Lazy Days: Taking Back My Summer

“We have to be reminded that we deserve a break, that we deserve true pleasure.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

I was feeling ravenous as I dove into the sushi roll the server had just set before me, my friend L sitting across the table from me telling me about her recent summer vacation to New York. Her photos on Instragram had been enviable. As expected, L in turn asked me about my own summer so far, and I drew a blank. My summer has not been eventful but instead quite the opposite.

As I stumbled over my words in explanation, L responded, “Don’t feel bad about not doing something. Whatever it is that you decide to do or not do, enjoy it. Otherwise, what’s the point?” Her comment was absolutely true, but I was confused. What prompted her to say this? I realized then that I had been apologizing. My tone had

conveyed to L that I regretted or was embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t have any exciting summer stories to share.

But in truth, I’m not embarrassed or regretful at all.

For the first time in a long time, I’ve simply been hanging out and striving to achieve nothing. In my conversation with L, I expected to be negatively judged and chastised for that. I should have known my friend would never treat me that way, but I was responding to a social construct. I felt like I was supposed to feel bad about my recent lack of ambition, so I was behaving accordingly, even though I don’t actually feel bad about it.

At the start of the summer, I vowed to embrace the spirit of the season. Every year I find myself feeling as if summer passed me by without me taking any real time to enjoy it. I decided to change that this year and even made a list of all the “summer things” I was going to do. Then I remembered my favorite things about summer as a kid – free time, no obligations, and long easy days that seemed to last forever.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of always having to be doing something, going somewhere, engaging in something interesting or exciting enough to be social media worthy.   We have a “go go go “ mentality and push ourselves to constantly do more. Sometimes it’s enough to simply go with the flow and try to be more present in the moment.

The summer days of my youth were long and lazy and indulgent. In my decision to embrace the summer this year, I wanted to slow down and be more present during these long, blazing days. Granted, I work and have responsibilities to my family; there’s no shirking those, but rather than making ambitious plans and traveling, I chose a different version of summer indulgence.

And I am unapologetic for that. I wanted my summertime back and I got it. My free time has mostly consisted of floating around in the pool, daydreaming; eating what I like, including dessert multiple times a week; reading for hours at a time; sleeping in; taking a mental health day off work; binge watching Netflix and movies without an ounce of guilt.

Sounds like a pretty amazing summer, right? It has been.

Photo via Visual hunt

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Bananas: A Crazy Dog

K came home from work and wandered into the kitchen absentmindedly, shuffling through the day’s mail, until he heard a squeal. He stopped and looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then he heard the squeal again. That’s when he noticed the lid of the trashcan had been knocked onto the floor.

K peered inside the trashcan, and there was our dog Haley. She broke into the trashcan, jumped inside, and then got her foot stuck and couldn’t jump back out on her own. Her look of happiness and satisfaction as K pulled her out of the trashcan said the whole ordeal was worth it. She would do it all over again if she had the chance.

I have referred to Haley as being bananas so often that it turned into a nickname, and – Version 2she responds to it. Other nicknames include but are not limited to Cray Cray, Little, The Buffalo, Poo Face, and Runt.

Don’t let the cute face fool you. Haley may be the smallest and oldest of our pack, but she is also the fiercest and the craziest. She is a JRT, a Jack Russell Terrier (or a Jumping Running Terrorizer). She is the stereotype for why many people do not adopt JRTs.

Here are some of Haley’s favorite things to do:

  • Tricking you into thinking she wants to cuddle with you when really she’s trying to steal food off of your plate
  • Growling at the other dogs when they come close to things that aren’t even hers but that she claims anyway
  • Being a creeper when you are behind a closed door. She lies on the floor and tries to look under the door to see what you’re doing and squeals at you.
  • Jumping into the air repeatedly until she successfully grabs hold of whatever is slightly hanging over the edge of the counter and pulls it down for further investigation and possibly consumption
  • Barking at every single animal or person she sees
  • Eating and/or rolling in poo, dead bugs, dirt, anything gross
  • Chasing the tennis ball or laser beam until she’s about to pass out from exhaustion
  • Snatching her roommate’s favorite toys and destroying them right in front of his eyes, simply to remind him that she holds all the power
  • Racing everyone from one end of the house to the other or from the yard to the dog door. Everything is a race.

