Vacation

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I’ve been working 23 years. For the first time in my work life, I just completed having a week’s paid vacation. I have never before had employment that gave me paid vacation. It was wonderful.

At one moment, I was lamenting that I did not take as many day trips this year as I have in years past. Then I realized that my life has slowed down enough that I no longer have need for the day trip escapism that was so essential to keeping me going when I was working two jobs and going to school full time. Now that my life has slowed down, I actually have a few hours each week in which I can relax without having to leave town and take a day trip. Having an entire week off completely blew my mind.

I was amazed at the fact that even though I had a week’s vacation, what I wanted more than anything was to be home. I do a lot of driving. I drive every single day. I am sick of driving. Especially where I live in the Finger Lakes, the traffic is so bad in the city in which I work that it is worse than Manhattan, Boston, or L.A. I have driven in those three cities, and would rather drive in them than drive through the city in which I work. So one of the nicest parts about being on vacation was that for nine straight days, I did not go anywhere near the city I work in, which is about 10 miles away from my house. It takes me almost an hour to drive those 10 miles one way to work on a daily basis. I did not miss it.

I did a lot of reading, a lot of hiking, a lot of sleeping, and a lot of relaxing on my vacation. I also planned some fun things for the coming fall and winter. Vacation was a great time to stop and assess where I am in life and to be sure that I am on the right track.

I am so relaxed; I don’t have anything to say.

I have heard many arguments for vacations and many for staycations. I would say that my week was a hybrid. I had four “away” days where I went on a trip, and five “home” days. I read that staycations became popular after the recession. Family vacations of the post-war period were typically camping trips that centered on family togetherness. As the extravagance of the 80s, 90s, and 2000s took over, families go to Europe or Disney. Personally, I needed home days before and after my trip just to prepare and decompress. I go from point A to point B every day of my life. The last thing I want to do on “vacation” is the same thing I do in my everyday life except in a different location. That just does not seem like vacation to me.

What fun are you having this summer? Vacation or staycation?

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Wide Open

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Above: At the oldest covered bridge in the USA

My first vacation is coming up later this month. This will be the first time in my 23 years of working that I have a week long paid vacation. I have never had a week off from work before, and it has not been paid.

Given that I had to cancel my travel plans to take care of my sick family member, I will actually be having a staycation punctuated by day trips. My schedule is wide open. In fact, the only thing on my calendar for that week is meeting a friend for lunch on one of the days.

In a way, it looks like I completed my objective of slowing my life down. No longer am I running from point A to point B like a crazy person who does not know which end is up. The hard part about having so much free time is that now I feel like I’ve been drifting for the past 9 months. I don’t really have a direction anymore. I almost feel like I am maintaining status quo waiting for my family member to die to try to figure out what is next.

That may sound really mean. I don’t intend it to be. I love this family member very much. It’s just that I need a break, and I won’t be getting the break that I need since I had to cancel my travel plans.

Part of my goal for my staycation is to try to figure out what I like most about my annual ADK camping trip and try to incorporate some of those aspects into my staycation that is upcoming. How can I feel like I’m on vacation even when I am stuck at home?

The biggest part that scares me is that this is the first time in 15 years that I have not been able to take my annual break from reality, and I am apprehensive if I will be able to cope for another year without it.

Mostly, I’m just tired.

I’m preparing to head into the great wide open where I have a completely empty schedule for a week and absolutely nothing to do. It’s a little scary. I have never had this problem before. Welcome to first world problems, I guess.

What would you do with a week long blank calendar? If you were unable to leave your home for more than a day at a time because you had to be at your house at a certain hour every single day, what would you do?

Don’t Mess with People Who Run 26.2 Miles For Fun

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Above: When I earned my BAA medal in 2010. Out of my 14 medals, my BAA means the most to me.

Friday was One Boston Day, the third anniversary of the heartbreaking bombing of OUR marathon by domestic terrorists. The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the world; it is a race that belongs to everyone. Whether you qualify or not, Boston is the race that shows the truth of the human spirit and the unfailing love that is part of the running community.

