Winter Appreciation

For many, winter storm Juno has been a bust (sorry friends in NYC), but in coastal Massachusetts, we surpassed forecasted snowfall totals thanks to colder than expected temperatures. Fifteen inches so far, and it is still falling.

Normally, the short days, gray skies, and frigid, blustery winds create an unshakable chill in my bones and a strong dislike of winter. However, as part of my goal to “focus on the positive,” I’m sharing things I appreciate about winter.

For example, this morning, the wind crusted snow into the window screens. I can’t see outside, and I giggle like a kid hiding in a snow cave. I hear the storm outside, but I only see it when I open the sliding glass door.

I know tomorrow the rays of sun will peel the snow off the screens allowing me to witness the bright white world. The air will be clear, crisp, and quiet as our thick covering of sparkling ice crystals absorbs the sounds.

We’ve also had a fair share of winter reprieve days when temperatures climb above freezing and hold there until dusk. On these days, I lace up my shoes and run outside. The wind not even a whisper as I peel off my gloves & zip down my outer layer, smiling the entire time.

Even days of mixed frozen precipitation leave a little miracle behind. Last week, the rain froze on roads, fields, and trees, but after the clouds cleared, the sunlight sparkled liked diamonds on the frozen surfaces-a brilliant peace offering, or perhaps, an apology.

I love that with the leaves off the trees, I can hear the the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore down the street.

I love the delicate light at dawn, that maintains its softness until just before night.

I love the clear, crisp freshness of the air with an enhanced smell of salt from the sea.

I love to curl up on the couch after dinner, and read a book in front of the roaring fire.

In fact, that sounds like a great way to spend today!

Live, love, & appreciate, even in wintertime.

The Greatest Gift

Since his first grandson was born, my father and I pack the car with gifts and travel north to spend Christmas with my brother and his family. Work is extra busy each December and with limited time, I never bother to find a tree or decorate our house. Arriving at our destination on December 23, we find their tree is trimmed, stockings hung, and baking completed. Time is spent distracting the little ones with long walks or make believe games to keep their anticipation in check until Christmas morning when gleeful exuberance erupts sending scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon flying, but this year is different.

Our holiday hosts set off to tour warmer climates, and Dad, at 84 (and not in great health), didn’t feel up for the trip. As the others planned their adventure, I felt frustrated. I couldn’t leave Dad behind all alone, but I also yearned to join their holiday adventure. After all, what would the season bring without the children here to make it merry and bright?

It turns out, despite the chill of winter, this Christmas has been one of the most enjoyable and memorable in a long time. I didn’t realize how big a gift I’d been given. By staying behind, I was able to select and trim the tree. I hung lights around the windows. I planned meals while listening to Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, and Nat King Cole sing Christmas songs.

At night, after dinner, Dad and I sit by the fire, admire the tree, and remark on the pictures streaming through my tablet of the grandchildren splashing in the waves at a beach far away. We’ve reviewed our year, reminisced about Christmases past, and begun looking forward to what will come. This Christmas might be Dad’s last, and the peace we’ve enjoyed together has been a true delight. I realize that I’m not missing out on a tropical paradise, everyone else is missing out on the beauty, joy, and gratitude of home. My special Christmas with Dad has been the greatest gift I could imagine.

Weighed Down

I couldn’t admit how much weight I had gained, until I decided to lose it. My girth began expanding last spring after I couldn’t run long distances due to a foot issue. Exercise continued to be part of my day, but an hour of low or no impact movement doesn’t come close to matching the calorie burn of a six or eight mile run. My clothes looked and felt awkward, and I didn’t have the same stamina, but I blamed my over 40 body telling myself there was nothing I could do. BIG LIE. I refused to admit the truth: I was getting FAT!

My sister visited and we took a dip in the ocean one warm sunny day. Her photos showed the me I refused to see. I quickly pushed away the reality of my largess until a few weeks later when my brother’s wife sent photos of me in the garden with my niece during their visit. Wearing one of my favorite tank tops, I look like I was playing dress up in a fat suit. That couldn’t be me! My vacation was coming up, and it required a bathing suit. I stopped ignoring the problem and took action.

Using an app called Lose It! I tracked my eating. After one week of logging my food intake, I could see the problem was not cookies and ice cream. Mostly, I was eating healthy foods-just too much of them. My servings were too large, and my snacking was out of control. “It’s only yogurt,” I told myself until I noticed that 3 Chobani in a day adds up to 480 calories.

The second week, I began measuring servings and made adjustments including reducing my previous 3 servings of cereal each morning to a single 1 cup serving. I also reduced my orange juice intake from 8 ounces to 4 ounces. Then, I skipped my mid morning snack (usually a yogurt) and made sure to have a good lunch. By choosing healthy foods, I could eat a 350-400 calorie lunch (veggie roll up w/tofu or tuna sandwich) and feel full. I allowed myself an afternoon snack so that I didn’t feel ravenous by the time the work day ended-again choosing something sensible like an apple (without peanut butter this time!) and I drank a lot more water. For dinner, I tried to keep my calorie count under 500 calories which was easy if I skipped dessert. On the nights I felt like something sweet, I chose fruit, or if I had enough calories to spare, I’d treat myself to a Chobani (switching yogurt to a reward food rather than a standard go to.)

Did I mess up some days? Of course, especially in the early weeks. The Lose It! app summed up how I did, and during the first three weeks, I regularly passed my total weekly calories by 750 or more. Since I didn’t want to decrease my food intake, I found ways to increase my exercise. My goal was to burn 400 calories each day, and I got creative. Stretching counts. Finding reasons to go up and down the stairs over and over counts. Doing jumping jacks while waiting for someone is a good use of time, and raking leaves achieves multiple purposes. Most days I was able to burn my 400 calorie goal.

When faced with an irresistible cookies, I allowed myself two rather than chowing the entire bag. The exceptions to my good behavior were Thanksgiving dinner, and tonight when I had reached my calorie limit for the day, but I couldn’t stop myself from enjoying a serving of Sea Salt Caramel ice cream. I’m 240 calories over for the day, so I’ll stretch and maybe do some abdominal work before bed. I’ll be more mindful tomorrow.

The good news is that I’m seeing results. In seven weeks, I lost 7 pounds. I feel great. My clothes fit, and I don’t have to suck in my gut anymore. I’d like to lose 3 more pounds before vacation, but even if I don’t get there, I’m happy with how I look. Just knowing I can achieve this goal keeps me motivated.

Anyone out there hoping to lose weight, my advice is to recognize that you’ve taken on a significant goal. Acknowledge that getting fit and healthy takes hard work and discipline. Stay focused. You can do it! Remember that looking in the mirror at your accomplishment feels better than most food tastes.

Slow the Ride Down

Our normal family Thanksgiving isn’t happening this year. Everyone had somewhere else to be, and I’m oddly thankful. It will be a quiet day. I can use one.

The pieces and parts of my life are moving fast. It feels like I’m juggling fire while balancing on a log rushing through rapids. In the excitement, my blog has taken a hit. Terrible consequence since writing is the thing that keeps me sane.

Some good things are happening-like scoring huge points at work for successes, but having my accomplishments on display means I’m not only earning praise, but also a lot more responsibility. My hours are getting longer, and the time I spend thinking about work (when I’m not at work) has quadrupled.

Some bad things are happening-like rushing my Dad to the ER with a high fever and lack of responsiveness. He has returned home with new prescriptions, but I have to keep a close eye on him.

Some annoying things are happening-like trying to sell my former home 2,500 miles away. I’m negotiating with the third potential buyer, and it feels like every day a new issue arises threatening to derail the closing.

On Friday afternoon, I looked forward to relaxing and putting all the moving parts out of my head for a day or two. Then, the dog got skunked. I tried to salvage a few hours Saturday morning with a run, but the pain in my foot that kept me sidelined all summer suddenly returned. By Saturday night, I realized there was nothing in the house for dinner. I fed my Dad a frozen lasagna and crawled into bed early.

My dreams are more bizarre than ever as worries collide with hope and anticipation of the day when this ride slows down. I’m close. I feel thankful in knowing somehow, I will make it. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Not Fade Away

On Saturday, his face, his smile, his laugh all filled my mind. I didn’t wonder about it, the approaching anniversary of his departure was a logical trigger, but today he appeared in the street, as if he’d been here all along, instead of moving six states away two years ago.

I paused. Was it a mirage? No. If I imagined it, I would visualize myself with combed hair and better clothes. Unable to fix my appearance, I walked over to say hello.

He looked great, as always, but also happier and more relaxed than when we said goodbye. His prior disposition undoubtedly being partially my fault. He came back this weekend for a wedding, and will be gone tomorrow. I rambled, of course. It can’t be helped in this kind of situation, but I’m pretty sure I avoided saying anything stupid or embarrassing.

Hours later, I’m still reeling. I had important things to do this afternoon, but instead, I went for a swim. Now it’s getting late. I should have dinner, but my mind is distracted, searching for the key that unlocks a different ending for us. I’ve missed him since the day he left, and our three minutes of idle chit chat today only served to remind me.

