New Year, New Hope

I vow now that the end of 2018 will not see me sitting on my couch watching a movie, just waiting for the sands on the year clock to run out. May 2018 be a year of renewal. May it bring with it a dedication to truth and authenticity, honest, heartfelt conversations, and clarity of thinking in the path forward. May the ghosts of all the years past not throw chains around this new year, and may patience turn to decisiveness.

To 2018!

Photo credit: maxxtraffic on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

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2017 – The Year of Not Caring

I’ve always been a pretty optimistic person, someone who believes in love and family and that those two things will see you through any bad time that comes your way. My friends and family have seen me through a couple of harrowing years, one of a scary cancer diagnosis and another seeing me through the job from hell. I don’t know how I would have made it through either of those without the love and support of family and friends. But we all go through phases and stages, and this past year everyone’s phases coalesced into the perfect storm of children pulling away and adults revisiting their purpose in this world, all under the helpless feeling that comes with a tumultuous election of a divisive president. It was a one step in front of the other kind of year, a year of going through the motions, of waking up with a dedication to getting through the day.

And it’s taught me to care less.

Though I’m not a Buddhist, I can finally see how letting go gives peace. I have held tightly to my ties, even while the hands on the other end were slackening their grip. I have sat in the middle of a pile of photo albums that only I look at and cried over times past. I have served dinner in front of a wall of photo collages of happy times and tried to make conversation with people who were intent on showing that they were just not that into me. I have tried to communicate my needs and my desires only to be met with blank stares as I pounded my head against that brick wall. And so I let go.

It’s a lonely feeling to let go.

I have spent a lot of time this year wandering by myself, walking through nature, feeling the salt air on my face, staring at the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and marveling at the giant moon as it rose over the land. I slept in the back of my car to get my camping experience and cried as I listened to the families around me talk and laugh around their own campfires. I have wandered and traveled, all the time taking photos that don’t include the people I love. I have dammed up the feeder stream to friendships that were sustained on my little trickle alone. I have searched inward for solace.

There were islands of joy in my barren year, trips to see Smartypants in Virginia and Sunshine in Colorado, trips that filled my soul and reminded me of what I love most about life. We explored and ate and talked and laughed, and I went home revived, with a full tank to carry me through months of what has become a dry, prickly, arid existence. There was a springtime trip with Mr. A to the national parks, getting away from the roles and responsibilities that have made up our last 23 years in this same spot. But returning to knee-high grass and weeds and those same roles and responsibilities brought reality home like a blast from the furnace, and as Mr. A dove back into work, I was on my own once again.

And so I wandered.

And I stopped caring.

As I said, there’s a freedom that comes from not caring, a vagabond mentality that is always seeking out options. It’s a freedom from fear. It’s a knowledge that anything  stable could be upended without a moment’s notice, and an appreciation for what is going well in the moment. It comes with a humility that I cannot influence what I thought I could, and that being myself might not be enough to work magic in other people’s lives. It’s come with the feeling of teetering on the brink between falling back into a life I’ve always treasured and being pushed into a new existence, a chance to re-imagine myself, that square peg that will never fit into the round hole no matter how much pressure is applied.

And so I’ve wandered through the darkness of 2017 and come to the end intact, though the lessons may have been hard. In the autumn of my life, I watch my expectations change and fall like leaves, clustering at my feet, in sight, but out of reach, before blowing away on each stiff breeze.

I am learning to let go.


 “All that history, the love & laughter, is designed for youth. It is what keeps the story of who we are alive from one generation to the next. It ensures our indelible mark in the souls of generations we will never have the pleasure of holding in a warm embrace. Life is short people. Before you know it, another decade will pass, people you love will be lost to this world, and all that will be left of them is what we carry in our hearts.”
― E.B. Loan

 

The Zen of Sanding Chairs

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and summer for this teacher means time to tackle those nagging projects. Last week was a productive week, leaving my house in disarray. A not-so-simple picture rearrangement in the dining room became a much needed wall paint touch up. That led the way to finally painting naked, primed trim a rich melted vanilla ice cream shade of white. You can’t paint trim and leave the doors grimy and grungy, so off came the door handles and on went the paint. (Mouse and your cookie, you have nothing on me!)

I have a list, and things are getting checked off. When the heat wave drove me out of my non-air-conditioned house yesterday, I sat in the shade in my front yard and painstakingly sanded down a couple of chairs from a 1930s dining set that once belonged to my grandparents. The set was an antiqued-white addition to my mom’s red 70s kitchen when I was growing up. It then adorned our little 1940-era starter home when my own kids were young. It has mostly been stored for years now, with the exception of a single chair that moves from the computer desk to the piano and back again, over and over.

Being the oblivious person that I am, I have for years overlooked the yellowing polyurethane and the ripped tomato-soup colored vinyl seat. The chair is handy, lightweight, easy to move around in its ossified, porous, dry-wood way. It’s a ninja to the knights of my current cumbersome dining set, its portability helping me to reach those top shelves of my kitchen cabinets or to hang a curtain rod, which is what I was doing recently when my foot got caught in the rip and I went down on my rear end, jarring my neck and rattling some unused portion of my brain that tends to overlook things like ripped seats on vintage chairs.

I added it to my list.

The chairs and I were about to get on intimate terms. I had already painted the one that was in my house, trying a chalk paint formula from memory, circuits of which must have been jarred as well in the fall because the 1:1 ratio I thought I remembered was actually 2:1. So off came the thick, gloppy paint job. Then, so as not to leave its siblings out, because one must always be fair, even to chairs, I pulled the others out of storage and sanded them, too.

This is not a simple, straightforward set. It has a routed scroll pattern on the backs and turned legs with depressions that are either full of antiquing stain or nearly 50 years of the dirt and dust of life. As the sandpaper did its job on the polyurethane, the white my mother had painted over the wood became apparent. I remembered her dismay when she learned that because she had painted bare wood, the set could not be stripped back down to the mahogany. I sanded over the legs and noted the distressing that came from years of feet resting on the stabilizing bar at the bottom. Those feet were our feet as children, and later my own children’s feet. With a quiet meditation I sanded. The legs of the chairs were squeaky, begging for attention, and at the corners they had been mistreated and now had jagged edges. I started thinking how like life this whole process was.20170624_124105

This connecting disconnected things could be a result of the stage I’m in, a kind of grasping-at-straws reflective process. My kids are leaving home and are busy with their own lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own life (though my family might choose the phrase dwelling on). I was always happy with my choices, but now as I find myself alone more and more, I am not so sure I’d make the same ones if given another chance. Having my kids? Yes. But the choice to stay at home with them in their early years is exacting a heavy toll on me right now.

With each drag of the sandpaper I pondered this life that has been given to me, all of the small moments woven together to bring me to the shade of the front yard on this miserably hot day, and how my choices and the choices of the people I love that have truly impacted it. Like the chair that had sat, unnoticed in its decline, I thought how much tending my new life really needed, how much stripping away of the old might get to the somewhat ossified, but very useful core, how much sanding down the rough edges was needed to avoid breakage and the  possibility of hurting someone, and how much a new paint job in the form of a renewed focus might bring some life to an otherwise old and tired existence.

I will return to sanding down my old chairs today, and with it my old life, my old thought patterns and expectations. I will clothe my chairs in a beautiful French inspired fabric and paint them with a new and accurate formulation of chalk paint. I will revisit the points of wear that really matter and distress accordingly. Then, when I finally rub the wax into the finished product and buff it to a smooth shine, I hope to come away with an poignant reminder of all that has been and a beautiful testament to all that remains.

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Think Hard About Accepting that Visa Offer

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Well, I Never….”

All paths lead to the road I’m on.

Accepting mistakes and learning from them is a part of life. Most of the things we do temper and steel us to be the people we ultimately become. Our challenge is in using those mistakes, those irritating, often embarrassing moments, as growth material. There is no better fertilizer than bullshit, after all.

If I could, and I wish I could, I would discourage everyone I know from building credit card debt.

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As Americans, we are raised to be consumers. We are plied with images of happy families in their big, suburban houses driving shiny new cars. We see commercials for Disneyland and feel like terrible parents if we don’t make the trip at least once. Even the kids need a toy to go with a meal to make them happy. We need new bikes, new shoes, different shoes for road and trail. We need fancy watches for running. We need gadgets and more gadgets, and when they become obsolete in just a year, we trade them in for new ones. And life is short, so why not take that vacation to the Bahamas. Just put it on the Visa and worry about it later. And the next thing you know, we wake up from our dream life and our Visa is maxed out, the minimum payment on the clothing store card is less than the interest, and we have nowhere to turn. We have imprisoned ourselves in a world of debt.

We lived this life, minus the trip to the Bahamas. We got a Visa when we first got married. At first we used it for “emergencies”, although now not a single real emergency comes to mind. We started adding to it, fulfilling our desires for stuff, and little by little, shovelful by shovelful, we dug ourselves into a deep, deep hole. We were lucky. A family member came to our rescue and paid the debt, but we spent the next 10 years paying him back.

I can’t tell you the toll this has taken on our family. What began as hope soon spiraled into money problems, arguments, and worry. We have spent years trying to get our feet back under us. We have missed out on many opportunities because during the time our children were small, we were busy trying to get out of the mess we caused.

The ability to delay gratification creates peace of mind.

There is a well known Stanford experiment involving children and marshmallows. In it, researchers put a marshmallow in front of a preschool child, then tell the child they have to leave, but if the marshmallow is still there when the researcher gets back, the child will get two marshmallows instead of one. The researchers found that kids who are able to delay gratification (not eat the marshmallow) were more successful in life, had better grades and were more likely to attend university. Those who weren’t able to resist suffered poor school performance. It’s likely these kids go on to build credit debt because they don’t develop the self discipline that is required to say no to the immediate pleasure the object will supply.

Marshmallow test redux

I’m afraid we fell into that category, but the good news is that we learned from our mistake. Twenty-five years later we can have a credit card, chosen by us, and with a low credit limit that we know we can pay off monthly. It has come in handy, but we use it with the specter of past mistakes looming over our shoulder. The instant gratification that our Visa allowed us is superficial. It’s a quick pick-me-up that very quickly dissipates into stress and worry, not to mention clutter. Living with a budget requires considering your decisions, and creates a peace of mind that is both deep and meaningful. It doesn’t mean going without, but it does mean figuring out what really matters to you.

So, friend, next time that credit card offer shows up in the mail, do yourself a favor and burn it.