While my work schedule is often hectic and beyond my control, I did manage to observe a moment of silence close to the time when the first bomb went off on Friday. I remember that day three years ago, when I felt like someone literally took a sword and pierced my very soul. It was one of the deepest emotional pains I have ever felt in my life. I would have to say that it was one of the three worst moments I have experienced. Even though I was in NYC in 2001, I would have to say that for me, Boston felt more personal.

As horrific as that moment was, every single minute that has come after has shown the strength, resilience, and perseverance of the community of runners. It has been amazing to see how everyone, even people who are not runners, rally around us to help and heal.

The Boston Marathon is OUR marathon. The finish line belongs to everyone. The marathon represents hope to everyone. It represents the challenges and adversity people overcome to be able to toe the start line. It represents sacrifice. Mornings when we got up at 4 am to run when we would much rather push snooze and roll over. Afternoons spent running in the rain just to get the miles in the tank. Most importantly, the Boston Marathon represents LOVE. And it belongs to everyone. You just don’t mess with people who run 26.2 miles for fun.

Today is Marathon Monday. Happy Patriot’s Day, Massachusetts! This is the day when the crowds line the streets to cheer the accomplishments of everyone in the race. It is a day to come together and celebrate and be kind to one another. We have overcome the atrocity of 4.15.13 by showing each other tenderness and mercy in a time of need. As my hero Kathrine Switzer has said, “If you ever doubt the strength of the human spirit, watch a marathon.”

Speaking of heroes, today also marks 50 years of women being allowed to run the marathon. I am thankful for the opportunity to run every single day. At one time, women were not allowed to run more than a mile because it was thought that running more than that would make us unable to bear children. Of course, we all know this is a misconception. Many women have both ran marathons and bore children. However, it should be noted that part of the confusion came from the fact that when we run a marathon, it works the muscle groups directly below those used in natural childbirth. So yes, they are equivocally the same. Running a marathon pretty much does the same thing to our bodies as natural childbirth. However, marathoning does nothing to interfere with our ability to bear children. This was a huge hurdle that had to be overcome in order for women to be able to run marathons.

While Kathrine Switzer is well known for running Boston using only her first initial for registration and surviving an attempt by the race director to throw her off the course screaming “Give me those numbers,” we must remember that, in fact, the first woman to run Boston was Bobbi Gibb. Bobbi is one of the pioneers of women’s running that helped pave the way for the rest of us. 50 years ago women were not allowed to run marathons. Today, we make up about half the field in almost every race.

In 1980, American Joannie Samuelson won gold in the inaugural women’s marathon in the Olympics. Just a short 36 years ago, we showed the world that not only can women run marathons, but also that we can do so on a competitive international level. The three women: Bobbi, Kathrine, and Joan are the pioneers of women’s running. Today’s Boston Marathon is a celebration of the barriers we have overcome to be able to run this great race.

I am so proud and so blessed to have the ability to run. It is the greatest gift that I have in life. While considered a solitary sport, it is amazing to see what we can do once you get a group of runners together. We run to raise money for charity. We run to bring awareness to causes. We continue to run even when we are hungry and tired. We run through joy, we run through tears. We just keep going, because to stop would be one of the greatest pains to experience.

There is a meme that has gone around the Internet in running circle with a Matrix-like scenario. If you take the red pill, you can continue running at your current level for the rest of your life. If you take the blue pill, you will see significant improvement in your ability to be competitive, but your super running ability will only last for 5 years and then you will not be able to run anymore. I choose the red pill. Every time. I choose the red pill. I cannot imagine my life without running in it.

I will be doing a trail run today in solidarity with Boston. The day I earned my Boston medal in 2010 was one of the best days of my life. Let us never forget 4.15.13. We must honor those that we lost by continuing to run. We must run for those who cannot because we know they would do the same for us. We must show all terrorists everywhere that even if you bomb our race, it will not stop us from toeing the start line and from crossing finish lines again and again. Each step that we take is a step full of love.

You don’t mess with people who run 26.2 miles for fun because we have the ability to be, show, and bring out the best in humanity. Today we celebrate not only women’s running but also the hope and love that the marathon symbolizes. #BostonStrong

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My (Super) Hero

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Birthday flowers above.

This weekend, I totally splurged in honor of my birthday and did something epic three days in a row. It kind of helped that the weather finally warmed up. I have counted less than 20 days since October 24, 2015 that I woke up and did NOT find snow on the ground, so the fact that we have been snow-less for almost a week now has really brightened my mood.

Perhaps the best thing I did over the past three days was to take myself to the movies to see Deadpool.

I have a new favorite super hero.

Daylight savings time this week has totally screwed with me, so I admit to being more sleepy and confused than normal; it took me awhile to realize the satire in the opening credits of the film (I won’t spoil it by giving you particulars). Not to mention, my autoimmune disorder that completely wrecks havoc with my sleep schedule has made it so that I am now awake at 4 am every day. I suppose this is an improvement from being awake from 2 am to 6 am, but still. If I’m awake at 4 am, I better be running a marathon, and in the case of the past week, I have been awake at 4 for health reasons having nothing to do with running.

In fact, my current sleep deprived and grumpy disposition is one of the reasons why I am singing the praises of the movie Deadpool like a hysterical teenager who has had too much Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks.

This flick mirrors my life and it does so in the most hilarious way.

I often try to make light of or joke about things because I am a big proponent of laughing and not crying. Sure, there are times to be serious. I am not a complete jerk. But we have to realize that sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. Do not take life too seriously. No one gets out alive. Sometimes you need to laugh so that you do not cry. Laughing reminds us we are alive. It helps spread hope.

I am a Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and now I have multiple food allergies, multiple medication allergies, and an autoimmune disorder. This is all adult-onset. When I first went into anaphylactic shock in my mid-20s, no one had any idea to what I was having a reaction, as I had no known allergies. I was not one of those kids who grew up with a food allergy. In the 80s? Food allergy? What’s that?

To make the situation even better, my allergies are so severe that I react by touch. A few years ago, when I was teaching pre-school, one of the students spilled their milk on me. Not only did I go into anaphylactic shock, but also I had multiple organs that started to fail and quite literally almost died. They may say, “don’t cry over spilled milk,” and in general, I would agree. I do not cry over spilled milk. I writhe in pain over it.

So the basic plot for Deadpool hit really close to home for me. Here is a man dying of cancer, and the cure leaves him with this awesome mutation that gives him all these super powers, but also results in this really horrible skin condition. He beats cancer (check), gets a skin condition (check), and has super powers in the form of healing (the reverse of my autoimmune disorder, but close enough, so check).

Deadpool spends most of the movie searching for Francis to “cure” him of the superpowers and skin condition much in the way I visit various specialists such as immunologists and dieticians to try to deal with my food allergies and autoimmune disorder. I have got to admit, that Deadpool does all this with a lot more style than I do. No wonder he has his own movie and I don’t.

I have a new favorite (super) hero. I wanna be, I wanna be, I wanna be like Deadpool.

This man’s sense of humor is incredible. If there was ever a person who can laugh over something instead of cry over it, then Deadpool is IT. In the super hero universe, Deadpool is refreshing. Each super hero has their own hard luck story that they have overcome to be this incredible person. Superman’s planet blows up, Batman’s parents get killed, and Spiderman gets bit by this freaky-ass spider, Deadpool gets cancer. Superman is mysterious, Batman is broody, and Spiderman is a little ADHD for me. Deadpool is a breath of fresh air.

The man tells it like it is. When you have some major disease or chronic disorder, people whisper about it. It is not “appropriate” to talk about. Deadpool has no filters. The movie had me in stitches the entire time so much so that I completely forgot I have an autoimmune disorder making my life hell for the 2 hours I was in the theatre. That is no small feat. Like the movie, my autoimmune disorder involves a skin disorder also, so I see my disease every day. Until I am healed and done with this episode I am having, it is continuously in my face, for me, and the rest of the world, to see.

I enjoyed this movie so much that I want to see it again. For the record, there has only been one movie in my lifetime that I have actually paid to see twice in the movie theatre. That movie was the Beatles musical Across The Universe. If Deadpool is still around on my next day off, then this flick could be the second film I pay to see twice in a theatre. We will see how much longer it plays.

I have a new (super) hero.

 

Enjoy the Ride

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One of my favorite well wishes is the reflection that a birthday is the start of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the ride! Birthdays are my favorite holiday. Not only are they a celebration of life, but also recognition of those people who are important in our lives. I always say that every time I get a birthday, it is like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me.

