Saturday, October 31, 2015

What I learned in October

Since we are entering into the seasons of sharing and giving and thankfulness and generosity, I'm going to take it upon myself to steal an idea I've been seeing on some of the blogs I enjoy reading.

See, by stealing their idea I am giving them an opportunity to be generous by sharing it with me. I'm thoughtful that way.

Basically, the idea is that you take a look back at the month you've just traveled through, pause to reflect and see what you've gained in the past thirty days, and then get ready to tackle the next month.

Would anyone like to take bets on how long I can sustain this new endeavor? It would really help if someone could remind me of this plan about 30 days from now. Any takers?

Anywhoooo... here goes...

What I learned in October:

1. Writing everyday is hard.
You may remember that I kicked off October four days late with a plan to write everyday of October. (After having already missed the first four.) If you haven't been checking in regularly, let me spare you the suspense: I did not write everyday of October. I did not even write everyday of October after the first four days that I missed. Counting today, I wrote six days in October. 

But I wrote zero days in September, so...winning!

2. Old friends are awesome.
I feel very fortunate to have quite a lot of friends who would qualify as old friends. Not because we are old, because we are in fact perpetually young, but because I have known them a long time. I have one friend I have known since birth, another since preschool, and another since Kindergarten. Again, I'm not saying we are old but that is starting to add up to a lot of years.

There was a time when college friends didn't necessarily count as old friends because college just wasn't all that long ago. Newsflash: college is officially now "a long time ago." But the funny thing about college friends is when you are in the moment it's hard to know which friends are going to last beyond graduation. And maybe you get so forward focused on everything you want to come next like living independently, a career, new places and experiences, perhaps marriage and a home, you aren't even sure how much those friends from that sliver in time will matter down the road? 

They will matter. And if almost 25 years later you can still gather together and sing silly sorority songs while also hashing out every important and not-so-important detail in your lives today, you will count yourself one of the luckiest people in the world. 

I can't explain what is happening here.
But it makes me smile.

3. Halloween memories are fun. Halloween itself, not so much.
If you know me IRL (that's internet speak for In Real Life, just another public service announcement from me to you), then you know Halloween is not my favorite holiday. There are lots of reasons for this including, but not limited to, the fact that I have been both a full time and substitute teacher and there is no horror that could ever be matched in even the most terrifying haunted house than what it is to work in an elementary school on Halloween. 

That being said, Halloween does make for some sweet memories (Memories-as in, the past. The past tense is really the critical component of any feelings of nostalgia and sweetness). 

Since we are currently still in the present tense, I am counting the minutes until this one is over.

4. There are different degrees of going AWAY to college.
Here's the thing, I'm not discounting in any possible way the momentous occasion of your child going off to college whether he/she stays close to home or goes miles, and miles, and miles away. It is all HUGE because regardless of how often you see your offspring, it is still a transition to the next step in life which is, hopefully, them living completely on their own and away from you. It's big no matter how you slice it.

Buuuuut...... Now that I have my firstborn living two states away rather than just over two hills and a quick jog to the right....yeah...that's different. 

I think the oddest part of the whole thing is how much you get used to it. You stop thinking about it and their absence becomes, well, normal. But then there are the moments that sneak up on you and you catch yourself whispering, "I wish Jack was here." 


5. When you work in ministry, Christmas starts in October.
If you've been following along, you know that I already succumbed to listening to some Christmas music (Not 24/7 or anything, people! Just as motivation for some gray, chilly dog walks. And maybe once or twice while cooking dinner....and cleaning the house....and folding laundry...). Frankly, in truth I don't really feel all that apologetic of this behavior, but in further defense of my early Christmas enthusiasm, I have to tell you that when you work in any sort of ministry/church-related field, Christmas begins in October. 

Do you know how many Sundays I have before I have to have all of my little kiddos, ages 2-13, ready to perform a Christmas pageant for the congregation?! SIX! And let's remember, this is not like school where a teacher has her kids five days a week. I have six Sundays to make sure everyone knows their lines, the songs, and where to move. I write the script each year which means that I need to be handing out scripts NEXT WEEK to give everyone time to memorize their lines.

You have no idea. There is not a chance I will be getting out of yoga pants this week until that script is done.

So, mock if you must, but if Christmas music gets the creative juices flowing then I am not going to fight it. 


So, that's it.

I wish  I had some great makeup tips or book recommendations or the secret to losing 10 pounds, but I need to save some brilliance for November. 

Hopefully next month will be chalk full of ready-to-use tips with all sorts of practical life application possibilities. 

I'll try.

