like writing again before it’s all over.

A 2020 Commitment to Me

It’s the time of year again to reflect on the past year, identify some things you’d like to change in the coming year and commit to doing them. Unfortunately that reflection is usually a cursory look in the mirror with horror at the state of your body. The decision is made through a haze of sugar, alcohol or caffeine withdrawal. Or maybe it’s a reflexive decision based on the pain of your most recent embarrassing moment. None of these lay the foundation for successful change.

Yes, an embarrassing event can make you WANT to change. In the moment, it’s as clear as day that I need to stop eating sugar or drinking wine. But as sure as January 1 rolls around, that desire to do what I committed to not do again will bubble up. I may not cave the first time, but I will eventually give in. You know it. I know it.

I was actually never a fan of New Year’s Resolutions except when I had no idea how to control cravings and say no to myself. Back then it seemed like a noble promise to myself to do better but I had no clue how to accomplish that. That commitment would pile up on the trash heap of broken promises and unrealistic expectations I had set on myself. I finally just quit doing it. In the meantime, I started learning how to take care of myself, and January 1 just became another day of the year.

For the last 3 years I’ve committed to a 30-Day Yoga Challenge with one of my favorite yoga teachers, Adrienne. It’s a small commitment of 15-30 minutes per day of showing up on my mat and looking inside. Some days the practice is cozy and relaxing. Other days kick my butt with power moves. But every practice is over in about the same amount of time it takes to cook steel cut oatmeal. And I’ve never regretted doing it. Not one day. Not ever.

Yoga cuts through the haze of addictive behavior. It walks me compassionately through the regrets of broken promises to myself. It cuddles me when I’m tired. It helps me accept my weaknesses with less judgment. The 30-days helps me find my footing so I can decide what – if anything – I want to change. I notice if I’m down regularly. It’s apparent when I’m not sleeping. If I’ve gained weight, I can tell. I can also see my progression of getting stronger. I can move through difficult emotions. In being gentle and loving with myself, I learn how to be present and deal with life as it is. It is grounding for me.

This year’s challenge is called Home. It’s free. You don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t even have to put on a bra. The only thing it takes is a commitment to show up for yourself. I promise it will give you time to learn what – if anything – you want to change.

When I am practicing yoga regularly, I eat better and I am calmer. I can sit with my anxiety or depression and know that it’s not going to kill me. I notice when sugar from the day before impacted my sleep, and I notice how coffee actually makes me feel. And when I really notice what is happening, I do better.

Won’t you join me? You can sign up here! And there’s a free group where you can chat with participants all over the world.

The Magical Hats of the Monaco

There’s no snow on the ground in Southwest Michigan. For the second year in a row, we are moaning about the snowless holiday which makes it seem more like September than Christmas in Michigan. And to make matters worse, temps soared into the upper 60s yesterday. Sweating in my sweater seemed less appropriate than it sounds as I would have loved to have been warming up to an eggnog latte, warming my hands in front of a fire and curling up under blankets with a good book. Instead I was sweating… and wishing I wasn’t.

But the holiday started looking up when I purchased a new car the day after Christmas (Merry Christmas to me!) and packed up a girlfriend and her dog to head to my favorite magical holiday vacation spot, the Hotel Monaco. Ashok couldn’t have been happier to race down Wabash into the arms and the treat dish of the top dog hotel in all of my world.

I’ve watched the Monaco evolve in 2019. Their lovely rooms with riverview window seats were remodeled in quirky, whimsical fashion, and the entire lobby and front desk area transformed a little more each time I visited. I was a little worried about where they were headed earlier in the year, but now the look has come together. It’s as if the personality of this former women’s millinery bubbled up to permeate the art deco of a vintage Chicago hotel.

Colorful and quirky, this functional and homey lobby features period hats of all kinds. Making these lovely hats was a project of the fashion students at the local Columbia College. What fun it must have been to look back to old-time Chicago when women wore hats not for function but for style. None of these hats would keep your ears warm, but they would definitely create some heat!

Us four gals – Pumpkin, Autumn, me and Ashok – are enjoying listening to the big band music in the lobby by the fireplace as we finally relax into the spirit of the season. We were excited for it to be cold today as last night’s warm temps created a dirty, muddy walk in the city streets. Frozen it should be this time of year. While we aren’t quite frozen, we are definitely headed in the right direction.

All of my old friends are here at the hotel and a few new ones. This place reminds me of The Love Boat, a magical place where the staff transforms hearts and minds by simply being present with good cheer. All of my wishes may not be granted while I’m here, but I will definitely leave feeling like they were. The coffee is good, the hot chocolate bar awaits this afternoon, and the wine and hot cider hour this evening will prepare us for dinner with a little socializing and fun.