Haley’s mom was a race competitor, and she raced even while pregnant. I imagine that to IMG_5743be the source of Haley’s enthusiasm and energy. As crazy as she is, she’s also smart, and like all of my dogs, she has taught me a thing or two.

Use your strengths to your advantage.
Our dog Sid is three times Haley’s size. He would wrestle incessantly with Haley, and Haley always lost simply because she was much smaller and lighter. That is until Haley figured out a new strategy. She would jet underneath Sid and nip at his back legs one after the other so fast that Sid had no recourse but to fall on the ground, at which point Haley jumped on top of him. Her small size turned out to be a good thing.

Live in the moment and do the things you love.IMG_6378
Haley runs when she feels like running. She savors the treat she has in front of her. She naps when it seems like the best idea. She sees poo, she rolls in it and then comes in the house and happily shows me how gross she is. She chases squirrels all over the yard. She sees something interesting, she barks at it. She does what she wants from moment to moment and truly enjoys life.

Show your love freely.
Haley loves with the same energy and ferocity as she does everything else. When people come over, she is beside herself with joy. She can’t wait for everyone to sit down so she can jump in their lap, climb up their chest, and lick them incessantly in the face while her tail happily spins in circles. She follows K everywhere he goes. When he comes home from work, she cannot rest until he lets her greet him property with cuddles and kisses. She lies next to me or in my lap at some point every single day.

Haley is a true force of nature and just had her 13th birthday on, no joke, April Fool’s Day. While she is showing signs of slowing down and her hearing isn’t quite at full function any longer, she continues to surprise us, make us laugh, drive us crazy, and share in our love every day.

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93 Reasons: An Exercise in Gratitude

The psychology of happiness has become a popular field, and experts consistently tell us that a major key to creating happiness in our lives is through gratitude. The ability to appreciate what we have instead of fretting over what we don’t increases our sense of satisfaction and leads us to see the goodness in life more easily from day to day. It also makes obstacles seem less overwhelming.

I consider myself a thankful person, but I know that there is a depth to life of which I am not always aware, comprised of moments that wash over me without barely any recognition on my part. I wanted to experience a deeper sense of wonderment and gratitude towards my world.

I decided to take the experts up on their suggestion and focus on daily gratitude. They say to keep a gratitude journal and write down what you are thankful for every day, so I did. Every evening for a month I reflected on my day and wrote down three things that I appreciated.

The first challenge I encountered was simply remembering to do it, but I stuck with it. I aimed never to repeat the same thing and theorized this would be challenging as well, but almost immediately I noticed that my entries were not as general as I expected. Every day was very different when I looked at them close up, and it was never a challenge to avoid repeating the same subjects over and over when I focused on the details.

The question of what I was thankful for was harder to answer on bad days and I found myself sighing in frustration while staring at the blank journal page. But then I would realize the problem: my attitude. Sure, the bad parts of those days at first glance cast a shadow over my gratitude, but it was up to me to part the clouds and let the light shine through on my day. I simply had to change my focus.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Inspiration: When it strikes, it’s a creative sigh of relief followed by a rush of excitement.

Music that moves me: I heard a song for the first time that stopped me in my tracks. I could do nothing but listen to it, captivated. The second time I listened to it, it moved me to tears. I’ve listened to it twenty more times since then.

Ghost stories: They are a fun indulgence for my imagination. They can be scary, funny, mysterious, and interesting. I love them all.

Unexpected hugs: I interviewed for a promotion at work and it was nerve-wracking. Afterwards, my co-worker gave me a big hug and told me she was proud of me.

Cozy sweatshirt: I bought this vintage-style soft sweatshirt on a whim and felt guilty about how much I paid for it until I wore it for the first time. I wear it almost every week now. It’s my favorite.

Mistakes: For the first time ever my local Thai food place got my takeout order wrong. The dish they made by mistake looked good though, and it was a dish I had never tried, so I told them not to worry about the error and accepted the food as it was. I ate the entire thing! It was delicious!

1980’s pop music: You have to dance! It’s happy and weird and fun, and the music videos are silly and ridiculous. An ‘80s dance club was the perfect choice for my cousin’s birthday celebration.

Strangers who make extra effort to help: When picking up my dog’s expensive epilepsy medication, the pharmacist showed me how to find an online coupon for the medication that cut the price in half. She even added the coupon information to my account so that the discount applied automatically for refills.

Spaghetti: Sometimes a big bowl of spaghetti bolognese with a glass of red wine is the perfect thing at the end of a rough day.

Challenges: They push me to see things in a new way and to think creatively to find solutions. I learn something with every challenge I face.

As the weeks passed, rather than waiting for the end of the day to reflect on my gratitude, I found myself recognizing those moments in the present and feeling thankful in real time. Some days I had five or six things I wanted to note in my journal. On those days the gratitude swelled in my chest and I felt overcome with emotion. More than once my eyes became teary with happiness.

Ultimately, keeping a daily gratitude journal works. Try it, and see what happens.

I wish for you an abundance of wondrous moments that fill your life and your heart with joy, that give you reasons to wake up and feel happiness every day. They are there already. We just have to be open to seeing them.

Photo via Visual Hunt

A Bond

As I drove home from the shelter with this scruffy 4-year old orange and white mutt curled up in the passenger seat, I could feel my world beginning to shift. She was silent, communicating only by staring at me with her deep dark eyes. I wondered what she was thinking as she looked at me and hoped it was good. I hoped I could live up to her expectations as a new dog owner.

She wandered around exploring her new home before settling down on her new blanket. I img_1244was hesitant to leave her alone so soon, but I had standing plans with my grandma and my boyfriend L would be home within the hour anyway.

When I returned home about five hours later, L explained that the dog hadn’t gotten up since he got home. He talked to her and tried to coax her up from her spot on her new red blanket, but she just looked at him and didn’t move. As we were talking, the dog appeared around the corner and wandered over to me. L was shocked.

What prompted her to get up now after all this time? She had heard my voice when I arrived back home. I understood then that she had bonded to me in the car when I picked her up from the shelter, when she was staring at me with her soulful eyes. I named her Cora after the Spanish word “corazon,” meaning “heart.”

Since those first days, Cora and I have been through a lot together. She has been with me through break-ups, graduate school, career changes, relocations, getting married, and surgery (for both of us). I used to work all day and then study at night while Cora quietly watched me from the comfort of her bed or slept under my desk.

img_1663We have been on many adventures together.   We have hiked together in the snow-covered mountains. We have trekked through the woods and plains. We have gone on road trips and gone fishing. We even went to a bar together once, despite Cora being an introvert.

When my husband and I were dating, he wooed Cora with tacos and trips to the park. He is still trying to fully win her over, but she will always be my shadow. She follows me from room to room, hesitant to take her eyes off of me for too long.  She barks for me to join her outside, and shows me how great she is at chasing squirrels when I do.  She continues to laze in bed until she sees me in the doorway and realizes it is me that has arrived home.  We have trust, understanding, and mutual respect.

We have weathered many storms together, real ones and metaphorical ones. When the sky is taken over by thunder and lightening, Cora shakes and I tell her things will be okay and that the storm will pass. When I’m facing a storm of my own, she gives me the same advice in her own way. She looks at me, lays down by me, and I know that everything will work out fine.

The new year got off to a rocky start for me. I was sick for the first two weeks (and am still Cora - 160not fully back to normal yet). Fever and chills and the worst sore throat I can remember threatened to take me down. I still went to work when I could but spend a lot of time in bed and on the couch, must more so than usual. I was never alone though. Cora was always by my side, reassuring me that it’s okay to take naps in the middle of the day, especially when you are sick.

As we were both resting, relaxed in the comfy, warm bed, it occurred to me how lucky I am to have her and to have had her for so long and through so much. She has been a constant flow of love in my life.

When I rescued her from the shelter seven years ago, I knew my world was shifting, but I had no idea how much and how much for the better since having Cora in it.

 

Free for All

Everything costs money: transportation, food and water, education, convenience. The cost of living continues to rise, insurance premiums are up, people are out of work, and there is an affordable rental housing crisis. It can be difficult to get the things you want and need and actually be able to afford them in the process, but knowledge, stories, entertainment, and insight in the form of books?  Those are free. Every town across the U.S. has a library, and they are free. (Okay, they aren’t technically free because your tax dollars pay for their upkeep, but you get what I’m saying.)

When Netflix was in its heyday and everyone who was anyone was signing up for the service, I had an amazing idea. “What if,” I said to my friend, “there was a mass inventory of books, and you could go online, check one out, read it, and return it? It would be Netflix but with books!” She looked at me in silence for a moment, digesting this proposal, and then said, “Isn’t that called a library?”