Two years ago, he gave me a silver pendant on a chain. One side a compass, the other an anchor. Back then, I thought he was the anchor, providing stability in an uncertain situation.      I was the compass. Later, I realized the truth. I remained anchored here while his compass pointed him somewhere else. After six months, I undid the clasp and put it away.

Today, I put the necklace on again, just for a day…or two.

In the Garden

Over the weekend, I worked in my garden. Weeding is something that continually gets pushed to the bottom of my to do list. I don’t know why. Okay, I do know why. Bugs, dirt, hot sun beating down? Not much to love. This time I selected the right day because the bugs were few, the day was cool (and cloudy, so no sunburn), and though I did get dirt under my fingernails, I’ve managed to dig most of it out. My garden is tidy, and I feel much better.

Being in the garden on Sunday turned out to be the perfect way to spend the afternoon. I started with a simple plan to fertilize the tomatoes which have finally started ripening. They look, smell, and taste amazing, but when I brought the first can of plant food treated water, I noticed some vines were so weighted down with fruit, they were laying on the ground. I completed three trips of fertilized water before hunting for the stakes I’d stashed from last season. They are bamboo, barely covered in faded green paint after several seasons. I don’t use circular metal cages, though I probably should because my tomatoes always grow into an unruly, tangled mess, but I really enjoying staking and tying the vines, so I continue with the process every year.

Kneeling in the dirt to tie the vines, I fought with tall weeds. After yanking them, I righted the tomato vines, only to discover crabgrass and other smaller weeds underneath. I yanked those, too, and continued until the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs had been trimmed, tidied and staked, and piles of weeds were discarded outside the fence. The garden looked healthy. Satisfied, I picked the strawberry plant clean of ripe fruit and shoveled the berries in my mouth without washing the dirt off. It felt like just the right reward.

I like to create things, but drawing, designing, planning, and even writing, leaves me feeling unsatisfied. My final product never seems to measure up. The best thing about my garden is the “not good enough” feeling never surfaces. My strawberries may be odd shapes and my tomatoes may not win blue ribbons at the fair, but they always taste good, and I’m proud to share them with others, gleefully acknowledging, “yes, this came from my garden!” I don’t know if the things I grow are flavored by pride or TLC. I don’t think it really matters, do you?

Nowhere to Run

One of the reasons I love to run is that for one hour, I escape from the craziness of everyday life. During my run, my life is my own. No interruptions. Whether I think or daydream, zone out or absorb the details normally missed driving from one commitment to another, unwelcome distractions are left behind. In one hour, I reset the balance in my life. But in early June, I developed a stress fracture in center of my strike zone- third digit, third knuckle, deep in the ball of my foot (thank you “barefoot style running shoes”).

A stress fracture is not a break. It is a weakness in the bone from repeated pounding, but like a break, the cure is to stay off it. Easier said that done when talking about feet. Since summer was just kicking off, I didn’t want to wear a boot, so everywhere I went-even dressy parties, I donned old running shoes with extra padding in order to protect the foot and help it heal. Desperate to stay in shape while sidelined from running, I Googled: “no impact ways to burn 500 calories”.There are some interesting options on those lists. I chose biking and swimming as my primary cardio work outs. I bought a hula hoop to increase my abdominal workout, and I’ve even borrowed a kayak some Saturday mornings. The problem with these other forms of exercise is that I don’t get the private “me” time I crave. When biking, I have to concentrate lest a car, dog walker, moped, other biker, pedestrian, or a child on a scooter or a skateboard (and most days it is all of the above) stray into my path. When I’m swimming, I have to dodge other swimmers mostly children and teenagers cannon balling into my lane their nerve fraying squeals and personal space invading splashing adding to my stress. Even if I try to walk, people seem to ignore that I’m exercising and stop to chat or ask directions.

After four weeks, I suffered from mild depression and high anxiety, but finally the pain in my foot disappeared. I opened a box of new shoes (with extra forefront cushioning) and walked half a mile until I reached a dirt trail. For two miles, I ran, and happily sweated until I reached my favorite swim spot, but by then the pain was back. It was too much, too soon. This is one of those times in life when I have to be patient and find new ways to achieve my goals and handle accumulating stress. To help relax, I’ve downloaded a hypnotism app for my phone that helps me get to sleep and stay sleeping longer. I also take a few minutes at the end of my swim to focus on just floating and breathing. I use my bike to run errands whenever possible increasing exercise time and lending a hand to the environment. One perk of all this alternative exercise is that I’ve developed uber toned arms.

There will always be setback in life and things that throw me off course and out of my normal routine. The key is to not let them stop me all together. I cope. I adjust. I survive….until I run again.

A Really Good Book

Have you ever spent time with two people and found out later they are in a relationship and thought, “Hmmm, I never would have guessed!”

Some twosomes have electric energy that anyone can sense, as if they glow the same shade of purple, but for others, without the shared looks or purposeless touching, the pair seems more like buddies than bedfellows.

I recently witnessed a couple seriously lacking in chemistry. Individually, each one is fantastic-attractive, engaging, fun, but together they fall flat. Granted some relationships start off slowly as the individuals get to know each other, but after a time, for the couple I’m referencing it had been over 6 months, outsiders should be able to tell the two of you make up a “we”.

I can’t imagine being in a unidentifiable to others relationship over the long term. If I’m drawn in by the cover of the book, as I often am when it comes to men, I figure out pretty quickly whether the story holds my interest. Sure, I might stick it out for a few chapters hoping the plot improves, especially if he is really HOT, but at some point, it makes sense to close the book if it’s not enjoyable, and go find a better story.

Some determined people insist on continuing until the end, but aren’t those always the books you look back on and think, why did I bother? The end was so obvious right from the beginning!

I’ve learned to appreciate stories that seem totally not my style, but come highly recommended. They are always filled with adventure, hold my interest, teach me something, and keep me absorbed right to the end. In fact, thinking about this right now makes me want to go find myself another really good book…

Have a Heart

I recently told a friend of mind that being positive is a choice.

This declaration came after he spent three hours ranting about the terrible things that make up this world. He highlighted the many things there are to fear, and mistakes people in power make.

I used to spent my time and energy thinking about what was wrong, rather than appreciating goodness, love, and beauty in the world. Since shifting my focus, I’ve noticed hearts appearing everywhere.

Heart large

I find heart shaped rocks on the beach, and pick them up. I have a nice collection going.

   heart shaped rock pile

I take pictures of heart shaped puddles left after the rain,)heart puddle

…and heart shaped knots in wood.

Heart shaped woodknot

Every time I see a heart, I smile

I’m smiling a lot these days.

heartshaped rock inside

I compared my friend, who was choosing to be negative, to Darth Vader. Then, I suggested he search for his inner Luke Skywalker. Love is inside us all. Realize that, and you will see it everywhere.

Psychic Encounter

 

Knowing my future while still in my present is an idea that has always intrigued me. If I already knew I’d be a published author with an amazing husband, I might sleep better at night, but aside from one time in San Francisco when I walked by a woman who remarked on my bright blue aura, I’d never pursued the clairvoyant. Last month, I was gifted thirty minutes with a psychic, and thought my brilliant future would finally be revealed.

Preparatory instructions for the meeting included making a list of questions. I had plenty, starting with, would I EVER find the right guy? But as the day of my reading approached, I recognized my dilemma: I only wanted a certain result. What if my future was not that which I hoped? What if the psychic revealed a path I didn’t expect, or an outcome I couldn’t accept? Would my days be filled with dread and hopelessness waiting for the prophecy to come true?

With only twenty minutes to go, my mind raced. Should I ask the tough questions? Or should I ask the unimportant questions? I should have been working to relax and clear my mind, as the instructions stated, but I was nervous. Maybe I should continue to live day to day swathed in the ease of ignorance. I didn’t pay for the session. I could skip it. With less than a minute to decide, I took a deep breath in, and as I released it, I came to a conclusion. My life is my life. Nothing that this woman could tell me would throw me so far out of balance that I wouldn’t recognize my own path. I stepped up to face my fate with a smile.

As it turns out, I’m going to have a great life. She offered no specifics, and I didn’t press for details. I couldn’t bear to ask about my relationship status, but she addressed it anyway, saying I was on the right track, things are in place, and everything would work out. At the very least, I got a really great pep talk. Her only solid advice echoed what I already tell myself daily: Be patient and STOP over thinking things.

We already know when life is going well, and when it isn’t, we make the necessary changes to shift course. Sometimes the changes take a lot of consideration. I’m a big fan of pro-con lists, but in the end, no matter which column has more items, I usually go with my gut. I trust my own instincts. Right now, my life is enjoyable. It’s not traditional, and it may not be memorable to others, but I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m not sure why I needed a stranger to reassure me that everything is fine? Perhaps because I’ve fooled myself before, but the older I get, the more I recognize that I’m the one who affects the outcome of my life. There are no magic wands, spells, or potions that change the course of where I’m headed, and whether a psychic can see my future or not, she has no divining power over it. I make the choices and decisions. I make the happiness.