My birthday is coming up soon, so it is that time of reflection upon the prior year and also goals and wishes for the year forthcoming. My wish for 36 was for a quiet year. Ages 34 and 35 were quite tumultuous with negative life changes and health crises. I had wanted 36 to be quiet after all the excitement. I got my wish. Not only was age 36 a quiet year, but also it was quiet with a sweet sort of joy I have never before experienced.

In my early 30s, I had read an article quoting an English study regarding happiness across development that claimed that age 33 was the happiest age across the lifespan. In general, I would have to say I agree. I have been saying for the past few years that age 33 was the best year of my life, before it all went to hell with age 34 and 35, but you never get a rainbow without a little rain. Age 33 was a great year. Sure, it had some challenges, as life always does, but there were some major milestones and great moments in my 33rd year. I was able to see my favorite baseball team play in their home stadium for the first time in my life. It is an experience that I know I will think of dearly when my time comes and my life is flashing before my eyes.

However, as age 36 comes to a close, I have to say that in its own unique, unassuming way, age 36 has now usurped age 33 as the happiest year of my life. As with any age, this past year has had it’s own set of challenges, yet the positives of the past year have far outweighed the negatives. This is what has made age 36 my best and most favorite year ever:

  1. I fell in love (again). Anyone who has ever been in love and then somehow lost it, either through death or through the drifting apart that people sometimes do, will tell you that love is that magical feeling that seemingly comes once in a lifetime. We often do not even realize that this is IT: this particular person/relationship/event is love until after it has passed. In general, I would agree. The person with whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with passed away 10 years ago now, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had found the love that you only find once in life, and that the only thing I would be able to find in the future is maybe a comfortable companionship.

This year I fell in love again and I would have to say that not only was it not expected, but it is also the type of love that I realize and understand that this is IT. It is not something fickle or fly-by-night. Rather, this is a person I have known almost all my life, and has grown quietly through the years while I was busy making other plans. If there were ever a pure form of love, I have it, and to experience that type of love is truly a gift. I have learned that love can give you joy and love can bring you pain. Loving someone means being comfortable with and giving them room to be their own person, make their own choices, and find their own happiness, whether or not that includes me. I have learned that I can love someone very deeply, even if it is a person with whom a relationship does not work out. While love is pure, time is of the devil’s making, and true love understands the only way to love is to give yourself so completely that you are vulnerable to the possibility of loss.

  1. I found myself, and I did not experience an existential crisis in the process. I am the Queen of the Existential Crisis. Pretty much everyone around me will attest that I spent most of my 20s in Where’s Waldo mode, only to have matured in my 30s to a more suave Carmen Sandiago persona, complete with brimmed hat and dreams of world travel. I am staring down age 37 and can proudly say “no mid-life crisis for me” (yet)! I completed my final degree after spending 20 years in school and have eased into my retirement from my life as a professional college student more comfortable in my own skin that I have ever been at any point in my life. I have been better able to handle life’s challenges in stride and have surprised myself with my ability to adult.
  1. I have arrived. Life is a journey, and while I agree with that sentiment in general, I have to say that there is some feeling of accomplishment when we cross a finish line and recognize how far we have come, even with so far to go. I am at a good place in life. While I still struggle and face health challenges, I am finally at a position in my life where I am able to take care of myself in the best way possible. After over a decade of working multiple jobs, 60-70 hours per week, with often only holidays as a day off, I now have employment I enjoy. I have employment I enjoy, that pays me well, and gives me days off. This gives me the freedom to have time to spend doing whatever I choose and also time to be able to take care of myself better than I have been able to take care of myself before. While I face many challenges with my multiple food allergies and autoimmune disorder, I can say that especially in the past year, I have finally been able to make the life changes necessary to put me on the path to good health instead of simply being subject to the whim of my disease.

Part of my efforts to rewind real slow is to help me take care of myself better so that I can enjoy life more. Life is short, and I have sacrificed so much in the pursuit of my education. This past year, I have finally arrived at the point where I am able to live instead of simply survive, and I now see how truly sweet life can be. In 35 years, I had never seen this sweetness of life on such a broad scale. I had caught glimpses of happiness at certain times, but this past year has been the first time I have experienced a sustained sort of joy and contentment in life I have never before seen.

Looking forward to age 37, my wishes are that I am able to take everything I have learned in the past year and continue to grow. I am hoping to be able to get my autoimmune disorder and food allergies under control so that I can enjoy parts of life I am sure I have never imagined. I hope that I am able to make good choices and can continue to surprise myself with my ability to adult. In all honesty, I am hoping to be the type of person this year that my cat thinks I am. Out of all the things I have learned in the past year, I have discovered that the most important is love. While it may sound trite, my cats are the only ones who have been constant in my everyday life for 18 years, and I hope to be everything to them that they have been to me, especially as Kitty will probably only be around for a few more years. I want to enjoy this life I have created for myself and utilize the freedom I have to chart my own course.

So while I am unsure of what age 37 has in store, I am at a good place with firm footing to face whatever is coming. I am hoping that after all the storms I have weathered, that this is my time for a rainbow, and that I can truly take my time to enjoy my ride around the sun.

Lines in the Sand

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New years is always that huge page turned in the book of life that represents a new chapter of opportunity. Many make (and break) resolutions as hope for a better future, a brighter year.

A new calendar on the wall is not the only opportunity for change. Many resolutions fail due to the inordinate amount of pressure placed on a certain day of the year. While there may be some astronomical significance to the date, it is, in fact, arbitrary.

A new goal can start any time of year, not just January 1. Choose a Monday, choose your birthday, choose any day on the calendar and draw a circle around it.

What do you want life to look like? What is reality? What positive changes can you enact to make reality align more with your desires? Keep in mind that the journey is just as significant as the destination. I often say I know what I want, but I don’t know how to get there. The beauty of life is that we each have our unique process of reaching our goals.

Dates on the calendar are simply lines we draw in the sand to delineate change. Change in actions, change in attitudes. January 1 holds a lot of pressure. Many times if people break their New Year’s Resolutions, they shrug their shoulders and proclaim, “there’s always next year.” Yes, there is always next year. There is also tomorrow.

If you have made resolutions for this new year and they do not make it past January, you do not have to admit defeat and wait for a new year to start fresh. Those goals you so boldly proclaimed on December 31 or January 1 can be realized at any time of year. Just try again.

If you are able to make it through the month of January without breaking the resolution, chances are that you have made a life change that will stick. Usually major changes in habit take about 3 weeks to firmly root into one’s routine.

I have not made any resolutions for the new year. The new year tends to be meaningless for me for a few reasons. First, after 20 years in college, I seem to be stuck on the school year calendar. Labor Day weekend is the most meaningful time of year for me. That is when leaves start to turn, the last light of summer fades into fall, and a new school year is typically set to begin.

Second, I consider birthdays to be more meaningful than a simple change in page of the calendar. Each birthday is proof that I was able to handle another year of what life threw at me. When I turned 36 in March of 2015, my wish was for a quiet year. After tumultuous times the two years prior, I have been looking for some respite from the tribulations I have lived through. So far, I have gotten it. But the new year is not the reset for me. My birthday in March will determine the success or failure of that goal for the year.

As many approach the month of January with hope that things will improve, keep in mind that things can improve any time of the year. January is just one line in the sand. Feel free to draw your own. If you are not able to keep your resolutions to which you have so dutifully pledged, that does not mean all is lost until the next flip of the calendar. Take some time to evaluate why your plan was not successful and regroup. The only true way to fail is to stop trying.

New Year’s is only one line in the sand. The masterpiece comes in creating your own.

My Favorite Things

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This morning I am waiting for coffee to brew so that I can put it into one of my favorite coffee mugs, flavor with my favorite coconut milk creamer, and have a leisurely morning warming up for the day listening to some of my favorite CDs. Christmas made me realize that I am very fortunate in my journey towards minimalism in that I am now surrounded by my favorite things and use them on a daily basis.

What is in my life brings me joy.

I came to realize that this week as everyone around me was running around hurried over the Christmas season, and I was just kind of there – relaxed. My big success this season was being able to downsize Christmas from three boxes to one. This is not meant to be a la Scrooge or Grinch-like. I am now surrounded by only my most favorite and meaningful Christmas decorations. Some of the things that said goodbye from the 2 boxes now gone include items such as a string of lights on which only half the bulbs work, some large and heavy clay ornaments that only served to weigh the tree branches down to the point of being unsightly instead of decorative, and the Christmas tree skirt that shows every snag and cat hair.

This year, I enjoyed the holidays with working lights everywhere, ornaments on the tree that were beautiful and meaningful, and music that filled my heart and lifted my spirits. When I had a glass of wine this week, it was in one of my favorite wine glasses that had previously sat in the back of the cupboard – because it was a “favorite” glass it simply sat unused. Why shouldn’t my favorite glass be used as everyday-wear? For what special occasion was I saving it? Life is a special occasion. We are on this earth for a limited time, and the time to enjoy what makes us happy is now.

As I had extra time off from work for the holiday and was home, I also added a few items to the general donation box that was not associated with the Christmas purging. As I looked at the donation box and moved it from one part of the room to another, I thought: “If I were moving, would I want to deal with this box? Would I want to carry it and load it into a truck and unload and unpack it?” Looking at the items in the box, the answer was no. I am so glad to be getting rid of the items in the donation box so they do not weigh me down both literally and metaphorically.

I’ve been on this minimalist journey for about 4 years now, and while the outflow has slowed, it does still continue. I never know what I am going to find where, and be able to take the critical eye over items deciding on whether they are useful or bring me joy.

The upside to the stream out slowing to a trickle means that, for the most part, my favorite things surround me. My goal is to be surrounded only by what I find useful or by that which I love. Life is to short to waste not only on the accumulation of needless and useless crap, but also life is too short to waste on that stuff’s storage, maintenance, and upkeep. As a result of removing the unnecessary, my holidays have been filled with peace. Peace not bought in a store. In fact, this peace has been acquired by actively avoiding the store and removing things I never should have bought in the store in the first place.

As I sit here looking at the favorite mug that was always in the back of the cupboard because it was “the favorite,” I realize that the time is now. The time to use your favorite things is now. The time for happiness is now. The time to do and say all those things you wanted to do and say is now. Life is very short.

Do your favorite things surround you? Does it bring you joy? If not, what do you think about removing the unnecessary so that which you truly love has the opportunity to shine?

 

 

Time is a Gift

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I’m not going to lie. The past month (the first month) of my retirement has been wicked hard. No matter how much I giddily anticipated the slow down, transitions never quite go as planned. As mentioned in an earlier post, my life did not just slow down. It came to a screeching halt.

As painful as that transition was, it served as a wake up call. I definitely got a reality check. I have always thought of time as a commodity. I have never valued my time. My time has always been bought, bartered, or sold, and it has never been my own. In the past few weeks that my life has slowed down, my time has been my own. When you are so busy going from one thing to another, you never have time to think. When your life slows down to a point where you once again retain ownership over your time, it can be an uncomfortable process if you are not used to having time on your hands and are unsure of how to handle this newfound gift.

Old coping skills die-hard. My first thought, in a moment of panic, was that I have to go back to school. I need a fifth degree. I don’t know from where or in what, but I need another degree. Then, I was able to stand back and ask myself, “Do I really want to go back to school?” The answer is no. Twenty years of college was enough.

This transition probably would have been easier on me if it had occurred at another time of year. In spring and summer, my life is full of outdoor activities such as running, surfing, and spending time at the parks. In the winter, I have a tendency to hibernate. While I have plenty of things to do and plenty of ways to entertain myself and stimulate my brain, what I lack is human interaction.

The biggest benefit to slowing your life down is that not only does it leave you with more time on your hands, but also gives you the power to control what you do with your free time. Once I determined that I do NOT, in fact, want to return to school, I asked myself what I do want to do.

I came up with some ideas.

Some of those ideas I decided I do not want to do right now, but in the fall. Some of those ideas I decided were more of a time commitment that I am willing to give right now. While I need human interaction, I do not want to trade school for some other all-consuming activity. I want my time to be my own.

I have identified two activities that I want to do that seem to require a level of time commitment with which I am comfortable. After the holidays, I plan on putting my plan into place to engage in the two activities and hope to pull myself out of the rut into which I have fallen.

I have checked into many different volunteer opportunities with a great many deserving entities. While I would love to help them all, I simply cannot. The beauty of having time on my hands is that I get to choose what to do with my time. Time on my hands is not only a gift to me, but also what I choose to do with the time I have been given can also be a gift to others.

Part of my intention in slowing down my life is to identify what is important and what is not and to be able to focus my energies on the important things. Life is too important not to do so. Time is a gift and not a commodity has been a very challenging but very deserving lesson I have been learning the past few weeks.

Do you view your time as a commodity? Are you constantly working just to get ahead when really, it would mean so much more to your family if you could come home even an hour earlier one day? At the holidays, we purposefully take the extra time to spend with family and friends and to engage in activities that bring us joy.

We should be doing that all year round, not just at the holidays. Time is a gift both to you and to others. Take this time of year as an example of how much joy could be in your life year round if you only view time as a gift and not as a commodity. We have so much when we rewind real slow.

 

The Most Wonderful

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I have never understood why we need a holiday to be thankful. We should be thankful everyday. After witnessing some of the tragedies caused by the gluttony of capitalism today for Black Friday, I am thinking that perhaps the reason why we have Thanksgiving is that people so quickly forget to be thankful. They need a reminder. It’s a little sad that they so quickly forget the lesson the day after, but still. We need a Thanksgiving to remember to slow down and pay attention to what matters.

There is always something to be thankful for. Perhaps the most important are family and friends. That is the part I love most about the holiday season. The holidays are supposed to be that time of year when we hunker down amidst the falling snow to spend quality time with the ones we love. Holidays are not supposed to be about shopping and gifts and getting the best deals.

You can go out right now and max out some credit cards buying the best gifts. On Christmas, the recipients will squeal with delight, probably forget the gift in 5 minutes time once they open another, and then you spend the month of January and the first part of the new year working extra hours trying to pay off that credit card bill that brought only a few moments of fleeting happiness to your life on one day of the year. That is pretty much what every red-blooded American does this time of year.

Wouldn’t you most rather spend the time inside playing games with your children, drinking hot chocolate with your spouse and watching the snow? Children grow so quickly. The best gift you can give them is your time. Sure, that new 4-wheeler or other large ticket gift may be great, but it is more fun if they have time with you to enjoy. The holidays are supposed to be about peace and remembering to slow down to enjoy the people in your life. Instead, American consumerism has made it all about things.

I put up the Christmas tree today, and was a little sad that there are no gifts under it. All of the presents I am purchasing this year are either consumables (wine, chocolates, gourmet coffees, etc.) or experiences (movie theatre gift cards, rounds of golf, etc.). No presents kind of makes a Christmas tree a moot point. However, when I thought more, I remembered that the presents are not important. What is important is the fact that my cats love it when there are no presents under the tree because they enjoy curling up under it and sleeping. What matters is that I love turning off all the house lights to be able to view the tree lights while listening to holiday music from my youth, and enjoying someone’s company.

What makes this the most wonderful time of the year is the peace and joy that comes from having friends and family in our lives that make the world that much richer. People and experiences are the true measure of wealth, not how big of a TV you own, or how many vehicles are parked in the garage.

In the flurry of holiday activity, be sure to take some time between the parties and the shopping to remember the true meaning of the season. Be thankful for the people in your life and the limited amount of time that we have on this planet. The people around your tree this year may not be there next year. It is more important to enjoy the moments with those you love than it is to purchase the perfect gift. The gift will be set-aside in time, but memories will last a lifetime. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Gratitude

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There is a Buddhist saying that to live in the future creates anxiety, to live in the past creates depression, and to live in the present creates peace. While I agree with this wholeheartedly, I also think that to live in the present is a form of privilege.

When I was working on my social work degree, we participated in this project called “Walk A Mile,” in which we spent the afternoon attempting to live out a scenario given to us that was supposed to emulate the day in the life of a person in poverty. We were given toys dolls for children, told when the work hours were, had to juggle childcare, paying for bills, and emergencies like trying to get to food pantries and avoid utilities from being shut off. Little did the administrators know that when I was participating in this simulation, I was homeless myself, and have a history of homelessness from the time I was very young. At the end of the day, my classmates were able to return to their plush condos and lives in which every need was met, while I spent the night on the street, trying to find a safe place to sleep.

This exercise was designed not only to give insight to the future social worker into the lives of those with whom we would work, but also to establish a feeling of gratitude. There are many different forms of privilege in this world. Being able to remain present is a byproduct of economic privilege. During the simulation and in my personal real life experiences, when you are living paycheck to paycheck unsure of where your next meal is coming from, it is hard to stay present. You are always looking to the future for the next best thing that is going to help you escape the cycle of poverty, or you are simply reacting to what happens around you because you are too overwhelmed to handle anything else. It creates a lot of anxiety.

In my slowdown, I have come to realize that being present is a point of privilege. It is a privilege borne out of economic prosperity. When you do not have to worry about where you are sleeping for the night or how you are getting to work in the morning, you have the leisure to enjoy the moment you are experiencing.

Given this, I have also come to realize that it was in those times when my life was most challenging that I was also the most grateful for the smallest things. I recently came across a gratitude journal that I had kept during my early college years. There were days when I listed being happy that the paper I had written came off the printer warm because it was so cold outside and my hands were frozen from being inadequately dressed for the weather.

I have also seen posts online during the holiday season where people will do a “gratitude challenge.” Post everyday why you are grateful! Don’t just celebrate Thanksgiving for one day; celebrate for the entire season! What happens in the spring and summer when the holidays are over, the living is easy, and the weather is warm? Do we forget to be grateful?

We need to be grateful every day.

Let me say that again. We need to be grateful. Every. Day.

Just as I was able to be thankful for warm printer paper during some of the more challenging times in my life, I need to be just as thankful in the good times in my life.

The way my life is right now, I have never had it this good.

Expressing gratitude allows us to be present because it causes you to pause and reflect on the now. To really slow down, we must look at where we are and appreciate how far we have come. If you are constantly looking in the rearview mirror or wondering what is around the next curve, you are missing the most beautiful things that are right in front of your face. When the Buddhists say that to be present brings peace, they aren’t kidding.

I need to get back in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal in which I am able to identify at least one thing per day for which I am thankful. Even if you are having a “bad” day, there is always something for which to be thankful, no matter how small. Even the days when I was simply thankful that I had enough fare to ride the bus instead of walk in the cold.

To start, I have many things to be grateful for right now:

  • Health. Without health, we are nothing. Literally. If you do not have health, you are dead, and that is the absence of life. After many potentially fatal experiences in my life, including lymphoma, multiple anaphylactic food allergies, and other accidents, I can genuinely say that I am happy to be alive. Celebrate your health and the ability to grow old; it is a privilege denied to many.
  • Housing. After many years with precarious housing (including growing up – a time when I had even less control of my life), I am thankful that I have had stable housing for the past 6-8 years.
  • Food. Do you know what it is like to be able to go to the grocery store and be able to get everything on your list? Let me rephrase that: do you know what it is like to go to the grocery store and have to make difficult choices picking and choosing what is on your list because you have a very limited amount of funds and have to chose between groceries and paying the light bill? I am thankful that the past few months, I can go to the grocery store and get everything on my list without having to choose between, say bread or cereal.
  • Friends. I have good people in my life. When the Wonderful Life movie says that no man is poor who has friends, they are right. I am privileged to now have time that I have not had before to be able to cultivate the friendships in my life.
  • Family. My family may be small, but without it, I would be nothing. Having family has forced me to find stability in my life as an adult that I did not have as a child. It has forced me to grow up and to evaluate what is really important in life.
  • Education. My education has enabled me to escape the cycle of poverty. It has given me the tools to be able to find employment that allows me to meet all my basic needs.
  • Opportunity. I am so thankful that I have finally found employment that I not only enjoy, but that treats me well, and gives me the opportunity to slow my life down and enjoy the moment in which I find myself. I have never felt so alive. Having the opportunity at this point in my life to be happy – truly happy – is such a gift.

To be grateful is to take the time to pause and be in the present. To be in the present means to find and be at peace. If you are finding yourself hurried and wondering, “where did the summer go?” on this first day of August, then it may be time to slow down and identify your points of gratitude.

That anxiety you feel is what happens when you are so focused on the future that you do not enjoy the now. That depression you are feeling is when you are so trapped in the past that you are unable to move forward. Be thankful. Get out of the rut and be present here and now.

For what are you grateful?