Halfway There

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The world is going to hell and it better be my day off. This phrase actually came from my mother, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s true that the past few years have been difficult for me.

I’m pretty sure the last time I made New Year’s Resolutions was 2017. I only set three, and I did not accomplish any of them. I thought I had set realistic goals. In general, I think they were. It was just the fact that my life fell apart that year in multiple ways.

We are currently halfway through 2019, and I am happy to say, that I am officially halfway through accomplishing those New Year’s Resolutions I had set in 2017. Better late than never, right?

One of the goals I had set was that I wanted to read the entire Bible in a year. I have read the Bible in it’s entirety multiple times when I was younger, but it’s been awhile since I have done so. I have my favorite books and passages that I keep coming back to over time.

This year, as in 2017, I am once again following the Our Daily Bread schedule of reading the Bible in a year. I am happy to say that so far, I have been reading the Bible every day this year and am exactly on schedule to read the entire thing through from start to finish this calendar year.

On the Old Testament side, I have currently arrived at my favorite book of the Bible, Nehemiah. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I read through Nehemiah a few times last year. It’s always great to read it again.

I’m honestly not sure what my other 2 resolutions were from 2017. I’m sure I can find them somewhere on this blog. But for now, I am on my way to completing this one resolution.

Daily Bible reading helped me to get through my housing crisis last year. At that time, I was just reading what would give me comfort, which was typically Nehemiah or Psalms. I can honestly admit that when I was going through that situation last year and bought this house that it was the very first time I ever “let go and let God.” I did it in a huge way.

I have no idea whether or not I will set a New Year’s resolution in 2020. But for now, I am halfway there to completing one of my 2017 goals. I’m just making up for lost time. There’s another saying “if you’re going through hell, keep on going.”

I’m going. I’m going. Halfway there.

Inquiring Minds

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Ever notice that your library has a “theme?” Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a library connoisseur, but I have noticed that libraries have themes. In my life, I have visited numerous libraries, but more on that later. In my geographic area, I have physically used five libraries with some sort of relative frequency and noticed distinct differences among them.

Library I is about 90% non-fiction. You want to learn something, as in actually learn something, you can find it in this library. Dewey Decimal in his Heaven must be so proud. This is the largest library in a multi-county area. It has one little room of fiction novels, and the rest of the entire library is non-fiction. If you want to write anything from a paragraph to a thesis to a book, you can practically do all of your background research here. This library has everything from the mainstream to the most obscure of titles in non-fiction.

Library G has the best selection of science fiction DVDs. Whether you want to watch The Highlander, The X-Files, Earth 2, The 4400, Star Wars, or Star Trek, this library has the most extensive collection in this area. Why? Are the people who live near Library G really into science fiction? Is that where all the Trekkies live? If so, I want a Convention. I was seriously contemplating ordering a pin that looks just like a Star Trek The Next Generation communicator for my birthday. The only thing that stopped me … well, I was trying to act like a responsible **cough, cough** 40-year-old adult. So, I didn’t.

Library D has the most extensive and prolific collection of biographies. Whether you want to read about a baseball player, a political figure or the front man of a popular 90s heavy metal band, this library has it. They get in new biographies all the time. They even have an entire room with a window seat in it devoted to biographies. After being tortured throughout grade school with book reports and reading about dead people, I never even knew biographies could be exciting, engaging and downright interesting until I discovered this library. In fact, I am actually on the waiting list for a new biography just released in February 2019 to get on inter-library loan from this library.

Library C has the largest collection of large print books I have ever seen anywhere. They’re not just dusty afterthoughts. They keep up the collection and are constantly ordering new books in large print all the time. Sometimes, a new popular book will be all checked out with a waiting list for the “regular print,” yet I am able to find it on the shelf at this library in large print. Look, I’ve worn glasses and/or contacts since the age of 8. We all know I am not getting any younger. I so so so love me some large print. In fact, I often prefer it. This library has it, and it isn’t just your grandmother’s dirty little secret. The large print section is front, center, and large in more ways than just font.

Library M has a very distinct collection of Christian fiction. This library dedicates about half of an entire room to Christian fiction. In all other libraries, I have seen occasional Christian fiction novels mixed in with “general fiction.” This is the first library I have seen that actually gives the genre it’s own distinct space. Not only do they give the genre it’s own area, but this is another library that pays special attention to its particular section. New titles are often ordered in this genre. Not only can you find older, traditional titles, but also newer volumes and series.

Do libraries do this on purpose? Do they notice that a lot of people check out Star Wars and then start ordering more sci-fi movies? Is there some sort of library plot going on? Like, hey, let’s make all the biography readers go to Library D, but if you need it in large print, then you can only find it at Library C. I’m sure there must be some rhyme or reason to this. Either that, or I am the only person who notices this “phenomenon” and am slowly losing my mind.

Not only in my geographic area, but in others, I have noticed “themes” in libraries. When I was growing up, there was Library N that has a large collection of science fiction books. There was Library W (in a completely different state!) that had also had a large section of science fiction books.

I have been in libraries in both rural and urban areas and noticed themes. Do you notice a theme in your library? Any particular genre that seems more prolific than others?

For me, libraries are comfortable. Reading a favorite book can feel like coming home. At the same time, I absolutely love reading something new. I read voraciously.

At various times when I was homeless both as a child and as an adult, libraries are places of refuge. You know you can go into a library to be safe and warm. Library I even allows people to use their library card to check out umbrellas when it was raining.

When I was homeless in a large city as an adult, I would sleep in libraries. It’s a common thing. Quiet, safe place. As long as we weren’t bothering anyone and were in a relatively non-traffic area, the librarians kind of looked the other way. I remember one time when I feel asleep on a library couch and had purposely set a watch alarm to wake me 15 minutes prior to library closing so that I could wake and leave on my own to save the embarrassment of being woke by the librarian.

Unfortunately, I was really tired that day. The alarm went off – and continued to go off – for five minutes until I finally woke up with a librarian and one other very concerned looking individual standing over me. Talk about embarrassing. That library in particular, by the way, had a theme of children. We will call it Library H. The children’s section in that library was huge. It has the largest selection of children’s literature I have ever seen. That library even loans out children’s toys.

I found out about four years ago that that particular library has now closed. It’s collection was donated to Library U on the opposite side of the city. I have not been to visit Library U since it “acquired” Library H. I wonder if Library U now has a children’s theme since it acquired Library H, or if Library U has retained it’s original theme of theology texts.

If library themes are on purpose, I would like to know how and why they are planned. If they are accidental, then it must be some sort of Mayan crop circle concept going on. Or, it could all just be in my mind. We see what we want to see.

Inquiring minds want to know. Does your library have a theme?

Beach Reading

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Above: The one time I took a novel not related to my degree fields to the beach last summer. 

I am very fortunate to live to live in an area that boasts one of the top 10 largest book sales in the country. This weekend, I spent a whopping $8.14 on 20 paperback novels and 5 CDs. One of the CDs was brand-new, still in the plastic shrink-wrap. It was the final weekend of the Friends of the Library book sale, and I made out like a bandit.

I have been to the book sale plenty of times in the past, but this was the first time I was able to choose books out of pure pleasure. The past 20 years in school, I would read the occasional novel unrelated to my degrees over one of my school breaks. I typically had a wish list of this popular novel or that new release. This was my first time making choices based on subjects and authors I have always wanted to read and never had time to look up.

One of the novels I chose has a sticker affixed to the front proclaiming it to be a perfect beach read. That sticker made me stop and think. I have read plenty of guilty pleasure “beach reads” in the past, although I have never read any of them on a beach.

Even though I used my park pass quite frequently at the beaches last summer, I took reading for grad school with me almost every single time. I was multi-tasking to the max and not fully enjoying anything. There was only one week when I had a “slow week” writing my thesis that I took a book not related to my subject area, as I needed a break from grad school.

This summer may very well be the first time in my life that I go to a beach and sit and read a “beach read” novel while my feet are buried in sand. While I sing the praises of the library and much prefer to borrow books than purchase them at some big box store, I feel justified in my book sale purchases because the money goes back to the library. Not to mention, I try to keep library books in good condition. If I take a book to the beach, it will at the very least be sandy, and at worst, maybe wet or damp. I would rather have a book I own suffer the consequences of being a beach read then a library book.

What makes a book a good beach read? I’m not sure. This seems to be another one of those first world problems. I am joyfully looking forward to long summer days spend surfing and lounging on the beach experiencing what it feels like to read a leisure novel in sand and enjoy every moment I have in the sun.

That small sticker that says, “beach read” makes me think of how to slow my life down and enjoy more. Life has changed so much in the past 5 months that I have been out of school and started to institute major changes.

In some ways, I have been wandering aimlessly trying to figure out which activities I want to keep in my life and in which directions I wish to go. I have walked into the library and just picked up whatever was new or looked good. I have been to book club trying to figure out what I like and want to read. At the book sale this past weekend, I was finally able to confidently pick up books, and be like, “this looks good,” without having to put a lot of thought or planning into the process. I did not have to consider whether I would have time to finish the book before it was due back at the library or before school break ended. That is some sort of freedom.

When I think about beach reading, I tend to think of it in context of class. People who have more money obviously have time to sit on a beach and read. When I was going to school full-time and working 70 hours a week, spending more than 3 minutes in the shower was a luxury, forget having a few hours to wile away on a beach. Then I think back to the mid-20th century when beach trips were actually the recreation of choice for the working class. Beaches are typically free. If you had a day off, you would just grab your towel, some sunscreen, and a good book, and head into the great outdoors for the day. In today’s society, time is at a premium. Actually having time to read on a beach is finally a luxury I am going to be able to have since rewinding real slow.

What books have you read that are perfect beach reads? What makes a novel a beach read? Isn’t any book I take and read while laying in the sand a “beach read?” When we slow down our lives, we have more time to do things we really enjoy – even if that something is to sit in the sand doing nothing at all.

 

Life Lesson #493: Do Not Wine & Adele

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Above: Recent art project in process. It will be much shinier and prettier after it is fired in the kiln. You can see some of my Deadpool skin courtesy of my autoimmune disorder.

They say that no man is worth crying over, and the one who is won’t make you cry. This is true for both men and women. While I have heard this adage many times, it has literally taken me years to develop a sense of self worth adequate enough to truly embrace it. When we are emotionally distraught, we tend to engage in negative coping skills in an attempt to deal with the pain. Part of growing up is developing and maintaining positive coping skills to be able to deal with life’s challenges so that we can become resilient and bounce back to full functioning in shorter periods of time.

When we are emotionally distraught, we are more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by even the slightest thing. The smallest addition to the pile could be the tipping point at which distraught tumbles into full-blown despair or meltdown. About 5 years or so ago, I could very easily tell you what my most negative coping skill was for dealing with stress. It was then I learned to not wine and Adele.

We all have negative coping skills, from smoking to drinking, to binge-watching Bridget Jones’ Diary on repeat while inhaling tubs of Ben & Jerry’s to taking out our emotions on the people closest to us whether they deserve it or not. For me, it was wine & Adele. I could drink wine and listen to anything else from the Grateful Dead to The Doors to Florence & The Machine, but if I put on Adele, well, then, “rolling in the deep,” indeed.

Over the past few years, I have been successful in replacing some of my most negative coping skills with more positive ones. The fact that I have been able to minimize and simplify my life these past few years has greatly helped in this transition process of shedding negative habits for more positive ones.

Simplifying my life, slowing down my schedule, and reducing the amount of clutter around me has empowered me to more competently face and process my emotions better without being overwhelmed by anything around me. I have the time and space to process all my emotions, both positive and negative, without having anything in my environment be a tipping point to a negative place. I have been able to develop positive coping skills for processing negative emotions so that I can more quickly and successfully come through the other end.

March was a particularly challenging month for some reason I have not been able to identify. In March, I used my positive coping skills a lot. I did quite a bit of painting, I have been more active in community events, and have had more meaningful conversations with those whom I interact.

I did not wine, but I did Adele. With my autoimmune disorder, my wine consumption has gone from about 4-5 bottles per year to maybe 4-6 glasses per year, so wine is no longer a coping skill. I did, however, pop in the new Adele CD and have a nice, tear-free soak in the bathtub.

Sometimes when we are distraught, identifying our positive coping skills can by extremely difficult, even if it seems that they should be evident. For those moments when life is overwhelming, I have made a list of positive coping skills that I can look at to remind myself that there are ways other than smoking (I quit like 9 years ago), wine & Adele, or endless tears to be able to cope with stress and pain.

Some of my positive coping skills include:

  • Running
  • Painting
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Church

It is especially important to try to identify coping skills that are not dependent on other people, in case those people are not available, or maybe we just don’t have people in our lives on whom we can rely. Unfortunately, that is the situation in which I live. There is not a single person in my life that I could pick up the phone and call when I am having a hard time. I have tried it before and the usual response is “I’m busy.” I don’t even bother reaching out for human contact anymore. People know where I am. If they want to talk to me, they can reach out to me.

One of the reasons why learning to not wine & Adele is so significant is that wine & Adele was trapping me in a cycle of negativity. I was not processing my emotions and moving on from them; I was dwelling in them. Pickling myself in negative feelings is not what I have in mind for my life. In the process of slowing down, I now have the luxury of being able to unpack and address each emotion and move on from the situation that much stronger for having addressed the initial cause of despair.

Diversifying our coping skills is important in case our “go-to” is unavailable. For example, when I was injured last fall after my marathon, I had to rely on my other coping skills to deal with my running injury, because it was definitely not something I could just “run through.” If I ran with that injury, I would have done permanent damage that would have inhibited my running for the foreseeable future.

Do you have your own version of wine & Adele? What positive coping skills can you use to replace the negative ones? How can we be kind to ourselves and best allow ourselves the time and space to process our emotions in healthy ways? When we slow down our lives, we then have the opportunity to deal with our emotions instead of just dwelling in them. We are here to live, not to dwell.

 

The Best Summer

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Despite the still balmy temperatures we have in September, the leaves are starting to turn, the kids have returned to school, and summer is quietly sliding into fall. Summer 2015 is the best summer I have ever had in life. I do not remember a summer like this since 1988. I tried to think about why this is so and to isolate the commonalities that seemingly exist between two so disparate years.

In 1988, I was still a child. This was before I started working at age 14. While my childhood was nothing pretty and everything I have been trying to overcome as an adult, I distinctly remember the summer of 1988 as having a slight respite from the challenges through which I lived in my youth. I remember reading lots of books. I was in Virginia that summer, and the people with whom I was staying had a pool membership. When I was not in the pool, I was next to it reading. Those were the most carefree days of my life. Granted, my tastes have changed. I did not re-read Jurassic Park and all the other Michael Crichton novels this summer, but I actually had time for leisure reading; a rare treat as a grad student.

This summer, I had the gift of time. For the first time in my adult life, I have employment that actually allows me days off. Prior to my current position, I was always working 7 days a week between two or three jobs. The only time I ever got a day off was a holiday. Holidays were not really holidays, they were days to be home and get caught up on school and everything else in the middle of my 60 hour plus survival schedule. My current position gives me at least one day off per week, and often more. I had several days this summer where I had the day off and the freedom to recreate that feeling from 1988 of being free from responsibility and worry. I spent many days this summer at the various parks in the state, on the beaches reading, and doing some light surfing.

Beach days were not relaxing at first. I was so accustomed to the schedule of having to pack school into every free moment due to my work schedule, that my first few beach visits I took my school work with me. Then, as I started to realize my current employment situation allows me privileges I have never before experienced in life, I made a conscious decision that I would not take any schoolwork with me.

That’s where the magic begins.

Beach days became carefree and reminiscent of that childhood summer of 1988. I simply put some food in a cooler, grabbed a towel, a book, and some sunglasses, and off I went. The most “difficult” decision I had to make was which bathing suit to wear, and even that was not hard: wear the dry one that is in the closest reach.

This summer was great because it was probably the first time since I started working at age 14 that I actually had “holidays.” Now I know what the Europeans are talking about. I took off for beach days this summer without school, without work, and without worries. That has never happened for me before.

In some aspects, I feel I was able to reclaim some small portions of my childhood lost due to the difficulties I faced as a child and being forced to grow up way to soon to face them. I felt a little irresponsible “blowing things off” and taking beach days, but in reality, all my work and schoolwork was done, and my bills were paid, so really I was not blowing anything off, I was doing the best thing possible. I was taking care of myself. I was able to experience childhood delight that I never experienced as a child, and able to fully relax and be present in the moment in which I was living. It was one of the best things I have ever done.

As summer slowly changes to fall, I feel I am also losing that feeling. I feel I need to recreate it somehow, so that I do not lose the beauty of my summer beach days. What I am learning, as I rewind real slow, is that peace and relaxation may not necessarily be about your location (although beaches and crashing waves are very helpful), but rather a state of mind that says: “I am here. I am at peace.” Most importantly: “I am enough.”

I have gotten caught up in the whirlwind of fall. The anxiety of back to school (although my grad program runs continuously until its conclusion); it’s that Pavlovian response to the change in season. I find myself trying to jam pack my schedule again.

Then I realized that having the best summer of my life need not be an isolated incident. It is also possible to have the best fall of my life.

Now I’m putting on the breaks.

In the next few weeks, my goal is to refocus myself for a new season not only in weather, but also in life. I am going to remember to enjoy my days off. While I may not be spending them at the beach right now, I need to remember to not fill them with useless and unnecessary things. That beach feeling is something I can recreate in other ways. I just need to figure out how.

Do you get caught up in the fall whirlwind? Is this the time of year you pack your (or your child’s) schedule with activities, meetings, and things to do? Summer is not the only season for relaxing and joy. Fall can have the same feeling of peace if only we know how to find it.

As the breeze blows gently, I am enjoying a fall morning now on my deck with my coffee, and some radio. If this summer has taught me anything, I have learned that it is ok to just sit and be. Doing nothing is not necessarily lazy. Sometimes doing nothing helps to replenish us so that we may fully do something.

What ways are you learning to slow down this fall? Are there things that help you to feel relaxed in the middle of the bustle of back to school and new schedules? Times of transition are often stressful. This is the time when we need to take care of ourselves the most.

Take time to rewind real slow.