And my personal favorite….

I’m looking forward to relaxing and meeting some new folks as well as enjoying my old friends in this lovely, historic place. Perhaps a nap in the window seat overlooking the city might be in order. There is magic here in this place for me. Enjoy the photos of these lovely hats, and if you decide to come take a look for yourself, tell them Ms. King sent you! They’ll know exactly who you mean.

A Meaningless Life

“Read Ecclesiastes,” my friend said. “or as much of it as you can take. The message: Everything is meaningless. For me, that’s it. Full Stop.”

So I read Ecclesiastes – or as much as I could take. I didn’t remember this chapter from my early Bible studies, or maybe I just didn’t understand what meaningless meant in the context of a life. In my younger years I would have seen it as a hopeless slant on all the work and bluster we need to bring to an illustrious career, an epic romance and a life full of adventure. “Malarky,” I would have said. “My life won’t be meaningless.”

Ironically, it feels a bit comforting to understand that life is meaningless. Like a pebble on the shore of Lake Michigan, I will be washed back into the sea one day. I will not be remembered nor will there be much left of my existence that will endure.

I’m reading a book called The Dalai Lama‘s Cat. It is an exquisite tale of a Himalayan cat who lives with His Holiness. This salty feline learns new lessons from Buddhist philosophy in each chapter. I don’t know why it’s hitting me in such a beautiful way, but it’s encouraging me to get out of the daily rumble and reflect on my thoughts and actions. Snow Lion listened as one of the teachers discussed the brevity of a life and how, in the context of the many lives we reincarnate, this life is just a small piece of a larger whole.

I try to be objective about the times we live in now, but I find it really painful. I don’t like the arguing and the division. I see that as meaningless and a waste of time. Don’t we have other problems we need to be working on? Anger begets more anger, and this emotion is not productive when applied to each other instead of the issues at hand. I’ve never seen an argument change the world or even one person’s mind. Much like Snow Lion’s experience, a mind is only changed in an environment of support and acceptance of one’s self and others. And, mostly, we change a little at a time.

In response to a listener’s question, Dan Harris (from the 10% Happier Podcast) suggested a meditation to contemplate death. Many cultures find ways to contemplate death so that the proper perspective is put on life. I have been practicing this meditation and even bringing it in to my daily life. I bring up a face of a deceased person that I loved and meditate on the fact that they are gone. I imagine the face of someone I know now, and remind myself that they will die. I then remind myself that I will die, too. I imagine the world going on without me. It will, you know? I am only here a brief moment in time.

Morbid, you think? That’s not the results I’m getting. I feel comforted realizing I don’t have to do anything world-changing to be successful. In fact, I don’t have to be successful at all. I just have to be. All pressure is removed. When I talk to others, a little voice now reminds me, “They are going to die.” Compassion bubbles up. Being present with this person becomes more interesting than driving an agenda.

When did meaninglessness become a bad thing? If life is meaningless, maybe it’s okay to enjoy it. Perhaps messing up or not living up to someone’s expectations is perfectly fine. It could also be okay to be wildly successful and famous if I just remember it’s only for a moment. On the other hand, if this is one life in a series of lives, then I’m just setting up my next lesson in my next life. There is plenty of time to evolve.

So, the next time I see you please note that I’m thinking of your death. But I’m also thinking of mine. What could the world be like if we all interacted on that level of truth? I would like to experience that.

Now, I must go because my boss actually doesn’t see my success as meaningless. I haven’t quite won her over to this philosophy, and I do have to eat or my meaningless life will be over much more quickly than anticipated.

Winter Diary: Just Move

The biggest challenge for me in the long winter is continuing to move. It gets dark much earlier, and, let’s face it, it’s cold outside. In order for me to have the most success with exercise, I have to do it in the morning. I will do it in the evening sometimes, but there’s always a 50% chance that I’m going to be too mentally or physically tired to get it done. And, I’m sorry, I don’t really feel like getting out of bed and running outside in 20 degree weather. Yuk.

This is the thing. In order for me to beat SAD or my depression, I have to exercise vigorously at least a couple times per week. Last year I decided to take a more seasonal approach to exercise. I’d run and do lots of outdoor activity in the warmer months, and in winter I’d go to the gym and focus on strength-training and yoga. It worked out great for me. So, this year I’m planning a similar approach but with a little more variety.