Just as soon as I get that Christmas pageant script written.

Happy Halloween and bring on November!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The gift of Christmas

So, I was cruising along through October with barely even a hint of melancholy. I wasn't exactly hosting parties and chatting people up on the phone, but I was totally staying in my lane, doing my thing. Lots of reading, cleaning out closets, giving things away with abandon and glee, and I was even rocking a really solid healthy eating kick. I mean, how often do all of those good habits come together in the same month?!

It was hard not to start feeling a little cocky.

But as the 26th approached, the wheels started to come off.

Sometimes you just have no control over when all the feels are going to start clamoring to be heard. It seems like I should remember they often like to be heard at the end of October...

And then on top of an already significant anniversary, Jack let us know that he wasn't totally sure he was going to be able to come home for Thanksgiving after all. The boy has gotten himself a job and apparently when you get a job your employer actually expects you to work.

(I suggested he have his boss call me, but he didn't seem to think that was a good idea. What?!)

Then Timothy finished up his college applications and after much soul searching determined he was ending his quest to play college soccer. The school he most wants to attend is not recruiting any defenders for next year and he has always said the school was more important to him than getting to play. The schools that are interested in recruiting him aren't schools he wants to go to, so...he is content to hang up his cleats at the end of this year. I'm proud of him. I support him 110%. As always his decisiveness and uncanny sense of himself astound me, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this is another ending that makes me a little sad.

And Annie...well, she just keeps growing up and that always means new...STUFF. Mostly good stuff, but stuff that all feels different both for her and for me. She is not one of those little girls dying to get older so I'm watching her struggle a bit against changes she can't control, and it makes me just want to wrap her up in a blankie like a burrito and rock her to sleep - except she's practically as big as I am. But I would totally still do this if I could just get her to stop fighting against my efforts to swaddle her up. It's very hard to swaddle a 10 year old who does not want to be swaddled. Words to live by.

And there it is.

Nothing earth shattering and certainly small potatoes compared to other people's problems. But perspective only takes you so far when it's your heart that's breaking, justified or not.

So, what's a girl to do?

I did the only thing that makes any sense under the circumstances. The one thing guaranteed to lift my spirits and heal my soul.

I think you know what's coming.

Oh, yes I did.

Clutch your pearls and cover the children's eyes, because here it is....

I started listening to Christmas music.

It all happened about a week ago when I really, really, really didn't feel like taking Rooney for a walk. It was kind of gray and I felt tired and blue and uninspired. So, I asked myself, "Self, what would make this more enjoyable for you?" And I kid you not, the answer was immediate and clear.

Christmas music

At first I felt a little sheepish. I mean in spite of my very public confessions of my love for Christmas here and here, even I do not usually resort to Christmas tunes before November.

But then I thought, who will even know? It will be my little secret. Although I swear Rooney kept rolling his eyes and sighing in disgust.

And then I couldn't stop.

And then I made a new Christmas playlist.

And then I perused the Apple Music Christmas playlists and determined right then and there they should hire me to make them some decent Christmas playlists.

For REAL, Apple Music. Puhleeease. Your selections are embarrassing. And boring. And it really pains me to say that about any sort of Christmas music.

(I make the best Christmas playlists. I'm not bragging, it's just true. It could be because I have 275 Christmas songs. That is the actual number of Christmas songs I own.) #sorrynotsorry #proudofit #ineedmore

So, now I'm just not even pretending anymore. I don't care who knows. I'll shout it from the rooftop (or my porch since our roof is really steep). I am already listening to Christmas music and I can't wait to see who comes out with new Christmas music this year. I'm full on IN and if you think I'm going to grow tired of my perpetual Christmas by the 25th of December then you really don't know me at all.

If you see me walking Rooney with a smile on my face, you will know why.

And let me know if you need me to make you a playlist.

I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.
~Charles Dickens

This kid gets it.
He always has.
He's been playing Christmas music since July. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The gift of trying again

Last week, Annie and I were snuggled up at the end of the day watching The Middle and just generally kicking back. She noticed that I was writing something in the notes on my phone and asked me what I was working on.

I enthusiastically launched into a lengthy explanation of how I had been reading this book all about gratitude. I started giving her all of the nitty gritty about the fascinating research that shows how an intentional practice of gratitude leads to greater overall well-being and health. Because I'm a big fan of well-being and heath, I explained that I had instituted a practice of writing down at least three things I was grateful for each day. These could not just be general categories of gratitude, but specific moments from that individual day for which I was thankful. I went so far as to show her the special folder I had created in my notes exclusively for my daily gratitude missives.

