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

Advertisements

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.

IMG_9498

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

Taking Back Monday: Cures for the Monday Blues

It’s no secret. We despise Mondays. Every weekend when Sunday afternoon rolls around, we think about the week ahead and the feelings of dread being to surface. We start counting down to the end of our free time and to the beginning of a new week laden with obligations and responsibilities.

Research shows that we tend to like Fridays more than Sundays. Friday is a workday and Sunday is a free day, so how is this logical? The answer is in the anticipation of what is to come. We spend Friday working but feel excited that the weekend is just hours away. We spend Sunday doing whatever we like, but we feel deflated in realizing that the start of a new workweek is only hours away.

I grew tired of feeling the dread of Mondays week after week and aimed to make a change. I wanted to feel good about them instead. I tried various remedies for my dilemma and based on what has worked for me, here are some ideas for starting your week on a positive note:

Take back your Sunday. Instead of living in the present, you are fretting about the future and the fact that another Monday morning is just around the corner. You might as well take action and prepare for it. Plan your work attire. Set the timer on the coffee maker. Prep your lunch. Gather up all the items you need to take with you to work. By making preparations on Sunday, you can address what is bothering you and make your Monday morning easier and less stressful.

Then, clear your mind of all things related to tomorrow. Focus on the present and do something you enjoy. Go out to dinner. Watch a movie. Lose yourself in a good book. Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening is still the weekend and you have lots of time to indulge in activities you enjoy and to relax. Take advantage of every free moment you have.

Make Monday a fun day. Plan activities that you enjoy. This is the strategy that has by far worked best for me. Make Monday your Starbucks splurge day and treat yourself to your favorite coffee drink. If social time boosts your mood, schedule lunch with a friend. Don’t7362420650_e4a0b798e2_c wait until Thursday or Friday to go out for happy hour; “Monday margaritas” has a good ring to it. If you prefer some quiet time, spend your lunch break reading. I love Book Riot podcasts and make sure I always have one to listen to on Monday.   I also love music and often download new stuff on weekends. I then create new playlists and listen to them on Mondays. Make Monday the day you indulge in the things you love.

Wake up Sunshine. The Monday morning alarm is the worst. I want nothing more than to sink deeper under the covers and drift back off to sleep. Research says not to hit the Snooze button. Because it throws off your sleep rhythm and can make you feel even more tired. I have not been successful with this and hit the snooze button a lot. I do, however, set my alarm to a song rather than an annoying buzzer. My Monday alarm song is always set to my current favorite and thus causes me to hit snooze fewer times.

Get Moving. I workout every morning, but Monday morning workouts are especially important as they set the standard for the rest of the week. I get a major boost of endorphins from morning workouts. This is a hard habit to create, but you can feel immediate benefits from just a 15-minute yoga session. It gets your blood flowing and makes you feel stronger and more refreshed. I use the Yoga Studio app, but there are many options available.

Remember it’s a fresh start. It is the beginning of a new week, and so many great things can happen! Remind yourself of this. Actively practice changing your thoughts and feelings about Monday. Find or create a motivating mantra you can repeat to yourself as you go through the motions of your morning routine. Also, wear something that makes you feel both comfortable and confident. It will boost your mood and increase your morning motivation as well.

Go easy on yourself. The start of a new workweek is tiring for everyone. Give yourself time to ease back into things. If you can, avoid scheduling meetings on Monday mornings, or at least avoid having them first thing. You need time to settle in, fire up your email, and review your schedule and task list for the week. If you find yourself lacking in energy or motivation, tackle the easier or more interesting tasks first.

Life is too short to feel so much negativity every week over the same thing. We cannot escape from Monday, but we can change our attitude about it. The key: Make your Monday a day to which you look forward in happy anticipation.

Photo by: Al-sadhan ♥ via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND