Four Coffee Dates

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Whether you love or hate the 12 Days of Christmas song, most everyone knows it and will belt out “Five golden rings.” I like to think of the 12 days of Christmas in terms of Christmas vacation. Those are 12 days when I get a little bit of respite from some of the enormous amount of responsibility I shoulder.

When I was a student, I would try to cram as much leisure time into Christmas break as possible. It was the only time when I had the time to read a novel not associated with my degree field. I would schedule game nights, soirees with wine and food, coffee dates, movie dates, and would pretty much say yes to any party to which I was invited. Spending 20 years working 2 or 3 jobs while being a full time student on the Dean’s List left little time for socialization, so I lived Christmas break to the fullest. Even though I still had work and home obligations, at least I had a break from school.

We have had about a week and a half holiday break from my work, and it has been awesome. It is nice to be home and not have to worry about work. I have time to rest, time to read, run, and attempt some of the items on my to-do list. I just wish it would snow. Of course, when I have off from work the roads are bare. Mother Nature waits until work days to make the roads impassable, causing me to use all my vacation time on snow days.

However, with the nice weather, I have had the opportunity to connect in ways that I usually do not have energy for given my disability. I have been on two coffee/tea dates so far with two more scheduled. I am scheduling my coffee dates around my running schedule to reduce the amount of driving I am doing into town. I have had at least three days this week that have been completely home days and it has been awesome.

So while I may not be living it up with house parties, game nights, and nights out dancing like I was ten or more years ago, I am making meaningful connections. Coffee dates allow me to spend an hour with a person in meaningful conversation. Or, sometimes just silently enjoying someone else’s company while people watching out the coffee house window. 

As I get older, I am discovering that spending quality time with people is more important than the quantity of time you spend with them. I may be spending an hour with someone. That hour of quality time sustains me through three subsequent days alone with the cats. I have to admit, I am thoroughly looking forward to the time when I can finally retire completely (not just from my career as a student) and my time is my own. 

The most important part of Christmas is the gift of time, which you cannot buy in a store. I have been enjoying taking time to see people outside of work. I am looking forward to more positive, relaxed interactions. 

How are you spending time with people this holiday season? 

A Day of Rest

 

 

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This morning during children’s time at church, the speaker was asking the kids if they knew what day it was – besides Sunday. One of the children responded “a day of rest.” The answer that the speaker was looking for was World Communion Day. Now, before I lose all of you who are non-religious, let me just say we’re going to run with the day of rest idea.

Rest. We all need it. I spent 20 years working 3 jobs, going to school full time, sleeping 4 hours a day and yes, working 7 days a week. Burning the candle at both ends for so long was probably a contributing factor to my stroke which has forced me to slow down. I am now physically able to work only one 40 hour a week job and I average 9-10 hours of sleep per day.

Every once in a while, we need a day off. A day off needs to happen more often than “well, its a holiday and my work is closed, so I’m home.” We need to schedule regular days off to rest and recharge ourselves.

If you give and give without taking time to replenish yourself, not only will you crash and burn, but you will drag everyone around you down into the searing fireball you have become.

We all need a day of rest.

I thought about how my life and my Sundays have changed in the past 5 or 6 weeks I have moved into the house. In the apartment, the bunny ears on my TV set received 12 channels. I’m not huge on TV, but I enjoyed watching baseball Saturday nights and football every Sunday.

The bunny ears do not receive any channels in the house. That’s fine. I’m content with the DVD player. I am so busy with house things that I very rarely have the time to sit down and watch something anyways.

I remember moving into my house on a Thursday. That Sunday, a friend had come over to visit. As I sat with my friend on the front porch, I told them “you know, this is the first time I have sat down in 4 or 5 days.” My life has been that way ever since.

For more than a decade, Sunday was my day of rest. I called it family day. I would do my long run for running or marathon training, then the rest of the day was dedicated to spending time with the cats and being a vegetable on the couch watching football.

Now that my bunny ears do not have reception to see football, Sunday has turned into a house cleaning day. I have my cleaning divided into sections to make my life easier. On Saturdays, I typically clean upstairs and work on outside chores. On Sundays, I typically clean downstairs and do the bulk of my cooking and baking for the week (I freeze meals, remember).

Sunday is no longer a day of rest.

This week is a 3-day weekend. It’s Columbus Day, or as some people call it “Indigenous Americans” Day. Sometimes I think of it as “Guy in a boat got lost” day. I digress.

Here I was all excited about a 3-day weekend. What have my 3-day weekends looked like in the past? Beach days, football, reading, hiking, running. All fun things. I could typically clean my apartment in about an hour. Then I was off doing some fun thing or just lounging like a vegetable relaxing.

With that in mind, the prospect of a 3-day weekend was exciting. Has it been? Primarily no. I have been doing something house related every single day. Even though Saturday afternoon I did take a 2 hour timeout to have a bonfire in the yard, it was not relaxing. I look at my to-do list and am overwhelmed. I have so many things to do.

What happened to my 2 item to do list? I feel like I’m buried.

The good news is that I have not been driving on the weekends. I have made a conscious effort to park the car in the garage Friday nights and to not drive until work on Monday morning. So that means I am either at home or only go someplace within walking distance. I feel like since becoming a homeowner that I have not stopped or sat down.

Well, I have sat down, but usually for an hour or two respite, then I’m back up tinkering again.

I think it was helpful when I had TV channels on my bunny ears that sitting down and watching football on Sunday afternoons was a way that I forced myself to take a day of rest.

Now that my bunny ears do not have reception, I do not experience that day of rest I had.

There is a local radio station that airs NFL football games on the radio of a “local” team. It may be that this afternoon I have to sit and listen to football on the radio in the same manner I was planting myself to watch football on the TV.

It’s the only thing I can think of to force myself to slow down. Otherwise, I keep getting up and doing things.

So I’m going to try listening to football on radio today to observe the day of rest.

But first, I’m going to make a loaf of allergy-friendly banana bread.

How do you observe a day of rest?

 

My Yoga Pants Went To Yoga

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Yoga pants are an essential part of a marathon runners’ wardrobe. Once you complete running 26.2 miles, yoga pants are pretty much the only things you can wear for the first 2-3 days while you recover from putting your body through the equivalent of natural childbirth. Your legs kind of flop around like a fish on land, and yoga pants are very forgiving with the first few days post-race.

I have two pairs of yoga pants. They have never been to yoga.

Until today.

I have been to yoga many times, but I do not usually wear yoga pants to yoga, I usually wear shorts. Since it is a little ridiculous to pay $45 per one-hour class to take yoga in the city in which I work, I decided to do a yoga class in the city in which I live. It was a much cheaper rate. Actually, I am on a free trial.

Thank goodness it was free. It was the first, last, and only time my yoga pants have ever been to yoga.

When I entered the facility, the instructor seemed exasperated that I came with only a mat – no blocks, no leash, none of the other yoga props – just a mat. Hey, at least I came with a yoga mat. I’m not new to the scene here, but I’m also not a hard-core yogi. I do what I can, and when I can’t, I just relax.

Her exasperation over my lack of accessories only served to strike fear into both my head and my heart. In my experience, yoga classes that require props translate into situations in which I am either going to get physically hurt or poses into which I either cannot get into, or once into, cannot get out of. Yoga classes with props give totally new meaning to the phrase, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” I typically do better with classes that do not require props, and when I can’t do the pose, I just lay there peacefully. This woman was like some sadistic combo of drill sergeant and dominatrix. I can’t tell you how frustrated she was at my lack of a leash.

For the record, the only leashes I want to deal with are those attached to my surfboard, or, if I had a dog, the one we use on walks. I digress.

I attend yoga mostly for relaxation, and also for some light stretching. I tore the patella tendon in my knee a few years ago, and every once in awhile, it gives me pain. I know better than to do anything overly pretzel-like. I have also had multiple head injuries, with at least 5 documented concussions, so I know I am a fall hazard if they are trying to get me to balance in some type of ballerina position. This class was obviously going to be much too rigorous for me.

I rolled up my mat and started to leave once I realized that this was not going to be the peaceful and relaxing yoga class I had envisioned. That seemed to only perplex the instructor further. She just could not understand why someone would need or want to leave her yoga class. To her credit, she did suggest that the senior citizen chair yoga class may be more my speed. I smiled and nodded politely. I have indeed taken the chair yoga class with the senior citizens years ago after my most recent head injury. I have actually successfully graduated from that class and done several gentle or slow flow yoga classes with no problem in the city in which I work. I didn’t tell her that, though. I’m just thankful for the free trial. At least I did not have to pay $45 to learn that lesson.

This year is the first year in well over 30 years that I am not in school. September has been a very hard month for me. I’m sad, I’m frustrated, and quite honestly, I have absolutely no idea what to do with myself.

My two biggest coping skills have always been running and school. I have always played the two off from one another. When school was not going well, I ran. When I had an injury that I had to rest from running, I focused more on school. Now that I am retired, I don’t have school anymore. All I have is running.

I love running, but I know that I will not be able to do it forever and I need to have a second coping skill for those times when I cannot run. I have been trying different activities. I am trying to get myself onto some sort of schedule. I like having more time to do things since I have slowed my life down, but now I don’t know what to do. I miss the structure that came with the semester and having to go to class and do schoolwork. I need to replace it somehow.

I am not sure how this is all going to shake out, but I do know that I am not going to be a yogi. I have some more activities I plan on trying to see if they fill the void I have in my life by not being in school. You never know what is going to work until you try.

For today, my yoga pants went to yoga. It was so overrated. I think they should be called marathon pants instead. I’ll have to write Victoria’s Secret to tell them I am renaming their pants. These yoga pants aren’t going to yoga again.

 

Escape

As much as I have tried to create a life I don’t need to escape, sometimes we need to take a step back in order to view situations objectively. When we are enmeshed and really “in” something, we are much more likely to make poor choices because we just can’t see out or around the situation in which we are living.

An expression I said almost all the time during the last few years I spent working on my bachelors degree was, “I keep pushing the escape button, but I’m still here.” I spent 15 years working on that degree, and sometimes, I just wanted a break from the constant flow of work, home, and school.

I will be getting a break next week, and am extremely fortunate in that not only will I be getting a break in July, but one in August as well. This is going to be the first time in my life I have gotten two breaks in one year.

Some things are beyond our control. As much as I have tried to slow down, I cannot control a family members illness or the stress that brings, or certain other life events that just kind of “happen” to us. The only person you can control in this life is yourself. We do not always have control over anything around us.

Next week, I’m going camping, and I am really looking forward to having a break. As much as I love my ill family member, I just feel like I need a break from them and the situation. I feel guilty saying that, because this disease is their everyday reality, but its hard sometimes to hold it all together.

My camping trip next week is in a location completely new to me that I have never been to before. My August trip will be to my usual spot, but for July, its someplace new.

It’s pretty sad when you have to drive yourself to the middle of nowhere to a location with no cell service, no internet, no electricity, and no water just to escape your own life. Unfortunately, in today’s technological society, sometimes that is the only way to completely unplug.

Away from glowing screens, email notification dings, and the noise of an overly congested and poorly planned small city, I will be reconnecting to nature. Camping off the grid is time to listen to body, mind, and soul and align all three with the universe. You can’t hear that “still small voice” when constantly surrounded by noise.

So yes, I will be escaping next week. I also think there is a difference between an escape and running away. Sometimes we need to escape our situations momentarily to take a step back in order to view things objectively. Escaping allows us to return renewed and refreshed, perhaps with a different perspective and brighter outlook on how to tackle a challenge.

Running away, on the other hand, entails leaving the situation and either avoiding it completely, with no intention of return, or returning to the situation with the naive idea that it had changed in your absence, even though you have done nothing about it.