I’m not running as much this year, so I’m trying to find another workout that will help raise my heart rate. I did a trial period with the Daily Burn, and I liked the 30 minute cardio/strength workouts so much I decided to join. At $150 per year, it’s super reasonable, and the people and the fun classes put me in a good mood. Once I signed on to their Facebook page, I liked it even more. Since the workouts are only 30 minutes a day, it’s easy to do one every day. (Not that I’ve ever done one every day.)

So, this morning I did a Barre workout, and I plan to do a yoga practice tonight. I sleep so much better when I do that at night. I took Ashok for a walk which is a great shake-out for my mind and my body after working all day. My cold-weather plan is to move every day. I have a variety of options between running, walking, the gym, Yoga with Adriene and the Daily Burn. Somedays I need something vigorous to get me going. Other days, I can relax with some yin yoga. And I don’t even have to leave the house if I don’t want!

My Barre workout this morning!

The End of a Decade

A picture a Memphis friend of mine took which became the face of Midlife Moments. I started writing in August 2012.

We are coming up to the end of the year which is wonderful reflective time, but we are also coming up to the end of a decade. This morning I was trying to recollect where I was at the beginning of this decade and what my hopes and dreams might have been.

I was living in Memphis, and I was yet to purchase a home there. I had rented a little apartment on Carr Avenue. I lived above a couple who would eventually split. He was a drummer on the Memphis music scene who had a crush on the older women who lived upstairs. I, however, was still healing from a divorce and had absolutely no interest in entertaining any kind of male energy. I was single and, for the first time in my life, truly happy and content.

The street I lived on in Memphis was beautiful in the spring.

A decade seems to go by really fast. But when I started to look at the blog posts and pictures I have collected over these last 10 years, I realize a lot can happen. I’m still single, and I’m still in the learning and development field. But almost everything else has changed – often multiple times. I was miserable in my career in 2010 but pretty happy in my personal life. Now, my career is in a great place, and I feel content but not perfectly happy with my personal life.

In this decade, I lost my beloved Simba Kitty and acquired my anxious canine companion, Ashok. I bought and sold a house on the same street in Memphis, moved to Louisiana for three years and am now three years in a house in Michigan. I loved all three of these homes. I must say I am pretty lucky in finding homes that suit me. Lately, I’ve been noodling selling this one and getting a condo, but I’m still on the fence about that. I guess we’ll see what this decade brings.

My beautiful house in Memphis

The sweetest time of my life would have been about this time ten years ago. I was busy with my recovery work and rooted firmly in the present. I wasn’t anxious about meeting anybody new. I liked my life, and I was surrounded by loads of women friends and a few gay ones. My friend Michael was close by, and I could pop in anytime. Now, a visit with him is a plane flight or a very long drive and a long effort in coordinating schedules. One of my girlfriends completed suicide in this decade. It was a lesson for me to cherish the time we have with each other. No matter how close you are with a friend, there are often things you just don’t know.

I’ve probably built as many new relationships as I’ve lost. And, in this decade, I started losing more and more people to death. The tapestry of my life is changing rapidly as people exit once and for all. In 2009, I did not understand the brevity of a lifespan. I would not start to contemplate that until I turned 50. And even then it was still just an idea. I made a commitment to be more intentional with my time and efforts. I simplified, prioritized and consolidated – relationships, possessions, work goals and life dreams.

So here we are on the precipice of another decade. By the end of this one, I’ll be approaching 70. That’s sort of crazy to think about. I’ve considered lately renaming this blog Senior Moments, but, honestly, I just don’t feel it yet. I wonder if I ever will, or if I will always feel 16 or 22 or 35 inside. I know I will lose Ashok and Buster and maybe even Bella this decade. I consider going to teach overseas after I retire from my corporate life. I also noodle hiking the Appalachian Trail. I wonder about getting into a new relationship but it’s difficult to move in that direction. There’s so much water under the bridge in that area. It feels like I’d be choosing to drown. It would have to be the right person at the right time, I suppose.

My beautiful life in 2019….

I was happy and content in 2010 with my life. That ebbed and flowed in the past decade, but I have to say it was my happiest yet. Even when I was struggling with the variety of challenges I was dealt, I knew there was a path out. I never lost hope like I had in my younger years. I had learned in the previous decade that what we think might be the worst thing that could happen always has a silver lining. Often I have absolutely no clue what is best for me. So, I don’t try to control the agenda anymore. That seems to have made all the difference.

In this decade, I:

  • Learned how to backpack.
  • Experienced how meditation and yoga could take the place of my anti-depressants and literally change my brain.
  • Got off all medications and began using Chinese medicine as a preventative health practice.
  • Learned to balance physical activity and exercise with rest.
  • Achieved peace in the war with my body.
  • Learned how to manage my beautiful curls and establish a manageable relationship with them.
  • Started writing Midlife Moments and experienced the carthatic results of writing about my life and not hiding who I am.
  • Became comfortable with solo traveling and enjoying what the day brings.
  • Backpacked Pictured Rocks Lakeshore.
  • Became a functional manager in the field I love.
  • Accepted that I will always have things I must improve, traits I will never be able to change and strengths that I should leverage to the hilt.
  • Realized that life is truly short. I must be present.

What are your thoughts and memories about the past decade? What would you do differently? What did you learn? Who did you love and who did you let pass on by?

Winter Diary: Day 2 Eggnog Latte Season

I left early yesterday to arrive early to my Thanksgiving Dinner location. NPR was playing a special that was of particular interest to my life so I passed up my hosts’ driveway to find a parking lot where I could listen to the end of the show. Luckily for me, the local supermarket was open, and with it, their Caribou Coffee location. I was thrilled that their Fa La Latte was my favorite holiday obsession, an eggnog latte.

Yum yum. I made it last as long as I could, but alas, I always reach the bottom of the cup about a month too early. But I know there will be more where that came from. Tis the season!

Today, I went out for a little Black Friday shopping downtown. Now, St. Joe is just about the cutest little town for the holidays. Streetlamps and storefronts are dressed up in traditional Christmas flair. Holiday tunes play inside, and lots of Christmas treats are available for sampling. It’s so much better than a big box store even if you only walk around for a bit. I dropped a bundle at Wanderlust’s VIP event and then decided to look around some more.

When I had my fill, it hit me that my favorite eggnog latte dealer, The Chocolate Cafe, was near.

“No, you just had one yesterday.”

“So? It’s Christmas. I can have one two days in a row. I won’t make it a habit.”

“Yes, you will.”

“No, I won’t. Okay, well maybe I will, but two in a row is not a habit. I’ll worry about this tomorrow.”

“You’re gonna get fat.”

“Five pounds is hardly fat. I’ll lose it.”

I asked the young man at the counter if they had eggnog lattes yet, and he said no. WTH?! It’s the day after Thanksgiving. It’s full-bore Eggnog Latte season, and they are my SOURCE. After I burst into tears and sat on the floor tearing my curls out, he checked the holiday drink flyer. Yes, they had it. I dried my tears and ordered up a medium. A large would be way too indulgent at this point.

I waited while folks received their massive hot fudge sundaes and ice cream cones, hot chocolate and boxes of Christmas candy. This place – no lie – has eight kinds of hot chocolate. I’ll cover that nonsense in another blog. All of their holiday drinks come with a peppermint cookie. I considered saying no to the cookie but that would be foolish. After all, this is only Day 2 of Eggnog Latte season. I am just getting started.

I opted to bring my caffeinated confection home instead of hanging out, and by the time I got home the icing on the cookie was melted all over the top of the cup. I licked the peppermint deliciousness off the lid and I noticed that the cookies this year are peppermin-iced mint oreos. Yum Yum. I ate it first just as a warmup to the main course.

The first eggnog latte I ever had was in Times Square. I had never seen a Starbucks before, and we stopped by out of curiosity. I was hooked instantly. My Grandma made homemade eggnog every year, and eggnog is my favorite Christmas treat. It was not Grandma’s eggnog, but it was good enough that I’m a non-apologetic addict. And, besides, Grandma is not around anymore, so where would I get the real thing in this day and age?

I try to stick to one a week until I fail and set a goal of only one a day. And then sometimes I can’t even manage that. I’m hopeful that I can control myself this year. Wink wink. Thank heavens it’s not a year-round temptation. I could argue if it was always available, I might get tired of it. Maybe… okay, possibly. Not a chance in hell.

What’s your favorite holiday obsession?

Winter Diary: Wind, Wool and a Wonderful Read

Lake Michigan smashes into winter with a vengeance. Wind-whipped waves churn the silvery green water into an angry sea. I could hardly walk against the hurricane-force winds today at lunch after a steamy bowl of chili warmed my tummy. Brrr… I wish I’d known the temperature would drop so much. I might have worn a coat.

A huge tree fell blocking the street this afternoon. I had just passed there on my way to my favorite bakery. Thankfully it fell while I was choosing treats for the holiday. Somebody’s fence was not so lucky.

I started reading “The Dalai Lama’s Cat” two nights ago. I was looking for an uplifting read, and it hits the mark. I find myself chuckling out loud on every other page as the “Snow Lion” finds another adventure. More importantly, as the Dalai Lama’s Cat, he is teaching me so many little life lessons along the way. I feel like purring.

Last night my feet were cold. I headed upstairs to pull my wool blanket out of storage this evening before I tucked myself in. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the wind is howling that winter is finally here.

Hello Winter

It was a beautiful day today. I took Ashok for a walk by Lake Michigan. Temps were in the low 40s, and everybody was out. Parents with strollers lined the sidewalks taking in the warmish day before the holiday rush and the onset of winter. Leaves blowing all over the place reminded me that the gentle shoulder seasons are winding down. In a matter of days, it will all be covered in snow.

I put up my tree this weekend. I haven’t decorated it with anything but it’s sparkly and colorful standing there naked. I’m trying to decide what to do. I haven’t put up a tree or dragged out my Christmas decorations in many years. I know that when I open the box there will be memories that I truly don’t want to deal with at the moment. I have always had a traditional tree with ornaments as mementos. But when times change or relationships end, opening that Pandora’s box at one of the most emotionally dicey times of the year can be most unpleasant. I think I’ll pass this year.

I’m considering a theme tree. Maybe it’s time I bought all new ornaments and celebrate my new life in Michigan. Or perhaps I’ll do what I saw last night at a local concert. The tree was plain except for some glittery traditional glass balls of different colors. It was cheerful and pretty and didn’t evoke anything in me but holiday cheer. I could also try vintage ornaments… ornaments about animals … lighthouses … there are endless possibilities. I think I’ll just sit on it until something strikes me.

I’m trying to plan for my winter hiatus. It’s easy to get depressed with all the time spent inside, but I really like the coziness of the darkness and winter. Last year I got through it by going to gym more regularly and committing to a strength training program. I’ll do something similar this year, but I’d also like to get out and run in the snow on occasion. It helps to get outside even if it’s dark. I’ve been looking at rugs for my living room, and I’m thinking I might get a new rug to add some coziness and maybe even consider an electric fireplace. I also signed up for a tea club. Hot tea instead of coffee would probably keep me saner.

I would like to commit to a winter diary this year. It would help provide topics for blogging and maybe inspire me to get out and do some interesting things. I won’t write every day, but I’d like to try to write 2-3 times a week. And I can include lots of pictures of this beautiful place where I live. One day I won’t live here anymore, and I’d love to remember what it was like to live in the snow.

Jolene, Soak Me in My Fear

“Does it seem to you that everybody is angry these days?” a friend from back home asked me on Snapchat.

“Yes, they are,” I said. But I told him I had learned that anger is a secondary emotion. It’s the more powerful and confident evil twin to sadness and fear. I try to remember that people may appear angry, but they are really afraid or hurt or grieving underneath. Who wants to feel those vulnerable emotions that make you feel helpless and hopeless? I’d much rather puff up my chest, scream at the world and stand in my power. Anger is self-righteous, protective and scary in itself. But it’s so much nicer for you to be afraid than for me to be cowering.

This morning I listened to Dolly Parton’s America, a podcast about Dolly’s ability to unite our country and even the world. The song Jolene was the topic this morning, and there was some interesting discussion about the song itself and the many different interpretations about what is or could be happening in the story. Toward the end of the podcast they interviewed a man who lived through Apartheid in South Africa. He was a Freedom Fighter imprisoned next to Nelson Mandela.

At one point they let Mandela play music over the loudspeaker. The music of choice was the sweet melodic sounds of Dolly Parton. And their favorite song was Jolene. But he explains it wasn’t the story of a mournful woman afraid of losing her man that intrigued both prisoners and guards alike. It was the sweet painful fear that bubbles up from the lyrics that made it relatable. Dolly is terrified that she will lose her man to Jolene. The prisoners in their cells were terrified of losing their freedom. And the prison guards were afraid of losing the world as they knew it. We may not all be afraid of losing our man, but we all are stricken at some level by fear.

My hometown friend was mourning the loss of a happier time. I have my own fear that we will never get past this as a country. Unfortunately, anger can be intoxicating. We are drunk with it. Our anger at each other is overshadowing the very thing that brings us together. We are all human. We are all afraid at some level but maybe at different things. Instead of our similarities stirring compassion for one another, our anger builds its own unscalable wall.

We could all take a listen to Jolene and let ourselves simmer with the fear of losing whatever is so important to us. In feeling it, we release its power. And when you ask “Why is everybody so angry?” shift the question to “Why is everybody so afraid?” Can we decide to lean into each other and make the world a safer place for our collective fear?

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