God love her that she didn't fall asleep before I was finished.

Being the ever-kind and supportive daughter that she is, she nodded along patiently and gave me an encouraging smile at the end. But then I swear I saw the slightest twinkle in her eye when she patted my arm and said sweetly, "That's great, Mom. long have you been doing this?"

I turned to her and we sat silently staring into each other's eyes for several looong seconds.

Finally, forced to respond, I could barely keep a straight face when I answered flatly,

"Two days."

We both collapsed into a fit of laughter.

It seems even my daughter knows my tendency to start things with great excitement and grand intentions, only to have well over 50% of them fizzle out over time. Sometimes, after not much time at all.

Let's take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the bold and wonderful initiatives of mine that never made it past the starting gate:

Chore charts, calendars, jars...(and any sort of chore management system you can envision)

Meal Planning

Family Nights/Family Devotions

Once-a-week Grocery Shopping (see Meal Planning)

Make-Ahead Freezer Meals (see Meal Planning)

Eating Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Wheat-Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free

Technology-Free Sundays

I am sorry to say that the list goes and on and on. If my kids were helping to write this I'm sure that each of them could chime in with some brilliant ideas of mine that I've long forgotten.

Remember when Mom thought it would be a great idea if we all got up at 6am every morning and ran around the block 7 times while singing Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho?!

That did not really happen.

I swear.

But it could have. I've had some questionable moments...

Oh, and how about that recent idea of mine where I thought it would be such a great challenge to myself if I were to write a blog post every single day of October? Yeah....

I've explained before how I've come to understand that I'm a great Initiator, but a selective Sustainer.

I think I have to try things for a bit before I know whether something is truly worth my time and energy. Because for all my flakiness, the truth is, for every half-baked idea I let quietly fade into oblivion, there are at least an equal number of worthwhile endeavors that I have stuck with for the long haul.

So I haven't written every single day of October. But I wrote today.

And I have kept my gratitude practice going for over a week now.

And tonight, I will once again end the day snuggling with my daughter. That is a plan I can guarantee you that I will sustain for as long as she is willing.

Sometimes my ideas and plans and visions work out really, really well. Sometimes they don't.

But I keep trying.

One of my great ideas that actually did turn out really great.
(Whether they will admit it or not).
(Remember when Mom made us climb all the way up to the stupid horse statues....)
Good times.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The gift of laziness

It occurred to me that when I shared how I use October as a time to slow down and reflect, it may have sounded a bit noble and self-sacrificing. That in taking time for quiet and relaxation I am taking up the challenge to step out of the busyness and demands of life and boldly make this very counter-cultural choice. As if I am triumphantly taking a stand for simplicity and fighting against the inner compulsion to always do more, be more, and have more. I picture myself throwing off the shackles of ambition and perfectionism and instead daring to venture into the unknown lands of complacency and contentment.

I kind of wish that were true.

In reality, when I give myself permission to do less, seek quiet, read more, and rest, it's less like a personal challenge and more like the mothership is calling me home.

When I hear people say things like, "I prefer to be busy. I don't really know how to just sit and do nothing." I only hear the teacher's voice in Charlie Brown saying, "Waah, waah, waah, waah, waah..."

What is this language you speak? How can one not "know how to sit and do nothing?" I feel as though it is the very thing I was created to do. I can sit and do nothing like a BOSS!

People usually laugh when I tell them I am inherently lazy. I know they think I'm joking, and I understand why. I'll be the first to admit that my life does not have the outward appearance of being managed by a lazy person. I take great pride in that simply because it means that somehow I am managing to go forth most days keeping my slothful ways nicely tucked in and hidden under a veneer of competence and productivity. That feels like a pretty huge victory.

It always feels good when you can move about in public and safely assume your crazy isn't showing.

But seriously, I get it... I might not be lazy in the way most people think because in the end I always get done what needs to be done. I think the thing is that I am lazy but disciplined.

If I set an expectation for myself that my house needs to be tidied up and cleaned, then I will do just that. If I tell myself that some form of daily exercise is a non-negotiable, then I'll squeeze it in somewhere. If I declare that only savages would leave the dinner dishes sitting in the sink overnight, then I will muster the inner strength to restore the kitchen to an appropriate level of civility before retiring for the night.

I do these things out of a sense of discipline and because in spite of my internal desire to spend most of the day lying down, I do not actually want to live in squalor and on a diet of cold cereal and Doritos. (Okay, actually that sounds delicious. But, again, discipline....)

I make lists, lots of lists. And I take enormous pleasure in crossing things off those lists. Because you know what I get to do once everything is crossed off of my list?


