A few weeks ago I attended a retreat–Knitting and Fiber Arts–at a beautiful camp and retreat center in Mountain Home, Texas. UbarU is managed by a foundation established by Unitarian Universalist churches in Texas. I’ve attended several retreats there, including last year’s needle arts retreat, but this was the best–actually one of the best weekends I’ve ever spent.
The peaceful setting–amazing, creative women to talk to, time to knit, stitch, read, take long walks or just chill on the porch–were just what I needed after a tough few months of running a challenging household. One late afternoon, I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and a magazine as the sun was going down and thought, “This is paradise.”
I have walked different labyrinths over the years, always hoping for some new insight, spiritual experience or a bit of serenity. I know it’s best to enter a labyrinth with no expectations, and most times I’ve had no remarkable experiences.
It was a cool, damp, misty Sunday morning. After worship I headed out, since the previous day I gone with two other women, and we were so busy chatting we missed it, walking right past it and returning to the meeting-house by a different route!
My thoughts on the walk centered on how to maintain the incredible sense of peace and timelessness the weekend was providing. My main issue has been my constant struggle with time.
A voice in my head (although it almost seemed to come from outside my head) whispered: “Whatever you struggle with becomes your enemy.” Wow, ok, I thought. “Do I really want Time to be my enemy? That’s a fight Time will always win.”
As I process this epiphany, I am learning to becoming friends with, or at least respectful to, Time, rather than being ruled by it. I try not to look at the clock too often. Don’t overschedule. Get enough sleep.
Of course I’m not doing it perfectly. Punctuality has always been a high value for me, and I hate to be late (or for others to be late). Trying to reduce stress by being more relaxed about time may actually cause stress if it makes me late or hurried.
I hope the peace treaty will hold. One of my favorite expressions is that “You have to pick your battles,” so this is one I hope I’ve quit.
* It’s uncertain if there will be a Part 2. This experience of walking the labyrinth brought other deep, profound insights that I am still processing and have not shared, and may never share, with anyone.
I’ve always liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions. After the clutter and clatter of the holidays, January feels like a fresh start, clean slate and all that. I usually keep at least some of my resolutions. The best I’ve ever done was in 2000, when I began a stretching/yoga routine soon after getting up every morning. I rarely miss, and when I do I can tell.
This year I decided to amp up that morning routine. Before the recent disruptions in my life–granddaughter living with us, moving to a new city–I had tried to include meditation and writing morning pages (from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). Between walking the dog and getting a child off to school the early mornings are pretty full. But if I don’t do it first thing it won’t happen, so I started setting the phone alarm for 15 minutes earlier (yes, from 5:35 a.m. to 5:20). At that hour, what’s 15 more minutes?
First I take the dog out, then stretch and meditate. Lying on the floor was chilly, even on the rug and a yoga mat, so I moved to the sofa, next to where the dog curls up after our walk. I’ve found breathing deeply next to a warm, sweet dog whose belly is just waiting for a rub is the best way to meditate.
Maybe I’ll write a book–“The Downward Doggie Way to Peace and Contentment.”
Next is coffee and 10 minutes of writing–gratitude journal, dream journal and/or morning pages. I’m determined to stay with these resolutions because I do feel calmer and more focused.
Next resolution: kindness.
I first thought we might ask our granddaughter to live with us when she was about seven, but it seemed impossible. Where would we house her in our condo? How would we travel? Would I keep up my volunteer activities? How would our marriage fare?
After she and her mom moved, not just to a small town, but 10 miles outside a small town, with its long drives and even longer bus ride to school (and sometimes she missed the bus and mom didn’t have a working vehicle); no close neighbors with kids; and a very white-bread conservative community ill-fitted to the funky creative family.
Living in a vibrant city with an excellent elementary school nearby, we decided to invited her to live with us–on a temporary, experimental basis.
Two-and-a-half years later it doesn’t seem temporary and we no longer live in the big city. But our new hometown, though small, has everything we need: good schools, beautiful geography, lots of culture, a church community we all like, and plenty of activities.
