It’s been a relaxing Sunday. It’s nice to have days that start with no agenda. It means being open to whatever transpires. Here are the highlights of what I was grateful for today:
The way the sun lit up my kitchen in the morning.
Drinking coffee and flipping through magazines at my kitchen island.
The mound of laundry I was able to get washed, dried and folded.
Getting through Lowe’s without succumbing to purchasing anything another other than what I went in for.
Hot tea prepared for me.
Metallica. Even though their movie had a dreadfully disappointing ending.
Spontaneous dinner out.
Socks. Just socks.
I have friends who have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In a very small nutshell, it’s a depression that comes from lack of sunlight. It’s usually prevalent in winter when the days are shorter. While I’ve not been diagnosed, I can say that winter wreaks havoc on my motivation and mood. I consider myself an outdoorsy type of person. I love the smell of grass and the breeze on my face and the dirt under my nails. Even in the heat of summer, I’d prefer to have my windows open because it makes me feel more connected to outside. Something as benign as sitting and reading a magazine seems more interesting and enjoyable to me if I’m doing it in a chair on the deck. Or on a swing in the back yard. Being cooped up inside all winter is wearisome.
For several years I commuted almost an hour to work. In the winter I would leave my house in the dark of dawn and head back home in the evening just after sunset. It was as if I didn’t actually HAVE a day at all since I didn’t have a window in my office either. However, winter in the Midwest is often overcast and dull even during the day, so the entire season seems rather gray. I find it hard to come home in the dark and want to do much of anything productive, so in those years winter was especially difficult for me.
After a week of bitter cold ending in freezing rain, I’m happy to say that today was a bright day. The sun was out early, and I spent part of my morning sitting at the kitchen island in front of the sliding doors reading a little and drinking coffee. Two things I love. The temperatures rose, the ice on my driveway thawed off, and my mailbox is almost uncovered from the melted snow. It was a welcome respite, and today I’m grateful for that.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I’m glad I’m back to work.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the holidays. I loved having time off; I even said more than once that it wasn’t enough time off. But the truth is, I’m a much better person on a routine. Give me days with no structure, and I end up being completely unproductive. I started my vacation with a long list of things I intended to accomplish: wallpaper the family room, paint trim, organize the bags of papers in my office, practice guitar with the online lessons I bought, clean my bedroom, hang new light fixtures, install new faucets, and get caught up on tv shows. I didn’t even travel over the break, thinking I would be so involved in my house projects that it would be best to stay home. I started out ok. I looked for wallpaper. But then I watched Netflix and got caught up on The Walking Dead. I stayed up late doing so and slept in late, knowing I didn’t HAVE to be anywhere. Once I started my day late and lazy, I had no motivation for dragging out paint or tools for hanging fixtures. So I watched more Netflix. And then moved on to the Hallmark Channel’s constant line-up of sappy Christmas movies that never fail to suck me in. I also accepted invitations to eat out for dinner and go to holiday open houses and plays. Basically, I wasted my holiday vacation doing nothing except whatever felt good at the moment. That’s not a horrible thing, I admit. I haven’t had that luxury in a long time. I also made some great memories with my children and friends. I don’t regret that.
However, I’m really a doer at heart. I have a strong need to be productive and useful. When I become physically unengaged, I find my mind turns a bit to mush as well. I’m not as focused and I begin to feel overwhelmed. My to-do list hangs over me and makes me feel guilty. Therefore, I’m glad to be back to the routine of a daily schedule. I’m sure I’ll complain about it soon; there’s going to be too much to do and not enough time to do it. But I’ll feel a little more balanced. It will be easier to go to the gym right after work than to leave the house to do so. I’ll know that I don’t have a lot of time to waste, so I’ll quit putting things off until later. I’ll use my weekend time a bit more wisely too. I’ll need to–all that time in front of the tv made me realize that I don’t like my tv cabinet. That will need to change. And the walls still need something, even if it’s not wallpaper. That means I’ll need to paint the walls. Of course if I change the color, I may need to change up some of the artwork…Yes. It’s a good thing I’m back at work. I have way too much on my to-do list already.
Today I stopped by the gym on my way home. I’m trying to get back into the routine that the holidays disrupted. After a quick hour there, I was eager to get home and eat. I know, judge me later. There’s more coming…
As a sat at the light to turn left into my neighborhood, I realized that the line of cars was unusually long. Normally, it’s just me and MAYBE one other car turning left at that light on any given time of day. Tonight there were at least five in front of me. I couldn’t tell exactly since I was at the end of the line. When the light turned and we got the green arrow, two cars went through. And then none. Now I need to pause here to explain something. I’m a pretty laid-back person most of the time. I don’t get angry often or throw tantrums. I rarely raise my voice. In fact, my children hate when I swear, so I even try to limit myself to swearing only around people who don’t care–or to when I’m in my car. I do hate driving (mostly I hate other drivers) and I can get worked up and swear like the proverbial sailor when I do. Therefore, when the light turned and only two cars went through, the conversation in my car went something like this:
What the. Seriously?? What the HELL. Why didn’t you go?!? Are you KIDDING me? Who’s asleep up there?? ARGH!
At this point, I was willing to admit that maybe the light changed too quickly which SUCKED, so I calmed down. Finally, the light changed again, green arrow appeared, and…NOTHING. NO CAR MOVEMENT. Now the conversation (I am alone in the car, by the way) went along the lines of something my kids would be ashamed to hear, so I won’t actually put it in writing. Needless to say, I was pissed that I had to sit through two red lights and was still no closer to home. I was desperate to get into the shower since I was still sweaty from my workout and my sensitive skin breaks out if I wait too long. Never mind that the gym is across the street from my neighborhood and the light in question is literally two streets away from my house. I wanted to get home.
When the light turned green, I jerked my way out of the clogged turn lane and discovered, as I had by then assumed, that someone was sitting in a stalled car at the front of the turn lane. Poor sucker. I tried not to stare at the car as I drove through the light. It took me only five extra minutes to make my way home, but by then, I felt a bit of chagrin (ok, a lot) for getting so worked up over a short delay. After all, that could have been my stalled car in that turn lane. It was only a few weeks ago that the battery died in my car (although it was in my garage at the time, so I didn’t have to bear the glares of angry motorists). So I’m thankful today for the reminder that on another extremely cold January day, I’m home in my warm house and not stranded in a cold car.
Today was bitterly cold. At 7:30 am the Weather Channel app on my phone said the local weather was -18 degrees with a wind chill of -44. Visions of Jack London’s man risking himself and his dog on the Yukon Trail came to mind every time I thought of heading outside. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. All local schools closed for the day, including the one where I work. I spent my day finishing up some of the items on my forever growing to-do list, such as swapping out light fixtures and painting walls. I also enjoyed the fire in the fireplace and baked brownies while listening to the wind whipping around my front door. I did feel a little guilty knowing that others weren’t as lucky as I. Getting a day off of work for bad weather is a perk not given to most, so I truly am grateful for it.
At the risk of sounding as if I do nothing but watch tv or movies, I’m going to admit that I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the second time today. I saw it first over my holiday break, but I went to the theatre again today with my kids and a friend, none of whom had seen it yet. It was fun for me to watch how they had the same reactions to scenes that I did the first time around. Same moments of laughter and “awwws.” And because I already knew how it ended, I caught more clues and double-meanings in the story along the way.
When you enjoy a movie or a book or a play and are excited to share it with others, there’s always a risk that they won’t appreciate it the same as you. After all, our likes and dislikes reveal little bit about us, so it’s validating when others agree. I was eager to share this movie with my children most of all because the entire movie is about risk-taking and growing as a person. It’s a pretty obvious lesson wrapped inside an endearing movie with spectacular scenery. But there is one line in this movie that really struck me. At one point, a character describes Walter Mitty as “a small piece of gray paper.” My reaction today was the same as the first time I heard it. Wow.
I wonder how often that’s been my projection of myself. I know there have been times, out of fear or laziness, I’ve kept myself small and colorless. I hope it hasn’t been too often. I don’t want that to be my legacy. I think a lot of us live out more in our imaginary lives than we do in reality. It’s easier to live vicariously through the characters onscreen or in books. And while there’s nothing wrong that for entertainment, I don’t want it for my life. I’m thankful for the reminder that sometimes, you just have to put yourself out there in order to truly live a colorful life beyond your own scrap of paper.
I mentioned The Walking Dead in my last post. I got hooked on that tv show after several friends had the same reaction when I admitted I hadn’t seen it. Oh my gosh! You’ve not seen it yet?? You HAVE to watch it; you will be hooked! So I watched it. And I was hooked. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to TLC and check it out. It’s odd for me, actually, because I absolutely hate slasher-type horror movies. In fact, I normally shy away from anything too violent. However, I find the show to be more about the human spirit than about death. To me, the human spirit is always intriguing.
Tonight my daughter Emma and I watched World War Z, another zombie movie. Only in this one, the zombies are a hundred times more frightening, at least they were to the two of us huddled in the dark. We clutched hands and yelled at the same moments, then laughed at our own reactions. We talked periodically about what we’d do if we were there in whatever was happening at the moment. At one point, my daughter said, “Yeah, this is probably where I would just give up.” And I’ve been thinking about that. Would she? Would I? Confronted with something terrifying and potentially life-ending, would we just sit down and wait to be eaten alive?
I’m almost 100% sure the answer is no–for both of us. Truth is, we’re both a bit scrappy and hard headed. Faced with a crisis, we’d fight our way out. More importantly, we’d fight not just for ourselves, but for others too. We’d be on Rick’s team or Gerry’s team and not because they’re both hunky (although that doesn’t hurt). We’d fight with them because they are fighting for more than their own survival. At sixteen, Emma has already proven herself to be more “other” focused than self-absorbed. She’s always marched to her own drummer and stood up for the under-dog, though. I’m sure her name will pop up again in future posts because I have some good stories on her. But tonight I’m thankful to be reminded me of that.
In the zombie apocalypse, I’d want Emma on my team. Who would be on yours?
I went back to work today after an almost two-week holiday break. I wasn’t overjoyed. However, I work at a college and because the students are still on break, I knew my day would at least be quiet. For the most part it was, so I had several hours of uninterrupted time to organize my office and create a to-do list for the start of the new semester. That’s the cool part of working on a school schedule. The semesters end and begin again; there’s always a fresh start at some point. That will probably be a topic to post about at some point, but not today. What struck me today was my office. What looks like clutter to most is a collection of moments to me.
I have a couple of bulletin boards in my office that are covered with pictures and mementos, mostly things given to me by others. I have thank you notes and holiday cards, pictures and gifts from students and colleagues alike. On my desk I have a small collection of toys that usually invite conversation from visitors. I always know who the Dr. Who fans are because they are the only ones who recognize the 11th Doctor’s screwdriver sitting next to my computer. And on my computer I have some notes from my daughters who stop by to visit. Those are my favorite.
What may seem like a lot of junk to some people is joy to me. I spend my days surrounded by memories of others and how they thought enough of me to leave little bits of themselves behind. And I can’t help but be grateful for that.