And that is when I really shine.

My life mantra.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The gift of not running

This October I am trying to give myself time to do more of those things that bring me joy. Writing is not always easy and there are times it feels as if there is nothing to say, but I am always glad when I take the time to pound out some thoughts on the keyboard. So this month I am trying to write more- whatever that may look like. In keeping with the theme of October as a gift, I will be writing about daily practices, habits or activities that I intentionally choose for myself and others. I think. Hopefully. We will see how this goes...


When I turned 40, I gave myself the gift of not running.

Before you spend too much time trying to puzzle out the metaphorical implications of what was surely a deeply symbolic gesture to myself, let me help you out. I mean I literally gave myself the gift of no more running.

I said to myself, "Self, you are 40. God willing you still have at least another 40 years of this life to enjoy and it is time to stop doing things you hate. You do not like running. You may stop. That is my gift to you. Love, Me."

And I have not run for exercise since.

I think it might be the best gift I have ever received.

It's not that I didn't ever get any satisfaction out of running. When I completed my first 10K there was a definite sense of accomplishment. There were days when my run actually bordered on some sort of feeling slightly below torture. And there were periods when running actually helped me to accomplish my aim of losing weight and increasing my overall fitness (which was always the only point).

But I was never a "runner". I never once experienced anything that could be described as a "runner's high". (Honestly, I am convinced that is a myth concocted by athletic companies in their quest to sell shoes.)

I was slow and plodding and pathetic looking in my running endeavors. I never set my sights above a 10K simply because I don't think anyone should spend more time running than it takes to watch a Law and Order episode. A 10K was already pushing the boundaries of that for me (which is why 5K's are so much more civilized) so anything upwards of that time and distance was off limits.

I spent a good chunk of my 20's and 30's attempting various versions of "running" (distance, intervals, HIIT etc...) but for the past five years I have woken up everyday and re-opened my gift to myself by saying, "You may do many, many things today. You will exercise and take care of yourself. But you do not need to run."

And I smile.

My walking buddy.
He gets me out even when it's rainy and wet.
Although, sometimes I think even he questions the sanity of the whole thing.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The gift of October

Sometimes I'm not sure why October is the month that brings it all back into focus.

Because really, for most of that October, 12 years ago, everything was still possible. Plans were being made. Baby items were being bookmarked and put on wish lists, many of them in twos. The basement was being remodeled to accommodate another bedroom. We talked of buying a bigger car.

For 23 days of October, we still had every reason to dream and plan and organize and imagine. 

But by the time October was over, everything had changed. And yet, in some ways, nothing had changed.

We were still a family of four. We still had plenty of bedrooms for everyone. We didn't need to think about upsizing our car. We were still us. 

And yet something was missing. Something we never really had. 

My favorite college professor (mentioned in the previous post) taught me something once that I have never forgotten. He didn't teach this in a class but rather wrote it to me in a letter when I was struggling with a personal loss. He said that almost all losses fall into one of two categories, they are either the experience of absence or the absence of experience. In a few instances, a loss can be some of both. 

Our loss felt like both. We missed the babies we had. We wanted those babies, specifically. We gave them names. We held them. We missed their physical presence. But at the same time, we never really got to know what it would be like to have them in our home. Who they would have been as people and as personalities, we can only imagine. 

We mourned the loss of our son and daughter, but we also mourned the loss of raising twins, learning their quirks and unique gifts, and being a family of six. We couldn't know what any of that would look like in reality, but it was a dream in which we had invested our hearts and souls. 

We wept over the experience of their absence but we also felt bereft at the absence of experience we were suddenly left with.

I realize this all sounds like I am settling into my annual case of the October blues, but oddly enough, I'm not. 

Actually, I'm kind of loving October right now.

There was a long time when October felt sad, really sad. And then it morphed into something less tangibly sad, but still emotionally heavy. And now, October feels like a gift. 

It is the month I allow myself to slow down, to take stock. I'm a reflective, borderline moody person by nature but most of the time I try to stay in my happy place. In October, I put no such pressure on myself. If I want to sit and read and underline deep thoughts and write down quotes I want to remember and sip my tea...then by golly, I just will. If I want to listen to music that makes me a little weepy, then so be it. If I want to stay in yoga pants all day, then... oh, wait... that one is not really confined to October.

October is my month to love life. It is my month to love the whole story of my life, even the sad parts. 

Maybe November is more traditionally thought of as a time to focus on gratitude, but for me October is the soil where my deep thankfulness takes root. Because there was a time when I thought I could never love October again. 

And I do. So much. 

Because it's when I remember.