Not only has it not been impossible, it is our normal and I wouldn’t have it otherwise. As challenging as a (now) 11-year-old is, she is bright, talented and funny. And if we didn’t have her we would never have acquired our beautiful dog, Junior, who is my comfort buddy.
I had a few days of solitude over the holidays, unplanned, unexpected and totally delightful. No husband, child or dog. Just me and the guinea pigs. I can’t even relate what I did most of those days, except for lounging in bed after waking, drinking coffee in my silk robe, eating when and what I felt like, and taking long walks. Other than a grocery run, I didn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone for three days. I did a lot of reading. It was just what I needed.
On New Year’s Eve, everyone returned, and it was back to the noisy TV, insistent dog, meal prep and laundry. I was determined to maintain some of the self-care that had been so therapeutic, but often I can’t think a thought or type a sentence or read a story without an interruption. I try to be patient, try to meet their needs too, but it’s a difficult balance–self-care without being selfish!
Yes, I should delegate more, and I handed laundry off to my husband. Unfortunately it can take three days for a load of laundry to get done, which tries my patience and I end up
nagging reminding him repeatedly, “the washer’s done,” “your dryer is buzzing….”
Granddaughter is becoming much more self-reliant, fixing most of her own food and spending hours in her room drawing with her new tablet that shows the image on her laptop screen. We also collaborated on the decoration for a Little Free Library to be installed in front of our church, but I’m not terribly thrilled with how it came out, or how much of my effort it took.
When she was at her mom’s over the holidays Chloe texted me a picture of a puppy she wanted. I put my foot down and said absolutely not. But the other day I was cuddling Junior and thinking about how calming and therapeutic a dog can be (there is a lot of anxiety in this family), so I’ve laid out conditions that must be met before I will even consider a dog for her birthday in November:
- It will be her dog, meaning she walks it twice a day, feeds it when she’s at home, and manages all its care inasmuch as the school day allows. She also needs to help with Junior’s care.
- She must show more responsibility than she does now for cleaning, and keeping clean, her bathroom and bedroom. Consistently, over the long haul, not just a blitz cleaning now and then.
- She must keep up her school work and her attendance.
- She must maintain a generally helpful and cooperative attitude around the house.
- IF, and it’s a big if, we get another dog, it has to be a rescue dog, an adult under 30 pounds, and she wants a female so it’ll have to be spayed.
There are still the issues of vet bills, travel care, and what happens when she grows up and leaves home?
I’m still struggling with the balance and self-care, so is this nuts? For the record, I’m staying caught up on reading, having finished three books I started last year. I’m getting needed medical services for myself, now that the rest of the family’s medical needs are being met. I sing in two choirs, attend a weekly knitting group session, go to church every week and feel well-connected with our new community.
Good advice from one of my favorite bloggers. Thank you, Nancy, at Not Quite Old!
I have been practicing Yoga for 16 years. I’m still in the beginner’s class, and I probably will be for all my life. But that is okay with me. Yoga is called Practice for a reason. It is not called Competition.
So it does not matter if I’m not good at it. What matters is that I am “at it.”
It makes me feel good. Inside and out. I feel soothed after my practice. My mind is calm and my body is relaxed.
Here’s a benefit I will share with you, as I have shared with everyone interested in Yoga: I had suffered most of my life with debilitating backaches from Scoliosis. From the time I was fourteen, I spent more evenings than I can count lying on the floor, hoping for release. And 16 years ago, when I began my Yoga practice, the backaches went away. And they have…
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Since my recent post about never being able to wear a silk robe, I continue to acquire more, the number being up to four. They’re sort of a metaphor for my life.
This week I have a few days off, so despite the fact that silk is not very warm and we’re having a chilly Christmas week here in the Texas Hill Country, I’m indulging myself.
How and why do I have so many? I bought the first one more than 25 years ago, on sale at Victoria’s Secret, simply because it’s beautiful, I loved it and it was cheap ($16 as I recall). You can see from the wrinkles how long it’s been on a hanger.
Next acquisition was in the previous post. It’s the most comfortable and the one I actually wear on rare days I don’t have to be outside as soon as I get up.
This one is ridiculously beautiful and even comes with a matching silk nightgown. They were given to me by friends who make theater costumes. I insisted they were too big, too fancy and that I’d never wear them, but they insisted I (we) take them. (My husband is also in theater.)
Finally, on our recent trip around the Hill Country with friends, this beauty just called to me. I don’t even plan to wear it; I hung it on the bathroom wall. It was a peacock day–I also got a beautiful peacock jewelry tree at the same antique store in Bandera. They both make me smile every single day.
These few “free” days are such a treat I almost feel guilty. Lying in bed this morning, getting up late and making coffee (in my silk robe), it occurred to me that this is normal life for most middle-class, reasonably affluent retired people. For me it’s a spectacular treat, and soon I’ll be back to early rising, walking the dog and getting an 11-year-old off to school.
This is my normal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But for the moment the peace and silence is priceless.
For the two-plus years we’ve had the granddaughter, it has been simply a loving duty. People sometimes call me a saint. My response is always that you do what you have to do.
But I grieved my retirement, the loss of freedom, lazy mornings sleeping in and drinking coffee in my silk robe.*
Between her 11th birthday, early in November, and Thanksgiving, we turned a corner, so subtly I didn’t realize it right away. It was getting not only easier, but actually fun.
It’s against my personal code to go shopping on Black Friday, but circumstances necessitated otherwise, and I found myself in the local craft store—even Walmart, for heaven’s sake!—over Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t hate it. C. loves to decorate and she goes nuts in the craft store, wanting the cute snowmen and gingerbread ladies, elves, tiny trees, and ornaments.
We laugh. She has inherited our family’s snarky, dry sense of humor, and she makes me laugh—a lot. Now when she asks, “Grandma, can we go to Hometown Crafts?” I’m ready to go. Living in a small town with a great craft and decor store a five-minute, no-traffic drive away, makes a huge difference. In Austin I wouldn’t think of venturing out on Black Friday.
But it’s not only shopping and decorating—that’s fun for almost everyone. Her whole personality has changed. She spends less time in her room, drawing and chatting with online friends. She plays with the dog, asks me to go for walks with her, and talks a blue streak while we’re walking. She does her homework without prompting, asking for help when needed. She gets herself up with no difficulty and arrives at school well before the bell. She’s making an effort to eat healthier.
Walking to school one recent day she wanted to talk about the Big Bang, and she didn’t mean the TV show. On the walks to and from school I try to just listen as she chatters about whatever is on her mind. She used to march on half a block ahead, me trailing behind.
Yes, she can still be tween moody, even downright mean. Yes, her room is messy, she “forgets” to put dishes in the dishwasher, and she doesn’t always come to dinner when she’s called. She’s 11!
It could be a chicken-or-egg question: has my new attitude affected hers, or has her new maturity made me feel better? I suspect it’s a little of both. I definitely think it’s her brain is maturing.
But I am finally at peace with my reality: not only is this life ok, it’s the life I should be living and I love it. My only sadness is that she still treats her Step-Grandfather (she emphasizes the “step”) like an obnoxious little brother. I wish she’d treat him more like a favorite big brother and appreciate all he does for her and what he, too, has given up.
A friend spent Friday night and most of Saturday with her last weekend, and all I heard was the sweet sound of girls giggling.
* I now have four silk robes. More on that to come.
It taunts me, hanging there on the hook next to the closet. I should put it away, but it’s pretty and, well, maybe someday….
When I retired and started blogging, I mentioned that the very best part of retirement was going to bed and getting up when I wanted. Staying up reading. Sleeping in as long as I felt like it. Sitting around in my silk robe, drinking coffee and reading the paper. At least it lasted a few years.
Now, with the child and the dog, I am up five days a week at 5:30 a.m., and sleep only a bit later on weekends because the dog needs to go out. He won’t go in the back yard. Husband offers to walk him on weekends, but he clatters about so much I usually get up.
But I look longingly at the silk robe. I got it from my daughter, who buys and sells items on eBay. It is colorful and sort-of Asian, and it just feels luxurious to sit on the patio and drink coffee in the morning.
I’m leaving it on the hook. Someday….*
P.S. I have no regrets. Without the granddaughter and the dog, my life would be easier, yes, but much less rich.