In all fairness the library does not mail books to you, so it’s not exactly like Netflix, and I still think my idea had some merit… But the library! How could I have forgotten that this existed?

I grew up in a town with an impressive local library. I loved going there with my mom for book sales or to pick up books she had put on hold. In junior high my best friends and I spent evenings there working on research papers and studying for tests. We reserved a private study room on the second floor and spent half our time goofing around, knocking on the adjoining walls of the other study rooms occupied by boys from another school, and laughing until we couldn’t breathe and were desperately trying to shush each other so we didn’t get in trouble.

In high school and college, however, the library became something I associated only with textbooks and 2am cramming sessions. I no longer read books recreationally, and once I graduated, the library became a thing of the past for me and I forgot about it.

Now, however, the library is a saving grace of mine. It’s because of the library that I can indulge in my reading habit without handing over my credit card. I am a heavy consumer of books, primarily audiobooks, and they are expensive!

More than ever the library is quite like Netflix and its instant access model. Most libraries continue to move further into the digital world and now offer audiobooks and ebooks via digital download. You find the book you want in the online catalog, check it out online, download it, and get started. And yes, it’s still free.

Physical libraries still serve an important purpose though. They are quiet places where you can seek refuge, where you can relax or get some work done without distractions. Some of my local libraries also have museums and art galleries inside them. They are also part of the Safe Place initiative that provides places where youth can go when they are in need of immediate safety and help. Many libraries offer free events for children and other outreach programs. They are crucial to our communities.

I urge you to check out your local library, both in person and online. It is an abundant resource for knowledge, enjoyment, stories, and humanity, and it is already available to us – all at our fingertips for free.

Photo credit: ginnerobot via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Our House, Our Home

A house is a haven for everything my we hold dear, not just for objects of nostalgia but for the life that we have built and continue to build and share together.   It echoes of conversations, laughs, whispers, tears, and an overflow of love.

Before my mother-in-law comes over though (or anyone for that matter), I have to clean. I vacuum vigorously our dark wood tiled floors, agonizing over the small tufts of white dog fur that seem to forever evade the suction of the vacuum. I fluff and arrange the pillows on the sofas. I put everything in its place, moving like a whirlwind from one room to another and back again. Above all though, I have a thing for how my house smells. Our house was built in 1960, and sometimes the damp and dirt of years passed creep in through the old windows mingling with the scent of last night’s dinner wafting from the trashcan in the kitchen. I light candles: sweet, fresh, and bold fragranced candles.

I know I’m not alone in this tradition. It’s common practice to do our best to make our house look like the inspiration for a still life work of art when people come to visit. The video Company is Coming on YouTube has over four million views for a reason, though I solemnly swear I’m not that bad! (Check it out: Company is Coming)

But truly the best things about the places we live are the things that make it feel like home. Home is about comfort. Home is about feeling safe and feeling like you belong. It is a refuge from the outside world. It is a personal haven. It is where you can put on your PJs as soon as you walk in the door.

When K bought this house and asked me to move in with him, I said no. Twice. Eventually he used his magic to convince me, and we moved in together while the house was still under considerable renovation. Construction was unavoidably pushed back a month, so when we moved in, only half of the house had flooring. The movers unloaded all of our furniture and belongings in a cluster on one side of the house. For someone who thrives on organization, it was a stressful time, though I like to say it was good practice in facing challenges.

K and I were in love and hopeful this house would begin to feel like our home, like a place where we could continue to grow and flourish as a couple. It did, and we got married a year later. Initially we had no set plans for how long we would stay in this house. We have talked frequently about the future as we continue to make improvements and renovate. We talk about the best way to add market value to the property and how to get back the money we have put into it, but with every change we make, this house feels more and more like us. It’s ours. It’s our beginning and such a big part of our story. I am beginning to think less and less of the future and instead focus more on how happy and content I am now where we are.

I like the components of our house that truly make it ours. We did the floors, some of the walls, the lighting, the wiring, the molding, the paint, the doors. Our touch as a couple in love, as a partnership, is everywhere. This week we are finally finishing the second bathroom. K and I have been happily sharing a bathroom this whole time, and I have grown used to it. While the newly remodeled bathroom is set to be primarily mine, I suspect I will miss sharing with my husband. I like both starting and ending my days along side him, like when we brush our teeth at the same time.  I think I’ll keep that tradition going.