Running away and escaping are two profoundly different situations.

So while I strive to create a life I don’t have to escape, I have come to realize that I do not have total control, and sometimes we need the escape to take a step back in order to face uncertainty with more clarity.

Here’s hoping my camping trip to this new location next week brings me peace, rest, and refreshment. It’s the ultimate adult time out when you come to realize that you are so burned out, that you need to recenter yourself before you reach out and slap someone.

Hopefully by making the effort to take better care of myself, I can be better for those around me. How do you escape when you need some objectivity and refreshment?

There Goes My To-Do List

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Oops. No more list. It’s all good. I can get everything done.

Back in the day when I was working 2-3 jobs 60-70 hours a week and going to school full-time pulling a 3.9 GPA, my to-do list was massive. I even had to schedule laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My life was so overscheduled that if I did not purposefully plan every single activity, it would not get done due to sheer lack of time. I was not living. I was surviving. I was working to pay the bills and trying to get through school to hopefully build a better life that I could enjoy at a much slower pace.

Last summer, as I was writing my thesis and finishing grad school, I had successfully minimized and downsized my life enough that my to-do list consisted of three items per day. I did this in order to prioritize my activities and to try to regain a sense of control over my time. It was quite effective. While the goal was three items per day, there were some days when my to-do list had five items, and others when it simply had one, but it was way better than what I had previously been facing.

My to-do list was so overscheduled that at one point I was a participant in a research study for Cornell on time management, and the researcher was so overwhelmed with my process that they even photographed my planner. Not only did I have a 5×7 size planner, but also it was color coded and notated with various tabs and small post-it notes with additional information that would simply not fit in the box. No one seemed to be able to understand how I was able to accomplish it all. Quite frankly, I have no idea either. Lately, my autoimmune disorder has been taking pretty much everything out of me, and I honestly cannot fathom how, just a few years ago, I was able to achieve everything in one day that I completed. Yet, somehow, I did.

I have been out of school for a few months now, and not only have I been able to better keep to my three items on the to-do list per day rule, but often, my to-do list has nothing on it. Nothing.

How does this happen?

Well, first of all, now that my life has significantly slowed from its breakneck pace, I no longer have to schedule, list, or plan for activities that need to be completed to sustain every day life. When the laundry basket fills, I wash clothes. When I run out of food, I cook more. I actually have time to do these necessities on a daily and as-needed basis without having to schedule every minute detail.

This means that my to-do list now only has occasional items on it such as doctor appointments, my book and writing clubs, and major home projects that need to be done as part of my KonMari plan. I have leisure time now that I never had before. Retired college student, indeed.

No longer having a to-do list is very freeing. It is freeing to the point where I actually feel lazy. I have been able to slow my life down to the point where not only am I able to effortlessly perform the duties required to maintain everyday life like laundry and cooking without having them scheduled, but I also have time to do pretty much whatever I want to do with my non-work hours. I have plenty of activities to fill my time, yet I do not feel overwhelmed in the slightest.

If you do not have the luxury as I do to throw your to-do list out the window, can you minimize it? Once we get past the point where we are scheduling survival activities on the to-do list, the list should only consist of those additional activities that are an addendum to everyday life, and not a necessity.

Another thing that has helped this process immensely is identifying my priorities. I have three priorities in life, and now that I have identified what they are, I am able to be sure that everything I do is aimed at achieving those goals. Everything in life that is not a priority, I have let go. Everything else is simply extraneous activity and background noise to what is truly important in life.

I still have a planner. My planner has gone from 5×7 size down to a more 3 ½ x 5 size. I no longer fill the boxes completely, and gone are the highlighting, tabbing, color coding, and additional post-it notes that I used to have. I use the square provided to me, and it is not full on any given day.

There is great freedom that comes when we have the privilege to be able to slow down our lives. When we have employment we enjoy that pays our bills and allows us time for recreation, we have time to do what we truly want to do without having to engage in the never-ending rat race that steals souls.

While my to-do list has gone out the window, I am in fact accomplishing more than I was completing before and I am so much happier doing it. Life is much more manageable when we slow down the pace to be able to focus on our priorities and goals to achieve that which is truly important.

If you do not have the luxury of sending your to-do list out the window, what can you prioritize to make it more manageable? How can you slow down today?

Finding Peace

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Every year for the past 15 or so years, I take a camping trip for Labor Day weekend. I go completely off the grid to a remote location that has no cell service, no electricity, and no running water. I joke that I have to drive myself to the middle of nowhere to escape my life. The sad part is that it is true.

Part of my journey in simplicity and minimalism is to slow down in my normal, every day life in order to create a life I don’t need to escape. I am hoping to be able to identify pockets of peace in my daily routine so that I do not feel I need to wait for that one, magical time of year for it all to happen.

My camping trip has always been an escape from technology, phones, email, responsibility, problems, my 2 or 3 jobs, and whatever other drama was occurring in my life at the time. Oftentimes, I was so stressed out that I was unable to truly relax, even though I was completely displaced from the stress and in a very beautiful place.

This year, I am hoping that my vacation is a true respite. Each year I return to the same location, no matter what is happening in my life, or what my point of origin. This year, I have so much to be thankful for. Instead of having to worry about paying bills, putting food on the table, or rushing from one job to the next on 4 or 5 hours of sleep, I am thankful that I am finally at a point in my life that I have employment I enjoy, that treats me well, and meets my basic needs.

This is the time of year when I push the reset button and recharge. My goal in slowing down my every day life is to be able to do this in small doses daily, without feeling the need for one huge trip. I will continue to do my camping trip every year, but I am hoping to bring some of that peace to my life daily instead of just annually.

Part of my trip this year is going to be identifying areas of my life in which I can slow down even more. This is a gradual process where I am continually evaluating my priorities and making changes in my life. I don’t feel that there will ever be a point in my life where everything is 100% okay, happy, and stress free every day. Unless you’re on botox or some really good pills, I don’t think that happens for anyone. My hope is to increase my happiness as much as possible.

For me, I find that I attach more easily to places than I do to people. I frequently revisit places that make me feel good. Being able to identify what makes you feel good is helpful in being able to achieve peace and identify what you can do in your daily life to recreate that feeling.

What do you do to feel peaceful? For some people, it is the little things in every day life like a bubble bath, or reading a good book. Sometimes it is having a cup of coffee with a good friend. Part of my goal on my big peace trip this year is to identify more of the small things that bring me peace on a daily basis.

Finding peace is helpful in grounding oneself so that you have an anchor in the storms of life. I have some pretty big life changes coming up, and I want to be sure that my foundations are strong in order to weather those changes. Sometimes you need a moment to regroup and remember why you are doing what you are doing and what is important.

Family, experiences, and love are the important things in life. How can we maximize those positives? Sometimes when you are in a situation, you are so in it, that you need to take a step back to make a decision. Being able to look objectively at life helps you to identify the positives and negatives to work more efficiently towards your goal.

One of the most peaceful aspects of my trip each year is when I sit by the water and the wildlife comes right up to me. I wake up in the morning to the sunrise and the sounds of birds. Not only birds, but ducks. Quite a few years, I have woken up to quaking, unzipped the window in my tent to find a duck looking at me. Being able to reconnect with nature is a great way of centering.

Each year at the holidays, I usually give people a colorful miniature rubber ducky with their holiday card. This causes some confusion, but for those who know about my camping trips, they know that it is the time of year that is most peaceful for me. Holidays are not supposed to be about gifts, they are supposed to be about people, experiences, and peace. I give those duckies each year as a reminder to people to be peaceful, as the ducks remind me of the time of year in which I experience the most peace. It is one of the small ways I have found to recreate that peace I feel on my camping trip each year.

How do you find peace? Do you need to take time to step back and recenter? If you are constantly going from one thing to another, it may be time to slow down and regroup. You cannot give from an empty cup. Stop and recharge.

Rewind real slow.