My home has evidence of our life in every nook because that’s what it is, a home, not just a house. Our personalities and character come through in everything.

My mother-in-law came over last weekend. I went through my process of cleaning and straightening as usual. The doorbell rang, and when I opened the door to her smiling face, she looked at me and said, “Lobster.” I must have looked confused because she said it again and pointed down at my welcome mat. Ah yes, my front doormat has a picture of a lobster on it. Because why not?

She steps inside and after a minute of chatting she remarks to me how the house always looks so comfortable and serene. She notes that everything is always clean and the house always smells so good. Her comments make me smile stupidly. Part of me wonders if she compliments our house in an effort to be a good guest and a supportive mother-in-law, but as I gaze around the living room I feel a swell of happiness.

The cool blue walls showcase nicely the framed print of my favorite painting, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which I got at the Uffizi in Italy where the original painting hangs. The wide wall-mounted bookcase, part of the house when we bought it, is full of K’s collection of old books, including an old mechanic’s manual of his grandfather’s and a 1927 edition of Heidi I gave him this summer. The Pachira tree K got me for my birthday sits tall on its stand, absorbing the rays of sunlight floating in through the window.   Dog toys and dog beds are scattered everywhere, despite the fact that I just picked all of them up an hour ago. The room is full of photos and mementos and pieces of us.

Homes are like this. They become part of us. Whether it’s your first home, the home of your parents, or your forever home, cherish all that you have. Cherish the memories and all the little moments that piece together your story and all that you have experienced. Take a minute to pause and appreciate the comfort and warmth and love you are so very fortunate to have surrounding you.

I don’t know how long we will be in this house. We continue to update it, improve it, add our personal touches. But as long as we are here, it will be a place where we always feel comfort and love. It is our home.

The Power of Choice

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  
-Alice Walker

We travel through life along our own unique path, choosing to turn in this direction or that direction. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves on a path with no end in sight and no clear alternate route. The world seems like it’s closing in on us, and we are stuck.

Sometimes we feel lost. Sometimes we feel trapped. Sometimes we feel powerless.

I have a huge fear of being trapped. I worry that I will find myself in a situation over which I have no control and about which I can do nothing. Feeling powerless, to me, is the absolute worst feeling in the world.

When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher told the class about the time her house burned down. During the discussion she said the phrase, “There’s a first time for everything.” I believed her phrase in the literal sense and thought it meant that there would be an inevitable first time when my own house would burn down. I fretted over this endlessly. I felt powerless to prevent that inevitable from happening.

But I wasn’t powerless to mitigate the situation and prevent it from being worse. I came up with a plan. I knew my parents could get out of the house themselves, but if they were napping when the house caught on fire, I would wake them up first thing. Then I would focus my efforts on saving our cats. I pictured myself picking them up and carrying them out of the burning house one by one or perhaps chasing them out if that worked.   I would go back for my favorite stuffed animals if I had time.

I am still a planner and a worst-case scenario type of thinker. Unfortunately, we cannot foresee or prepare for every scenario. Life happens.

But I have realized that I am never powerless. If I don’t like the way something is going, I can make a choice to change it. It may not be easy, and I may not like all of the options I see before me, but there is always a choice.

You always have power. You always have a choice.

The way out is not always obvious. Sometimes the pathways are shaded. Sometimes they are completely dark and thus hard to see. They may be narrow or obscured by something else in the way. Sometimes you can’t see it until you turn away and then turn back to look again. Maybe you only truly see it once someone points it out to you.

When you are feeling trapped, know there is another path, another option. There is always something you can do to make a shift, to change things in your world. Trust that a path will reveal itself to you if you keep thinking about it, contemplating it, looking at a problem from different sides. You may not see it immediately, but have faith there is a way.

Your choices may not always be easy or ideal, but you have them. Maybe the choice is about your attitude and approach to the situation. Maybe the choice is an action, a step you need to take towards change. You just have to start by recognizing the choices are there. Anytime you think about something in your life that you don’t like, any situation at all, look for ways to make it better, to improve things, to solve the problem.

I still fear the feeling of powerlessness, but I find comfort in knowing that whatever it is that I don’t like about my life, there is always something I can do to help me find my way, to make a change. I am not powerless. I always have a choice.

 

Photo credit: Gruenewiese86 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND